Christmas Day Babies and Bogart

The Honor Society for Leap Year Babies is a free honor society devoted to anyone born on this rare day.  Chances are 1 in 1,461 that you are one of them. I don’t know if there are any official Christmas Honor Societies for babies born on December 25; except, of course, it’s a more distinct honor to share one’s day with the birth of Christ.

There are quite a few websites devoted to complaining that being born on Christmas Day means being eclipsed by the holiday celebration.  The biggest complaint by these whiny ones is that they receive a reduced number of presents.  In their defense, probably all of us have a forgotten December relative.  My niece, Katie, is born on a day close to Christmas, and I admit to conversations with my sister about the proper gift protocol.  It is easy to forget her day in the holiday rush.

In the imaginary Honor Society for Christmas babies, quite a few famous people can boast being members, including Sir Isaac Newton (1642) and Red Cross founder Clara Barton (1821).  Robert Ripley, of Ripley’s Believe it or Not fame was born in 1893.  Twentieth Century Christmas stars are band leader Cab Calloway (1907), Egyptian president Anwar Sadat (1918), singers Jimmy Buffet (1946) and Barbara Mandrell (1949) and acress Sissy Spacek (1949). A more complete list is on

I like the story of actor Humphrey Bogart’s birthday.  Born on December 25, 1899, he was often referred to as “The Last Century Man” (based on the popular belief that the 19th Century ended in 1899, not 1900 as it really was). The New York Times reported in 2000 that Bogart was really born on January 23, and his birthday was changed to December 25 because it was more glamorous.  According to Encyclopedia Britannica and other sources, this was a false report: Bogart’s birth certificate does say December 25.

Here’s a quirky birthday party, reported on the movie database IMDb. Every year, on his birthday, he watched the Janet Gaynor/Fredric March version of A Star Is Born (1937) because he admired their skill as actors. “Bogart would sit watching the film and weeping. Finally, one year, director Richard Brooks, a long-time friend of Bogart’s asked him why. ‘Because,’ Bogart explained, ‘I expected a lot more of myself. And I’m never going to get it.'”

What do the FAFSA and Aluminum Trees have in common?

I completed the FAFSA tonight after some small hassles. I’d like to say there’s something connected to Christmas and the FAFSA, but I can’t think of anything, except that there’s a lot of money involved in both.

Back in the 1960’s, I don’t know if people completed the FAFSA. I do know, however, that I probably couldn’t have afforded my very own Evergleam Aluminum Christmas Tree, retailing for $25.00. I used an inflation calculator provided by the Consumer Price Index to determine that the same tree would have cost $180.00 in today’s dollars.

The Aluminum Specialty Company, the early manufacturers of the trees, was bought and consolidated a few times and does not exist any longer.  If I talk Roger into the purchase, though, I can always go to several vintage websites or eBay.  Looks like I’ll have to fork over about $300 – $500.  Mmmm.  Sounds a little like the way that college costs have increased over time.  Can’t afford that, either.

I’ll have to settle for liking the Evergleam tree on Facebook.  (Apparently, there are 79 of us crazies out there).  For a real thrill, I can see countless videos of the Evergleam tree on YouTube. My favorite, a short film with a Frank Sinatra soundtrack, is linked here.

Countdown Podcast #10- 300 Days to Go!

Leapin’ Lent– Click to hear this week’s podcast.

This week we start with the highlights of our Presidential posts.  We recap Secret #10 for a Happy Christmas 2012 and share some of our own thoughts of the simple side of a fantastic Christmas.  Discussion on the Liturgical calendar narrows in on the similarities and connections between Lent and Advent.  Do you know the difference between your Gregorian and the Julian calendar?  Believe it or not Leap Day has a huge role in the establishment of our current calendar, and can throw quite a wrench a the liturgical calendar if not careful.  We close with a little extra candy tip that Natalie didn’t know- and I figured everyone knew about it!

I want a pink Christmas!

I volunteered at the American Red Cross fundraiser, Project: Prom Dress, today at the Dancel Family Y in Ellicott City.  Situated at the check-out table, I had a great view of the dresses as they made their way back and forth between the boutique area (in the gym) and the dressing room (in the exercise room) to the check-out rack.  The dresses were donated, and most were very modern, but I admit to a secret admiration for not-very-trendy pink dresses.  One dress (both candy pink and polka dotted) went out late in the day with a young lady who looked far too young to be attending a prom.  She explained that the pink dress was going to be a costume in her middle school play because she needed to be dressed in a tacky 80’s style prom dress.  Ugh.  Yes, my senior high prom gown, lovingly created by my mother (at my request), featured pink, pink, pink with a darker pink lace overskirt.

Only tangentially related, to round out our Presidential Christmas posts, I’d like to highlight Mamie Eisenhower’s trendsetting use of pink in the White House, and, actually, in all of her homes. As the wife of a military officer, she had the opportunity to decorate many homes (over 30 moves during his 37-year military career) and is reported to have carried samples of the pink, green and cream colors that she used in her decorating.  In that way, the painters could match the paint to her belongings.

