A growly bear Christmas

by Lorin Michel Thursday, December 26, 2013 12:07 AM

Guest post by Cooper

I got up really early this morning, even for me. It was still dark. I don’t know what woke me up but once I’m up I need to get out of my kennel and stretch and shake. Sometimes I get up on the bed, after first putting my cold nose on mom’s nose. That’s the way I know she’s really awake cause she says Cooper! Dad took me out and then I came back and got up for a nap. I guess I got up on the wrong side of the kennel though cause every time mom moved, I growled. I don’t know why but I did and she kept telling me to shush and that if I didn’t settle down. She never finishes that sentence when she says it. I guess she thinks I can finish it for her.

If I didn’t settle down then she’d make me sleep there all day. That’s what I think.

I didn’t settle down but I didn’t get to sleep there all day either because I found out it was Christmas. I kind of knew something was going on because there was a tree in the house and mom kept playing all this special music and then there were boxes under the tree and a round tree on the front door that lit up at night. I know it was at night because when we went for a walk in the morning it was just this round tree, but when we went for another walk and came home at night it was lit up.

Dad kept talking about Santa Paws coming to visit. I don’t always like it when people come to visit, especially if I don’t know them though mom and dad both say I’m getting better. I don’t like guys in uniforms and I heard that this Santa guy wears a red uniform. I wasn’t sure I’d like him if he came to the door. Turns out he comes down the chimney. Now I stood in front of the chimney this morning and I looked and I thought, how does anybody fit down that? Plus we had a fire last night and I know that fire can burn, especially if you’re in fur like me. Santa’s uniform also has fur so I didn’t think that was a good idea.

Me and Santa Butt

When we came out this morning, there was nobody else here but Justin – I really like Justin. He can come visit any time – so I figured that Santa didn’t come. Then I got some new toys and one was a Santa Butt! I looked at dad like, is this the Santa you were talking about? He just laughed.

I got to have some new cookies that my Aunt Khristan sent and that Justin gave me. I like cookies a lot. I watched everybody open their presents and laugh and talk. I was right in the middle, under the table so I could see everything, from where I was by mom’s feet. She pushed on me once or twice, by accident and I didn’t do growly bear because I only do growly bear when I’m on the bed. Don’t know why. It just seems like the place to do growly bear.

But one time, I was in front of the fire and mom came over to pet on me and I gave her a little growly bear and she laughed and said Merry Christmas, growly bear. And so I growled again.

Then I went and got my Santa Butt to chew on because dad said nothing says Christmas like a Santa Butt and since I didn’t get to meet the real Santa his butt is the next best thing. At least that’s what I think. 

Santa Claus is coming to my dining room table

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, December 19, 2012 8:18 PM

Once upon a time, somewhere in the 4th century, there was a man who lived in southwestern Turkey. He was known as the Bishop of Myra and was credited with a number of miracles mostly involving sailors and children. After his death, he became the patron saint of both groups as well as for unmarried girls. He was also given his own day of feast, initially celebrated on December 6th, and his name became Saint Nicholas.

After Pope Julius I decided to assign December 25th as the official celebration of the birth of Jesus, attempting to Christianize what had until then been the date of a pagan midwinter festival, Saint Nicholas’s day of feast also was moved to December 25th for consolidation purposes and the connection was established. A tradition soon developed that had Saint Nicholas visiting the homes of small children on the eve of December 24th. Eventually Saint Nicholas became Sinter Klaas who became Sancte Claus and finally Santa Claus.

It wasn’t until 1810 that Santa Claus was shown – in a drawing by Alexander Anderson – depositing toys in children’s stockings that had been hung by the fireplace. Soon he had transportation, desperately needed in order to reach all of those children, in the form a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer, at least according to the song. He moved to the North Pole, thanks to cartoonist Thomas Nast, who was commissioned to do a series of drawings for Harper’s Weekly starting in 1862.Nast also is credited with creating the toy-building workshop and for the naughty or nice mantra. As for his lovely red and white outfit, it was Norman Rockwell who dressed Mr. Claus for a 1921 cover of The Country Gentleman magazine. By the time Coca-Cola showcased its famous depiction of the man in the red suit, his colors had already been well established.

I write all of this because I am a Santa Claus fan, especially when it comes to decorating our house for the holidays. I’m not one of those people who get out of control when it comes to decorating. In fact, I think I’m pretty tame by many standards. Outside, we hang some white lights in several of the trees and shrubs leading up to the front door. Two small white-light laced Christmas trees guard the entrance to the walkway and over the garage door, white icicle lights twinkle. I also put a wreath on the front door. It, too, has white lights. It’s actually quite subdued and lovely.

