Category Archives: Holiday

Halloween Prep, Courtesy of the Skeleton Crew

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The daily busyness this fall has been more overwhelming than usual for our family.  Were it not for our pal Slim, October might have come and gone with little Halloween prep.  Luckily, he showed up just in time. 

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With him, of course, were his loyal canine companions Champ and Fluffy, as feisty as ever. 

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Slim’s entourage has expanded.  Joining the pack this year are the tiny but tough-as-nails twins Rocky and Ruth. . . 

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as well as the wise and witty Elfrida. 

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They’re small, but their personalities are most definitely not. 

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It’s hard not to get into the Halloween spirit when this festive bunch starts to throw their weight around. 

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Slim loaded the pack into his favorite vehicle (how he loves the wind in his hair) and supervised the purchase of pumpkins, ornamental gourds, mums and candy.  Lots of candy, he insisted. 

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Kiko, as always, was up for the ride.

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As evening approached, Slim was handsome and debonaire in his fuchia vest and tailcoat, black tulle scarf and Ray-Bans.  Kiko sat sentinel just inside the door.  Our guest’s only regret was that there was no time for pumpkin carving. 

Still, he and his formerly furry gang were ready to treat. 

Happy Halloween everyone! 

For earlier posts on our Skeleton crew, see here and here

Extreme Gift Wrapping, Christmas 2015

It’s well past Christmas, I realize, but I’m running behind in this new year, just as I was in the old year.  It’s consistent, then, that my last Christmas post, an annual update on extreme gift wrapping, appears two weeks into January. 

Thanks to my husband and daughter, it’s hard to predict what might appear around the tree in the days leading up to Christmas:  a family of enormous cylinders, a tall skinny pyramid, a child-sized obelisk, a gift tower ten feet high.  Not all packages appear under the tree; some have been suspended from the ceiling.  Certainly one of the most original and unexpected presentations was the pentagon and five pyramids that came together to form a star on Christmas morning.  My husband, searching for ideas for this year’s wrapping scheme, found that when he Googled “Extreme Gift Wrapping,” the first image that popped up was that very star he’d made in 2012.  He and my daughter have set the bar high. We’re prepared to be wowed.  (For previous years, see  here, here, and here.)

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Getting to “wow” becomes all the more unlikely when one expects it.  Subtler strategies must evolve.  When the first gift from my husband to my daughter appeared a few days before Christmas, it was an ordinary square box, wrapped in plaid paper.  On one side there was a wedge-shaped section of silver paper.  Simple.  Not showy.  If you didn’t know better you might think he’d run out of paper. 

My daughter countered with a more emphatic gesture:  she transformed a gift to her father into a gold and white-patterned Droid.  Her Star Wars tribute, she called it. 

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My husband was impressed and intrigued.  (Kiko, not so much.  He showed mild interest when H made it move.) 

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Eight more gifts for our daughter appeared during the next several days.  Each one was wrapped in the same size square box.  Most, but not all, had an apparently random section of shiny silver paper on one side.  On Christmas Eve, the gifts were piled seemingly haphazardly around the tree. 

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On Christmas morning, the square packages for our daughter were stacked, as if by Santa, so that the silver paper formed the letter J, her first initial.  (When I refer to her as “D,” it stands for “daughter.”)

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The “J Wall” as I think of it, lacks the visual impact of the star.  Indeed, that star is hard to surpass.  But it’s clever.  If you think about it philosophically, you could say it reshuffles chaos into order, into meaning.  Sort of the way the divine magic of Christmas can inject order and meaning into our lives, if we let it. 

And  if you simply consider how the J Wall looks, you’d probably say it serves as a very pleasing complement to the Droid, a charming creation on its own. 

Hats off, again, to H & D for keeping the ball in play during their ongoing volley of extreme gift wrapping!  What, I wonder, will they do next year?  (Glad I’m only a spectator in the game.)

Christmas Eve 2015: Magic in the Live Nativity

039Christmas Eve is here again.  Much like last year, the day is wet, cloudy, and unseasonably warm.  It’s time again for the live nativity at our church.  The baby Jesus, of course, is the real star of the show, but he’s small.  The camel, however, is quite large, and he tends to be the traffic-stopper.  Last year, our camel was not Samson, who was busy elsewhere, but his colleague Zeke.  Zeke enjoyed kneeling in the mud, and he therefore appeared in many selfies.  

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Kiko had the privilege of meeting Zeke, since the camel leaned down for a hello sniff.  The year before, Samson stood so tall and aloof that Kiko never seemed to notice him. 

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We also welcomed this little ox and burro, as well as a sheep and a goat.  I’m hoping we’ll see the whole gang again today.

If you have the opportunity to experience a live nativity in your area, I advise you not to miss it.  The shepherds and kings may be rag-tag; the baby Jesus may be a doll; Mary and Joseph may be played by a teenaged brother and sister.  With luck, there will be a few real animals.  I hope you get to meet a camel, an elegant and surprisingly sweet regal creature. 