From 1953 – 1961, the Eisenhower White House was called the “Pink Palace.”  Although there is no record of pink Christmas trees, there is a sure connection to the skyrocketing rise in pink decorating in the late 1950’s.  There are scores of retro websites devoted to the love of pink bathrooms, a decorating fever that started with Mamie’s personal style.  This time period is also the advent of the aluminum Christmas tree, with Sears and other department stores featuring the aluminum tree in a number of colors, including silver, orange, and pink.  Although our family didn’t have an aluminum tree, the old photographs of children standing next to aluminum trees in the 1960’s look suspiciously like a childhood me.

In A Charlie Brown Christmas (1963), Lucy tells Charlie to get an aluminum tree, perhaps painted pink.  The segment of the film featuring the garish aluminum trees is one of my favorites.  The ridicule of the aluminum tree and the commercialization of Christmas in that film considered one indicator that aluminum trees were on their way out of style, but they continued to be manufactured into the 1970’s.

A 2004 book, Season’s Gleamings: The Art of the Aluminum Christmas Tree by Lindemann and Shimon, is next on my list of Christmas “must reads.”  Appropriately, the cover is pink.  Anyone have a copy to lend? (If you don’t want to confess in public, email me.)

Secret #10 For the Perfect Christmas

In January we warned you that on the 25th of each month we would be revealing one of our secrets for the perfect Christmas in 2012.  Today we reveal Secret #10- Simple Can Be Better.

This can have many meanings for the holidays.  Simpler schedule, simpler gifts, simpler times.  It is so easy to get caught up in the complexities of the season.  Go here, go there.  Do this, do that.  Buy this, get that.  Remember that Christmas began with the a quiet and simple birth of a child in a manger.  No elaborate spectacles, no budget busting shopping sprees, just a family welcoming the new-born baby.  The simple joys of the holidays are often the most precious.  Think of your favorite holiday memory.  I bet it’s a special moment or kindness shared with family or close friends.  One of my best memories of recent Christmas years is the late evening Christmas Eves spent with my mother.  She would be finishing some special baking treats and I might be wrapping some final stocking stuffers.  The fire was burning warm and bright and we were definitely watching the broadcast of the Pope’s midnight mass.  I see these shared times as truly simple gifts.

That brings to mind the traditional Shaker hymn of the same name.  The melody and lyrics of this tune have become a cherished part of the American Folk Song catalog.  The lyrics speak to exactly what we mean about simple being better.  The first line says “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free”.  So very true.  Read these two later verses and you can’t help but think a little differently about how Christmas might be:

‘Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
‘Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we’ll all live together and we’ll all learn to say.
‘Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
‘Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of “me”,
And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
Then we’ll all live together with a love that is real.
(click on the gifts to hear some musical “gifts”)

The other National Christmas Tree

We live a stone’s throw from Washington, D.C. and the lighting of the National Christmas Tree, but I’m wishing I had the airfare to fly to the other side of the country to see the other National Christmas Tree.  Donations are now being accepted for two plane tickets to Sanger, California, December 2012.  😉

While First Lady Grace Coolidge sponsored the first National Christmas Tree in 1923, in 1926, President Coolidge dedicated a large Sequoia in the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park as the Nation’s Christmas Tree.   This tree, the General Grant Tree, in the small Grant Grove, continues to stand and is the second largest tree in the world and the only living national shrine to war dead, as declared by President Eisenhower in 1956.

According to the Sanger, California District Chamber of Commerce website, “the first Christmas service at
 the base of the tree was inspired by R.J. Senior–then President of the Sanger
 Chamber of Commerce and Charles E. Lee–then Secretary of the Sanger Chamber of 
Commerce, in 1925.  In 1924, R.J. Senior
 was wandering through the Grant Grove area. 
He approached a huge tree, stopped, and stared in awe at the enormous 
tree.  As he stood looking at nature’s 
masterpiece, a small girl approached. 
After a moment of complete silence she said, mostly to herself, ‘What a 
lovely Christmas tree that would be.’ 
She then turned and ran off into the grove.  They never learned her name, but they
 couldn’t forget her words.”

In October 1949, nearby Sanger  was dedicated by the Post Office Department as the Nation’s Christmas Tree City.  The Chamber of Commerce sponsors the annual “Trek to the Tree,” always held on the second Saturday of December. Members of the Park Service lay a large wreath at the foot of the massive tree.

According to statistics, the massive giant is large enough
to produce enough lumber to construct thirty-five, 5 bedroom homes.  The tree stands 267 feet high; its lowest
 branch is 130 feet above the ground, and the circumference of its trunk is 107 

Oh, and if I do get to go to California, who wants to watch the dogs that weekend?

