Once Upon a Time There Was Christmas
By Pamela E. Apkarian-Russell
“The Halloween Queen”
Holidays do not have to be stressful nor terribly expensive if you slip back in time when Christmas was less technologically and commercially driven. People purchased presents all year long and made gifts as they could when time permitted. Christmas items did not come into the stores until the day after Thanksgiving.
Anticipation and excitement have been stolen and reconstituted into mundane infomercials on how to make people feel guilty for not buying overpriced items they do not want or need. The beauty of antiques is that they are like hidden treasures that need to be found and when found they are what our hearts desire. Santa knows what we want. The magic of Christmas is not only in the cooking and baking of delectable treats that make the whole house smell of heaven, but to give something needed or wanted or more decadent than someone would ever spend on themselves or which they would never find on their own.
Nostalgia is reintroducing something out of the past into the present and making it as much a part of today as it was of yesterday. Let us look back at the past and recall some of the warm fuzzy memories that made Christmas so important and memorable. What made it so special is that it was glitz and glitter but it had a meaning. The meaning was religious yes, but it also was about being with friends and family and sharing one’s sugar plum fairies with others.
About 30 years ago a customer gave me her mother’s cookie ornaments which would hang on their tree every year. There were birds and animals, and they were beautiful. They still are. They are old and brittle as they were back then. One has disintegrated, but the rest I carefully place on a special tree and treasure because they belonged to someone who was kind and generous and who wanted her family treasure to be handed down. Not too many folks hang 70 year old cookies on their trees but if they saw them at a show they would probably choose to put these mini works of culinary art on a tree with their best Dresden and wire wrapped ornaments. They may not last as long as plastic but they certainly give more joy.
Those who love Victorian, retro or vintage often turn their noses up at nostalgia. Think about it. Does a twelve year old have the same dreamy feeling about the 1940s angel on the top of the tree as I do? Hardly. The Grinch figure might be more timely.
Hanging family photos or putting them in festive frames is a grand way of introducing generations past to the newest generation. Where would I be without festively framed memories of family gatherings from years ago?
How is it that nutcrackers are so popular at Christmas? December means watching the ballet, The Nutcracker Suite, that children of all ages love to hear and see. In 1892 Tchaikovsky’s ballet was not particularly well received, hardly the type of reviews that the composer’s work was wont to warrant. How did it come to dominate the Christmas season? Why does every child dancer want to appear in the ballet? Fantasy! Yes, it is the fantasy of holidays that make them so lovable.
Father Christmas wore long robes of green and brown and walked through the snow followed by the animals who came out to celebrate along with humans the joyful birth which symbolized renewal and change. That is what the star was all about, a symbol of change and hope. Charles Dickens knew this and his A Christmas Carol is about hope that an epiphany could occur for even the most crusty and cold humans.
Remember the little match girl selling the matches in the falling snow? One by one she lit a match to warm her iced fingers until one by one they burnt out and there was no hope left but in the peace of eternal slumber. Dickens didn’t want Tiny Tim to die, he didn’t want Scrooge to be a pariah and continue to not realize that true wealth is being part of the community of the world and helping people and sharing their joys and woes and they yours. Scrooge hadn’t a clue what he had lost in friendship and love and the joys of helping others until his old friend Marley’s ghost showed up and introduced him to three other ghosts. These ghosts were able to show him the past and what he had lost, the present and what he was rejecting with his insular greed and insensitivity and finally what might be if he didn’t wake up and smell the pine tree which was decorated with candles and decorations of fantasy and angelic beauty. He regained his sense of wonderment and joy and his sense of humor. Being rich was not important but using the money for pleasure and a purpose was. Every year many people watch the two important early movie versions of “A Christmas Carol” and they are both sublime. In one version Scrooge buys toys at the toy shop and brings them to the children of his poor and mistreated clerk Bob Cratchit. The joy Scrooge received and the childish wonder which he shared with Cratchit’s children is delightful. It is said it is a very poor man who dies with a lot of money in the bank. Scrooge learned to raise people from the mire of want and poverty and to help them which is the cure for his own spiritual and social malaise.
I remember an elderly antique dealer once telling me that her happiest memories of childhood were at Christmas time when she and her many siblings excitedly received their stockings. They were very poor and in that stocking would be an orange, a piece of home made fudge and a toy made by either the father or mother made from recycled scraps. She kept all of those faceless rag dolls her mother had made year after year and treasured them and was so upset that none of her children or grandchildren wanted these well-loved toys. Yes, they were poorly made and loved to death but they were full of Christmas spirit and the wonder of a loving child and parent. She even had the poorly carved wooden trains her father had made for her brother. I felt worse for her children and grandchildren that they had so little sense of family and history to even entertain the idea of wanting such “junk.” These pieces have found a good home and grace a Christmas display every year, well loved and admired, but not by this woman’s family. Without antiques and nostalgia you are much like a house which is built without a foundation.
Can you smell the cider warming on the wood stove? The cinnamon and nutmeg fill the house with an aroma which awakens the dreams of yesterday. “Behold I bring you tidings of great joy” It is the tradition of giving not receiving. It is the tradition of preserving and sharing your knowledge and love with others.
Once tinsel was real aluminum foil not plastic and after Christmas everyone would carefully take each strand off the tree and preserve it. Continuing traditions is an important part of the holidays. Giving vintage teddy bears, dolls, and trains will provide lasting gifts that can be passed down from one generation to the next. Christmas is the time to introduce children to old books and old things. Adults? How about a lovely piece of glass or a piece of jewelry? One antique dealer friend invites her family and close friends to antique shows, giving them a budget to spend as her gift. Then they walk about to choose what they like. Books are always a treat and shows are always full of bargains for readers of all ages and such an incentive to instill the love of reading in children. Christmas books are particularly graphic and no one should be without a copy of A Christmas Carol or J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Father Christmas Letters.” Tolkien wrote this book while in the trenches with bombs dropping and people dying. While trying to stay alive and do his duty, he wrote these wonderful letters home to his children, fully illustrated. Imagine telling of a silly polar bear who was always causing chaos in Santa’s workshop when you do not know if you will be among the living at any moment. This is fantasy and love which is a gift beyond measure.
Christmas is for baking delicious food, decorating the house, driving about looking at the light displays and for singing all the wonderful carols and songs. And for me it is for having many Christmas toys about that sing and dance and are occasionally attacked by our cat. Bring in the Yule log, the fir tree, holly and ivy and bless your home with mistletoe and flowering yuletide plants. Do not forget the old traditions of your youth and that of friends. Incorporate their cultures and the holiday will grow brighter and more beautiful with each year. I hear they place straw under the bed in Puerto Rico for the camels of the Magi to eat. Even our Charlie Brown Christmas tree will have more items on it and our Chanukkah bush or Tannenbaum will be fuller this year. Now if I can only find a place for a sing-along of Handel’s Messiah this year I should think I was in my second childhood.
Yes, Santa, I have been a very good girl this year and will leave your favorite cookies and latte so please don’t forget, I really want a windmill for the museum. Oh, and some vintage toys and candy containers, and don’t forget the folk art piece I have been wanting. And, yes, I do believe in you! Doesn’t everyone?
Happy Holidays to all!