An unexpected happening- Miracle Post?

miracleSince January has five Thursdays, I get to do a bonus post.  This unexpected happening could be considered a miracle by the most basic of definitions.  Natalie’s staircase post earlier this week got me to thinking about miracles.  Miracles seem to be closely connected to Christmas too so I thought might be good to get a little miracle talk going.  Trying to define miracle can be a little bit of a challenge.  It’s made up of something that is “hard to say”.  Unexplainable?  Yes.  Religious?  Maybe.  Supernatural? Perhaps.  Webster’s definition labels it an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.  All clear now right?

Hardly.  We use the term quite often in all manner of ways.  A baby is born.  A miracle!  A team wins against the odds.  A miracle! You find those papers you thought you lost.  A miracle!  There can be severe, dramatic miracles like a person suffering from disease who is suddenly, without explanation,  well.  The vision of a religious figure coming to those in need.  A survivor of a disaster who never should have made it.  There can be simple miracles like the “answer to your prayers”. The chance meeting of THE person you will spend the rest of your life with.  Even being in the right place at the right time.  There are the more formal and well-known types of miracles- those in religious history and texts.  Tales like the parting of the Red Sea, the works of Jesus of Nazareth, and the flight of the prophet Muhammed.  After a lot of reading and lots of definitions I come back to it really is just any good event that isn’t likely that can’t be easily explained.  Miracles can reward us, teach us, lead us , or enrich us.  Bottom line for this Yule Logger- no matter how you slice it, Christmas is a miracle.  Embracing the miracle of Christmas all year long doesn’t need any explanation.  Join us, won’t you?

A True Tradition- Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Macys LogoAlmost through the first month of our new format for 2014!  My fourth Thursday entry each month will focus on tradition and/or history somehow connected to Christmas.  For January we’ll have a tradition steeped in history or is it  a historic tradition?  Hmm…  Either way, I’m talking about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  In my family it is most definitely a tradition.  We have watched this parade together since my earliest memories, and definitely every year my sister has been alive.  But the parade has a huge history having just held it’s 87th march.

Macys 2Today the parade is a modern marvel full of dancers, bands, floats, singers, balloons, and technology everywhere.  Over 3.5 million people watch it in person on the streets of Manhattan and 50 million more tune in to watch on TV.  10,000 volunteers and scores of city workers insure the success of the parade in our modern times but it didn’t start that way.  Let’s talk history!  The original Macy’s parade began in 1924.  It is the second oldest Thanksgiving parade in the US.  (the oldest is the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade- originally the Gimbel’s Parade.  Yes, that Gimbel’s!)
The original Macy’s parade was based on and took over a parade  from Newark, NJ where it operated as the Bamberger’s Parade.  That first parade in ’24 was re-named the Macy’s Christmas Parade.  It began in Harlem and moved through Manhattan to end in Herald Square in front of Macy’s Department Store.  It included floats, bands, and animals from the zoo in Central Park.  The parade ended with the arrival of Santa Claus who was crowned as “King of the Kiddies” in front of the store.  Changes started right from the beginning and the parade had been modernized and improved continually for 90 years.  The iconic image with the parade has to be those giant balloons!

Macys 1Balloons were first added to the parade in 1927 with Felix the Cat.  He was filled with just air and carried through the streets by volunteers.  Helium was added to the balloons the next year (we can talk about some of the challenges of the helium balloons another time).  Also in 1928 began the release of the balloons.  They were let go at the end of the parade and each had a label.  If you found the balloon you could return it to Macy’s for a $100 prize!  That practice would end when the competition to “find” the balloons became too dangerous.  But the balloons are still one of the most popular parts of the parade.  Lots of different balloons have been part of the parade over time.  Some of the additions include Mickey Mouse in ’34, Donald Duck in ’35, Bullwinkle in ’61, Underdog in ’65, Cat in the Hat in ’94, and Buzz Lightyear in ’08.  Some balloons have made many different appearances in the parade.  “Harold” is a character who was in 4 different parades (1945-1948) as 4 different characters: a clown, a baseball player, a policeman, and a fireman.  Mickey Mouse, Spiderman, and Hello Kitty are some of the balloons appearing in different versions.  The winner is Snoopy.  Charlie Brown’s pet beagle has had seven different balloons in the parade- a record set in 2013.  A few interesting facts related to these balloons.  During World War II the balloons were given to the military to use- over 650 lbs of rubber!  Macy’s is the largest helium consumer after the US Government.  When a shortage occurred in 1958 the balloons were filled with air and moved through the streets on cranes.

