Friday, December 23, 2016

Confessions of a Christmas Tree Nut---The Sequel

(Too much still to do, too little time, so I'm re-posting this six-year-old essay about my Christmas trees.  It  still applies--I've got those four trees up now.   But this year I expanded my tree collection, adding two more trees, just as I threatened in the original post.  In the living room, near the large real tree, is a small white one with some of the handmade ornaments I bought in Mexico and India.  And in the family room, a small green tree has appeared decorated with the forest creatures I've collected, mostly made out of twigs and straw and wood.  I couldn't resist giving them a tree of their own.  And I keep thinking of new tree themes for next year.  As for the Christmas cards,they're all going to be late this year.  That's why I call them "Holiday cards" and figure if I get them out before January 1, they still count.)

Right now I should be addressing Christmas cards but I'm in the grip of my seasonal craziness which involves decorating...lots...of...trees.  Each with a theme.  In every room. Well, not EVERY room because my husband has started to crack down on that--especially in his office, despite the lovely all white (sprayed snow and icicles and pine cones) tree I did one year.  It shed.

Above is the Woodland Creatures tree, made up mostly of ornaments I got from Pier One (all at least 30 per cent off, because it's the last minute.) I just couldn't resist these rustic little animals and birds made mostly of twigs and straw and natural products.(The star on top is a tiny starfish.)  The gold stars seem to be made of twigs--I cut apart a Pier One garland to get them. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

And here below is the little white tree I decorated with my hammered, painted tin ornaments  from Mexico and the lacquer-on-wood (I think) ornaments from India.

The Mexican tin ornaments are wonderfully crude and folk-y and the Indian ones are so  carefully detailed and elegant, so each country really should each have its own tree.

There's even a Mexican nativity scene of tin.  I love the clay angel at upper left sucking its toe.  And I love the Indian sets of three camels and three elephants.

At Thanksgiving 2015, with the help of kids and guests at the tree-trimming open house on Saturday night before Nicolas's baptism, we decorated the four trees that I always have. And here they are (in photos from 2010, but they look much the same in 2015).

The Real Tree goes in the living room.    I usually pick a color scheme, and this year went with silver and white, with the only color coming from some crazy peacock ornaments I got from Pier One.

With the peacocks, I also used lots of white butterflies (from the Dollar Store) and white birds and angel wings, so I guess the theme of the wonderful-smelling Real Tree this year would be wings.

In the dining room I always put a wire tree to show off my antique ornaments.  And I put a wire from the tree to the window latch so that it (hopefully) can't get knocked over.  You can see that we don't have much snow in Massachusetts, unlike Minnesota, but we will soon.

Some of these ornaments are reproductions, but most are the real thing.  My grandmother had a whole tree decorated with blown-glass birds with those spun glass tails and often a metal clip to hold it on the tree.  I really love the fragile teapots once sold at every Woolworth's for pennies. They cost a lot more now.  The blown-glass ornaments usually say "West Germany" on the metal cap.  The  glass ornaments that were once screw-in light bulbs were made in Japan between 1930 and 1950 and are a lot less likely to break.

In the library I always put my Shoe Tree, which started when the Metropolitan Museum in New York first started selling ornaments based on shoes in their collections.  
This became a kind of mania and now I can't afford to buy the newest ones from the Museum, but I've added lots of cunning real (baby-sized) shoes, and people keep giving me more.  My favorites on this tree are the Chinese baby shoes that look like cats and the fur-lined baby moccasins and the tiny Adidas sneakers. 

On the porch I've put the  Kitchen Tree, or Cookie and Candy Tree.  This was inspired by some friends who live in a tiny apartment and decorate their tree only with cookies and candy and pretzels and candy canes.  Then, when Christmas is over, they put it all outside for the birds and other New York fauna to enjoy.

As you can see, I've cheated quite a bit--adding ornaments that look like kitchen utensils and non-edible gingerbread men and peppermints.  An authentic Kitchen Tree should have chains of real popcorn and cranberries (which we did back when I had children small enough to enjoy stringing them.)

