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Vocapedia > Time > Christmas > Tree, Ornaments, Presents

 

 

 

For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston

Gocomics

December 22, 2013

http://www.gocomics.com/forbetterorforworse#.Urami_TuKAk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quentin Blake

London Library

http://www.londonlibrary.co.uk/news/xmas02.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas tree        UK

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/audio/2012/dec/25/
simon-callow-charles-dickens-christmas

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/dec/06/
christmas-trees-festive-fashions-2011

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2009/dec/04/
how-to-buy-christmas-tree

 

 

 

 

Christmas tree        USA

http://www.npr.org/2015/12/05/
458359947/christmas-at-the-white-house-where-youll-want-to-hang-that-snowflake-just-right

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/21/
your-money/o-christmas-tree-thy-leaves-can-be-so-lucrative.html

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/17/us/
17tree.html

 

 

 

 

tannenbaum        USA

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/nyregion/
tannenbaum-and-all-that-photographs-from-the-timess-archives.html

 

 

 

 

ornament        USA

http://www.npr.org/2016/12/20/
505881510/a-christmas-tree-ornament-is-worth-a-thousand-words

 

 

 

 

decoration

 

 

 

 

star

 

 

 

 

angel

 

 

 

 

horn blowing angel

 

 

 

 

bell

 

 

 

 

Christmas musical lights

 

 

 

 

small Christmas tree bulb

 

 

 

 

Christmas ball

 

 

 

 

bauble        UK

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/nov/16/
make-your-own-christmas-baubles

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/dec/22/
christmas-hazard-guide

 

 

 

 

candle

 

 

 

 

Christmas ornament fire alarm

 

 

 

 

wreath

 

 

 

 

gingerbread people

 

 

 

 

snowflake

 

 

 

 

nativity set

 

 

 

 

crèche

 

 

 

 

magi        USA

http://www.gocomics.com/jeffstahler/2016/12/20

 

 

 

 

chimney

 

 

 

 

mistletoe        UK

http://www.theguardian.com/science/grrlscientist/2013/dec/24/
grrlscientist-mistletoe-kissing-myths

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/dec/09/
plants-christmas

 

 

 

 

mistletoe        USA

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/22/
garden/a-mistletoe-shortage-threatens-a-holiday-kissing-tradition.html

 

 

 

 

ivy

 

 

 

 

rosemary

 

 

 

 

holly        UK

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2006/dec/24/
globalwarming.christmas2006 

 

 

 

 

poinsettia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Trail        Jack Elrod        Created by Ed Dodd in 1946        12.12.2004

http://www.kingfeatures.com/features/comics/mtrail/about.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

present

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/19/
the-case-against-christmas-presents

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/23/nyregion/
shopping-for-christmas-gifts-while-most-are-asleep.html

 

http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-12-05-
christmas-arrest_x.htm

 

 

 

 

gift        UK

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/19/the-case-against-christmas-presents

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/dec/26/how-return-unwanted-christmas-gifts

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/25/christmas-2012-what-gifts-you-get

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/interactive/2008/dec/01/christmas

 

 

 

 

Christmas gift guide 2009        UK

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/interactive/2009/nov/27/
christmas-gift-guide-2009

 

 

 

 

Christmas gift ideas        UK

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/christmas-gift-ideas

 

 

 

 

The Guide's Christmas gift guide - in pictures        UK        2012

 

With the big day (that's Christmas) looming,

time is running out to find the perfect gift.

 

In this festive gallery we showcase

a range of beautiful presents

inspired by the year in pop culture.

 

And remember,

you can't buy them in the shops!

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/gallery/2012/dec/21/
spoof-xmas-gift-guide-television-film 

 

 

 

 

Christmas stocking

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/gallery/2010/nov/19/
unique-christmas-gift-ideas-stocking-fillers 

 

 

 

 

parcel

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/25/
christmas-2012-what-gifts-you-get 

 

 

 

 

gift paper

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/dec/21/
festive-fixes-christmas-interiors-tips 

 

 

 

 

Christmas wrapping paper

 

 

 

 

unwrap

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/25/
christmas-2012-what-gifts-you-get
 

 

 

 

 

Boxing Day

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/dec/21/
wish-boxing-day-every-day 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where Crèches Once Stood,

Atheists Now Hold Forth

 

December 21, 2011

The New York Times

By JENNIFER MEDINA

 

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — The elaborate Nativity scenes rose in a city park along the oceanfront here every December for nearly six decades. More than a dozen life-size dioramas depicted the Annunciation, Mary and Joseph being turned away at the inn and, of course, the manger.

