The Miraculous Staircase in the Loretto Chapel: A Christmas Story?

chapel staircase2-LOn our honeymoon, I insisted that we see the miraculous staircase in the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe.  Roger was against this kind of nonsense because the chapel is now privately owned, and there was an entrance fee. The cheesy sign at the door said “Miraculous Staircase TM as seen on Unsolved Mysteries.”    I insisted because I had heard that this chapel is a destination wedding location.  (Indeed, if you are getting married, you may want to look into these affordable packages.)  The new bride won, and we took a quick tour.

Three years later, I had thought that the legacy of our brief encounter with the beautiful spiral staircase was a few photos in our honeymoon album; however, this summer, I found a Norman Rockwell Christmas book at a flea market, and it contained a short story, “The Miraculous Staircase” by Arthur Gordon (originally published in Woman’s Day Magazine in 1982). Gordon told the  same mystery story of the staircase in a Christmas light.  In his story, the nuns had to leave the nearly-finished chapel to serve a measles-ridden village two-days away.  During the time they were gone, a humble carpenter named Joseph arrived on a donkey and built the staircase.  The nuns returned on Christmas Eve, and, at the stroke of midnight, the staircase was revealed.  In the short story and in the legend published online, the carpenter disappeared. There is no record of payment.chapel staircase 3

Here’s a link to the official Loretto Chapel website, which references the story. I have included a short clip from a video that explains the staircase.

I can’t wait to read more of the Norman Rockwell Christmas book.  I have a feeling there will be more Christmas surprises.

Miniatur Wunderland and the Hamburg Christmas Market

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s the time of year when friends ask “Where are you vacationing this summer?” as openers of conversations.  The answer one of my students gave me this week was “Hamburg, Germany.”  He is a big model railroading enthusiast, and Hamburg has the world’s largest model railroad, Miniatur Wunderland.  One of my favorite Christmas topics is train gardens, but I had not heard of this miraculous sight.  Right now, there are eight unique areas with over 13,000 meters of track with nearly 1,000 trains.  The current design requires 46 computers and over 230 employees.  I am including a video of the trains with a link to the website.

Although the Miniatur Wunderland does not advertise any specific Christmas trains or train activities, I learned that Germany is proud of its traditional Christmas Markets, and Hamburg’s especially interesting.  Opening this year on November 25, the event is hosted by world-famous Roncalli Circus performers.  Each evening, Santa visits, arriving on a sleigh in the sky. I watched a video, and I can’t exactly figure out how Santa is flying, but it’s quite the spectacle.

The market advertises beautiful hand-crafted gifts, including traditional German Aachen Spice Cookies.  I looked up a recipe, and I am suggesting that Jeremy and I will need to experiment with the cookies.  I suspect that they will be close to a molasses/gingerbread taste.  We’re going to have to find a German baker who will guide us through the process, and I have one of my mom’s friends in mind.



Radishes for Christmas?

Sierra Exif JPEGDo you think of radishes when you think of Christmas?  Me neither. Until now.  I was reading around a little this weekend looking for different plants I might try out this year that have a Christmas connection.  I was much surprised to find a good bit about the Christmas role of the radish!  La Noche de Rabanos, Night of the Radishes, is an annual festival held in Oaxaca, Mexico.  The focal point of the festival is the carved radish competition.  Artisans and locals work to create elaborate and detailed scenes made out of large radishes.  The carvings take on all manner of looks: a nativity, folklore, historic scenes, and even models of buildings.  The carvings are presented on the afternoon of December 23rd.  The displays only last a few hours, but the fun continues through to Christmas Day.  There are parades with floats, dances, feasts, and fireworks.  The celebrations began in 1827 and in 2013 will mark their 115th occurence.  NPR’s blog The Salt had a good write-up on the happenings in 2012- check it out at Here Comes the Radish People.

RadishA specific type of radish is grown for the event.  It is allowed to grow underground far past the usual harvest time.  They are dug up the week before the festival.  The radishes can weigh as much as 7 pounds and reach almost 2 feet in length.  The practice of carving radishes goes back to the 16th century.  Vendors used carvings as ways to catch the attention of shoppers for their wares.  Today’s festival also has displays using dried flowers and corn husks.  Radishes rate top though.  The first place display wins a prize of around $1,300 US.  Not sure we’re ready to enter something just yet, but sounds like a good goal for 2014!!

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!

Rockettes Christmas Spectacular – There’s a hole in my bucket

RockettesBack in July, when Christmas was but a dream, Jeremy and I spelled out our bucket lists.  Curiously, both of us wanted to go to Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes. I have always loved the larger-than-life dancing choruses that were first made popular by the Ziegfeld Follies in the early 1900’s.  The first Rockettes show was in 1933, and it continues to sell out the eight week run.  According to the website, the dancers train six hours a day, six days a week to prepare for 210 Christmas performances. There’s also a national touring show that appears in four major cities, including Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago and Dallas.  I’m missing those, too.

In addition to Radio City’s website, the Rockettes have their own site that gives a lot of detail and history about the lives of the dancers, how to become a Rockette, fashion, and more.  There is a series of videos demonstrating the Rockettes’ timeline from the 1920’s to now, including a video about opening night 2012.

Tradition dictates a toy soldier routine, 12 days of Rockettes Christmas, dancing Santas, and a live nativity. Here’s a video of this year’s “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

This year is their 85th season, and although I won’t be going to see them, there’s no reason why someone can’t purchase the 75th anniversary DVD for me.  Here’s the link on Amazon.

