Tag Archives: Christmas

Odds and Evens

So the last few days of December are trickling past and with them comes the close of yet another year.  A certain anticipation seems to have wafted in with the breeze, a feeling that we should brush past these last few days as if they were mere formality.

“The old year is dead,” whispers the collective consciousness, “move on already.”

And while I am as anxious as anyone for this year to be done, I am of a miserly sort, when it come to time.  Each second is precious, not to be wasted or cast aside unused.

And so, some final thoughts and observations on the year nearly past.

  • Violence begets violence.  Any high ideals you may harbor about the enlightened nature of the human animal, or our special place in some grand cosmic design, or the imagined utopias of the future, should be tempered by the fact that we’ve been walking this globe for something on the order of three million years, and have yet to learn this most fundamental truth.
  • Family may be our greatest strength, but it is without question our greatest weakness.  If you really want to hurt a man, give him a family and then take it away from him.  Loners of the world – UNITE!  (but only at a safe distance)
  • Yes, I know, the definition of insanity is trying the same thing again and again while expecting different results.  The thing is though, sometimes crazy shit happens!
  • It is neither a landslide nor a mandate if almost no one came out to vote.  If the biggest issue that got your candidate into office is apathy, you may want to keep the crowing to a minimum.
  • It is a lot more fun to have a secret than to be a secret.
  • When I went to the doctor last week, I had to fill out a sheet stating that I had not been exposed to Ebola.  How many actual cases have we had in the U.S.?  Did you know that there are between 10 and 15 cases of Bubonic Plague in the United States every year?  Strange that I didn’t have to fill out a sheet for that.
  • If you are insulted by someone wishing you “happy holidays” the problem is not with the world, or political-correctness, but with your own teeny-tiny little heart.  I’ve never had so many genuine salutations returned with an overly emphatic “Merry CHRISTmas!”.  Seriously folks, I’m just not feeling the ‘merry’ part when it’s delivered through bared teeth.
  • If you don’t want anyone to see something, keep it off any sort of electronic media.
  • This week we’re gonna spend millions of dollars celebrating a completely arbitrary date.  I mean, two-thousand and fifteen years since what, exactly?  There are dozens of different calendrical systems that are used throughout the world, and most of them are counting up (or sometimes down) from some particular historical or astronomical event.  The one calendar that is cross-culturally agreed upon by everyone is based on exactly nothing.  And it’s not even a particularly accurate calendar.  This to me says a lot about any system of belief (and really, what IS a calendar if not a system of belief) that is agreed upon by everyone.
  • That being said, I like odd numbered years better than even ones.  I know that’s madness, because the numbers are completely arbitrary, but I really do seem to do better on odd-numbered years.  Which is not to say that this has been a BAD year.  But it has been a year of great transition for me, with both extreme highs and lows.  I’d like to think the coming year will pass more smoothly, but only time will tell.
  • Joe Cocker could sing ‘em like no one else.  Lauren Bacall owned the screen even when Bogart was in the frame.  Harold Ramis gave us the ‘Ghostbusters’ as well as my favorite film of all – ‘Groundhog Day’.  Casey Kasem was always ready with a ‘long-distance dedication’.  Mickey Rooney will always be young Mi Taylor from ‘National Velvet’.  And no one has ever made me laugh (and cry) like Robin Williams.

And that about wraps things up for me.

May the blessings of the gods be on you all and I’ll meet you back here in the new year!

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Filed under Culture, Family, Holidays, Modern Life, Traditions

The Homeless Christmas Tree (is dying)

I’ve never been one for telling Christmas stories.

The reasons for this are, I am sure, quite obvious to anyone who professes to know me in the slightest, as well as to any who have spent any time reading this blog.

What does come as a surprise, to some, is how much I enjoy Christmas stories.