Macys 3Aside from those incredible balloons, how did the parade grow into the global event it is today?  The parades of the 20s were watched by hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of New York.  It has been held every year since 1924 with the only break from 1942-1944 for World War II due to restrictions on fuel, rubber, and helium.  The awareness of the parade grew first from the radio broadcasts of the action.  Yes.  Radio! The parade was broadcast live on radio from 1932-1951.  The first television broadcast of the parade was an experiment in 1939.  Local tv broadcasts started in 1946 and national broadcasts followed in 1947. That year was the same year the parade got lots of attention from the movie Miracle on 34th Street.  The film used filmed scenes from the actual parade the year before.  NBC became the exclusive television broadcaster of the parade in 1952 with the name of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Color broadcasts became the norm in 1960.  NBC has been that exclusive broadcaster for the last 62 years, winning 12 Emmy awards since 1979.  Since the parade is in public other broadcasters can set-up shop and show the parade too.  CBS shows the parade too with the name The Thanksgiving Day Parade on CBS.  You can also catch it on local channels in the New York area and even streaming online.  The three-hour spectacle has become a focal point to officially begin the holiday season.  As we say in my family- “we can’t start our Christmas until Santa gets here”.

So make your plans now to include the parade as part of your holiday plans in 2014.  Tune in 9:00 AM, Thursday, November 27, 2014 on NBC.  Book a hotel and go in person maybe.  Until then find out more about the parade, play games, and shop at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade official website.  You have 308 days to wait for THE kick-off to the holiday season!

O Holy Night- Another Christmas Music Post!

Snowy Holy NightHappy 2014!  I am excited to be writing my first post in the new year.  I’ve been trying to come up with an organizational plan for my weekly posts.  I work much better if I have a plan, or perhaps theme, to guide my actions.  So for my first Thursday post each month I am going to focus on music!  No better place to start than with my absolute favorite Christmas song of all time- O Holy Night.  This song has been at the top of all my lists for years.  It is musically sound and even the worst versions can still prove somewhat enjoyable.  But when it’s good, O yeah!

The song originates in France.  It was written by Adolphe Adam in 1847  for the poem Minuit, Chretiens (Midnight, Christians).  The first performance was in a small french church to celebrate the repair of the organ.  The first singer was a well-known opera singer of the day.  The topic of the poem, and thus the song, is the birth of the savior and our redemption as man.  Check out the opening verse and chorus:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
 

St P crecheThe song has always had great success over the last 150+ years.  It has been recorded by world renown singers, bands, choirs, and orchestras.  It is part of many small church repertoire for the holidays.  Notably it is part of history as well.  In 1906 it was the first live performance on the new AM radio program.  That first broadcast version featured voice and violin.  It is truly timeless.  A recording made in 1916 is still being sold today!

One of the things I resolve to do with Christmas music this year is to find new versions of songs I love.  For O Holy Night I discovered a great version through a post on a friend’s Facebook page with a recording of Auld Lang Syne.  It featured three singers from the Broadway show Spider-man singing acapella.  I went a little further with some Youtube searching and discovered the had a recording of O Holy Night.  Not just their version, a great version.  Give it a listen-

This is my new go to favorite for this tune.  (Bonus is that one of the three guys is a JMU alum- Go Dukes!)   As I sit here watching the snow fall on a cold winter night it definitely fills me with the spirit of Christmas!

Hall of Fame Santas- Class of 2010

Hall of FameIf you’ve been keeping up here at the Yule Log, you will remember us introducing you to the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame.  The purpose is to preserve and honor those who have greatly contributed to the Legend of Santa Claus.  The first class of honorees was names in 2010. Fourteen men served as charter members to the hall.  Today we look at three honorees of note.

Bill-StrotherBill Strother, the Miller & Rhoads Santa, did his work at the famous department store in Richmond, VA.  Born in 1896 Strother started his career as a stuntman.  He started as Santa at the legendary store in 1942.  He took the role seriously.  His makeup was created by Max Factor himself and was incredibly realistic.  It took 2 hours to apply.  His Santa display was a real act.  He arrived by coming out of a chimney.  He used a concealed microphone with his assistant to learn the names of the kids before they got to his lap.  A news article in 1951 reported that he was the world’s highest paid Santa.  Tens of thousands of kids, and adults, would visit him until his untimely death in 1957 in a car accident.

Edmund Gwenn

Edmund Gwenn

Edmund Gwenn was the jolly Santa in the Hollywood classic, Miracle on 34th Street.  Gwenn was born in 1875 in Wales.  His father kicked him out at the age of 17 when he reveled that he wished to be an actor.  Gwenn found his way to London where he was lucky to be discovered by George Bernard Shaw.  Shaw would feature Gwenn in six of his plays.  The actor would take a break from the stage to serve in the army during World War I.  After the war he moved to Hollywood and found work in many films.  He iconic role in Miracle landed him an Oscar in 1947 for playing Kris Kringle.  Gwenn played Santa in the actual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1946 and 1947.  