This always angered Damon Vix, who worked off and on in Santa Monica and considers himself a devout atheist, so to speak. How could it be, he asked himself each year, that the city could condone such an overtly religious message?

So, a few years ago, he petitioned the city and received his own space, using it to put up a sign offering “Reason’s Greetings.” But this year, he wanted more. Mr. Vix gathered a few supporters and applied for dozens of spaces in Palisades Park, a patch of green on a bluff overlooking the sandy beaches that this city is famous for.

Suddenly, city officials realized they had far more requests for space than they could fulfill, they said, and created a lottery. When it was finished, the atheists had received a vast majority of the spaces. The Christian groups were forced to choose three scenes from their typical 14.

Now, the city is embroiled in a seasonal controversy it has somehow avoided for decades.

“We’re trying to balance something that has been a real tradition here and also live within federal law,” said Barbara Stinchfield, the director of community services for the city. “We were trying to accommodate all the groups that were interested in the most fair way we could.”

Ms. Stinchfield has been somewhat surprised at the intensity of the debate — which has been a hot topic for days in local newspapers and on radio shows and blogs.

“People keep asking why we do what we do,” she said, sounding a bit weary. “It’s really a simple answer: the law regulates a park as a traditional public forum, and we’re trying to do that.”

Hunter Jameson, the president of the group that organizes the Nativity scenes, said he did not believe the city had done anything wrong. The most “extremely irksome” issue, he said, is that Mr. Vix and the other atheists seem most focused on pushing out the Christian scenes. Much of the space the atheists secured is sitting unused, and for the most part small white signs bearing secular quotations have replaced the Nativity scenes.

Under the city’s rules, any group was allowed to apply for as many as 14 spaces. Because Mr. Vix had seven people applying for the maximum amount, they were more likely to get the spaces in the lottery.

“Rather than use it to put forth a message of their own, they’ve really shown that their goal is just an effort to take something away rather than give anything to the community,” Mr. Jameson said. “They’re trying to censor something that the community has clearly shown it appreciates.”

Adding to his unhappiness, he said, is that none of the atheist applicants live in Santa Monica. (Mr. Jameson himself lives a few miles away, but attends church in the city.)

“The idea that religious speech is less protected than other free speech is an attack on the First Amendment, and the attempt of these people to block us is a real attack on our rights,” Mr. Jameson said. “This is just our way of saying ‘Merry Christmas.’ ”

Mr. Vix said he had encouraged the atheists to leave some of the spaces blank. If they put up as many messages as the Christians had, he said, there would be a backlash, and he predicted that the city would cancel the December tradition altogether. He also said the atheists had been trying only to receive the same amount of space that the churches had for years.

Mr. Vix said that from the time he first saw the displays in the early 1990s, he considered them a “blatant government support of religion.”

“I strongly believe in government and have my whole life,” he said, “and our founding fathers created the separation of church and state. If we don’t exercise our rights, we lose them. So I really felt the need to highlight the inherent problem.”

The Nativity scenes are not the only signs of religion this time of year. Rabbi Eli Levitansky, who helps to run the Chabad Jewish outreach programs in the area, said Santa Monica might have the “highest concentration of public menorahs” of any city in the country. (To keep score: there are 60 such menorahs scattered across the city’s 8.3 miles.)

Rabbi Levitansky, who grew up in Santa Monica, does not see a problem with the Nativity scenes and said that most people he knew — religious and not — were upset about the changes this year. “To come in and create chaos for no reason whatsoever, other than to just take away from the joy of the holidays for other people, is shallow and an improper thing to do,” he said.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said the Santa Monica situation was “one of the cutest success stories of the season.” This year, the Wisconsin-based group has put up its own version of a manger in the Wisconsin State Capitol, with Einstein, Darwin and Emma Goldman standing as the wise men and a black female doll as the featured infant.

