Tag Archive | christmas

The silent stars go by…

This is just one of many weird Christmas music albums my parents owned when I was a kid.

This is just one of many weird Christmas music albums my parents owned when I was a kid.

Christmas music is one of my obsessions. I usually start listening to it either the evening of Thanksgiving or the next day and keep listening to it through Epiphany (aka, Three Kings Day, aka 12th Night). Unfortunately, my hubby is one of those people who really dislikes Christmas music, or at least a lot of it. He’s one of many people I know who really can’t stand the Sweet-Baby-Jesus music, for one. I’ve managed to figure out a large collection of Christmas song he doesn’t mind, so the car’s iPod gets loaded with those this time of year. Otherwise, I listen to my Christmas music either when he’s in the other room or use my headphones or AirPods.

As a gay kid growing up in a very conservative and uptight denomination, I understand why a lot of people dislike Christmas music. I understand that what some people hear when those songs play is, “You must conform to this belief system that has oppressed you, or else!” Seriously, some sacred music provokes memories of very bad experiences for me, too, so I get it.

My particular idiosyncrasy is that traditional religious Christmas songs just don’t register that way for me. I can sing “O, Come All Ye Faithful” in more than one language (my Latin’s a bit rusty, but…). I love singing along to “Angels We Have Heard on High” because when I do it bring back memories the many Christmas concerts where I either sang it or played in the orchestra. In my head, I’m singing the tenor, and bass, and alto part (and wishing I could still hit all the notes for the soprano), as well as playing the trumpet and baritone horn parts.

So, while I understand intellectually that those particular Christmas songs are sacred hymns, to me they’re just part of the “Ho! Ho! Ho!” extravaganza. Yes, “O, Holy Night” brings tears to my eyes, but is the wonder I used to experience every night when I lived in tiny towns in the Central Rocky Mountains, where we could walk outside, look up, and see the entire Milky Way, not being washed out by the lights of a city. Which is the same sense of wonder I used to get when I was a very small child laying on the floor in our living room with the Christmas tree lights providing most of the light in the room. It’s why sometimes during this time of the year, my husband will come out of the computer room and find me sitting in the darkened living room, staring at the Christmas tree.

This is another one we had when I was a child.

I think part of the reason is because music was a part of the holiday season for as long as I can remember. Every year Mom would pick up at least one or two new Christmas albums. For a good part of the 1960s every November would signal the arrival of such albums at gas stations and other place that you wouldn’t expect. You could get a whole vinyl album full of song recorded by various people (some names quite famous, others not) for practically nothing when you filled up your gas tank, or made some other purchase. Those made up a rather large part of our collection.

Dad mostly tolerated the music. The only album that I know he actually liked was Elvis’ Christmas Album, because Dad was a bit Elvis fan.

Anyway, while we sang some of the sacred Christmas hymns in church, and some of those Christmas concerts I performed in over the years were at churches or with religious groups, I spent a whole lot more time singing and listening to Christmas music at home. Where “Up on the House Top” or “Sleigh Ride” or “Silver Bells” or “All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth” or “Snoopy’s Christmas” or “I Wanna Hippopotamus for Christmas” was just as likely to come up as any of the religious songs.

My current iTunes library contains 13.9gigabytes of Christmas music. That’s 2,657 songs which would take about 5¼ days of continuous playing to get through the lot. Which I know is totally bonkers. And the fact that there are Christmas albums still on my wish list that I haven’t acquired, yet, is even more mind-boggling for some.

Then there are albums that aren’t actually on my wishlist, but I wouldn’t mind adding to the collection if I could. I was reminded of some of this this weekend when Mom texted me about find a box of cassette tapes of Christmas music, including some that are kind of my fault. Twenty-two years ago (the first Christmas after Ray died) I spent several days visiting Mom for Christmas, but because Mom was still working in retail at the time, that meant for several of those days I was hanging out at her place by myself.

It just so happened that she had recently found in the back of a closet a box full of old vinyl Christmas albums, including a bunch that—so far as I can tell—have never been re-issued on CD or digital. I went out and bought a bunch of cassette tapes and spent one day recording all my favorites onto cassette. I made two copies of each—one for me and one for Mom (because she liked to listen to music in her car). After I showed her the first day’s work, she asked me to transfer several more.

I wish I could say that, when I had the chance a few years later, I transferred those recordings to compact disc. I’m not sure why I didn’t. But I’m glad to know that Mom still has hers (though I suspect the quality may have degraded a bit by now, and I have no idea the quality of the player she’s listening to them on).

I’m not obsessed with finding those old odd albums. I just wouldn’t mind if I happened to find one had been issued at least once in a more modern format. Just because listening to an old recording that you used to hear often is kind of like running into an old friend you haven’t seen in years, and sharing stories and laughs about things you did together a long time ago.

It’s another sense of wonder, like looking at a twinkling Christmas tree in the dark and remembering the bright starlit skies of yore.

