We Need A Little Christmas

Cover of "Peace on Earth (Holiday Greetin...

Cover of Peace on Earth (Holiday Greeting Cards)

We Need a Little Snappy, Happy Ever After, We Need a Little Christmas Now

Ever notice how Christmas comes at the right time of year? When it is at its darkest, and starting to get cold and dreary? Even without snow, Christmas lights brighten things up a bit, and with the promise of some snow in the forecast, we could awaken any day to a winter wonderland.

The song, “We Need A Little Christmas” by Jerry Herman, really hits the spirit of the season. My favourite lines are:

“For I’ve grown a little leaner,  Grown a little colder, Grown a little sadder, Grown a little older, And I need a little angel, Sitting on my shoulder, Need a little Christmas now.”

We seem to make Christmas into a hassle with endless lists of things to do to make it merry and bright, and sometimes lose out on the magic of the whole season. I read an interview with Santa in the book, “A Family Christmas” compiled by Caroline Kennedy, and the word magic was used no less than six times in answer to various questions. Asked how reindeer fly, the jolly elf said that they are fed a magic mixture of corn and oats that only grows near the North Pole.  Magic was also the one word answer he gave to the questions, “how you fit down the chimney”, and “how do you get into a home that does not have a chimney”.

How does he fly around the world in one night? Santa says it takes “a combination of lots of practice, judicious use of time zones, and of course, a little magic. And how does he know who has been naughty and who has been nice? You got it: Magic.

What is magic? I have a two part definition: it is the suspension of disbelief; and the belief that there are things that happen we cannot explain. (It could be argued that this is also the basis of faith—but that is a topic for another place and another time.)  The best dictionary definition I found, (among many) is that magic is a supernatural power that makes impossible things happen.

Right now, there is a group of people who want us to only believe in those things we can prove—Darwin is their main man, and they only want to deal in things that can be substantiated. I have no argument with these people—in fact I think it is easy to follow this dictum as it takes us out of the world of imagination, into a world of grounded thought. At various times in my life, I too have wanted proof positive, but have come to the conclusion that it does not exist. I like to think that there are things that happen that there are no easy or worldly answers to.

I am not talking magic as in the world of potions and spells, enchantments and bewitchments. I am talking about magic as inexplicable and astonishing, miraculous and exquisite.

If reindeer do fly—it is magic. When Santa makes it down the chimney unscathed-it is magic. By the way, when he does get to your house, he made it very clear in his interview that he likes all kinds of milk except buttermilk, and loves all kinds of cookies, but most especially Christmas cookies. His  favourite colour is red (who knew?); he has hundreds and hundreds of elves; and can remember without hesitation the names of his reindeer. And yes, he does count Rudolph as one of his reindeer.

When asked how old he is, Santa replied: “As old as my tongue, and slightly older than my teeth.” So there you have it, from the horse’s mouth so to speak. And what is it that Santa wants for Christmas? Without batting an eye he says:  “Peace on earth, goodwill towards all people.” Now where have we heard that before?

Published in: on December 24, 2011 at 10:13 am  Comments (2)  
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Christmas: “Magic At Its Core”

English: Thomas Nast's most famous drawing, &q...

English: Thomas Nast’s most famous drawing, “Merry Old Santa Claus”, from the January 1, 1881 edition of Harper’s Weekly. Thomas Nast immortalized Santa Claus’ current look with an initial illustration in an 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly, as part of a large illustration titled “A Christmas Furlough” in which Nast set aside his regular news and political coverage to do a Santa Claus drawing. The popularity of that image prompted him to create another illustration in 1881. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“No matter how tired and cranky, how jaded or cynical, how utterly tiresome Christmas becomes, there is always a kernel of magic at its core, isn’t there?” – Will Ferguson

The magic at the core of Christmas is what makes the season enchanting. Whether it is the wonder of the original Christmas story, our family traditions that lighten up the dark days, or even belief in that jolly old elf—the feeling that the season elicits is magical.

Canadian author, Will Ferguson wrote a charming little memoir called “Coal Dust Kisses”, which harkens back to his childhood days. He and the other children brought up around the Cape Breton coal mines had proof positive that Santa had visited their houses on Christmas Eve. The proof was not in the presents beneath the tree, but in a smudge of coal dust on their foreheads.

Ferguson’s grandfather had worked in the mines before he found a job at the Canadian National Railroad—but Ferguson himself said that he had never seen the inside of a mine shaft, and “God willing, never would”. Born in Cape Breton, he became part of a tradition that only comes from being in a coal mining area. He says that it only makes sense, “as any person—a miner say—who dealt with coal knows, if you spend time crawling through chimneys, you’re going to get covered in soot.”