The displays in Santa Monica are not nearly as elaborate. One of Mr. Vix’s favorite signs sits right in the middle of the park, but few passers-by stopped one recent afternoon to read the quote from Robert Ingersoll, the 19th-century writer and orator:

“Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.”

Where Crèches Once Stood, Atheists Now Hold Forth,
NYT, 21.12.2011,
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/22/us/
santa-monica-nativity-scenes-replaced-by-atheists.html

 

 

 

 

 

Past, Present and Yet to Come

 

December 24, 2010

The New York Times

 

What are your Christmases made of? A tree full of ornaments as old as you are? A customary feast, if not of roast beast? Perhaps they’re composed of wassail and yule, nog and Nöel, Scrooge, “Scrooged,” Pickwick and Charlie Brown. Or Handel and Berlioz, Garland, Cole, Crosby and Clooney, the Rockettes and the dance of a Sugar Plum Fairy, even Bedford Falls and “The Bishop’s Wife.” To Christians everywhere, Christmas comprises, above all, a decree from Caesar Augustus and in the same country shepherds abiding.

Running through all these Christmases is the sense of an emotional cadenza at the end of the year, a braiding of feelings like hope, renewal, nostalgia, love, joy and exhaustion. Yet in the stories about this holiday, it’s surprising how often we’re reminded of a darker life, full of isolation, penury, greed, despair and the fear that traps emotion within us.

This day may come to you as part of the yearlong liturgical calendar, or it may be a wholly secular day, the climax of a secular season. It may mean imbibing or baking for weeks or simply a late breakfast after all the presents have been opened. Perhaps for you the real Christmas comes on the eve before it, candle in hand. There are those for whom this day means mainly passing out of — at last — the asteroid belt of holiday songs we enter every Thanksgiving.

What does it mean to keep Christmas well, as Dickens puts it? Not the ecstasy of Scrooge, not even the festal exuberance of the Fezziwig Christmas Ball. All the good stories about Christmas — from Matthew and Luke or from Dr. Seuss — remind us that Christmas can be kept “anyhow and everyhow” (Dickens again) as long as there is charity and humility in the celebration of it. Charity, humility, good will and a prayer for peace.

    Past, Present and Yet to Come, NYT, 24.12.2010,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/25/opinion/25sat2.html

 

 

 

 

 

A Work of Fiction

The Box

 

December 25, 2007
The New York Times
By RODDY DOYLE

 

HE couldn't move — he couldn't turn. He was awake but his feet were stuck. Something at the end of the bed was holding down the duvet, making it heavy.

He pulled his feet from under the weight. It was O.K. — it was fine.

He sat up and leaned across to the reading light. He turned it on.

A package, a box — at the end of the bed. A present, wrapped. He looked at his watch. It as 20 past 6.

He lived alone.

He looked again — he hadn't stopped looking. It was a big box, for some reason old-fashioned.

He slid out of the bed and got to the bedroom door. He stopped. He looked again — it was still there.

He lived alone.

There was only one door into the flat. He checked it now — it was locked. There were four windows. He checked them, too — all locked. The last was in the bedroom. The box was still on the bed. The wrapping paper — big snowflakes, red background.

He checked the door again — still locked.

There was someone in the flat.

He'd come home late the night before. Alone.

He'd made a cup of tea. He'd watched telly; 20 minutes, no more. He'd gone to bed. He'd read for a while. There'd been nothing at the end of the bed. He'd turned off the reading light. He'd stretched down in the bed. There'd been nothing there pushing against his feet. He'd slept.

There'd been someone in the flat, waiting.

He didn't believe that.

There was someone still there, hiding — he didn't believe it. There was nowhere to hide. He'd been into all the rooms. Bedroom, kitchen, toilet, sitting room. That was the lot. There was no attic. He didn't have a proper wardrobe. There was no place in the flat that someone could squash into and wait.

But he checked the windows again. He checked the door. He unlocked it and looked out at the landing. It was dark and empty. He shut the door and locked it. He went back to the bed and the box.

It was definitely a present.

He hadn't bought any presents. He'd be going to his sister's house later in the day. But he'd bought nothing for his niece and nephews. They were teenagers; he didn't really know them. He'd give them money, for their cider and chemicals. He hadn't bought anything for his sister. He hadn't brought the box into the flat.