They aren’t even going to let us cook the turkey before they trot out more War on Christmas nonsense

I wasn’t going to write about the so-called War on Christmas until after Thanksgiving. But some people just cannot let a day go by without claiming that they are the victims of wholly fictitious campaigns. I actually entertained the notion that these stories might go away. I mean, Trump said in more than one of his speeches that he, personally, had brought “Merry Christmas” back—I don’t know where he thought it was, but then his sentences are so often just word salad that you start giving up trying to decode him.

But he proclaimed that the War on Christmas was over because he won it! And his supporters, which include the same idiots who scream about the War on Christmas every year usually believe every word he says. Despite overwhelming evidence about each lie he tells. So I thought maybe they’ve give it up.

Nope. If you want a summary of at least a couple of the blow-ups (along with a lot of snarky commentary), check this out: Seems Like The War On Christmas Starts Earlier Every Year!

Of the three incidents they talk about in that story, the one that really pisses me off is scamvangelist Jim Bakker going on his show and talking about that time, just a few years ago, when it was actually illegal to say “Merry Christmas.” Until, he said, his viewers called people and got the law repealed.

At no point during Jim Bakker’s lifetime has it been illegal anywhere in the United States for a person to say “Merry Christmas.” That’s just a fact.

There have been moments in history when celebrating Christmas was against the law—but it was over 300 years ago. The Puritans were quite opposed to Christmas and well, pretty much any fun at all. In Boston, for instance, Christmas was banned from 1659 to 1681.

Celebrations of Christmas had been banned in England for a while, before that, also because of Puritan influence. In 1644 the British Parliament banned seasonal plays, traditional Christmas games, the singing of carols, the hanging of holly, and so forth. Businesses were required by law to be open on December 25. Other forms of merry-making and partying were also legally discouraged year-round, but Christmas seemed to really annoy them. It was not a time when the phrase “Merry Olde England” had much meaning. Those laws were repealed in the year 1660, but that was only in England. Various U.S. colonies kept the laws on the books.

The Puritans were not atheists. They considered themselves very devout Christians. Christmas, they said, was not a religious holiday. In fact, the Puritans objected to the notion of all religious holidays:

“THERE is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath.

Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.”
—the Westminster Directory of Public Worship

Christians (well, Protestants, anyway) of that time would be horrified to find out that modern day Christians consider the Christmas tree a religious symbol, let alone that Christian leaders would get outraged in a governor referred to such a decoration as anything other than a Christmas tree.

So it was Christians who banned Christmas back in the day, not atheists or pagans or Jews or Muslims. And even the modern so-called War on Christmas was initiated by Christians, not non-Christians.

I’m not old enough to have been around when Christmas was banned in Boston, but I am old enough to remember the campaigns by fundamentalist Christians in the 1960s asking businesses to stop using the word “Christmas” in their advertising and marketing materials. They thought it demeaned the story of Christ to have the “Christmas” applied to things as sordid and mundane as store wide discounts.

Now you have so-called Christian organizations like the Liberty Counsel complaining that that a clothing store chain that made their “nice list” only as some Christmas items in their inventory at Christmas time. Another chain is scolding for saying “Happy Holidays” in one part of its advertising mailer, despite having the “Merry Christmas” and “Christmas” plastered many more times on every single page.

When I was about 10 years old my mom told me that if I wasn’t sure what someone’s religion was, that I should say “Happy Holidays.” At the time she had said, “Because you never know if someone is Jewish.”

There is no law, nor any plot to pass such a law, forbidding people from saying the phrase “Merry Christmas.” We do have a tradition, going all the way back to the Founding Fathers, of a separation of Church and State, so sometimes when citizens sue, the courts have ruled that certain government agencies can’t do things that appear to favor one religion over others. That gets under some people’s skin. It doesn’t matter than every single person who has ever been elected President in this nation has been a person who proclaimed themself a Christian. It doesn’t matter that at least one Christian holiday is an official federal holiday. It doesn’t matter that in many states there are restrictions are what sorts of business activities can take place on Sunday, the Christian sabbath.

They still feel that any recognition of beliefs which differ from theirs is oppression. It’s irrational and paranoid. And I don’t know if any amount of reasoning is going to persuade them away from their delusion of persecution.

"Slow down!! Let's eat the damn turkey first!"

(MemeGenerator.Net Click to embiggen)

Rainbow Christmas – Ho! Ho! Ho!

“Merry Christmas! Shabbat shalom!  Blessed Yul!  Joyous Kwanza! Festive Festivus!  Happy Christmas! Happy Hogswatch! Feliz Navidad! God Jul! Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou! Beannachtaí na Nollag! Buon Natale! Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus un laimīgu Jauno gadu! Felix Dies Nativitatus!”

“Merry Christmas! Shabbat shalom! Blessed Yul! Joyous Kwanza! Festive Festivus! Happy Christmas! Happy Hogswatch! Feliz Navidad! God Jul! Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou! Beannachtaí na Nollag! Buon Natale! Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus un laimīgu Jauno gadu! Felix Dies Nativitatus!”

