Santa images through time

By Caryl Clem

In ancient folklore, Santa was an elf, gnome, or after Christianity, a Saint.  Children were taught that good behavior brought gifts or if naughty, his evil brother would punish them. Santa was not approachable for special requests.

The transition of Santa from the supernatural realm into human form was shaped by literature.  The 1822 poem by Clement Moore gave Santa a magical, friendly personality combining a mix of legends. Thomas Nast, an 1860’s cartoonist drew pictures of Santa talking to boys and girls that appeared in Harper’s weekly in 1863.  In the following years he included the sleigh, reindeer, and North Pole toy shop. In 1902, the author of Wizard of Oz, Frank Baum creates The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus implanting the wonder of Santa Claus to all readers.

The catalog cover for a 1906 Eaton Department Store shows a serious Claus thinking about Christmas.  In an effort to boost sales, Coca Cola hired Haddon Sundblom in 1931: who created the jolly grandfather Santa Claus figure we love today.  The 1932 advertising pictures featured a smiling, red suited Santa against a green background.   The laughing Santa was an instant hit, kids wanted to meet this charming version of humanity and magic.  The following years of advertising show an active, laughing Santa busy spreading goodwill.

Santa popularity can be found in the Santa Surfing competition in California to raise money for autism to a mountain rappelling Santa in Asheville, North Carolina.  The Salvation Army started to collect donations by Santa clad unemployed men in 1890 to raise money to feed needy families. The Santa photography business of kids sitting on Santa’s lap started in the 1940’s.  Santa was available for requests. Stories of kids writing Santa Claus letters and making Christmas wishes dominate movie themes today.  Santa Village ceramics, Santa figures, Santa dinnerware, so many ways to bring Santa into your home.

Costumes at Christmas were a Victorian custom that is experiencing a rebirth. You can be a Santa elf or any character from a Christmas legend at a get together or party. Santa is more than one figure, able to change forms in the spirit of good will and generosity. Enjoy living as a Santa this holiday season!  Let his magic inspire you!

Oh boy, the Grinch

The week after Thanksgiving it began..a kindergarten boy wore a t shirt with a sketch of the Grinch on it; handmade by his Mom. I wanted it! But when I was his age I was afraid of the Grinch. I loved having Mom read the Dr. Seuss book How the Grinch Stole Christmas and loved reading it to my own children. The first animated movie was telecast in the United States on CBS on December 18, 1966 and has been a holiday favorite ever since. The special also features the voice of Boris Karloff as the Grinch and the narrator; a 26 minute cartoon with Cindy Lou Who that everyone loves. My children were fascinated by the cartoon and one Christmas, my son got a talking Grinch doll. We still have the box. I am sure the doll is somewhere in our present garage mess.

According to Grinch Mania, the musical adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas started in Minneapolis in 1994, where it also showed in 1995 and 1998 to enthusiastic audiences. In 1998, the musical began playing in San Diego, where it has shown every year since then. The production hit the big time and Broadway in 2006 where it quickly became the hottest ticket on Broadway.

As my children got older in their junior high years, their true and everlasting love story with the Grinch came out in 2000How the Grinch Stole Christmas is an American Christmas fantasy comedy-drama film directed by Ron Howard and written by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman. Based on Dr. Seuss’s 1957 book of the same name, it was the first Dr. Seuss book to be adapted into a full-length feature film. The film is narrated by Anthony Hopkins and stars Jim Carrey in the title role, along with Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, and introducing Taylor Momsen as Cindy Lou Who. And according to box office statistics, one of the most successful films.

In 2018, The Grinch was released and distributed by Universal Pictures in the United States on November 9, 2018, in RealD 3D, a computer-animated Christmas comedy-drama film and played at select IMAX theaters produced by Illumination. It grossed over $511 million worldwide, so far obtaining the highest-grossing holiday film of all-time.

In the kindergarten classroom last week, we watched both cartoon from 1966 and the 2018 movie since the movie starring Jim Carey is a little scary for 5 and 6 year olds..a little scary for me. Though I must say I was positively memorized by the 2018 film….. finding the Grinch more funny than frightening.

