Tag Archives: Christmas

Only 363 Days Till Christmas

or… “How I Overcame Stress and Learned to Love Christmas”

Next ChristmasIt’s over. Christmas of 2011 sits two days in the rear view. The nog boxes are empty and Mannheim Steamroller has stepped aside for Maroon 5. The jolly fat dude with the tacky red coat is basking away at an all-inclusive in Montego Bay — sans Speedo. (Wrap your head around that one.)

The annual insanity has subsided and in a few days we’ll all be back to normal, complaining about the weather, the bills, the kids… bitch, bitch, bitch.

You have to wonder what it is about those last six weeks of the year, the days between Thanksgiving, starting off with the annual retail madness known as Black Friday, through a frenzied December to finally reach a crescendo of craziness on Christmas day.  And then to catch your breath for a few days before punctuating the insanity on New Years Eve.

Wal-Mart ChristmasWhat is it about the holiday season that injects a senseless imbalance on the retail landscape of America? What motivates people who struggle to make it to work on time, practically every other day of the year, to easily rise at 3:00 in the morning and then dash off to grab a primo place in the Wal-Mart line on Black Friday? It’s got to be some insidious form of dementia brought on by the holidays.

These are mad times, I tell you.. mad times.

I have my own personal holiday meditation method that I call Zen and the Art of Surviving Christmas. It’s a combination of acceptance, awareness, and amazon dot com. I did break my own rule this year and schlepped out to Wally World on Saturday a week before Christmas. I was amazed to find the aisles cleared, shoppers civil, and an open checkout line waiting for my arrival. I was slightly befuddled by the lack of Christmas shoppers and quizzed the smiling face scanning away at my stuff. “Has it been busy today?”

She stopped sliding the canned goods across the glass. She gave me that Wal-Mart corporate smile and said something that seemed odd at the time, yet brilliant in her deflection. She raised the Mountain Dew bottle in her hand and answered my question with a question, “Would you like to leave this out of the bag?”

I was no closer to solving the mystery of the absentee shoppers. I resigned myself to total ignorance of the retail riddle. I took the Mountain Dew bottle in hand, sighed and replied,  “Yes, thank you.”

She returned to her task and I to my puzzlement. After handing over my hard-earned money, I wheeled my overflowing cart through the parking lot and began to notice a strange phenomenon. Nobody was fighting for parking. There were empty slots near the front. It was like shopping in July except much cooler.

Where was the typical Christmas delerium I remember?

And then the light came on and I remembered things like 9% unemployment, election year, ObamaCare and the Gringe that ate D.C. People are hurting right where they live — in the wallet. People stayed home in droves hanging on to that disposable income because people are unsure what 2012 will bring.

Christmas morning arrived much like every other day with a couple of exceptions. Stockings were hung from the chair-rail with care and I discovered the best traditions are the ones you create for yourself. Dinner and a movie on Christmas is exquisite in its simplicity and lack of stress. The dogs showed as much excitement over the contents of their respective stockings than any child I ever saw.

The message I got this Christmas was simply this.

Christmas LoveIt’s not about the colorful packages under the tree or the food, or the red and green lights hanging from eaves. It’s not about the big game on TV or the new Xbox. It’s not about the stuff you get. It’s about the stuff you give that you can’t see. It’s not something you can buy at the mall or trade for on eBay. It’s something that comes from your heart.

I know, I felt it in abundance around our house this year.

It’s a crazy little thing called love.

My Christmas Gift to Everyone

Merry Christmas all. It’s a beautiful morning here on the plains.

As my special Christmas gift to everybody I am offering my novel HAUNTING INJUSTICE, as a FREE GIFT to download at Smashwords. This is a TODAY ONLY deal.

Head on over to  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/55588, give it a download and enter the coupon code PB84D on Checkout. You will be given a %100 discount and my novel for FREE. (Today only so act fast)

Haunting Injustice“A bona fide, page turning thriller!” – Apex Reviews….

