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Christmas is Magic

A few weeks ago I decorated my Christmas tree with an assortment of carefully selected ornaments, those that had special significance or appeal.  This will be my last “real” Christmas tree, at least for a few years.  Most of my ornaments will be given away or sold.  My snowman collection, which I have been accumulating for years, and many other things that say “holiday tradition” to me will be forsaken for a new adventure.

I have made the decision to downsize out of my house and into a motor home.  When one goes from a house to an RV, most of your possessions must go, and that includes the majority of my holiday decorations, including my Christmas tree.  Some will be given to my adult children, others will go into an estate sale for others to enjoy.  popcorn and paper garland

When you decorate your tree each year, do you have ornaments that hold special meaning?  Are there traditions you have carried on from your childhood?  Long before Elf-On-A-Shelf became a fad, my mother always had an elf on her Christmas tree for good luck.  When I got married I had to have an elf, and when my daughter found out I was downsizing she said “are you taking your elf?”  This is the way that family traditions are handed down.

American Christmas traditions began around 1830 when an image from England of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert celebrating the holiday around a table-top tree was re-printed in American publications.   The photo was widely published and by 1900 one in five  Americans had a Christmas tree.  The first trees were decorated with things such as nuts, popcorn strings, homemade trinkets, oranges and lemons.  Newspapers and magazines encouraged Americans to purchase more elaborate decorations, and by 1870 ornaments were being imported from Germany.

German immigrants brought to America the tradition of putting lights, sweets, and toys on the branches of the tree.    My tree has some glass-blown ornaments, Hallmark dated ornaments, birds, elves, glass balls, and ornaments from my youth.   There are ornaments that were purchased as souvenirs, such as the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, Washington DC, and the Calgary Stampede.  There are memorial ornaments for my father, nephew, and husband.  One year I was given an ornament that depicts two favorite things of mine…books and coffee.  There is a special, sentimental feeling each year as these are brought back out and placed on the tree.

Minolta DSCAlong with tree decorating traditions, most of us grew up with the magic of Santa Clause.  Saint Nicholas was a Christian holy person believed to have lived in the third century, who became known as a protector of children.  The bearded, jolly Santa dressed in red that first appeared in Clement Moore’s A Visit from Saint Nicholas in 1820.   Thomas Nast was an artist who’s first major depiction of Santa Claus in Harper’s Weekly in 1886 created the image we envision today.  Nast contributed 33 Christmas drawings to Harper’s Weekly between 1863 to 1886, and Santa is seen or referenced in all but one.   It is Nast who was instrumental in standardizing a national image of a jolly, kind and portly Santa dressed in a red, fur-trimmed suit delivering toys from his North Pole workshop.

Santa lives on today because he exemplifies dreams, hope, wishes and beliefs.  In a world filled with stress, violence, poverty, and hunger, Christmas brings out the good in everyone.  The thought that if you just believe, good things will happen.  Christmas is magic, and if you don’t believe that, watch a child’s eyes on Christmas morning.

 

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Filed under assumptions, celebration, children, Discoveries, exploration, Family, Festivals, Holidays, kids, Life is a Melting Pot, winter

Holiday Greetings

vicchristmastradToday I participated in two holiday traditions, a Christmas gathering for the Blue Water Shutterbugs Camera Club and the writing of my annual Christmas letter, which I do in lieu of a card.  The writing of Christmas greetings and handling out of Christmas gifts are two areas where I recently learned the history of the tradition.

In the early 1850’s the first American made Christmas card was distributed by H. Pease, a printer and variety store owner in Albany, New York.  Louis Prang, a German immigrant and printer perfected color printing and introduced a new colorful Christmas card in 1874.  Within five years the sales were over 5 million.  Popularity grew and Americans began sending cards instead of writing Christmas letters or making personal visits.  Cards held their popularity until the 21st Century.  The increased use of the internet led to a 60% decrease in the sale of Christmas cards in the past decade.  In 1958 the average U.S. family mailed 100 Christmas cards.  In 2001 that figure was down to an average of 28 cards per family sent and received.    I know I have dropped my card sending down from about 75 to 30, and the number I receive has also substantially declined.

About eight years ago I went back to what I recently learned was the original tradition.  Instead of purchasing and mailing Christmas Cards, I created a Christmas Newsletter that gave all the information on my family newspaper style.  I use articles and columns to lay out my newsletter for easy reading.  The first year I did this I received many positive responses.  Friends and family enjoyed getting this newsworthy mailing rather than a purchased card with just a signature inside.  Today I wrote and have printed my 2018 Christmas newsletter.

