20 January 2005

Super Historical Site Has Returned!

I couldn't get to The Antique Christmas Lights Site all during the Christmas season, which I found strange, as updates were published in November and December. However, creator and webmaster George Nelson says he did a major upgrade in November; perhaps that was the problem.

This is a fabulous site about the origins of Christmas tree lights and their history from 1900 through 1950. Mr. Nelson collects antique sets (not for sale!) and the site includes photos of the original wooden boxed sets with fabric cord and ceramic bases through the cardboard box era, from the original "light bulb" type lamps to the "big lights," the C-7 nightlight-sized bulbs of my childhood.

He even has photos of the C-6 "cone" bulbs which were also used in Christmas tree light strings (called "festoons" back then), but which I remember using for our window "candoliers." We had two eight-candle candoliers that took the ribbed bulbs shown. According to Nelson, there were also plain bulbs in this size, which I never saw; I remember instead versions which had a twisted ribbing on them, presumably to make the bulb look more like a flame.

Oh, those beautiful old candoliers! They were made of heavy plastic that you didn't worry about falling off the windowsill, and the "candles" themselves, complete with fake "drips" near the top, were slimmer, graceful versions of the modern chunky candoliers (when you can find them), looking more like the taper candles they were mimicking. The C-6 bulbs looked more like flames as well, and many of the older people kept the look by using only the yellow (they were sometimes closer to orange) bulbs in their windows. We used all four colors (yellow, red, blue and green) in pairs, but the yellows were the most popular back then. Red was also used a lot to imitate candles.

I think Mom still has them in her attic, although we had to stop using them long ago (the fat five-unit candoliers we bought as replacements were never the same). Probably they still work fine, but they quit selling the replacement bulbs long ago and we eventually didn't have 16 lamps that still worked.

Upcoming: www.oldchristmaslights.org, to debut sometime in 2005, about Christmas lights from 1950 onward, with sections about bubble lights and aluminum Christmas trees.

14 January 2005

How Appropriate...

I did put the tree and all the decorations back in hibernation by bedtime last night. Pidge looked a bit askance at my taking away the paper angels that fly from the crossbeam in the den during the holidays. Evidently he had gotten used to their being there.

I expect to find one decoration that we have forgotten to put up. There's always one...

So the library is back to its autumn color scheme again.

BTW, I discovered yesterday's tree ceremony was quite appropriate, as January 13 is St. Knut's Day.

From almanac.com:
Is your Christmas tree still standing? This year, start a new tradition in your family by taking it out in style, just as people in Sweden do on January 13.

In Sweden, January 13, St. Knut's Day, is the traditional day to discard the Christmas tree and end the season's festivities. A children's party is the favored way to strip the tree of its decorations, after which the children are free to "plunder" the edible treats and small gifts placed on the tree especially for the occasion. Finally, everyone "dances" the tree out the door. Singing special songs, they pick up the tree and toss it out into the snow. Swedish children look forward to this dancing-out party almost as much as Christmas itself -- and what better way to combat the post-Christmas blues?
Learn about St. Knut's Day and other January celebrations (did you know it's National Oatmeal Month?) at Web Holidays.com or take a peek at The Farmer's Almanac website.

13 January 2005

Nothing Like Good, Old-Fashioned After-Christmas Depression...

I'm a slug; I haven't yet finished getting the tree down. Everything else is ready to go into its storage box except a couple of garlands wayyyyyy up that I'd rather have James reach for me. We've had bad weather approaching for a couple of days now and my knees are aching horribly; just doing the stairs is bad enough.

I have an excuse: a writing project I finished last night (all but the printout, that is).

I do have the "winter table" set up downstairs and it looks quite pretty. There is a bouquet of white and silver flowers (and a touch of blue) in a small white vase flanked by two small stuffed snowmen. In the front of the table is a wintry branch with snow-spotted pine and cones and wispy weeds and a little arrangement of woodland creatures--a fox, two squirrels and two rabbits--with two snowy trees. These are set on a dark blue towel with silvery snowflakes on it and a snowman in the middle, and I have scattered "snow confetti" that I found at Michael's all over the table. These are flakes about 3/4 inch long in white, silver, and opalescent, transclucent blue/green which looks pink at certain angles.

10 January 2005

Plough Monday

Traditionally the first Monday after Epiphany, when the men headed back to work--in those agricultural days, their plowing.

(Who plows in the winter? Well, from what I understand, snow has always been called "poor man's fertilizer." After a light snowfall, the average farmer back then might hitch up his oxen or horses and plow the snow into the soil, adding nitrogen. This was also a practice of dryland farming, to capture moisture in the soil.)