He hadn't touched it yet.

He wasn't going to.

But he'd have to. He couldn't leave it there. He couldn't call the police. Hello? Hello? There's a present at the end of my bed.

How had it got there?

He looked behind him. He was being stupid. There was no one else in the flat.

He went to the kitchen. He filled the kettle and turned it on. He went back to the bedroom. The box hadn't moved. That was good — that was probably good. If it had been gone — that wouldn't have been good. He was stuck with the thing. He'd have to open it.

He sat on the side of the bed. The box shifted. He stood up. He sat again. He looked at it.

He looked behind him again.

There was a chimney, in the sitting room — he'd forgotten about the chimney. He hadn't looked.

And he wasn't going to.

He looked at the box. Then he did it — he picked it up. It wasn't heavy. And it was definitely a box, under the wrapping paper. Something inside it rattled. He put it back on the bed. He grabbed at the paper, and ripped it.

A robot.

He threw the wrapping paper onto the floor.

It was a robot, or something.

Who would want to give him a robot?

It was Lego, he saw now. He went across to the door and turned on the light. He went back to the box. "Lego Mindstorms." It wasn't just a box of Lego.

He couldn't remember ever liking Lego.

"Create thousands of robotic inventions!"

When he was a kid. He couldn't remember making anything with Lego.

He was 37.

This wasn't just Lego. It was a much bigger deal. "Program robot actions on your computer."

Was it Mac-compatible?

He sat up.

Where had the stupid thing come from?

It was Mac-compatible. It said so on the box.

He stood up. He sat down. He picked up the torn wrapping paper. He examined it carefully, held it up to the light. He was looking for a message, maybe one of those little greeting cards. But there was nothing. He let the paper drop.

The door had been locked when he'd come home. He remembered the key in his hand, and pushing the door open. He'd turned on the hall light. He'd gone straight to the kitchen. He'd filled the kettle.

There'd been nothing unusual.

He picked up the box. "Batteries not included." That was just typical. Where was he going to get batteries?

He got a train set, once. He remembered lying on the floor, on his stomach, so he could watch the engine coming toward him, and the real smoke coming from the chimney.

He sat up. He got off the bed.

He sat down again.

He opened the box — or, he didn't. He thought he was lifting the lid, but he wasn't. It was some kind of flap. With a list of the contents on its inside — a checklist — and pictures of each item. It looked great.

He stood up.

This was ridiculous — he was being sucked into something. He was 37. He didn't give a toss about robots or Lego. He looked around the room. He went out to the hall. He looked left and right. He went to the kitchen door. He stood there for a while.

He went back to the bedroom. He leaned over the box. He looked again at the contents list. "See your robot come alive!" He put his hands on the box — he had to sit down.

He knew no one who'd do this. And it looked quite expensive. It was months since there'd been anyone else in the flat.

He lifted the cardboard lid. It looked great — all the parts in plastic bags. And the "quick start guide." He'd left his laptop in the kitchen.

No.

No way. It wasn't his — he didn't want it.

He stood up.

The door had been locked. And all the windows.

There was no way in.

The chimney.

No.

The chimney.

He went into the sitting room. He turned on the light. He never used the fire. There was a plant in a pot, in the hearth. It looked dead, but it was hard to tell. It had looked like that when his sister had brought it, when he'd moved in. He didn't know the name of it. She'd told him, but he couldn't remember.

He got down on his knees. He lifted the pot and placed it to the side.

It was ridiculous.

He looked at the dust, on the tiles in front of the hearth. There was a mark there that could have been made by a boot.

Ridiculous.

He bent down and shuffled forward, till his head was right under the flue. He lay on his side, so he could look up. He heard sea gulls, from outside. He could feel dust, grit at his eyes and mouth. He thought he heard scrabbling.

He looked.



Roddy Doyle is the author of “The Commitments,”

“Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha”

and the forthcoming story collection “The Deportees.”

    The Box, NYT, 25.12.2007,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/25/opinion/25doyle.html

 

 

 

 

 

History of the Faux Tree

 

November 8, 2007
Filed at 6:23 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

Love them or not, today's artificial Christmas trees don't have the uniform -- and unrealistic -- appearance of their forbears a generation ago.

