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Vocapedia > Time > Holiday > Christmas / Xmas




At the Pine Street Inn in Boston, Massachusetts,

Cardinal Sean O'Malley

serves a Christmas Eve luncheon

to homeless men and women.



Boston Globe/John Tlumacki


Boston Globe > Big Picture > Christmas 2009







































































Christmas        UK / USA





















































Covid Christmas        UK










Christmastime        USA










At Christmastime        USA










A Christmas that changed me        UK

















Christmas toys        UK        2013










Christmas jumpers        UK        2013

















the spirit of Christmas        UK






Christmas spirit        UK







Xmas volunteers > Volunteering over Christmas        UK






What is the meaning of Christmas?        UK        2012


As the big day approaches,

our own Polly Toynbee, an atheist,

goes head to head with vicar Giles Fraser

to discuss theology, heresy,

Jesus and shopping






Christmas charity appeal >  telethon        2012
















Christmas survival guide 2012:

everything you need to know        2012






Christmas        2012






Christmas        2011














Christmas pub crawl        2011
















Pope Francis > Christmas Day message






Pope Francis > Pope addresses first Christmas message

to those hoping for better world        UK        25 December 2013


Francis is greeted by screams

as he delivers message at St Peter's,

saying thoughts at Christmas

turn to the most vulnerable






Pope calls for an end to violence

in Syria in his Christmas Day message        UK        December 2011


Benedict XVI asks for God's help

in countries hit by war and natural disasters

in his traditional 'Urbi et Orbi' speech






Pope decries commercial glitter of Christmas        UK        December 2011


Pontiff's Christmas Eve address laments

that message of Christ's birth is obscured

by a celebration of consumerism






The Pope > Christmas Day message        UK        2010






The Pope's Christmas Day appeal / "Urbi et Orbi" speech        USA       2007

















Christmas lights        UK










Houses transformed

by Christmas lights – in pictures        UK        2011


Britons up and down the country

have spent weeks adorning their houses

with thousands of lights

















ready-made Christmas dinner        UK        2013






Christmas pudding        UK        2013






Christmas food handouts        UK        2012






Lunch is served: Christmas dinners – in pictures        2012


From the Ritz to a homeless shelter,

from a Manchester hospital to a BA plane,

Christmas dinner (or a version of it)

can be found wherever you are






Christmas dinner        UK










How to be the perfect Christmas dinner guest        2012


Pace yourself through the meal,

don't forget to wash up and accept

that cold turkey sandwich with good grace






Christmas pudding        UK






goose        UK








Christmas turkey        UK








Christmas dinner





Christmas roast recipes






Christmas dessert recipes






Christmas treats






Christmas pudding recipes






brandy butter recipe






The best Christmas recipes
















Christmas        USA        2011














Christmas 2010










The perfect Christmas hamper        2010






Christmas gift guide 2010







Ghosts of Christmas past:

festive adverts in the Guardian – in pictures        2011


With Christmas Day almost upon us,

we take a look back at Guardian adverts

from Christmas past






Christmas in the classroom        UK






Christmas cards        UK






leftwing Christmas cards        UK






have a poor Christmas        UK






Christmas > American memory / Library of Congress        USA







Christmas quiz        UK
















USA > Christmas seals        USA



first sold 104 years ago

in a Delaware post office,

transformed the treatment

and control of tuberculosis,

one of the most feared killers

of the age.


Just as important,

they produced

a revolution in philanthropy.


At that time,

the 1 percent of the late Gilded Age,

men with names like Carnegie and Rockefeller,

were creating major new philanthropic institutions.


Christmas Seals, in a way,

was the response

from the other 99 percent:

by marketing something

as inexpensive as a stamp

and using the proceeds

to attack a major disease,

the founders of the Christmas Seals program

demonstrated the collective power

of the American public.
















Boston Globe > Big Picture > Christmas 2009






Christmas        2008




















Christmas        2007







Christmas    2006






Christmas / Christmases        UK















on Christmas weekend        UK






Ghosts of a Christmas Past > Macon, Ga., Dec. 24, 1860        USA






Christmas books        UK











Happy / Merry Christmas            UK
















Christmas eve








on Christmas Eve        UK












Christmas Eve Mass        USA

















Christmas day        UK






on Christmas Day        UK






on Christmas        USA






Happy #xmas: Christmas Day on Twitter        UK        2012






Christmas TV        UK        2008

last-rites-for-christmas-tv-1208604.html - 23 December 2008





Christmases past, present and future





over the Christmas holidays





Christmas in jail        UK






celebrate Christmas        UK






USA > celebrate Christmas        UK / USA








mark Christmas





The Guardian Christmas Appeal        2006






Selling Christmas

during the Great Depression        USA


Tribune ads from the era show retailers

in aggressive pursuit of those spare dimes

chi-081209-depression-xmas-ads-pg-photogallery.html  - December 4, 2012





Christmas Day tragedy        UK






Advent Calendar        UK
















 Christmas getaway        UK












get away for Christmas        UK

















celebrate the Christmas Midnight Mass        USA






service before Christmas        UK






Christmas services        USA






hold a candlelight Christmas service





attend a Mass / mass





Christmas Midnight Mass        USA
















UK > The Queen's annual Christmas message / The Queen's Christmas address        UK











UK > The Queen's annual Christmas message        UK        2012






UK > The Queen's annual Christmas message        2008





















snowman        UK






Old Man Winter





Jack Frost





white Christmas        UK






white Christmas        USA


















at Christmas





Christmas eve





Christmas Day        UK











Yuletide        UK






yuletide        USA






Christmas cracker























Christmas carol        USA




a-christmas-carol-fit-for-a-cathedral.html - 2016








Charles Dickens > Christmas Carol        UK










Christmas music / songs        USA




















Christmas story






Merry Christmas / Xmas





Christmas list





Christmas appeal















Boxing Day        UK / USA


Boxing Day, usually thought of as Dec. 26,

but technically the first weekday after Christmas























Issue 1226        Price £1.50

19 December 2008



















Dick Locher

Chicago -- The Chicago Tribune




















Godless and Penniless: A Christmas Story

How one couple navigates the holiday season

with little money or religion.


December 17, 2008


















Christmas Merry-Making, How to Enjoy it!

An advertisement.

Record number: 1416 / Shelfmark: 1850.d.2513

Hand-coloured Window-bills

designed for Rag and Bone Merchants.

Samuel Reeves: London, 1860


British Library

britishlibrary/controller/textsearch?text=christmas&idx=1&start=20 - broken link















Christmas lights





Christmas lights and displays





be lit up
















WW2 > USA > song recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby

"I'll Be Home for Christmas"


"I'll be home for Christmas

You can plan on me

Please have snow and mistletoe

And presents on the tree



Christmas Eve will find me

Where the lovelight gleams

I'll be home for Christmas

If only in my dreams



I'll be home for Christmas

You can plan on me

Please have snow and mistletoe

And presents on the tree



Christmas Eve will find me

Where the lovelight gleams

I'll be home for Christmas

If only in my dreams"



















The Pictorial World

Supplement to the Christmas Number

18 December 1878


Copyright ©2000, The British Library Board

http://www.bl.uk/collections/depts.html - broken link















Benjamin Zephaniah > Talking Turkeys    1995


(from 'Talking Turkeys')


"Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas

Cos' turkeys just wanna hav fun

Turkeys are cool, turkeys are wicked

An every turkey has a Mum.

Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas,

Don't eat it, keep it alive,

It could be yu mate, an not on your plate

Say, Yo! Turkey I'm on your side."

I got lots of friends who are turkeys

An all of dem fear christmas time,

Dey wanna enjoy it,

dey say humans destroyed it

An humans are out of dere mind,

Yeah, I got lots of friends who are turkeys

Dey all hav a right to a life,

Not to be caged up an genetically made up

By any farmer an his wife."

http://www.benjaminzephaniah.com/rhymin.html - broken URL















Kipper Williams Christmas Cards 2013


Festive Christmas cards

with an economic twist from cartoonist Kipper Williams






cartoons > Cagle > Christmas        USA        2012






cartoons > Cagle > Political Christmas        USA        2012






cartoons > Cagle > Christmas foreclosures        USA        December 2010






Kipper Williams Christmas cartoons 2010


Seven Christmas cards

from the Guardian's business website,

illustrated by cartoonist Kipper Williams






cartoons > Cagle > Christmas        2010






cartoons > Cagle > Obama Christmas        2010






cartoons > Cagle > Christmas economy        2010






cartoons > Cagle > President Bush's Christmas        USA        2007











Corpus of news articles


Time > Holiday > Christmas / Xmas




Worshipers Are Targeted

at a Christmas Service in Baghdad


December 25, 2013

The New York Times



BAGHDAD — At least 26 people were killed and 38 others were wounded on Wednesday when a car bomb exploded in a parking lot near St. John’s Roman Catholic Church in a southern neighborhood of Baghdad, according to police and medical officials.

The bomb detonated at the end of Christmas prayers as worshipers were leaving the church in Dora, the officials said.

The victims, most of them Christians, included women and children, as well as a number of police officers posted to guard the church.

A few minutes before the bombing, and barely half a mile away, a series of three other explosions in a market in an Assyrian Christian neighborhood killed 11 people and wounded 22.

Khaled Yacoub, a parishioner at St. John’s, said he had not gone to the church for a long time out of fear, but decided to attend Christmas services with his wife and two children after hearing assurances that he would be safe. “During the Mass, we heard explosions nearby,” he said.

The priest said he would shorten the liturgy so the worshipers could leave early. While taking pictures in the church garden with his children, Mr. Yacoub said, he heard a huge explosion in the parking lot as people were walking to their cars.

“People were running around,” Mr. Yacoub said. “I caught my kids and entered the church. They were crying.” A woman in the church who had been wounded in her legs was asking for help, he said.

He said, weeping: “The priest was talking about peace. He told us that we have to be Iraqi before Christians, and we must love each other.”

His wife, Sahar Yousif, said: “I wasn’t encouraging the Christians to leave the country, but today am rethinking. I do not know who was behind this targeting, but we will not believe the words of brotherhood and peace and coexistence in Iraq anymore.”

Iraqi security forces said they were providing extra security at churches on Christmas and were searching those entering. One police officer stationed near St. John’s said he did not know how the bomb-rigged car made its way into the church parking lot.

Many Christians living in Baghdad and in other provinces traveled in recent days to the Iraqi Kurdistan region to celebrate Christmas and the new year, fearing just this sort of attack.

In other sectarian violence on Wednesday, six Shiite pilgrims were killed and 11 others were wounded when gunmen attacked their bus on a highway southeast of Baghdad. An improvised explosive device hit Shiite pilgrims north of Baghdad, killing five and wounding 11, according to the police.


This article has been revised

to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 25, 2013

An earlier version of this article,

as well as the headline,

misstated the location of the church

where worshipers were attacked.

It is in a southern neighborhood of Baghdad,

not south of Baghdad.

Worshipers Are Targeted at a Christmas Service in Baghdad,
NYT, 25.12.2013,






A Prayer at Christmas


December 24, 2012

The New York Times



Providence, R.I.

BACK when I was 8 or 9 and wanted to be a nun, I would often stop at church on my way home from school. The school sat across the street from two churches: St. Joseph’s, which we called the French church, and Sacred Heart, which is where my family went. Sacred Heart was built by and for Italian immigrants, an odd pale stucco building in the midst of rundown mill houses. I would enter and let my eyes adjust from the bright afternoon light to the dim interior. The smell of incense and candles burning permeated everything, and I liked to stand still for a moment and breathe it in before I dipped my hand into the holy water in the marble aspersorium. My wet fingers made the sign of the cross as I made my slow, reverential way down the worn maroon carpet to the altar.

I prayed a lot in those days. For straight A’s, which I got without God’s help. For a friend, since I was a lonely, peculiar child who had trouble making friends. For my father to come home from Cuba, where he was based with the Seabees. For a real Christmas tree, instead of the fake silver one with pompom tips my mother put up in my father’s absence.

These prayers were fervent, desperate. But when I went to church alone on those long-ago afternoons, I prayed just for the sake of comfort, for the peace it brought me. Sometimes a nun might appear in her habit and allow me to scrape the melted candle wax from the marble. I imagined, briefly, a life of devotion like that. A swishing black dress and a giant wooden crucifix swinging from my rosary beads.

That fantasy disappeared eventually, along with the ritual of churchgoing. I didn’t get the same sense of peace at Sunday Mass. For reasons I can’t remember, my family eventually stopped attending church, and I started questioning the Catholic Church’s beliefs. I dabbled a little, but nothing stuck.

So I was surprised when I was struck with a desire to go to church earlier this month. Not a Mass, but inside a church, where I might pray quietly and alone. In my adult life, I had spent a lot of time angry at God, mostly over the sudden deaths in my family — my brother at 30, my daughter at 5. This year we’d suffered another sudden loss, a favorite aunt killed in a car accident. Why on this December afternoon I felt the need to check in with God, I cannot say. Maybe a conversation with a friend who spoke about going to church when her daughter was ill, or maybe the appearance of Christmas lights and decorations around town.

Whatever the reason, I walked to a Catholic church a few blocks from my home in Providence. The afternoon was chilly. Boughs of evergreen draped across the wrought-iron gate. I climbed the steps to the front door and pulled. Locked. I walked around to the side. Then the other side. Then the back. All locked. There were other churches, I thought. Plenty of them.

