Stories of Christmas

ChristmasStoriesA StubbornThings Symposium   December 2014
Latest: Red-Faced, Jolly, and Spiteful by Brad Nelson  •  Sometimes Christmas is best remembered by the calories you put on. They seem to be the substance of some permanence. But sprinkled amongst the eggnog and cookies are stories and events — large and small, heartwarming or just funny — that have decorated the season through the years. The stories become collected like old ornaments that you don’t have the heart to throw away. They remain stuffed in the attic in an old box.

Let this be the place, this year, for you to dust off a favorite story and share it. Submit it here and, if it passes minimum muster, it will be added to this collection, chain-letter style. (And as you’ll see with my initial entries, the standards are quite minimum.) Hanukkah stories are more than welcome as well from our Jewish brothers and sisters. But no Kwanzaa, please. We don’t do fake holidays.

The Editor


Christmas Stories


 

BRAD NELSON

The Real One

Upon some reflection, I realize I have only one bona fide Christmas story to tell. It was the night that my older brother (the religious one in the family…he’s a part-time minister) stopped by my place and asked if I wanted to join him for a midnight mass at the local Catholic Church.

That is, he was talking about a real Christ-Mass, the very derivation of the word, “Christmas.” I went. I was kind of bored, but it was an interesting experience, more so for having done something with my brother at that ungodly (well, Godly) hour of the night.

I didn’t see the ghost of Christmas past, present, or future. There weren’t a lot of warm-fuzzies crawling up and down my spine. But neither was it quite like pulling teeth, although I haven’t gone to one since. But for some reason it was a memorable experience, for I have indeed remembered it with some affection.

Call the Bomb Squad

This second story also is not likely to knock Dickens off of anyone’s favorite story list. Mine was a typical family, if not necessarily normal. My mother decorated the house wonderfully, and my father did the same outdoors with lights. We usually had more lights than anyone else on the block….shades of what was to come when nowadays there is the equivalent of a full moon hanging overhead from the combined glow of the plethora of cheap (but lovely) Christmas lights, thanks in large part to LED technology and such.

Otherwise the family was pretty normal, even boring. But we were not without our creative edge. We had a fireplace (no Christmas is ever a full Christmas without one, for it’s hard to have “hearth and home” without the hearth) and we would go out and cut our own wood. My father would thus always have his eye out for the perfect Monster Yule Log. I’m not sure from whence the tradition of the yule log stems, but we carried on the tradition in manly fashion. Our yule log was usually huge — so huge that it was often difficult to get burning, the outer thick bark being naturally fire-resistant.

Well, one can always kill two birds with one stone, although a munitions permit is probably a wise move if you choose to do so. One year my father had the idea to bore various deep 1/4″ holes into the yule log and stuff the holes with fireplace chemicals — the kind you add to fires in order to add color to the fire. Surely this technique would both add color to the fire and aid its combustion.

But there is theory and then there is reality. Would it work? Is packing chemicals into a log and then setting it alight a particularly good idea? Well, we weren’t raised to be girly-men. Risk involving fire, chemicals, and/or explosives is what real men do. So my father put the yule log on the fire. And he must have had a little Jim Carrey or Robin Williams in him for he spontaneously sung out to the tune of the Christmas classic, The First Noel:

“Noel, Noel . . . stand back, it’ll blow you to hell.”

It’s the unplanned moments like this that are the funniest. And my little brother and I were howling with laughter, more so because I had caught this moment on my new cassette recorder that I had received as a present that Christmas Eve. We played this moment back over and over again to my father’s eventual annoyance. And every once in a while (like now), I still replay that memory in my head.

The Fighting Lady

Sometimes my childhood resembled that of Ralphie’s in A Christmas Story. Mischievous, but never dangerously so. But rarely did we kids sow “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” We were rambunctious with a capital “bunc.”

Nor were we particularly kind to Christmas ornaments. My mother resembled Godzilla stomping on downtown Tokyo. When all the lights, tinsel, and Christmas ornaments were carefully laid out in preparation for adorning the tree, she couldn’t walk by without stepping on one. This is only a slight exaggeration and became a running joke (to this day).

There was also the time when, with the help of my dear sister, I decorated a small tree that I had in my own room. I would have been about five or six years old — the tree about four or five feet tall. The tree was a well-shaped Douglas fir that we had no doubt gathered ourselves (for free) from the woods out back of the house. I’m not sure why I had one in my room because we always had a grand one in the living room. But that year I did and it was the only year that I ever did.

I remember decorating it with some of the detritus and leftover ornaments — things that didn’t make the cut for the main tree in the living room. But along with these hand-me-downs from the Island of Misfit Ornaments, my sister and I made bona fide hand-made garlands of popcorn. We strung the popcorn on thread with a needle and it made for a truly charming tree. There may have even been a few dried cranberries interspersed.

And that tree did not last long. If you ever buy a dog, god bless them, don’t make it a Basset Hound. Some people swear by them, but I’ve found them to be the least intelligent breed of dog on the planet. But it wasn’t intelligence that was at issue with this dog but (no doubt) his good nose. It hadn’t crossed anyone’s mind that popcorn garland was anything but an ornament when placed on a tree. But the dog (Champ) thought differently. At some point I came back to my room and found my tree knocked over and being consumed by the dog.

So ornaments and our family have somewhat of a history. And that includes the time I got a spiffy new toy one Christmas called “Fighting Lady.” As you can see from the photo, it had a front-mounted gun, a rear-mounted catapult launcher, and (although not so easily spotted in the photo) spring-loaded little plastic canister depth-charges it could hurl over the side FightingLadyat pretend submarines. It could float in the bathtub but it also had wheels on the bottom. It was one of my most cherished and memorable toys. I wonder whatever happened to it? I’m tempted to get one on eBay for  the sake of nostalgia.

By I digress. One night my older brother and I (he was, in truth, usually the instigator of any Christmas-Story-like mischief) thought it would be fun to shoot the Fighting Lady’s catapult plane at the Christmas tree, in general, and at some of the glass ball ornaments, in particular. And darned if our aim wasn’t good enough to bring a couple of them down from about ten to twelve feet downrange. Usually it would just glance off them or knock them off the tree. But we eventually shattered a glass ball or two. Who ever could have seen that coming?

The coverup wasn’t half as competent as Watergate for we got busted pretty quickly. I wouldn’t doubt that my older sister ratted on us, but I have to confess that that is only speculation (although it holds to a pattern). The memory is an old one. But we did get into some trouble over that.

The poor Christmas trees in our family rarely got much respect. And when the mischief wasn’t intentional, sometimes it was accidental. One night I was home alone with my older sister (the parents having gone out) and I was on a chair trying to adjust one of the ornaments on the tree that I thought was askew. Likely it was the star at the top, for leaning over, I lost my balance and grabbed a branch of the tree to steady myself…and brought the tree completely over and tipped horizontal onto myself backward. For a tree with just lights and a few ornaments on it, there would have been little bother to set it straight. But we normally put tons of tinsel (the real lead tinsel that you can’t get anymore) on the tree. And after having been tipped over, the tinsel was a tangled mess that had to be disentangled and re-hung.

Why my sister helped me put it right, I’ll never know. But we must have spent an hour and a half putting the tree right so that the parents would never notice what happened. We put it back in such pristine shape that I believe we told them what happened since we figured (correctly) that they couldn’t possibly get mad. All’s well that ends well.

And then there was my father’s experiment with a real old-fashioned tree with real old-fashioned candles for lights. But given that we have two retired fire fighters in the family, I’d better stay mum on that.

Mouse Droppings Make It Better

In a perfect world, every father would have a son and every mother would have a daughter. It’s not that fathers can’t appreciate daughters and mothers their sons. But there is a natural affinity and camaraderie between like-and-like.

Still, rules are made to be broken. And I remember one Christmas where mother and I had a real “mother/daughter” moment (and this was long before the term, “metrosexual,” was ever heard).

But, really, this is probably more of a little-boy/candy story. This is why there is the running joke of “Candy, little boy?” as a way to kidnap a kid and tempt him into the car, no matter how many times the kid has been told by his parents to beware of strangers. Candy is the universal solvent for letting go of one’s senses and inhibitions (and perhaps we now understand Libertarians’ affinity for pot…the adult candy or sorts).

My mother is/was a good baker. And her sugar cookies, and other fare, could be stacked up with anyone’s. Her “snowballs” are amongst the best I’ve ever had. But she had her difficulties with the fudge. Most great artists are not conversant in all mediums. They must specialize.