07 January 2005

St. Distaff's Day

Traditionally this is when the women got back to their spinning (hence the "distaff") and weaving after Christmastide. Wish I'd had the leave to take all Christmastide off--oh, well, got to go on vacation and see my mom instead!

I have the decorations in my cubicle traded out for winter ones: a green garland with silver threads to look icy, a bouquet of winter greens with a little holly to give it color, a vase of snow-flocked holly, and nice snowy winter pictures all around, including the January entries from old Linda Nelson Stocks calendars and two other calendar photos I have kept: a tree-lined approach to a red barn, all covered in snow, and a snowy stone mill, with the water on the millwheel frozen.

I have a small calendar picture of Boston I keep up all year round (especially during the summer) to remind me there are more civilized seasons. It's a shot of Beacon Hill, with the brownstones, cars, street, vegitation, and the cast iron fence covered in snow.

Wish it could cool off the hot flashes... :-)

06 January 2005

French Hens or Virtues?

The Twelve Days of Christmas are probably the most misunderstood part of the church year among Christians who are not part of liturgical church traditions. Contrary to much popular belief, these are not the twelve days before Christmas, but in the Western Church are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany (January 6th; the 12 days count from December 25th until January 5th).
The Twelve Days of Christmas (includes the supposed Christian meanings behind the different gifts).

In traditional Christian churches Christmas, as well as Easter, is celebrated as a period of time, a season of the church year, rather than just a day. The Season of Christmas begins with the First Sunday of Advent, marked by expectation and anticipation, and concludes with Epiphany, which looks ahead to the mission of the church to the world in light of the Nativity. The one or two Sundays between Christmas Day and Epiphany are sometimes called Christmastide.

"The Journey of the Magi"

by T.S. Eliot

"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

05 January 2005

Twelfth Night

"On the twelfth day of Christmas
"My true love gave to me...
"...twelve drummers drumming
"eleven pipers piping
"ten lords a'leaping
"nine ladies dancing
"eight maids a'milking
"seven swans a'swimming
"six geese a'laying
"five gold rings
"four calling birds
"three French hens
"two turtledoves
"and a partridge in a pear tree."
Or maybe not.

There are two schools of thought about how to count the days between Christmas and Epiphany. One school says that Christmas is the First Day of Christmas, which makes January 5 Twelfth Night, with Epiphany as a separate day.

The other school says that Christmastide is for merrymaking and that Christmas is a holy day and should not be included. So Boxing Day/St. Stephen's Day would be the First Day of Christmas, leaving January 6 as Twelfth Night. (This is talked about below in the link from Woodland School.)

Either way it means Christmastide is just about over. Time for the tree and the ornaments and the garland and the tinsel to start wending its way into storage for another year. (Yes, time for good old-fashioned post-Christmas depression.)

In England today one of the features of the celebration is a Christmas cake, a fruity, spicy concoction with white icing. Earlier tradition has the cake for Twelfth Night, which was an evening of merrymaking. An uncooked bean would be included in the cake and the person whose slice it was in became the leader of the festivities for the evening, deciding which games would be played. (Sometimes a raw pea was included, and the man with the bean became the king and the woman with the pea became the queen.) In some places little charms were baked into the cake for fortune-telling purposes. A ring meant you were to be married, a thimble meant a woman would remain a spinster, etc.

Traditional British Twelfth Night cake

Colonial Williamsburg Twelfth cake recipe

School of the Seasons' Twelfth Night page

Woodland Junior School's Twelfth Night page

This last is a great site, produced by a British school, about British customs. Here's the main link.

04 January 2005

Eve's Day

"On the eleventh day of Christmas
"My true love gave to me...
"...eleven pipers piping
"ten lords a'leaping
"nine ladies dancing
"eight maids a'milking
"seven swans a'swimming
"six geese a'laying
"five gold rings
"four calling birds
"three French hens
"two turtledoves
"and a partridge in a pear tree."
If you're wondering what Adam and Eve have to do with Christmas, it's not all that odd: it is said that the Christmas tree derives from the "paradise tree" used in medieval religious plays. Most of the population could not read, so Biblical stories were presented to them in the form of plays. The paradise tree was hung with apples or other fruit in illustrating the story of Adam and Eve--it's just a few steps from there to the decorations on the Christmas tree.

I can't remember where I was reading it, but it was in a discussion of best/worst liked Christmas songs; someone took umbrage to the line in "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "...and presents on the tree" with a sarcastic "What's that all about?"

Well, hon, way, way back people didn't give big gifts for Christmas (unless they were rich and had money to toss away on pony carts and diamond lavallieres). You received one or two gifts at most and gifts were usually for children. Stockings or a classic-sized Christmas tree (tabletop size) held the gifts--that's originally what the tree was for. (If the tree was at a church or school--many people in the 1800s didn't have personal trees but saw them at social gatherings--it might be tall to fit all the needs of the congregation.) Anyway, presents were hung on the tree, and so were cookies and fruits and boxes of candy. The fun of Christmas was getting to "plunder" the tree.