Slice the pecan pie,
And don’t be stingy with the homemade whipping cream,
Crank up the music,
We’re gonna sing and laugh to drive the darkness away!

‘Cause we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
Egg nog at the brunch bar
With rum and brandy in it!

Yes we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
My lyrics may be getting slurry,
But Santa dear, we’re in a hurry!

So fling ’round the glitter!
Put up more twinkling lights than the whole Vegas strip!
No need for fruitcake,
We’ve got a great big table of deliciousness, here!

Cause we’ve grown a little rounder,
Grown a little bolder,
Grown a little prouder,
Grown a little wiser,

And I need a toasty lover,
Snuggling by the fire,
I need a rainbow Christmas now!

Yes we need a rainbow Christmas now!

Christmas time is here, have some Christmas cheer—and jingle until you’re upsot

Happy Christmas! Shabbat shalom! Blessed Yul! Happy Hogswatch! Joyous Kwanza! Festive Festivus! Feliz Navidad! God Jul! Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou! Beannachtaí na Nollag! Buon Natale! Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus un laimīgu Jauno gadu! Felix Dies Nativitatus!

So people have been sharing some memes about Christmas movies and Christmas songs and so forth, at least one media outfit going so far as to conduct a poll on whether a particular film is a Christmas movie or not. And I generally thought it was all fun and silly, but I made the mistake of commenting to one old acquaintance on another social media platform and oh, boy, did it escalate quickly. For which I will take all the blame, because I was being a smart ass, and just because we might mean something as a joke doesn’t guarantee the other person hears it like one, right? But, here’s the more serious point: If you think it’s a Christmas movie, then it is a Christmas movie for you. If you don’t think it’s a Christmas movie, then it isn’t for you. If you think it’s a Christmas song, it is a Christmas song for you. If you don’t think it’s a Christmas song, then it isn’t for you.

I don’t need to justify why I think a particular song is a Christmas song. As a matter of fact, you can’t justify such a thing, because we aren’t really talking about thinking here, but rather feeling. And no matter how much logic you pile up, that doesn’t change the way another person feels.

Just as an example: the exact same logical case that certain other people are making that a specific song isn’t a Christmas song applies to “Jingle Bells.” Seriously. “Jingle Bells” doesn’t mention the manger, nor the angels, nor the shepherds. Absolutely nothing in the lyrics at all about the arrival of Jesus, so not a religious Christmas song, clearly. There is also no mention of Christmas, nor a Christmas tree, nor holly, no mistletoe, not even chestnuts roasting on a fire. Yes, it mentions snow, and a sleigh is mentioned a lot of times, and then there’s all those jingling bells. But first, it’s a one horse open sleigh, not a reindeer drawn sleigh. Snow doesn’t just happen at Christmas. Bells were put on sleighs and carriages and the horses that pulled them at night and particularly in winter time as a precaution to avoid collisions in dark intersections.

In fact, the original author of the song back in 1822, wrote it as a party song. We’re so used to children singing the song that we don’t notice how racy the song is. A couple being out in a one horse sleigh meant no chaperone, after all, and that means all sorts of naughty things could occur. The word jingle, by the way, is meant to be a verb, not an adjective. Jingle those bells, because you’re driving fast! And there’s also some innuendo that.

And then there’s that line “He got into a drifted bank And then we got upsot.” Most people assume it’s away to make “upset” as in overturned or fallen over, to rhyme with lot. Not so fast! The word appears in a number of 18th and 19th Century songs, where it does seem to refer to something fallen over and such, but not just fallen, but in fallen in a drunken manner. Yes, other uses of the word seem to be referring to a more stumbling and raucous situation amplified by the liberal application of alcohol.

So not only isn’t “Jingle Bells” not a Christmas song, it’s not a wholesome children’s song either.

Except, of course, that for most of its history, Christmas hasn’t been a wholesome children’s holiday either. There are reasons the puritans banned the celebration of Christmas entirely in the old Massachusetts colony, and not because Christmas trees were pagan symbols. In point of fact the decorated evergreen tree wasn’t associated with Christmas in English-speaking countries at the time of the Puritans. But untangling the tree’s origin is way more complicated than I want to be here.

But, everybody knows that “Jingle Bells” is a Christmas song. And I think a case could be made that other Christmas songs mention sleigh rides and jingling bells at least as much because the modern celebration of Christmas appropriated “Jingle Bells” in the 1860s as the fact that those things are associated with winter.

I’m a Christmas music addict. And yes, there are some Christmas songs that I absolutely hate. I have walked out of people’s houses when certain songs come up. So I understand that someone can have strong negative feelings about a song or a movie. Let me like my songs and movies, and I’ll let you like yours.

And if you happen to stop by my place, I will offer you some eggnog. With the rum and brandy if you like, or without. Let’s just all have a cheery, jingly, non-judgmental holiday!


Khruangbin – Christmas Time Is Here:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Big Freedia – Make It Jingle:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

“It's not what's under the tree that matters. It's who's gathered around it.”