But she would still try to branch out from time to time. Christmas is about tradition, but those traditions must get started in some time and place. And thus began (and ended) the tradition of hand-dipped chocolates.

My mother, for reasons that remain a mystery, veered wildly outside the conservative tradition of sugar cookies, snowballs, and nuts-and-bolts (as is called her “party mix”) and decided one year, long ago, that she wanted to make hand-dipped chocolates. And this was long before Martha Stewart was ever a gleam in pop-culture’s eye. These candies would have a white coconut/vanilla filling. The outer protective and scrumptious shield would be the relatively thin layer of milk chocolate.

And it worked! The recipe and newly-mastered techniques were a success. And my part in the candy-making enterprise was to help dip the centers into the chocolate. As you can imagine, I had to be whipped and hog-tied before I would consent to being left semi-unsupervised with a bowl of luscious liquid chocolate all to myself.

All went well. We packaged the chocolates in individual paper cupcake-like holders (so that they wouldn’t stick together…you see the great care involved in this venture). We then placed them in round metal containers similar to those that Royal Dansk Danish Butter Cookies come in. After all, these precious and time-consuming cookies must not only be presented well but be protected.

And so the candies were packaged and set out in the connected garage to congeal properly. The garage was natural cold-storage for all types of things. And had that been all that occurred, this story of candies would have had no place in anyone’s Christmas lore. But something occurred the very first time we (mother and I) went out to grab a tin to sample them for ourselves.

To this day, no one is sure what happened. Perhaps as in A Christmas Story, an icicle fell from somewhere and disrupted my mother’s arm, for when she reached for one of the tins of candies, something slipped and the entire batch of tins fell to the floor, exploded opened beyond the confines of the lid and — as we were to discover — intermixed with the contents of the garage floor, including quite a few mouse droppings.

There’s a general rule regarding floors and food. It the food falls and rests there but a second, it can be picked up and consumed immediately. But if it remains there any longer, you have to throw it away. This is the second law of food gastro-dynamics, the first being that buttered bread will always fall buttered-side down.

Too much work went into the making of that candy for us to throw it out. And because we were the only ones who witnessed this event — mother and me — we decided that what the customer doesn’t see, the cook gets away with. So we carefully picked up the candies, brought them inside to the kitchen (everyone else was out of the house at the moment), and painstakingly cleaned the chocolate-covered candies of all the little bits of gunk, dust, and mouse droppings that had adhered to the surface.

After much careful effort, we succeeded, returning the candies to like-new condition. But the story eventually leaked out, as such stories do (perhaps driven by a bit of our own braggadocio). The side effect is that these chocolate wonders were henceforth dubbed “Garage Floor Candy.” And it was some of the best candy I have ever eaten, then or since.

Have Yourself a Grinchless Christmas

Who can forget that great rendition of Burl Ives of the holiday classic, “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas”? Apparently many people can forget. And I’m going to mea culpa this myself. Having done a bit of holiday shopping, I’m burnt out on the holidays. It’s Grumpy People 10, Christmas Spirit zero.

And it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve got all kinds of lights up around the office — something I hadn’t done in twenty years. And they have indeed stoked a festive mood, by and large. But the “large” is giving way to the “by.” I ran into a sad-sack yesterday at the eye doctor’s office who was the proverbial ornamental Grinch on top of the tree of sourpuss.

Yesterday I was obeying the Fifth Commandment and driving my mother to and from her regular eye checkup appointment. I dropped her off, did a little shopping, and came back at the expected time. I was a little early. The waiting room was completely empty except for me and a couple lovely middle-aged (or younger) ladies behind the front desk. So eventually I got into some “Boy, this weather” light chatting. (And the weather outside was indeed quite un-delightful. The wind and rain were double-plus-heavy.)

One of the ladies was nice. The other was going out of her way to be unhappy. Every little cheery remark I offered was parried with some sarcastic or gruff snark. She was like a character from a movie. I remained, of course, polite. And I couldn’t help thinking, “Thank god I’m not her.” And yet I know that I’m an awful lot like her at times, especially this season.

But not quite as bad as the guy who called the office about an hour ago. Long story short, I explained to this man (who was mildly belligerent throughout the conversation) that I’d be glad to print his stuff, but that I had a five dollar minimum charge. Now, truth be told, I don’t usually have a five dollar minimum charge for people who aren’t assholes. I will typically print out their ten copies and do it for free, handing them a business card and asking only that they keep us in mind for any larger jobs they might have. It’s just not worth my time billing a dollar or so for some copies.

But I wasn’t going to do this guy any favors. He was being rude. If another cheek needed turning, I just was not prepared to do so.

Well, he did not at all like the idea of a minimum charge when all he wanted was 20 copies or so. I told him that the best alternative would be one of those self-serve copiers that you typically find at a grocery store. And then he said, and I quote, “That makes no sense at all. You’re a **cking idiot.”

And I said in reply, and I quote, “Okay.” And then I hung up, more than glad to have gotten rid of him and no worse for having dealt with such a character. Stuff like this is becoming more common these days and I refuse to let some a-hole bring me down.

And yet it is almost inevitable, for no man is an island, even at Christmas time. And then I got to thinking about how I’m a conservative, not a thug in Ferguson who is supposedly little more than an impulse — a mere product of his environment — who can’t help him or herself. Being a conservative, I realize that I can make conscious choices. Oh, that doesn’t mean one isn’t affected by the morons that one occasionally meets. But one can at least make an effort to be other than a moron.

So I’m trying. Having rubbed elbows recently with a couple Scrooges, I am vowing not to be a Scrooge — while keeping things in proportion, of course. Personally I think it would be just as offensive and distasteful to go around with an overly optimistic and chirpy disposition, especially if it wasn’t real. Therefore through good moods or bad, I will try to take them all with the same equanimity while finding (or trying to find) some deep meaning in this Christmas season. Wish me some effin luck. I said “elfin”…I think.

I need a little Christmas, right this very minute.

Haul out the holly,
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again.
Fill up the stocking,
I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.

Ahhhh……thank you, Johnny. And I’ve personally found that if you can’t make it or fake it, you might be able to bake it. I’ve played Suzy Homemaker this Christmas, filling the family role of cookie maker. I’d done snowballs (simple) and just yesterday completed a batch of sugar cookies (intermediate). I’ll include recipes for both below. If I can do it, you can do it.

Usually slapping a piece of meat and cheese on bread is the extent of my Chefwork. I only slightly exaggerate. But the family will be getting together (some of us, anyway) this Christmas and I’ve volunteered to create many of the things we cherished as kids, including the yet-to-be-made Chex party mix (aka “nuts and bolts”). As my younger brother quipped, keep going like this and you may find a husband yet. (But just to avoid all this getting too sissy, I did bake a pair of small testicles onto one of the sugar-cookie snowmen.)

So I’ve baked a little Christmas, just this very minute. And not a moment too soon. Every time I go to the supermarket or mall, I get just a bit more down RudolphCartoonon people. I’m sort of the opposite of a liberal — the kind who profess great love for “humanity” but hate people. I tend to hate humanity while loving individual people, picking and choosing amongst them.

And one of the guys who made the tune “We Need a Little Christmas” jump into my head was this mousy little fellow, age about 25, who I found cutting the stems off of the broccoli in the supermarket. I was standing near him buying some carrots and other veggies. He must have felt guilt pangs (which is somewhat to his credit) because he turned to me and said, “Why buy what you don’t use?”

He cut the stems off of three or four bunches of broccoli and threw the stems back into the broccoli pile. Did the people of Rome get the same vibe when the Vandals looted the city? It’s such a fine line between civilization and the mob. Broccoli stems are not in themselves a big deal. But a guy who brings his own knife to what is already a discount supermarket in order to save a few cents on broccoli by cutting off the stems is surely the harbinger of something not good.

So why should viewing humanity in all its petty stupidity and vulgarity bother me? All this kind of stuff is nothing new. Just ignore it and move on. Let it slide off. Don’t let it stick to you (and I’ve learned from rolling cookie dough, a little flour is usually good for that).

But words are cheap. Actually sloughing off the many petty slings and arrows of contagious slobbery is not so easy. So I need a little Christmas, right this very minute before I do something like Rudolph did in that hilarious cartoon. And if you can’t fake it, bake it. Here’s a recipe or two:

Snow Balls

2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups finely chopped walnuts (can go half and half with pecans, but pecans are a little rich for these cookies)
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup softened butter (may substitute 1/2 margarine)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Powdered sugar

Heat oven to 320 degrees F.

