Archive for November, 2006

Robotic Santa Claus sleighs tradition

A POPULAR factory shop has replaced Christmas tradition with what is thought to be East Lancashire’s first animatronic Santa. [The Autobiography of Santa Claus]

Winfields, in Blackburn Road, Haslingden, has hired the life-sized mechanical Father Christmas for children who visit the complex.

And he is accompanied by a whole selection of mechanical characters in Santa’s Magical Grotto, including a snowman, penguins and other festive characters.

Unfortunately, the children won’t be able to sit on Santa’s knee, but it responds to being touched, and they can hold his hand, see him move, hear him tell a Christmas story, and sing songs.

The only people children will see are the elves at the beginning and end of the grotto walk, who give out Christmas treat bags.

Dale Winfield, owner and managing director, would not disclose the sum invested to make the experience possible, but it is believed that animatronics can cost tens of thousands of pounds to hire.

He said: “We just wanted to do something for families and children that they would enjoy while doing their Christmas shopping.”

June Semeniuk, PA to Mr Winfield, said: “Technology and animatronics is the way the future is heading. Disney and other such companies are moving, and have moved, into computer-generated, animatronic technologies.

“Children who have visited the grotto so far have enjoyed the experience and we have had a great deal of positive feedback.

“We had human Santas many years ago, but it is a long time since we had a grotto in store.”

Some stores have used more traditional decorations this year

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

And, believe it or not, that’s news.

Just a year ago, remember, the newspapers and airwaves were filled with stories about the so-called “war on Christmas.” As I wrote last Dec. 8, Glenbrook Square was festively decorated with wreaths, snowflakes, reindeers, jolly fat men in red suits, “happy holidays” posters and at least one reference to Hanukkah.

But the dreaded C-word was conspicuously rare.

No longer. Although generic holiday decorations still dominate, Christmas is making a comeback.

“Merry Christmas,” reads the large sign welcoming shoppers to Glenbrook’s Sears store. “Visit our Christmas toy shop.”

At Kirkland’s home décor shop, a tapestry of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus sits near the door, near a statue of Santa with a “Merry Christmas” banner hanging across his ample belly. Bath & Body Works offers the “perfect Christmas gifts,” Andrews Jewelers’ ads say, “All I want for Christmas . . .” and Rogers & Hollands Jewelers’ proclaims, “Ready for Christmas.”

Even the Vietnam Crafts shop’s window wishes shoppers a merry Christmas, urging them to come inside for a “lot of great ideas for Xmas gifts.”

But before Christians proclaim some sort of great awakening, perhaps they should ponder why Christmas left – and why it has returned.

“There was an attempt to appeal to everyone instead of taking a narrow focus,” said Ralph Thompson, manager of Sears’ Glenbrook store, explaining the use of a generic “happy holidays” instead of specific Christmas references. “But I and a lot of people felt that was a mistake.

“So this year, every (Sears) store was sent the same package (of decorations). We’re back to a more traditional merry Christmas theme, and it’s been very popular. We haven’t had one complaint.”

Marie Nichols of Angola certainly wasn’t complaining as she sat in the mall just a few feet from Sears’ Christmas sign.

“I’m not offended. I think it’s good. This is Christmas,” she said. “If you’re not a Christian, you probably don’t go shopping (for Christmas presents) anyway. So it doesn’t matter anyway.”

But that’s just the point, isn’t it? A Fox News poll last year showed 95 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, but less than 80 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians. So it’s not really surprising that retailers tried to avoid offending non-Christian shoppers – even if it meant trying to avoid the obvious.

And it’s equally unsurprising that Christians should take offense at attempts to capitalize on Christmas without acknowledging why the holiday exists in the first place. All sorts of special-interest groups spend or withhold their money to support their causes; why shouldn’t Christians prefer to shop at stores willing to show them the courtesy of a little seasonal honesty? That’s why a California group called the Committee to Save Merry Christmas collected 20,000 hits on its Web site in a single day last December.

Even so, the 64-year-old Nichols said she shops on the basis of merchandise and price – not whether the store proclaims Christ.

That’s OK, too. Because, as Fort Wayne resident Jack Sorlie noted, Christmas isn’t really about stuff anyway.

