Those old maligned Christmas letters

The families who didn’t send Christmas letters poked fun at the people who did send Christmas letters.

One joke was that the Christmas letters never told the straight skinny–as we called the real truth in the navy–but presented a fantasy version of the family’s activities. Jail time, divorces, bad grades on report cards, and acne never made it into th Christmas letter. It was all good news, creating world peace, saving people from poverty, and receiving various honors and awards.

My parents added new people to their Christmas letter list at every stop in the road of my father’s advancement up through the faculty ranks. Every new college added people we would know the rest of our lives through cards and letters even though we knew them on a day-to-day basis for a few months or a year.

When my parents passed away, I sent their last letter letting everyone know they were gone and thereafter received cards and letters every year from people I hadn’t seen for half a lifetime.

In later years, the family Christmas leters–collected in a three-ring binder–became my memory. If I couldn’t remember what year we visted Niagara Falls or Fort Ticonderoga or Mammoth Cave, I’d pull out the Christma letter diary and look it up. It’s been a handy resource. On the curiosity side, since my folks put their current address in the letters, I’ve been able to use Google Maps and look up all the houses where we lived back into the 1940s. They’re still there. There have been a few times, though, when I wanted to write the current owners and say, “You really screwed up the front yard.”

I don’t send out Christmas letters. But I do send snail mail cards. It’s a way of staying in touch, old fashioned as it may be. A few friends still send us Christmas letters, some interesting, some tedious. As people get older, they often spend a lot of time traveling: so what we get really isn’t a letter, but an intinerary. We skim those because we really don’t need to know the details of every roadtrip.

Frankly, it would ramp up our interest if letters said stuff like, “Laura spent more time this year in county for turning tricks on Tenderloin Street” and “Bob got caught with his hand in the till at work and had to move to a new church” and “Sam’s had syphilis most of the year again while Megan is hanging out with a bad crowd.”

I’ve been tempted to say such things, but my wife thought it was a bad idea. Probably so.

I often wonder if people under 30 these days care about family continuity whether it’s coming from Ancestry.com or saving old letters. It bothers me to think more and more people don’t care who their grandparents were/are or where they lived. All of that past family history seems to play a role in creating the people we’ve become–even if we joke about it by saying, “Acccording to the Christmas letter of 1983. . .”

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Every year we go through this: Christmas Day is the First Day of Christmas

Retailers love countdowns, one of them being their fake 12 days of Christmas that ends on December 25th. This helps sales, no doubt. But I cringe when I see it because it’s a marketing strategy that pre-empts the reality of the holiday.

Dear retailers: If you need to usurp a holy countdown, use Advent (November 29 – December 24.)

This brings us to December 25th, the first day of Christmas in most traditions, the days that old song refers to.

You probably sing the song at one party or another during “Twelvetide,” and perhaps you know the meaning of the verses:

The Twelve Days, of course, lead up to Twelfth night, the day when in most traditions, the greenery comes out of the house. My neighbors are used to our Christmas lights staying on through the 5th of January. The following day is Epiphany, the day the wise men visited the Christ Child.

I suppose many people sleep through Epiphany if they continue the tradition of the Twelfth Night party where everyone gets drunk:

This looks kind of expensive, so we don’t throw a party. However, if you’re throwing a party, please let us know. The first thing, though, is knowing when the Twelve Days of Christmas begin and end.

Malcolm

Were you awake at 5:02 a.m. today?”

 Winter Solstice 2020

If so, you watched the winter solstice roar into the eastern time zone. Personally, I slept through it. No worries. It’s not like there was anything to see, actually. I’m just happy that tonight is as much darkness as we’re going to see and more and more light will be arriving. And we can use that, especially this year.

Growing up, my Christmas had a lot of the old Yule in it. Yule traditionally begins today and runs through January 1. The twelve days of Christmas traditionally begin December 25 and run through Twelfth Night (Epiphany). Suffice it to say, we had a Yule log, holly, plenty of greenery, and mistletoe (which I avoided). I hope some people are still carrying on these traditions.