Combine all ingredients (except powdered sugar) in a large bowl. Get down and dirty and mix with your hands. Electric mixers (in this case) are for losers.

Shape dough into balls the size of small walnuts. Look down for guidance. Place 1 inch apart (not 7/8" of an inch, and not 1-1/8" inch…use a ruler if you need to) on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the tops or sides are lightly browned (the bottoms will brown a little faster…you can check the bottoms to make sure you're not burning anything).

Cool for 5 minutes then roll in powdered sugar. Let cool and then roll in the powdered sugar again. Ask your spouse if he or she would like the same treatment. If you freeze these, be sure to roll in powdered sugar again before serving. For the first roll, you can also use regular sugar, alone or in combination with the powdered sugar.

Nutrition facts:

Calories: none. Christmas cookies don't count.
Cholesterol: ditto

Sugar Cookies

2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten or molested
1 tablespoon milk
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat (or harass) until light in color.

Add egg, milk, and vanilla and beat (or castigate) to combine. Put electric mixer (not for losers, in this case) on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat (or batter) until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half or thirds, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours. (I also stuck the rolling pin and cutting board in the freezer…but I'm sure many modern Suzy Homemakers have Teflon rolling pins and bread boards.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with flour. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with dough, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking.

Cut into desired shapes, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack. Serve as is or ice as desired. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week.

Red-Faced, Jolly, and Spiteful

As well as the two cookies mentioned above, I also went on to make three others (including gingerbread cookies). All were hailed as not only being adequate but ranging far into “good.” I was asked by one person if I assembled my own dough (that is, whether or not I used the pre-made Pillsbury junk that comes in a plastic roll). And with adequately reserved indignity I said, “Of course not. I made it from scratch…minus milking the cows.”

Of all the cookies, the gingerbread were my favorite. I simply Googled a good-looking recipe, read a few user comments for hints, and went forth to the mixing bowl and oven. The dough is particularly difficult to work with. But the results were marvelous. I made a gingerbread that used 1/2 the ginger, as recommended by one reader. And I made them soft, not hard. Both opposites are why I have always tended to want to like gingerbread, but never have until now. The gingerbread I’ve typically sampled has either been too hard or too spicy…or often both, and thus (to my taste) inedible. My gingerbread had everyone raving, if I do say so myself.

A summing up of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the whole season thus far would be: We ate a lot, listened to much festive music (the true trinity, I insist, is Bing, Frank, and Deano), splurged on presents, and fretted over the various annoyances of life. Counting blessings sounds good, in theory, but is somewhat rare in practice.

I got into the Christmas spirit as much as one can hope to given the realities of how Christmas is typically celebrated. This is why my liturgy is centered on the trinity (Bing, Frank, and Deano . . . and the blessed Elvis), holiday classic movies, and some silent contemplation (aka, doing a couple jigsaw puzzles). If you go to church, good for you, but there’s no guarantee of finding the Christmas Spirit there. Seek and ye shall find…and who knows where?

But man’s fate in this universe was brought home in crystal-clear FM on Christmas Eve. My older brother’s foster child was experiencing his first real Christmas (unless hanging around drug-addled biological parents can be called a Christmas). He enjoyed the toys and the food. And we all were laughing in resplendent chords watching him play with his Hot Wheels cars, taking them out of and back into the car carrier we had gotten him, all while singing some kind of festive tune to himself. It was the cutest thing you can imagine.

But human nature is a double-edged sword. Whether he got tired, or if there was some other influence (possibly from his rough upbringing), he began to have a temper. He started throwing his toys, stomping on things that just moments before were his favorites, and being an all-around butt-head.

And it occurred to me that this is humanity, stripped bare of pretense. Most children will grow out of such displays, but most will not to some degree, although we will dress them up and make them look like something other than a full-throated temper tantrum. But seeing a child so suddenly dissatisfied with all the blessings around him was a deep look into human nature and an unexpected and quite eloquent (in its own way) commentary on the true meaning of the season: outgrowing our childish natures and fostering a sense of gratitude.

No, I don’t want to talk about socialism. I don’t want to talk about Obama. I don’t want to talk about RINOs and Establishment Republicans. If we can’t find something to be grateful for this one time of year, then who are we? Who are we to lead and say that there is a better way?

All this and more I found in a full-throated, red-faced childish disgusted with everything and everyone despite being surrounded by a plenty and a love that this child had never known before. Thus are we.

 

POKEY POSSUM

OH! Christmas Tree

I have a fascination with Christmas Trees. For me, they are a symbol of peace and goodness, mystery and fun, joy and love. I have an acquaintance who keeps a small potted fir tree bedecked with a string of little multi-colored Christmas lights in the greenhouse. Plugged-in, of course. I remember the joy it brought to my heart when I first saw it on a September night across the yard and through the plastic wall. A Christmas Tree! I stood transfixed, filled with the same awe I felt many (many) years ago when I would sneak downstairs in the dark morning hours to light the family Christmas Tree and admire its tinseled splendor.

My mother always put up multiple Christmas Trees (and thankfully, at 78 she is still able). Where I grew up, in the old farmhouse by the water (where each year Santa would go by in the Christmas ship parade and wish us all Merry Christmas by name over the loudspeaker), special trees were designated traditional stations within our home. In the kitchen, a small tree displayed a whimsical collection of cookie cutters. In the dining room was a 4 foot metallic silver tree comprised of aluminum fir needles attached to metal branches which plugged into little holes on the silver-painted wooden trunk. Even without lights it was quite impressive. The tree in the living room, decorated in white and pink with doves and lace and all things things stately and beautiful, then dusted with a never-melting kiss of plastic snow, was the essence of peace and goodwill.[pullquote]In later years after we all grew up my Mom recalled that the tree resembled a street-walker! But its garishness was also its appeal…[/pullquote]

Then there was The Christmas Tree in the family room – the tree that drew me to itself at fourinthemorning. Unlike the other (artificial) trees, we would go as a family to the woods to find and harvest the tree. When we were little kids we were friends with a wonderful family who had a big farm with meadows, streams and forests. Every year they would invite all their friends over to cut Christmas Trees and sing Christmas carols and enjoy cookies and cocoa. What a great time! I looked forward to it all year long. After several years the kids and the remaining trees all grew up, so we went as a family to property my parents owned. This was such a fun family tradition, but after we all got jobs it was hard to find a time we could go out together to find a tree. So one year my Dad announced that on a certain night we would meet at 11:00 pm and go get our tree. When we arrived at my parent’s home Mom had thermoses of hot cocoa prepared and Dad had gathered up flashlights and lanterns. We went next door and tapped on Gramma’s window. She was always game for adventure. She came to the window in her nightie and we said, “Gramma, we’re going to the woods to get a Christmas tree. Come with us!” My Grandpa rolled over and asked what was going on. Gramma said, “Go back to sleep!”, which he promptly did. Grandpa was a practical man from the old country. Gramma joined us, and we drove for 45 Tinselminutes through a light snow, then tramped in circles through a forest of scraggly trees for another hour laughing and drinking cocoa to stay warm until we found the perfect tree.

The ceiling in the old farmhouse was quite high, so the family tree was usually over seven feet tall. We kids would often help Mom decorate it, and we had such a great time each year rediscovering the beautiful and fragile old glittered ornaments of delicate glass that my parents bought during their first years of marriage. Our favorite was the red ball with “Merry Christmas” spelled out in glittered silver script. We sisters allowed our brother the honor of hanging it on the tree. Of course, every homemade ornament found its special place on the branches as well. We strung so many lights on the tree it was a challenge to get them all plugged in without blowing a fuse. Then, after the balls were hung (and if Mom wasn’t around) we would stand back and throw wads of tinsel at the tree and each other. And I, being the youngest, had the honor of placing the star on the top after Dad came home to lift me up there. In later years after we all grew up my Mom recalled that the tree resembled a street-walker! But its garishness was also its appeal, and in those wee hours of the many-years-ago I would sit on the sofa or lay under the tree basking in the glow and breathing in the aroma of toasted fir until I fell asleep.

 

ANNIEL

Lionel Trains Every Christmas

I loved our Christmas Tree and the smells of Christmas, but most of all I loved that there was always a new Lionel Train piece to add to the railroad village going in a ring around the tree. My brothers thought the trains were theirs, but in reality they were our father’s. He never got over his days as a hobo and loved those trains.