Ultimately, as a mature adult…sometimes mature…., I love the Grinch as a doll, a picture on a box, musical renditions performed on stage, cartoon form, or any movie. It was his heart growing three sizes that day for all generations to remember…. that maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas means just a little bit more.

 

Chicago Christmas tree Facts

By Caryl Clem:

  • Going greener during this holiday season includes recycling evergreen trees. Every park district offers tree removal options. After the splendor of various adornments amidst a scented trail of fresh pine, the bare tree returns to build back our environment. According to statistics released by the University of Illinois ,these are the advantages of purchasing a tree:
  • 93% of Christmas tree consumers recycle their trees
  • Decomposing pine provides natural habitat for fish and attracts the algae for food
  • Pines along beaches protect dunes from water/wind erosion when the pine needles hold sand and vegetation
  • Cook County, IL. Uses evergreen to rebuild wildlife habitats destroyed by developments
  • All 50 states have Christmas tree farms, our neighbor Wisconsin is in the top rank of Christmas tree production
  • Artificial trees last for centuries in a landfill
  • Wood chips are excellent mulch. Hot cider, comfort food spreads while friends share holiday memories happen at neighborhood wood chip parties.  Rent a wood chipper, follow safety precautions then take home your own supply of mulch.
  • Oxygen for 18 people is the result from one acre of evergreen trees.

Chicago had a Christmas Ship that sold spruce trees from Michigan at the Clarke Street Bridge from 1887-1933. In 1912 the ship sank disrupting business.  To honor the deceased captain of the Christmas tree ship, F.J. Jordon gave Chicago in 1913, the popular Douglas spruce for the first tree lighting ceremony.

The Rouse Simmons was a three-masted schooner famous for having sunk in a violent storm on Lake Michigan in 1912. The ship was bound for Chicago with a cargo of Christmas trees when it foundered off Two Rivers, Wisconsin, killing all on board.. The legacy of the schooner lives on in the area, with frequent ghost sightings and tourist attractions whereby its final route is traced.

  • Builder: Allen, McCelland & Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Launched: August 15, 1868
  • Identification: US 110087
  • Name: Rouse Simmons
  • Herman Schuenemann – Captain Santa – Classic Sailboats
  • Published on Nov 15, 2016. This is inspiring story of “Captain Santa” who sailed a three-masted schooner on Lake Michigan 100 years ago, delivering each December thousands of Christmas trees to be sold to Chicago families straight from the deck of his ship tied up at the Clark Street pier.

 

Christmas Tree Shimmer

By Caryl Clem

Communities across America kick off the Christmas Holidays with Tree Lighting ceremonies. This tradition was almost short circuited. A pastor lit a Christmas tree in the late 1890’s in a small town in Pennsylvania. The tree was torn down by townspeople who feared evil spirits had possessed the tree. First, Boston held a tree lighting ceremony on December 24, 1912. Chicago was a leader in spreading the idea of Christmas festivals starting with the grandeur of a giant shimmering tree. Mayor of Chicago, Carter H. Harrison, Jr. held the first official Chicago Tree Lighting in 1913 in Grant Park. Attended by 100,000 enthusiasts, the festival was planned by the President of the Art Institute, Charles L. Hutchinson according to Glessner House website.  The first President, Grover Cleveland, had an electric tree in the Oval Room for his granddaughters.  Ten years after the grand Chicago affair, President Cleveland presented a 3,000 bulb tree in the Ellipse on Christmas Eve. The magic of illuminated trees overcame the original mistrust of using electricity.  New York City in Rockefeller Center celebrated their first tree lighting ceremony in 1933.

Edison’s business partner, Edward H. Johnson invented the first string of white, red, and green bulbs in 1892 which he proudly displayed on his tree in a parlor window overlooking Manhattan in New York City. The first lit Christmas tree emerged. Johnson resourcefully hired a reported to take pictures. Only the rich could afford to hire a wireman (labor $1,000) to install a string of bulbs ( $300-$350 each).  General Electric was offering bulb strings for sale in 1903. The prices dropped after World War II, increasing the popularity of Christmas lights.