I went home and got in my car and drove from church to church to church. All of them were locked. With each locked door, my need to get inside and pray grew. I felt it was imperative, that if a person needed to go to church and pray, she should be able to do that. All the things I wanted to pray about washed over me. I wanted to explain to God why I’d been so angry. I wanted to apologize for things I’d done wrong. I wanted to put in a good word for my son, and for my daughter, and for my mother’s health, and for a dozen other things. But six, then seven churches were locked.

When I told my husband, he looked confused. I was not a religious person, after all. “It’s expensive to keep them open,” he, the churchgoer in our family, explained. “But what about truly desperate people?” I insisted. “It’s probably not safe to keep them open like that,” he said. Then he added, “Maybe in bigger cities?”

The next day, I was in New York City. The weather had turned as warm as spring, and after a lunch in Midtown I decided to take a walk. The mild temperature made me forget that it was Christmastime, and I was surprised to see a line of people in front of Saks Fifth Avenue waiting to see its window displays. I joined them. Then I crossed the street to stare up at the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center and smile at the white angels blowing their trumpets in front of it.

As I turned to walk to the subway, a sign caught my eye: ST. PATRICK’S IS OPEN. I read it again. ST. PATRICK’S IS OPEN. Although I quickly realized the sign was there because of all the scaffolding around the church, I still couldn’t help but feel that it was also there just for me.

A church that was open! I crossed the street and went inside. The grandeur of St. Patrick’s is nothing like the little stucco church of my childhood in West Warwick, R.I. And even on a Tuesday afternoon, it was crowded with tourists. But the candles flickered, and the smell of wax and incense filled me. I dipped my fingers in the holy water, and walked slowly up the long center aisle to the altar. Around me, people snapped pictures of the manger with their phones. A woman holding a baby in a Santa suit rushed past me. When I got to the front pew, I lowered the kneeler, and I knelt. I bowed my head and I prayed.

In the years since I’d done this simple act in church, I have prayed at home and in hospital waiting rooms. I have prayed for my daughter to live, for the bad news to not be true, for strength in the face of adversity. I have prayed with more desperation than a person should feel. I have prayed in vain.

This prayer, though, was different. It was a prayer from my girlhood, a prayer for peace and comfort and guidance. It was a prayer of gratitude. It was a prayer that needed to be done in church, in a place where candles flicker and statues of saints look down from on high; where sometimes, out of nowhere, the spiritually confused can still come inside and kneel and feel their words might rise up and be heard.


Ann Hood is the author,

most recently, of “The Red Thread”

and the forthcoming novel “The Obituary Writer.”

    A Prayer at Christmas, NYT, 24.12.2012,






Wish You a Gun-Free Christmas


December 21, 2012
The New York Times


Well, the Mayans were sort of right.

The world didn’t implode when their calendar stopped on Dec. 21. But the National Rifle Association did call for putting guns in every American school in a press conference that had a sort of civilization-hits-a-dead-end feel to it.

And we learned that negotiations on averting a major economic crisis had come to a screeching halt because Speaker John Boehner lost the support of the far-right contingent of his already-pretty-damned-conservative caucus. We have seen the future, and everything involves negotiating with loony people.

Wayne LaPierre, the C.E.O. of the N.R.A., has major sway in Congress when it comes to gun issues. So the press conference, in which he read a rambling, unyielding statement in a quavering voice, while refusing to take any questions, could not have inspired confidence that the national trauma over the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school was going to be resolved anytime soon.

LaPierre immediately identified the problem that led to a deranged young man mowing down children with a semiautomatic rifle: Gun-free school zones. (“They tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem.”) Then he demanded a police officer in every American school. Or maybe a program to recruit armed volunteers.

At around the same time he was speaking, a gunman in Pennsylvania killed three people after shooting up a rural church. We will await the next grand plan for arming ministers.

The idea that having lots of guns around is the best protection against gun violence is a fairy tale that the N.R.A. tells itself when it goes to sleep at night. But an armed security officer at Columbine High School was no help. And history also shows that armed civilians generally freeze up during mass shootings — for good reason, since usually the only way a crazed gunman gets stopped is when he runs out of ammunition. So what we continue to have is an excellent argument for banning weapons that spray lots of bullets.

However unhinged LaPierre might have seemed to the casual observer, he sent a clear message to members of Congress who fear the wrath of the N.R.A.: No compromise on banning assault weapons or any gun control issue. That made it hard to imagine any reform getting past the great, gaping maw that is the House of Representatives.

We witnessed the magic of the House Republican majority when the Tea Party forces blocked Boehner’s plan to continue the Bush tax cuts for incomes under $1 million a year. This was around the time the speaker recited the prayer, much beloved by 12-step programs, about seeking the serenity to accept things you cannot change.

Boehner’s bill was mainly a political ploy, so in a way, its defeat was meaningless. Except that it would be comforting not to believe that one of the critical players in Washington was always at the mercy of the loopy-extremist wing in his caucus.

Like, um, Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas. On Friday, Huelskamp represented the House resistance forces on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” in an appearance with great Mayan overtones. First, he gradually acknowledged that he was never going to vote for anything that raised taxes on anybody, even if it was understood by the entire world to be a negotiating tactic to win massive spending cuts, and avert massive tax increases on 99.8 percent of the population.

Then the discussion turned to the Connecticut shootings, and Huelskamp quickly announced that the nation did not have a gun problem. “It’s a people problem. It’s a culture problem,” he insisted. Anybody who disagreed — like President Obama — was, he said, using a tragedy “to push a political agenda.”

In conclusion, the congressman announced that he had an 11-year-old son, “and I have a choice whether he’s allowed to play those video games. What I would suggest to moms and dads across this country is look at what your children are doing. ... And I’m not saying to pass a single law about that, because I think that would be politicizing the issue.”

Which we really hate. Politicizing.

There are so many ways we’d rather be celebrating the holidays. We would like to be gathering around the tree with loved ones, discussing current events in the form of that story about the theft of 6 million pounds of syrup from the strategic maple syrup reserve in Quebec.

But we are where we are. President Obama bid a Merry Christmas to the nation after announcing that he would try to re-avert the feared “fiscal cliff” with a bill that resolves virtually nothing but avoiding tax increases for the middle class. “At the very least, let’s agree right now on what we already agree on,” he said. This is what currently passes for a wildly optimistic statement.

Meanwhile, a congressman from Wisconsin, angry about the failure to pass a farm bill, warned that the nation was about to fall over “the Dairy Cliff.”

At least there’s still eggnog. God bless us every one.

    Wish You a Gun-Free Christmas, NYT, 21.12.2012,






A Victorian Christmas


December 24, 2011
The New York Times



AT the end of his life, Charles Dickens did not have great expectations for Christmas.

He had separated from his wife, describing his marriage as “blighted and wasted.” His mistress was not around. He was disappointed that his sons lacked his ambition. His final Christmas, he wrote a colleague, was painful and miserable.

“The Inimitable,” as he had christened himself when he was young and celebrated, was drained from traveling to give paid readings and suffering from such severe gout that he could not write clearly or walk well. He was confined to bed all Christmas Day and through dinner, bleak in his house.

Literature’s answer to Santa Claus, as Robert Douglas-Fairhurst writes in “Becoming Dickens,” had always gravitated to the holiday.

“Christmas was always a time which in our home was looked forward to with eagerness and delight,” his daughter Mamie said.

Dickens would dance and play the conjurer. “My father was always at his best, a splendid host, bright and jolly as a boy and throwing his heart and soul into everything,” recalled his son Henry.

Douglas-Fairhurst wonders if this “inventor of Christmas” might have developed his “ruthless” determination to enjoy the day because of the traumatic year he spent as a child working in a rat-infested shoe-polish warehouse in London after his father went to prison for debts. Did England’s most famous novelist need “to recreate his childhood as it should have been rather than as it was?”

The biographer notes that Dickens, in his fiction, “rarely describes a family Christmas without showing how vulnerable it is to being broken apart by a more miserable alternative. In ‘Great Expectations’ it is the soldiers who burst into Pip’s home on Christmas Day, saving him from a dinner in which the only highlight is Joe slopping extra spoonfuls of gravy onto his plate. In ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood,’ the young hero goes missing on Christmas Eve, leaving behind several clues that he had been murdered by his uncle. Saddest of all, in ‘A Christmas Carol,’ Scrooge is forced by the Ghost of Christmas Past to observe his boyhood self left behind at school, and weeps ‘to see his poor forgotten self as he used to be.’ ”

Douglas-Fairhurst points out that Dickens’s fiction teems with ifs, just-supposes and alternative scenarios, “what might have been and what was not.” He even wrote two different endings for “Great Expectations,” one where Estella and Pip don’t end up together and one where they seem to.

“Pause you,” Pip says, “and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”

Dickens was rescued from the warehouse and sent back to school when his father got out of prison and wangled a Navy pension. But that year drove home to him how frighteningly random fate can be.

“I might easily have been, for any care that was taken of me, a little robber or a little vagabond,” he once said.

His need to control his fate may have led to a mild case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. He routinely rearranged the furniture in hotel rooms, acknowledging that his “love of order” was “almost a disorder.”

Dickens — whose bicentenary will be celebrated on Feb. 7 — worked himself to death at 58, but he always feared obscurity was lurking.

In October 1843, he had the idea for “A Christmas Carol.” As Claire Tomalin writes in another new book, “Charles Dickens: A Life,” he told a friend “he had composed it in his head, weeping and laughing and weeping again” as he walked around London at night.

He had visited one of the “ragged schools,” set up in poor parts of London by volunteer teachers to educate homeless, starving and disabled pupils, and the novella, published that December, was his screed about the indifference of the rich toward those less fortunate.

Scrooge gets redeemed from an alternate life as a misanthrope, and Tiny Tim is saved from death. But two “wolfish” children, a boy named Ignorance and a girl named Want, are not rescued, but rather left to haunt readers’ consciences.

In his 1851 short story “What Christmas Is As We Grow Older,” Dickens makes the case that the holiday is the time to “bear witness” to our parallel lives, our “old aspirations,” “old projects” and “old loves.”

“Welcome, alike what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be, to your shelter underneath the holly,” he wrote.

Maybe, he suggests, you end up better off without that “priceless pearl” who does not return your love. Maybe you don’t have to suppress the memory of deceased loved ones.

“Lost friend, lost child, lost parent, sister, brother, husband, wife, we will not so discard you!” he wrote. “You shall hold your cherished places in our Christmas hearts, and by our Christmas fires; and in the season of immortal hope, and on the birthday of immortal mercy, we will shut out Nothing!”

    A Victorian Christmas, NYT, 24.12.2011,






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,






A Christmas miracle:

woman found alive

after three days buried in a snowdrift

• Rescue dog picks up scent and gloveless hand in field
• Blanket of insulating snow kept her alive in -15C cold


Wednesday 24 December 2008
The Guardian
Ed Pilkington in New York
This article was first published
on guardian.co.uk at 00.01 GMT
on Wednesday 24 December 2008.
It appeared in the Guardian
on Wednesday 24 December 2008
on p3 of the Top stories section.
It was last updated at 00.01 GMT
on Wednesday 24 December 2008.


For Donna Molnar and her family in Ancaster, Canada, Christmas is a time of joy compromised by tragedy. Eight years ago, her father-in-law died on December 22 and two years after that her mother died on Christmas Day.

So when Molnar went missing last Friday, there was a terrible foreboding of history repeating itself. She had left the house in the afternoon at the start of a big snowstorm, and was presumed to have gone shopping for supplies for the cake-baking she was doing.

As darkness fell on Friday night her husband called the police, and a rescue mission was launched. Over the weekend up to 20 officers, aided by numerous volunteers, combed the surrounding land, discovering her van buried in the snowdrift, but nothing else.

And then on Monday afternoon, almost three full days after Molnar went missing, something extraordinary happened. One of the volunteer search and rescue team, Ray Lau, was in a field near a farmers' market on the edge of Ancaster, a small town about 45 miles west of Toronto.

He noticed his dog, Ace, a four-year-old dutch shepherd, was excited by a scent he had apparently picked up.

By then hope among the searchers was close to rock bottom. In such harsh snowbound conditions - with temperatures falling to -15C (5F) - it is very rare for anyone to be found alive.

Molnar was dressed in ordinary clothes and only a winter jacket. The chances of her rescue diminished as the scent of the missing person was also likely to be blocked by layers of snow and dispersed by strong, swirling winds.

Ace ran off into a snow-covered field and was nuzzling something hidden there, barking furiously. Lau followed on his tail, and saw a gloveless hand and a woman's face half-obscured by a black hood.

He braced himself for a gruesome discovery. But the body began to move, and the face began to mumble something unintelligible. Donna Molnar was alive.

The officer leading the search, Mark Cox, said he had never seen anyone survive so long in such extremes. "Never even come close to something that was this unlikely. It really is incredible how she survived it. I'm shocked," he told the Toronto-based Globe and Mail. Since her remarkable rescue, police have been trying to piece together what happened to Molnar, a secretary at a school in Hamilton, in an attempt to understand how she survived. She had been feeling depressed before she disappeared and was on a new medication that her relatives said had caused some side effects.

When she left the house to go shopping, her husband, who was caring for her, was in the basement for just a few minutes. When he came back up she had gone, and he immediately went looking for her, noticing her van had gone too.

