Podcast #62- 315 Days to Go!

russian santaPodcast #62- 315 Days to Go!  Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Russian Christmas!

Listen this week as Natalie and Jeremy discuss some of the Russian stories, traditions, and characters related to Christmas.  We’ve got Father Frost, a snow maiden, a snow queen, and Babushka!  Which one turns to a cloud of white smoke?  Guess you’ll have to listen to find out!

*Santa* Brand Book 2013–A marketer’s dream

Two of my dearest friends and my husband are in the marketing business.  When I saw the *Santa* Brand Book 2013, I recognized the perfect marriage of my love of Christmas with the public relations language that surrounds me day and night.

Quietroom, a British advertising agency, has updated their *Santa* Brand Book each year since its creation in 2010.  Every page made me laugh out loud.  Here’s the cover.

*Santa* is a Concept, not an idea. It’s an
Emotion, not a feeling. It’s both Yesterday
and Today. And it’s Tomorrow as well.

When I read this opening, and the pages that followed, I was totally hooked on Santa.  Jeremy and I talk about what will make The Yule Log 365 more of a brand and less of a blog experiment launched by two friends.  Clearly, we need professional help!

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]

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!

angels2angel

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?!?

Here Comes… St. Nicholas? (Song of the Week #21)

That’s right.  Here comes St. Nicholas.  Today I was all prepared to write about our Song of the Week #21, Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane).  Then I was reminded that today is the feast day for Saint Nicholas.  You see, we switched days here at the log, so I was a little off.  My solution is to combine the two.  Seems like a good song to share on the feast day for the man who would help to form the characters of American Santa Claus and British Father Christmas.  So first- the man, the mystery, the saint.

Saint_NicholasNicholas, or Nikolaos, was a Greek priest living on the island of Myra in the 4th century.   He would become the Bishop of Myra known as the “Wonderworker”.  Born of wealthy parents he was orphaned at a young age and raised by his uncle, also a priest.  He took to religion early in like and was devoted to the fasts and practices of the church of the day.  As a priest he was also known as a secret gift giver.  He would put coins in the shoes of people who left them out for him (sound familiar?).  He is said to have resurrected three boys who were killed by a butcher in a time of famine.  He also is known for convincing sailors to give the town part of their wheat destined for the emperor in Constantinople.  The miracle was that they left over 2 years worth of wheat, but when the sailors arrive in port at the end of the voyage, there was no wheat missing.  He is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, students and children.  Also, curiously, for pawnbrokers and thieves too.  When he died his relics were kept in the church in Myra.  In 1071 his remains were stolen during a period of war and taken to Bari in Italy.  Odd that thieves stole his relics, right?  The remains are still there today (although the Turkish Government has filed an appeal to have them returned to Myra).  These remains have a miracle property of their own.  Each year on December 6th they exude a clear liquid smelling of roses called manna, or myrrh.  The liquid is sold at the Cathedral and is said to have healing powers.  St. Nicholas Day is today and is a festival for children.  He is known to be the starting place for the British Father Christmas and the American Santa Claus.  So, here he comes!

Here comes santa2Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) was written by Gene Autry and Oakley Halderman.  Autry got the idea for the song while riding his horse in the 1946 Santa Claus Lane Parade in Los Angeles.  Today the parade is known as the Hollywood Christmas Parade, held the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  The first demo version was made by Johnny Bond.  He improvised during the recording, using a glass of ice cubes to make the sound of some jingle bells.  Autry liked it and added the bells to the first recording he made in 1947.  He liked the song so much he even used it in his 1948 movie The Cowboys and the Indians.  The song has simple lyrics of a pop type but with a solid sacred message.  Hundreds of versions have been recorded over the last 65 years.  Take a moment to listen to a few:

Gene Autry– Original recording from the 40s. (version from his 1948 film, too)
Elvis Presley– It’s Elvis- a classic
Bing Crosby– Crooner takes on the song with the help of the Andrew Sisters
Ray Conniff– Ray and his singers (just for Natalie!)
Mariah Carey– drippy version from an ABC TV holiday special
Bob Dylan– Yup, Bob Dylan…

 

What sled? Santa arrives in style

We were back at the Festival of Trees in Timonium today, this time to celebrate my birthday in style, with many members of my family.  Since we had Noah, we made the obligatory visit to Santa’s lap.  Like many parents/grandparents, we were unsure how he would react to the stranger–in every family,  there’s one year of the crying photo with Santa.  This picture is of Noah telling Santa what Grumpa wants for Christmas.  Quite an interesting conversation.

