Jay Frankston and A True Christmas Story

christmasEverything ties back to Christmas–sometimes in a neat little package.

Yesterday, I was listening to “This I Believe,” a “public dialogue about belief–one essay at a time.” This week’s featured essay, titled “Speak Up” is a personal statement about Jay Frankston’s youth, a Jewish child in Paris during the Holocaust.  He echoes what others have said about how violence and cruelty spreads.  It is the silence of the masses that allows the evil to grow.

The essay is beautiful, but stranger than his non-fiction, is the brief biography at the end–Jay Frankston spent most of his adult life portraying Santa Claus in New York City.  His book, “A Christmas Story:  A True Story” is easily accessible to read and/or purchase on the web.

I listened to the entire 20-minute autobiographical story last night.  Why a Jewish man would choose to portray and promote Christmas is curious indeed.  I won’t tell the whole story, but the part I liked best was when he met a little girl who said she didn’t receive Christmas presents because she was Jewish.  Frankston whispered, “I’m Jewish, too.”

I’m curious to find a photograph of him as Santa because he explains that he wore a rubberized mask, which must have been uncomfortable.

This sent me to the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame.  (Jeremy mentioned this in our last podcast.)  Mr. Frankston has not yet been inducted, so I’m adding an official nomination to the list of Yule Log 2013 plans. . .

Christmas in the Great Depression

tacl_cards6On the Writer’s Almanac today, Garrison Keillor noted that on this day in 1939, John Steinbeck published The Grapes of Wrath, a novel that created sweeping public outcry (both good and bad) and won Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize.  The Grapes of Wrath was the best-selling book in 1939 and is listed 10th in Modern Library’s 100 Best English Language Novels of the 20th Century.  In addition, today is also called “Black Sunday” because one of the worse dust storms of the Depression began on this day in 1935.

I realized then that Jeremy and I have never really explored Christmas during this difficult time in American history. In fact, I imagine that the poverty of time brought out the true meaning of Christmas.    After a little snooping about, I discovered there is a wealth of information about Christmas, even if the people of the time were poor. The Depression Era Christmas card (1932) in this photo features a chicken with only one feather in his tail (it was a dyed feather attached to the card).  It’s typical of the representations of Christmas at the time.

In December 2012, blogger Sam Moore posted his research into Depression Era Christmas celebrations on the website, Farm Collector, combining his parents’ personal experiences with information from farm magazines of the time period. One featured gifts a person could sew or make from scraps of fabric or soap. One magazine suggested that a single bar of white soap could be softened and cut into smaller slivers and wrapped individually. (It reminds me of hotel-sized bars of soap.)  A washcloth could be made from pieces of gauze sewed together.

Baylor University’s website features two brief audio stories about Christmas during the Great Depression.  One retired professor described his Christmas, ” ‘Why don’t we kidnap Santa Claus? He’s got all these gifts, and he bypasses us. . . So we went to bed on Christmas Eve early. . .So anyway, we climbed out the window—out in the country—with a rope that we were going to tie up Santa Claus. (laughter).”

Last fall, Katherine Lasky published Dear America: Christmas After All.  It is historical fiction about a 9-year-old who experiences Christmas during the Great Depression.  The reviews are all very positive, and the book might make a nice gift for a young reader (7 – 12), perhaps American Girl doll age.  I’ve included a link to the Scholastic website.  Even though it is a work of fiction, many of the events and places are authentic and are based on her relatives’ experiences.

I think I’ve just scratched the surface of this topic.  I’ll be back with more about Christmas in the Great Depression.

$100K Neiman Marcus Chicken Coop for Christmas?

beau-coopStopped into Tractor Supply for a chicken font, and the air was filled with the little peeps of chicks.  This time last year, Roger was building our own chicken house, laboring over the roof, windows, and  siding.  Where’s the chandelier you might ask?

If Roger had just consulted the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book 2012, he could have purchased a $100K chicken house, the “beau coop.”  Blogger Matt Hickman described the Christmas luxuries available in the Neiman Marcus fantasy gift catalogue highlighting the chicken house, complete with a library for human visitors.  What the gift catalogue description fails to provide is the monthly cleaning service because all chickens poop, even high class cluck girls.

The Christmas Book begins with nearly affordable gifts, some even under $100, but most are several hundred to several thousand dollars.  The fantasy gifts go way beyond unreal.  I would have liked a walk-on role in the Broadway musical, Annie, but at $30,000, I bet I would have been cast as one of the evil orphanage matrons, perhaps Miss Hannigan’s sister.

For kicks, check out the Christmas Book 2012, and I’ll let you know when the 2013 version is released in October.  I wonder if Neiman Marcus needs suggestions for future gifts.  I’m sure I can think of some!