“It’s not what’s under the tree that matters. It’s who’s gathered around it.” © TinyBuddha.Com

A season of light and love in my queer taoist/wiccan household

Different people have different traditions—by which I mean a long established or generally accepted practice or custom. Now, if I were to be pedantic, I would have to point out that in order to qualify as “generally accepted” the practice or custom can’t be individual. Fortunately, most dictionaries put that “or” in there to bail us out. Anyone that has met me knows I can be extremely pedantic, so I don’t blame other people being that way, even if I may try to give them a different perspective. For instance, Christmas is, technically, a religious holiday, and many churches that observe Christmas has a tradition of calling the time period from the first Sunday in December up to December 23 as Advent, rather than Christmas. In such Churches, the Christmas season does not begin until December 24, and it continues on through Twelfth Night (sometimes also called Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day).

I was not raised in that kind of church.

I was raised in Southern Baptists churches: a good ol’ boy, redneck denomination (with an extremely racist origin) that took particular pride in eschewing liturgical traditions. And not just pride, it was an article of faith within the church culture that the more tightly another denomination clung to traditions and rituals and so on, the least likely they were to be part of the “true” church. This was a communal act of both projection and denial (otherwise known as gatekeeping). We had just as many rituals and traditions as anyone else, we just didn’t publish them in a liturgical calendar or give them high-falutin’ names.

I often describe myself as a Recovering Baptist, or Ex-Evangelical, or even Ex-Christian, so I rejected the notion that they (or any other institution) has a monopoly on truth or grace, but I am also self-aware enough to know that part of me always assumes that I’m right, and people who disagree with me are not. In any case, there are certain traditions around the Advent/Christmas season from my childhood that I adhere to:

  • I don’t listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving dinner.
  • I try to start decorating for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving.
  • There are always lights on the tree and around the house.
  • Presents should start appearing under the tree shortly after it goes up, and people are allowed to pick up presents tagged for them and shake/listen to/weigh in their hands/et cetera to their heart’s content trying to guess what is inside but must never try to peek under the wrapping.
  • Any member of the household may move any ornament except the treetopper from one point on the tree to another if they think they see a bare spot; but also each member of the family may declare one ornament as theirs and not to be moved by anyone else.
  • If you have reached the age where you realize that the truth about Santa is that Santa is all of us, it becomes your duty to help make sure everyone younger experiences the wonders of receiving a gift from the jolly old elf and if they realize it actually came from you you have failed at being a good Santa’s helper.
  • There will be olives and a relish tray on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Just to name a few.

Other traditions are more personal that have evolved over the years, many of them at least partially caused by the six or seven years where I and my “friend” (there are some relatives even more than 20 years later who refused to call my husband anything other than “Gene’s friend”) were not welcome at family events.

A biggie is, that the height of the Christmas Season, the day that I consider my real Christmas, is the annual Holiday Party which I and friends have been having, almost always on the third Saturday of the month, here, and not with relatives. It’s the time that I get together with people I love (among Christmas decorations) to laugh, to share food, to exchange gifts—to fill our little corner of the world with light and love. Which just happened day before yesterday. This feeling that that event is my Christmas is so strong, that for many years now I have to be careful on the Monday after the party not to start asking co-workers how their Christmas went.

Since 1995 this event has also included the Christmas Ghost Story Challenge: I write and perform an original Christmas Ghost Story, and challenge other people to have something similar to share.

For many years we had a tiny plastic nativity like this, which sometimes Mom would hang on the tree as an ornament. For many years we had a tiny plastic nativity like this, which sometimes Mom would hang on the tree as an ornament.

There are still several of my personal traditions that are related to my family. Every Christmas among the presents I give my mom, one is a box of that type of candy I have been giving her since I was about 14 years old. I keep an eye peeled for decorations or albums or other things that Mom loved to bring out during the holidays that have subsequently been lost or broken. This is why, even though I as a taoist married to a wiccan no longer celebrate this season as sweet-baby-jesus time, that I have purchased for Mom more than one Nativity scene, and when I can, additional figurines for the larger one.

Part of the reason is because, yes, I want my mom to be happy. Another part is because those things represent moments that we found something to be happy about in spite of living with an abuser. Things like the glitter on the Christmas angel or the Christmas albums we loved to sing along to were moments of light and love in a world of darkness.

And while I take great delight in unpacking and setting up the plastic Santa & Sleigh that for years graced my Great-grandparents’ home every Christmas, or hang up the three kitchsy glass ball ornaments that were on their tree every year, or hang up the embroidered Christmas tree that hung in Grandma’s home, these things also remind me of our mortality. There are people I loved who are no longer with us. We can never be sure how many happy times together we will have in the future with our loved ones that are still here.

So we should enjoy and be thankful for whatever bits of happiness we can give each other.


My friend, Krisin, wrote a nice essay that touches on similar themes that you might enjoy: Expectations.