Santa arrived at the Festival of Trees the morning after Thanksgiving, as part of the preview party, and that got me to thinking about his arrival in malls and gathering places all over the world.  We talked and wrote about the business of mall Santas several times early in The Yule Log’s history, especially on April 18.  I briefly considered making a Mrs. Claus outfit, and Jeremy revealed that he, too,  has worn the Santa suit.

Santa arrives in a number of unusual ways, and three days ago, in Reading, England, Santa was arriving by abseiling from the roof of Broad Street Mall when his beard got caught in the mechanism.  He was suspended for 40 minutes until a co-worker rescued him.  This is one time that an artificial beard is an advantage.  I’ve included a YouTube video.

Current pop rock hit by Train is “50 Ways to Say Goodbye.  On the internet I found just about 50 ways for Santa to say “Hello.”  Here are a few of the most interesting.

Annual Santa parachute drop cancelled due to high winds in the Shenandoah Valley. Polish American Fire Company provides transportation.

Anaheim, California (and several other places) Santa Arrived by hot air balloon.

Waterville Valley, New Hampshire–Santa arrives by dog sled team.

Kirkcudbright, Scotland–Santa arrives by boat.  YouTube Video.

Michigan Shopping Mall Santa arrives by helicopter.

What’s your ideal arrival?  Traditional parade, sleigh, horse and carriage or modern helicopter, motorcycle or limousine?

Sad Santa? Tad Carpenter holiday cards, games and book

Roger spends a lot of time looking at new graphic art and design ideas to inspire his business at RRBrand, and in his online adventures in design, he saw a video of Tad Carpenter’s new Christmas book, Sad Santa. In the Sad Santa book, Santa is disappointed that Christmas is over, and no amount of fun will cheer him up.  I remember when Jeremy and I started The Yule Log on December 26, 2011, the excitement of starting our 365-day Christmas project chased away the usual post-holiday blues.  In Carpenter’s book, though, Santa does not take one an ambitious blog project with Mrs. Claus.

Carpenter’s work looks very familiar, and it should, because Carpenter designed the gift coin campaign for Target, labels for Snapple and concert promotions for Radiohead, The Shins, Dashboard Confessional, and frequently illustrates children’s books, posters, and ad campaigns for other major stores.   Do you remember the blog post we wrote about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?  Rudolph was originally a story book that was handed out to children when they came to Montgomery Ward’s to see Santa.  Tad Carpenter creates a new Macy’s book each year–who knows?  Maybe 50 years from now, we’ll be singing a tune to one of his works!

Also for the Christmas season, he releases a card series (very cool) and other holiday items.

Meanwhile, exploring Carpenter’s site, I came to a Christmas board game that he designed which looks like fun for the whole family, North Pole Party People Game.  It’s something different than the ordinary.  I like it.

Your Own Private Elf

You probably are familiar with the story of Elf on the Shelf.   It is a holiday collection of story book and elf that families break out each holiday season.  The book tells the tale of how Santa uses these tiny pixie elves to create his naughty and nice list.  The story is told in rhyme and provides all the details on how the elves operate and their rules.  You see, each elf has magic that is activated when the child names the elf.  This magic allows the elf to fly to the North Pole each night while the family sleeps to report back to Santa.  In the morning he is back in your house in a new perch to observe what happens.  Part of the fun of the elf is finding the new hiding place each morning.   The elf sees and hears everything and you can talk to him and tell him all the things Santa needs to know.  But be cautioned about touching the elf, if touched the magic may disappear and Santa will no longer get that important report.  The elf usually visits the family starting around Thanksgiving and stays until returning to the North Pole for good on Christmas.  The elf might be just the motivation needed to keep a precocious child focused on being good.

I had heard from family and friends about the amazing power this little Santa’s helper has over children at the holidays.  I assumed (incorrectly) that this tradition had been around since the 50s or 60s.  This was based on its familiarity and the look of the elf.  Turns out that it is a fairly recent tradition.  The story starts in 2005.  The book and doll are the creation of a mother/daughter team- Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell.  They wrote the story and created the legend to accompany the doll.  No publishing company was interested so they decided to self-publish.  Creating their own company they started with about 300 in the initial publication.  Interest took off and by 2010 they published 1.5 million copies!  Their company is a Fortune 500 story of success and continues to succeed.  Today you can find the Elf on the Shelf in Barnes and Noble and on-line easily.  The story led to the creation of a successful TV special, An Elf’s Story.  The official website for the Elf on the Shelf is pretty great.  On the site you can register your elf’s name and access a scrapbook and blog specific to your elf.  You can also send messages to Santa, view videos, check-out the progress on all those toys, and search the interactive map of the North Pole.  It is definitely worth a look, even if you don’t have an elf in your house.