There is something special about that moment when John Boy opens his gift, only to discover that his father has known all along about has passion for writing.  I always find myself grinning, when that troop of postal workers come marching into the courtroom where Kris Kringle is on trial, dumping mounds of unaddressed ‘Letters to Santa’ across Judge Harper’s bench.  I can’t help but wonder if poor Ralphie will ever get his Red Ryder BB-Gun, or if Charlie Brown will buy the right tree for the Christmas Play.  I have always longed to attend one of Mr. Fezziwig’s famous holiday gatherings, and I’d be lying if I said my heart didn’t swell during those moments on the bridge, when George Bailey cries out for Clarence to give him his life back, and the snow begins to fall once again.

I like Christmas stories.  I even like the first one.

These tales come together to form their own special mythology, one which lends unto them a kind of truth which runs deeper than the actual fictions they describe.

I read them, and I watch them, but I don’t tell them.

Until now.

Carla Christian lived on the streets.

I do not know what combination of fate and circumstance made her homeless, I only know that for a time, she was.

I have read that she drifted in and out of the shelters on the east side of Fort Worth, until she was finally able to get back on her feet.  And don’t all Christmas stories include a moment of personal triumph over impossible odds?

Well, I suspect that most people, in her position, would simply move on with their lives, never looking back.  Some would just want to put an unfortunate episode behind them, while others would feel shame that they had fallen so low.

But Carla was of another sort.

She didn’t want to forget that she had been homeless.

She didn’t want anyone to be forgotten.

And so one day, just a few days before Christmas, she carried a box full of ornaments up a windswept hill.  At the top of this hill, overlooking the Interstate just a few short miles from the shelters she had once called home, was a single mimosa tree, leafless in the winter chill, which she decorated for all to see.

She called it the Homeless Christmas Tree.

Its purpose, she said, was to remind all those commuters streaming past it on their way into town, that not a stones throw away from that stretch of pavement, people were sleeping homeless on the cold streets.

I remember the first time I noticed that tree.  It was years and years ago, and I’d passed it hundreds of times without noticing it, perched there, alone on its little hill.  And then one day I glanced up and it was covered with tinsel and ribbon, and ornaments hung from its bare branches.

I didn’t know what to make of it, except that someone must have been feeling festive.  Still, it made me smile, and it made me notice that tree.

I watched it even after the ornaments came down.  I watched it leaf out, its branches swaying on particularly windy days.  I wondered if it would be decorated again the next year – and it was.  It made me smile again, to see it.

Later, when I learned the story of the Homeless Christmas Tree, I wondered how many other commuters into the city, knew its secret meaning.  I wondered how long the tradition of decorating this tree would go on.

Long years have passed since I first started watching that tree.

I understand that Carla died some years ago, but determined friends and neighbors kept alive the tradition of decorating the tree for Christmas.

And for a while, all seemed to be well.

This is what the tree used to look like during the first blush of spring.

This is what the tree used to look like during the first blush of spring.

But things have changed, and not, I am afraid, for the better.

Where once I could look forward to seeing that lush springtime burst of leafy fronds, in the last few years there have been only scattered tufts of green.  Instead, throughout the year, the tree is almost constantly wrapped in ribbon, like some festive mummy.  Its branches droop with wooden and plastic baubles throughout the year – decorations commemorating every passing holiday.  Flags often festoon the area immediately surrounding the tree and on many occasions I have observed a huge wooden cross, nearly as big as the tree itself, leaning against its strangled trunk.

And just a few weeks ago I noticed that one of its largest branches had fallen.  In a strange irony, that branch, which jutted out from the trunk toward the southwest, once pointed almost directly toward that part of town where the homeless still seek shelter at night.  But that’s okay, because the tree really doesn’t seem to be about the homeless anymore.

I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be a symbol for now.

I know it’s not about ‘hope’, or about caring for the least among us.

The Homeless Christmas Tree is dying, and I’ll never understand why certain people choose to take a beautiful symbol and ruin it in an effort to make it their own.

