That’s probably want you are thinking when you see this photograph a bus station in Seoul at the beginning of the three-day Seollal Holiday in South Korea.
It’s another Lunar New Year in South Korea and this expat is just going to hunker down at home, work on my novel, watch some old movies and have a pizza or two (it all depends on whether or not my favorite pizza joint is open). Unlike the past when the entire country seemed to shut down for the entire holiday (it used to be five days) there will be a few places open on the day that Seollal falls on (Sunday).
And the hits keep on coming and coming.
I never imagined this essay would be so popular, but then again it is about Christmas cards and maybe more people are sending them this year. I most certainly did!
Check it out (if you haven’t already).
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
The other night, a song reminded me of a girl from a long, long time ago.
It is funny how the mind works and what you might remember at any given moment; or what memories might be triggered by something you smell, hear, taste, or see.
The other night, I was listening to this song “Hospitality on Parade” (1975) by the group Sparks and it reminded me of eating Christmas cookies my grandmother baked and Pat Hardy, this girl I sort of had a crush on back in high school. I had bought the band’s 8-Track Indiscreet and was listening to it a lot back in 1975 around the holidays and when I was hanging out with Pat and some of her friends on the east side of LaSalle, going to lunch with her and friends to McDonald’s, or stopping to visit her at work at Bergner’s before I went to work across the street at K-Mart.
One memory begets another memory.
I was walking down the street, coming home from a long day at the language institute the other night, with this song on my iPod when I happened to look up at the second floor of this beauty shop across the street and noticed a light on in the window. The building looks more western in design than most of the homes and buildings on this street—western in that it didn’t have a blue or red tile roof.
For a split second, when I saw that light on in the window, with the drapes drawn, that song by Sparks playing, the cold, foggy night, thinking of Christmas, I was instantly teleported back in my mind to December 1975. It reminded me of Pat’s house and the times we hung out with each other.
Those days and nights back in 1975 were a fleeting moment of innocence that would be gone forever. Six months later, I was in the Air Force and although Pat and I exchanged many letters the first couple of months I was in the military, I would only see her four times in the next thirty-three years.
The other night though, for as long as it took for those memory tumblers to click into place, I got to see an old friend in my memories as I walked home.
What would the holidays be without some vintage Christmas, holiday cartoons and animated films to enjoy?
Aside from some of the perennial holiday favorites like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” there are some holiday favorites that you may not have heard of like these three animated films/cartoons which were popular on WGN’s Channel 9 TV out of Chicago.
Soon, you will be humming or whistling, “I’m Hardrock, I’m Coco, I’m Joe!”
That’s right, with just a little over two weeks until Christmas it is time to start cranking out those Christmas and holiday cards. If you are like me, when you send Christmas cards you and want to write something special, you will find the essay at the link above quite interesting and useful.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us.
They’re green when summer days are bright;—
They’re green when winter snow is white.
O, Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us!
I don’t remember the exact year that we went “artificial” with our Christmas tree instead of purchasing a fresh one, but it was the year after mom had it out once and for all with one hapless Douglas fir that refused to stand up straight.
Mom never had much luck when it came to choosing the best tree. I mean, they always looked good in the parking lot of Moore’s A&W where we had picked up ours, usually the first week of December (back when people started thinking about Christmas after Thanksgiving and not sometime in the middle of October). However, more often than not, once we got that “good-looking” tree back home, it wasn’t as good as we had thought when we picked it out.
There were some underlying factors that explained this. Maybe it was choosing it at night when it was too cold to spend a little extra more time scrutinizing the Douglas firs on sale. Maybe it was the poor lighting; you know the strands of 60-watt bulbs illuminating the lot created a lot of shadows that could make any scrawny, crooked tree look good. Then of course there was the timing—get to Moore’s too late and all the good ones had already been picked through.
There were one or two good Christmas tree years when the one we had bought at Moore’s cooperated when Mom placed it in the red and green metal stand and screwed in the three butterfly-like screws to hold it up.
And even if there were some bare spots in the tree, we could always turn it around so they would face the back or fill them in with some extra ornaments. Problem was you sometimes didn’t know what the tree was going to be like when you did get it home. Once it “warmed up” inside the house, those bare spots suddenly appeared.
Then there were the needles. Unless you cut down your own there was no way of knowing just “how fresh” your tree really was until after you got it home. It smelled fresh at Moore’s—you know that wonderful and delightful Christmas tree smell that is one of the top ten great smells in the world, just after a new car smell—but just how fresh it would be in your living room was another story.