However you celebrate the season and decorate your house, I hope you find hope and happiness in spite of the 2020 headlines. I like the older traditions, so if you were to drive by my house, you’ll find my outside decorations up until the night of January 5th. The neighborhood doesn’t mind: they just think I’m lazy.

When my wife and I lived in a townhome in a close-in Atlanta suburb, we bought a live Christmas Tree (spruce, of course). At the end of the season, we planted it in a shady spot and were surprised that the tree liked the place and was taller than the house when we moved ten years later. I hope it’s still there.

It’s nice to think that in spite of the on-going commercialization of the season that some traditions endure.

Malcolm

Christmas is for restocking books

Adults are hard to buy for unless they all live in the same house like the Waltons. When we’re living far flung around the country, we seldom know what people might want, and should we guess wrong and send something without checking, they’ll probably already have it or they won’t like it.

I know better than to put F-Type Jaguar on my list or even a new Jeep, so I try to be reasonable when I compile my wish list. If anyone wants to send me an F-Type Jag, they’ll have to pay the insurance costs. Allstate is fine, by the way

The grandchildren are easy to buy for because their mother knows what they like/want/need, creates a big list, and shares it. We split the list up with others in the family so there are no duplicates. Occasionally, we’ve teamed up to give gifts that are too expensive for one of us. This only happens when “the big present” costs $10000000 and none of us wants to mortgage our house to buy it.

But, the adults can do nothing for each other without a list. For better or worse, the older I get, the less “stuff” I want. If I need it, I’ve already bought it. So, that leaves books. I give the list to my wife, she picks something and gives the rest of the list to my brother and his wife. 

I try to avoid placing books on the list before they come out in paperback except for those times when the hardcover is cheaper than the paperback (presumably when the publisher had too many hardcover copies printed and needs to get rid of them.) You’ll notice that there are no Kindle books on the list. As I tell Kindle lovers, I read off the screen all day and don’t want to read off the screen when I’m propped up in bed enjoying a novel. I maintain that Kindle books are (a) not real books, and (b) don’t counteract the eyestrain of the day.

But, I digress. (At my age, I’m allowed to digress. In fact, most people expect it of me because they don’t think “old people” can remember what they’re talking about.)

I’ve read most of Shaara’s books and like them a lot. When this book about Pearl Harbor first came out, an early reviewer on Amazon said Shaara’s research on To Wake a Giant was sloppy. Fortunately, another reader reviewer proved that the first reviewer was incorrect. Thank goodness! Shaara tells readers in most of his books that he’s a novelist rather than a historian. Yet, he takes special care to be accurate. Authors are not supposed to take on reviewers, but I hoped he would correct the Amazon reviewers who offered up fake history to prove he didn’t know what he was talking about.

Without a doubt, I’ve read most of Allende’s novels that were published in English. A Long Petal of the Sea looks good, so it’s number two on my Christmas list. I hesitate to say this, but I think she’ll have a hard time duplicating the magic, wonder, and power of her earlier novels, mainly The House of the Spirits (1982), Of Love and Shadows (1985), and Eva Luna (1987). I certainly don’t want to discount what she’s written since the 1980s even if I keep getting stuck on liking those novels the best.

John Hart writes tough, detailed novels such as The Hush. While I’m looking forward to The Unwilling, a book Hart held back a year due to the pandemic, it’s still in pre-order status. So, I opted for Down River for my list. You’ll notice I only have books from major publishers here.

There’s a reason for that. Small press authors such as myself have no way of getting noticed except by people who follow them on sites like Facebook. It goes without saying, I suppose that I can’t read books I’ve never heard of. 

There are a lot of Alice Hoffman books on my shelves, including The Dove Keepers and the practical magic series. So, why not add another? The World That We Knew takes us back to World War II and the atrocities of the Nazi regime.

