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story.lead_photo.caption Richard Mason

Well, maybe I’ve invented a new word, but the way I celebrate Christmas boarders on obsessive. Yes, Christmas is by far my favorite holiday, and I probably over-celebrate, if that’s possible. However, Vertis has some Christmas rules that help focus my Christmas fever and keep it from starting too soon. One of the basic rules around our house consist of holding off on playing Christmas music until we have finished our Thanksgiving Dinner, and I do wait, but not long. Before the afternoon is over carols waft through the air in our house, and I have started to put together our 12’ Christmas tree. Our living room has a tall 20 foot ceiling and that calls for a tall tree. No, I’m not a purist, who insists on a real tree, because after seeing how dry a real tree can be after standing in a warm room for four weeks, the thought of a real tree catching on fire makes me think of the California wild-fires, and I don’t want to have one in our living room.

So yes, I put together our Christmas tree, and I decorate it by myself. That’s right, but I do have someone to give out suggestions. But of course, that’s just for the big tree in the living room. We have small trees in the den, bathroom, and sometimes even in the carport. Of course, a Christmas-holic doesn’t stop with just Christmas trees in the house, not when our house is surrounded by bushes and trees, which get lights. Of course, the Christmas decorator—not me—- is the one who determines the color and where the lights go, and she picks out the outside lights. As she said, “The outside lights must have a theme, and not just anything thrown on a bush or tree.” I’ll admit she’s right because I have a tendency to say “You can’t have too much stuff, especially Christmas stuff.”

Vertis and I are very active in downtown El Dorado, and our courthouse and around the courthouse square is a perfect place to really let Christmas decorations take off. A number of years back our city had a lighting design expert recommend a lighting plan that featured our courthouse, city hall, the main fire station, the large courthouse planters, and buildings around the square. The courthouse itself has not just lights but large designed panels of lights, which feature our downtown theme of red and green C-9 bulbs. The stores around the courthouse have the same red and green lights on the top of their buildings as well as trimming the awnings with the same red and green lights. Of course, that is topped off with merchant window displays and featured lighting displays, such as a lighted deer family in one of the downtown courtyards.

Yes, Christmas is also a huge gift buying time and as far as I’m concerned, you can’t over-commercialize the holiday. However, I do think some gifts are better than others, and that means just a big expensive gift isn’t necessarily a better gift than one which has some sentiment along with it. I can think back on several gifts that fit that category and none of them were over-the-top. A Christmas when my grown daughter was about 10 years old sticks in my mind, and as that Christmas approached she was going through a growing stage and wearing glasses. She needed a boost. Vertis and I came up with something that turned out better than we ever thought. Vertis found a white rabbit fur jacket. It wasn’t much money, but even I thought it was cute. That Christmas morning when Lara opened her present from us, she looked startled for a second, and then as she held it up she was so excited she burst out crying.

Of course, back when I was fourteen and my parents didn’t have a pot to peel potatoes in, I found a Sweet 16 Shotgun under the tree. I was so shocked I couldn’t speak for a minute. That special gift still brings back warms memories. And then the two Christmases in Libya without church or family still rests in our minds. Those were rather sad but memorable times, when we just read the Christmas story in front of our fireplace by ourselves.

I guess since we’re on gifts, what do I want for Christmas?—-an electric scooter would be nice.

Well, certainly Christmas is music and spiritual, and I think, as Southerners living in the Bible Belt, we take that part of the Christmas celebration a lot more seriously than folks in other parts of the country. I remember back in the late 1980s when Bill Clinton was running for governor. I met his plane at the El Dorado Airport, and when he got off of the plane, and I walked up to greet him, I noticed he had ear buds on listing to something.

“Hi Bill. What are you listening to?”

“Christmas music. I’m trying to memorize the music our church choir is singing this Christmas.”

Well, I wasn’t surprised. It was just another Southern getting ready to sing at Christmas.

I can’t imagine not singing carols during the Christmas Season or not being a part of a Christmas Celebration. I sing in the El Dorado First Baptist Church Choir, and I enjoy it, especially during the Christmas season. I have a very ordinary voice, and if I’m not standing close to a good bass that can read music and stay on key, I’m lost. However, Vertis has been singing in church since she was 5 years old, and when I joined the choir a number of years back—-to keep from having to stay home when she went to choir practice—-she was mortally embarrassed, but I persisted, and now, while I’m sure not perfect, I’m finally not an embarrassment to her.

Families get together during the holidays, and Christmas gatherings are usually a must for most families, and sitting around the table with grown kids and grandkids is definitely a highlight for our family. And of course, as most families do, a lavish Christmas lunch or late dinner is one of the best parts of the season. We always have exactly the same menu, and the idea that we would change a single thing, is the furthest from anyone’s mind—-especially the green Jello pear salad, a carryover from Vertis’s mother. However, we have switched from a roast turkey to a deep fat fried one—-a good switch. Vertis makes the best dressing you will ever taste—-from a recipe in an old Texas cookbook. (Email me and I’ll send you the Green Pear Salad and Dressing Recipe.) I will guarantee you those two items will be the highlight of your Christmas feast.

But I would be amiss if I didn’t touch on a special moment of the season, at least for me. It’s the candle-light Christmas Eve service in our church. As I sit there in a pew of Mason family members, singing the old carols and listening to the Christmas story being read, and then, when the candles light up the dark church as we sing Silent Night—-That’s Christmas.

Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email richard@

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