Holidays arrive early for snowbirds

There it was, between the milk and the lunch-box puddings, all decked out in Christmasy cartons. Eggnog. Already.

No news there. By mid-October, there’s a ton of red-and-green evidence that retailers jump the holiday gun. If pre-Halloween eggnog isn’t tiresome enough, how about all the Christmas catalogs in the mailbox? A billboard near The Herald is hawking Hollywood’s version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Sandals have barely been kicked to the back of the closet, and here the holidays are upon us. But if you’re expecting Grinch-like grumbling from me today, surprise, surprise.

And Merry Christmas, too. For one Snohomish County family, the third Sunday of October is a stand-in for Dec. 25.

"It sure saves a lot of time at airports," said Walter Casebolt, who’ll spend today gathered around the Christmas tree, feasting on rich fare and opening gifts with his wife, Lola, their children and grandchildren.

The Casebolts are snowbirds. Come Tuesday, after cleaning up wrapping paper and taking down the artificial tree, the retired couple will leave their Lake Stevens-area home for the warmth of Mesa, Ariz. It’s their 14th year of fleeing the soggy misery of winter in Western Washington.

Our rain has its defenders, people who don’t mind six months of hibernation. But I’m with the Casebolts on this. I’d follow the sun if I could.

There’s no hibernating for Mr. Casebolt, 74, whose southern migration keeps him on a ballfield year-round. "I’m on three softball leagues down there, and one up here in the summer," he said.

The drawback is being far from loved ones in the season that’s all about family. Married 16 years, the Casebolts have seven children between them — she has four, he has three — and 18 grandchildren, most of whom live in this area.

Arizona to Washington is a long haul.

"They drove back one year for Christmas, but that was really hard. It made everything really rushed," said Stephanie Crosby, Lola Casebolt’s daughter. "The second year, they flew up, but it got too expensive."

"I really missed my big Christmas here, and all my sisters and good friends," Mrs. Casebolt said.

Their solution, a tradition started a decade ago, is Christmas in October, with all the trimmings.

For the Casebolt clan, today is like any Christmas Day, except the leaves are still on the trees, and there’s baseball on television.

"She’s got the fudge and the divinity. We get there early and kind of lounge around," said Crosby, who lives in Everett. "Mom always does games, a word-find or unscramble the word. We get in teams and joke about who’s cheating, that kind of stuff. Some of us just sit around."

They open gifts, having drawn names and finished shopping months before most of us have considered that holiday task.

"For the children up to 16, I do stockings. Then I cut them off," Mrs. Casebolt said with a chuckle. About that custom, Crosby said, "Boo-hoo, I miss the stockings. She always found the best stocking stuff."

October or December, it isn’t Christmas without a special meal, complete with pumpkin and apple pies.

"I used to do a turkey, a big Thanksgiving dinner, the works," Mrs. Casebolt said. "The girls decided that was too much work for me, so last year we had lasagna. That wasn’t like Christmas at all, so this year we’re trying a pork steak."

The early celebration eases holiday headaches. The roads are clear of ice. No one has to endure endless lines at the post office. In-laws aren’t squabbling about visits.

"The grandkids love it, they really get two Christmases," Mr. Casebolt said. "And it saves us a lot of money."

For those left here after the grandparents’ sunny escape, the arrangement makes for a happy day once the real Christmas arrives.

"Now it’s just Christmas with my kids," Crosby said. "It’s really fun, you don’t have to rush. Otherwise, you end up going two or three places on Christmas trying to keep everybody happy. By the end of the day, everybody’s got a temper."

Think of the Casebolts and their kids next time your temper is tested by a premature Christmas carol or eggnog in October.

They’re early, all right. But they’re early for all the right reasons. It’s not for the almighty dollar that this close-knit bunch rushes the season. Their tree is up today for family, the heart of the holidays.

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