The tree didn’t want to be a symbol for anything, it just wanted to survive in an impossible situation.  The people I see, huddled on the sidewalk outside those shelters on East Lancaster are trying to survive an equally impossible situation.  But the folks I talk to tell me they try not to drive down that stretch of road.  They avoid it because they don’t want to see what’s there, because they look down on those people, or fear them.

And besides, the freeway will get you there faster.

And look, someone wrapped that tree in ribbon and bows – how festive!

And that, my friends, is why I don’t tell Christmas stories.

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Filed under Holidays, Modern Life, Mythology, Proselytizing, Religion, Spiritual Journey, Traditions

Twelve Nights – A Poem for Yule

For twelve nights long we’ve rung the bell.
For more years now than men may tell.

Before Saint Nick was on the scene.
Before the baby Nazarene.

We dressed the hearth in green and red.
We kept the children long from bed.

And told the tales the wise men know.
And feasted through the deepening snow.

To wake the Sun from her long sleep.
To mark the oaths we’ve sworn to keep.

Now Yule from us is nearly gone.
Now starts the newborn year in song.

May our midwinter celebrations bring us closer to hearth and home and to those we love from across the miles.

Blessings to you all.

Winter Solstice

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Pass the Roast Beast

In June of this year Texas Governor Rick Perry and the Texas legislature passed vital legislation to ensure that school children throughout the state would not have their Christmas threatened by the Grinch.  Teachers may now freely wish their students a “Merry Christmas” as long as there is a menorah somewhere in the building.

In June of this year Texas Governor Rick Perry and the Texas legislature passed vital legislation to ensure that school children throughout the state would be safe from the Grinch. Teachers may now wish their students a “Merry Christmas” as long as there is a menorah somewhere in the building.

There are a certain kind people who make the big things simple.

These talented and vastly unappreciated folks seem to do, in a handful of words what most would struggle to do in thousands, or tens of thousands.  They seek out the big thoughts, the ideas huge and hairy and monstrous, the notions with which men and nations have struggled and warred, and they reduce them, with well crafted words and images, unto their simplest and most entertaining form.

Big ideas are made small, for small (but growing) minds.

These are the writers of children’s books.

The Saggy Baggy ElephantI don’t remember having many children’s books around when I was little.  I certainly don’t remember having any favorites, although I have vague memories of a ‘Saggy Baggy Elephant’ who never felt comfortable in his own skin.

As I grew older I began to read voraciously and was drawn, like so many others, into the worlds of H.G. Wells and Tolkien, of Asimov, Poe, and Orwell.  Yet, even as my tastes became more sophisticated, somewhere along the way, I began to really notice children’s books.

I became enchanted with them, so much so that I even took a random children’s lit class in my senior year of college.  My, not entirely unrealistic, excuse for this, was that I was toying with the idea of a career in children’s literature – if not writing, then at least in illustration.

The Fates have led me, along with my writing and my art, down other paths.  I must confess, however, that my mind still wanders in that general direction, from time to time.

Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue and Pamela Zagarenski

Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue and Pamela Zagarenski

I do take the occasional walk through the children’s section of the local bookstore, if only to explore the new wonders that have appeared there.  I look forward to discovering which cover has been graced with that shiny gold Caldecott stamp, although I’m often more impressed with the silver stamp winners (just give ‘Sleep Like a Tiger’ a glance and tell me that I’m wrong).  And each year, I make it a point to buy a new favorite, and then I give it to my mother, herself an aspiring children’s book author, as a gift for Yule.

I think that Children’s books are special because they speak to us in simple, easy to understand terms.  And because most of us encounter them when we are children, we are able, as adults, to use them as a sort of literary shorthand, to express commonly understood ideas and concepts, often between otherwise disparate groups.

Or, at least, that was what I believed, until recently.

Just lately, I have begun to notice a disturbing trend.