If all of these books show up beneath the tree, I’ll be all set until the new John Hart book comes out. Sure, I’ll probably add a few grocery store books by James Patterson and “Tom Clancy,” but I don’t want the family to know I read that stuff.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Fate’s Arrows,” a novel set in 1954 when the KKK was in power and the protagonist, Pollyanna (who is more dangerous than her name suggests), decides it’s time for the Klan to go.

We yearn for old times that really weren’t that good

We often say we wish we could go back to the old days when the times and the people were more innocent and everyone lived off the grid of strife and disease and daily hardships. That nostalgic myth is difficult to resist even though anyone reading a good history book will be hard-pressed to find a long-lost utopian era when everything was wonderful.

My weakness is the Victorian Christmas card because it portrays kids and adults as though they lived in a halcyon era when Heaven existed on earth.

Surely joy and love and innocence existed in those days. It’s tempting to say that was the norm and dream of going back to such a wondrous time. We’re in love with the myth and the artwork, though, rather than the reality of days named after Queen Victoria (1837 – 1901). My parents tried very hard to re-create this myth during the Christmas holidays. They did achieve magic for my brothers and me, something I think parents can still do in spite of darker issues of the day.

Today’s young may not believe in that magic for as many years as we believed in it. Too bad: they lose their innocence so young. But those who are open to magic, family gatherings, songs, spiritual themes, and the beauty of decorated homes: whatever magic we can create for them nourishes them forever and is worth the effort.

There’s still time within the lives of our children to show them the beauty of giving rather than receiving. There’s still time to show them that special days are important for family and friends. And that even if we all know more about the evils of the world than we did at their age a century ago, we can put all that on hold for a day or a week or a month and focus on the better times within the scope of the holidays we celebrate.

In other words, we need to give our kids the gift of childhood. Yes, the time will be all-too-brief. Yet no matter how brief it is, it will be carried within their thoughts for a lifetime, not so much as a reality but as a possibility, one that they can convey to their own children years from now. I’ve always had an appreciation for families that manage to pass down the good things of their lives generation after generation in spite of hard times. They don’t have to allow hatred to win, much less prosper. 

That’s what we attempt to teach our kids via the magic of the holidays. It’s not a goody-two-shoes view of the world, but a wonderment we can find if we look hard enough. Our kids must be streetwise, but with wisdom that transcends the streets.

That’s a gift we strive to give our children.

Perhaps the greatest gift we can give our children, in addition to unconditional love and acceptance of their life’s choices is an optimistic outlook that no matter how much bad stuff they know, the spirit of the world is pure. Then, perhaps, they will live off the grid of the cynicisms of our era and see that re-creating the innocence of old holiday cards is a goal worthy of their hopes and dreams.

Malcolm 

 

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of paranormal, magical realism, and contemporary fantasy novels and short stories. Click on his name to see more.

 

December 25, 2019

If you’re celebrating today, I hope the day has been good to you and that all of your truest wishes are coming true.

Yes, the phones work when hooked up to each other. With original parts, I can’t use them on our landline.

My truest wish is spending time with my wife. The two of us in front of the tree unwrapping gifts while on cat slept through it and the other played in the used wrapping paper.

Taking it easy by watching a movie (“Downton Abbey”); it was fun and a nice continuation of the series.

My brother Barry and his wife Mary brought back goodies from their trip to Scotland that made for some cool gifts. Scotch, of course. A book of Scots folklore, An Inveraray Castle Christmas tree ornament. Tee shirts. I kept expecting a can of Haggis, but fortunately no.

From Lesa, some great gifts, including three books I especially wanted to read. Santa brought us a sampler of raw honey and a sample of sea salts from around the world. And more!

I hope you have had, are continuing to have, a great holiday.

–Malcolm

Season’s Greetings

Happy holidays to all of you no matter how you celebrate.

Assuming family haven’t been banned from your house and/or vice versa, I hope you have the time and energy to experience the wisdom, knowledge, humor, and support of family and friends and to find renewal in their love and care.