Ghosts, murder, kidnapping, technology, love and romance. This ghost story has it all. Phoenix Worthy, noted paranormal investigator, lives in the most haunted city in America, Savannah, Ga. His latest hunt brings him face-to-face with a brutal killer. The only question is… Who is more deadly–the killer or the ghosts of his victims?

Fruit Cake (repost)

I guess I am getting lazy in my run up to Christmas blogs. This is a copy of my blog post from 365 days ago.



Fruit Cake Gets a Bad Rap – Dec 22, 2010

Fruit cake is a holiday desert, loved by few – despised by many. In its various shapes, sizes, ingredients and texture, the fruit cake has become more than a Christmas desert. It is the brunt of jokes in family circles and vilified by comedians coast to coast.  Johnny Carson joked that there really is only one fruitcake in the world, passed from family to family.

Speaking of The Tonight Show, we have Jay Leno to thank for introducing us to the Fruitcake Lady, Ms. Marie Rudisill from Monroeville, Alabama.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-1ehDZv6JQ]

I’ve been seeing this outrageous personality for years. A little known fact: She is Truman Capote’s aunt. His mother was her older sister.

Speaking of Aunts, one of mine used to send me a fruitcake every year for Christmas. I am one of those odd human beings that actually likes good fruitcake.  Anyway, the annual fruitcake would show up every year the week before Christmas. You practically needed a fork truck to move this thing around. My concern with this desert was not its weight, but its proof.  You see I think she started the liquor soaking in August so that it would be all ready to go out before Christmas.  My friends would say, “Why don’t you slice me off a sip of that fruitcake.” I’m surprised the ‘Revenuers’ weren’t showing up looking to tax this thing.  Anyway, I figured out I had an allergy to alcohol and had to ask my aunt to stop sending the annual fruitcake.  I still get a bit weepy when I think of having to do that.

At times I’ve been compared to a fruit cake, as in: “nuttier than”



Reality is like a fruitcake; pretty enough to look at but with all sorts of nasty things lurking just beneath the surface. ~A. Lee Martinez

Separation of Santa and State

No SantaIt’s political correctness run amuck. It’s government idiocy and scrooge mentality at its finest.

Here’s the scoop.

Somewhere in the very blue state of Massachusetts a local school system banned Santa Claus from visiting elementary school children citing “religious” concerns. It’s the proposed separation of Santa and State.

Since 1960 firefighters in the town of Saugus would dress up like Santa Claus and visit every elementary school in the district handing out coloring books. But on Monday, the school superintendent put on his best Scrooge imitation and told firefighters that they would not be welcome this year. Santa Claus is banned.

“Certainly everyone acknowledges their holiday in a special way they want. But there is a conflict between the church and the state in that regard,” Superintendent Richard Langlois said. (Reports of the rattling of Jacob Marley’s chains clanging in the background cannot be confirmed.)

Whoa there Herr Scrooge, Santa Claus is not a religious figure. There is not one single mention of St. Nick, Kris Kringle, or Father Christmas anywhere in the bible. Santa Claus is a mythical legend, born from folklore and mostly perpetuated in the retail environment.

Regardless, the superintendent stood by his decision. That is until word hit the streets that some idiot was trying to keep Santa Claus away from the children. In this day and age of Facebook and Twitter you can’t hide from your stupid decisions. Common sense took hold and by the end of the day Santa was back on the agenda. The Saugus School Committee is likely to discuss the issue next month. Let’s hope Santa doesn’t get a pink slip.

“I couldn’t believe it,” one firefighter said. “There are so many things in the world going on – to see that all of a sudden Santa can’t go to the schools – what else are we going to give up?”

Superintendent Scrooge defended his Santa ban saying he was simply enforcing the rules. “I’m carrying out the orders of the school community,” he said. “I’m not overstepping my bounds.”

Stocking CoalI suspect the Superintendent probably based his decision on ignorance wrongly assuming anything associated with anything with the word Christ in it was overtly religious. I wonder what “Rules” he was referring to.