The Christmas party I attended today included a white elephant gift exchange, which is a bit different since it involves the giving of a used item from your home that is no longer of use to you but may be of use to someone else.  They are given wrapped, but do not have the giver’s name attached.  This provides a festive yet inexpensive way to enjoy the act of giving and receiving gifts.

Gift giving was not always part of Christmas tradition.  The act of giving gifts increased from the 1820’s through the 1850’s, when shopkeepers re-shaped the holiday tradition.  Prior to that time people gave unwrapped gifts.  Then Americans began wrapping the gifts they gave, as a gift hidden in paper heightened the excitement and designated it as a gift.  As this grew in popularity gifts from stores, factories and homes of laborers were wrapped in paper that advertised the material status of the giver.  The more grand stores used distinctive colored paper and adorned them with tinsel cords and bright ribbon.

Gift giving became a symbol of materialism, as it signified family ties and the importance of the recipient to the giver.  In 1856 Harper’s Magazine attached the security of a relationship to gift giving when it stated “Love is the moral of Christmas…What are gifts but proof of Love.”  Gifts were given on a declining scale based on a person’s relationship.  The best gifts were given to family and close social circles, lesser gifts in descending order of value to relatives and acquaintances.  The deserving poor received the least valuable and least personal gifts.

The act of giving gifts was controversial, as some perceived it to be a materialistic perversion of a holy day.  Affluence was viewed as a reward from God and charitable gifting as a Christian duty.  A rich man could escape condemnation by acting in a generous fashion to help those in poverty.   Best and Company had an advertisement in 1894 that suggested while purchasing items for Christmas the shopper should think of Children less fortunate and for them the store suggested “a gift of serviceable clothing” be chosen from a group of marked down goods that “would be more than welcome.”

In today’s society the act of giving to those less fortunate is seen in all aspects of our life, including toy donation boxes in stores, mitten trees, and the annual Salvation Army Red Kettle Drive to gather money for providing meals, toys, and other items to those in need.   Over the years I have participated in various forms of charitable giving, including shopping for a needy child and/or family, donating to mitten trees, working as a server at a soup kitchen, donating a stuffed Christmas sock for a designated sex/age child.

As you go through your holiday preparations think about where the traditions came from, jot a personal note in that Christmas card and if you are able, help out a child or family in need.  After all, it is an American tradition.

 

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Tradition with a Twist

As we celebrate Thanksgiving the minds of many is already on what has to be done in preparation for Christmas…the shopping, baking, decorating, and the traditional Christmas card mailing.

I have noticed over the years that the number of cards received has dropped tremendously.  Is it because people are too busy to bother?  Is it because people think an email “Happy Holidays” is as good as a traditional snail mail greeting?   Is it because the price of Christmas cards has become so outrageous, and then once bought and prepared the postage still has to be purchased?  The words Tradition and Change

It could be any or all of those reasons, but I tend to believe the cost of cards has had a huge impact on the traditional sending of the card.   The last time I purchased cards, which was several years ago, it was over fifty dollars just for the cards.  I had always sent the traditional card with a newsletter on our happenings for the past year typed and included, and usually a bit of a handwritten personal note on the card as well.   Then life happenings put me in a position to change all that.

In 2010 I did not get my traditional cards bought and the holiday crept up on me.  Still I did not want to miss the traditional sending of the holiday greetings, so I did it with a twist.  I used my Publisher program to make a Christmas Greetings newsletter.  I set it up to read like a newspaper with various topics and column headings and included a few pictures of the family as well.  A separate column was set up where I wrote about each of my adult children and my grandchildren.  Other topics might have been travel, house remodeling/upgrades, and other such items.  I then mailed the newsletter, with no card, in regular #10 envelopes.  I folded them so that the “Christmas Greetings” header was visible when it was pulled from the envelope to give it a bit of holiday feel.

My newsletter was well received.  People enjoyed getting lots of news on the family.  I also heard that the newsletter format was liked because it was a rather long letter, but they were able to pick up and read various columns and then sit it down and finish later without loosing where they had been.   I have not purchased any Christmas cards since then.  Every year I continue to do the Christmas newsletter.  It is printed back-to-back, which cuts down on paper.  Some years it is one sheet (2 pages), other years it has been 2 sheets (4 pages).  A red pickup truck with a Christmas tree in the bed drives down a snow covered driveway toward a large farmhouse decorated for christmas. The ground and trees are covered with snow. A dog walks across the front yard. Red bows and wreaths hang from the mailbox, a pinetree in the front yard and the house.

