Human Christmas Tree? Let’s get that project started!

Mona Shores High School Singing Christmas TreeOn Saturday, I was in a store that specializes in wrought iron items, wistfully studying the trellises and other garden decorations, when I came across a selection of wine bottle trees.  None of them, though, come close to the wine bottle Christmas tree that I spent a lot of 2012 Yule Log time wishing to find.

Searching for my elusive metal wine bottle tree online, I stumbled across a much greater curiosity, a human Christmas tree.  Since the 1930’s these “trees” are actually a choir of individuals creating a spectacle of sight and sound.

The Portland Singing Christmas Tree celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.  Their website advertises almost as many performances as the Rockettes, averaging $50 for a ticket.  Community members must audition to perform, and the 2-hour show features guest singers, an orchestra and more.  Their non-profit organization has major corporate sponsors.  It’s an amazing organization with its orgins in a local church in 1962.

The distinction of the oldest outdoor human tree goes to Belhaven University in Mississippi which first performed 80 years ago, but Mona Shores High School seems to be the “darling” of human Christmas Trees, having been featured on the Travel Channel and TLC’s Extreme Christmas as the tallest human tree.  This time-lapsed video shows how it’s put together–that’s really cool!

Once, when my children were little, their grandfather took them to see the human Christmas tree at Arlington Baptist Church in Woodlawn on the outskirts of Baltimore.  I remember it seemed quite spectacular, and the children were mesmerized. I wonder now, by comparison, how spectacular it was?  I found an advertisement from 1995 (which seems about the right time).  The press release detailed a “33-foot-tall singing Christmas tree with 70 singers and 30 actors in five performances. The singers are arranged on a tree-shaped wooden structure fashioned with lights and pine branches.”  I remember that the poinsettias arranged between the choir members were particularly beautiful.

No more recent performances in this area, though.  Jeremy?  Is this a more worthy project than our Bay Bridge Santa Walk?  Let me know–It’s already the end of February, so we need to get started soon!

The Christmas perks of a newspaper subscription

For Valentine’s Day, the love of my life gave me a daily subscription to The Washington Post.  This was in light of two obvious reasons NOT to give the paper to me–I don’t even have time to read my mail at night and the waste of whole “trees” in the production of a newspaper is completely against Roger’s “small footprint” philosophy.

Yet, here it is.  Every day.  Early–before 6:00 a.m.  It’s like getting a Christmas present because I’ve found some tidbit or other, in just about every issue, to fuel the Yule Log (love that pun).

halloran_thomas_9780807835876Sunday’s Washington Post had an excellent review of the new Thomas Nast biography by Fiona Deans Halloran, Thomas Nast:  The Father of Modern Political Cartoons.  I first wrote about Nast’s 1870’s drawings of Santa Claus as the origins of our modern-day depiction. (See post – February 16, 2012)

This biography examines three of Nast’s major contributions:  the elephant as mascot of the Republican Party, bringing down Tammany Hall and “Boss” William M. Tweed through his political cartoons, and the jolly old St. Nick drawings.  Jonathan Yardley’s review of the book is really interesting and reveals that the Santa drawings are more than just the “man.”  They also depicted children, sugarplums, and the sentimental trappings that get all of us excited about the holiday.  Since my American history knowledge is limited to the bare outlines, I think this book is just my style.12-thomas-nast-santa-claus-granger

I don’t know when I would get a chance to read it, though.  I have to get through a newspaper every day!

Happy Valentine’s Day from The Yule Log

Happy Valentine’s Day from The Yule Log.  Christmas is, of course, a month-long celebration of love for each other.  The Valentine heart, just as red (or pink) and just as full of love, is represented all over the Christmas tree.

love xmasOn this special day, many lovers–and lovers of love–turn to poetry to express their feelings–writing their own or searching for someone’s words to express their thoughts and feelings.  Victorian poet Christina Rossetti is one whose works are often quoted.  Although biographical sources reveal that Rossetti did not find lasting love and marriage in her own life, her poetry is often copied and shared, like one of my favorites,  “I wish I could remember that first day.”