Police are not sure whether she made it to the shops, but they think she must have wandered into a field and, disorientated by the blizzard, lay down just as the storm was starting. She had become almost entirely covered in snow, with just her hand and face showing.

It was that layering of snow, police believe, that acted as insulation and saved her life. "She's testament to the fact that it's possible," Cox said.

The other factor without which she would almost certainly not now be alive was the nasal dexterity of Ace, whose owner called him a "four-legged star".

Molnar is now in hospital being treated for hypothermia and frostbite. Though she may lose the tips of some fingers or toes, she is expected to recover fully.

Soon after she was found, she told her rescuers she didn't intend to cause them any trouble. "I've been out here a long time, haven't I?" she said.

    A Christmas miracle:
    woman found alive after three days buried in a snowdrift, G, 24.12.2008,






Nature Notes: birdsong at Christmas


December 24, 2008
From The Times
Derwent May


Children getting up in the dark on Christmas morning to look at their presents may find themselves accompanied by a song thrush or a robin singing. Both these birds are now singing well before dawn, and their songs sound very loud in the silence. The robins occupy their small territories all through the winter and sing to proclaim their ownership. Sometimes they can be seen chasing off an intruding robin even on a snowy day. The song thrushes are just laying down an early claim to a territory in which they will nest in in the spring. Peacock butterflies have sometimes been seen flying about on a sunny Christmas afternoon. There are many of them hibernating in dark garages and sheds where they are almost impossible to see when their wings, with their shadowy undersides, are closed. But if they are disturbed they may wave their wings and flash the eyespots on them to frighten marauding birds, and if it is warm they may wake up and come out.

    Nature Notes: birdsong at Christmas, Ts, 24.12.2008,







When Christmas Morning Comes


December 25, 2007
The New York Times


This is a simple holiday. Ask any child, or, better yet, ask yourself what you recall from your own childhood Christmases. Presents, yes, and shopping and decorations and the return of familiar songs and the smells of baking and perhaps the cadence of a few verses from the early chapters of Matthew and Luke.

What persists above all is the feeling of finally going to bed on a dark winter’s night full of hope for what the morning will bring. Even jaded adults can remember how that felt, and they remember it as viscerally as they remember anything.

The emotional truth in that transition lies at the heart of Christmas. It captures the most basic rhythm of our lives — going to bed at night and getting up in the morning — and makes us keenly, happily aware of it. That rhythm is all the more stirring because the season is so penetrating, the winter darkness so long.

Both of the basic stories we tell about Christmas, the shepherds in their fields by night and the peregrinations of Santa Claus, fill the darkness with life and possibility. A stranger, an extragalactic visitor wise enough to look past all the shopping, might be forgiven for thinking that this is the festival in which we celebrate the magic of sleep.

After all, what other holiday do we attend in robes and pajamas?

The optimism, the generosity, the charitable warmth of Christmas do stem, of course, from the pattern and the meaning of the biblical story. They have their source, too, in the sense of regeneration now that we’ve turned this darkest corner of the solar year.

Christmas is imbued with a more everyday hope as well, a recognition that the transition from sleep to waking always carries with it the immeasurable gift of a new day. The very premise is hopeful.

No one expects to wake every day as joyfully as a child at Christmas, or to sleep as badly the night before. The gift of possibility is there every morning.

    When Christmas Morning Comes, NYT, 25.12.2007,






A Work of Fiction

The Box


December 25, 2007
The New York Times


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 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.


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.


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,






Bush Celebrates Christmas

at Camp David


December 25, 2007
Filed at 9:01 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush brought his extended family together for a Christmas celebration at the chief executive's retreat at Camp David, Md., with gift exchanges and a traditional midday feast on the holiday agenda.

Gathered at the wooded compound in the Catoctin Mountains, located about 60 miles northwest of Washington, were the first couple's twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna; Mrs. Bush's mother, Jenna Welch; the president's sister, Doro Bush Koch, and her family; and the president's brother, Marvin, and his family.

The Christmas Day lunch menu called for roast turkey, cornbread dressing, green beans, sweet potato casserole, fruit salad, pumpkin and pecan pies and red velvet cake.

Bush planned to leave Camp David on Wednesday for his Texas ranch and was expected to return to Washington on New Year's Day.

On Jan. 8, the president is scheduled to begin a trip to the Middle East with stops in Israel, the West Bank, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

    Bush Celebrates Christmas at Camp David, NYT, 25.12.2007,






Mass Held at Ground Zero

One Last Time


December 25, 2007
Filed at 8:31 a.m. ET
The New York Times


NEW YORK (AP) -- The first midnight Mass at ground zero was celebrated as workers were still clearing debris from the World Trade Center and recovering bodies after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The last was held Monday night, giving police, firefighters, recovery workers and victims' families a final chance to pray on Christmas Eve at the site, where intensifying construction is increasingly taking up open space.

''A lot of us felt sad this was the last official midnight Mass on-site, but at the same time, there was a sense of relief. This brought closure for us,'' the Rev. Brian Jordan said early Tuesday after the service ended. A chaplain who spent 10 months at ground zero after Sept. 11, he has since presided over every midnight Mass there.

About 75 people attended the Mass, he said. One police officer was there for the first time; he had recently returned from military service in Afghanistan and before that Iraq, Jordan said. A sanitation worker who was involved in the ground zero cleanup and has sung at each year's service rendered ''God Bless America'' and ''O Holy Night.''

At one point in the prayers, those gathered were asked to say the names of loved ones who died in the 2001 attacks. As many as 150 names were mentioned, said Jordan, who carried a chalice dedicated to the memory of the Rev. Mychal Judge, a fire chaplain killed while performing last rites on other victims' bodies outside the trade center.

''It was poignant, it was moving, it was uplifting,'' Jordan said.

More than 150 people attended the first Mass in 2001, while thousands of workers were still removing the debris from the fallen twin towers and searching for bodies. Over the years, the service became a spiritual salve for those who participated.

''I see the healing that it does,'' construction worker Frank Silecchia said. ''It's like a pilgrimage.''

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site, has moved the service at times from one part of the property to another, depending on construction. Officials hope to open five office towers, a transit hub and a Sept. 11 memorial there within the next five years.

Jordan said he decided to make this service the last after Port Authority officials told him that heavier construction would make it impossible to continue the tradition in 2008. Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman disputed that claim, saying Monday a spot would be found if Jordan wanted to hold future services at the site.

Jordan said it was fitting for this year's Mass to be the final one, noting that the most recent Sept. 11 commemoration may have marked the last time victims' families were allowed to descend into the pit at ground zero to remember their relatives.

''This was a holy night on sacred ground,'' he said. ''As I told the people at the site, it's been an honor and a privilege to be able to say Mass here.''


Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz

contributed to this report.

    Mass Held at Ground Zero One Last Time, NYT, 25.12.2007,






Op-Ed Columnist

Nightmare Before Christmas


December 22, 2007
The New York Times


Christmastime is bonus time on Wall Street, and the Gucci set has been blessed with another record harvest.

Forget the turbulence in the financial markets and the subprime debacle. Forget the dark clouds of a possible recession. Bloomberg News tells us that the top securities firms are handing out nearly $38 billion in seasonal bonuses, the highest total ever.

But there’s a reason to temper the celebration, if only out of respect for an old friend who’s not doing too well. Even as the Wall Streeters are high-fiving and ordering up record shipments of Champagne and caviar, the American dream is on life-support.

I had a conversation the other day with Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. He mentioned a poll of working families that had shown that their belief in that mythical dream that has sustained so many generations for so long is fading faster than sunlight on a December afternoon.

The poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners for the Change to Win labor federation, found that only 16 percent of respondents believed that their children’s generation would be better off financially than their own. While some respondents believed that the next generation would fare roughly the same as this one, nearly 50 percent held the exceedingly gloomy view that today’s children would be “worse off” when the time comes for them to enter the world of work and raise their own families.

That absence of optimism is positively un-American.

“These are parents who cannot see where the jobs of the future are that will allow their kids to have a better life than they had,” said Mr. Stern. “And they’re not wrong. That’s the problem.”

Record bonuses on Wall Street at a time when ordinary working Americans are filled with anxiety about their economic future are signs that the trickle-down phenomenon that was supposed to have benefited everyone never happened.

The rich, boosted by the not-so-invisible hand of the corporate ideologues in government, have done astonishingly well in recent decades, while the rest of the population has tended to tread water economically, or drown.

A study released last month by the Pew Charitable Trusts noted that “for most Americans, seeing that one’s children are better off than oneself is the essence of living the American dream.” But for the past 40 years, men in their 30s, prime family-raising age, have found it difficult to outdistance their dads economically.

As the Pew study put it: “Earnings of men in their 30s have remained surprisingly flat over the past four decades.” Family incomes have improved during that time largely because of the wholesale entrance of women into the work force.

For the very wealthy, of course, it’s been a different story. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the after-tax income of the top 1 percent rose 228 percent from 1979 through 2005.

What seems to be happening now is that working Americans, and that includes the middle class, have exhausted much of their capacity to tread water. Wives and mothers are already working. Mortgages have been refinanced and tremendous amounts of home equity drained. And families have taken on debt loads — for cars, for college tuition, for medical treatment — that would buckle the knees of the strongest pack animals.

According to Demos, a policy research group in New York, “American families are using credit cards to bridge the gaps created by stagnant wages and higher costs of living.” Americans owe nearly $900 billion on their credit cards.

We’re running out of smoke and mirrors. The fundamental problem, the problem that is destroying the dream, is the extreme inequality pounded into the system by the corporate crowd and its handmaidens in government.

As Mr. Stern said: “To me, the issue in America is not a question of wealth or growth, it’s a question of distribution.”

When such an overwhelming portion of the economic benefits are skewed toward a tiny portion of the population — as has happened in the U.S. over the past few decades — it’s impossible for the society as a whole not to suffer.

Americans work extremely hard and are amazingly productive. But without the clout of a strong union movement, and arrayed against the mighty power of the corporations and the federal government, they don’t receive even a reasonably fair share of the economic benefits from their hard work or productivity.

Instead of celebrating bonuses this Christmas season, too many American workers are looking with dread toward 2008, worried about their rising levels of debt, or whether they will be able to hang on to a job with few or no benefits or how to tell their kids that they won’t be able to help with the cost of college.

It’s not the stuff of which dreams are made.

Gail Collins is off today.

    Nightmare Before Christmas, NYT, 22.12.2007,






UK cinemagoers

flock to 'anti-Christmas' Compass


Thursday December 20, 2007
Guardian Unlimited
Staff and agencies


Despite being labelled "the most anti-Christmas film possible" by the Vatican, The Golden Compass consolidated its hold at the top of the UK box office this week. The big budget adaptation of the Philip Pullman fantasy saga earned £12m to comfortably hold off the challenge of new arrivals Enchanted and Bee Movie, which entered the chart in second and third place respectively.

Fred Claus fell two spots to fourth position, while the toyshop spectacular Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium was another new entry at five.

The Golden Compass has generally received lukewarm reviews from the critics, although few were as stinging as an editorial in this week's issue of the official Vatican newspaper l'Osservatore Romano, which looks unlikely to be one that the makers will be putting on the poster. It condemned the film as "un-Christian" and "the most anti-Christmas film possible" and added that it was "devoid of any particular emotion apart from a great chill".

The editorial took particular issue with Pullman's vision. "In Pullman's world, hope simply does not exist, because there is no salvation but only personal, individualistic capacity to control the situation and dominate events," it said.

    UK cinemagoers flock to 'anti-Christmas' Compass, G, 20.12.2007,






Missing in a Snowy Forest for Days,

a Family Is Safe


December 20, 2007
The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO — A man and his three children who disappeared in the snowy woods last weekend were found shivering, but alive, by rescuers on Wednesday, in a three-day saga that began with a hunt for a Christmas tree and ended with what rescuers called a Christmas miracle.

The man, Frederick Dominguez, and his three children, Christopher, 18, Alexis, 15, and Joshua, 12, disappeared Sunday in a heavy forested area near Paradise, Calif., 150 miles north of San Francisco. The family had driven their pickup truck into the forest to hunt for a tree, said the authorities, who found their vehicle on a remote rural road late Monday, after the children’s mother reported them missing.

Since then, rescuers had battled bad weather — including a foot of snow and chest-high drifts — and poor visibility in their search. But about midday Wednesday, a helicopter crew from the California Highway Patrol spotted the family in a canyon west of their vehicle, even as another storm approached.

“They had a minimal break in the weather, and they were doing their sweeps,” said Madde Watts, a member of a search and rescue team with the Butte County Sheriff’s Department. “And on their last sweep, they saw the family jumping up and down.”

Ms. Watts said the family appeared to be in good condition, and had used a drainage culvert under a logging road to stay out of the elements. The family was airlifted out of the forest and taken to a nearby hospital for a checkup; local news reports showed the children, walking on their own, wrapped in blankets and wearing parkas as they entered the hospital. Sgt. Steve Rowe of the Paradise Police Department said the family had suffered some hypothermia.

More than 100 rescuers from across Northern California had joined in the hunt for the family.

“Not only were they happy,” Ms. Watts said of the rescued family, “we were all happy.”

