Podcast #52- 293 Days to Go!

Pope-ChristmasPodcast #52- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Papal Christmas Connections

Natalie & Jeremy are finally back at it!  This wee our discussion centers on the Pope, Vatican City, and Christmas.  LIsten as we discuss all the Papal Christmas facts you need to KNOW.  We also speak a little on making sure you get right to it in this weeks snow for something to DO and PLAN now to plant your holly to have it ready for Christmas 2013.  We get back to regular posts for March too- remember Natalie has days ending in 3 or 8 and Jeremy has the days ending in 5 or 0.  Merry Christmas!!

Top Ten for My Christmas Bucket List

This week Natalie and I discussed some Christmas wishes on our podcast.  We outlined some bucket list items for the Yule Log and shared some of our own list items.  Here is my Christmas Bucket List Top Ten:

10.  Participate in a Messiah Sing-a-Long.  Even though I am not a singer, I definitely think this would be such a tremendous rush.  Doing it somewhere like Washington National Cathedral would be the best!

9.  Plant my own Christmas Trees.  I think it would be great to have a yard where I could plant some trees that I would later use as my own trees to decorate.

8.  Attend the Pageant of Peace National Tree Lighting Ceremony.  I have been to see the tree and the displays, but I have never been to the event, the one with the President of the US.

7.  A limo Christmas light tour.  I have always wanted to round up my family and go on one of these tours.  They just are so expensive!

6.  Go for a ride in an actual one horse open sleigh.  Somewhere in a snowy resort, this will happen.

5.  Take a family vacation at the holidays.  I think it would be wonderful to all go off together on a wonderful journey late on Christmas day.

4.  Rockettes & Rockefeller Center Tree.  I have been to New York City many, many times but never at Christmas.  Seeing the Holiday Spectacular followed by a walk up 5th Avenue and a visit to the tree at Rockefeller Center is a must!

3.  Build my own nativity set.  Natalie laughed at me a little when I mentioned this one, but I think this would be a great accomplishment.  Maybe it could be something to do with my nieces and nephews and then gift it to them later in life.

2.  Homemade Christmas.  I would love to have one year where every gift I give is something I have made personally.  This would be such a challenge since I would have to think of all possible gifts in advance and really make them great. Such a challenge.

1.  Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s.  I’ve already shared a lot about this dream.  My mom and I have shared viewing the television broadcast for years and I can’t even imagine how great it would be to see it in person!

There it is- some of my list.  If anyone has any suggestions or helpful hints to make it happen, PLEASE let me know:)

Secret #7 for the Perfect Christmas

Remember that on the 25th of each month we will be revealing one of our secrets for the perfect Christmas in 2012.  Today we reveal Secret #7- Memories are more magical than we think they are at the time!

Not sure why I can’t seem to remember what day it is!  So we’ll close out May with our #7 secret.  Memorial weekend took much of my energy and thoughts and I overlooked the 25th. Getting these secrets out is the important part, right?  Not so much what day we post them.

This secret to a perfect Christmas is one that you can’t very much control, and that’s the point.  Special memories come in all shapes and sizes.  We all have been a part of that special gathering or happening that was supposed to create the most amazing memories for all involved.  Large group, family, or just a couple could be prone to this type of expectation.  Way too often these staged memory events do end up being remembered, but more for the annoyance of all the planning, organizing, etc.  The true special intention gets lost in the attempts to make it so magical.  Think of all the sit-coms and movies that have that over-planned magic as a key plot point.   What we all need to remember is to enjoy the moment.  Live in the now, even at Christmas.  Plan special times together definitely but go for the regular, not the over done.  Here’s a great example.  You could set-up a huge evening for your family to go see Christmas Lights.  You order the limo, plan the special dinner, and chart a specific course of just the right houses to drive by.  Nice, but could go so wrong.  The memorable light trip might be the random night you decided to go look at lights instead of just driving home from the grocery store.  The simple and endearing times we share are the memories that will endure and be cherished.

What’s in a date?

