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*****
The Cranky Yankee - reprinted from the South Shore Puzzle Journal, Issue No. 45 - December, 2009
By Stephen Martin

      "What a pretty Christmas tree, Grampa," exclaims the nine-year-old.
      "'Tain't a Christmas tree," grumbles the Cranky One. "It's a Yule (pronounced yew-elle) tree."
      After a moment of fruitless pondering, the boy says, "It looks like a Christmas tree, except it doesn't have any lights, and it's outside instead of inside."
      The six-foot-tall pine tree, standing near the brick barbecue, is instead richly decorated with garlands of princess pine (a kind of club moss really, that creeps in long underground vines, periodically branching up above the bround like tiny pine trees), popcorn and cranberries. Clove-studded apples and oranges hang from its branches, as well as red, silver and gold bows and glitter-sprayed pinecones.
      "Are we gonna take it inside?" the child asks.
      Cranky replies, "Nope. Weah gonna burn it outside."
      After another, longer moment of fruitless pondering, the lad says, "Burn it? Well - are we gonna burn it on Christmas day?"
      "Nope," the grandfather glibly replies.
      Honoring the ancient Pagan tradition, Cranky will burn the Yule tree, not on Christmas, but on December 21, Solstice Night, the longest night of the year. He will do so to welcome the Sun, who will warm the earth and bring forth her fruits.
      In ancient times the Yule log was decorated, dragged inside and placed in a fireplace. Cranky's fireplace is too small. Nature nymphs dancing in its shadows, the tree will burn outside all night long and be extinguished in the morning. It will smolder for 12 days, after which the unburned core of the tree will be saved to light next year's tree.
      "Straight as a loon's leg," says the old man, stepping back to admire the tree. Now turning and walking toward the cabin, he continues, "Everybody;s out raisin' a splorum (making a big fuss) at the malls, spendin' moah money than they have on biggah, bettah, shiniah stuff they don't need. Dumb as stumps. Me, I got everythin' I need right heah."
      He and Gram will exchange gifts - she always buys him new socks, underwear, a flannel shirt and a year's subscription to Yankee magazine. What he got for her is anyone's guess - last year it was a crock-pot.
      Sprays of holly and bittersweet decorate the door. A prig of mistletoe hangs above it. On the big oak kitchen table, arrayed in front of a large scarlet poinsetta, are bowls of fruits, nuts, cookies and caraway cakes soaked in cider. Cranky takes a pitcher of ale out of the refrigerator and fills three mugs to their brims.
      "Yessuh," he says with a satisfied smile, and takes a long drink. He loves his ale. So do we. He hands the third mug to the boy and says, "Now go throw thet theyah ale on the tree." Totally confused, the boy does so. When he returns, they all go out with a bowl of flour and dust the tree, all acording to this strange tradition.
      But then, who's to say what traditions are silly and what are not?
*****
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