Last year  Trader Joe's sold little gingerbread men with holes already punched in their heads so I could string them on the tree, but this year the gingerbread men are frosted but the holes are missing, so I just  stabbed them with the wire hooks and it worked fine (and any that broke, I ate, of course. They taste better frosted.)
That's four trees so far (six in 2015!)-- and I haven't  shown you my Santa Claus collection and the miniature town in the bay window in the kitchen and the many creche scenes we have from around the world....But let's face it, I have to get back to those Christmas cards.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Thinking About Angels and Lost Loved Ones at Christmas

This can be the saddest time of the year for anyone who has lost a loved one during the holiday season.  Last Christmas, a friend of mine whom I've known since grade school lost her  husband the day after Christmas and, a few days later, her son died.  She handled this unimaginable tragedy with incredible courage and grace.  This Thanksgiving I received from her a  printed card that had on the front a quotation from Epictetus: "He is a wise man/Who does not grieve/For the things which he has not,/But rejoices for those which he has."
         Inside was printed a message which said in part: "Dear friends, I want to wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving.  I have decided that it means more to me to recognize thankfulness and gratitude than to write Christmas cards...I believe I have successfully (well almost) focused on how lucky I have been, what beautiful memories I have, and how fortunate I am to have such very good friends...Here's to looking forward."
       Ann's incredible strength reminded me of a blog post that I wrote five years ago under the title "A Christmas Eve Thought About Angels" which I am repeating below.  The relative whom  I took for therapy at Dana Farber, was my sister-in-law Glykeria (Lillian). She died in 2012 and her son Spyro died unexpectedly a year later.   I suspect that Lillian is now busy in heaven preparing the traditional Greek  Christmas Melomacarino for her son.

Yesterday at the supermarket I bought a Hallmark book called “Angels Everywhere, Miracles and Messages” by Lynn Valentine.  I paged through it last night before wrapping it as a gift.  I’ve always had an interest in angels—especially folk-art renditions of them-- and  so have carved and painted images of them all over the house, especially at Christmas time.

The book was a collection of various people’s experiences with what they perceived to be an angel because,  at a critical moment when they asked for help from God,  a mysterious stranger appeared  and then, after saving them or giving them a message of  encouragement and hope, he or she suddenly disappeared without any explanation.

The author included, in between these “as-told-to” stories, quotations from various sources about angels.  When I read the first one, from Hebrews 13.2, I suddenly remembered the verse, but reflected that it sounds so much better in the King James Version of the Bible (from which I memorized passages every week for Sunday School) than it does in the Revised Standard Version (which came out in 1952.)

(This is also true about the Christmas story-- in St. Luke, Chapter 2-- which I memorized for a church pageant when I was very small.  Now I recite the King James Version to my long-suffering family every Christmas after we see the children’s pageant at St. Spyridon Cathedral, as we will tonight.)

The passage in Hebrews 13.2 about angels goes like this:  “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Earlier this week I went with a relative who has lymphoma to the Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston.  We sat in the huge, crowded adult reception room for hours, waiting for her name to be called.  While there, I was moved by the poignancy of all these people, who were clearly so ill, having to suffer during Christmas week with their disease as they were battling to survive to another Christmas.

A young teenage Asian girl sat in front of me, wearing a red knit cap to hide her bald head.  She had brought her father, who didn’t know any English.  Then a doctor came out and evidently told her that her blood count was too low to give her chemo today—maybe she could come back on Thursday?  She introduced her father to the doctor and the dad fervently shook the hand of this man whom he hoped would save his child. 

Then two attractive brunette sisters took their places in front of me.  I assumed they were sisters because they looked so much alike, even though one of them had a mask over her face. Throughout the reception room were people with oxygen tubes, wheel chairs, canes, surgical masks, bandanas and caps in place of hair

But each one of these cancer patients had a caregiver with them. 

When we first arrived, a man in his sixties, with his wife beside him, told the receptionist  “I’m here to check in for three weeks because I’m having a bone marrow transplant.” I winced at the thought of having to spend Christmas and the next two weeks sealed in a sanitized, isolated room where no one could visit you, because of your compromised immune system.