So, yes, "presents on the tree" is correct; the song was written during World War II, by someone who probably was old enough to remember the original custom.

Speaking of old customs, for history buffs Christmas in the Old West is fabulous. Republished are diaries, newspaper articles, magazine stories, and illustrations of holidays past. (By the way, the folks who think the use of the word "holiday" is a recent politically correct term to avoid saying "Christmas" ought to take a peek at this book. "Holiday" was used quite frequently in these 1800s/very early 1900s store ads, possibly because some of the older people and the Scots were still in the habit of giving gifts at the New Year, not at Christmas. "Holiday" covered both customs nicely.)

03 January 2005

Adam's Day

"On the tenth day of Christmas
"My true love gave to me...
"...ten lords a'leaping
"nine ladies dancing
"eight maids a'milking
"seven swans a'swimming
"six geese a'laying
"five gold rings
"four calling birds
"three French hens
"two turtledoves
"and a partridge in a pear tree."
Well, in our case it was Fred's day. :-) It was our annual New Year's [a bit late] viewing of Galaxy Quest. We first went to see it on New Year's Day 2000 and it's become a bit of a tradition.

I had a nice surprise today, my copy of Christmas in the Old West came today. I saw it at full price and blanched, then found a remainder copy for less than half price even with postage. It's not a history, but, as the author calls it, a scrapbook of holiday memories of the pioneers, starting with the trappers and continuing through the era. The last half of the book is sprinkled with ads and articles from period magazines, including my beloved St. Nicholas, which was part of the draw.

The biggest surprise was that I ordered it on Wednesday afternoon and got it today; what service!

02 January 2005

Dancing Day

"On the ninth day of Christmas
"My true love gave to me...
"...nine ladies dancing
"eight maids a'milking
"seven swans a'swimming
"six geese a'laying
"five gold rings
"four calling birds
"three French hens
"two turtledoves
"and a partridge in a pear tree."
We finished the last of the pumpkin bread we bought on vacation today with more than a sentimental sigh. We still have the sugarless candy and the chocolates from Sweenor's and the "analog" photos we took are at Sam's being developed, but the pumpkin bread somehow had come to symbolize those wonderful two weeks of freedom.

Nice to see a good smattering of folks who still have their lights and trees up. The tree on Northside Hospital and on Stone Mountain and in front of Lockheed presumably have their last hurrahs tonight before the workweek comes to sweep them away unless there are Christmastide devotees around.

01 January 2005

St. Basil's Day

"On the eighth day of Christmas
"My true love gave to me...
"...eight maids a'milking
"seven swans a'swimming
"six geese a'laying
"five gold rings
"four calling birds
"three French hens
"two turtledoves
"and a partridge in a pear tree."
Time for the Tournament of Roses Parade again...as always absolutely gorgeous. Apparently California is in the midst of a series of rainstorms--it rained two inches there yesterday, and the forecast is for rain the rest of the week--but the sun broke through today to present a perfect blue-and-gold day to march down Colorado Boulevard. Ironically, it was warmer here than in Pasadena: when we left the house at 1:45 p.m., it was 64°F here and only 51°F in Southern California. Bizarre.

I am presently in the midst of reading Brittney Ryan's The Legend of Holly Claus. I've been attracted by the cover since it came on the market, but beautiful covers do not a good book make. The reviews on Amazon were splendid except for one, so I splurged.

This is a wonderful book. If it was printed 100 years ago it would have probably been serialized in the pages of St. Nicholas magazine--it has that air of being one of the old classic late 19th century/early 20th century fairy tales written by people like L. Frank Baum and Frank Stockton. (In fact, it reminds me a little of Baum's Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.) The descriptions are breathtaking and if that wasn't all, there are absolutely exquisite pen-and-ink, meticulously detailed illustrations by Laurel Long. Like those old-time fairy tales, this book does not shy away from the ugly realities of life--no Barney the dinosaur/Strawberry Shortcake sweetness-and-light nonsense--and there are some deaths and scary transformations. Still, it is a beautiful tale for imaginative children.

Happy New Year!

Played Scrabble tonight for the first time in years and did respectably well. That was at our first party. The second was more crowded and noisy, but the company was wonderful. I used my new cell phone to call my mom at two minutes till midnight and counted down with her, and then everyone wished her a happy new year. I hope I cheered her up a bit. She was home alone tonight with a sore eye and a tongue aching from the radiation treatments.

Been watching Boomerang all day and evening--they're doing a Jonny Quest marathon again. They did one on Christmas as well. So we've had a "Jonny Questmas" and a "Hadji New Year"!