December 25th is a sacred day for all of Christianity. But what other things make the 359th (or 360th in leap years) a special day?  We know that the early powers of the church selected the date for the birth feast based on studies, and more likely a couple of Pagan god festivals that were that day.  We can trace the earliest official celebration of the birth of JEsus on 12/25 to the year 325.  Other key events have happened on December 25th as well.  Christmas is a big day for crowning and coronations with hundreds happening on that date over time.  Some are more notable than others- in the year 800 Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and in 1066 WIlliam the Conqueror was crowned King of England.  Christmas also was the date for many political and wartime actions.  Notable happenings include Washington’s crossing of the Delaware in 1776, President Johnson pardoning all Confederate soldiers in 1868, the Christmas Truce of World War I in 1914, British Hong Kong surrender to Japan in 1941, and the end of the Soviet Union with Gorbachev’s resignation in 1991.  Christmas Island was discovered in 1643 by the East India Company.  Another big first was the initial test run of what would become the World Wide Web.

Christmas is a special birthday for any of the millions who have shared that day of creation over time.  I’ll list some of the more interesting ones of note.  Isaac Newton was born on Christmas in 1642 and would be 370 this year.  Clara Barton died 100 years ago but was born on Christmas in 1821. Music well knows with a birthday on the 25th include bandmaster, Patrick Gilmore, in 1829, Cab Calloway in 1903, Jimmy Buffet in 1945, Barbara Mandrell in 1948, and Annie Lenox in 1954.  Hollywood famous with sharing the big day include Humphrey Bogart in 1889, Rod Serling in 1924 and Sissy Spacek in 1949.   Hotel magnate Conrad Hilton came into being in 1887 and believe it or not, Robert Ripley was born in 1890.  There are many who mark the anniversary of losing a family member or loved one on Christmas Day.  These include W.C. Fields in 1946, James Brown in 2006, and Eartha Kitt in 2008.  So if you have an extra minute on your Christmas day, try to work in a little of the many other marks of importance for that date.

White House Gingerbread

2011 Gingerbread White House

Creating a structure from gingerbread and other foods is a special

2002 Gingerbread White House

challenge.  I tried my hand at this craft for the first time as an adult this past Christmas.  Wow! It can become all consuming and very addictive.  The attention to every little detail and trying to capture just the right look.  The White House staff has been taking part in this type of challenge every year since the White House chef started the tradition under President Carter.  For the holidays a special gingerbread house is showcased in the White House State Dining Room.  The staff can spend up to five months designing, preparing and creating the masterpiece.  The 2011 gingerbread house was a true to life recreation of the Presidential mansion and featured white chocolate and a view of the state dining room.  The theme of “Shine, Give, Share” was used to show the countless ways we all can lift up those around us.  The houses do not always result in a house that looks like a model miniature of the real thing.  Sometimes it is a more fanciful recreation with gum drops and candies.  These look more fun to make for sure!  There are many sites with pictures of the houses.  Check out some of the houses through the years- White House Photos.  The official White House website has a very interesting short video on the making of the 2009 White House Gingerbread House.

DIfficult Presidential Christmases #2

Lighting of the National Christmas Tree, 12/24/41

Times of war and difficulty do not hold for Christmas.  Our Presidents know this better than many.  Many Christmases in the 20th century saw the US at war with other nations, our troops fighting or preparing for battle.  Christmas 1941 was one of these challenging Christmases.  The US had only weeks earlier been attacked by the empire of Japan at Pearl Harbor.  Americans all prepared for war.  Citizens closely listened to the words from President Roosevelt.  His words rallied a nation to service to become what many call the “greatest generation”.  Christmas Eve 1941 was a night of inspiring words from our President.  FDR made his speech from the south portico of the WHite House following the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.  His opening words captured the moment well:

“Fellow workers for freedom:  There are many men and women in America- sincere and faithful men and women—who are asking themselves this Christmas:

How can we light our trees?  How can we give our gifts?  How can we meet and worship with love and with uplifted spirit and heart in a world at war, a world of fighting and suffering and death?  How can we pause, even for a day, even for Christmas Day, in our urgent labor of arming a decent humanity against the enemies which beset it?  How can we put the world aside, as men and women put the world aside in peaceful years, to rejoice in the birth of Christ?  These are natural—inevitable—questions in every part of the world which is resisting the evil thing.  And even as we ask these questions, we know the answer. There is another preparation demanded of this Nation beyond and beside the preparation of weapons and materials of war. There is demanded also of us the preparation of our hearts; the arming of our hearts. And when we make ready our hearts for the labor and the suffering and the ultimate victory which lie ahead, then we observe Christmas Day—with all of its memories and all of its meanings—as we should.”

