Christmas reflections 2021

By Caryl Clem

Holiday’s allow us to travel through time

Bouncing back and forth between then and now

Cherished Christmas tales lit by fireplace flames

Imagination casts a spell over moonlit lawns

As children fight sleep to spy

Or hear the whisper of a silent sleigh

Pulled by reindeers hooves on frozen stardust

Trails in the starlight sky

Shining proof he has stopped by

Musical bells heard below

Blend with Secret Santa’s HO! HO! HO

Every tradition and custom feels brand new

Timeless wonder the magic surrounding Christmas

Another year passes with grace

As we reflect on the love in our lives

Eager to begin another year

Celebrating promise and hope

Stepping forward into a Happy New Year.

Pretty soon you will hear them prancing!

She found the book a few days ago; sharing her memory as well as my own. Twenty one years ago, my daughter wrote a Christmas poem, given to her teacher at Indian Trail school in Downers Grove to be submitted to the Anthology of Poetry since she loved writing. Though at times, I wonder if it was me more excited about my love of writing; guiding her my way. However, both of us strongly remember sitting on the bed working and I think there was a great deal of time spent at dining room table where arts, crafts and homework always took precedence.  I, too, had published in poetry anthologies and now they were looking for young writers. If hard to read in the picture, the copy of the poem is written in this article.

The poem was accepted in the 2001 addition. The editors accepted the poems in their format and punctuation; extending a warm thank you to those they selected as well as expecting great things from them in the future. Just being able to spend a wonderful time with my daughter then and appreciating her love now is what I call a great things in the future that the editor had hoped for all who had been published in the book.

Anthology of Poetry still exists since their first publication in 1990. Working with elementary, middle school and high school teachers throughout the United States, the AOP offers a professional forum for students’ poems and short stories. They also engage teachers in the selection process for our Teacher’s Selection anthologies. We recognize how challenging it is to develop a love for reading and writing in students when there are many distractions and few tools.

Christmas

Hang the stockings

Trim the tree

Make snowman cute as can be

Watch the snowflakes fall to the ground

Grab your boots and let’s run around

Drink hot chocolate from a Christmas cup

Build a fire to warm you up

Check the sky for Santa’s sleigh

He sure won’t be far away

Very soon you’ll hear them prancing

Santa’s reindeer will be dancing

The time has come for you to hear

Santa Claus’ jolly old cheer

You leave your room to sneak some peeks

At the man with the big red rosy cheeks

He piles packages under the tree

And turns around to smile at me

Then we go to find a treat

And we both sit down to drink and eat

When he is ready to leave I go to bed

And out of my window I see his fabulous sled

From high in the sky he waves goodbye

Until next year comes for my friends and I!

Decades of Chicagoland holidays

Growing up on the south side of Chicago in the late 1950’s, for my Dad, it was the Christmas Tree. In the picture, this was my second Christmas, My second tree. The Christmas tree that was real. Not the fake trees that were first metal, silver and generally had coordinated ball ornaments that were all the same. The metal tree also rotated in a stand to music with floor lights. My father had to have an 8ft real tree with over 600 colored bulb lights where two lights of the same color were never together, bubble lights which were effectively scattered as well as intricate ornaments  placed with care on each branch to compliment the space. Tinsel was hung one string at a time. And that was it…sometimes he would put colored lights to frame his creation around the front window facing the street. The tree took hours, sometimes days to complete but it was his masterpiece and still remembered by many today. After Dad passed away , I tried to carry on the tradition in the 1970’s for my Mother. She switched to a fake, green tree with the new Italian lights and garland while living in Dolton. My own children had the same in the 1990’s only with new ornaments, bows and taller since it sat in a foyer at our home in Downers Grove.

What about other holiday decorations famous through the years? Over 108 years, the Chicago downtown tree has always been a major a favorite to visit. The first official Christmas tree in the city of Chicago was installed in 1913 in Grant Park and lit on Christmas Eve by then-mayor Carter Harrison. This first tree was a 35-foot (11 m) tall spruce tree. Beginning with Christmas 1966 the official Chicago Christmas tree was placed in Civic Center Plaza, now known as Daley Plaza. At that time, it was over 70ft tall and made of several trees. I was mesmerized as a child though my children were not as excited. With the exception of 1981, the tree was installed in Daley Plaza each year until 2015 where it moved to Millenium Park. The Civic Center now celebrates the 25th year of Christkindlmarket. The booths were always fun to visit with my children occasionally buying a mug of the best hot chocolate.