We need a rainbow Christmas…

“I would suggest you make the Yuletide gay, but you clearly don't need any encouragement.”

“I would suggest you make the Yuletide gay, but you clearly don’t need any encouragement.”

We need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
Egg nog at the brunch bar
With lots of bourbon in it!

Yes we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
My lyrics may be getting slurry,
But Santa dear, we’re in a hurry!

Fling ’round the glitter!
Put up more twinkling lights than the whole Vegas strip!
No need for fruitcake,
We’ve got a great big table of deliciousness,
here!

Cause we’ve grown a little rounder,
Grown a little bolder,
Grown a little prouder,
Grown a little wiser,

And I need a toasty lover,
Snuggling by the fire,
I need a rainbow Christmas now!

We need a rainbow Christmas now!

Merry Christmas!

© 2017 Gene Breshears

Happy Christmas! Shabbat shalom! Blessed Yul! Happy Hogswatch! Joyous Kwanza! Festive Festivus! Feliz Navidad! God Jul! Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou! Beannachtaí na Nollag! Buon Natale! Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus un laimīgu Jauno gadu! Felix Dies Nativitatus!

What’s on your list?

“My Xmas list is short this year: 1. $1,000,000 in cash 2. The souls of all who have displeased me 3. A kitten”

“My Xmas list is short this year:
1. $1,000,000 in cash
2. The souls of all who have displeased me
3. A kitten”

While I agree with the sentiment behind the meme here, this actually isn’t my list. I wouldn’t turn down a million bucks, obviously. And well, certain souls do deserve some sort of torment. I love kittens and puppies and other baby animals, but the sad truth I learned many years ago is that my allergies are much less horrible if I’m not sharing living space with cats. I loved the various cats who owned me (Fiona and Woody), and those I grew up with, but I love breathing, too. Similarly cut Christmas trees aren’t good for the old bronchial tubes and sinus passages.

What’s actually on my list are lots of things that aren’t going to happen, such as Congressional Republicans finding moral spines and impeaching the traitors in the Oval Office, real peace coming to several parts of the world that haven’t known it in many years, homophobic relatives seeing the light, and so forth.

“When you stop believing in Santa you get underwear.”

“When you stop believing in Santa you get underwear.”

Otherwise, when I try to come up with lists, it’s fairly mundane things such as books I want to read, movies I would like to own, nice warm fuzzy socks, or some nice new Andrew Christian underwear. Things that it would be nice to have, but not that I necessarily need. I mean, yeah, socks wear out—particularly for someone like me who has to wear warm socks for medical reasons during cold parts of the year, and thus runs around the house in socks all the time. So, when I put fuzzy socks on my wish lists every year, I really appreciate the folks who get them for me.

I find myself, instead, thinking about things that I’m thankful for and things that I wish I could give to others. Yes, I gave people presents, and the gifts seem to be appreciated. But while I can go to a store and buy someone some chocolate, or that electronic thing they put on their list, or a nice sketchbook, and so on, I can’t give people the job with benefits that they really need, or a non-dysfunctional family, or just health. So I can offer my love and support.

So, this is my list, things I wish for everyone who reads this:

  1. Warmth
  2. People in your life who love you
  3. Beauty
  4. Someone who appreciates you
  5. Peace

Bless us, every one.

Little packages of joy, love, and light

“I still believe in Santa Claus. he may not be the one that puts presents under the tree, but his spirit works through us each time we give freely without expectation and each time we spread joy, love, and light.”—Meadow Linn

“I still believe in Santa Claus. he may not be the one that puts presents under the tree, but his spirit works through us each time we give freely without expectation and each time we spread joy, love, and light.”—Meadow Linn

I’m once again in that weird state of feeling as if the holiday is over, but Christmas is still days away. That’s because my writers’ group and associated friends have been doing a holiday party together on the third Saturday of December for well more than 20 years. I’ve been writing an original Christmas Ghost Story to read at said party for at least 22 of those years. We get together, laugh and talk and catch up. Several of us have stories to read or songs to perform or the like. We exchange presents. We laugh and talk some more. There is always a bit too much food. But it is all fun and wonderful.

In short, it feels like my real Christmas.

When we were still all publishing a sci fi zine together, we would publicize the date and location of the party to the subscribers and contributors. And that meant we often got a lot of people who weren’t part of the regular monthly writers’ meeting crowd showing up. Which was great, but I also used to go to pains to de-emphasize the gift exchange part of the evening. I didn’t want people not to show up because they thought they were obligated to bring presents for strangers. That also means that I got in the habit of picking up and wrapping a bunch of extra presents–just in case. Because I didn’t want anyone who showed up not to get a brightly colored package to open.

I got the last of the present wrapped only a couple of hours before we were expecting people to arrive.

I got the last of the present wrapped only a couple of hours before we were expecting people to arrive.