“Christmas is too commercial today, but I know it’s a different world than when I was growing up,” said Sorlie, 76. “If stores don’t want to mention Christmas, it’s their prerogative because it’s all controlled by money. When the wise men gave gifts, it was because of the birth of our savior.”

As Sorlie spoke, a huge “Merry Christmas” poster stood in the mall’s hallway just a few feet away. And he hadn’t even noticed.

Just as well, really. If you’re really looking for Christmas, you won’t find it at the mall. No matter what the signs say.

Christmas tea axed over Bible story

Santa is ready for photos, the tree is waiting to be lit, and stores and churches are stocked with cider and cookies. But one church pastor is feeling less than merry about this Saturday’s Old Fashioned Christmas in Hillsboro, an annual town celebration.

Greg Lull, a pastor at Valley Bible Chapel, said he had expected to host a Christmas tea and a reading of “The Night Before Christmas.” But then Lull asked organizers whether he could add a five-minute reading of the traditional Christmas story from the Gospels. In response, the Old Fashioned Christmas Committee decided to relocate the event, which is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the downtown revitalization organization Hillsborough Pride, to keep it nondenominational. Organizers later cancelled the tea because they could not find another location. [The Criminalization of Christianity]

“I was offended by the fact that the Chamber apparently does not value a tradition I hold dear and many others do,” Lull said. “To call it the old-fashioned Christmas is a little ironic if it doesn’t acknowledge the oldest of all Christmas traditions.”

But Bonnie Morse, a board member of Hillsborough Pride who helped organize the event, said the town’s event is not meant to be religious. “They didn’t want to do it unless it had Jesus’s name in there,” she said. “We didn’t want to get involved in any religious stuff, to keep it as neutral as we can for everyone.”

Andrea Kaubris, administrative assistant to the Chamber of Commerce, said sponsoring a religious event would violate the Chamber’s bylaws, which require it to remain nonsectarian. Even though the holiday is Christian, Kaubris said the celebration is “a commercialized treatment of Christmas just because that’s what the whole Christmas season has come to. It’s about the kids, and it’s about the merchants in town.”

The event, in its 13th year, was created as a way to kick off the Christmas shopping season with sales and activities for kids, culminating in a tree-lighting ceremony, Kaubris said. Churches have been involved in secular ways. Smith Memorial Congregational Church annually hosts a “cookie walk,” where members bake thousands of Christmas cookies for revelers. The Hillsboro United Methodist Church holds a bazaar and serves hot drinks.

Last year, Valley Bible Chapel, an independent evangelical church, hosted photos with Santa Claus, crafts for kids and, Lull said, a puppet show with a Christian message. Chamber of Commerce member Jill Knight, who was involved in the planning last year, said she did not receive any complaints.

Morse said there were last-minute difficulties last year when the church told organizers the morning of the celebration that they could not sell their flowers, ornaments and crafts in the church, causing people to scramble for new locations. Lull said he hadn’t been told in advance about the sales, which are not permitted in church. Morse said that restriction was one reason that this year’s Santa Claus was relocated to the Moose Lodge.

But the committee still wanted the church to participate, so it asked Lull to host a Christmas tea after the evening tree-lighting, which would feature hot tea and cocoa and a reading of “The Night Before Christmas,” a tradition that started at the Fuller Public Library but was discontinued several years ago.

Lull agreed but about a week ago asked the Chamber of Commerce for permission to read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke or Matthew.

“It’s valuable tradition to us and the oldest one,” Lull said. “I thought it would be the blink of an eye and no problem.”

Instead, the committee canceled the event. Kaubris explained that while the church can hold a reading on its own as part of the Old Fashioned Christmas celebration, the Chamber was uncomfortable sponsoring it.

“A lot of people celebrate Christmas but are not Christian,” committee member Yvonne Wiegelman said, “and a lot of Christians celebrate Christmas and don’t go near a church. We’re trying not to leave people out because of their specific religious leanings.”

But some feel left out nonetheless. Jim Hofford, a member of Valley Bible Chapel, hopes organizers will change their mind. “I’m deeply upset and surprised that at this time of year the one story which is perhaps most foundational to those involved in Christian activities would find any group that wouldn’t want people in the community to hear it,” he said. “The fact that we would have been reading from Scripture for five minutes at most would have been a very special addition to the celebration.