It was Father Christmas that Ferguson’s father waited for on Christmas Eve. And on Christmas morning he had evidence that the gentleman “had tiptoed through houses, late at night, covered in soot…” He “would stop to kiss children on the forehead when they lay sleeping…” When the children awoke in the morning, there on their foreheads were “coal dust kisses.”

The author  waited for Santa Claus, who had replaced Father Christmas over the years, but the tradition of “coal dust kisses” carried forward to his generation. He remembers Christmas morning as “a stampede of feet towards the bathroom mirror” where he and his siblings crowded into the bathroom and “stared in awe and wonderment” at the smudge on their foreheads—providing the elusive proof positive that Santa Claus had left his calling card. This, he said was “a moment of magic” captured in countless yuletide photographs.

He has continued the tradition with his own family, taking the “Scottish coal-mining tradition…from Cape Breton to the northwest woods, from Ecuador to southern Japan, and back again to Canada.” Tradition, handed down from generation to generation travels the miles with no loss of meaning. The jolly old elf, Father Christmas, or the more modern day Santa Claus takes his magic with him wherever he goes, or as Ferguson’s story illustrates, wherever we go.

The magic of Christmas belies the sometimes gaudy pomp and circumstance of commercialism (which we have to admit has its place and puts food on the table for many). Believing in something for the sake of believing without question does not seem to be a simple thing. We need proof, whether it be in “coal dust kisses” or something else that we can see, touch or feel. I am guilty of this, and in many cases asking for verification is not a bad thing. But sometimes, we have to just believe in the magic of Christmas and not dissect it until we no longer recognize its wonder.

My wish for you this Christmas is to recapture the essence and spectacle of the season and enjoy “the quiet beauty of a peaceful holiday.” (a sentiment from one of my Christmas cards)

Christmas Cashmere Socks


Shoes (Photo credit: MiriamBJDolls)

“Abandon shoes, all ye who enter here.”  – National Post

Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up.  The subject of “peace on earth, goodwill to (wo)man” seems to no longer be a hot topic for this time of year. The new hot topic? Whether you should leave your shoes on or take them off when you enter a private home for holiday parties. About a week ago, the National Post devoted the front page to the subject plus half a page article within the pages of its arts, style & design, books, and food & drink pages.

It seems people have very strong opinions about the topic. In my opinion, sock and stocking feet are none too stylish, but I am letting the cat out the bag a little too soon. Suffice to say, I have a solution that will enlighten the masses about this seemingly very controversial question–but first, a few “experts” weigh in the subject.

Danielle Perry, an intrepid reporter at the National Post asked seven “experts” their opinion. Bernadette Morra,  an editor at Fashion magazine said she did not mind if people left their shoes on, but noted she did not have white carpeting. Karen Kwinter from Canadian Living magazine put the responsibility squarely on the visitor’s shoulders. She said they should come prepared to leave wet footwear at the door, and bring a pair of shoes to wear inside.

Ryan Oakley, who is called an “avid sartorialist” in the article said that “guest should leave their shoes on. Any decent party will involve a lot of spilled drinks, passed out people, and possibly, a flood. If you’re worried about a bit of slush on the carpet, you’re probably going to react badly when your brother-in-law falls through the coffee table.” I tried to look sartorialist up in my thesaurus and dictionary, but came up with nothing. Sartorial though, relates to “the tailoring of clothing in general”, so we can assume the guy is a fashionista.  A fashionista who  goes to parties I have not been to since I was in university— but I get his point—leaving your shoes on can be a matter of survival.

Stylist, Samantha Pynn (are we supposed to know these people?) says that shoes must stay on as they “are the most important part of an outfit.” She says, “May as well wear my pajamas if I have to take my shoes off.”  Noreen Flanagan from Elle Canada says that Christmas is “the one time of year when everyone prefers a “shoes-off”. But she says this takes some preparation, and suggests that one wear cashmere socks

Now, I want you to guess what the opinion of Ron White, the creative director of Ron White Shoes had to say. Predictably he fell on the “wear shoes in the house” side of the controversy. He agrees with Pynn  that “shoes make the outfit.” He would never ask guests to take off their shoes—as he says it is rude and tacky. He believes it would be the same as asking someone to take “their outfit off as you welcome them into your home.”