I suppose I first picked up on it when someone pointed out the irony in Senator Ted Cruz, reading ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ by Dr. Seuss during his pretend filibuster against the Affordable Care Act in September.  Here, was a man, stating very clearly that he did not like a thing, was not willing to try a thing, and could not be convinced to support a thing, while reading a story about a fictional fellow with similar objections who discovers, after finally trying some, that he quite likes Green Eggs and Ham.

Yeeeeeah…, okay.  So maybe reading comprehension is not Ted’s forte.

Everyone know’s that story, right?  I mean, walk into any crowd and say the words “Sam I Am” and see how many people respond with something along the lines of “I would not, could not, with a goat.”

Or is it that people just don’t remember the ending?

How can you forget the ending?!

Fox News Commentator Megyn Kelly (who believes Santa is a white man) should, perhaps, have read the Dr. Seuss story about the Sneetches (star-bellied and otherwise).  If she had, she may have understood that it doesn’t matter what race Santa is.  Besides, as Santa is 50% Turkish Saint and 50% Norse God, he’s nothing if not biracial.

Fox News Commentator Megyn Kelly (who believes Santa is a white man) should, perhaps, have read the Dr. Seuss story about the Sneetches (star-bellied and otherwise). If she had, she would understand that Santa’s race is unimportant. And besides, Santa is 50% Turkish Saint and 50% Norse God. He’s nothing if not biracial.

So, okay, I first started to notice it with ‘Green Eggs and Ham’, but the phenomena seems to be spreading to other children’s classics and I find myself wondering exactly how it is that so many people seem to have no clue as to what “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” is about.

As the days leading up to the Christian celebration of Christmas have ticked away, I’ve seen more and more references to the “Grinch”.  In almost every case, the so called “Grinch” is either a school, business or government official, who dares suggest that, just maybe, the holiday season needn’t be exclusively Christian.

It’s a novel concept, I know, but ignoring for a moment the ‘totally legitimate’ rage certain groups seem to feel at the prospect of having ‘their’ holiday share the limelight, there is, to me, an even greater issue to consider.

These people are making a mockery of a Seuss Holiday Classic.

This will not stand!

And so I find myself addressing the following questions to any of my Christian friends who are of the “There’s a War on Christmas” persuasion:

When, exactly, did introducing a greater spirit of inclusiveness into a season that is supposed to be (if we believe the propaganda) about joy and giving and fellowship, become the equivalent of a furry green monster sweeping down out of the mountains and robbing you of your every possession?

Did you actually ever read the book?  Or (allowing for those less enchanted with children’s literature than I) did you at least watch the animated special – I mean, it’s only been airing every year since 1966.

Most importantly of all, do you remember how it ends?

Think about it and then tell me who’s hearts are two sizes two small.

The story ends with every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, still singing their freaky little lungs out.  Because, even the Whos know that if Christmas is everything that ‘you’ say it is, it will still come, without boxes, bows or state sponsored nativity scenes.

If you see fit to live with Christmas in your heart instead of wearing it on your sleeve, there will be nothing to stop you from celebrating the birth of your deity, even as we, your neighbors, honor Yule, Saturnalia, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, or even nothing at all except perhaps the genuinely human feelings of fellowship and generosity.

It’s a really big idea, made very small, just like Cindy-Lou Who, who was not more than two.

So enough already!

Stop your “BOO-HOOing!”

Remember the story (or read it at least).

And then do me a favor and pass the Roast Beast.

Grinch Remember

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Thunder and Lightning — a Poem for Yule

I am the wind that rattles the door in its frame.
A white beard lay upon my green cloak like frost on mistletoe.
A bell tolls when I pass and ravens follow in my wake.

Donder and Blitzen,
Thunder and Lightning.

The grey horse below me flies like a comet through the night.
His many hooves dash and dance like a herd of winter deer.
In twelve days time the whole of the world will pass beneath him.

Donder and Blitzen,
Thunder and Lightning.