He bought one new engine or car each year, and there were new switch tracks and transformers too. I got to put down the artificial snow, made from whipped Ivory Snow flakes. We had ponds made of mirrors, bridges, water towers, houses, trees, animals, and we even had a little model Christmas tree and ice skaters on the ponds. There were old engines and coal tenders from the time my elder brother was born, and modern engines that made their own smoke from pellets. I remember one year when dad brought home a lumber flat car with sides that tilted out and dumped the lumber. It had a special track piece to unload on and Lincoln logs just fit on the car.[pullquote]I loved grandpa’s smell of Copenhagen blended with Christmas.[/pullquote]

Dad worked his way up to passenger trains with Pullman cars and little brakemen and conductors. Getting a model dome car was a really exciting year. He finally added another round of tracks so the trains could be switched between them, and then he got to a large figure 8. I seem to even remember a Roundhouse with a turntable.

With all the tracks out, walking through the living room at Christmas time took skill and dexterity, but how we loved those trains. When our blind grandfather came to visit he had to be led carefully, and our mom made sure the cuspidor for his snoose was close at hand so he didn’t hit the tracks.
I loved grandpa’s smell of Copenhagen blended with Christmas.

Carefully packing the trains up on New Year’s was hard and we almost cried. Even though we knew the trains would be back again, the next Christmas seemed so far away.

electric2360e_ident

A Christmas Carol is Born

This is a story of one man’s pain that led to sublime beauty.

The great poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine in 1807. He was a very precocious child with an early bent for languages. He studied great literature and linguistics in Europe, but was deeply concerned with America, its history and traditions. His first wife, Mary, died in childbirth shortly after he had became a professor at Harvard. Then in 1843, after 7 years of rejection, he married his great love, Frances (Fannie) Appleton. They had 6 children together, one of whom died as an infant.

In 1861 Fannie’s clothing caught fire in a freak accident and she was burned over most of her body. Henry himself was burned horribly on his face, chest and hands while trying to save her. She died within a day and his grief was almost more than he could bear, but he still had 5 children to rear.

Added to his grief over His wife’s death, the Civil War began shortly after and in 1863, Longfellow’s eldest son, Charles, ran away from home to join the Union forces, much to his father’s dismay. Charley was only 17 years old.

Over the next few years Longfellow’s journal records his great despair over Fannie’s death and the horror of the war. As each Christmas passed he tried to believe again, but his Christmas Day entries show that he found no solace nor peace. He was famous and surrounded by loving a family and friends, but could no longer care for much beyond the well being of his children, especially Charley.

Toward the end of the war, at the battle of New Hope Church, Charles Appleton Longfellow was shot through the neck and the bullet lodged near his spine. Miraculously he survived the wound without being crippled. Henry went to Washington D. C. and nursed his son back to health. In this service to his son, his joy in life began to return.

On Christmas Day, 1864, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, buoyed to new hope by his son’s recovery, sat down and penned the poem he called “Christmas Bells,” which included two stanzas about the Civil war which are virtually unknown today. Those stanza’s are:

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearthstones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

In 1872 the full text of the poem was published in Great Britain, where a composer and choir director named John Baptiste Calkin (1827-1905) read the poem and set the words to music he had previously written. To make the song more universal in its reach, he removed the two martial stanzas, and reordered the other stanzas. Within two years the song had spread to all Christian countries. Calkin’s arrangement is still the favored rendition of the beloved Christmas Carol we now call I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
Th’ unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and
Mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail,
The right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing, singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!”

Maybe this carol deserves to be sung all year long as a reminder that out of sorrow great beauty can be born, and truly “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.”

Have a Merry, Merry Christmas!

 

ROSALYS

Faux Christmas Tree

We always had a real tree. Back then we believed, much like Charlie Brown, that an artificial tree was a terrible assault on Christianity, truth, justice, and the American Way! They were tolerated in the department stores because, after all, they had to concentrate on stocking the shelves and waiting on customers, not watering the trees and sweeping up the daily shower of needles. But not in the home! After many decades I got used to the idea of faux Christmas trees, acknowledged the convenience for many people (especially with the pre-application of lights), the ability to safely keep a tree up for a longer period because it wouldn’t dry out – but not for us!

Growing up we would always get our tree late, a few days before Christmas, when the trees would by then all be picked over and we had to choose the best from a sorry lot of leftovers. I only know of this because I remember my mother talking about the funny looking tree we had that year, the one we got with the crooked trunk that year, the one with no branches on one side (the side that went up against the wall.) I don’t really remember those trees because once the lights, the ornaments, and the tinsel (the good, lead kind!) were on, and the crèche was placed underneath, I always thought it was beautiful![pullquote]I have this deeply held conviction that if you have a fake tree it should be a real, genuine fake tree.[/pullquote]

When I got married, my husband and I kept with the tradition of a real tree. It was his job to put it in the stand and put on the lights and we would both decorate. When our son was old enough he voluntarily took over the job of putting the tree in the stand and putting on the lights and he and his sister would do most of the decorating. When our son went off to college my husband and I went back to our old routine, he putting it in the stand and putting on the lights, both of us decorating. It was always my job to take it all down, pack away the ornaments and lights in an organized way, and have what remained of the tree ready to go out with the first trash pickup after Epiphany, Twelfth Night.

The change came one year when my husband had some boxes of papers and books and stuff piled where the Christmas tree would normally go. I had asked him to please remove them but he never got around to it. I nagged some until, finally, playing my trump card, I warned him that if they weren’t moved I wouldn’t get a Christmas tree! Perhaps my husband was thinking, “Great! Now I won’t have to put any lights on!” Or maybe he just had too much other stuff to do. Or maybe he just didn’t like being nagged! But three days before Christmas the boxes were still there and it was beginning to dawn on me that perhaps a Christmas tree wasn’t all that high on his priority list. But I wanted a tree!

So I went out to find a tree and considering my options at that late date I decided to get a little tabletop, faux tree – one of those fiber optic ones. I have this deeply held conviction that if you have a fake tree it should be a real, genuine fake tree. Not one of those so-called realistic ones – they fool no one! With a tabletop model I wouldn’t be totally committing myself, and those fiber optic ones, I had to admit, were really kinda cool! Surely, by next year the pile of boxes would be gone and we could go back to the real thing. But I couldn’t find a fiber optic tree. Why? They were all over the place the previous year! Where did they go? I looked and looked and looked but to no avail! Finally there was only one place left to go. It was a swimming pool business that did Christmas in the off-season.

And There It Was!

My tree! My faux tree! And boy was it ever faux! It was called a White Cedar Tree. The white, cedar branches had glitter on them and hundreds of tiny white lights. The branches were not thick. They were rather sparsely spaced so that ornaments would actually hang down. It was sparkly and lacy and looked like it came from Fairy Land! I brought it home, and because at six feet it was not a tabletop model, my husband gladly moved his boxes and we put it up. It was beautiful! I was committed to faux!

And it was cheap! First of all it was cheap because it was 50% off – sixty bucks! Secondly it was cheap because, well, quality wise it was really a piece of junk. By CB christmas treeyear four it began to fail. The lights were odd in that the normal replacement bulbs wouldn’t fit and the strands were the kind that if one or two lights failed the entire strand will fail. The branches were of flimsy plastic “cedar” attached to metal rods attached to the trunk and a few of those weren’t quite what they used to be. We used it two more years, but when the last strand of lights finally went out I had to come to grips with the fact that it was time to throw it away. I loved that tree and looked and looked and looked for a replacement, but alas, there was not one to be found anywhere.

I didn’t buy a tree that year. Instead, I decorated a banana plant from the deck that was wintering over in the living room. I thought it really was rather fetching myself, but the children were not amused and I didn’t try that again! I finally found another faux tree. Not a beautiful fairy tree and not a white one. Those fluffy white jobs just don’t do it for me – not when I’ve experience the magic of Lothlórien! But this one will do. It has three different kinds of “needles” so it is not trying to fool anyone. Some are fluffed a bit to give it a frosty look and it has pinecones. I like pinecones. It is pre-lit so it makes my husband happy.

So for now it will do, but every year I search anew to see if anyone out there has a white cedar tree for sale.

 

PST4USA

I Fell Out of a Christmas Tree

Editor’s note: This site’s good friend and benefactor, Pat Tarzwell, told me a story yesterday on Christmas Eve. He had dropped by the office on his way north for a mad dash to the mall for a last-minute present. (Being a conservative, it wasn’t a “mad dash” but more of a methodical search, but the result was much the same.)

The story he told me was about how his wife was born on Christmas Day and how a certain bad song (good to her ears though, and to mine now that I have heard it and the story) became her song, just as “Thanks for the Memories” became Bob Hope’s song and “White Christmas” became Bing Crosby’s song.