At two years old, my son began calling it the Christmas Tree House. His first trip was in 1989 and that is what stuck with our family all these years. Throughout the 1990’s, my son and my daughter traveled there every year for Christmas and just could not stop staring; could not be pulled away regardless of the weather. Some called it Santa’s house, others, the Christmas House. However, it was the most beautiful holiday home in Downers Grove created by Diane and Rion Goyette.

More great places today!

Lincoln Park Zoolights 
Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago
On the north side of Chicago, for over 20 years Lincoln Park Zoo has provided a beautiful light display of over 2 million lights. You can also find beautiful ice carvings throughout the zoo grounds and other holiday related activities such as ice skating where you can bring your own skates or rent a pair.

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo 8400 31st St. Brookfield, Il 60513
Just south of Chicago in Brookfield at the zoo, you can see over 30 years of celebration for the holiday season. Visitors can be dazzled by over a million lights and can enjoy caroling with the animals and special treat with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Several corporations have set up trees set to music and one that you can actually interact.

Chicago Botanic Garden is bringing back their experiential Lightscape experience for another year. The awe-inspiring display is set along a mile-long path where visitors can admire light installations by artists from around the world. Lightscape is open on select dates from November 12, 2021 to January 2, 2022.

Morton Arboretum is wonderful place but tickets are currently sold out.

Aurora Festival of Lights One of the largest free outdoor drive-through holiday light displays in Northern Illinois, the Aurora Festival of Lights, returns for its 15th year in 2021 with dazzling displays that will delight both adults and children. The light show begins the day after Thanksgiving, Friday Nov 26, and runs through Dec 26. Sunday  through Saturday 5-9pm. Last year, the festival had over 50,000 cars. Buses are welcome too.

Where is the Wish Book?

After leafing through a small catalog mailer checking out the two page kid section, it was certainly far from grand as I remembered during my time when the Wish Book came in the mail at our house….just about this time of year, every year. For those that remember, The Wish Book was every child’s hopes and dreams to be eternally satisfied in gifts from Santa for the holiday season. The Wish Book was every parents dream to keep us busy marking the pages, even cutting out, and highlighting the most important choices that would be wrapped and placed under our Christmas tree. I made excuses to stay on the potty longer than usual, my posterior sore just to intensely study and plan with my Wish Book. This was no flimsy flyer. Published by Sears in the forties, fifties and 1960’s holiday additions where over 400 pages in length. In 1964,1968, and 1969 proudly boasted over 600 pages and it took two hands to carry. I finally cut out the Barbie I wanted and carried that around until Christmas.

How beautiful the dolls…. dressed in ruffles and fairyland colors just like it says in the book in 1964. There was Betsy Wetsy, the tiny kissing cousins, the exceptional Thumbelina. Barbie, Ken, Midge, Allan and Skipper, Barbies new dream house, vinyl cases and sculptured doll carriages priced as low as $4.98. Then there were pages of vanities with neatly filled cosmetic trays, Little Hostess Buffet, All in I kitchen in corrugated card board as well as all steel play kitchens and fully furnished Split level houses of sturdy steel for under $10.00 along with phonographs that never needed a tube replacement. There were tuck and touch needlepoint sets that were never that easy. There were paint by number which were my favorite that I still do.

Of course there were the 3 speed bikes, Gilbert train sets, Ford J slot cars, Gemini rocket to blast to the moon,walkiestalkies with code buttons to send secret messages. There were the electric build it sets and basic science club kits, chemical sets and wood burning sets in all shapes and sizes with an actual analog computer for only 5.88. Gas and battery powered miniature cars and planes and at one point motorized erector sets. Make things work boys, with your own 53 piece workshop with a workbench to match for under 20 dollars. And there were plenty of guns from the newest assault rifle to the western marshal outfit.

We both had view masters with our collection of pictures from Cinderella, Bambi, Batman and the Man from Uncle as well as an etch a sketch for under 3 dollars. I guess those were like our cell phones today. We both played music. For the boys, it was Roy Rogers Guitar, an accordion and girls tended to receive pianos in all different sizes.

And what about the games for the entire family? There was dominos, chess, checkers of all types,along with CandyLand, Cootie House, Dr. Kildare, Lie Detector, Dick Tracy, Snakes Alive, battery operated table top Pinballs.

And believe it or not, my wish book has finally arrived once again. Not in the form of back breaking print but I can peruse through the pages of several Sears catalogs from my time at Wishbookweb.com. I can thumb through the entire catalog while sitting on the potty with my phone.

I wonder if I could place an order too!

Aww…..the good old days!

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.