    Missing in a Snowy Forest for Days, a Family Is Safe, NYT, 20.12.2007,






Church Is Robbed During Christmas Mass


December 26, 2006
The New York Times


The morning heist in Flushing, Queens, yesterday seemed too bad to be true.

It happened at the Church of St. Mel during the 9 a.m. Christmas Mass, which was said in Italian. The parishioners had helped fill the safe in the sacristy with something north of $20,000, including money for needy children. The thieves, according to police and witness accounts, opened the safe, and lugged a heavy metal box with the money to a white sport utility vehicle with Vermont license plates.

There are, certainly, much more heinous offenses, especially considering that the collection in the safe consisted mostly of checks that could be stopped, and that the whole amount was insured. But the nerve shown by the thieves made it hard — especially for parishioners who had attended the church for decades — to imagine a worse transgression.

“I’m shocked,” said Claudia DiMaggio, 36, who went to the church’s grammar school. “I’ve never heard of anything like this before.”

The Rev. Christopher J. Turczany, who was saying Mass at the time of the theft, still sounded shaken in an interview after the noon service. “They were very bold — not even scared,” said Father Turczany, who believes he saw one of the thieves about an hour before the robbery. That it happened on Christmas, he added, “is heartbreaking.” But he was thankful no one was hurt, recalling a violent episode at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 2002 when a man waved a gun at a priest in the church’s rectory before shooting himself in the chin.

The police said last night that there had been no arrest.

Established in 1941 and named after a nephew of St. Patrick, St. Mel’s sits in a neighborhood of well-kept brick houses with trimmed shrubbery, on 154th Street between 26th and 27th Avenues. “It’s the kind of place you could leave your side door open and not worry,” Ms. DiMaggio said.

That was the door the thieves used to leave, according to Father Turczany.

He said that about 8:30 a.m., as he was preparing for Mass, he saw a man in a striped gray winter hat — “full faced,” as he put it, with an olive complexion — wandering near a staircase close to the sacristy. Nearby was the safe, which contained church valuables, including money from collections and a gold chalice.

“He said, ‘I’m looking for a bathroom,’ ” Father Turczany said. “I told him, ‘Well, you’re going the wrong way.’ My suspicion was aroused.”

After directing the man, who he said weighed more than 200 pounds, to the bathroom, Father Turczany warned the sacristans, Nicholas Nangino, 19, and Christopher Urena, 20, to keep an eye out. Then he went into the sanctuary to start the Mass. “I spoke about the shepherds who came to see the newborn Christ,” he said.

Perhaps half an hour later, the sacristans, looking down a hallway, heard sounds and saw lights flickering on and off. Already on their guard, they went to investigate.

“It was a diversion,” Mr. Nangino said. “We find nothing downstairs. We find the safe open upstairs.”

It was unclear how someone had been able to open the safe. Father Turczany said that a lever on the safe was “in an open position — but locked,” without elaborating. The chalice was left behind, but a box, described by Father Turczany as a 2-foot cube and an “absolute heavy dead weight,” was gone.

The police said a witness, whom they would not identify, watched the men take the box to their car, a white Lincoln Navigator. The witness apparently asked them about the box, and the men said it was equipment used to install an elevator.

All this occurred during Mass, causing some confusion. As Father Turczany, standing at the altar, prepared to deliver the final blessing, an usher frantically signaled him.

The box contained cash and checks from the last four collections, between $20,000 and $30,000, though Father Turczany said it had not been counted. Some of the money was earmarked for church expenses, while the rest was intended for poor children in Brooklyn and Queens.

“Here we are trying to help people, and they come over here and help themselves,” said Dominick Foglio, 82.

    Church Is Robbed During Christmas Mass, NYT, 26.12.2006,


















Alexandra Hughes, left,

her grandparents Phyllis and Ed Toohey

and her brother Andrew Hughes

at a Christmas Eve service

at the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest

in Manhattan.



Erin Wigger for The New York Times


Pope Offers Christmas Prayers for Peace        NYT        25 December 2006
















A Christmas in the City,

Revealing Wishes of All Kinds


December 26, 2006
The New York Times


There is no Christmas in New York. There are Christmases. How, after all, could it be possible to contain within a word the vastly different variations that the city mounts each year?

From the quiet pleasures of a working-class family opening presents in the Bronx to a father and son in matching bow ties taking holy communion on the Upper East Side, Christmas is a mirror and a lodestar for the city, reflecting its diversity and affirming its separate parts.

There are tourists looking at the Rockefeller Center tree and Jews looking for a decent Chinese meal. And there is a homeless man looking for something as simple — and as difficult to find — as a gift.

Here are a few scenes from these Christmases, a day that, at least in New York, makes sense only in the plural.




Starting Fresh in a New Home

The two girls opened their presents in a pajama-clad frenzy. Jade, 10, wrapped her arms around Winnie the Pooh. Veronica, 7, carefully arranged her new Bratz dolls inside a silver toy convertible.

The girls’ parents, Javier and Victoria Perez, had gifts waiting for them under the tree as well, but they were in no rush. They had, in a sense, opened their Christmas gift on Dec. 13, when they opened the door of their new apartment and moved in.

“That’s worth more than a million bucks to me,” said Mr. Perez, 44.

This was Christmas in the South Bronx, in the poorest Congressional district in the country, where happiness can be as simple as an affordable rent.

For about 10 years, the Perez family lived in a one-bedroom apartment near Yankee Stadium. The girls slept in bunk beds at one end of the bedroom, the parents in a bed at the other end. The kitchen had one cabinet.

In 2002, Mr. Perez was laid off from his office job at the Chase Manhattan Bank.

He enrolled at City College and landed a part-time job in the admissions office there. Mrs. Perez worked in customer service at a Macy’s facility in New Jersey. They needed to go on welfare to make ends meet.

Lately, though, things seem to have taken a turn for the better: The Perezes qualified for a two-bedroom apartment in a new housing complex for low-income residents on East 163rd Street, at the edge of Morrisania, with rent of $720 a month.

Mr. Perez expects to graduate in the spring with a bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies, and had an interview recently for a full-time job in city government. “Everything is coming into place,” he said.

On Christmas morning in Apartment 2G, Mr. Perez sat on the sofa watching Latin singers on television. Mrs. Perez, 39, was in the kitchen, scrambling eggs with one eye on the oven, where she was roasting pernil, pork shoulder.

Jade and Veronica sat on the hardwood floor, ripping, pulling and cutting at gifts, many of them provided by an after-school program run by the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation, a Bronx nonprofit.

It was hard to tell who was more excited: the girls, or their father. Mr. Perez loves Christmas. Last year, he dressed up as Santa Claus for the after-school program’s holiday party. Two days after they moved into the new apartment, he bought a Christmas tree — a real one, not a fake one like they had at their other place.





Taking Pride in Family Traditions

Father and son stood near the corner of Fifth Avenue and 90th Street, chatting about nothing in particular as hundreds of people filed into the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest — some regulars, many not.

The Hugheses are regulars. They have come to this Christmas Eve service for as long as 22-year-old Andrew Hughes has been alive.

The matriarchs of the family had already secured a 10th-row pew. They make it a habit to arrive well before the Festival Holy Eucharist begins at 11 p.m.

There is an unmistakable air of regality in the austere church, where the operatic voices bounce off the vaulted ceilings. “It’s a tradition, this is the family tradition,” said Andrew’s father, Jefferson Hughes, 57. “We have a lot of them this time of year.”

For example, Mr. Hughes long ago taught Andrew how to tie a bow tie, and each man wore his proudly, the father’s red, his son’s, green. They feast on leg of lamb every year.

As Andrew has grown up, of course, traditions adjust. Last year he was working in Colorado and did not return home to New York for the first time; nevertheless, he assured his parents, he did attend the Eve of the Nativity service at an Episcopal church there.

This year, in another first, Andrew baked the pair of pecan pies for the requisite holiday dessert.

“It’s part of my moving home and helping out,” he said earnestly. “Yes, I have to be a good son.”

Andrew is deciding whether to remain in New York or to take a job in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

His father said he had given Andrew plenty of “balanced advice” about how to make his decision, as well as, for Christmas, some skis, noting, “We tend to be practical in our gifts.”

Andrew looked up at the snowless sky, mentioned the balmy weather and observed: “I guess skis would be more practical in Wyoming.”





Homeless, but Eager to Give

Wadud Rashid Mohammed searched for Christmas gifts yesterday in the one place he could afford them: a garbage can on the corner of 110th and Broadway. It was 6:45 a.m. The sun was down, the pickings were slim.

Mr. Mohammed cut a fragile figure in the darkness: a tall, thin man going through the trash. He discarded a pizza box on the sidewalk. He stopped to consider the pages of a soggy magazine. A box of Christmas lights caught his eye, but it was empty. Same with the 40-ounce bottle of domestic beer.

He sighed, stood up, scratched his head beneath a soiled wool cap. “Being that it’s Christmas, there’s not too much to work with here.”

It has become a holiday tradition over the last 10 years, Mr. Mohammed said, canvassing the trash bins of the Upper West Side for presents for his children. His boy is 10, his girl, 14. Both live with their mothers.

That’s what happens, he explained, when you have no job, no home.

Mr. Mohammed is 40 now and would like New York to know a few things. First of all, he has not always been homeless. Also: he used to have a job.

He shined shoes, which he was proud to do, he said, because a man can make a living shining shoes. But what he dreamed of all along was architecture, “building buildings way up into the sky.”

Then, when he was 21, Mr. Mohammed said, he crossed a street in Hoboken, N.J., and a sports car ran him down. It was a Porsche, he said; even now the word comes out like spit.

There were lawsuits. He signed some papers that he did not understand.

In his leg, the tibia and fibula were broken, and have been replaced with steel.

“I never got nothin’ for Christmas, nothin’,” Mr. Mohammed said, “even when I was small. You imagine that? Fourteen years old and you get nothin’ for Christmas?”

As the sun came up on the street corner, Mr. Mohammed found a tennis shoe and slipped it into his bag.





Speaking Chinese, Dining Kosher

Kent Zhang knew that few, if any, of his customers at Buddha Bodai, his vegetarian — and kosher — restaurant in Chinatown were there to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but he greeted each with a hearty “Merry Christmas!” nonetheless. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Harry!” he shouted cheerfully to an Orthodox Jew in a black hat and beard.

Harry, it turns out, was Zvi Bar-Lavan. He did not seem to mind being called Harry or being wished a Merry Christmas.

“Oh wait, you don’t celebrate that!” Mr. Zhang said in mock surprise.

“It’s O.K.,” Mr. Bar-Lavan replied, smiling. “He was one of us.”

And such was the observance of Judaism’s unwritten Eleventh Commandment: Thou shall eat Chinese food and see a movie on Christmas.

Mr. Zhang is delighted to accommodate the custom. On Monday, his small shop at the corner of Mott and Worth Streets began filling up at noon; by 2 p.m., more than 180 meals had been served.

“Usually there’s a break in the middle, but it don’t look like it will be that way today,” Mr. Zhang said between ringing up orders of shark fin soup and roasted pork — made with bean curd. “This place is good for everyone. Kosher just means clean, and everyone wants clean food.”

At one table, more than a dozen practitioners of the martial art Chi Cong exchanged conversation in rapid fire Cantonese. At another, a small group of Israelis chatted loudly in Hebrew.

The restaurant’s clientele is evenly divided, he said, between Jews and Chinese people. And yes: there are a handful of Chinese Jews who come in from time to time.

A Buddhist himself, Mr. Zhang has been a vegetarian for 12 years. He started with a vegetarian Chinese restaurant in Flushing, Queens, eight years ago, and expanded to Manhattan in 2004.

Business on Christmas goes up about 30 percent over a typical weekday, as regulars combine with once-a-year pilgrims. The rookies can be spotted by their surprise when Mr. Zhang thanks them in Hebrew, saying “todah rabbah” as they pay their bill.

One customer on Monday took his takeout from Mr. Zhang and said “Xie xie”— thank you in Mandarin.

Glancing at the man’s yarmulke as he walked out the door, Mr. Zhang called after him: “Bevakasha! Lehitraot!”

“You’re welcome! See you later!”





A Sight Worth Seeing — Twice

Sometimes you have to see something twice to really see it. Especially when that something is the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, and you are with a friend from abroad who has never seen it at all. So it was that Earth Bennett, 30, and Yohei Kawagoe, 29, sat in a coffee shop on Madison Avenue, waiting for night to fall.

They had already seen the tree once, while the sun was out. But Mr. Bennett, who is originally from Maine, and Mr. Kawagoe, who grew up in a Tokyo suburb — “the New Jersey of Japan,” Mr. Bennett explained — deemed it less impressive by day. There were no lights to throw a glow into the air, Mr. Kawagoe noticed, and too many people. They decided to come back later.

In the meantime, they meandered along Fifth Avenue for an hour or so, watching men sell counterfeit handbags or hustle tourists with games of three-card monte. Then they got a warm drink and waited.

“You couldn’t do this with your friends from Williamsburg,” said Mr. Bennett, who wore an eggplant-colored turtleneck. “They would be too cool to do it.”

Mr. Kawagoe, who has been working as an assistant in a pre-kindergarten class in a small town in Pennsylvania, was more amenable to the hype. “It’s the most famous Christmas tree in the world,” he said. Mr. Bennett smiled broadly, as if in triumph.