Having heard the gist of the story from Pat, I told him that I didn’t care how busy he was this Christmas Eve, he had to write it down for me. In fact, he was very busy. Not finding what he needed at one mall, he had to drive 30 miles south to another crowded mall to find a particular type of See’s candy. (I hope you found it, Pat, and kept to your promise.)

Luckily his wife had already done much of the work, having written down the story in a form of a speech for Toastmasters. I present it her with only minor editing. The actual song, of which Pat made an mp3, is linked to below.

If you surveyed my kids about my scoldings as they were growing up, TURN IT DOWN would surely be in the top 3. So imagine their surprise at being awoken for school early one morning by the stereo blaring full blast and then finding Mom the cause of it. There I danced, listening excitedly to a cassette tape.

The audio was not particularly good quality. It had been dubbed from a 35 year old record. The lyrics were sung by a 9 year old child – and corny. To my kids-it was just Mom being weird. To me it was a dream come true. The reason — because it happened to be my second favorite Christmas song. It is about being born on Christmas, which I am. As a child I connected with that song called “I Fell Out of a Christmas Tree”, and it was definitely a part of me. So when it was lost in a childhood move, I knew I had lost a piece of myself. But the amazing part of this story is how that song came back to me.

Just a couple of weeks before, I received a post card in the mail. The printing on the card was small and crammed. I had to read it twice to comprehend its message and discovered that it was sent by a Sherlock Holmes. (Some people have a Fairy Godmother. I have a Sherlock Holmes.) You see, months before while reading the newspaper I came across a column much like the syndicated Dear Abby. It was called Dear Mr Music Man. Someone had written to him for help with a song about which they could only remember a short phrase. Mr Music Man replied with everything you could want to know about that song — the year it was recorded, the label, the artist and the rest of the lyrics. I immediately penned a letter with all the lyrics I remembered from my obscure little Christmas song, certain it would be printed in time for the Christmas season.

Christmas came and went and my letter never appeared in the paper. Disappointed, my life moved on.

Many months later, the mailman brought me a funny little handwritten postcard. I did not know the sender of the card and the lettering was difficult to read and was confusing. After pouring over it a second time I began to understand — the sender subscribed to a music magazine that also carried the syndicated Mr Music Man. He had seen my letter and Mr Music Man’s reply. In a later edition he noticed another reader’s letter who stated he had the record and if I sent him a cassette tape he would record it for me. My Sherlock Holmes used his great powers of deductive reasoning, connected all these pieces of the puzzle and guessed I was not a subscriber and therefore would never know of the other gentleman’s offer. He mailed a postcard to me, connecting me with the record’s owner. I rushed to mail an audio tape as soon as possible.

Early one morning after taking Pat to work I checked the mailbox for yesterday’s mail and to my enthusiastic amazement, I discovered a brown envelope with my audio tape in it and my obscure little song recorded on it. I dashed back to the house, darted inside, put the tape in the stereo and cranked the volume all the way up.

And that’s what woke the kids! I played that silly song repeatedly. The kids had to endure my song as they showered, dressed, ate breakfast, packed lunch, and again in the car as we drove to school. After all these years I wanted to imprint that song on my brain. Thus began a series of correspondences with a fellow who turned out to be an avid Christmas song collector. By the time the next Christmas rolled around, two more audio tapes arrived filled with titles like: Something Barked on Christmas Morning, 17 Million Bicycles, Dancer, Prancer and Nervous, Have a Gluey Christmas, Santa and the Purple People Eater and of course, my song – I Fell out of a Christmas Tree.

The Christmas song collector, and my Sherlock Holmes, gave the little girl in me the best present ever — a tangible piece of childhood. So if you are around me at Christmas time and my song plays, just hold that thought and bear with me for a couple of minutes while I turn up the volume. Later I’ll TURN IT DOWN.

I Fell Out of a Christmas Tree
By Little Rita Faye (1953)

I arrived one Christmas morn,
That’s the day that I was born.
Other kids are not like me,
I fell out of a Christmas Tree.
They didn’t find me in the park,
I wasn’t bro’t here by the stork
I’m a Personality,
I fell out of a Christmas Tree.

I spilled about the highest limb and tumbled to the floor
No one was there to pick me up, my folks were all next door
When my birthday rolls around,
They close up all the stores in town
And have a holiday for me
I fell out of a Christmas tree.

Every Year on Christmas day,
they all let me have my way
I’m not like most kids you see
I fell out of a Christmas tree.
When my Mama thinks I’m bad
And turns me over to my Dad,
He never takes me ‘cross his knee
I Fell out of a Christmas tree.

Now Christmas birthdays may be nice
but I’ll give you a clue
I have a party once a year,
the other kids have two
But still I want it understood,
I wouldn’t change it if I could
Cause it’s plain as plain can be,
If it wasn’t for Christmas there wouldn’t be no me.

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83 Responses to Stories of Christmas

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I occasionally attend events (usually food events) with Elizabeth at Saint Matthews Baptist Church (named for the suburban town, not directly for the saint). One is the annual Christmas event, where Elizabeth hosts a table of 8 (technically I’m co-host despite being a deist, which amuses me). There will be some sort of play or musical function themed for Christmas. One year it was some of the children, and they did a play that nicely reflected the spirit of giving (a group of people waiting in line to send packages start talking, and eventually give their gifts to each other).

  2. Pokey Possum says:

    “Surely this technique would both add color to the fire and aid its combustion.”
    Playfulness and practicality all-in-one! Your Dad was a man of admirable qualities. I laughed so much imagining this scene. Thanks Brad.

  3. Rosalys says:

    Growing up, Christmas Eve was special and magical and midnight mass was part of it. Midnight mass and fond memories was part of what made it so difficult to leave Roman Catholicism. My very last midnight mass was a Twilight Zone experience which is actually kind of funny, the second to last chapter in the story of my conversion.

    Love the Yule Log story!

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Rosalys, your “fond memories” would make a wonderful addition to this symposium about Christmas stories. You hint at some good stuff. What’s holding you back? Feel free to write it up and submit it.

      It must have been hard to leave the Catholic Church. And seeing how bizarrely liberal so many Protestant denominations are, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was not a “out of the frying pan, into the fire” aspect to it. 🙂

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Note that the more liberal denominations are declining steadily in numbers. I once noted a book by the Episcopalian liberal Spong (can’t remember the first name right now) with a title about what the churches needed to do. Apparently his argument (I never read it, so I could only judge by its cover, which we all know can be a bit risky) was that churches had to liberalize to appeal to people. The only problem was that the churches that acted this way were losing members to those that acted otherwise.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    …dusted with a never-melting kiss of plastic snow, was the essence of peace and goodwill.

    Wonderfully written, Pokey. And what a memorable family tradition that you describe.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    And you remind me, Pokey, of stories I may elaborate on…particularly concerning the application of tinsel. But I might have to change names to protect the guilty. Let’s just say that with four rambunctious kids all anxious for Christmas, and bleeding that energy into sibling rivalry, that tinsel became like the match that lit the powder keg. We might make it through the application of lights without so much as a cross word. We might make it through the hanging of the ornaments without tempers flaring. But it was unlikely that hostilities could remain dormant through the tinsel phase. You may ask those concerned yourself in order to confirm the story! But some things just get blotted out over time. But we did usually end up with a fellow street-walker of a tree in terms of that wonderful garishness.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      We didn’t have problems like that. My father would get a tree, and would also put up the lights. The rest of us would put on the various bulbs (I was fondest of the really ornate ones rather than simple balls) and then the icicles. Then, on Christmas Eve, we would put up the stockings (specially made ones for each of us), which of course would be filled when we came down Christmas morning. (There would also be the gifts under the tree, which my parents would hand out after we emptied the stockings.)

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        we would put up the stockings (specially made ones for each of us), which of course would be filled when we came down Christmas morning.

        As I moved overseas in my early twenties, my mother packed up many items from my childhood in a big box and kept it until I returned to the USA.

        In that box was the Christmas stocking she made for me almost sixty years back. Long ago, it too was filled with candy, nuts and small nik-naks when I woke on Christmas morning.

        That stocking is hanging over my fireplace right now, along with one my mother made for my son, but sadly never finished.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I don’t know what happened to all that material, but most of it was probably left behind when we moved from a house to an apartment in 1976. In any case, we had stopped having a tree after my father went to Vietnam a decade earlier. It’s a pity; if nothing else, perhaps we could have given some of them away, and a certain amount of nostalgia is nice.