High-end trees now do their best to mimic the inconsistencies of a natural tree, with uneven branch sizes, individually shaped needles and variation in color.

And the biggest change in faux trees over the last few decades is the move away from the jigsaw-puzzle tree of many little pieces toward a typically three-part tree that opens like an umbrella, says Janet Denton, Christmas buyer for Sears.

Pre-lit trees also have caught on, she says.

An artificial Christmas tree first appeared in Sears' 1910 catalog. It had a wooden base, five candle attachments, 25 branches and was decorated with red berries.

The price? 23 cents.

By 1915, some of the trees, mounted in large white pots with thick branches covered with heavy imitation foliage, could cost up to 98 cents, according to Sears' records. In the 1945 Christmas catalog, the retailer was touting trees with branches covered with a dark green straw-like yarn that was supposed to imitate pine needles.

Glamorous nylon net trees were advertised in the 1950s, and '60s artificial trees were a mix of aluminum, plastic and vinyl. All sides of the tree had a uniform shape in 1968.

By 1972, however, color variation between light and dark green and even some blue became popular for a more natural look, although some came tinged with ''snow.''

If you are drawn to an artificial tree, either for practical or environmental reasons, Sara Ruffin Costello, creative director of the style magazine Domino, says there are two options to pulling it off: One is to choose a tasteful, simple artificial tree. The other is to embrace kitsch.

''I wouldn't go for green,'' Costello says. ''I'd go for white or silver. ... A white tree with black balls, or silver tree with glass and silver ornaments and metallic garlands. I'd try to keep it just this side of not being tacky. If you have a real sense of humor, you can go all out and get away with it.''

    History of the Faux Tree, NYT, 8.11.2007,
    http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-SPE-Holidays-Artificial-Trees.html

 

 

 

 

 

Deck the halls with boughs of holly

- before it dies out

 

Sunday December 24, 2006
The Observer
Robin McKie, science editor

 

One of the crowning glories of the festive season - holly trees groaning with clusters of crimson berries - is being destroyed by a combined assault from car exhausts and global warming.

Researchers have found that high levels of ozone during Britain's increasingly hot summers are causing holly trees to lose their leaves in winter and suffer stunted growth. The twin assault is also weakening their ability to withstand cold.

'It is a double whammy,' said Dr Jonathan Ranford, of Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent. 'The holly trees not only lose leaves after being affected by ozone, they are then unable to replace those leaves when the growing season starts up again.'

Ozone is produced when strong sunlight breaks up oxides of nitrogen that are released by car exhausts. Scientists have warned that the problem is likely to become more and more severe as global warming intensifies. One effect will be to increase cases of breathing problems among asthmatics and the elderly. However, it has also been found that the problem is now affecting many other facets of life in Britain.

In the case of holly, the threat is outlined in a paper by Ranford and his colleague, Kevin Reiling, in the current issue of Environmental Pollution. In their experiments, the pair used sealed chambers in which they grew young holly trees under a variety of atmospheric conditions. In particular, they altered amounts of ozone in the air so that they reached the 70 parts per billion level that has been typical of the intense summers experienced in Europe in recent years.

Then the pair took these saplings and planted them in open ground where they compared the trees' growth with that of normal holly saplings. Ranford and Reiling found the ozone-polluted trees grew 40 per cent fewer leaves in the experiment's first year compared with the normal holly saplings. Intriguingly, in the second year, they found there was still a significant knock-on effect, with leaf numbers down by about 30 per cent. Leaves, using sunlight, turn carbon dioxide into sugars. Without a full complement of leaves, a plant becomes stunted.

'It is possible that ozone-resistant strains of holly trees will evolve as climate conditions change,' said Ranford. 'On the other hand, we may find we have much less holly to go around in winter.'

The effect of global warming, in combination with other forms of pollution, is also illustrated by several other recent studies on British flora and fauna. Last week the Marine Biology Association reported that seashore creatures, including barnacles, snails and limpets, were being pushed north in search of cooler areas of coast. Affected species include toothed and flat topshells, acorn barnacles, China limpets and small periwinkles while some, such as the tortoiseshell limpet, have almost disappeared from Britain's shores.