Poinsettia Check – Aluminum Can Craft?

Grans poinsettiaOn the seventh of each month last year, Jeremy would do a poinsettia check.  He had planned to save his from Christmas 2011 and, with love and tenderness, revive them to bloom the following Christmas. He abandoned his project September 8, when it was clear there was no chance to save them.  I was visiting Roger’s mother earlier this month, and her poinsettia (with little personal attention) appears to be thriving.  That made me think of writing a post combining recyclables + poinsettias = something fabulous for next year.

I went to the website where I got the great idea to make recycled soda can angels, and Johnnie, the crafter behind the website, “Saved By Love Creations” has already blazed the poinsettia soda can trail.  In addition, she mounted her tin poinsettias on a stove ring, making it completely recycled. Johnnie’s website gives step by step instructions for the poinsettia wreath, with additional pictures of the Martha Stewart fall leaf wreath made from soda cans.  I can do this!pinterest recycle can wreath

clothespin poinsettiaI found another, less inspiring clothespin poinsettia, which I can make easily because I have plenty of those clothespins in my laundry, but I would have to do some re-configuring because they are a little too big to make a proper ornament. Still, this clothespin version would be successful when crafting with a child.


Podcast #53- 259 Days to Go!

angels1Podcast #53- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Recycled Angels and Famous Santas!

Natalie and Jeremy are back!  It’s been over a month since we last did a recording.  Far too long!  We have both decided that the new method of posting and recording isn’t really working for us.  We don’t do well with the every few days and every couple of weeks Christmas fun.  We need the daily Christmas joy and excitement to keep the spirit alive.  This week’s podcast starts with something to DO: make angels out of recycled soda cans.  Natalie found the plans and we tried them out today.  Hear how we did it and listen to our  opinions of the craft.  Next we get to things we need to PLAN: like our very own Festival of Trees.  Listen in to see how we are planning to bring this activity to our own place of work.  We challenge you to plan a way now to increase the joy of Christmas with others this year.  Finally we close out our recording with something to KNOW: your introduction to the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame.  Wet your appetite for interesting Santa tidbits.  Find out why Mickey Rooney was inducted into the Hall in 2012.  We will be posting more on this topic in the coming days but this is a good start.  Merry Christmas!


Clothespin Soldier Ornaments – and other trash to treasures

photo-37Just finished a platoon (No, wait, that’s 26 – 64. I only made a dozen.)–a squad–of clothespin soldier ornaments. My goal was one dozen ornaments per month until November. I’m two months behind. . .but gaining enthusiasm.

My mother made these cute soldier ornaments when I was little, so I liked the idea of attempting to duplicate her efforts. As usual, my version isn’t as nice as her originals. The fellows were easy, but a little time-consuming.

I started with well-used clothespins. I probably should have sanded or scrubbed them because the paint did not adhere as well as I would have liked. Blue on the bottom and red on top, but I have seen others that are replicas of a particular type of solder, perhaps appropriate to the branch of military or police officers in the crafter’s family?

The gold braid was a little tricky with a glue gun. I always try to take the short cut (hot glue gun) and end up with spider webs of glue and strange lumps. Had I been patient, I could have used a liquid glue and achieved a better result.

Black pom pom hats are my favorite part. I bought the smallest quantity at Michaels, but I have enough pom poms to make two dozen more soldiers. Isn’t that always the way?photo-38

All in all, my total expense was under $10.00. I think this would have been a good craft to do with a child (6+), just not in one sitting.

Next, Jeremy and I are going to tackle some soda can ornaments. Meanwhile, my family is saving all sorts of trash for me–wine corks, light bulbs, coffee bean bags, lemon and orange mesh bags. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!?!

Washington Irving’s Birthday: the birth of modern Santa Claus?

old-christmasAccording to the Writer’s Almanac, today is the birthday of Washington Irving, in 1783.  It is Washington Irving who is responsible for the popularization of Christmas in America, and, specifically, the depiction of Santa Claus and his sleigh.

According to The Office of Santa Claus (How much more official can we get?) and many other sources, Irving’s portrayal was meant to be satire, a joke!

“In the British colonies of North America and later the United States, British and Dutch versions of the gift-giver merged further. For example, in Washington Irving’s History of New York, (1809), Sinterklaas was Americanized into “Santa Claus” but lost his bishop’s apparel, and was at first pictured as a thick-bellied Dutch sailor with a pipe in a green winter coat. Irving’s book was a lampoon of the Dutch culture of New York, and much of this portrait is his joking invention.”

Santa is a New Yorker?!?