Needles that might have seemed fresh when first inspected now suddenly appeared dry. It was not like you could go back to Moore’s and exchange the tree for a fresher one; nor could you get your money back (at least I never knew anyone of trying) for having been sold a potential fire hazard. Caveat emptor as far as I know does not include Christmas trees.
“We just won’t be able to leave the lights on too much,” Mom would say when it was determined that the tree posed a potential fire risk.
At night, we could hear the needles dropping—which gave new meaning to the expression so quiet you could hear a needle, in this case, needles dropping. Of course, you could keep your tree “fresh” if it hadn’t already been dried out by filling up the stand with water and adding some concoction for keeping it fresh through the holidays, at least until the day after Christmas when most trees were thrown out. Mom always swore that plain tap water and a few Bayer aspirin worked best to keep one fresh.
That was a lot to keep in mind when it came to having a “real” Christmas tree and if one were lucky, that Douglas fir purchased from Moore’s would be fresh, would stand up straight, and have minimal bare patches.
That was not the case the Christmas mom threw the tree out the door.
I know it was tough for mom being a single parent and when the holidays rolled around it got tougher for her because she always went all out to make sure my brother and I had a good Christmas.
Nothing it seemed was going mom’s way two weeks before Christmas that year with the tree she had bought at Moore’s. A friend from work had taken up to Moore’s one night after work and she picked, what she thought was a decent one, but when she brought it home and started to put it up, it just wasn’t going to cooperate.
It all started when she couldn’t get the tree to stand up straight. No matter how many times she positioned it in the middle of the stand and tightened the screws, it kept on leaning to one side. Finally, when it cooperated and stood straight up that was when she noticed the bare spot. She tried to turn the tree around, but it started to lean again. She tightened the screws in the stand again and turned the tree around one more. Now she had a real Leaning Tower of Pisa on her hands and no matter how many times, she tried to get that Douglas fir to stand it up straight, it refused to cooperate. That must have been the breaking point.
“Open the door,” Mom said as she grabbed the tree and started toward the door. This was followed by a few expletives—the ones if we ever used would result in our mouths being washed out with Lava Soap.
“What?” I asked, looking up from the box of ornaments I had been going through.
“I said, open the door.”
“Mom, you’re not serious are you?”
Suddenly, I had this terrible image of a tree-less Christmas. My younger brother, waiting in the wings to start hanging tinsel knew that something was up when he heard the tone of our mom’s voice.
“Out of my way,” Mom said.
And that’s when mom threw the tree out the door.
Well, not exactly threw out. The tree still had some fight left in it and refused to go through the door. Had my mother given it one more chance to stand upright and spread its branches she might have kept it. Instead, the tree was halfway out the door now. Two hard pushes later the tree was out the door and its wake a trail of needles and broken branches.
My brother and I were too stunned to say anything. Then my brother started crying when he realized that Santa might not come because we wouldn’t have a tree.
“What are we going to do,” my brother sobbed. “S-S-S-S-Santa won’t come now because we don’t have a tree.”
“Shh,” I said. “Don’t worry. Santa will still come.”
After mom had cleaned up the needles and the broken branches she started to fix dinner. Not another word was spoken about the tree that was still on the front porch. She hadn’t put away the decorations so that was still a good sign that all was well and that Christmas for the Miller family had not been canceled.
The next day was Sunday and the tree was still on the porch but on Monday when my brother and I woke up it was gone.
“Oh, no we’re doomed,” I said doing by best Dr. Smith (Lost in Space) impersonation.
“What are we going to do?” my brother asked.
There was only thing we could do now: call our grandparents. They would know what to do.
“Don’t worry,” I assured my brother, “everything’s going to be okay.”
As soon as our mom had gone to work that morning, and before we trudged to school, I was on the phone with my grandmother. I told her what had happened. Of course she told me how terrible it was and that I shouldn’t worry.
When my brother and I came home from school that afternoon we were surprised to see another tree on the porch.
“See, I told you that everything would be all right,” I said.
My brother grinned. In my brother’s eyes I had worked some Christmas miracle, but more importantly, he knew that Santa would be coming.
Mom had already gotten home from work and had started dinner when my brother and I walked in. She didn’t say anything about the tree.
“Wash up boys,” she said. “Dinner will be ready soon.”