What has happened over the years since I started this?  Last year I received three “letters only” Christmas greetings.   So far I am the only one using newspaper format, the others were written in the traditional letter style, but they were full of information and happenings from throughout the year.   I enjoy receiving Christmas newsletters.  It is nice to hear about what people you are away from are doing, and it is more personal than a standard card.  It shows you took time, put effort into the greeting, even if it is a letter that has been printed and photo copied.  It still took a bit of time to compose that newsletter.

As we enter the holiday frenzy I challenge you to do tradition with a twist.  If you have already purchased your Christmas cards, then enclose a short newsletter about the past year inside each.  If you have not purchased cards, consider composing a Christmas Greetings newsletter and mail those out to family and friends instead.  You may find, as I did, that in a couple years you start getting those in return as well.  Tradition with a Twist!

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Does nature know when school starts?

Summer has been rolling along nicely here in Michigan.  The temperatures have been a bit up and down, but for this state that is normal.  For the most part though it was summer weather, summer wear — flip flops, shorts, tank tops, and sunblock.

Then it became the last week of August.  The temperature turned cooler, people were in a variety of clothing styles, an indication they weren’t quite sure what the weather was going to dole out and were making their best guess.  You would see someone in shorts, then someone in pants, a tank top then a sweatshirt, sandals then boots.  Why?  Because even though it wasn’t “cold” it felt that way to some.

Does nature know kids are going back to school and that temperatures must drop to get children in the mood for school?  Is this a system of reminding parents that if they haven’t purchased that exhaustive list of school supplies they need to handle it now?  How did the school schedule get established in the September to June rotation so that children are attending during the coldest months of the season?

I have learned that our traditional September to June school schedule was established at a time when the United States was a farm-based society and children had to help with spring planting and fall harvesting of crops.  The September to June schedule with three months off in the summer best suited the needs of children being able to help in the fields during the main production period with as little interference as possible in their education.

Even though we are no longer a farm-based society and industrialization has ended the time of children needing to be taken out of school to help with farm duties, the schedule has held pretty close to the traditional rotation for decades.  My statement thank teachers

A number of states have tried to increase the hours of a school day, lengthen the period of time that students attend, and some have attempted a year-round school schedule.  What many places have found is that increasing the number of hours a student attends also increases operating costs for the school district and many can not afford the increase.

The level of learning, length of time a student spends in school, methods for teaching, and every other aspect of education in this country is constantly being evaluated and changes made.   The length of the school year is normally determined by a specific number of days or hours of instruction. One hundred eighty days (180) is the minimum required by many states, five states require more than 180 days, and five states require less than 175 days.  Here in Michigan students are required to attend a minimum 180 days.

So what this all means is that it is now September and for the next 9-10 months there are certain times of day when we may be delayed by a school bus.  We will see children carrying backpacks loaded down with books, lunches, and a number of other necessities for school.   The rotation of school sports, PTO meetings, parent-teacher conferences, homework, report cards, and school breaks is now in session.  Whether nature knows it or not, the school year has begun.

 

 

 

 

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Keep the Magic

Think back to when you were a child and the magic that Christmas held.  The excitement and anticipation of a visit from Santa.  The traditions that went with the season.

Remember getting toy wish books?  Once they arrived my sister and I would pour over them for hours, looking, looking again, and writing out lists of what we wanted for Christmas.  Inevitably the list was lengthy and mom would say we needed to shorten it down…the agony of it all!  children-become-a-child-at-christmas

Traditions of the holiday stand out in my mind.  Making Christmas cookies and decorating them, followed by eating them for breakfast as we opened gifts.  Decorating the house was always fun.   In the early years we would trudge through the snow at a Christmas tree farm to find the perfect tree, which Dad would then saw down.  Of course they always looked smaller in the woods then they did in the living room.  One year Mom kept saying the trees were too small.  The “perfect” one had to be sawed considerably shorter after Dad brought it in the house, not to mention the fact that it was so big around it stuck out about one-third of the way into the living room from the corner where it stood.  It was huge!