Era gia l’ora che volge il desio. – Dante
Ricorro al tempo ch’io vi vidi prima. 
– Petrarca

I wish I could remember that first day,
    First hour, first moment of your meeting me,
    If bright or dim the season, it might be
Summer or Winter for aught I can say;
So unrecorded did it slip away,
    So blind was I to see and to foresee,
    So dull to mark the budding of my tree
That would not blossom yet for many a May.
If only I could recollect it, such
    A day of days! I let it come and go
    As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;
If only now I could recall that touch,
    First touch of hand in hand – Did one but know!
Rossetti’s Christmas poetry is just as loved and has been set to music?  She wrote the poem “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which often sung at Christmas.  (James Taylor recorded a memorable version.)  Her poem, “Love Came Down at Christmas” has been set to music by many composers.

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Finding Christmas- What’s Your Center?

nicholas-st-northI am continually on the watch for Christmas hidden in just about any time, place, or thing.  It’s part of being focused on Christmas all year round.  Last week I went with some friends to see the Dream Works movie Rise of the Guardians.  No, I wasn’t surprised to find a Christmas connection, it’s a Christmas season movie after all.  I was very surprised though in just how good it was and the great Christmas message it had to share.  It teaches about the importance of wonder, hope, dreams, and especially fun.  You also get a really strong story about knowing who you are and being that person, no matter what.  Check out the Guardians website for your own overview of the specifics, some games, clips, and a lot of fun.

rise-of-the-guardiansThe movie is based on a book series titled The Guardians of Children by William Joyce.  The story centers on the Guardians.  These are the protectors of children chosen by the Man in the Moon.  Each of the Guardians guards a particular part of being a child against the darkness of nightmares and fear, all controlled by the Bogeyman, Pitch.  Nicholas St. North (Santa Claus) is the guardian of wonder, the Tooth Fairy the guardian of memories, the Easter Bunny the guardian of hope, and the Sandman the guardian of dreams.  The Guardians must work with a newly chosen guardian, Jack Frost, to fight off the latest attack from Pitch.  The Children of the world give the power to the guardians through their belief in them.  It is that belief that makes it all possible.  Jack is frustrated because kids don’t believe in him so he isn’t “real”.

Rise of the Guardians 1This struggle leads to one of the best parts of the film.  North is trying to explain to Jack how it works.  He shares his own nesting doll to explain that it is who we are at our center that defines us.  North’s center is represented by a tiny wooden doll with HUGE eyes, the eyes of wonder.  He gives us wonder in everything, a magic in the air, lights in trees- he puts it into the World.  (Here’s a link to a low quality clip of North talking to Jack)  If Jack can find his center then children will believe in him and he will know what it is he is to be the guardian over for the children.  North’s center is Wonder and Jack must discover his center.  The journey he takes to find it and the connection to the Christmas spirit is a great story.  If you haven’t seen this movie yet, go now.  I plan to purchase my own DVD soon as I can!

The Basque Coal Man – The Olentzero

180px-Olentzero_Hendaia_2006I admit to being a follower of author Mark Kurlansky, beginning with his history of salt and then following with his book, Cod.  Innocent bystanders were subjected to my little-known salt facts for days on end,  In fact, I read his book twice.  Now, I have discovered another gem, The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation.9780140298512

According to Kurlansky, just about everything we have that is good in the world originated with the Basque people, a very small region in southern France and northern Spain.  Coincidentally, the Camino de Santiago’s route–another of my recent obsessions– is largely in the Basque region.   He says the Jesuits began with two Basque men; steel was manufactured for all of Europe with raw materials from Basque;  Basque whalers were early explorers of the new world; and the Basques recognized the value of chocolate from the New World.

BasqueThe Basques also have a unique Christmas figure–the coal man.  My ears perked up as I was listening to my audio book.  The figure is called the “Olentzero.”

Here is information from one resource, Buber’s Basque Page:  On Christmas Eve, throughout virtually all the towns in Euskadi, the figure of a shepherd or a coal man is lifted up, sitting in a basket, onto the shoulders of people who take it from house to house throughout the town or village, and at every house that it passes, the young people that accompany the Olentzero stop to sing a Chrismtas carol.

In Navarra, for example, the Olentzero is a coal man who comes down from the mountains to hand out chestnuts and wine, and of course presents for the little ones.