You have to wonder where does it stop? A few years back a ban on the jolly fat guy seemed as likely as people pitching tents in Manhattan.

Perhaps Superintendent Scrooge will wake up to a stocking full of coal on Christmas morning.

The appropriate song by the children of Saugus would be…

“We’ll have a blue Christmas without you…”

This whole affair is just another example of: You can’t fix stupid.

The Stockings Were Hung From the Chimney With Care

StockingsHere’s another Christmas tradition I started thinking about. Who came up with hanging socks on the mantle?

There’s very little real history about where the Christmas stocking came from so we have to rely on legend and myth and Wikipedia. I was able to come up with one story that seems like a good place to start.

I like this tale. I mean after all Christmas legends are the best kind.

The original story has evolved over time to spin the differences in culture and society, but the reality is this is good old fashioned story-telling.

Once there was a father with three beautiful daughters. Although the daughters were kind and strong, the father despaired of them ever making good marriages, because he didn’t have enough money to pay their dowries.

One day, St. Nicholas of Myra was passing through their village and heard the locals discussing the plight of these poor girls. St Nicholas knew the father would be too proud to accept an outright gift. So he waited till dark, snuck to the man’s house, and dropped three bags of gold coins down the chimney.

The daughters had spent the evening washing clothes, and had hung their stockings by the fireplace to dry. The gold coins dropped into the stockings, one bag for each daughter. In the morning, they awoke to find enough money to make them each a generous dowry, and all married well and happily.

As word of St. Nicholas’ generosity spread, others began to hang their stockings by the fireplace, hoping for a similar gift.

I can be a real sap for a good Christmas story.

So how did this tradition take hold for American children? Some folks credit the idea to Thomas Nast, who drew stockings on the mantelpiece in his 1886 illustrations for a George Webster story called “Santa Claus and His Works.” While Nast did create the popular modern image of Santa Claus as a white-bearded, red-suited, boot-wearing jolly man, he cannot be responsible for the stocking tradition.

We know that because Clement Clark Moore‘s famous poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was written a full 64 years earlier. His poem includes the following immortal lines:

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

It’s likely the Christmas stocking tradition came to America with generations of immigrants. American Christmas is a melting pot of international tradition. Catholics brought the legend of St. Nicholas. The Dutch would put out clogs full of straw for Santa’s reindeer. Italian children brought along the tradition of putting out their shoes for the good witch, La Bufana. And before you could bite into a candy cane the Christmas Stocking became an essential part of the American Christmas.

Yule what?

It’s a word I’ve heard every holiday season since I was a kid. A word that I never knew anything about but hearing it meant Christmas gifts were just around the corner. That word is Yule.

I don’t supposed it ever really occurred to me to question what it meant, where it came from, or how it fit into modern celebrations of Christmas.

It was just always a part of the Christmas I learned as a child, as much as The First Noel and Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.

Imagine my surprise to discover when I started doing a little digging that Yule or Yuletide referred to a winter festival that was initially celebrated by the historical Germanic people as a pagan religious festival, though it was later absorbed into, and equated with, the Christian festival of Christmas.

The festival was originally celebrated from late December to early January on a date determined by the lunar Germanic calendar. The festival was placed on December 25 when the Christian calendar (Julian calendar) was adopted. Scholars have connected the celebration to the Wild Hunt.

Many of the old Yule traditions are still practiced throughout some of the European countries and the occasional north American enclave with various correlations and integration between earth based religions and christian faith. Although it Yule celebration started out as Pagan rituals for nature based religion, it’s interesting that many of the traditions and practices have been folded into the Christian celebrations of the day.

One of the mainstays of the Yule celebration is the burning of the Yule Log. The Yule log was not only seen as a magical protective amulet in traditional British rural culture. There are many reports of rivalries occurring between members of a community as to who had the largest log.