In Japan, he noted, Christmas has no religious overtone, but is widely celebrated as a kind of holiday collage, one part Valentine’s Day, one part shopping spree. He wanted to see how it was done in America. (Not, it turns out, entirely differently.) When the sun went down, the two friends left the cafe, chatting in a mix of Japanese and English. Rain began to fall, and umbrella hawkers immediately materialized. By the time they reached the Atlas sculpture, several thousand other people appeared to have done the same. They beheld a solid crush of umbrellas, interlocked, like the shields of a Greek phalanx.

“Oh!” exclaimed Mr. Kawagoe, who took a picture. They soldiered gamely through, past a grim line of wet, would-be ice-skaters, past the other tourists. They gazed upward, catching glimpses of the now-illuminated tree through the forest of umbrellas.

The rainfall grew stronger, and Mr. Kawagoe wiped the water from his eyes, reverently.

“I’m seeing in person what I’ve only seen on TV before,” he said. “I feel like I’m really in New York now.”


    A Christmas in the City, Revealing Wishes of All Kinds, NYT, 26.12.2006,






Christmas Means Giving for Wade and Wife


December 25, 2006
Filed at 4:00 a.m. ET
The New York Times


MIAMI (AP) -- A kid jumped atop a picnic table, threw his tiny arms in the air and let out a loud, delightful shriek.

''Here he comes!'' yelled the boy, who couldn't have been older than 8 or 9.

With that, the 250 or so underprivileged kids crammed in the back of a South Florida arcade began stampeding toward the guest of honor. Their tiny hands smudged the windows he walked by on his way to greet them, and they all began screaming indistinguishably as he neared the entrance.

Later, when asked what he thought of the tiny mob, Dwyane Wade shook his head and laughed.

''That was cool,'' Wade said. ''Crazy. It's something that's very special to me.''

The Miami Heat guard is an NBA champion, a finals MVP for his work against the Dallas Mavericks last June, a multimillionaire and one of sport's most recognizable faces.

Yet he still marvels about making kids yell when he shows up to throw a Christmas party.

''See, to us, this is what the holidays are about now,'' says Siohvaughn Wade, Dwyane's wife.

It used to be different.

The Wades would do what just about everyone else does Christmas morning: Wake up early, rush to the tree and start ripping into the pile of wrapped boxes.

That was before they could afford to give themselves whatever they wanted.

These days, with Wade in the final year of his first NBA contract -- one paying him $3.84 million this season -- and less than a year away from entering a new deal that should pay him somewhere in the range of $63 million over the next four seasons, money is no longer a concern.

So how many elaborate gifts are awaiting Wade on this Christmas, when he'll lead his Miami Heat in a nationally televised afternoon game against fellow superstar guard Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers?

Apparently, none.

''People like us 'get' all the time,'' Siohvaughn Wade says. ''Constantly getting, constantly buying stuff, always getting something for free. So for the last three or four years, we haven't done the thing where we set a bunch of presents under a tree. We don't feel like there's a need anymore. Now, to be honest, we just give.''

Wade arranged for his Converse shoes and brand of clothing to be distributed Saturday at his mother's place of worship, the New Mount Nebo Missionary Baptist Church in southwest Chicago, and soon will be sending another 100 pairs of kids' sneakers to the same church for another giveaway.

He's sent shoes to soldiers in Iraq, and to people struggling after Hurricane Katrina.

He's helped others privately and, truthfully, he'd rather do it all without fanfare.

''It's about giving. That's what Christmas means to me more so than anything,'' Wade says. ''It's not just giving presents, giving certain gifts. It's about giving what you can. For me and my family, it's about giving love, about giving cheers, about giving joy, putting smiles on kids' faces because they're the future. Hopefully, when they get older, they'll pass it on and it'll keep going down the line.''

This holiday is a pretty important work day for Wade, too.

His Heat -- still without Shaquille O'Neal, who's recovering from knee surgery -- are floundering under .500, yet are only 3 1/2 games out of first in the Southeast Division with a 12-14 record.

Defending the title has not been easy for Miami, which has not had its projected starting five of Wade, Udonis Haslem, Jason Williams, O'Neal and Antoine Walker together on the floor yet this season.

''I've got to try to get away from trying to put it all on my shoulders and say 'OK, Dwyane, you've got to go make every play,''' Wade says. ''I've got to continue to trust my teammates, continue to trust that we will turn it around -- because we will turn it around. Trying times will judge a team. Trying times will judge a man.''

Just as the last two Heat-Lakers Christmas games were billed as ''Kobe vs. Shaq'' extravaganzas fueled by rivalry between the former Tinseltown teammates, this one comes with a tangible sense of ''Kobe vs. Dwyane.''

Bryant is averaging 33.8 points to Wade's 23.6 in five head-to-head meetings. But Wade has come away with the win in three of those.

''Two great players,'' says Heat forward Dorell Wright, one of Wade's closest friends. ''Kobe and D-Wade are two of the three best players in the NBA, along with Shaq. It's going to be fun.''

Wade cringes at any notion of a Dwyane-versus-Kobe sort of buildup.

''Kobe makes you step your game up, step your leadership up,'' Wade says, ''because you know he's going to do the same. But it's not a 1-on-1 matchup. It's not about that, at the end of the day.''

In an 11-minute conversation this past week with The Associated Press, Wade used the word ''blessing'' four times.

It applies to his newfound fame and fortune. It applies to becoming an NBA champion at 24.

It applies to his son, Zaire, now 4, and the new baby Dwyane and Siohvaughn are poised to welcome in about five months.

And he used the word when talking about spending a few hours three days before Christmas with those 250 kids who ate, drank, ran with him through the laser tag room and had a free throw contest -- in which, by the way, one kid outscored both Wade and Wright, who came along for the party.

''When he does things like this, often he'll say that if someone did something like it or came where he lived and did something like this for children when he was a kid, that'd have made a difference in his life,'' Siohvaughn Wade says. ''He says that often. So he's out to tell these kids something they need to know -- that there's something more out there for them. That's what Christmas means to us now.''

    Christmas Means Giving for Wade and Wife, NYT, 25.12.2006,






Card From '53 Still Exchanged by Friends


December 25, 2006
Filed at 3:37 a.m. ET
The New York Times


TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) -- A Christmas card that bore a three-cent stamp on its first trip through the mail is still going strong, thanks to a little tape and a lasting friendship.

The card has been exchanged by Dick Rewalt and his friend from the Navy, Roy Stern, since 1953.

''We figure it's traveled about 75,000 miles,'' said Rewalt, who lives in Traverse City with his wife, Hedy.

The card has a picture of four snowmen on the front and tape holds it together at the creases. Inside, the original printed verse -- ''Happy hearts and happy homes are filled with old-time cheer/And it's time for two grand wishes: Merry Christmas! Glad New Year'' -- is surrounded by signatures and dates added by the two families over the years.

''You can see when the kids came along and then when they were growing up and leaving home,'' Rewalt told the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Neither the Rewalts nor Stern and his wife, Betty, of Gonzales, La., expected the tradition to last this long.

''If we would've known that years ago, we would've bought a nicer card,'' Betty Stern said.

The men served in the Navy from 1952-56 and bunked together in New Orleans until Stern married Betty, a Louisiana native. The Sterns first sent the card to Rewalt in 1953, when both still lived in New Orleans.

Rewalt kept the card, then decided to send it to the Sterns before Christmas 1954 as a joke.

''I figured he would say, `You cheapskate. Can't you afford a card?''' Rewalt said.

Stern didn't remember his precise reaction.

''I probably just said, `Look what Dick did. I'll fix him. I'll send back the same card again.'''

Rewalt didn't hear back from Stern. He forgot about the card until he received it the following Christmas, and a tradition was born.

    Card From '53 Still Exchanged by Friends, NYT, 25.12.2006,







How We Say Christmas


December 25, 2006
The New York Times


What would you say if you had to explain Christmas to someone who knew nothing about it? You might begin with the shepherds in the fields by night or Santa at the North Pole or even the druidic appeal of a winter festival that comes just when the sun seems most meager. Redemption and rejoicing, feasting and singing, humility and awe — these would all be parts of your answer, as would the perennial cast of characters who people this turning time of year. The personal explanations would come easiest: the rituals of Christmas Eve, the smell of fresh balsam, the stillness of a world cloaked in snow. You would probably have something to say about the importance of family and the force of a holiday whose strongest emotions center upon children, and upon our memories of being children.

And yet to really explain Christmas you would also have to try to answer the question that seems more pressing every year: how do those emotions and memories connect to the frenzied commercial machinery of the weeks that lead up to Christmas? What does all that retailing and wrapping paper have to do with peace on earth? There is no glossing over the problem — not to a puzzled stranger and not to ourselves. What matters is not just the disjunction between the majesty of those old hymns and the immodesty of this shopping season. It is that all those presents did not really catch the feeling we were looking for, did not say what we hoped to say.

A stranger might well wonder, don’t you always hope for peace on earth? Does good will really have a season? And if you genuinely love one another — truly hold one another in your hearts — wouldn’t simply saying it be far more eloquent than any other gift that you could give? These questions point to something most of us already know, that for all the push and pull of the Christmas rush, for all the sputtering of the commercial volcano that erupts at the end of every year, this is truly a holiday of modest spirit, a day of humble aspirations. What we want is to love and know we are loved and to imagine a world that lives up to the purity of that feeling.

    How We Say Christmas, NYT, 25.12.2006,






Jewish in a Winter Wonderland


December 24, 2006
the New York Times


I BLAME the Pottery Barn holiday catalog for the fact that my husband and I, both Jews, spent last weekend at Home Depot picking out a Christmas tree. I cannot blame our kids who begged us mercilessly for a tree, because we do not yet have kids. I cannot blame my parents, because although my dad initially supported George Bush, he never supported the Hanukkah bush.

In fact, I recall that he was extremely judgmental of one Jewish family in the place I grew up (Tulsa), who did have a Christmas tree every year. Even though it was decorated exclusively with blue ornaments and silver bows, my dad made it clear to my sister and me that he thought the whole Jews-with-trees movement was in very poor taste.

Then again, my dad was a man who, in his wood-paneled wet bar, had highball glasses featuring busty women whose clothes disappeared when the glass was full. So I learned early on that taste was subjective.

Fast forward to last month. My husband and I have been married a year and a half, and I am flipping through the Pottery Barn holiday catalog while he sorts the mail, and page after page is something beautiful and not for us, because we are Jews. In my humble opinion, Jews have yet to make Hanukkah decorations beautiful, unless you consider a blue-and-white paper dreidel beautiful, but what can you expect from a holiday whose spelling is constantly up for debate.

So as I browsed past velvet monogrammed stockings and quilted tree skirts and pine wreaths and silver-plated picture frames that doubled as stocking holders (genius!), I said to myself, as much as to my husband: “This is why I sometimes wish I celebrated Christmas. Everything looks so cozy and inviting.” And much to my surprise, he said, “We can celebrate Christmas if you want.” And like a 12-year-old, I said, “We can?” And he said, “Sure.”

It seemed so subversive. Christmas? Really? I thought about it for a moment. Or rather, I thought about what my parents would think. But my parents live 1,200 miles away. They weren’t visiting this season. They wouldn’t even need to know. (Unless, of course, they read about it in The Times. Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad!)

Still, even just considering the idea felt wrong and dirty and, well, totally exhilarating, like your first night away at college, when you realize you can stay out until dawn because nobody is waiting up for you. My husband and I were consenting adults. This was our house. Why couldn’t we celebrate whatever we wanted?

We decided we could, and proceeded to embrace the holiday in all of its materialistic glory. For example, I know it can be annoying to you Christmas veterans, but right now I love nothing more than hearing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” while I’m shopping for stocking stuffers. I love stocking stuffers. I love having stockings to stuff. I love the fact that whole sections of many stores, from CVS to Neiman Marcus, have opened up to me. I love tinsel. It’s so simple, yet so elegant!

I love that as soon as I told a Catholic friend what I was up to, she invited me to a gingerbread-house decorating party. How fun is that? And why wasn’t I invited before? What does a gingerbread house have to do with Jesus?

So here we are: two newlywed Jews celebrating our No No Noel (or Ho Ho Hanukkah) not because we secretly want to convert to Christianity, but because the rampant commercialization of Christmas works! Like your kids who desperately want the toys they see advertised on TV, I wanted monogrammed velvet stockings and my husband wanted the model train that goes around the tree and puffs actual smoke.

That train (which took two hours to assemble) was the first sign that our Christmas may not be all peace on earth, good will toward men. The vision dancing in my head was clearly Pottery Barn, whereas his, I fear, was SkyMall.

He bought blinking colored lights when I was definitely thinking white, and he ordered old-timey glass ornaments — a slice of pizza, a mermaid, a hippo — instead of the jewel-colored balls I had in mind.

And he keeps talking about the fake snow ("Should we get the blanket or just use cotton balls?") when I wasn’t thinking fake snow at all. I definitely haven’t seen any fake snow in the Pottery Barn catalog. And then at Home Depot, I practically had to pry the mechanical lawn snowman out of his hands. He’s like a Christmas crackhead — had a taste and now he can’t stop.