Arren Williams of The Bay made a lot of sense. Williams said, “If you’re hosting a swish affair and expecting everyone to turn up in their finest, then the shoes stay on.” He or she ( I cannot tell from the first name if Arren  is male or female) said that there is “honestly nothing sadder than seeing an artfully coiffed and maquillage’d guest padding around  in stocking feet while attempting to still carry off a newly purchased cocktail dress with aplomb.” (Yes, I had to look up maquillage’d too– it means “made up”).

So what is my solution? First my opinion. I do not ask people to take their shoes off at the door—I figure they can decide for themselves how comfortable they are (and how dirty their shoes are). In fact, sometimes I encourage people to keep their shoes on if I am not expecting them and the dust tumbleweeds are so excessive you cannot even find the dust bunnies. But I agree, many times shoes help make the outfit, and really how dignified is it for a man in a lovely suit to be expected to pad around in his executive style socks? My solution is old fashioned. Shoe rubbers for men.  And ladies, remember those little plastic boots that used to go on over your shoes, that folded over at the ankle and you did up the button with a little elastic loop? They were ugly, and as a kid I was made to wear them. But they did the trick.

An example of an ankle sock

An example of an ankle sock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, I will not bet using my own solution—I will either wear regular boots to the house and put on a pair of shoes I have brought for a formal occasion, or don cute little slippers if it is a casual. To be honest, I am comfortable wearing just my cashmereless socks when I have jeans on—but I always check to make sure there are no holes. That would just be embarrassing.

Next week: my solution to solving the whole “Peace On Earth” issue, now that we have taken care of the “shoes on, shoes off” conundrum.

Published in: on December 15, 2011 at 2:02 pm  Comments (6)  
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O Charlie Brown Christmas Tree!

It's a Charlie Brown Christmas

It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The decision has been made. No new Christmas tree this year. I bandied the idea about—even looked at some of those fancy pre-lit trees. But, I talked to my youngest son, Tyler, who is coming home in a couple of weeks from college, and he said no to a new tree. He wanted our traditional, though far past its prime, spindly Christmas tree. I call it our Charlie Brown Christmas tree, as I have to finagle with the branches to get them not to droop, and have to wedge it back into a corner, forcing all of its branches forward, thus producing a thicker, more luxurious (?) tree.

Now you may be thinking to yourself that if I want a new tree, I should get a new tree, and not necessarily listen to the nostalgic whims of my son. But, I too, had doubts about getting a new tree. And some of the new ones I looked at were really no better than the one I have, once I do a little magic with it. Part of the magic is the positioning of the tree and branches, but the other magic is what fills the tree.

I decorate our Christmas tree as if there is no tomorrow. The branches are layered with ornaments we have received over the years—homemade and store bought share space on a tree that groans under their weight.  But the stars of the show are all the decorations that both my sons have made over the years, carefully wrapped in tissue until they are brought out yearly to be placed lovingly on the tree. Macaroni sprayed gold and arranged in wreath shapes, reindeers made from those old large Christmas light bulbs with antlers shaped out of chenille pipe cleaners (has anyone ever really used these to clean pipes?), sleighs cleverly fashioned from popsicle sticks, tissue paper stained glass bells and stars, and pinecones with glitter galore adorn our tree. Of course we have a million other ornaments, each imbued with memories, or just purchased because we liked them. But really, our tree, like yours, is just an excuse to walk down memory lane for a few weeks in the dark bleak midwinter.

As my kids got older, the crafty ornaments started to make way for ornaments that reflected their interests—Pokémon and basketball are at the top of the list, but there are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, various Muppets, and a musical instrument or two. Now that they are more grown up and sophisticated—these ornaments still make their way to the tree—though not placed in places of prominence as they once were.

In honour of our cat, we don’t put tinsel on our tree, as a choking cat is not a festive thing to see—and as the rest of the members of my family are quite taken with Kitty Bob, I make this exception without much regret. But if that cat does to the tree what he did to the tree last year, one of his lives is going to be threatened. Thankfully a teddy bear took the brunt of his indiscretion and could be thrown in the washing machine, but I was none too happy.

Anyway, on a more festive note, once I wrestle the lights onto my “old” un-pre-lit tree, the rest is gravy.  At one time I made my husband do this job, as I found it frustrating. Now I just wind the lights around the tree in a “come what may” fashion, and they actually look better than if I do it carefully. I have learned over the years that by dressing the tree with about a thousand ornaments, those obnoxious wires will quite effectively be hidden from sight.

English: A bauble on a Christmas tree.

English: A bauble on a Christmas tree. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Christmas tree, no matter how battered is the repository of memories past, present and future. Maybe next year I will get a fancy dancey pre-lit tree that has all its branches, but this year I will be happy with what I have.