Dad would put the tree into a stand and then we would have to let it sit for 24 hours to let the branches “drop” as the tree warmed up.  After that the decorating could begin…lights, ornaments, garland, and icicles.  The tree decorating was usually stretched out over several days, as we were in school and Mom also worked during the day.  Evenings were spent viewing the tree, seeing a spot in need of an ornament and then finding the perfect one to fit that area.    magic-of-christmas-when-children-are-around

When Hallmark began their dated ornaments Mom started a tradition of purchasing a dated ornament for my sister and I every year.  Those were wonderful to have as we got married and moved out and many of those oldies hang on my tree every year.  When I had kids I kept the tradition, purchasing each of them a dated ornament every year…something I continue to do even now when they are 28 and 32 years old.  Of course I also purchase one every year for each of my grandchildren.  My daughter has also tried to maintain the tradition with her children.

Christmas morning when growing up was always fun.  The discovery of wrapped gifts under the tree.  Going through our Christmas stockings to see what small hidden treasures were there.  Then of course spending the rest of the day playing with new games, reading new books.  Enjoying a day of family fun.

Over time childhood moved into teen years, and we no longer believe.  Gifts become more useful.  Then we become adults and Christmas is nice, but something is missing, at least for a while.  All good things come to an end…or do they?

magic-light-in-a-childs-eyeEventually we get married, have children, and the fun starts again.  This time we hold the magic and enjoy watching a child’s eyes sparkle with excitement when they talk about their Christmas wishes, Santa Clause and the fun of the holiday activities.  We relive the magic through the eyes of our children.

Too soon our children grow, become teens, grow into adults and move out on their own and Christmas once again lacks the magic, at least for a little while.  Then the grandchildren are born and the cycle begins again.

No matter how old you are, keep the magic.  If you have no children or grandchildren, go where there are children.  Watch the lines for Santa, volunteer at organizations that cater to children, work at a toy give-away,  contact charity organizations and volunteer your services.   Keep the magic alive.

Keep the Spirit * Keep the Magic
Look at Christmas through the eyes of a child

belive-in-the-magic-of-christmas

 

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My First Easter

It is funny how traditions with couples and/or families develop over years.  What is crucial to one couple is unimportant to another.  Being the  first year without my husband, people anticipate that certain dates may be hard, such as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day.  However those were “Hallmark” holidays that Ron and I rarely paid attention to, so my first year solo on those dates causes me no emotional stress.

This is my first Easter alone.  The weekend looms ahead of me like some dreaded dark cavern.  Why?  Because that is a weekend Ron and I generally did things.  For years when our kids were growing up we would drive to Belle Isle and visit the Aquarium and Whitcomb Conservatory.   There were years we traveled, years we stayed home.  Generally we were out and about at least one of the two days taking pictures.   Once we had grandchildren we put together Easter baskets for the children and had an egg hunt inside our house.  Easter has always been a fun weekend for us.

This year I have no one to share those things with.  My daughter, her boyfriend and her three children will be over on Sunday for the kids to get their Easter baskets from me, but not until around 7:00 pm because her oldest son is spending the holiday weekend with his father.   I have contemplated driving down to Belle Isle, driving around my area to take photos, or just staying home to clean and organize.  To a certain degree weather and the condition of a sore ankle will play into those decisions.    I don’t feel enthusiastic about any of it.

Building a new life takes adjustment.  It means accepting change.  Maintaining tradition.  Letting tradition go.  Freedom to make changes.  Keeping things the same.  Doing things you’ve always done.  Doing things you never did.    Building a new normal.

As I spend my first Easter alone creating whatever will become a new tradition, a new normal, I hope all of you have a fun-filled weekend doing whatever it is that makes Easter weekend special for you and your loved ones.

HIPPITY HOPPITY HAPPY EASTER DAY!

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Haunted Past

Buffy from the TV show Family Affair and her doll Mrs. Beasley.  Photo located online.

Buffy from the TV show Family Affair and her doll Mrs. Beasley. Photo located online.

Haunted happenings are everywhere. Halloween has changed since I was a child, even since my children were young. The holiday has grown in popularity and activities leading up to it have stretched out.  This is no longer a one-night event.

I grew up in a small town. You purchased a few pumpkins and carved them with a basic jack-o-lantern face. One year my dad decided to dress ours up by using markers to paint around the carvings. I didn’t like having jack-o-lanterns that weren’t “normal” but everyone coming to our house to trick-or-treat thought they were great.

Typical costumes from the 1960's.  Photo obtained online.

Typical costumes from the 1960’s. Photo obtained online.

Costume Vinatge pic from 1960s

A vintage photo from 1960’s showing students in costume. Photo obtained from the internet.