To pull that off, one of the things I’ve been doing for years is keeping an eye out for things to give people for Christmas all year long. So at any time after say mid-January, there is a box hiding back in the bedroom with various things in it as I slowly accumulate presents. So, for instance, if I read a book that I really, really loved earlier in the year, I’ll buy a second copy (or several) to put in the box to give to people at Christmas. I don’t always have a specific person in mind when I do, but I know that enough of my friends enjoy some of the same kinds of books as I do that there will probably be someone I can give it to.

Because of moving the year, and what a big hole it blew in our schedule for months (not to mention eating my brain), I didn’t have as many things as usual already sitting in the box by the time November rolled around. So I spent a bit more time scrambling for presents this year than I have usually done. Still, I had something for everyone, and a collection of extras. And we all had a lot of fun unwrapping things and discussing what we got or where we found that thing, et cetera.

This I got something that made me tear up a bit. It takes a bit if explaining. My friend, Keith, comes from a whole family of artists. His parents ran a commercial art company for many years, and one of their product lines were the Alaska Snowbabies Christmas ornaments, designed by his mother. I own a bunch of their ornaments, mostly from the Snowbabies line, though there are a few others. Keith, as you might expect, has a much larger collection of such ornaments, since he worked for years in the company as both a business manager and a mold designer (among other things). Keith’s parents retired and closed down the business a number of years ago, and Keith’s father has since passed away, so there haven’t been any new products for some years.

Anyway, Keith and his wife do two trees in their house most years, and he posted pictures of this year’s trees earlier in the month, and I noticed that several of the Snowbabies visible in his pictures had red Santa hats, rather than the usual white parkas, and I commented on how cute they were and that I was a little jealous.

So shortly after arriving, Keith handed me a small package and said, “And that’s from my mom.” It was very pretty paper, and it said “To Gene and Michael from Suzanne” and I thought it was odd for her to send us a present, but I wasn’t quite smart enough to put together the dots until later, when we were opening gifts and I got to hers, felt the package, and suddenly realized what it was. She’d seen my comment on line and decided I needed to have one of the later ornaments.

Isn’t it adorable?

So it’s now hanging on my tree. As she said afterward, it’s where he belongs.

Not often you get a gift straight from the artist, right?

May the calendar keeping bringing happy holidays to you!

“Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays”

“Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays”

In 1942 Irving Berlin composed several songs for the movie, Holiday Inn. The most famous song from that movie is “White Christmas,” and it is the only song in the movie that is specifically about Christmas. However the first song in the movie is “Happy Holiday” which in the context of the movie is about New Year’s Day, as well as an introduction to the conceit of the film—that someone could run an inn that is only open for business 6 days a year, each of them a holiday. Still, this song that doesn’t mention anything Christmas-y at all has been considered a staple of Christmas music since the mid 1940s:

Happy holiday, happy holiday
While the merry bells keep ringing
May your ev’ry wish come true

Happy holiday, happy holiday
May the calendar keep bringing
Happy holidays to you

An advertisement from the Duluth News-Tribune of January 6, 1890 is just one example of the use of the phrase for more than 125 years!

An advertisement from the Duluth News-Tribune of January 6, 1890 is just one example of the use of the phrase for more than 125 years!

But one can’t credit Irving Berlin with the invention of the phrase, “Happy Holidays!” It’s been in use for more than 125 years, and was clearly not part of any attempt to secularize the holiday.

Most people point to Bill O’Reilly’s segment on December 7, 2004 about the so-called assault on Christmas as the origin of the myth. But you have to go much further than that, back to the 1920s, when in recurrent segment of industrialist Henry Ford’s newsweekly entitled “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem” which opined: “Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone’s Birth. People sometimes ask why 3,000,000 Jews can control the affairs of 100,000,000 Americans. In the same way that ten Jewish students can abolish the mention of Christmas and Easter out of schools containing 3,000 Christian pupils.” Notice that even 97 years ago the American rightwing was antisemitic.

I was not alive back when Ford and others were trying to use Christmas to inflame anti-Jewish sentiment, but by the time of my childhood in the 1960s, that notion (along with the John Birch Society’s theory that the United Nations and Communists were trying take the Christ out of Christmas) had soaked deep into the psyche of evangelical fundamentalists. Though it took slightly different forms. I’ve written before about how the various Baptist churches my family attended considered Santa Claus an anti-Christian emblem. Some churches banned Christmas trees from the sanctuary, because of their pagan origins. Poinsettias were allowed because popular myth was the the red leaves represented Christ’s blood. But many of the common symbols of the holiday were believed inappropriate for the church.

Which isn’t to say that they forbade you from decorating your home and a tree or Santa — there was just a clear distinction between the sacred meaning of the holy day and the more general public celebration of the holidays. Which is why some leaders of the Christian Right in the 60s and 70s started advocating that Christians should encourage businesses to use phrases such as Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays precisely because all that commericialism shouldn’t be associated with Christ.

That’s right, there was a time when the very same sorts of people that today are foaming at the mouth about Starbucks’ holiday coffee cups not being sufficiently Christmas-y were asking businesses not to profane Christ’s name by labeling their products with the word Christmas.