My Celtic ancestry brings me strong feelings for Yule and its traditions. My upbringing brings me similar feelings for Christmas (both the commercial and religious versions.) Your background may lead you elsewhere and that’s as it should be as long as it provides growth and a strong connexion with the cosmic.

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of western movies and TV shows such as “Little House on the Prairie” in which kids would save their pennies all year to by mama a new scarf and dad a new hat. Those kids were pleased if they got one gift wrapped in butcher paper from the general store.

I wish the season could more like that where family around a tree and then around a dinner table was far more valuable than $100000000000 worth of gifts. The trouble is, the commercialization is so strongly brainwashed into our psyches that if the resist, those who know us think we’re being cheap and uncaring. So, we keep playing the game even though we wish we weren’t.

My wife and I spent so many years celebrating Christmas at my folks’ house or her folks’ house, that we began opening gifts to each other on Christmas Eve. We still do this even though our folks are long gone. It’s a special time for us and we like it. The day is quiet, nearly asleep, and so there we sit in front of our tree with our cats and a few gifts and a lot of light. Hard to beat that.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Why our outdoor decorations go up on or near the solstice

We’re always the last people in our neighborhood to put up Christmas and the last to take them down.

We always had a Yule log then I was growing up. Sad to say, the practice has become rather rare now. – Wikipedia photo.

This began when I was in grade school and became a habit. The schools were always looking for families who would lend them Christmas lights. Once we started doing that, the teachers came to us first every year. We didn’t get the lights back until the last school day before Christmas, usually, somewhere around December 20th.

Needless to say, we waited until the lights came back to decorate the house.

After that, perhaps it was laziness to some extent. As for putting up the decorations, we rebel every year against the practice of decorating the house for Christmas on or before Thanksgiving. As for taking them down, we strongly dislike the people who throw out their Christmas trees as soon as they finish opening their gifts.

For years, we went up to my wife’s folks’ house on Christmas day. It was always disheartening to return to our neighborhood and find dozens of trees already out next to the curb for the trash truck. We leave our decorations up until Twelfth Night. That’s a rather old tradition with the twelve days of Christmas beginning on December 25 in spite of the fact that a lot of merchants try to drum up sales by claiming the twelfth day of Christmas is the 25th. (More commercialism by people who don’t do any fact-checking.)

It’s supposedly bad luck to leave any greenery, and I include modern-day decorations, up after January 5th. So we don’t.

Over the years, others in our neighborhoods have asked why our decorations go up so late and stay up so long. We’re always tempted to ask, “Why do your decoration go up so early and don’t even stay up until New Year’s Eve.” But we don’t.

Whatever you do with your decorations, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

Malcolm

 

 

Was there ever an age of innocence?

I often use this old Victorian Christmas card as a cover picture on my Facebook profile because I like the fiction of it, that there was once a time when children were innocent and approached holidays with a sense of untroubled joy.

Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning The Age of Innocence while on the surface purporting to be set in a more glorified time of wonder, portrays no innocence. Whatton considered the title to be ironic.

Even if we go back in time no farther than Charles Dickens work, we see that childhood, in general, wasn’t a sheltered time of grace. We hope, of course, that our children and grandchildren will remain innocent even into grade school. And depending on their circumstances, they may truly have no knowledge of the worst the world–or even their neighborhood–has to offer.

I’m glad that my two granddaughters don’t know what I know. Yet, assuming no catastrophe alters their lives, they don’t yet know anything about many evil things. Sadly, we must begin chipping away at their innocence to keep them safe: “Don’t get in a stranger’s car,” “Don’t wander away from your group on a school field trip,” etc.

Novelist Robertson Davies wrote that ““One learns one’s mystery at the price of one’s innocence.” Long term, that is true. Personally, I favor my own mystery over innocence, but I want children in general and my two granddaughters in particular, to have a few years of wonder and magic before they learn the harsh realities of the world.

These old Christmas cards make me believe that might be possible.

Malcolm