Safe in their homes the feasting folk cheer us by firelight.
Wee children leave treats on the stoop for our long journey.
A handful of hay and a little bread will warm our chilled bones.

Donder and Blitzen,
Thunder and Lightning.

We roll like storm clouds across the snow whitened fields.
And upon our return what gifts we shall bring!
A season of dark and cold swept away by the newborn Sun.

Donder and Blitzen,
Thunder and Lightning.

Odin and Sleipnir

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Creepy Plastic Santa

He appears suddenly and without warning, a towering harbinger of kitschy despair.  As the final weeks of November slip away, he rises, looming over the puny humans that rush past him, and bearing the full onslaught of holiday marketing in his mighty wake.

Behold, Creepy Plastic Santa!

Actually, I suspect that he’s composed of fiberglass, but Creepy Fiberglass Santa just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Plastic is, for some reason, more menacing than fiberglass. And as you can see, Creepy Plastic Santa is nothing, if not menacing.

He appears yearly on a street corner several blocks from my home.  Day after day I drive past the spot and there is nothing there, just an empty patch of ground and a streetlamp.  For just shy of eleven months out of the year, I catch myself casting a glance at that spot as I drive past.  Almost always there follows a sigh of relief, but in the days leading up to and immediately following Thanksgiving, a certain tension begins to fill the air.  Still that corner is empty.

And again the next day.

And the next.

However watchful I am, somehow he always catches me unawares.  As I’m driving along, some fellow driver will suddenly change lanes in front of me, or abruptly slow down for no obvious reason.  Cursing, I navigate past potential collision only to see him there before me, his black gloved hand upraised as if ready to crash down on some unsuspecting motorist.

“Errrgh!” (car weaves momentarily)

Come to think of it, maybe that explains the erratic behavior of my fellow drivers.

We all know that he is going to show up, but it is still quite unsettling when he does.

He is not alone.

As the calendar page turns to December and the red-clad golem takes his place on the corner, these horrid things seem to appear everywhere.

What is it about these gnashing goblins that makes people want to display them in their homes?

Yes, I know.  I’ve seen several performances of the Nutcracker Suite over the years and while the dancing and the music are always wonderful, the story is absolute rubbish!  Any little girl who falls in love with this garish toothy monster needs some serious psychiatric counseling.

Welcome to the Holiday Season!

This is the time of year when everyone is expected to celebrate, but certain folks are less than satisfied with how their neighbors choose to do so.

“Please don’t call my holiday a holiday,” they fervently proclaim, “it’s Christmas!”

These are the folks who have declared that there is a “War on Christmas” and that the goal of all right thinking individuals should be to put Jesus back into a holiday that was largely borrowed from ancient pagans in the first place.

Oh how they bemoan the commercial aspects of the holiday, pointing out that the fervent materialism displayed by people who literally trample each other in their quest for Holiday Door Busters, is totally contrary to the spirit of their holiday.

Many are those who will claim that Christmas is a spiritual time to be shared with family and friends, even as they do their utmost to burn out the local electrical grid with animated light displays which are undoubtedly visible to the naked eye from low Earth orbit.

Well, my friends, I am truly sorry but I think the time has come for a major change.

A certain group of people have had almost undisputed control over how the Winter Solstice holiday is celebrated for the better part of 1,500 years.  And what, I ask you, do we have to show for it?

This?  Really?!

PlasticSanta02

No!  You do not get to bitch about commercialism and excess and secularization when you have been the ones with your hands on the steering wheel for as long as anyone can remember.  It’s time to hand over the keys and let someone else drive for a bit.

I beg you, my more devout Christian friends, to gaze into the agonized eyes of Creepy Plastic Santa and tell me if you truly think you have been worthy guardians of this sacred time in the turning of the year.  Pagans were not in charge when that monstrosity was cast, nor atheists, nor any of the other groups you so often like to blame for the worlds failings.  Christmas is what you have made of it.

Creepy Plastic Santa is your legacy.

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