Here comes the “People’s Tree”

Everyone is getting in on the preparation for Christmas 2012.  Just this week the tree the 2012 Capitol Christmas tree was harvested and began the journey to Washington, DC.  It’s fitting that the “People’s Tree” began it’s journey to our nation’s capitol at the same time all Americans headed to the polls for election day.  The tree travels in a specially constructed truck and trailer combination that serves as a display and transport for the huge tree.  Traveling with the main tree are other smaller trees that will be used to decorate many federal buildings in the nation’s capitol.  Ornaments from the home state will cover all the trees.  This year’s trees will be lit in DC on November 26.  The young man lighting the tree with Speaker of the House, John Boehner, won a drawing among the thousands of children who provided ornaments for this year’s tree.

The 2012 Capitol Christmas Tree is a 73-foot Engelmann Spruce from the White River National Forest in Colorado.  The tree is 74 years old and measures 28 inches in diameter.  The tree will travel in a specialized truck on a national tour to DC.  It makes a number of stops in Colorado before moving through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and finally DC.  The tree will be placed on the west lawn of the Capitol Building and covered with 5,000 ornaments decorated by children from Colorado.  All ornaments for the tree had to fit in the theme “Celebrating Our Great Outdoors”.  It will be lit nightly at dusk and stay lit until 11:00 PM.  The tradition of the tree began with the first Capitol Tree in 1964.  Since 1970 the National Forest Service has provided the tree.  The last time the tree came from Maryland was in 1978 was a Norway Spruce from the Savage River State Forest.

This tree is definitely like no other before.  It has its own pages on Facebook and Twitter!  ( and can follow an interactive map to track the path of the tree on its journey east.  You can purchase memorabilia and the official ornament for this year’s tree.  Check out every detail and more on the official website: Capitol Christmas 2012.

Boston and Christmas

I have trained my family well. Ian and Lacey are visiting college friends in Boston, and where do they go? Christmas in Boston, a store open year- round, dedicated to Christmas.

Like the Christmas Spirit stores in Ocean City and Rehoboth, Lacey found that every tree was decorated with a specific theme, and she sent photos of her favorites, including the Irish tree.

No time to travel to these distant cities? The website, Christmas in NYC, has all of the ornaments grouped by the same themes. I love how I can select “pets” and have plenty of ornaments and other decorations to choose.


At home, I’ve been working on a project that I saw on Pinterest, turning ordinary assorted tins into extra glamorous gift containers. I’ll post photos as soon as I’m done.

Welcome to the UK!

This week I am lucky to be visiting London for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.  London is definitely a city rich with history and tradition.  As I write this the official opening ceremonies have completed and the torch has been lit.  Everyone in the city, every locations, and nearly every person is all about the games for the next fortnight.  So where might Christmas fit into all this sport spectacle and British pride?  Everywhere of course!

On a previous visit to London I was in the city at holiday time.  Everywhere was full of the sounds, sights, and smells of Christmas.  Every church and museum was dressed up with holiday finery and the bustle of the city was alive.  Attending a concert at Westminster Abbey, shopping along the stalls at Camden and Covent Garden, and navigating the thick throngs of people at Harrod’s were part of my whirlwind tour.  This week while I am here I hope to discover some of the plans for the 2012 celebrations.  I hope to get my hands on some of the Christmas recordings from both St’ Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.  I might even discover some unique holiday decorations or candy treats to bring home with me.  Cheers!!

Book now for Mickey?

In a previous post, Jeremy emphasized the importance of starting your planning for holiday parties and events of the 2012  Christmas season–both to relieve stress and to make sure that schedule conflicts do not arise. That point was made clear when I met with co-workers tonight to plan an important event to be held, tentatively, the first weekend in December.

First, I knew that my family has a long-standing tradition on or around December 8. Conflicts already? Second, I started to consider my energy level and ability to commit to being the organizer of an event (albeit with a large group) in the 2012 holiday season. Will I have time?  Am I really worrying about having enough time in December as early as July?

I wondered if The Yule Log was making me hyper sensitive to the holiday season. Am I crazy? (Rhetorical question.) Readers may remember that last week I reported that Hallmark revealed its holiday ornaments and Michaels craft store rolled out its program, “Make Your Joy.” Marketing has begun, and I am its victim already.

In the Manchester Evening News yesterday, the newspaper reported that bars and restaurants have rolled out their Christmas menus. According to the article, the local Hard Rock Cafe had already made 100 bookings for the holiday season.   Other restaurants also had plenty of inquiries and deposits.

Conversely, the website lists the best weeks in 2012 to visit Disney World, and the top three are the first week of December, the last week of November (after Thanksgiving) and the second week of December because the crowds are the smallest but the decorations and attractions are terrific.

My conclusion, then, is that the only place in my world where people are not going to be in super crazy holiday mode is between Thanksgiving and December 25 is Walt Disney World.  Tickets are on sale now.

I thought “Christmas in July” meant that people can take advantage of great holiday bargains in the middle of summer.  Instead, I’m stressing out about the calendar.

Sleigh ride in Western Maryland

Originally, on my bucket list, I imagined a romantic sleigh ride for two in Vermont. This would include warm blankets, jingle bells, and hot cider. This fantasy is probably the result of too many 1940’s movies. I did some research and Adams Farm in Vermont is listed as the #1 Sleigh Ride in Vermont.

However, if I want to check this off my list, I might just look closer to home. Pleasant Valley Farm, just outside of Deep Creek Lake, hosts sleigh rides for many or just two. We’d have to plan more carefully to make sure there’s snow on the ground, but in a good year (not Winter 2011), Deep Creek could be romantic. Next, I am going to research dog sled rides! Oh! That’s an adventure!