Mark Reads “How Lovely Are Thy Branches”: Chapter 3, Part I

In the first half of the third chapter of “How Lovely Are Thy Branches,” the party kicks into gear. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards.

I’m kinda into the fact that there’s no real conflict present in this story yet, aside from the interpersonal one we’re bound to get between Kit and Nita. Even that seems to have much lower stakes than what the wizards usually deal with, but that’s not a bad thing at all. Both this story and “Not On My Patch” feel more like slice-of-life tales, a chance for Duane to explore these characters and the various dynamics between them without the high-stress tension that we usually get.

In that sense, I’m reminded of the first half of Wizard’s Holiday, where Duane explored a world and explored people. There’s most certainly something that might happen in the remaining chapters of this story, but for now? I’m happy with it just being a party. It’s like those really great fanfics you read that don’t plunge you into a new plot, but instead show you existence. It’s entertaining to me to see how the Rodriguez family reacts to this bizarre party being held in their house! Through this, Duane also gets to talk a whole lot about the traditions surrounding Christmas and the winter solstice, and there are lots of lovely bits where we get commentary on how these traditions have borrowed from one another or differ in striking ways.

Christmas was generally a religious holiday for us, but it was also one of the few holidays where we got to enjoy the “secular” angle of it, at least until my parents couldn’t really afford it anymore. It was mainly a celebration of the birth of Jesus, and we definitely had to watch a lot of specials about Jesus and his sacrifice in the days leading up to the 25th. I can’t remember what it was called, but I remember there was a very serious (and over-acted) multi-part special we’d watch every holiday season that covered the whole of Jesus’s life, and boy, did I ever hate that thing. I remember getting in trouble one year for trying to read during it because it bored me to tears. There was no reading while the Savior was on the television!

Other than that, we did stockings, a Christmas tree, and presents. We weren’t a carol singing family, and to be honest, neither was our neighborhood. That whole trope/tradition of carolers going door-to-door has confounded me whole life, y’all. Where does that happen? Is it a white thing??? Because my neighborhood was mostly Latino and black, and gods, you never saw carolers at any point during the holiday season.

I did enjoy picking a Christmas tree, though! I love the smell of pine, and we definitely went as a family to pick a tree out of the lot down the street, usually the week after Thanksgiving. My mom definitely had a strict order and system for decorating a tree, much of it in line with what we see in this chapter. You wound plain lights around the center of the tree, from top to bottom, then the bigger/fancier lights from top to bottom around the outside. Then bulbs, then fancy ornaments that might break, but THEN you did garland, and tinsel was last. We had an angel that went on top most years, but after that broke, it was a nondescript star that lit up.

And y’all, I was definitely the kind of person who loved the look of a Christmas tree lit up at night. There’s something about the way it twinkles, the light it casts about an otherwise dark room, that pleases me to no end. SO YES, I WAS QUITE PLEASED WITH FILIF’S CHANCE TO BE AN ACTUAL CHRISTMAS TREE. Please tell me there’s fanart??? I need it???

Anyway, I’m curious if any of my fellow cousins have Christmas traditions that weren’t mentioned in the text of this chapter. One thing that I started doing and associating with Christmas was tamales, since most of my friends in junior high and high school were Central American. You just… you just make tamales! It’s part of the holiday. (And I’m real worried I won’t be able to find any in New York this year, I CAN’T GO WITHOUT THEM.) I am also HOLIDAY COFFEE TRASH. I prefer the other holiday flavors (the mints, the cocoas, the nutmeg, and whatnot) over pumpkin spice, but you better believe I still consume copious amounts of that flavoring every year. (I have not had it yet, despite that it’s available, but that new Maple Pecan latte at Starbucks is incredible with almond milk, YOU’RE WELCOME.) The only other tradition that my family picked up – and this was mostly after all of us kids were out of the house – was seeing a movie on Christmas Day, either at the house or in theaters. This gave way to one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life: my mother excitedly telling me she got this new movie that someone recommended her, and then me sitting down for nearly three hours to watch Mulholland Drive with her. HELP ME, I HAVE NOT SINCE RECOVERED.)

So, tell me your traditions! LET’S GET INTO THE SPIRIT RIGHT NOW.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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