But despite our differences, we both love our little winter wonderland. Some nights, I put on our Starbucks Christmas CD, light a fire, turn on the tree and play with the different settings, put liquid smoke in the train’s smokestack and turn on the choo-choo sound effects and then I sit back and enjoy my first Christmas, in all its kitschy splendor. I feel a little guilty when I look at our lone menorah on the mantel (the only evidence of my faith other than my guilt), but I ask you: how can this much pleasure be wrong?

Before you answer that in a snappy letter to the editor, fellow Jews (including you, Dad), let me just say that I’m pretty sure that if we’re fortunate enough to have children, we will raise them with the same arbitrary rules we were raised with, trying our best to sell that old chestnut (roasting on an open fire) that “eight nights is better than one,” and putting this tradition behind us until the kids go off to college, if not forever.

On the other hand, maybe it’s nice to teach children that holidays can be done à la carte. Every religion, every culture has so many beautiful rituals and traditions to choose from. Maybe celebrating is a step toward tolerating. I can hardly wait for Hanukkwanzaa.


Cindy Chupack, a writer and executive producer of “Sex and the City,”

is the author of “The Between Boyfriends Book:

A Collection of Cautiously Hopeful Essays.”

    Jewish in a Winter Wonderland, NYT, 24.12.2006,






Bush makes Christmas Eve calls to troops


Updated 12/24/2006
2:14 PM ET
USA Today


WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush, who is spending Christmas at the Camp David presidential retreat, called 10 members of the U.S. military on Sunday to thank them for their service and wish them a happy holiday.

During the calls, which were placed to troops stationed overseas or have recently returned from deployments abroad before 8 a.m. ET, the president asked about the status of troop morale, said deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino.

"He said he wanted to call to let them know how much he appreciates their service and how proud he is of each of them," she said. "He asked them to please pass on his thanks to the men and women they serve with, and to give his best, on this Christmas, to their families."

Bush called the following servicemen and women:

•Army Sgt. Jonathan J. Corell, who has been serving in Afghanistan for 18 months. He has advanced skills in assault weaponry, which he uses while scouting and patrolling. His wife, Danielle, lives in Syracuse, N.Y.

•Army Pfc. Rebekah Vandiver, based out of Schofield, Hawaii, is deployed to Speicher, Iraq. As a combat medic, she is responsible for the prescreening of patients that enter the Battalion Aid Station. Her husband, Stephen, and three children live in Hawaii.

•Marine Sgt. Ricardo E. Contreras, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., is deployed to Fallujah, Iraq. As a career counselor in the Marines, he is responsible for the retention and career development of the enlisted Marines in the 1st Marine Headquarters Group. His wife, Deborah, lives in San Clemente, Calif.

•Marine Lance Cpl. Michael P. Matherne is a member of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron-211 and the Marine Air Group-16 out of Yuma, Ariz. He is serving in Al Asad, Iraq, as an aircraft communications and navigation weapons systems technician and repairs the squadrons 16 AV-8B Harrier jets.

•Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dwayne W. Meyer, a member of the Provincial Reconstruction Team at Naval Station North Island in San Diego, Calif. As a communications specialist in Kala Gosh, Afghanistan, he repairs communication devices, including satellite radios. His wife, Rebecca, lives in Chula Vista, Calif.

•Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Rahm Panjwani, who serves aboard the USS Boxer. As the ship's sailor of the year in 2005, he led 60 personnel in the safe receipt, transfer and delivery of more than 2 million gallons of aviation fuel during more than 2,100 aircraft refuelings. His wife, Heather, lives in San Antonio, Texas.

•Air Force Master Sgt. John W. Gahan, who serves in the 40th Airlift Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, has been with the Air Force for more than 17 years. He is deployed to Al Muthana Air Base, Iraq, with the 23rd Air Force Squadron, and provides upgrade training to new Iraqi C-130 fleet aviators. His wife, Karen, lives in Abilene, Texas.

•Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark S. Pleis Jr., who serves in the Defense Information Systems Agency in Stuttgart, Germany, where he lives with his wife, Erica, and two children. He supervises 30 joint military and civilian network controllers in the operational direction of the $2.4 billion European Global Information Grid.

•Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class David A. Rosales, who is based in his homeport in Naval Support Activity, Bahrain, and serves on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Monomoy. He plays an instrumental role in the launch and recovery of small boats, mooring and a host of other operations. He has volunteered to serve an additional six months in the North Arabian Gulf.

•Coast Guard Seaman Rayford B. Mitchell, who serves aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Diligence based out of Wilmington, N.C., and deployed to the western Caribbean Sea. Mitchell, a native of Columbia, S.C., works with the deck department, where he does hull and exterior maintenance and is also responsible for the cleanliness and general condition of the ship.

    Bush makes Christmas Eve calls to troops, UT, 24.12.2006,






Christmas on the front line

For our forces, families are often a distant dream.
We present some of the soldiers' letters home
and, here, Raymond Whitaker reports on Christmas at war, 2006


Published: 24 December 2006
The Independent on Sunday


Today, somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan, at least one Christmas dinner is likely to be held. It will be a curious mixture of khaki camouflage and silly hats, bits of tinsel and no-nonsense weaponry.

British forces on operational duties have to celebrate Christmas when they can, and for some, that will not be on Christmas Day. Even for those who do not have to go on patrol or guard duty, or form part of the rapid-reaction force, which is on standby to deal with emergencies, tomorrow will not be a day of leisure.

This morning, troops will be able to hear a special Christmas message from the Queen, in which she tells them: "Your courage and loyalty are not lightly taken... and I know that yours is a job which often calls for great personal risk. This year men and women from across the armed forces have lost their lives in action in both Iraq and Afghanistan."

Troops in both theatres will be hoping to hear from their families, who get an extra 30 free minutes in phone calls at Christmas, courtesy of what is called the "operations welfare package". Their loved ones in uniform will probably have a parcel from home to open - for six weeks before Christmas, families can send packages weighing up to 2.2kg without charge. At this time of year, the Postal Courier Squadron in southern Iraq deals with 1,000 bags of parcels a night.

All of Britain's 25,000 troops abroad, wherever they are, will also benefit from a tradition which has its origins in 1914. Two years ago the tradition was revived, and tomorrow each soldier, sailor, airman or woman overseas will receive a red decorated box with £35-worth of goodies inside. The contents are secret, but last year the box had some novelties, snacks and toiletries, and this year, according to Captain Gary Hedges, a military spokesman in Basra, it is "bigger and better".

Also aiming to achieve a surprise will be the cooks in places like Helmand's Camp Bastion and Basra province's Shaibah logistics base. They will be up as early as 3am tomorrow to prepare something special for the day, the nature of which is always a closely guarded secret. At one base in Helmand this Christmas, they received a surprise of their own: celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay flew in to join them in cooking a turkey dinner with all the trimmings for 800 troops. In some of the more out-of-the-way of dangerous bases, the catering staff will have to improvise with whatever they get their hands on locally. But they will all endeavour to produce something as close as possible to a traditional Christmas feast.

"Every cookhouse has a Christmas tree," said Capt Hedges. This is something of a surprise to anyone who has been to Helmand or Basra province, since there is scarcely a stick of vegetation in either region. "Oh no, they're not real," he continued. "They are made of wire and plastic. They come as part of the welfare package."

Much effort is expended to make the day a little bit different: there will be concerts, talent shows and pantomimes, at which the humour will be far from subtle, if not scurrilous; sports matches, or, as in Basra last year, a fun run in fancy dress. Many of the runners wore khaki camouflage Santa hats. There will be a church service for those who want it. Near Basra a year ago, Geordie fusiliers worshipped in a tent they christened "St James's Church". But the nature of operations usually prevents all the members of a unit assembling at the same time: at Basra Air Station, for example, there will be two sittings for Christmas dinner, to accommodate those on duty.

In some regiments there is a tradition of officers and senior NCOs waiting on the men on Christmas Day - "and having Brussels sprouts chucked at them", according to one soldier. But in forward operating bases all ranks eat in the same cookhouse, or canteen - the Royal Marines insist on calling it the "galley", even though in Helmand they are hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean - standing in the same queue to get their food from a self-service counter. And tomorrow, like every other day, they will have to keep their weapons to hand while they eat.

One element that most would consider essential to the festivities will be missing: with few exceptions, the troops in conflict zones will have to wash down Christmas dinner with nothing stronger than orange squash. No alcohol at all is available at the bases in Helmand province, where Britain deployed a force of some 4,000 earlier this year, and the rules have recently been tightened in southern Iraq, where around 7,200 troops are stationed. Under some previous commanders, off-duty troops were permitted a maximum of two cans of beer a day, while officers at Basra Air Station could patronise the popular "Buzz Bar", where it was possible to order a glass of Australian cabernet sauvignon. No more, however: the bar has closed, and it will be a lucky British soldier anywhere in Iraq who gets even a sniff of lager. "We are a dry brigade and division," Capt Hedges explained. "Battle group commanders can request a two-can rule, but it is very much an exception, only for Christmas." Few appear to have sought such an concession. The truth is, on the front line, it is pretty much business as usual on Christmas Day.

"Where local commanders can make the day special, they will," said Lieutenant-Colonel Nick Richardson of the Ministry of Defence. But everything, religious services included, is subordinate to operational requirements, and in Iraq or Afghanistan there is no chance of any First World War-style truce for Christmas. Many soldiers welcome the routine in any case, because it keeps homesickness at bay. "This is my first Christmas away from home, and I feel pretty bad about it," one young private told me in Basra last year. "On Christmas Day I'll do anything to keep busy, just to take my mind away from not being with my family." Flight-Lieutenant Jacqueline Hackett of the RAF said: "In my experience, it's not too gloomy. Everyone's in the same boat. Of course you'd want to be with your family, but it's not bad being with your mates."

Most of the troops in forward operating bases will wake up in camp beds in unheated plastic tents, and at this time of year, early-morning temperatures in Helmand or Basra province are little different from those in Britain. Many will be sleeping fully clad in fleeces and combat trousers, even putting one sleeping bag inside another.

In cramped Helmand bases like Lashkar Gah and Gereshk, the fitness-obsessed Marines - a member of another service described their arrival in autumn as "like having 2,000 PT instructors turn up" - will repair to the well-equipped gyms, also under plastic, to work off the extra calories from Christmas dinner. In surroundings where privacy is at a premium, pounding away on a treadmill is one way to lose yourself.

These days every ordinary soldier or Marine has his own iPod or MP3 player. Personal DVD players are also standard, with war movies curiously popular. The bases are copiously supplied with free red-top tabloids, lad's mags and periodicals devoted to cars and gadgets; I did not see much evidence of more demanding reading matter, but it is pointless to expect too much reflectiveness in an environment where sudden death can be a moment away.



Hello little lad...

How are you? Daddy would love to get on a plane and come home, but I've got a very important job to do, so I will be here a little longer than expected. But don't worry: I think of you all the time and what you are getting up to with Mummy. I hope you are still looking after Mummy. Remember, she is carrying your little brother or sister. So at times Mummy will be tired and a little grumpy. That's only because she is carrying baby. Not to worry, Xmas will be here soon and you will be with Nanny and Grandad, so that will be fun. What about the weather you have had? Mummy says that all your toys have been blown on to the next door's garden. Sorry I haven't wrote for a while but Daddy has been busy getting things put into nets and then watching them up to helicopters. It's a little scary because the bottom of the helicopter is just above your head, about the length of your arm and a little more. I'm not too busy at the moment. I'm just looking for work to do. I have a little to do today then I will go for a run. There is a big sand dune all around camp so I run around that listening to music. Anyway, I'm going to dream you and picture you. Love you

Colour Sgt Jason Longmate

Age: 32

Rank: Quarter Master Green Jacket, 2 Battalion light infantry

Base: Edinburgh.

Serving in Afghanistan

CS Longmate had been planning to spend Christmas at his home in Edinburgh with his two-year-old son, Austin, and his wife, Ellen, who is pregnant. But at the beginning of November he was told he would be spending Christmas with troops in Afghanistan. They had arranged for all the family to stay but instead Ellen and Austin have travelled down to Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, to stay with Ellen's parents and sister. Ellen said: "We weren't expecting to be without Jason. You are always half expecting it, but it makes it harder that it is over Christmas. I came to my Mum's, so that I didn't have to think about it so much."

Ellen is a co-ordinator for the Army Families Federation and has been married to Jason for nine years. "Jason will be working on Christmas Day. I think they will have Christmas dinner but probably not much more. He is a bit down about being away from us, and he knew some of those that have died, so it brings it all home to him. I know he isn't on the front line, but he is at risk when he is re-supplying helicopters."




Dear Mum, Dad, Hannah and Grandad Burns...

Just a little note to let you all know that I am thinking of you all so much. Christmas won't be the same without you. Thank you all so much for my early Christmas Day back in November. I am still telling everybody about it now. Still working hard over here. The company are keeping me occupied as usual. The busier I am though the faster the days seem to go. Thank you all for my gifts. I will make sure I open them on Christmas morning. I have been good and not even sneaked a peek at them, which probably surprises you. Also thank you for all my warm winter socks and PJs. Can't believe it gets so cold in Iraq. I even wear the pink bobble hat in the office. My thoughts are always with you alland the whole family and friends.

Massive hugs and kisses

Love Ali

L/cpl Ali Burns, 'A' Company, 2nd Battalion, The Light Infantry, Basra, Iraq

Hi there...

I hope you are well. I am really going to miss you this Christmas!

I will miss the family getting together and celebrating together. It will be work as normal for me.