Every child hears stories of Christmas Magic. I was convinced these stories must be true after one glance at “bubble lights” on our family Christmas tree. I could sit and stare mesmerized by the bubbling glow amidst the popcorn strings, dangling cookies and bright tinsel.  After the introduction of “BUBBLE lites” by the NOMA Electric Corporation in 1946, competitors produced similar lights with the names Kristal Snow and Sparkling Bubble Lamp. The idea for bubbling inside a light was inspired by 2 popular selling items from the Montgomery Ward’s store. An accountant, George Otis combined the traveling light action in an illuminated Juke box with the shape of a Glow Light Candle. He filed a patent in 1935 that he later sold to NOMA. He was hired as a designer who played an active in improving lights in the years to come. The founder of Ward’s was a Chicagoan,  Aaron Montgomery Ward starting his business  in 1871 with the idea to sell to rural farmers the goods too far away for them to normally purchase. By 1923, the business had expanded to 244 stores in various states.

By the light of a shimmering tree, feel inspired by this year’s holiday magic!

It was Fannie May for the holidays, still is!

The first Fannie May shop was opened in Chicago on LaSalle Street in 1920. After World War II, Fannie May was known for the Pixie candy but it was the mint melt-away created in 1963 that I wanted as a child. That every child, growing up at that time, wanted too. In fact, every child growing up.. even my own children decades later in the 1990’s. When I was a child, my Aunt would take me to her favorite Fannie May store on Chicago’s south side and help me select presents for family, friends and always my teachers. She let me have a special bag to select chocolates for me to take home. If during the holidays, it would be a foil covered Santa or Easter bunny along with other chocolate favorites.

Growing up, as a Mom in Downers Grove, I would take my two children to the Fannie May store on Ogden Avenue; following the same tradition as my Aunt taught me. The store is still open today to shop for your chocolate holiday favorites.

In 2003, Fannie May joined forces with Harry London Confections. In 2015, Fannie May partnered with the Chicago Cubs and launched the Chicago Cubs Collection. Today, Fannie May offers tasting events that are implemented in every store. These events showcase a specific flavor or assortment to better familiarize customers with products. Fannie May candy is great way to execute chocolate fundraisers.

Fannie May favorites can still be purchased:

Gingerbread Pixies (1 lb., $29.99) A cult favorite now includes smooth gingerbread flavored caramel and crunchy pecans coated in Fannie May milk chocolate, topped with chocolate sprinkles for extra holiday cheer this gifting season.

Holiday Pretzels (12pc, $19.99) An irresistible mix of sweet and salty, crunchy & creamy – his collection includes four milk chocolate covered pretzels, four dark chocolate covered pretzels, and four pretzels covered in white confection decorated with red and green drizzle – the perfect treat for your holiday table.

Holiday Mint Meltaways (1lb, $29.99) Creamy mint chocolate centers coated in sweet white confection & covered with just the right amount of red and green sugar crystals, making them the must-have table item for every holiday hostess.

Christmas Crew 7 oz. Hollow figures ($11.99 each) The delightful holiday characters, Santa, reindeer and elf are here to delight all as the perfect stocking stuffer for kids this holiday season!

Colonial (1lb, $24.99) Fannie May’s most popular assortment features a delectable selection of signature tastes – from our famous Pixies ® and Trinidads ® to our buttercreams, toffees and chocolate covered fruits.  A great gift for the chocolate lover or Chicago local.

Cashews & Assorted Nuts Tins (1 lb, $29.99 each) You can enjoy lightly salted Cashews or the perfect combination of pecans, almonds, and cashews in the elegant gift tin – perfect to have out as a snack around your holiday table.