 

Source: Wikipedia

 

Rock and Roll Saturday – More Rock Christmas Songs

With eight days left before the big day I’m gonna dig back into the YouTube Christmas vault and dig out some of those obscure classic rock Christmas tunes, starting with a couple of guys you wouldn’t expect to pay tribute to Santa… Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OUk4vTpLYQ]
My second foray into the realm of rock Christmas songs is a visit with Brian Setzer as he adds his spin to Chuck Berry’s classic, Run Run Rudolph. Setzer struts his stuff and adds a definite growl, both vocally and guitarily, as his trio hits the stage and wows the holiday crowd.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGirb_wgkcw]
What would Christmas be without Mommy Kissing Santa Claus under the mistletoe? Nobody sings it better than John Mellencamp. This is his 1987 version of the holiday classic from the A Very Special Christmas benefit album. Video filmed at sound check during the 1987 Lonesome Jubilee tour and features John’s daughter Teddi on vocals. (What she lacks in ability she makes up for in cuteness)
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsat4e8jgHA]
You have to dig way back in the music box for this one. All the way back to 1977 when Ray Davies penned this classic, Father Christmas. It was released as a single on the B-Side of Prince of the Punks. The song become an instant classic and has been covered by groups including the Gigolo AuntsGreen DayWarrantLitBowling For SoupSave FerrisAction ActionEverything and OK Go. (I do question the “HQ” moniker attached to this video)
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xEopHCtEUo]
Now many of you won’t know my next selection, unless you are from Texas or other small southern towns where his name is well-known in dance halls and honky-tonks. It’s even a stretch to call this diddy southern rock but because it’s worth sharing, I’m making that call. (It’s my blog… I’m allowed.) Seems like I remember a Christmas or two just like this. Family Christmas and multiple runs to the Stop & Go store.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P37xPiRz1sg]
And last but certainly not least, Darlene Love performing “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” on The Late Show with David Letterman. December 22, 1995. Makes me want to grab a cup of egg nog and slice up the fruit cake.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mbzhrjz_gVc]

I make no claim of ownership whatsoever to any of this music or these videos. They are provided simply for the viewers enjoyment.

Secret Santa

With all the bad Christmas news out there these days it’s good to see one of these stories hit my inbox.

It’s not secret that times are tough. Unemployment is still much worse than the White House would want you to believe. Politics in Washington is not much business as usual and staring down the barrel of an election year I suspect it’s only going to get worse.

But there is the occasional bright spot.

Take for instance a young father with three small children standing in line at the K-Mart customer service counter in Indiana. His dirty work clothes and leather boots indicative of a hard, working-man’s life. When it came his turn he said he wanted to pay a little bit on his Christmas layaway.

Suddenly a lady stepped to the counter and said, “No, I’m paying for it.”

The man and the clerk stood there for a second nearly in shock. The assistant manager recalls the circumstances. “He just stood there and looked at her and then looked at me and asked if it was a joke. I told him it wasn’t, and that she was going to pay for him. And he just busted out in tears.”

It sounds like a one-hit wonder but retail stores across the country are reporting similar phenomenon. Anonymous donors are stepping forward to pay off other customer layoffs, buying Christmas gifts for impoverished families, especially toys and children’s clothes.

The same Indianapolis woman in her mid-40s paid off layaway orders for as many as 50 people before she left the store. On the way out, she handed out $50 bills and paid for two carts of toys for a woman in line at the cash register.

“She was doing it in the memory of her husband who had just died, and said she wasn’t going to be able to spend it and wanted to make people happy with it,” a store clerk reported. The woman did not identify herself and only asked people to “remember Ben,” an apparent reference to her husband.

The manager, who said she’s worked in retail for 40 years, had never seen anything like it. “It was like an angel fell out of the sky and appeared in our store.”

In Omaha a Kmart employee called customer Dona Bremser and told her someone had paid off the $70 balance on her layaway account.

“I was speechless,” Bremser said. “It made me believe in Christmas again.”
Dozens of other customers have received similar calls in Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Montana.