Inside, we have a 7-foot artificial tree decorated with grape-cluster lights; at the top is a Santa. A heart-shaped Wine Lover sign hangs from his mittened hand. Naturally, stockings are hung by the chimney, and placed strategically throughout the living and dining room are my Byers’ Choice Carolers. I’ve been collecting these wonderful little hand-painted, hand-assembled singers since the late 1980s and have currently amassed at least 30. Almost all are dressed in Dickensian England attire. There are men boldly singing, others singing while holding Christmas trees, still others with ice skates. There is a chimney sweep and his apprentice (naturally, they’re on the fireplace mantle above the stockings). There are children and dogs and cats. There is a woman selling wreaths and an old Christmas witch. And there is my finished collection of A Christmas Carol, all first edition, with Scrooge and Marley’s ghost, the three ghosts (of past, present and future), Bob Cratchet, Tiny Tim and Mrs. Cratchet, Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, the boy with the goose, and a redemptive Scrooge with Christmas presents. They are arranged on my music cabinet, complete with another Caroler wearing a sandwich board for “A Christmas Carol.”

When Kevin completed my collection several years ago, we almost didn’t know what to do. For years, every Christmas, his goal was to find another missing piece of the story, again as a first edition. He’d buy from sellers on ebay as well as in different stores across the country. He’d start in September, making phone calls. With the last Caroler – we think it was Mrs. Fezziwig – we looked at each other. He enjoyed the hunt; I love the Carolers. Now what?

I had bought myself a Santa Caroler years before, and my brother had bought me a Santa in a sleigh being pulled by a single reindeer. A new collection of Santas, also first edition, began. They are from all different times, wearing any number of Santa-approved outfits. They now grace the dining room table. I have six plus an elf plus a really big Santa in the background. Several years ago, my mom and sister sent me another big Byers’ Choice-type Santa who had previously been used only for display in stores. He stands, as big as a small child, on an antique wine box in the entrance way, welcoming visitors.

Santa Claus may be coming to your town but as far as I’m concerned he’s coming to my dining room table, and I’m thrilled to see him. In any incarnation.

Greetings ... from a card

by Lorin Michel Monday, December 19, 2011 11:14 PM

The idea of greeting someone is as old as humanity and maybe as old as the animal kingdom that was here before us. Nothing says hi, hello, bienvenidos, welkom, willkommen and more than a well-positioned growl, bark or butt-sniff. It’s all about making one’s presence known. A good human greeting can also show what type of relationship or social status exists between people. It can include a simple kiss on the cheek or the hand, a hand shake, hug, bow, or a nose rub, even the aforementioned butt thing, though that’s traditionally only shared between canines and other cultures perhaps undiscovered.

Kissing is the most common greeting, sometimes once, often twice, and in Russia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, the Netherlands and Egypt, three kisses are exchanged, always on alternative cheeks. Parts of France, like in Provence, do the same. In Nantes, four kisses are traded. In the Galapagos, women kiss on the right cheek only. In Oman, men first shake hands and then kiss each other on the nose to say ‘hello, I’m here! Let’s get started!’ Started on what remains to be determined.

In-person greetings work best when you actually have an opportunity to see the person you’re greeting. If not, obviously a hello over the phone lines can work. I just shared one of those greetings with my mother this evening. When I see her, I usually just give her a big hug and a little squeeze, not too hard. I don’t want to hurt her; she just had back surgery after all. And she’s a little more fragile than she used to be.

The first Christmas card

When I can’t see her or any of my family, which is more the rule than the exception, there is the other approved greeting: the greeting card. It’s a custom that started in China when the ancients exchanged messages to celebrate the New Year and in early Egypt, where rulers wrote their greetings on a papyrus scroll. Flash-forward to early 15th century Europe when handmade paper greeting cards were first exchanged. It was the Germans who may have started the practice as early as 1400. Paper Valentine cards were exchanged for the first time in the middle of the 15th century.

By the 1850s, greeting cards had gotten cheaper because of newer ways of printing as well as sending. It ushered in a new kind of greeting card, the Christmas card, first published in London in 1843 when Sir Henry Cole, a British civil servant, hired an artist named John Calcott Horsley, known for his historical scenes, to design the world’s first known holiday card. It was mailed to friends and acquaintances. By the 1860s, companies like Marcus Ward were mass-producing greeting cards. Soon there were greeting cards for everything from birthdays to new baby announcements to new jobs to sympathy, thank yous to get well soons to ‘you’re better off without him/her’s and more. The latter is an example of a funny kind of card – the humorous card – and was first introduced in the 1940s.

Hallmark, founded in 1910, remains the largest manufacturer of printed greeting cards selling $4.4 billion worth of cards each year. The oldest manufacturer however is American Greetings Corporation, which began printing cards in 1906. They’ve branched out into electronic cards now as well, a burgeoning business since people are online all the time. I’m guilty of this myself, though I still like to send and received real cards. There’s something more organic about it. It makes me smile to walk to and open the mailbox and see an envelope, hand-addressed with my name.