The Good Old Days: Christmas Trees

During my childhood, it was the real Christmas tree that delighted my father every year. It was not Italian lights but bulbs on heavy cord that he would switch out if two colors of the same were located next to each other. It was the time of bubble lights and tinsel hung one strand at a time. Aluminum silver trees were popular too…the only fake trees I knew. A neighbor had a beautiful silver creation with identical ornaments. Fully aluminum trees were made commercially available in the mid-1950s. Of course, no aluminum tree was complete without a rotating color wheel.

It was not until early pre teen years that green fake trees or flocked trees with Italian lights and garland instead of tinsel became the rage. But through the decades, it was always about the Christmas tree even many years after my Dad passed away. You had to put everything on the tree in perfect time and space..I still do… choosing the best ornaments and bows for vacant spots. Through the years, fake trees just kept getting better and better.

We had a green fake tree but it finally fell apart and for the last five years, we have been buying real trees. Though my father loved colored lights, my family today enjoys many white Italian lights throughout with new and vintage ornaments of a different time. Though we still switch up bows each year and rather than garland, elegant ribbon around the tree.

Most of the fake trees today come in a wide variety of heights, so you can make sure you get the right fit for your home. Trees now our pre-lit and many experts don’t recommend that because eventually those lights will have to be replaced. Today’s artificial trees come in an amazing variety of styles, from flocked and colored trees in such outlandish colors as black, pink, and red, to upside down trees.

And the Rainbow tree is the new trend for 2019. The rainbow tree isn’t just for the holiday season. Some teachers have been spotted using them to decorate their classrooms for back to school, since the colors look like a crayon box. Not for me….thank you!

And when Christmas trees were Christmas trees, before my time, it was when entire families got together on Christmas Eve to decorate the big tree with ornaments, candy, popcorn, fruit and tiny candles.

The Good Old Days: Grandparents and Thanksgiving

Kempton was always known as the small town with the big heart; the town of my mother’s family beginnings; her grandparents, my grandmother who had passed away in 1958, aunts, uncles and my great aunt, Lulu Pearl. My earliest memories of Kempton were on Thanksgiving Day at Aunt Lu’s two bedroom corner, blue cottage neatly painted in white trim. A vegetable garden was meticulously maintained in the back with her specialties of beets and tomatoes while well-trimmed shrubs surrounded the foundation of the home.

Coming from the city, my immediate family was always the first to arrive while Aunt Lu called the others to join us on her believe it or not box phone with crank and real receptionist named Jenny. That gave me plenty of time to cut out the latest Betsy McCall and her clothes. After the rest of the family arrived, we took our places behind the long table in the dining room eating from her blue willow dishes. Pumpkin pie was always her winning recipe.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving break is Grandparents Day at school; a wonderful time for those traveling to see their grandchildren. For our district, Grandparents Day is usually one of the biggest attended events with just grandparents…not sons or daughters who have kindergarten or early elementary children. Just for Grandma,  Grandpa and Grand friends…sometimes Aunts or Uncles if Grandma can’t attend. Over 300 attended today. Many become new Grandparents on that day for children who do not have a guest. A study out of the University of Oxford found children who are close to their grandparents have fewer emotional and behavioral problems, and are better able to cope with traumatic life events, like a divorce or bullying at school.

Though she never learned to drive, Aunt Lu would find her way to our house in the city by my cousin every summer. I could always count on a game of Yahtzee every time I offered and she always made the best fried potatoes in town. Because of unpredictable weather, the winter months were generally confined to her little town in Kempton but one year she came to stay and had arrived two days after Christmas. It was unusual for her to venture out in the cold months but my father was in the hospital. Children were not allowed to visit during the 1960’s and Aunt Lu felt she could help.

During her first night’s visit, the phone had disturbed our usual game of Yahtzee and after that I found that Aunt Lu could offer so much more than games. It was a nurse from the hospital; my father had passed away. Though I was 12 and tried to be adult, Aunt Lu let me cry as long as it took, keeping her arms around me, never tiring or disturbing me from my tears. What incredible timing for Aunt Lu’s calming patience in such a terrible storm. Ten years later, Aunt Lu passed away after passionately celebrating her 90th birthday with her family.