          Elizabeth does have a modest amount of decoration she puts up (though she hasn’t yet), and keeps up until Epiphany. We also have revived another old childhood memory: touring the area to look at the outside Christmas displays. There are a lot of very nice ones, and we especially appreciate it when we see a crèche.

        • Rosalys says:

          My aunt knitted stockings for my sister, my brother, and me. They matched except for the size. As the baby of the family mine was the smallest, but our parents were careful to keep the contents fairly even. I suppose having the smallest stocking mine looked deceptively fuller!

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Ours were identical except for the names. Of course, they weren’t mean for actual wear, and were only used at Christmas.

    • Rosalys says:

      We ended up with a weird tree one year when our cat, Mac, was a kitten – it was his first Christmas. He would knock off any ornaments and garlands within his reach and they would be placed back on the tree out of his reach. By the time Christmas arrived the tree looked like everyone had been on LSD when we decorated it!

      Any one with cats has probably had the experience of it climbing the tree with disastrous results!

    • Rosalys says:

      Speaking of tinsel… I hate the utter crap, plastic garbage they sell nowadays! The old lead tinsel hung straight, didn’t fly around and attach itself to anyone walking within three feet of it, and glittered beautifully. Also the plastic stuff is very bad for the cats, dogs, and small children who may ingest it – I think as a choking hazard it’s more dangerous than the lead.

      There has been a war on lead for quite a while. And though at one time I bought into the, “We mustn’t poison the children” narrative, I don’t anymore. I think lead must go because it makes really good bullets.

      Back to the tinsel… I have a friend whose family always carefully removed and stored the tinsel every year. So when the ban went up they still had the good stuff for many years to come! I’m not sure, but one of the daughters may still have some! I’ll have to ask her.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Apparently some places use wooden bullets for indoor target practice. In one of Michael Z. Williamson’s books about a team of snipers, they have a mission in Romania and learn that this is one place where wooden bullets are so used. One is rather bemused by the use of wooden bullets in the home country of Vlad Dracula.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        We used to save the old lead tinsel for a while. But eventually it either gets too worn out or just becomes not worth the bother. And you’re right, it does hang much better.

        I hear it’s not good to ingest lead. And I’ve read it’s possible to absorb it through the skin, but from what I’ve read, this is over-blown. If the lead is finely-powered, it can be absorbed. And even if it is absorbed in the skin, it tends to be sweated out. If this is not the case, well, I wouldn’t doubt at all that its association with bullets has proven fatal for lead tinsel.

        One would think that the environmental-wackos would be conflicted on this: On the one hand, lead is a naturally-occurring element (and “natural” is word that holds great power with the wackos). On the other, modern plastic tinsel is, well, plastic.

  6. GHG says:

    I have wonderful memories of Christmas, from my childhood, from my children’s childhood and now with my grandchildren. Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year, for many reasons. Family, the music, the decorations, the smiles on people’s faces, the food, and more. We still get a real tree every year and I love to have some quiet time when I can look at the lit and decorated tree and breathe in the pine scent.

    My family tradition was to celebrate on Christmas Eve and my wife’s tradition was Christmas Day. Two Christmas celebrations – didn’t that work out well.

    I suppose if I had to pick my favorite Christmas memory it would be when I was in 5th grade (maybe it was 4th grade, can’t be sure, it was a long time ago). I was going to a Lutheran grammer school in northern Wisconsin and my class had to sing three songs at the Christmas Eve service. We dressed in white choir robes and sat in the choir section in church that night and sang Joy to the Word, Oh Come All Ye Faithful, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. I have never known how to put it in words – but something happened to me that night. Not something like an audible voice or a vision or anything like that – but something stirred in me that made me feel real good, of maybe “real happy” would be a better way to put it. I’ve joked that maybe it was simply getting through the songs without messing up, which I was quite nervous about leading up to the service. But it has stayed with me through the years and it’s just something I still feel really happy about. Merry Christmas indeed.

    • Rosalys says:

      I love the old Christmas carols, too. I sing them all year long!

      And, by the way, did you know that “Joy to the World” is really about the Second Coming? Technically not a Christmas carol at all, so it may be sung appropriately any time you want!

      • Timothy Lane says:

        In one of the Christmas mysteries that the Clarks (Mary Higgins and Carol Higgins) used to write, a probationary angel is sent out to help somebody out. One consequence of being probationary is not being able to join in the events in Heaven — and he especially regrets not getting to join in caroling.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark

          Both ladies are strong supporters of this site’s featured charity the FRAXA Research Foundation. Mary Higgins Clark is a member of FRAXA’s honorary board. And if I recall correctly, her grandson has Fragile X Syndrome.

          Maybe they do know something about angels that the rest of us don’t.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        My favorite rendition of the song is by George Jones. I’m not necessarily a country music fan, per se. But Mr. Jones puts a little extra oomph in this one. He sings it with feeling and respect, and the production of it is simple and clean.

        Contrast that with some of the truly atrocious Christmas music sung by many of the stars. Many just go through the motion, layering ten pounds of their over-stuffed “style” on songs that are not meant to be showcases for celebrity narcissism.

        God bless George Jones. I think he nails this one. It’s worth a listen…apparently any time of year.

        Joy to the World

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    FYI, I just added a new story to mine…and will likely add more as the memories flow and the statutes of limitation expire.

    • Rosalys says:

      That Fighting Lady looks like an awesome toy. I know a 65 year old guy who would love one of those!

    • Timothy Lane says:

      You probably should have some sort of notification outside when new stories are added, perhaps a count of how many there are for each person. I only checked because of your mention here (and if I had read it before Pokey Possum added hers . . .)

  8. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Speaking of Christmas stories, for those boys (perhaps a few girls as well) who received a chemistry set as a present, here’s an excellent article in pdf form about that phenomenon. Either I or my older brother had one of these sets. I may have received it as a hand-me-down or received one myself. But you generally can’t find them anymore. Thank the lawyers and girly-men for that:

    It’s hard to see how the chemistry set can return from this low point. ‘Not in America,’ says Sacks, ‘where there is a sort of nursery atmosphere, and a hysteria about risks and insurance.’ Conceivably, he says, a virtual set courtesy of the internet or a ‘nano set’ containing minute quantities of reagents could give children a safe introduction to chemistry. ‘But if chemistry sets or something equivalent cannot come back, a certain realm of childhood may be lost forever.’

    Chemistry Set

    • Timothy Lane says:

      There’s an Ellery Queen novel (one of his Wrightsburg stories) that involves a murder that turns out to have been an accident resulting from a boy playing with his chemistry set. He didn’t tell this to anyone but his father because the boy, grown to a man, was convinced that his mother’s death somehow doomed him to be a murderer — and this would have been worsened by finding out his accidental responsibility.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Thank the lawyers and girly-men for that

      There also seems to be something about a wealthy society which makes it risk-averse. Perhaps this is one of the reasons successful societies reach peaks and start degenerating. Too much to lose!

    • Rosalys says:

      My brother got a chemistry set one Christmas. It was the start of life long love affair with things that go BOOM!

      • Timothy Lane says:

        That reminds me of the slogan put on a t-shirt (I think; it may also have turned up elsewhere, and I recall getting a copy of it that no doubt is around here somewhere) by a charitable organization at SF conventions, which goes (more or less): “From foul-smelling potions and noxious concoctions and things that go boom in a flask, great mentor, deliver us.”

  9. Timothy Lane says:

    The only candy (as opposed to baked goods, etc.) that I recall my mother making was fudge. That was quite good enough. (She mentioned an incident when my father had made the usual complaint about her cooking not matching his mother’s. Knowing exactly what that standard was, her next dinner involve setting a large amount of cold cuts and other sandwich makings. She never said what his reaction was.)

    Our standard for eating food that falls to the floor depends primarily on what sort it is. If it’s something that doesn’t hold dirt to well (say, something dry and hard), we wipe it off and eat it. (A week ago, one of my Carvedilol tablets fell and got rather dirty — but not too dirty, once I found it, to wipe off and swallow.) If you wiped your mother’s candy off sufficiently, it probably wasn’t really full of mouse turds (or would that be mouse liberals?).

    • Rosalys says:

      My usual standard for eating food which has fallen on the floor is if anyone else was around to see it happen. I was preparing a salad for company in the kitchen several years ago. We don’t have “open concept” so one of our guests was keeping me company (which was very nice of him!) A slice of cucumber fell on the floor. I made a show of picking it up and saying, “Well will have to throw that one away!” – probably to enforce a false impression that I keep a tidy ship. He then said, “If I were at home, I probably would have eaten that.” I admitted that I too would have rinsed it off and eaten it had he not been there to see me.” He then said, “I probably wouldn’t have rinsed it off!”