“Christians be like 'God bless this pork you told us not to eat on this most holy pagan holiday that you told us not to celebrate.'”

“Christians be like ‘God bless this pork you told us not to eat on this most holy pagan holiday that you told us not to celebrate.’”

The pendulum keeps swinging back and forth. It’s been popular across the political spectrum to lament the commercialization of Christmas for many years, for instance. But the funning thing is that this commercialization: the emphasis on exchanging gifts (specifically gifts for Children) are part of a puritanical push during the 19th Century to make the holiday family friendly. For most of its history, the Christmas season was associated with drinking and feasting and various kinds of wild partying. So the Victorians decided to wage a war on the previous forms of the holiday. Unlike the Puritans, who banned Christmas entirely when they set up their colonies in the U.S., the Victorian prudes at least understood that you couldn’t ban the celebration outright, but you could encourage people to observe it in a different way.

So the next time someone gripes about commercialization of Christmas, point out that little historical tidbit and watch their head explode.

I could ramble some more, but why not watch this video instead?

Adam Rules Everything- The Drunken, Pagan History of Christmas:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here

Decorating season is in full swing!

Our artificial tree is almost as tall as the ceilings in the new house. Here was a midway point in the process... © 2017 Gene Breshears

Our artificial tree is almost as tall as the ceilings in the new house. Here was a midway point in the process… (click to embiggen)

I have a tradition of putting up the tree on Thanksgiving weekend. For some people that’s very early. But then, I know (and am related in some cases) to people who never take their trees down. Anyway, the tradition started when I was in the third grade in grammar school. Before that Dad would drag us out into the woods somewhere to pick a tree and cut down. As far as I know he never had a permit or got permission from anyone. The one or two times Mom or Grandpa or someone would ask, he would insist we’d gone out on Bureau of Land Management property, therefore it all belongs to the public1.

Anyway, third grade and fourth grade were the years we moved several times during the same school year. Of the ten elementary schools I attended, five of them where those two grades alone2. Because of the packing, unpacking, moving, and so forth—and while Dad’s job often indicated within a certain window how long we would be in one place, the exact date we’d need to move wasn’t always certain—Dad agreed to let Mom buy an artificial tree in November because we might have to move in the middle of the holiday season. That year was also the first year that we didn’t drive back to my paternal grandparents’ place for Thanksgiving.

I think that at least half the reason Mom decided to set up the tree the day after Thanksgiving was because with deep snow and temps well below zero Farenheit, being trapped in our small house with my sister and I for three days was going to be a nightmare if she didn’t come up with something to keep us occupied for a decent amount of time.

The tree was only four feet tall—short enough that Mom could set it up on top of the console stereo. It still loomed over the room, but there wasn’t enough tree to hold all of the ornaments we owned. This made deciding what to put on where a major undertaking, with more than a little bit of arguing3 between my sister and I. If I’m right about why Mom decided to set up the tree that day, I think her plan backfired.

Twice.

Because here’s the really funny thing: Both that year and the next, about three weeks before Christmas, we had to pack up everything—including undecorating the tree and boxing it back up—and move. In third grade, we moved from Kimball, Nebraska to Opal, Wyoming. In fourth grade the move was from Ft. Morgan, Colorado to Roosevelt, Utah.4

Anyway, the upshot is that for the rest of my childhood, Christmases were celebrated with that same artificial tree. The tree didn’t get retired until I was in my early twenties, after Mom remarried and moved to Arizona with her new husband, while I, still trying to save up money to transfer from community college to university, moved in with my paternal grandparents. As an adult, I’ve bought cut trees for Christmas twice, but otherwise have always had an artificial tree6. Back in 2000 or 2001 Michael and I bought a new 7-foot tall “pencil pine” tree. Unlike other trees we’d had, the body of the tree is very narrow, so it’s easy to fit into a small room, but still tall enough to create the big tree effect, and it holds a lot of ornaments. A couple years ago while we were setting it up, Michael pointed out how some of the branches had lost enough plastic needles to looks scraggly, and some branches were awfully loose. So we used it one more year, and then in an after Christmas sale we bought another, similar tree.

I hung up Christmas lights out on the veranda in the afternoon on the day after Thanksgiving. And then I unboxed our Christmas tree and hauled out the boxes of ornaments. Which is a much smaller collection than we used to own7. The first discovery was that while the tree doesn’t quite touch the ceiling, the two glass spire-style toppers we kept won’t fit atop the tree because of the slightly lower ceiling at this apartment than the old. However, the third topper we kept8, which is a teddy bear dressed as Santa, just barely fit. He is literally touching the ceiling, but he fits!

I got the lights on, which always takes a while, because I’ll string them on, decide they are uneven, unwind them, try again, et cetera. I’ll get myself very dizzy at least once along the way. Then I put a few ornaments on. But I was also doing laundry, and Michael talked me into going on a walk with him at one point, so by bedtime I had started on the tree, but hadn’t finished.