Roosevelt concluded his remarks and then introduced his surprise guest to share remarks with the American people.  Winston Churchill had arrived in Washington just weeks after Pearl Harbor for secret meetings with FDR, code-named “Arcadia”.  Today we know the meeting as the First Washington Conference.  Churchill was staying at the White House and joined FDR for the tree lighting ceremony.  His visit was wildly popular with the Americans, other than Mrs. Roosevelt- she found her guest to be a but much, to say the least!  Churchill echoed the ideas shared by the President.  “Let the children have their night of fun and laughter…  Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.”   Take a moment and watch the recording from that night- Tree Lighting 1941.   It is truly remarkable how the magic of Christmas serves to unite people, families, and even a nation in times of trouble.


White House Christmas Trees

Today we kick off our President’s week.  All of our posts this week will be related to presidential celebrations, traditions, or trivia

President Cleveland's tree 1895

related to Christmas.  What better place to start than with the official White House Christmas Tree?  As with most recordings of firsts, there is some questions as to what is the actual first White House Christmas tree.  The first president to have a Christmas tree in the White House was President Pierce in 1856.  However this tree was put-up for a visiting group of children.  The first president to have a Christmas tree in the White House for his family was Benjamin Harrison in 1889.  Is this then the first White House tree?  If we need some photographic proof the first pictures come from President Cleveland’s White House in 1895.

The tradition of the First Lady decorating the White House tree began with Lou Hoover and the first time it was referred to as the “official” White House Christmas tree.  But before that there was a lighting ceremony that started with President Coolidge.  You pick when the tradition began.  I’m going with 1961.  Why then?

The Kennedy's "Nutcracker" themed tree -1961

In 1961 First Lady Jackie Kennedy began a new tradition of decorating the official White House Christmas Tree in a theme.  The first theme she selected was the Nutcracker.  The official tree is known by its location- the Blue Room Christmas Tree.  Yes, it is important to know which of the trees in the White House is the official tree.  There are many more trees placed throughout the presidential office/residence.  It is not uncommon for there to be more than 20 trees at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  The record was set in 2011 when the Obamas had 37 trees!  (Sandra- you need 25 more trees to catch up!)  This year marked 50 years of themed White House Christmas Trees.  There have been lots of traditional themes and some a little more avant-garde.  Check out the official list- White House Christmas Tree Themes.

Where does the President get the tree?  The official tree is donated by the National

The Reagan's Blue Room Tree- 1981

Christmas Tree Association.  It is selected in an annual contest by the member growers.  The trees are generally about 20 feet in height.  The arrival of this tall tree requires the removal of the chandelier in the Blue Room.  North Carolina holds the pride of having the most trees come from their state at 11.  The closest White House tree to us here in Frederick was the 2009 that came from Shepherdstown, WV.  If you ever have a chance to tour the home at Christmas you definitely should.  The White House Christmas tree is a great holiday tradition!

Countdown Podcast #3: 349 Days to Go!

Click on the link to hear us- Yule Log 349 to go

This week our discussion focuses on crafts you can make with the Christmas cards you received this year.  We also share some thoughts on cards in general and how our site and podcasts are catching on.  Check out the links and photos below for more details on the card crafts mentioned tonight.  Here’s the link for more information about the program at St. Jude’s- recycled card program.  Here are links to the individual crafts:

Directions for 20-point Star (time-consuming but pretty); YouTube Video of 8-point Star (easy to make–accuracy required); Simple Treat or Gift Boxes (addictive and easy enough for children); Gift Card Envelopes.  Martha Stewart’s ornaments (not pictured) are the traditional ball shape made with round circles of Christmas cards.  This was fun to make, but the dogs thought it was a toy.  No photo, but here’s the link to her directions.


Poin-SET-ee-ah or Poin-set-CHA, What do you do with them now?

Everyone loves the beautiful red leaved plants that we include as part of our Christmas decor.  The poinsettia is as much a part of the Christmas greenhouse as holly or a fir-tree.  But how did we come to include these plants as part of Christmas?  The plant is a native of Mexico and is more a small shrub or tree than a flower.  The red color is actually the leaves of the plant changing color, not petals at all.  The Aztecs used the plant to make dye for fabrics and to paint their skin.  The Christmas connection is said to originate in the 16th century with a young girl who wished to make a gift to Mary on Christmas Eve but was too poor to afford a gift.  On the way to the church she was visited by an angel who told her to pick some weeds along the road.  When she presented these at the church they were transformed into the beautiful red poinsettia plant.  In the seventeenth century Franciscan monks in Central America had incorporated the plant into the holiday season and said the shape of the plant represented the star of Bethlehem and the red color the sacrifice Jesus was to make.  The plant was introduced to America in the 1820s by our first minister to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, obviously the plant’s American namesake.

