COLUMN: Bring on the peppermint cocoa

The ornaments are out of the box again, signaling the festive Christmas season is here. (The Enterprise/File)

We’re the family who skips pumpkin spice and goes straight to peppermint cocoa. 

We carved pumpkins while listening to Frank Sinatra sing Jingle Bells. We brainstormed Christmas gifts while we plunged apples down the barrel of the washing machine turned cider press. We whistled carols while we steamed grapes into juice. 

We finished up our last cutting of hay, wrapping round white silage bales while singing “it’s a marshmallow world in the winter…”

As soon as the pumpkins begin turning orange, the Christmas season officially starts at our house.

Everything Christmas except the tree. The tree doesn’t go up until the day after Thanksgiving—because of some crazy idea my husband has of allowing each holiday its own space. Over the years he’s softened—with everything except the tree. 

The stockings are hung with care long before Thanksgiving, and he breaks out the Hallmark Christmas movies at the start of November. But so far, he’s held fast to the tree rule.

Recently, on a picnic with my parents, we discovered some of the most beautiful pine cones—and I suddenly had a crazy idea that would satisfy his tree rule—and yet circumvent it at the same time. I would make a pine cone tree. It was such a beautifully devious plan, for a moment I thought I should try my hand at politics!

It was nearly dusk before we started collecting the cones. Everyone helped, exclaiming with delight each time an especially large one was found. It was much more fun than the mushroom hunting we usually do after a picnic with my parents—perhaps because I loathe mushrooms, and I love pine cones.

We had filled two boxes before it became too dark to see the difference between a pine cone and a cow pie—and not wanting to mistake one for the other, we decided it was time to call it a day.

Later that week, my husband and I celebrated our 17th anniversary with our traditional gas station burritos. My husband brought out burritos and DEF fluid for the swather. 

“We gotta get this hay up before it rains this weekend,” he said. “But this weekend is supposed to be nasty, maybe we could do something fun for our anniversary?” 

This is when my devious plan manifested itself.

“Do you wanna build a ‘pine-cone-tree?” I sing-songed in Frozen style. He gave me a look, like he knew what I was doing, but he merely nodded. 

The weather forecaster was right—it was nasty and bleak out—and the gloom had never looked more appealing. 

In no time we were surrounded with saw dust, plastic tubing and chicken wire. Hours later, a wire mesh tree shape had emerged. We wrapped it in lights and then began the pleasurable task of wiring on the pine cones—a Hallmark movie playing in the background.

As the tree took shape, my heart soared – as the heart of my 5-year-old plummeted. 

“But Mommy,” he whimpered. “I want a real tree.”

“Don’t you think this one is pretty?” I asked, looking into his large, sad eyes.


“Then why do you want a real one?”

“Because,” he answered soberly, “there’s no room for presents under this one.”

We are now calling this one our Thanksgiving tree. And a Christmas tree will come on the fourth Friday of November—satisfying the rules, the wants, and even the capacity for presents.

So however you deck your halls—be it with pumpkin pies or peppermint cocoa and Christmas lights, or whether your tree comes with the first frost or the first snow—may your holiday season be especially joyful. Filled with love, laughter and maybe a pine cone or two.