Today, I appreciate the towering strength she provided that day and the strenuous days that followed; never perceiving the no pomp and circumstance woman as one of the most salient women I was blessed to know. And I try to follow her loving example everyday reminding myself that every tragedy as has a reason.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Memorial Day

By Caryl Clem:

Signs announce parade date, time information

Reminders of a deeper message

Our military personnel’s sacrifice and dedication

Battles remains, bloody carnage

Countless names and bodies

Final testament to fighting  bravely.

For those lost, not found, a painful memory.

 

Celebrate that their values did not perish

Invest in love, faith, hope and charity

Live these values with appreciation

So our freedoms and choices flourish.

 

Pay tribute to fallen soldiers in our military forces.

They insured Democracy is our past and future tense.

 

Nostalgic bunny ears tales

By Caryl Clem:

Outdoor egg hunts, bunny baskets brimming with treats

The thrill of rummaging for hidden treasure sweets

Easter traditions bringing squeals of pleasure and laughter

Surprises planned for children by lovers of adventure.

Growing up in the 1950’s, I had a magical Easter bunny visitor

He hopped through the house leaving signs of his travels

His silhouette of big feet and crooked ears, unmistakable.

Numbered One clue, bunny ears sticking out of drawer

Verse tells me, “Bunny jumped from my bedroom floor

Looking for a place to spend the night inside a drawer.”

The quest turns up paper sticking out of a sock, Clue Two

Rhymed verse tells me he has left something for me to chew

Bunny ears are edging out from a living room chair seat

Clue Three heavy with taped gum, displays his feet

In the piano bench between a classical music sheet.

From room to room, the clever bunny hopped to hide candy

Humor obvious while uncovering the latest bunny ear mystery.

An empty Easter basket waited at the end, as he bids adieu

To be filled with discovered candy and my bunny ear clues .

This magical bunny has traveled within the family clan

Smiles, surprises, laughter, reborn at Easter, a legend

As children hunt down where the bunny could land.

If you missed the Christmas Story

Decades ago, my wings were cockeyed and my Mom was not happy. Dad was coming to church that day to see me in the Christmas Pageant. Of course, I was an angel and my first time in the Christmas story. I didn’t have to say anything but just look pretty. Ms. Elaine, who was Mom’s best friend and my Sunday school teacher, adjusted my wings just perfectly. How I loved to perform for Dad. In later years, I played piano solos in the small sanctuary at St Lukes Church in Chicago’s south side. In The Bleak Mid Winter was Mom’s all-time favorite. Dad admired my courage to memorize the notes.

Somehow, it all came back to me as I watched the children perform the same story at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Downers Grove. Joseph surprised me with such character and enthusiasm that you can tell he, actually in real life…. a girl named Ella, is a true, professional actor. Joseph’s brother, Cannon, showed amazing charisma as he sang the final song….a diversion from time and place…We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Mary had a beautiful presence and strong voice while the Christmas Star…a brilliant cloth covered star had a wonderful smile, which was about all I could see of the real person.

And the Angels…..they were dressed in a variety of gowns and white accessories looking their best in song for the hundreds of parishioners watching their performance. The Dads,Moms, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins; so excited to be a part of their lives. Or just friends like me who felt the expressive spirit of the true meaning of Christmas as they described the birth of the baby Jesus.

In later years for me, our church burned downed by arson and though some of us continued on to another church, I remember the blackened sanctuary that was damaged the most. But it could not destroy the memories of beautiful plays, piano recitals,  genuine pastoral sermons of such a close community and most of all, trusted friendships.

First Congregational United Church of Christ  is like that……united in faith, love, service and community. No matter who you are, or where you are in life’s journey, you are welcome. The church offers a wide variety of children’s programs, music opportunities and mission trips. Its a place where questions are answered and you can grow together in respect, trust and build those same family memories. If you can’t attend,check out their service online.

There is always a place there…….. for another angel!