Saturday morning I resumed. This is the first year since 1997 that I didn’t have some kind of theme for the tree. Doing a different color scheme and theme every year is only part of the reason we owned more christmas decorations than any eight normal households could possibly use. And because I got rid of so many, I was feeling an urge to fit as much as possible of what remained on the tree. But I still wanted it to look non-random? Which wasn’t really working.

So… I was having a panic as I hung ornaments because I couldn’t find my Great-grandma’s ornaments. Great-grandma bought a box of mixed-color ornaments on sale in 19579. Great-grandma used them on a little artificial tree at her house until Great-grandpa died in 1974, at which point she moved to the coast to live with Grandma. Great-grandma died about six months after Great-grandpa. The ornaments then spent 30-ish years sitting in the storage shed at Grandma’s house. Apparently Grandma used them only once after Great-grandma died, then boxed them up. So after Grandma died, Mom found them in the shed. When she sent me a picture, I gasped, because even though I hadn’t seen them since I was 13 years old, I immediately recognized them.

Mom split them up. She kept three, then my sister, one cousin who expressed interest, and I got three each. I have put them on my own tree every year, regardless of the theme of the year. So when I couldn’t find them, I was freaking out.

I was afraid I had accidentally mixed them up with others and taken them to Value Village.

I was getting more and more frantic while going through the boxes. By the time my husband woke up I must have been really bad, because moments after coming into the room, he asked, “Do you need to sit down for a minute?”

These three little ornaments may not look like much, but they belonged to my Great-Grandma I, the woman who taught me how to make egg noodles from scratch.

These three little ornaments may not look like much, but they belonged to my Great-Grandma I, the woman who taught me how to make egg noodles from scratch.

As I told him what was wrong, I pointed at the open boxes lined up that I had been taking ornaments from. I paused.

I counted.

There were only seven file-box sized boxes. “Wait! I distinctly remember figuring out that I could fit eight boxes in the closet before I started purging,” I said. I grabbed a flashlight and went back to the walk-in closet. Yes, hiding under the coats was an eighth box. Which of course had Great-grandma’s ornaments. It also contained a few other special ornaments that I had thought we kept, but that I hadn’t been able to find.

Eventually on Saturday evening we declared the tree finished and I put the boxes of unused ornaments back in the closet.

That wasn’t all of the decorating. Partway through Saturday I was feeling a bit of cabin fever. I had unpacked some non-tree decorations and decided we needed a table runner to go with the dark red table cloth. Especially if I was going to put another of Great-grandma’s old decorations (her plastic Santa, sleigh, and reindeer centerpiece) out. And that led to the acquisition of an outdoor decoration that is another story all its own. But I should save that for later, as this post is incredibly long, already.

Our tree is ready to welcome you to celebrate! © 2017 Gene Breshears

Our tree is ready to welcome you to celebrate! (click to embiggen)

We have the tree up now. It doesn’t have an official theme, but as I was picking ornaments out, I realized I was picking mostly red, green, gold, and white ornaments. Michael noted that there was something of an arctic theme, since I started by putting all the C. Alan Johnson ornaments on first (we hadn’t used any of those since the Pole-to-Pole tree a few years ago), along with polar bears, seals, and white owls. Of course, there are also three penguins, so we could think of this as a sequel to Pole-to-Pole. I don’t think I will. I’m perfectly okay with it just being the ornaments I decided to use this year, no theme. It’s just our tree—our Christmas/Solstice tree.


Footnotes:

1. Which prompted Grandpa to say, “Which is why you’re supposed to get a permit.”

2. Also five different states.

3. And there was some crying at at least one point.

4. And if you’re curious: we lived in Opal5 for only about two months, then had to pack up and follow Dad’s oil rig out to Cheyenne Well, Colorado, very close to the Kansas border. In June we moved Healy, Kansas, and we literally were still unpacking when the job shifted to Fort Morgan, and we had to move back to Colorado.

5. Which is pronounced by the residents as “oh, PAL” rather than the way most folks pronounce the gemstone it is named after.

6. Among other advantages of artificial trees are they don’t set off horrible hay fever attacks for me during the one time of the year that it is usually cold enough in the northwest that I’m not dealing with pollen or spores from outside.

7. Achievement unlocked: No Shuttling Weekend! (And we can haz library?), where among other things I hauled three big Subaru loads of Christmas decorations to Value Village.

8. A subset of our old decorations was a collection that was started by my late husband, Ray, which we called The Tacky Tree Topper collection: five or six different kinds of vary garish stars and two different illuminated plastic wreaths. Plus we had those glass spire toppers in just about every color scheme we’ve ever done (purple, red, green, blue, three different pinks, gold, silver…). Then there were the not-tacky stars (one of was bronze, one was silver and white), a thing that looked like a spray of gold glitter… four or five Sants (one with a purple robe, one with a red, one with a green, one with an ice blue… oh, and a burgundy robed one!)… and so on.

9. We know because she kept the box and it had the receipt inside it, I kid you not.

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