I knew if mom found out that I had called my grandmother she would be angry so I decided not to say anything about it at all. Play dumb, that’s what I would do.
Dinner that evening was meat sauce over mashed potatoes—kind of like Shepherd’s Pie. It was served to us in the school cafeteria and I liked it so much that I had persuaded my mom to cook it for us at home. I was probably the only kid in Illinois who liked cafeteria food so much that he could persuade his mother to cook the same dish.
“That’s a nice tree on the porch,” Our mother finally said as we began to dig into that mound of spuds topped with thick spaghetti meat sauce. “That was very kind of your grandmother to get us a tree this year.”
“Huh?” I asked, as I broke one of my mother’s cardinal rules—talking with my mouth full of food. Was there something I didn’t know? Was there something I missed?
“She wasn’t sure if we already had a tree and wanted to buy one if we didn’t,” our mother explained. And then she looked at me from across the table and smiled. “Don’t worry if some things don’t always go the way you want them to at first.”
I never did figure out if my grandmother had called my mother or if it was the other way around. Nothing more was said about the tree that was soon put up and decorated with all its lights shining brightly. This time it stood straight up and I was also probably walking a little taller, too.
One of my favorite sitcoms back in the 80s and early 90s was NBC’s Cheers. I liked the ensemble cast and writing and it was a fun show to watch whether it was the ongoing love spats between Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and Diane Chambers (Shelley Long), Carla Tortelli’s (Rhea Pearlman) acerbic wit and disdain for Diane or those lovable barflys Norm Peterson (George Wendt) and Cliff Claven (John Ratzenberger) debating life’s foibles and troubles.
One of my favorite episodes that I never get tired of watching was the one entitled Thanksgiving Orphans. In this classic episode, Diane is the only one who has made plans for Thanksgiving, as such Carla invites the rest of the Cheers gang to her place. They come over, but get very impatient as the afternoon passes waiting for Norm’s turkey (affectionately called “birdzilla” as the day progresses and their patience begins to wear thin) to cook. When Diane’s plans fall through, she joins them, to Carla’s disgust. And what happens next is a classic moment on television.
May the day be blessed with love and filled with warmth for you and your loved ones no matter where you are and how you celebrate this day.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, well maybe not too much, but with November almost over, and with the holidays just around the corner, it is time to think about shopping, Christmas trees, decorations, and Christmas cards.
Although these days it doesn’t seem that as many people send Christmas cards as they did in the past (to be sure, it’s been a few years since I last sent out Christmas cards) I have always been one of those firm believers that what you write inside the card is just as important as the specific card you choose for a family member, friend, or colleague. Indeed, the message itself became my own special present to that person and hopefully it would be something that he or she would remember long after Christmas had come and gone.
It’s probably true that most people who are caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season may not take the time to sit down and carefully compose a “Christmas message.” Instead, they rely on the card’s message, sign one’s name and leave it that.
On the contrary, writing a message does not take that much time and depending on who you are going to send that card to, the message is important and thoughtful. In fact, one of the things that I have always enjoyed about sending Christmas cards was spending an afternoon or two writing those special and thoughtful Christmas messages. For some of the recipients of those cards it might be one of the few times that we have corresponded over the year and as such, that Christmas message becomes all the more important.
Of course what you write also depends on the person and how well you know that person. Aside from the usual “spirit of the season” fanfare, in the messages that I have written, I have tried to capture not only the holy nature of the season with the birth of Christ but also extending best wishes for spirit of the season in giving and spreading good cheer. After all, that is what the holiday season is all about.
(For non-Christian holiday revelers–Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindi—it goes without saying to choose those generic, non-Christian holiday cards but that doesn’t mean your message has to be a generic one. It is a good time to reflect on why this person you are sending the card to is important or special to you.)
If you have been out of touch with the person for a while now would be a good time to catch up on things but not too much. The most important thing to remember is that this is a “Christmas card” and you don’t want to stray too far from the spirit of the season. Talk about their family and wishing everyone happy holidays but don’t talk too much about the problems you have been having this year.
I know that when I receive a Christmas card from someone I really appreciate the effort that went into the message they wrote inside the card. If someone just signed their name I would think that he or she doesn’t think that much of me to write just a sentences. I might even think that by not writing anything or just a word or two that the person is just going through the motions of sending cards.
Finally, I believe that what we write in the card is just as important as the special card we pick out for that person. It’s part of the spirit of the season and makes that Christmas card all the more special for the person who reads it.