At the same time, researchers at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, have found that nitrogen pollution - from fertilisers and other sources - has been helping common grasses to replace and kill off the moss that covers most of the Cairngorm plateau, an effect that is now being intensified by global warming. Numbers of dotterels which feed on moss have fallen alarmingly as a result.

Similarly, buff-tailed bumblebees which are not normally seen until spring have been spotted both in Nottingham and in York, while the red admiral butterfly and the common darter dragonfly, which are normally expected to be absent from our gardens during the winter, have been seen in several counties.

 

A long and prickly history

Druids revered holly as a sacred plant and wore sprigs of it in their hair while watching priests cut the mistletoe. The Romans attributed the creation of holly to the god Saturn and gave each other boughs of it during the raucous Saturnalia festival. Early Christians decked their homes with 'Saturn' holly to avoid persecution, and it stuck as a symbol of Christmas.

In Christian folklore the prickly leaves of holly became associated with Jesus's crown of thorns, while their berries represented the drops of blood shed for humanity's salvation. One of the most popular Christmas carols begins: 'The holly and the ivy/When they are both full grown/Of all the trees that are in the wood/The holly bears the crown.'

Famous Hollys include Buddy Holly, the Fifties singer; Holly Hunter, the film actress; Holly Golightly, the character played by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Hollywood, which according to popular myth got its name from imported English holly growing in the area.

There are about 400 species of holly trees and shrubs, growing in all continents except for Australasia and Antarctica. Their heights range from 6ins to 70ft.

Holly berries are eaten by birds, but are harmful to humans, although holly leaves have been used by herbalists to treat fevers and smallpox.

 

David Smith

    Deck the halls with boughs of holly - before it dies out, O, 24.12.2006,
    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1978469,00.html

 

 

 

 

 

Ideas & Trends

Ghosts of a Christmas Past,

in Plastic and Tinsel

 

December 25, 2005
The New York Times
By DAN BARRY

 

On a December day so cold and wonderful that faces flash-froze in smiles, we traipsed about a Christmas tree farm before settling on a Douglas fir as big as your Uncle Bob. I knelt in the snow to saw it at the stump, while my two young daughters cheered hooray and my wife went to pay a man whose knees were dry.

Soon we were guiding that fresh trunk into the mouth of a tree stand - It fit perfectly! - and raising our Christmas tree in a living room warmed by a crackling fire. And as my daughters strung popcorn and cranberries to hang on the tree and my wife hummed Handel's "Messiah," I thought about how these Christmas rituals were so much like the Christmas rituals of my childhood.

Except that we never visited a tree farm, never had a fireplace, never drank cocoa, never hummed Handel and never strung popcorn. Even the snow was usually missing, unless you count the glop that hissed from aerosol cans and adhered to our windowpanes like splattered white mud.

Some of us seek to create a kind of retro, Restoration Hardware Christmas, while the more competitive among us strive for an older, Currier & Ives Christmas - each a vision of what we perceive to be authentic. Given this trend, it might soon be fashionable to festoon our garages with hay, while we pet our rented mules and present one another with exotic gifts. "Myrrh! What I've always wanted!"

All this is in keeping with the traditional Christmas emotion of envy. Just about everyone knows the feeling of twisting into a knot the pair of slipper socks you've just received, while your sibling is presented with a Mini Cooper. And just about everyone envies the Christmas experience of others, because they think those other Christmases are more traditional, more authentic, more in keeping with what Santa, I mean Jesus, would prefer.

Who among us has read "A Christmas Carol" and not wished that they, too, were dancing with revelers at good old Fezziwig's, lips numb from rum punch and bellies full of cold roast? Who has watched "It's a Wonderful Life" and not wished that townspeople would spontaneously appear at the door to ring in Christmas - though we all could do without Daddy stumbling drunk and suicidal through the Christmas Eve snow?

As I watched my older daughter thread a needle through puffs of popcorn to make a garland, I saw that she was happy, and that made me happy with how my family celebrates Christmas today. But it also reminded me of how we decorated our Christmas tree when I was a child, back in the late 1960's - with silvery garlands that by the third year of use looked like the castoff wraps of a waterfront gun moll.

And it was then I realized that no one gets all misty about the Christmas traditions of that era, at least as practiced by my family.