Robert George

Robert George

Robert George was known as the Presidential Santa.  George was born in 1928 in Nebraska and worked as a barber.  In 1949 George had a vision that he should live as Santa Claus.  After the vision he began living as Santa year round.  His first Christmas after that he spent the holidays being Santa for needy kids and sick seniors.  Fate seemed on his side when he was invited to be Santa in Washington for President Eisenhower.  In 1962 George moved to California.  He married Stella Chaney, daughter of screen legend Lon Chaney.  Their home was decorated year round for the holidays and was known as “Santa’s Dreamland”.  His role as Santa in Washington continued for Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Bush.  In 1997 his life was the basis for the Lifetime television movie “A Different Kind of Christmas”.  George passed in 1998.  

There are so many great men, and even a couple of women, in the Hall of Fame.  Keep checking back for more about the most interesting ones in the coming weeks.  

Choo-choo: It’s the Santa Train!

Santa Train 2Last week one of our readers suggested we do a little research about the Santa Train.  I had no knowledge of this train and the research was fun to get into.  There are lots of Christmas trains and Santa Expresses all around the U.S. but there is only one true Santa Train.  That train is the one that travels each year from Shelby, KY to Kingsport, TN on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

Santa TrainThe “Santa Special” started in 1943 as a way for a group of Kingsport businessmen to show appreciation for the patronage of all the coal workers throughout the region.  The train has made an annual journey every year since.  In those early years during WWII the train was most likely the only sign of Christmas and source of gifts for those in the remote area.  Over the years the size and scope of the train has continued to grow.  Today the train follows a 110-mile route from Kentucky, through Virginia, and ending in Tennessee. The train passes through as many as 30 towns along the way and makes about 14 stops.  The train hauls more than 15 tons of goodies and supplies valued at as much as $500,000.  There are gifts, toys, stuffed animals, games, hats, gloves, mittens, and more clothes.  Candy, crackers, cookies, popcorn, and gum also come aboard the train.  At each stop volunteers hop off the train and hand out bags of items packed based on the age of the children.  Soft items and candy are tossed by Santa and friends at the back of train.  Crowds as large as 1,000 gather around the tracks in anticipation of the arrival of the train.  These gifts might be the only Christmas a child in Appalachia will see.  Read a great account of one family at the train on the MTSU student news site Sidelines.

Santa Train 3The train takes donations from anyone at anytime.  You can mail handmade items, monetary gifts, or other toys to the Train.  Find all the details on the official website for Team Santa Train.  Private donors supplement the corporate sponsorships from CSX railroad, Food City, Dignity U Wear, and the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber is the lead sponsor and source of all the details for the train and continues to make improvements to the whole experience.  In recent years they have added celebrity volunteers to the train like Allison Krauss, The Judds, Patty Loveless, Travis Tritt, Kathy Mattea, and, in 2012, Thompson Square.  A $5,000 scholarship is awarded in connection with the train to a high school senior from one of the schools along the train’s route.  The volunteers gathered by the Chamber tell all that they are the true gift recipients through the joy and happiness of helping do more for others with less.  That’s the true spirit of Christmas after all isn’t it?  Watch this video showing some of their joy.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXxuCcmwfRc]

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!

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!

 

Marching Band is for Christmas, Right?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis week I started planning my fall calendar and that means making time for one of my favorite activities, marching band.  I have been involved in the activity in one way or another every season since 1985!  Most see the activity as something for the heat of the summer and the football games of the fall.  This is mostly true other than the occasional Christmas parade.  I’m guessing many people view marching band as what happens when you go for your hotdog at a football game, what plays behind the commentators for a college game, or the music you hear in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. There are some decent marching band versions of most upbeat Christmas songs for bands to use for parades.  These are usually tags to the end of a season and worked in amongst the prep for the Winter concert.  During the regular season the bands work continually on their show, centered on some type of theme.  I’d never really considered if a band might choose Christmas music for that show theme.  Why the heck not?  There is so much potential!  A typical show usually has a powerful opening song, a ballad, a feature of some type, and a strong closing anthem with tons of variations possible.  Just thinking of all the possible musical combinations got my head spinning.  Add to that all the varied visual looks that could come from the color guard!  You can just imagine my excitement.

cadets2012When marching bands want to see the top-level of the marching art they regularly turn to Drum Corps International, DCI.  DCI is a summer activity that pulls together young musicians to join a corps and spend many months working 10-12 hours a day on a single 10-12 minute performance.  These are performers that are the pinnacle of the activity.  They compete all across the country throughout the summer months.  Last summer one of the corps, the Cadets, had a show titled “12.25”.  You guessed it- a Christmas themed show!  The arrangements they share with us are strong versions of many of the Christmas classics we all know and love.  There are many videos of the Cadets show on YouTube.  Check out a full performance or a full run rehearsal.  Either way you can see for yourself just how awesome a Christmas marching show can be.  Like what you see?  You can check out some links about the overall activity at www.dci.org.  If you have a marching band fan in your circle of family and friends you might get some good gift ideas there too.   Without a doubt marching band is connected in many ways to Christmas, so maybe the question might be better asked “Christmas is for marching band, right?”