The popularity spread quickly in the US in the 20th century.  From 1900 through the early 1990s a single family, the Eckes, dominated growth and spread of the plant.  In the early days of color television the family sent free plants to news and other TV studios to use a set decoration on the air to increase popularity and demand for the plant.  In the 90s the family met new competition as the secret method they had for growing the plants so full ( a genetic hybrid) became known to all.  Since 2008 the largest producers of the plant no longer grow in the US.  Today the plants may be red, pink, or white in coloring.  Even brilliant yellow and silver varieties are grown.  There are more than 100 different varieties of the plant.  But what do you do with them from January through November?

Keeping your poinsettia plants year round is not as easy as it might seem.  This is why so many people just buy new ones each fall.  I still remember the gigantic plants my great, great aunt had at her house when I was growing up.  She diligently cared for hers and the plants were close to 30 years old I was told.  The key to keeping the plant year round is the care.  In late spring it must be cut back and then in the summer placed in bright sun to grow anew.  You must regular pinch back the new growth to keep it a stout plant and not grow to be tall and spindly.  The real challenge is in early fall when you must keep the plant in total darkness for about 14 hours a day.  Check out the great tips on care from about.com’s gardening section- Poinsettias- Keepers or compost? .

Do you prefer donkey, sheep, ox, or camels?

In your nativity scene of course!  All of those animals have made appearances in the birth recreation.  The most traditional are the donkey and the ox.  The ox said to represent patience and the donkey represents humility.   My favorite discovery is the inclusion in some scenes of an elephant.  Personally I love the sheep.  I have very fond memories of the sheep in our display while growing up.  They were hand-made and covered with real wool.  We stored them in a small tin to protect them from any possible danger from mice or other special visitors.  I also really love the sheep in one of my current sets- they’re so happy!! (thanks to my friend Shawn for the great gift)

Whether you call it a nativity, a crèche, or simply a manger it is the traditional representation of the birth of the baby Jesus.  The depiction of the small crib in the manger with the shepherds, animals, the magi, Mary, Joseph, angels, and of course the baby come from descriptions found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  Matthew has the star of Bethlehem and the Magi.  Luke has the angel and the shepherds.  Throw it all together and you get our take on the events.  The nativity tradition has been around for nearly 800 years.  History tells us that St. Francis of Assisi began the nativity display with a living display in the year 1223.  The practice was wildly popular and spread throughout the western world.  There are many unique cultural and regional practices connected to nativity displays.  They are as different as are people.  Spend a little time searching the web and you can view elaborate or simple creations.  (Special bonus points to readers who know of the Catalonian tradition of the caganer)  Fisher Price has a Little People display, S’mores marshmallow people have one, the Vatican has one of the most recognized crèche scenes the world over.  Check out this great candle display at savingslifestyle.  I wonder if Lego has ever considered producing a display?

Taking off from the traditional nativity scene is the more expansive Christmas village display of the Christmas Putz.  These village displays can be quite elaborate and a true sense of pride for the owner.  Locally take advantage of the opportunity to see the great Putz display at the Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ.  This display is up each season during the Frederick Historic Houses of Worship tour, traditionally held the day after Christmas.  Frederick just celebrated its 25th tour- plan now to catch it in 2012. It is a great night in the downtown area and features architecture, fellowship, refreshments, and great music.

My church has a beautiful nativity scene.  The manger is front and center and the baby Jesus arrived on Christmas.  The shepherds are off to the left tending their flocks.  Slowly over the last weeks the wise men have been moving closer.  It will be exciting to see them arrive this weekend with the celebration of the feast of the Epiphany.  Tomorrow marks the final day of our 12 days of Christmas- Epiphany!!


Finally I wanted to show my newest nativity set.  I have about 9 of them and love to find unique and creative displays.  This one was a gift and I believe was discovered in the discount bin at a Wegman’s of all places!  Thanks Paula:)