It's the weekends I hate the most as I like to go and socialise with my mates down the pub and play football for my local team, Steelers FC (all the best for the rest of the season, lads).

Most of all I will miss the smiles on the faces of my niece and nephew when they open their presents on Christmas morning.

Sadly, this year I will have to put up with sand rather than snow, but I wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

25065498 Cpl Michael Young, 19, Light Brigade, Basra, Iraq




To Mum, Lisa, darling Verity and my family...

It's strange to be here at Christmas. I'm not normally one for excessive celebrations at this time of year, but listening to the standard anthems being trotted out does threaten to heighten the sense of dislocation from normal life that we get while we're here. In one sense, it's just another day on operations; but then, you catch sight of the little pile of presents in your locker that I'm looking forward to opening. Morale is uniformly good. We're learning new skills daily, and it's great to be seeing the positive effect our efforts are having. The officers and SNCOs will be performing duties over Christmas in order to give the lads a few hours of down time. We really are fine here. I hope you have a lovely time - I'll try to phone at some point during Christmas Day - and I'll see you in a few months. Verity, you looked so sweet dancing in your first Christmas play at nursery; I really enjoyed the video.

Lots of love

Paul/Daddy xxx

Cpt Whillis OC Tigris Troop, 19 Light Brigade Headquarters and Signal Squadron (209), Basra, Iraq




Hi there Nina...

Usually at this time of year it is hard to keep up with all the parties and festiveness that surrounds us. Not this year.

I hate the fact that I am going to miss or have already missed these parties. I am really going to miss being at home and seeing your faces when you get a present you didn't really want but are still pleased to receive anyway.

I look forward to coming home next year and spending some time with you and the family, and playing rugby with my mates, and having more than a few beers in the bar afterwards!

I wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year.

25078207 Cpl Michael Jones, Hq 19 Light Brigade, Basra, Iraq




Hey, darlin' how's things?

You been in work again tonight?

It was brilliant speakin' to u last night - well worth stopping up for! even tho I got called out two hours after gettin' in to bed! It's got to be feelin' mega Christmasie at home now!! Miss the atmosphere around people this time of year!! Just gonna try and make the most of it out here so, knowin' the lads, we will have a laugh either way!!

I will be thinkin' of ya on the day and u will have to wait for your prezzie!!

write you 2morrow!

lv ben xxxxxx

Spr Ben Punter, 28 Eng Reg Op Herick in Afghanistan




Dear Eleanor...

How's my darling daughter? I have been hard at work as usual and spent all morning in the local town. We saw a lot of small children who were very interested in what we were doing.

They should probably have been at school rather than talking to soldiers.

Now I have some time to write you a letter to tell you a little but about where we are living. It isn't like Baghdad, where Daddy lived in a house. Instead, there are a series of boxes called Portakabins. Over the top of each group of boxes there is a roof shaped like a tortoise shell, which keeps the sun off. I have a little cabin to myself, a bit like a rabbit hutch, with a bed, a table and a wardrobe. It is quite comfortable, but it is a little cold in the mornings before I put the heater on. I was surprised by how cold it is in the night-time, although not as cold as Catterick!

It's always very noisy, with vehicles moving around outside and the constant noise of generators or, when it is a bit warmer, air-conditioning units. Sometimes we can hear helicopters coming in to land nearby.

I hope you are looking after Mummy and playing nicely with your brothers. Mummy told me that you are also enjoying riding your bicyle - make sure you don't fall off! I think about you often and before I go to sleep I pretend that I am giving you a cuddle and kissing you goodnight, just like at home.

With lots of love,


Lt Col Andrew T Jackson, Commanding Officer, The Yorkshire Regiment, 1st Battalion, The Prince Of Wales's Own, Iraq Sunday 26 November




Hey, Mother...

Sorry I haven't written you for a long time. I have been extremely busy here. I will tell you all about it in six days, I am sooo looking forward to coming home.

I really need a big hug. I have got some stories for you, and I got some good pictures on a disk for you, nothing bad tho'. I can't wait to see the family again. I've had soo many close calls in the past three weeks, it's getting sporty now. Anyway I am on guard now so I will have to go. Give my love to the family. I love you. Take care and I will see you in six days.

Phillip xxxxxx

Private Phillip Hewett, 21, 1st Battalion Staffordshire Regiment

Private Hewett never made it home. He was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, along with Leon Spicer and Richard Shearer




A letter no one ever wanted to open...

Private Leon Spicer, 26, was with 1st Battalion Staffordshire Regiment. He and two colleagues were killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol in a convoy of Land Rovers in Al Amarah, in southern Iraq, on 16 July 2005. He joined the army in 2003. His commanding officer said after his death that Pte Spicer had overcome an earlier leg injury and regained his fitness, showing "tremendous grit and determination". Pte Spicer, of Tamworth, wrote to his parents, Bridie and Christopher, a letter which was to be opened in the event of his death. Mrs Spicer, 62, said: "It was so sad, but at the same time such a comfort. It was lovely to know there was so much love there." He was buried with full military honours at Wilnecote Cemetery.

Pte Leon Spicer, 1st Battalion, Staffordshire Regiment

    Christmas on the front line, IoS, 24.12.2006,






Christmas past on the front line


Makeshift dinners in the trenches,
a piper sent out to face the enemy
armed only with bagpipes,
and a surprise feast in the jungle.
Some of the most heart-warming Christmases
are in war.
David Randall reports


Published: 24 December 2006
The Independent on Sunday


Today, the final window of an advent calendar will be opened by a young man's finger that, yesterday, pulled the trigger of a rifle. The calendar, with its prettily incongruous pictures of angels and snowmen and sugar-plum fairies, will be taped to a makeshift locker beside a bed which sits in a tent pitched somewhere in Basra, Kandahar or Kabul. Peace on Earth actually means something in such dangerous places

Christmas on the frontline seems at once so meaningful, and yet so far away; which is why those back home always make such special efforts to reach out to those serving there. On Christmas Day 1914, at the instigation of Princess Mary, soldiers were given a brass box monogrammed with an "M". It contained cigarettes or pipes for smokers, sweets for abstainers, spices and sweets for Indian troops, and chocolate for nurses.

Some of the first recipients of those Princess Mary's boxes did not keep the treats to themselves. At several places along the line, they stepped from their trenches, as did their German enemy, and the smokes and sweets were shared and swapped in no man's land. Lieutenant E Hulse of the Scots Guards later wrote of how a number of Germans came over to greet the men who had been firing at them shortly before. "We sang everything from 'Good King Wenceslas' to the ordinary Tommy's songs, and ended up with 'Auld Lang Syne'. We all, English, Scots, Irish, Prussian, Wurtemburgers etc, joined in. It was absolutely astounding, and if I had seen it on a cinematographic film I should have sworn that it was faked."

And John Wedderburn-Maxwell, an officer with the Royal Field Artillery, recalled: "We walked about for around half an hour in no-man's land. And then we shook hands, wished each other good luck, and one fellow said: 'Will you send this off to my girlfriend in Manchester?' I sent it when I got back."

That 1914 Christmas truce was never to be repeated. But its legend, and the determination of all but the most fatigued of frontline soldiers to cleave to some semblance of homely happiness, meant, at subsequent wartimes, the spirit of Christmas flickered in the unlikeliest of settings.

On the troopship Stratheden, a stunning Atlantic sunset lit up the pipes and drums of the Cameronians "Beating the Retreat" on Christmas Eve 1942, and then the ship sailed on in the blackout darkness. At a village in Tunis in 1943, as Private Charles Carnt of the Royal Army Service Corps later recalled: "Christmas Day came. When we spotted six chickens roaming around, we decided they weren't doing much for the war effort, so they were rounded up and dealt with - plucked, gutted and in the cook house in under an hour." In Italy, Christmas 1944, Captain (later Lt-Col) Brian Clark MC sent one of his Irish Brigade pipers out to play in the snow. German paratroops opposite applauded and sang "Stille Nacht" in return. And in Korea in 1952, British troops lit fires with the propaganda Christmas cards the Korean People's Army had dropped behind their lines.

Even troops in captivity could squeeze some cheer from the day. At a Japanese prisoner of war camp which held Alfred Baker and his comrades, the commandant allowed the troops some cigarettes and even a little medicine, and missionaries sent over a horse's head for their dinner. It is a measure of conditions in the camp that the men were grateful. And, in Stalag Luft VI, "Jack" Oldfield, later a policeman in Doncaster, remembered that "after a month of skimping and scraping and almost literally starving", enough food had been secreted for a day of, by POW standards, feasting. "Tins were opened and our Christmas pud (made from crusts of black bread) was put on the stove... What a meal: four ounces of bacon, two and a half of Spam, a little scrambled egg, potatoes and swede... Then came the pud." Then the cake, with a frill made from toilet paper.

And warmth in modern times, too. In Bosnia, 1992, the Cheshires brought presents and chocolate to children at an orphanage on Christmas Day. There was football, children clambering over the tanks with the soldiers' blue United Nations berets on their little heads, piggyback rides and a lot of laughter. As they left, Emira Tatarevic, who worked at the orphanage, said: "We would like all of you as staff because you make the children so happy."

A year later, the colonel of the 1st Battalion of the Coldstream Guards played Cinderella's wicked stepmother in a show in their bunker-like mess in former Yugoslavia. In Kabul 2001, back in the days when the "war on terror" seemed so straightforward, British and American soldiers fashioned a Christmas tree out of green mosquito netting.

But not all who enjoyed previous Christmases in Iraq and Afghanistan will be there for this one. Men, for instance, such as Craig O'Donnell of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, killed by a Taliban suicide bomb in Kabul in September. When he died, his girlfriend was expecting their baby. The child is due at Christmas: such symbolism, even in a season as laden with it as this one.




The Western Front, 1916

Christmas dinner for the men was:

"Soup; roast meat with potato, carrot, turnip and onion; plum pudding; an apple or orange, and nuts. The sergeants had whisky, port and cigars."

Dinner for the officers was: "Paté de foie gras, julienne, curried prawns, roast goose, potato and cauliflower, plum pudding, anchovy on toast, dessert; Veuve Clicquot, port, cognac, Benedictine; coffee."

Taken from 'The War the Infantry Knew: 1914-19' by Captain JC Dunn




A hospital in France, 1917

The men had a wonderful Christmas Day. They were like a happy lot of children. We decorated the wards with flags, holly, mistletoe and paper flowers that the men made, and a tree in each ward.

You cannot imagine how pretty they were. Each patient began the day with a sock that was hung at the foot of their bed by the night nurses.

In each was an orange, a small bag of sweets, nuts and raisins, a handkerchief, pencil, tooth brush, pocket comb and a small toy that pleased them almost more than anything else, and which they at once passed on to their children.

They had a fine dinner: jam, stewed rabbit, peas, plum pudding, fruit, nuts, raisins and sweets. The plum puddings were sent by the sister of one of the nurses.

Nurse Agnes Warner, a Canadian girl caring for the wounded in France, 1 January 1917




The Middle East, 1943

My Dearest Mummy... On the 23rd, the 104th held a dinner, the idea being to give the cooks Xmas Day off... We had assembled a certain amount of beer by means of great self-sacrifice over a long period and also by raiding other units' Naafis. After a snifter or two, we adjourned to the mess and sat down to be served by the sergeants and officers, turkey, chicken, sausages, pork, spuds, cauliflower, pudding, mince pies, oranges and, of course, unlimited beer. Following a sing-song, there was a mild riot during which I was given a shampoo with a couple of oranges. We collected our party and went back to the tent where we waded into the rest of the drinks and began singing, mainly, if I remember right, a dirge about robins. We were a sorry sight at reveille next morning.

DVR I/C Bill Appleyard, Middlesex Yomanry, attached to 104th Regiment RHA in the Middle East, 2nd January 1943




Dimapur, India, 1943

It was Christmas Day 1943, and the Gurkhas, ever resourceful, went out and shot some deer - jungle deer - the day before and cooked it over open fires. Smoked it. And they gave it all to the British troops as a Christmas present. It was lovely. I never tasted anything like it. Smoked venison, a bit of a change from bully beef and biscuits, and we managed to get a few bottles of beer from the Naafi. So that was our Christmas dinner - and it was most acceptable.

Peter Roylance Noakes, officer with 1st Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment, recalling his time in the jungle at Dimapur

    Christmas past on the front line, IoS, 24.12.2006,






S.C. mom has son arrested

for playing with present

before Christmas


Updated 12/6/2006

7:24 AM ET


USA Today


COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A fed-up mother had her 12-year-old son arrested for allegedly rummaging through his great-grandmother's things and playing with his Christmas present early.

The mother called police Sunday after learning her son had disobeyed orders and repeatedly taken a Game Boy from its hiding place at his great-grandmother's house next door and played it. He was arrested on petty larceny charges, taken to the police station in handcuffs and held until his mother picked him up after church.

"My grandmother went out of her way to lay away a toy and paid on this thing for months," said the boy's mother, Brandi Ervin. "It was only to teach my son a lesson. He's been going through life doing things ... and getting away with it."

Police did not release the boy's name.

The mother said that her son was found in the last year to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but that his medicine does not seem to help.

She said he faces an expulsion hearing at his school Wednesday. Rock Hill Police Capt. Mark Bollinger said the boy took a swing at a police officer assigned to the school last month. He has been suspended from school since then.