The busiest day of the year for sending cards is today. I heard that on NPR this morning. The USPS is expected to deliver some 16.5 billion letters, cards and packages by New Year’s Eve. (UPS will also deliver 26 million packages on December 22; about 300 per second.)

There are regular greeting cards, photo cards, personalized, musical, pop-up (a favorite) and electronic.

Greeting cards may not be as personal as a kiss on the cheek or the nose, or even a good old-fashioned butt-sniff (Maguire’s greeting of choice), but they are a lovely way to say “hello, bienvenidos, welkom, willkommen. I was thinking about you. I miss you. I love you. I hope you’re having a great day. You mean a lot to me. I celebrate you being in my life.”

Tonight I’m celebrating greetings of all kinds but especially those from a card because I still love the idea and the sentiments expressed. You can say things on a card you can’t always say in person; you can celebrate someone special.

Tonight I’m celebrating all the someone-specials in my life. My husband, my son, my family, my friends, my colleagues, my clients. And I’m sending these greetings… from my blog.

A brief history of the man in the red suit

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, December 13, 2011 11:18 PM

There are many theories as to who invented the modern Santa Claus. Many attribute it to Washington Irving who wrote a book called History of New York in 1809, where he changed the Dutch name of Sinterklaas into the more Americanized Santa Claus. Evidently the words Santa Claus actually appeared first in the Rivington’s Gazette in New York City on December 23, 1773 when the reporter wrote: “Last Monday, the anniversary of St. Nicholas, otherwise called Santa Claus, was celebrated…” In 1821, a book titled A New-year’s present, to the little ones from five to twelve contained an anonymous poem, Old Santeclaus, about a man who brought presents to children via a reindeer-driven sleigh.

The author Clemente Clarke Moore wrote a poem in 1823 entitled A visit from St. Nicholas about a “right jolly old elf” who rode through the airwaves on a miniature sleigh pulled by tiny reindeer named Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem, the latter two from the Dutch words for thunder and lightning. Enter Thomas Nast, a cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly. In 1863, he drew a depiction of Mr. Claus that was published in the January 3rd issue of the magazine. Many attribute the idea of Santa’s home being the North Pole to having come from Nast on December 29, 1866 in a collage called Santa Claus and His Works which included this caption: Santa Claussville, N.P. In 1869, George Webster wrote a poem to accompany Nast’s engravings, writing that Santa Claus’s home was “near the North Pole, in the ice and snow.”

As for the big man’s wife, she appears to be the invention of Katherine Lee Bates, an 1889 poet who first wrote of Santa’s wife in Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride.

From there, Santa barreled into the 20th century with L. Frank Baum’s other semi-famous work The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, and then Haddon Sundblom created the ultimate illustration of the man in the red suit for Coca-Cola. He’s the Santa most kids know, the Santa seen in parades and in temporary huts set up in malls around the country, the Santa wearing a red velvety suit with white fluffy fringe to match his cotton like beard and a floppy hat, also fringed with white.

Santa Claus. By Thomas Nast, 1863

But many centuries ago, Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas, a 4th century Greek bishop famous for his generous gifts to the poor. Tall and bearded, he roamed the countryside in long flowing robes. Santa was Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, and was always old and serious, though he still sported the soon-to-be-famous white beard. As Father Christmas, in the 17th century, he was shown as a jolly, large man, sporting a beard and a long, green, fur-lined robe. See the Ghost of Christmas Present in any incarnation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for a fairly accurate depiction.

In the past, Scandinavia hailed an elf called Tomte or Nisse. Today, the Dutch call him de Kerstman; the French embrace Père Noël. Brazil addresses him as Papai Noel while Germany calls him Der Weihnachtsmann.

Odin. By Georg von Rosen, 1886

One of the stories I find most interesting is that of the figure Odin, a Norse God popular in Germany in the 13th century. According to the tale, children would place their boots filled with carrots, straw or sugar near the chimney for Odin’s flying eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. Odin would reward the children for their kindness by replacing the food, meant for his horse, with gifts. Shoes were eventually replaced with stockings, no doubt hung by the chimney with care in hopes that Odin and Sleipnir soon would be there.

I am fascinated by the idea of Santa Claus and by his many forms. It shows the power of imagination, and the will of humans throughout history to find the goodness present in most. Santa has come to symbolize presents but he’s more than that. Santa is fun, for sure, but he’s aspirational. He asks for nothing and gives everything in return.

Whatever you call him, however you know him, his ideal shines brightly. Celebrate it with him. Live it out loud.

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live out loud

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