Fine. Dylan Thomas can have his "Child's Christmas in Wales," in which "All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street." And I can have my "Child's Christmas on Long Island," in which all the Christmases roll down toward Deer Park Avenue, like a chocolate Entenmann's doughnut rolling along the Formica table that was our street.

Every December, when people on Long Island were starting to say to one another, "Hey, Have a Happy," my younger brother and I clambered up to the attic of our modest suburban house to fetch an elongated cardboard box. It contained the rattling pieces to our Christmas: a metal pole pocked with holes, and a bunch of bendable green parts that looked like oversize pipe cleaners.

One of my sisters selected a Christmas album to put on the stereo; maybe the Christmas Sing-Along With Mitch Miller, or the "various artists" collection that featured a smoky-voiced Marlene Dietrich singing "The Little Drummer Boy" ("Come, dey told me, pa-rum-pum-pum-pum ..."). The other sister whipped up eggnog so homemade you had to spit out the shells, and prepared a plate of Ritz crackers slathered with peanut butter or deviled ham.

Then, with the mood joyous and holy, we began to assemble our Christmas tree.

O Tannenbaum.

In the years to come, branches would disappear, causing gaps that couldn't be masked with an ornament the size of a basketball. In the years to come, my mother - an Irish immigrant who had a farm girl's practicality about her - would store this assembled tree, ornaments and all, in the back of the garage, next to the lawn mower, where it would sit from early January until mid-December, when it would be dusted off and returned to the living room, carrying just a whiff of gasoline.

But in the early years, we had all our branches. And one by one, we inserted those branches into holes until we had constructed a lush approximation of a fir, or a pine; we were never sure which. No matter: it was green. Not white, not red. Green; because we honored tradition.

Then we reached for our aerosol cans. One emitted a smell that evoked pine, allowing us to imagine that we had just chopped down this tree from some magical, metal forest. The other sprayed that white glop onto our windows. A little bit in this corner, sssss, a little bit in that corner, sssss, a little bit aimed at Sis, sssss.

"Hey, Mom! Danny's wasting the fake snow!" she wailed. This was a serious charge, for in our house, to waste fake snow was to sin.

Oh, there was so much to tend to during Advent, that period of joyous anticipation. We had to pelt the Christmas tree with fistfuls of tinsel. We had to wrap gnarly garland around the banister. We had to display the Christmas mugs that, when arranged side by side, would spell N-O-E-L, except that one of the mugs had broken. But the three remaining mugs did the best they could, wishing us a sincere and happy N-O-L.

We also had to put together the Nativity scene, which created a crisis of spirit because the Baby Jesus, the smallest but most important piece, always seemed to be missing. Just when we had all but given up, and were about to use a small Lincoln Log as a replacement, the Baby Jesus would appear at the bottom of a box of ornaments. A Christmas miracle.

Come Christmas Eve, our parents joined us in the living room to get warm beside the black-and-white Yule log that burned on Channel 11. We listened to a recording of Mario Lanza singing Christmas carols, because somehow his versions seemed holier than those of Mitch and his sing-along gang, who could make "Silent Night" sound like a Sousa march. We drank eggnog, our parents drank something else, and we talked about the gifts we hoped we would receive come morning.

Rock'em Sock'em Robots! A Suzy Homemaker Oven! Volume 6 in the Hardy Boys Series: The Shore Road Mystery!

Christmas morning had a distinct smell, it seems now, of freshly brewed coffee, cigarettes and aerosol pine. We descended the garland-bedecked stairs to a wonderland, one without boxing robots and miniature ovens, but jammed nevertheless with books and balls and clothes and cheap toys, like that cymbal-playing mechanical monkey that would break and fall silent by New Year's Day.

After the torn wrapping had been balled up and tossed around, after the last of the sugary milk in cereal bowls had been slurped, we envisioned a day of playing with toys and asking friends a defining question - "Whadjaget?" - while our mother baked a ham and set out bowls of olives, which we popped in our mouths one after another until we could have no more.

But first we reluctantly dressed in our just-unwrapped clothes and went to Christmas Mass. We sang "Joy to the World," and we meant it.

Ghosts of a Christmas Past, in Plastic and Tinsel,
NYT, 25.12.2005,
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/25/weekinreview/25barr.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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