Store bought costumes were a simple “cover” over the clothing and a plastic mask that covered the front of your face and attached with an elastic band.   As we got older costumes might be more of the self-made type.  I remember one year my sister went as Mrs. Beasely from a popular show called Family Affair.  I don’t know why that one costume stands out.  I don’t even remember what I dressed up as most the time.    There was always the school party and the parade of costumes throughout the school.   Then everyone went home and anticipated dark so they could go out trick-or-treating.

Trick-or-Treating was of course done on the appropriate night regardless of whether the weather was good, rain, or snow.  Someone always stayed home to hand out candy and the other parent took out the kids trick-or-treating.   The worst part was my mother was very cautious and so we were never allowed to eat our candy for several days.  This was back in the 60’s and 70’s when people did things like slip razor blades or needles into fruit or candy, or sometimes use a needle to shoot drugs into candy.  She always checked every piece of candy over carefully to see if it appeared to have been tampered with, and then we had to wait a few days to see what type of tampering made the news.  It was a horrid wait, but eventually we got the go-ahead to eat whatever we wanted.    People were generous with their hand-outs so we always had way more than we could eat anyway.  As I got older there was the occasional Halloween party or haunted house, but those were not huge parts of the holiday for us.

Caroline and Patrick carving pumpkins.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Caroline and Patrick carving pumpkins. Photo by Grace Grogan

By the time I had children things had changed a bit, plus I had moved away from the small town and lived in a much more populated area.    Costumes were more detailed and many times people designed their own at home.  My son’s first Halloween I dressed him up as a pumpkin and he “helped” me hand out candy while my husband took our daughter out trick-or-treating.  One year when she was small I made her a clown costume and have a photo of her looking at herself in the mirror, entranced with her painted on red nose.    As the holiday approached we made trips to the cider mills and pumpkin patches.  We purchased pattern books and usually spent several days carving elaborate designs into our pumpkins, and of course the seeds had to be roasted.    My daughter always enjoyed Halloween, but my son has always loved it so it was a big holiday at our house.   As they got older we attended haunted hayrides, and as teens they would go to the large haunted houses.  As adults they still love all those activities.

The school parties were much as they had been when I was a child with treats and a costume parade. Parents attended taking photos of the little ones all dressed up.  One year there was an announcement over the PA for all the Batmans to meet the principal in the cafeteria for a photograph.  The school principal had dressed up as Batman, a popular costume that year, and there were so many Batmans in the school that he decided to have a group shot taken with them.

Patrick and Kiley Trick-or-Treating.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Patrick and Kiley Trick-or-Treating. Photo by Grace Grogan

Grandson Austin dressed for Trick-or-Treat.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Grandson Austin dressed for Trick-or-Treat. Photo by Grace Grogan

Nighttime trick-or-treating was done with a pillowcase to hold all the loot.  The streets were packed with parents and children going door to door.  Most years I stayed home and handed out the goodies and my husband made the rounds with the kids.  On occasion I would go out, and it is always fun to see the little ones in costume whether coming to the door or trudging down the streets.    My husband started with our kids a tradition they had in their family — putting out sheets of newspaper for each kid to dump and sort their candy on — basically an inventory of the goods collected and a great time to trade.  A must in our house – I got all their Butterfinger candy bars!

Patrick and his girls out trick-or-treating.  Photo by Grace Grogan 2009.

Patrick and his girls out trick-or-treating. Photo by Grace Grogan 2009.

Austin and ceramic pumpkin 2009.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Austin and ceramic pumpkin 2009. Photo by Grace Grogan

Now my children are grown with children of their own.  Trunk-or-Treats are held everywhere leading up to the big day, and there are plenty of other events related to the holiday as well.  Haunted hayrides, trips to the cider mill, trips to the pumpkin patch, and of course traditional trick-or-treating are still alive.  I no longer live in a sub division so my only trick-or-treaters are my own grandchildren who are brought by in costume to trick-or-treat at our house.  Some things never change, and one year my daughter, Caroline, told Austin, my grandson, that he had to give his Butterfinger to me.

I do not miss the expense of having to purchase several bags of candy to hand out, but  I do miss having the children coming to the door all dressed in costume yelling trick-or-treat.   In some ways I miss the lengthy carving of the pumpkins, but not the mess it created.    I still go to the cider mill, but that is an event everyone should enjoy several times a season.

What are your Halloween Traditions?

 

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