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Give the humble tableau a chance, and perhaps, unexpectedly, your heart will be touched.  The make-shift nativity could speak to you of a God who turns the world upside down, who sent his own Son to live among us, in the mud and grit, to suffer and die, just as we must do, to wipe away our sin and invite us into the heavenly fold.  There is a chance that you might be overwhelmed by a sense of majesty.  Stranger things have happened, after all, on Christmas. 

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May you rejoice in the off-key songs of the tinsel-haloed angels with their awkward cardboard wings.  May you feel the power of the light in the darkness, the divine, holy light that will never be extinguished.  No matter what.  No matter what.  Amen. 

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For a previous Christmas Eve post, with more about that light in the darkness, see here.    

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Unsilvered WWII-Era Ornaments on a Kentucky Cedar

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My parents used to have several examples of unsilvered ornaments dating from the war years.  This red ball is the only one that now survives unbroken.  No metal was used in its production; its cap is cardboard, its hanger, paper string.  The interior lacks a coating of silver nitrate solution that had been standard practice before the war.  Until the end of the 1930s, any glass ornaments adorning American Christmas trees were hand-blown in Germany and imported.  It was evident that the outbreak of World War II would put a stop to this supply.  During this time, the Corning Glass Company began producing clear glass globe ornaments, using a machine intended to make light bulbs.  By 1939, these mass-produced American Christmas balls were available across the country in Woolworth stores.

Like the one pictured above, they were typically made of brightly colored glass and decorated with stripes of opaque, lighter colored paint.  Due to the absence of the silver solution, the ornaments are less sparkly than those produced pre- and post-war.     

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This was predominately the type of ornament that hung on the little shrub-like cedar in my grandparents’ house in Kentucky in the 1950s.  My grandfather and uncle usually cut down a tree from somewhere on the farm.  By today’s standards of height, shape and beauty, it would not be considered a fine specimen.  But to my family at the time, it looked exactly the way a Christmas tree should look.  It was an ideal tree:  a homegrown, local, Kentucky cedar.  Certainly no one could say it didn’t have the perfect Christmas tree smell.

In the photo above, taken sometime after my parents’ marriage in 1955, are, from left:  Uncle Bill on the sofa, Daddy, Mama, my mother’s eldest brother Leland, my grandmother, and my grandfather.

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Above, Aunt Dessie, Leland’s wife, is in the center, with her husband partially visible behind.  Mama must have taken this photo. 

When I imagine Christmas in Kentucky in the years shortly before my birth, I see these smiling faces and hear their laughter.  I smell that festive cedar smell, and I wonder why anyone would ever choose a tall thin Christmas tree.   

Uncle Edwin’s Silver Stocking

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Our family places particular value on the well-seasoned, the tried and true, so it’s not surprising that some of our favorite Christmas ornaments are those that have been with us the longest.  The one that most resonates for Mama is this little cardboard foil-covered stocking.  It’s likely the oldest of all our decorations.  She remembers when her brother Edwin, six years her elder, and only ten or eleven at the time, rode his bike to town and bought it.  All the family decorations were so old, he said; it was time for a few new ones.  The year may have been 1939 or 40.  The foil on the stocking, the shiny gold beads on the chain, and the metal on the attached shiny red ball suggest it dates prior to 1943.  By that year, the war effort had commandeered nearly all metal for military needs. (Mama added the silver and gold star much later, to replace a lost and long forgotten adornment.)

Christmas ornaments, of course, are much more than baubles.  Those we most cherish are talismans that conjure our younger, happier, better selves, perhaps in homeplaces now transformed beyond recognition. They speak to us of beloved family and friends as we’d like them to be. 

So it is that the little silver stocking brings back Edwin as a boy.  At the time, he was my mother’s favorite person in the world.  Wise and witty, with an appreciation for the absurd and the odd, he could inject fun into any situation.  Mama and Edwin saw the world through the same eyes, and she adored him.  He made everything better.  That’s the Edwin Mama remembers with such joy, the Edwin she sees when she hangs his foil-covered stocking on the tree. 

Vintage Pinecone Elves on Skis

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The first of several much-loved Christmas decorations that pop into my mind are these three vintage elves on skis.  Among my parents’ first holiday trinkets, they’ve been a part of my Christmas as long as I can remember.  Mama recalls buying them in the very early 60s during a rare, day-after-Thanksgiving shopping trip to the St. Matthews Mall near Louisville. 

Produced in Japan in the 1950s, the elves have plastic heads with hand-painted, apple-cheeked faces and pointed, flocked-paper hats.  Bodies are pinecones.  In their pipe cleaner arms each holds a musical instrument:  maracas, a paper accordion, or cymbals. Cardboard glitter-coated skis are glued to each pinecone, the elves have no feet.  Apparently they don’t need feet; they’ve managed quite well without them for the past sixty years.  It was comforting to see this merry elf trio displayed prominently on my parents’ tree again this year. 

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