The Olentzero is a mythical Basque character: he is a messenger, a shepherd who cries out that it is Christmas time throughout all the corners of the Basque Country. But he is not only a shepherd; in some parts of Euskadi he is a farm worker and in other parts he is the coalman, but all of them have in common the fact that they bring good news.

But the Olentzero has also always been associated with many other beliefs, such as the deeply rooted Basque cuisine. In Salvatierra in Alava, for example, the Olentzero is a coalman, who after having lived a hard life up in the mountains, comes back to his village to bring good news and at the same time to have a good feast to make up for the hunger which he has suffered.

This mythical character has a big head, a large belly and according to local traditions is capable of drinking ten “arrobas” (one arroba is about twenty-five pounds in weight) of wine. In Hondarribia apart from carrying a pipe, a capon, some eggs and a bottle of wine, he usually has a tail made of cod, and if a permanent Olentzero is erected in a village, a barbecue is usually set up next to him where sardines are handed out free of charge to the onlookers.

Much to Roger’s chagrin, I love sardines.  I would like to adopt this Coal Man–find a figurine to add to our tree or nativity.  By the time I finish the audio book, I’m sure I’ll want to be Basque.

Some Great Christmas Stories

story timeDuring our podcast yesterday Natalie and I briefly discussed some great classic Christmas stories. Some of them connect well with possible Valentine’s Day plans.  I read a few more of the stories and it really sparked my Christmas spirit.  This got me to thinking of another great idea for the holidays (well many actually).  These short reads could really inspire just about anyone to embrace Christmas throughout the year.  I’m start to work on some plans on how best to share the story ideas I have.  SO look for more about great Christmas stories in the near future.  I’m already thinking about a story of the month!  To get you started in my same line of thinking on the reads just get started on this web page- 20 Famous Christmas Stories.  My favorite new discovery out of this list is the one by Pearl Buck, Christmas Day in the Morning.  It’s a great little tale about a son learning about love from his father, a dedicated and hard-working farmer.  If you liked the Super Bowl commercial about the American Farmer, then this story will do it for you!


Podcast #51- 322 Days to Go!

heartPodcast #51- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Love is in the Air.

This week we narrow in on some connections between Christmas, St. Valentine’s Day, and Love.  We share what we KNOW about some love connections, including movies, books, and projects.  Natalie shares her wishes for planning a Christmas wedding (are you listening Ian & Lacey?).  Next we share our PLAN to work on holiday craft projects, gather red items, and more.  We close out with our call to DO all you need to prep for that 2103 calendar and to get supplies now for Winter next year.

Valentine Red and Red Velvet Experiments

red-velvet-madeleine-tree-lJo Boroff saved a year’s worth of Southern Living Magazines for me, so what better than to thumb through the December issue looking for Christmas ideas?  Since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, I’m planning to experiment with Southern Living‘s red velvet cake recipes–lovers’ delights that can be tested in February and be gifts or desserts in December.

The red velvet madeline tree looks incredible.  Southern Living offers an instructional video, which took away some of the excitement for me because I imagine pinning the cakes to the styrofoam tree with toothpicks may be a lot more difficult than it appears.  The consistency of the cakes would make the difference. Here’s the recipe. Here’s the link to the video.  I’m concerned that alone on the table, the tree might not be as appealing. Red and white accessories, are a must.

In the lower left of the photo, there are red velvet peppermint brownies. The advantage of this recipe is that it uses peppermint extract–no searching for candy canes at this late date–and the resulting brownies are more portable and can be cut into smaller shapes for gifting.

I’ve been invited to a gathering next week, so I’ll be testing some of these winter recipes.  I’ll let you know the results.

Also, I am going to attempt my first use of fondant by making accent snowflakes.  What I need is a set of cookie cutters in snowflake shapes and can be used mixed and matched like the RM Snowflake cookie cutter set. Does anyone have experience with these?

P.S. Don’t forget that tomorrow the Superbowl will be old news–and purple gear will be on mega sale. On Saturday, I noticed that about 10 racks at Kohl’s had Ravens gear which will be on super sale soon.  Sale purchases in the next few days will make terrific gifts in 11 months!