Christmas Melting Pot

Jew XMasOne of the things that has always interested me about Christmas is the origins and history of our holiday.  The fact that so much of the traditions and customs trace back to non-Christian religious, spiritual, and ethnic practices is well documented.  The Yule Log has shared many posts about the early conversion of “pagan” or other practices to the Christmas feasts and festivals.  Trees, elves, Santa Claus, food, customs, and song all are part of the rich mosaic that Christmas has formed over the centuries.  Christmas has close ties to many world religions including Islam and Judaism.  One of these connections has been one of the more intriguing to me- music.  So many of our most popular Christmas songs were created by Jewish composers and lyricists.

Natalie and I have talked about this occurrence many times.  It seems that this fact has been one of interest to many writers over the years.  Never noticed this connection before?  Here are some basics.  More than half of the annual top 25 holiday songs compiled by ASCAP were penned by Jews.  Composers like Irving Berlin and Mel Torme give us great works.  Compositions include White Christmas, the Christmas Song, Christmas Waltz, Silver Bells, Rudolph, and I’ll Be Home for Christmas.  There are also numerous Jewish performers that have given so many of the classic versions of holiday songs.  Main Jewish artists of Christmas hits include Barbra Streisand, Neil Sedaka, Barry Manilow, and Neil Diamond.  Even Bob Dylan cut a Christmas album last year.  For a more interesting look at the connections read this short 2011 article from the New York Daily News.  It definitely is one of the miracles of the Christmas season that so many people of such varied backgrounds can come together to celebrate peace, hope, and love.

A Very Merry Christmas Museum

NCCIt’s been only three weeks since Christmas 2012, but already it seems a lifetime ago.  The rush of life moves forward and the joy and glow of the holidays can quickly fade.  As I was seeking some facts for my post today (all about a monthly collection for gifts- come back the 20th for that) I came upon some lists of events in history for January 15th.  I read about the opening of the British Museum (one of my absolute favorites) on this day in 1759.  That got me on a quest to find out about any Christmas Museums.  Yes, there are many: small, large, seasonal, parts of other museums.  You name the type and you’ll likely find a display somewhere, but very few that are full-time, year-round exhibitions of Christmas.  There’s the Christmas Story House in Ohio, the Santa Claus Museum in Indiana, the Aluminum Tree and Ornament Museum in North Carolina, and the Hallmark Ornament Museum in Indiana.  Incidentally that last one houses the only complete collection of every Hallmark Ornament produced since 1973!  The one that stuck out as THE one for me was the National Christmas Center, located in Paradise, PA.

NCC1The National Christmas Center is one of the sights found on the Travel Channel’s list of the “Most Christmasy Places in America”.  Joining this small town attraction on the list were Branson, MO, Las Vegas, the Mall of America, and FAO Schwartz- pretty big deal company!  The Center is a family attraction and museum located just off Route 30 in Amish Country in south-central Pennsylvania.  Their title includes the phrase “Experience the wonder of the world’s most beloved holiday”.  It definitely seems like it lets you do just that.  The Center is open to the public weekends in March and April and daily from May through December.  Groups can tour the center in January and February.  Adult admission is $12 with discount tickets available easily online.  The center offers both a local and an online gift shop.  There are 15 main galleries covering thousands of square feet and many smaller exhibits of a more personal size.  The galleries focus on a particular aspect or historical aspect of Christmas.  Yes, Virginia shares a recreation of the story around the famous letter.  Santa’s workshop is recreated and you can see scenes from Christmas Around the World.  There is a look into Santa History, Christmas Antiques, Tudor Towne, and Train Mountain.  A popular draw is the gallery of 1950s Woolworth, showcasing the look and products of that time.  My pick would be the life-size recreation of the First Christmas and the collection of hundreds of Nativity Scenes.  One gallery has a 3/4 life-size nativity set carved from wood, nearly 100 years old.  Take the virtual tour on the center’s website to see a glimpse of each gallery.  It certainly seems like a great trip for any time of the year.  Check out the review by Skye, a real-life mom of 5, on Real Mom Reviews for some thoughts on taking the kids, seems like a solid plan.  Maybe this will make the list for our field trips in 2013!