      But mouse droppings? Oh, Brad! I think I would draw the line at mouse droppings. My standards may be low, but they are there, none-the-less!

      It’s kind of like accidentally dropping a toothbrush into the toilet. It wouldn’t matter if the toilet was just scrubbed and disinfected. It wouldn’t matter if I soaked it in lye and then boiled it in water for an hour. I just would not be able to ever again brush my teeth with said brush without extreme discomfort!

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Nice anecdote. So what did you finally do with the cucumber? I can guess (rinsed it off and used it); is that right?

        • Rosalys says:

          Alas, I was too quick in my attempts to appear proper and the slice by then was already in the rubbish. Dumpster diving in my own trash for something that small is usually beneath me.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        It’s kind of like accidentally dropping a toothbrush into the toilet. It wouldn’t matter if the toilet was just scrubbed and disinfected. It wouldn’t matter if I soaked it in lye and then boiled it in water for an hour. I just would not be able to ever again brush my teeth with said brush without extreme discomfort!

        Funny you should write that. While living in Japan, over thirty years ago, I knew someone who did almost exactly what you mentioned.

        On an international flight, an hour or so distant from Narita airport, he went to the restroom to brush his teeth. While doing this he dropped his partial upper denture into the airplane toilet.

        He advised the airline personnel of this and when the plane landed he waited for them to empty the toilet tanks and recover his denture. He then drove to the JCC in Tokyo and had them boil the denture for something like three hours. Once this was done, he inserted the denture into its place and went on his merry way.

        While the denture was, no doubt, sanitized I’m with you. I don’t think I could put it back in my mouth.

  10. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    It the food falls and rests there but a second, it can be picked up and consumed immediately. But if it remains there any longer, you have to throw it away. This is the second law of food gastro-dynamics

    If it makes you feel better, I think it was Myth-Busters which showed that it made, virtually, no difference, as to bacteria count, whether the food was on the floor for a second or something like 30 seconds. So you can be content that whatever dirt you ate, you would have eaten it even if you had been able to pick the candy up in a jiffy.

    By the way, if your mother still makes Snow Balls, have a few for me. The ingredients are pretty much the same as a small crescent shaped cookie made in Central Europe for the Christmas Season. Small and delicious, a dangerous combination. The original “bet you can’t eat just one.”

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’ll be making the snowball cookies this year, Mr. Kung. I might make a small test batch tonight.

      Additional: Was baking even possible before the invention of butter? I just mixed a batch of snowballs, and there’s just enough flower in the recipe to keep the butter from running off the cookie sheet and into the bottom of the oven. There’s a cup of butter in this recipe, although my mother’s recipe says that you can use part margarine. Therefore consider my snowballs health food. I’ll let you know how they turn out.

  11. Pokey Possum says:

    I was 6 or 7 when my Dad bought a Lionel Train set for Christmas. One Christmas it ran around the living room, then down the hall and back. It was a challenge getting the tracks to lay flat on the mid-century classic shag carpet, resulting in frequent train disasters. And, of course, my brother only knows one speed: full throttle! One of my favorite things about them, however, was the distinct smell of the big transformer when it got hot. Remember that? The fragrance of fun.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Atmosphere destroying ozone!

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I don’t remember any such smell, no doubt because I have no sense of smell due to chronic sinusitis (probably congenital). But actually, I don’t remember anything about our train sets even though family lore is that I was very much interested and I do recall that there was a song that (no doubt because of some early connection of coincidental timing) I called “the train song”.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      The fragrance of fun. I remember that smell. Ron had a train set and I played with (or watched from the sidelines) when he had it out. It was always a challenge to keep the thing working.

  12. Anniel says:

    Rosalys, You’re a woman after my own heart! I just got my husband into real Christmas trees when pretty good faux ones came out, he was happy, but I still wanted that fairy tale lacy beauty. A few years ago I went into True Value Hardwear, one of my favorite stores, for a few last minute gifts, and there it was, the tree of my dreams. About 4 feet tall, not any kind of needle on it, but a real dried branch tree with every branch encrusted with crystal beads and white lights. Better still, it was marked 50% off so how great is that? I turned the tag over — the sale price was a measly $1,957.oo. Think how much we could have saved! I’m thinking of lights on the Christmas Cactus this year.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Well, the tradition of using an evergreen no doubt reflects the custom’s origin in Germany. I see no reason why someone couldn’t use some other type of tree or shrub, such as your cactus (though I’d want to be very careful putting on the decorations) or Rosalys’s banana palm.

  13. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Good luck with finding your white cedar fake tree, Rosalys. What an interesting story. I’ve never been able to pull the trigger on a fake tree. But you point out many of the advantages. And the real trees tend to be pricey, especially if you don’t live in the Northwest practically surrounded by them. 🙂

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Well, my father always managed and he was hardly wealthy most of the time, even though the closest place to Seattle we ever lived was Monterey, where he attended the Army language school at the Presidio to learn Greek in preparation for his stint as Assistant Army Attache in Greece. (The Army has the strange idea that it would be useful to know the language and culture.)

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        What’s a real tree going for out there in the urban libtard zones? My brother just picked up a nice tree for 30 bucks. I understand you would have to pay probably 5 times that in a major city.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I paid the same amount for a 7 foot tree last week in North Texas. Of course, you could pay hundreds for a tree if you are so inclined; I’m not.

        • Rosalys says:

          The last time I paid for a real tree, at least ten years ago, it was $15 or $20. That was a cheap one in the northeast.

  14. Timothy Lane says:

    How the Grinch Stole Christmas is my favorite Christmas show, though we can’t play the DVD right now (the player on the TV doesn’t work, perhaps from being too dirty and perhaps for some other reason) and Elizabeth is less than thrilled by the actual broadcasts with their myriad commercials. Still, it’s worth remembering that the point of both that and A Christmas Carol is that the Grinch and Scrooge come to realize the meaning of Christmas, and change their ways. (By the way, is the Grinch — hating the Whos’ joy in their gifts as well as their consumption of roast beast — simply a misplaced liberal? He even robs the rich, which can be defined as anyone who has anything to steal. And, for that matter, Scrooge refuses to give to charity because he already pays so much in taxes, like any good liberal.)

  15. Timothy Lane says:

    It isn’t quite the purpose of this item, but I will note that Erick Erickson had a piece on RedState explaining why December 25 is Christmas (and it has nothing to do with Saturnalia or the winter solstice). The main reason is that a computation of the date of the Crucifixion was March 25, and there was a common Christian legend that all the saints had died on the dates of their conceptions. For those who are curious, the link is:

    http://www.redstate.com/2014/12/10/why-christmas-is-on-december-25th/

  16. Rosalys says:

    I love to hear the stories behind the writing of Christmas carols as well as other Christian hymns. Thank you, Annie, for this story as well as the two “missing” stanzas.

    Many hymns have many, many more verses than what are normally put into modern hymnals – but occasionally they’ll include hymns with five or even six. It always bothers me when a hymn will be called and then it is announced, “And we will sing verses one, three, and five.” Once at a church pot luck where we all sat around singing hymns of our individual choosing before eating, someone chose a favorite hymn of mine, but then said, “We’ll sing verses one and two!” It was my turn next and I chose the same hymn, “And we’ll sing verses three and four!” (It was a four stanza hymn, otherwise I would have included five and six!) Pretty much ever since we’ll sing all available verses when we sing hymns.

  17. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Regarding you latest story, Annie, all I have to say is that great minds think alike. 🙂

  18. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Maybe this carol deserves to be sung all year long as a reminder that out of sorrow great beauty can be born, and truly “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.”

    Dear Anniel,

    That is a wonderful story. And when all is said and done, perhaps the greatest sin is to give in to despair. With hope, we may all overcome the greatest of obstacles. And what is faith, but hope?

    • Anniel says:

      Mr. Kung Fu: I always feel I should bow, as much as I still am able, and address you more properly as “Master.” The despair has seemed so easy lately, then I look about me and find hope in strange places I had not expected. Have a wonderful Christmas.

  19. Glenn Fairman says:

    Do you think you can re-run “My StingRay Christmas?”

  20. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Over fifty years ago, I read a Christmas story by Laura Ingalls Wilder which has, for some reason, stayed with me. I am not sure which novel it came from, but I believe it is the one actually titled “The Little House on the Prairie”.