The boy's case will be presented to Department of Juvenile Justice officials in York County, who will decide what happens to him, Bollinger said. His mother hopes he can attend a program that will finally scare him straight.

"It's not even about the Christmas present," she said. "I only want positive things out of it. ... There's no need for him to act this way. I'd rather call myself than someone else call for him doing something worse than this."

S.C. mom has son arrested for playing with present before Christmas,
UT, 6.12.2006,






12 questions of Christmas

When exactly is Christmas Day?

Was there a Star of Bethlehem?

Could Santa deliver gifts to all the world's children?
What are the chances of a White Christmas?

How far has your Christmas dinner travelled?

And do reindeer ever have red noses?


Published: 24 December 2005

The Independent


When exactly is Christmas Day?

By Robert Verkaik

No one knows when Jesus was born. Early Christians tried to calculate the date of Christ's birth based on the Annunciation, 25 March, the Bible's first account of when Mary was told she was pregnant. If this is taken as the conception of Christ, nine months later it is 25 December.

But Jewish tradition has it that Jesus was born during Hanuk-kah, 25 Kislev into the beginning of Tevet. In the Julian calendar, 25 Kislev would be 25 November.

Others say Jesus and Mohammed shared the same birthday. Mohammed was born on the 12th of the Muslim month of Rabi-ul-awal in the 7th century which this year was celebrated in April. Muslims use a lunar calendar, so Mohammed's birthday will eventually fall in December. Most Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on 7 January.

Christmas was first celebrated on 25 December in the 5th century in the time of the Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor. This date was probably chosen because the winter solstice and the ancient pagan Roman midwinter festival called Saturnalia was in December. The winter solstice is the day with the shortest time between the sun rising and setting. It falls between 22 and 25 December.




Was there a Star of Bethlehem?

By Cahal Milmo

Opinion is split on just what the Magi were looking at when, according to gospel of Matthew, they saw the star of the king of the Jews in the eastern sky and set off for Bethlehem.

Some historians argue that the light is entirely mythical - part of a series of "stars" that legends of the time described as heralding a royal birth.

Astronomers have pored over the question for centuries, exploring theories that the star was a comet or a supernova.

This week a British astronomer, Professor Mike Bode suggested that what the Three Kings saw was not a star at all but a "conjunction", the passing of two planets so close to each other that they appear as a single light source. Professor Bode calculated that, in June of 2BC, Jupiter and Venus passed close together and would have created a bright object.

Some scholars argue that the date of Christ's birth is actually June, based on references to his conception. But even with the conventional December date, Jupiter appears a strong candidate for the Star of Bethlehem.

But believers in a second coming may struggle for a new celestial signal of salvation. Light pollution, caused by the upward glare of electric lights, is making it increasingly difficult for earthbound telescopes to penetrate the heavens. A modern Magi would probably have to rely on satellites rather than the firmament to locate an infant saviour. During the 1990s, the area of countryside in the developed world with completely dark skies reduced by 27 per cent.

Scientists estimate that less than half of the population of Europe and parts of the Middle East, including Israel and the West Bank, will ever see the Milky Way.

As a result, most observatories in the Western world have had to relocate to the much darker southern hemisphere or what is left of the dark countryside.




Is a Virgin Birth possible?

By Jeremy Laurance

The Christian doctrine of the Virgin Birth is that Jesus was conceived in his mother's womb without a human father. The Immaculate Conception took place when the Holy Spirit "overshadowed" Mary. However, Christ was not created from nothing, as the church says he "took his flesh from Mary". The doctrine's importance to Christianity is that it shows Jesus's divine and human natures united, paving the way for all humanity to be united with God.

In scientific terms, a virgin birth is classed as parthogenesis - when an embryo grows and develops without fertilisation by a male. Parthogenesis occurs in some plants, insects, fish and vertebrate animals such as lizards. The resulting organism is a clone of the original because it has an identical genetic make-up. Parthogenesis does not occur naturally in humans or other mammals. However, modern scientific techniques have made it possible to create clones of mammals, beginning with Dolly the sheep in 1996. It would in theory be possible to create a child from a virgin mother whose sole genetic inheritance was from her.




Was Jesus black?

By Robert Verkaik

This question has preoccupied theologians since at least the end of the 19th century. What most concede is that he could not have been a white Caucasian as depicted in Western iconography. In Revelation he is said to have hair " like wool" which is used as evidence to show he was of African descent. The indigenous people of the Middle East at the time of Jesus's birth were mostly of African birth. The existence of Black Madonnas, dark-skinned images of Jesus's mother, Mary, have also strengthened the case for Jesus being of non-Caucasian descent. Jesus' male ancestors trace a line from Shem, the eldest son of Noah. Anthropologists believe they would have been of mixed race because of their time spent in captivity in Egypt and Babylon. The "black/white" argument is easily settled if one follows the American test of whether someone is racially "black". Under the " one-drop rule" if any person has any black ancestors he or she is considered "black" even if they have pale skin colour. Under this rule, Mariah Carey, LaToya Jackson and Jesus would all be classified as " black".




Could Santa deliver gifts to all the world's children
in one night?

By Cahal Milmo

Of course he can, with help from Nasa, Einstein and 360,000 reindeer. Scientists have been wrestling with the feasibility of Santa's job description since the 1850s. The latest thinking is that delivering one kilogram of presents to the world's 2.1 billion children (regardless of religious denomination) is entirely realistic, with a little lateral thinking.

Scientists at the American space agency, Nasa, reckon the man from Lapland relies on an antenna that picks up electromagnetic signals from children's brains to know what presents they want. Assuming an average of 2.5 children per house Mr Claus must make 842 million stops tonight to fill his orders.

By allowing a quarter of a mile between each stop, he must travel 218 million miles with about a thousandth of a second to squeeze down each chimney, unload a stocking, eat a mince pie, swig cooking sherry and get his sleigh airborne again. To achieve this he must travel at 1,280 miles per second. Travelling east to west, he can stretch Christmas Day to 31 hours.

To have enough presents, Santa's sleigh must carry 400,000 ton of gifts. With the average non-turbocharged reindeer capable of pulling only 150kg, Father Christmas would need 360,000 reindeer to heave his vehicle skyward.

The cavalcade would have a mass of about 500,000 tons which, at the required speed, would cause each reindeer to vaporise in a sonic boom flattening every tree and building within 30 miles. Father Christmas would have a mass of two million kilograms, causing him to combust when his reindeer come to their sudden halt. Piffle.

First, Einstein's theory of relativity dictates that the faster an object travels, the slower time appears to pass. So at the speed he is travelling, .0001 of a second allows Santa to perform his tasks at leisure pace. Second, as an expert in quantum physics, Mr Claus knows wormholes in the fabric of universe allow him to move instantly from one dimension and place to another. His sleigh is a time-machine powered by an unknown fuel which any economy on the world would have on its Christmas list.




Is this the season of goodwill?

By Maxine Frith

The common perception is that the suicide rate always goes up over Christmas. But in fact, the number of people who kill themselves drops by around 7 per cent during December - although it then rises to its highest monthly rate in January.

Despite the reduction in suicides, calls to the Samaritans increase by 10 per cent between Christmas and New Year.

The murder rate also goes up by 4.2 per cent, partly due to the increase in domestic violence that is widely reported by police forces.

More than 8,000 children called the NSPCC or ChildLine phone lines between Christmas Eve and 4 January last year to talk about emotional problems and abuse. One in five people says that the festive period causes them stress, according to the mental health charity Mind.

And of the five million elderly people who live alone in the UK, one million will spend Christmas Day on their own.

A poll by Reader's Digest found that people's greatest irritation over the Christmas period is the plague of family grievances that the holiday season engenders.

More than a third said that they had to deal with arguments between relatives every year.

Even events out of the family home are not much better - half of office parties feature a punch-up and one in three with an incident of sexual harassment.




Do you ever get a Silent Night?

By Cahal Milmo

Only on the pages of a carol sheet and in the depths of galaxies.

The silence to which the hymn refers can only be found in a vacuum and, since human existence is difficult inside a Hoover, the only place where true silence can be found is space.

The result is the strange paradox that silence has no sound. For example, when sci-fi films excite their audiences with the familiar roar of a rocket blasting between the planets, they are lying - there is nothing to be heard between the stars and planets. The impossibility of silence is all the more perplexing because humanity is in increasingly dire need of it, or at least a bit more peace and quiet.

Experts believe that the high sound levels of modern society not only damage the human ear but also contribute to stress.

The European Environmental Agency calculated earlier this year that 450 million people, some 65 per cent of the population in Europe, are regularly exposed to noise levels of 55 decibels and above - the level shown to generate annoyance.

About 115 million experience 65dB and above, suffering an increased risk of high blood pressure, and 10 million are exposed to 75dB or more - a level known to generate high levels of stress.

The Health and Safety Executive says that a third of workers in noisy jobs will permanently damage their hearing.




What are the chances of a White Christmas?

By Cahal Milmo

Bookies yesterday put the odds of London receiving the requisite single flake of snow on the roof of a weather bureau in the capital that would make it a white Christmas at 5/2.

Officially, meteorologists put the chances of snow nationwide on Christmas Day at "very unlikely", although, by the middle of next week, there is a 60 per cent chance that southern England will be under several centimetres of the fluffy stuff.

The long-term outlook is somewhat different. Enjoy any December snow while you can for the white Christmas bonanza for turf accountants, who tend to profit to the tune of £1m from the lack of snow, is likely to be a quirk of history.

London has only had six white Christmases since 1957 and thanks to humanity's talent for producing carbon dioxide, the Dickensian festive scene will remain only on greetings cards.

Climatologists this week predicted that global warming would make snow in December a thing of the past for all of Britain apart from its highest mountains and more northerly climes.

Scientists at the Met Office calculate that winters will be up to 30 per cent wetter within a generation, with an average rise in temperature of up to 3.5C by 2080. A Met Office spokeswoman said: "We won't see the effects immediately but the trend is that snow levels will drastically fall over the next century."




Is Christmas bad for the environment?

Martin Hickman

Yes. People consume far more at Christmas than at other times of the year.

Gifts are made at factories that use lots of energy and contribute to global warming. Finite and diminishing natural resources such as metals go into them. In particular, plastics use a high amount of oil, yet these goods are often poor quality and disposable, something especially so for toys at Christmas.

Transporting these products to the shops results in more energy use and pollution.

Intensive food production to sate our festive appetite discourages wildlife and allows pesticides to leach into streams and rivers.

About three million tons of rubbish will build up in our homes, yet barely a quarter will be recycled. The remainder will be incinerated or dumped in landfill, both of which cast out pollutants. Friends of the Earth believe that this Christmas is likely to generate a record amount of waste because each year we buy more and more presents and food.

The only bright spot environmentally is that while we are stuffing our mouths with food or ripping open our presents (wrapped with disposable paper), we are not jumping into our cars and spewing pollution from the exhaust pipes. Or working in factories to supply goods for the next Christmas.




How far has your Christmas dinner travelled?

By Maxine Frith

According to the Soil Association, most of the meat and vegetables on the average Christmas dinner plate will be cheap imports. The turkey may have come from Norfolk, but your carrots are likely to have come from Morocco, the crackers from China and the Brussels sprouts from the Netherlands. When you add in cabernet sauvignon from Chile, cranberries from the US and runner beans from Guatemala and assorted goods, the total "food miles" bill comes to 43,674. The Soil Association estimates that 12 British farmers are going out of business every day because they cannot compete with cut-price foreign goods.

The transportation by air of 200g of Chilean grapes will generate 1.5kg (3.3lb) of greenhouse gas - equivalent to leaving a lightbulb on all weekend. But, while buying locally sourced food could save Britain £2.1bn in environmental and congestion costs, it could double the average bill because of the higher prices charged by small and organic producers.




Is Christmas unhealthy?

By Jeremy Laurance

Christmas lunch of turkey, roast potatoes, stuffing, bacon, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, brussels sprouts and gravy adds up to 620 calories. Follow it with Christmas pudding and cream and the calorie counter zooms up to 1,306.

With a glass of champagne, (100 calories) a couple of glasses of burgundy (90 cals each) and a glass of port (185 cals), the total leaps to 1,771 calories. Once a year, a blow out on this scale - a day's worth of calories at a single sitting - is unlikely to do any lasting harm. But if you keep it up over the holiday period you will inevitably put on weight.

There are some health benefits too though. The sprouts and carrots contribute to the five-a-day target for fruit and vegetables, the cranberries may help to ward off infections and alcohol in moderation cuts the risk of heart disease. But the greatest health benefit of Christmas is - or should be - the good cheer it generates.




Do reindeer ever have red noses?

By Cahal Milmo

The notion of reindeer and red noses - or more to the point the infernal tune that assails Christmas shoppers - can be blamed on Robert May, an advertising copy-writer in 1930s Chicago.

Mr May was commissioned by his company to invent a seasonal tale to give away to customers of a department store chain and the resulting yarn of Rudolph, the disfigured ruminant, sold six million copies. Mr May never made a penny from his invention because the copyright belonged to his employer.

But recently researchers discovered that there is in fact such a thing as a red-nosed reindeer. Scientists in America found that reindeer were susceptible to a particular type of mite which irritates the nasal passages and causes the animals to rub their noses raw.

12 questions of Christmas,
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