The benefactors generally ask to help families who are squirreling away items for young children. They often pay a portion of the balance, usually all but a few dollars or cents so the layaway order stays in the store’s system.

The phenomenon seems to have begun in Michigan before spreading, Kmart executives said. “It is honestly being driven by people wanting to do a good deed at this time of the year,” said Salima Yala, Kmart’s division vice president for layaway.
The good Samaritans seem to be visiting mainly Kmart stores, though a Wal-Mart spokesman said a few of his stores in Joplin, Mo., and Chicago have also seen some layaway accounts paid off.

Kmart may be the focus of layaway generosity, Yala said, because it is one of the few large discount stores that has offered layaway year-round for about four decades.
The sad memories of layaways lost prompted at least one good Samaritan to pay off the accounts of five people at an Omaha Kmart, said Karl Graff, the store’s assistant manager.

“She told me that when she was younger, her mom used to set up things on layaway at Kmart, but they rarely were able to pay them off because they just didn’t have the money for it,” Graff said.

He called a woman who had been helped, “and she broke down in tears on the phone with me.

She wasn’t sure she was going to be able to pay off their layaway and was afraid their kids weren’t going to have anything for Christmas.”

“You know, 50 bucks may not sound like a lot, but I tell you what, at the right time, it may as well be a million dollars for some people,” Graff said.

Graff’s store alone has seen about a dozen layaway accounts paid off in the last 10 days, with the donors paying $50 to $250 on each account.

“To be honest, in retail, it’s easy to get cynical about the holidays, because you’re kind of grinding it out when everybody else is having family time,” Graff said. “It’s really encouraging to see this side of Christmas again.”

Lori Stearnes of Omaha also benefited from the generosity of a stranger who paid all but $58 of her $250 layaway bill for toys for her four youngest grandchildren.

Stearnes said she and her husband live paycheck to paycheck, but she plans to use the money she was saving for the toys to help pay for someone else’s layaway.

In Missoula, Mont., a man spent more than $1,200 to pay down the balances of six customers whose layaway orders were about to be returned to a Kmart store’s inventory because of late payments.

Store employees reached one beneficiary on her cellphone at Seattle Children’s Hospital, where her son was being treated for an undisclosed illness.

“She was yelling at the nurses, ‘We’re going to have Christmas after all!'” manager Josine Murrin said.

A Kmart in Plainfield Township, Mich., called Roberta Carter last week to let her know a man had paid all but 40 cents of her $60 layaway.

Carter, a mother of eight from Grand Rapids, Mich., said she cried upon hearing the news. She and her family have been struggling as she seeks a full-time job.

“My kids will have clothes for Christmas,” she said.

Angie Torres, a stay-at-home mother of four children under the age of 8, was in the Indianapolis Kmart on Tuesday to make a payment on her layaway bill when she learned the woman next to her was paying off her account.

“I started to cry. I couldn’t believe it,” said Torres, who doubted she would have been able to pay off the balance. “I was in disbelief. I hugged her and gave her a kiss.”

John Lennon – Happy Xmas (War is Over)

Happy Xmas (War_is_Over)“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” is a song written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono and released in 1971 as a single by John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir.

Fundamentally the song was released as a protest song about the Vietnam War. It has endured to become a Christmas standard and has appeared on several Christmas albums.

War Is Over was voted the ninth favourite Christmas song in a VH1 poll.  Shortly after John Lennon’s murder on the 8th of December, 1980 it was re-released in the OK and peaked at number 2 in the chart battle for the Christmas number one.

The lyric is based on a campaign in late 1969 by Lennon and Ono, who rented billboard space and posters in eleven major cities around the world that read: “WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) Happy Christmas from John and Yoko”.

In 1971, the United States was deeply entrenched in the unpopular Vietnam War. The line “War is over, if you want it, war is over, now!”, as sung by the background vocals, was taken directly from the billboards.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yN4Uu0OlmTg]