A Happy President for Christmas

From 1953 to 1961 the White House was home to President Eisenhower and his family.  This was a relatively happy and peaceful time in the US.  World War II and the conflict in Korea had ended, the unrest of Vietnam and Civil Rights were not yet upon us.  It was a time of prosperity.  The Eisenhower White House reflected this, especially at Christmas.  It was common practice for the President to host two parties at the holidays.  One for the political staff in the West Wing and another for the household staff of the White House.  Race practices of the time played a part in the separation.  The Eisenhowers were the first to hold a single party.  Mrs. Eisenhower supervised the plans the included over 500 guests!  Mamie was a Christmas devotee and wanted the day to be special for all.  She personally shopped at Washington department stores to purchase gifts and then hand wrapped them herself.  This was also to save money.  Mrs. Eisenhower took decorating to an all time high for the residence.  She had a record (at the time) 27 decorated trees.  Holiday music was played in every room and all the columns on the house were wrapped in greens.

1957 Eisenhower Christmas card

The Love of Christmas was not for Mamie alone.  President Eisenhower also enjoyed the holiday.  Ike was an avid artist and enjoyed creating Christmas cards and prints to be used by the White House.  In the eight years they lived there, the Eisenhowers used 38 different artist images for cards and gifts- a record number for any time.  The Eisenhower cards serve as a great piece of memorabilia from the time.

The connection between the Eisenhowers and Christmas continues today.  The Eisenhower National Historic site located in Gettysburg, PA hosts the annual event “An Eisenhower Christmas”.  The National Park Service hosts this annual event each December.  Visitors to the home see the house decorated as it would have been during the presidential years in the 50s.  The house is open to the public (entrance fees in 2011 were $7.50) and there are regional bus tours organized to visit the home.  It was even listed on the Frederick calendar of holiday events this past Christmas.  I will definitely be checking it out this December!

FDR was a Christmas Tree Farmer? Really?

We discussed the origins of the National Christmas Tree in our podcast Monday, and I learned that Jeremy has much more experience with the tree lighting ceremonies and the Pathways of Peace.  Our discussion inspired me to look into the National Christmas Tree Association.   It is their tradition, begun in 1966, that the grand-champion grower would present his/her tree to the President and First Lady for display in the Blue Room.  The first was a grower in Wisconsin, but Dan and Bryan Trees (formerly Sundback Trees) of West Virginia, have been selected a record four times!  I hope to talk Roger into a field trip to their farm sometime this year.

According to the National Christmas Association, in 1901, the first Christmas tree farm was established in New Jersey by W. V. MacGalliard.  When the trees reached maturity eight years later, trees were sold for $1.00 each. (I wonder how much money this is in 2012?) Strangely, in 1901 President Theodore Roosevelt, tried to discourage Americans from choosing live trees because of the potential threat to American forests.  Conservationist Gifford Pinchot persuaded the president that, done properly, raising Christmas trees was not harmful.

Teddy Roosevelt’s distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, started a Christmas Tree farm on his estate in Hyde Park, New York in the 1930’s.  He even listed his occupation as “tree farmer.”  Some skeptics claim that this was a strategy to create the aura that Roosevelt was gentleman farmer, and, therefore, more electable; however, Christmas tree profits are listed on Roosevelt Library documents, and he planned to continue tree farming in his retirement after the presidency.  According to the National Park Service, Roosevelt was “so proud of his Christmas trees that he once sent one to the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.”

White House Gingerbread

2011 Gingerbread White House

Creating a structure from gingerbread and other foods is a special

2002 Gingerbread White House

challenge.  I tried my hand at this craft for the first time as an adult this past Christmas.  Wow! It can become all consuming and very addictive.  The attention to every little detail and trying to capture just the right look.  The White House staff has been taking part in this type of challenge every year since the White House chef started the tradition under President Carter.  For the holidays a special gingerbread house is showcased in the White House State Dining Room.  The staff can spend up to five months designing, preparing and creating the masterpiece.  The 2011 gingerbread house was a true to life recreation of the Presidential mansion and featured white chocolate and a view of the state dining room.  The theme of “Shine, Give, Share” was used to show the countless ways we all can lift up those around us.  The houses do not always result in a house that looks like a model miniature of the real thing.  Sometimes it is a more fanciful recreation with gum drops and candies.  These look more fun to make for sure!  There are many sites with pictures of the houses.  Check out some of the houses through the years- White House Photos.  The official White House website has a very interesting short video on the making of the 2009 White House Gingerbread House.

Countdown Podcast #9- 307 Days to Go!

The 2011 National Christmas Tree

1923 National Community Christmas Tree

The National Tree– Click to hear this week’s podcast.

This week we have been all about the President and anything Christmas that might be associated.  We briefly talk about our week of posts and then dive right into the National Christmas Tree.  This is THE tree that the President, or his designee, has lit each Christmas since 1923 (brief break 1942-1944 for World War II).  We discuss the ornaments, the electric, the set-up, the ceremony, ticket lotteries, and even the trees themselves.  You can do your own in-depth research at the tree’s website- The National Tree. If you just want to see some key points there is a simple timeline at National Tree Timeline.  We are so into this presidential Christmas information you can expect even more this week!