Today, wrapping the last of our gifts and preparing for all the traditions that we enjoy with our children every year—made even better because our newlywed daughter is introducing her husband to our family’s Christmas customs—I reflected that, even if you have the world’s best gifts and tree and food, there’s no joy in it if you don’t have someone there to share it with you.  That’s why Christmas can be the saddest time of year for those missing the person who used to share the holiday with them.

A week ago I dropped off gifts for a family referred to me by Pernet Family Health Services-- something my friends and I do every year.  Pernet gives us a wish list made out by the parents.  These families are so poor that they can’t afford winter clothing or toys.  But at least they have each other at the holidays.

Every one of us, if we stop and think, can come up with an acquaintance who might be about to spend the holiday alone… someone who has lost a spouse through death or divorce, or maybe a single parent whose children have grown up and moved away, or even a pet owner who is grieving the loss of a beloved cat or dog. 

Among people I know, there’s a woman who recently lost her husband of 50 years, and a beloved teacher from high school who may also be alone now that she is retired and a widow.   I also know a foreign student stuck in snowy Boston who can’t afford to go home to her own country.  Foreign grad students are often stranded over the holidays with no place to go.

A telephone call or an invitation to dinner or just  dropping by with some homemade treat would probably be a better gift than the expensive toys and winter clothing I dropped off at Pernet last week.  Sharing the joy of the season with someone who’s alone might be not only the cheapest, but also the most meaningful gift we could give right now.  And our friend or acquaintance might remember that call or visit and think, as the scripture put it, that they had entertained an angel unaware.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Worst Taste Christmas Decorations Ever?

 Today we awoke to discover a winter wonderland outside and the cars blanketed in snow.  It's past time to assemble the lighted deer for the front yard.  At least the candles are in every window and the main Christmas tree is up and decorated in the living room, thanks to the kids and grand-kids who did it on the day after Thanksgiving.  I still want to put up my "shoe tree" in the library; the cookies, candy and kitchen-stuff tree on the porch, and the antique ornaments tree in the dining room.  Last year I also had a tree with Mexican tin ornaments and lacquered ornaments from India, but I'll skip it this year because it would never survive the attacks from two toddlers coming for Christmas.  But I'm contemplating a "forest creatures" display on the mantle over the fireplace.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I'm re-posting the article below from five years ago.  And when the snow stops I'll drive over to see whether the peeing Santa is atop this house yet again. I'm constantly amazed at what people do to decorate during the holiday season.

The first time I drove by the decorations on the roof of this house in Shrewsbury, MA, I thought--"Nahh!  That's not what I thought it is."  The next time I drove by, I took a good look and realized it WAS!  Santa peeing a lighted stream across the roof into a puddle of lights.
I went back in the daytime to make sure--but without the lights, I'll bet no one noticed anything odd about this Santa standing next to a chimney.
I just read last week that a homeowner in nearby Westborough MA., who got carried away with filling his front yard with lights, was receiving warning letters from an anonymous neighbor who threatened to tear down the display if he didn't winnow it out to make it more "tasteful."  But at least the guy in Westborough didn't have Santa peeing on his front lawn!

Meanwhile, daughter Eleni, who's spending Christmas with her husband Emilio in his native Nicaragua, says that touring the  Christmas displays in Managua means going from one creche scene to another.  She's got photos of the Nacimientos on her latest blog post "Away, In A Manger."  Every home has a Nativity scene, I gather, and in public spaces the figures are life-sized.  But the Christ Child, which is the centerpiece of the scene, cannot be placed in the manger until Christmas day, when he is born.  Before he's placed in the manger, the children touch the Christ Child for a blessing.

Here in Worcester, MA and its suburbs, there are a lot of giant inflatable Santas and Snowmen in front yards, but there is nary a Christ Child or manger scene around.  I think I read that it is now illegal to have a representation of the Nativity in a public place.

But I'll bet there are no laws on the books in Massachusetts against having a peeing Santa on your roof.