    The story takes place on a farm far from its neighbors and the family does not have a great deal of contact with others in the area. This is particularly the case in winter.

    The story is told from a child’s point of view. As I recall, due to inclement weather, there seems to be a good chance there will be no presents for Christmas. Of course, this would be a disappointment to the children. But somehow a friend or neighbor braves the elements and manages to get across the swollen river with a sack in which he is carrying Christmas presents. The child describes how the man reaches down and pulls presents out of the sack including a tin cup for each child. Already happy with what they have received the story-teller watches the man reach deep into the sack and bring out a bright shiny new copper penny for her sibling and herself. She was almost ecstatic with joy.

    The delight and appreciation which the child expressed at receiving such modest gifts made a strong impression on me as an eight or nine year old boy. It showed a couple of things. First, that times had changed a lot and I was a very lucky boy to get the loot I did at Christmas. Second, the sometimes amazing lengths adults will go to please children.

    I think these are not bad lessons for a child or even an adult. And, of course, contemplating these two will lead to other important lessons.

    So I hope everyone will enjoy their Christmas and be happy as things could alway be worse.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Some argue the preeminence of Jesus at this time of year. And that’s fine. But I say that it isn’t Christmas without Bing. And generally relating to your current them is this song, “Christmas Is a-Comin'” — the traditional verse/song rewritten by Frank Luther and performed by Der Bingle:

      When I’m feeling blue, when I’m feeling low,
      I start to think about the happiest man I know.
      Now he doesn’t mind the snow, he doesn’t mind the rain,
      But all December you will hear him at your window pane,
      Singing again and again and again and again and again:

      Christmas is a coming and the bells begin to ring,
      The holly’s in the window and the birds begin to sing.
      I don’t need to worry, and I don’t need to fret,
      And the more you give at Christmastime the more you get.

      God bless you, gentlemen, God bless you!
      The more you give at Christmastime the more you get.

      Christmas is a coming, the egg is in the nog.
      Please give a friendly man a friendly little dog.
      If you haven’t got a friendly dog, a friendly cat will do,
      If you haven’t got a friendly cat may God bless you!

      God bless you, gentlemen, God bless you!
      If you haven’t got a friendly cat may God bless you!

      Christmas is a coming, the lights are on the tree.
      How about a turkey leg for dear old me?
      If you haven’t got a turkey leg, a turkey wing will do.
      If you haven’t got a turkey wing may God bless you!

      God bless you, gentlemen, God bless you!
      If you haven’t got a turkey wing may God bless you!

      Christmas is a coming, the cider’s in the keg.
      If I had a mug of cider I wouldn’t have to beg.
      If you haven’t got a mug of cider, half a mug will do.
      If you haven’t got half a mug, may God bless you!

      God bless you, gentlemen, God bless you!
      If you haven’t got half a mug, may God bless you!
      If you haven’t got a thing for me, may God bless you!

      • Timothy Lane says:

        An interesting Christmas novelty song that ends up making a nice point is Stan Freberg’s “Dragnet Christmas” (which is available on Dr. Demento Presents the Greatest Christmas Novelty CD of All Time). The ending is especially worthwhile.

  21. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    To all our cherished StubbornThings readers and contributors, I offer you this gift that surely might have been deposited next to the frankincense and myrrh if the compact disc had been invented back then: Der Bingle.

    Happy Holidays

    Scratch that.

    Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah

    • Timothy Lane says:

      And Merry Christmas to you and everyone else here. And peace on Earth to men (and women, Deana and Patricia and Rosalys etc.) of good will.

  22. Pst4usa says:

    A very Merry Christmas to one and all!

  23. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Rich Lowry has an excellent, and mercifully succinct, article about Christmas at Bastogne. It’s worth a read.

    Here’s a rather more gruesome Christmas Story from Patrick O’Donnell: Christmas with America’s First SEAL, in a Gestapo Prison.

    It would seem to me that the Gestapo prison that is described is a perfect Libertarian playground. The only law is the law of the jungle, the strong over the weak. After all, who are we to restrict the Gestapo’s method of organizing society? To do so would just be “statism.” To face the fact that there is evil in this world, and a need for some restrictions on human behavior, is to automatically remove oneself from the kooky libertarian camp of amorality, at best.

    It’s also a lesson about the dark, grievance-filled heart the lurks in Leftists such as Obama and his ilk.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I wasn’t surprised, from the beginning of the article on the SEAL, that he ended up in Mauthausen, considered the most murderous of the concentration camps (as distinct from extermination camps, which existed solely for industrialized mass murder). I would assume he had to climb the 150 Steps of Death, one of their favorite tortures, in which inmates had to climb the 150 steps up from a quarry carrying heavy blocks of stone while being harassed and even flogged by guards. Those who equate waterboarding with the Nazis should have to read it and then be asked if they still believe that — and if so (as most liberals probably would claim to), why.

      Your comment about Pat still shopping reminds me of the Christmas Eve “Working Daze” cartoon (available at gocomics. com). One of the main characters was about to go out shopping, and when another asked him if that wasn’t a bit early for him, he answered that he still had a few people on his list from the previous year.

      The “I Fell Out of a Christmas Tree” piece was certainly very nice. Joe Major (whom you might recognize from the other addressees on political satire e-mails I send you) was born on Christmas Eve (and his wife was born the day before Halloween, which — as Isaac Asimov once noted in a Black Widowers story — is mathematically equal to Christmas Eve).

  24. Pst4usa says:

    I got it Brad and with very little bloodshed. Thanks for posting this. The song is not too bad the first 100 times you here it, but when it reaches 1000’s, well that’s something else.

  25. Pokey Possum says:

    Merry Christmas Brad! I hope everyone enjoys your cookies. Have a great day.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      They loved the cookies, Pokey…including the gingerbread cookies, the thumbprint cookies, and the fudge that I made. Merry Christmas. I saved some for you.

  26. Rosalys says:

    Merry Christmas! God bless us every one!

  27. Timothy Lane says:

    Our own Christmas this year was fairly typical for us. We breakfasted on oyster stew and cheese biscuits (a choice Elizabeth picked up from her Virginian sister-in-law), then went down to open our presents. Naturally, most of those were books; I had made a list of 5 possible choices to Elizabeth and my sister (not until Christmas did it occur to me that I should have gone through the Bookshelf and Book Reviews here for some options), and received 3 (Snow & Steel by Patrick Caddick-Jones about the Battle of the Bulge, Stonewalled by Sharyl Attkisson, and Citizen-General by Eugene Schmiel about Jacob D. Cox). Elizabeth got her own share of books (and that, of course, is what we got for my sister). We also played some Christmas music, including some selections from the “Nutcracker Suite” (I have a CD of the whole ballet, but we can only play MP3 images currently, and that’s all we have available from it).

    Our main meal in mid-afternoon was at an Indian restaurant with a lunch buffet, which has become our Christmas tradition. On the radio as we drove to and from the restaurant we heard portions of the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas special on WHAS (the channel that carries Limbaugh, who of course is a big fan of the group). So after we got home, I played the MP3 images we have of their Christmas CDs. Later Elizabeth talked to her sister (who called her) and I talked to mine (whom I called, though it turns out that they aren’t opening their presents until Boxing Day). And later I watched High Anxiety on TCM and then FNC (including some of their Christmas shows).

    Obviously, Christmas is made for children, not senior citizens, but we had a good day overall. And I hope everyone else here had at least as merry a Christmas as we did. But since we need to remember why, and I do remember how much I was moved as Chris Davis of Mannheim Steamroller discussed the magi and the star, I will conclude with a relevant quote.

    “Be not afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come for all people, for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign for you, you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”

  28. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Mark Steyn has a piece about Christmas at his personal site. He goes on about the differences between the USA and Europe and closes with this.

    It would require enormous political will to shift the people of Europe. After you’ve turned citizens into junkies, with government as the pusher, it’s very hard to turn them back again, and even harder to get them to quit (if you’ll forgive the expression) cold turkey. It’s all but impossible in the present Continental political culture. Europe has a psychological investment in longer holidays: the fact that they spell national suicide is less important than that they distinguish Europe from the less enlightened Americans.

  29. Timothy Lane says:

    I remember my mother occasionally making gingerbread men when I was young, but very little about what they were like. I certainly never found them at all unpleasant, but I can’t say how spicy they were. (Due to chronic sinusitis, I have effectively no sense of smell.) In any case, I have no idea what recipe she used.

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