“This decision offends all the members of our chapel,” Hofford said. “It’s an attempt to keep the most famous story of Christmas from being told. Christmas came into being because of the birth of Jesus Christ, and the Bible is the best account we have of it.”

Fay Tomlinson, a deacon at Smith Memorial Congregational Church, said she too would like to see the event held. “Even though it’s a town celebration, people can come and participate in whatever part they want to participate in. If they don’t want to go to tea and hear scripture read, that’s okay,” she said. “Christmas is spelled C-H-R-I-S-T, that’s my feeling. But there are many people who prefer Santa Claus and things of that nature.”

Other celebration participants are divided over how Christian the town’s Christmas celebration should be. Judi Heer, owner of German John’s Bakery on West Main Street, said she understands both sides but agrees with the Chamber.

“If you’re having something at the church itself, they should follow their religious traditions because that’s what the holiday is about,” Heer said. “But I don’t necessarily think a town function should be religious. The town thing is more ‘come in, have refreshments and just enjoy the season.’ They’re right to try to keep their end of it nondenominational.”

But Sharon Whipple, owner of Country Clutter on the corner of School and West Main streets, disagreed. “What is Christmas all about, really?” she said. “Christmas is the birth of Jesus. Why should it be nondenominational? Why should we worry about having the Gospel read?”

Whipple said she would have no problem if part of the celebration were held in the church with Christian traditions.

Kim Wells, owner of Central Square Emporium on West Main Street, believes there must be a balance between religious freedom and respect for all residents. “It’s better to keep it neutral – you have people who are Jewish. They practice Hanukkah. We need to respect that. It’s a free country and everyone should be able to do what they want to do, but I wouldn’t want to offend anybody.”

Santa Claus fired up about Christmas

Santa Claus will make his rounds on Christmas morning in an antique fire truck, delivering presents to 100 underprivileged children as part of the Holiday 2006 Toy Program.

Another 400-500 children will pick up their gifts – which include three toys, one stuffed animal and one game – at the Bullhead City Fire Department.

The program is run by volunteer firefighters and receives dozens of monetary donations and toys from drives hosted by businesses, non-profit organizations and churches.

Originally hosted by a local radio station, firefighters took over operations in 1983 after two station employees spoke to a young firefighter about a toy program. The firefighter grew up to become Bullhead City Fire Chief Rick Southey, who would spearhead the program for the next seven years.

In its first years of operations – before the Salvation Army came to Bullhead City – the program obtained children’s names from local churches, families and friends. In 1988, the Salvation Army arrived and began handing out holiday food boxes, so the firefighters began distributing the toys to children of those same families.

Parents make a wish-list and firefighters’ wives – who understand children a bit better – select the gifts from among the donated toys, said Larry Tunforss, spokesperson for the fire department.

It’s impossible to list all those who donate toys, money or time to the program, Tunforss said. Besides big businesses like Wal-Mart and the Ramada Express Hotel & Casino, dozens of others make donations or volunteer to wrap the toys.

Firefighters work the door at Wal-Mart on the weekends and usually bring in about $500 a day. From just last Saturday and Sunday, Tunforss said, they gathered enough in change to fill a 44 oz. cup.

Firefighters install batteries into each mechanical toy, and make sure each gift is packaged in different wrapping paper.

“This may be all they’re getting,” Tunforss said. “So we at least want different paper. Unfortunately, we have a lot of parents in our community that live on a paycheck that’s not as much as they’d like it to be. And when the holidays come around, it’s an extra added expense for them.”

Early December is also a slow time for casinos, he said, which means lower incomes for employees who work for tips.

And it’s seeing the parents’ gratitude and children’s joys, he said, that makes the program worthwhile.

“If you go out Christmas morning you’ll see the smiles on the kids’ faces. You’ll see parents crying,” he said. “And that’s why we do it.”

Artificial Trees Need Not Apply this Christmas

One Christmas Eve, many years ago, I came home from work to find that my then-husband had adopted all the leftover, un-bought Christmas trees from a nearby lot and brought them into the house. [Christmas Trees: Fun and Festive Ideas]

The impact, from the fragrance and from the columns of green that filled our tiny living room, kitchen, hallway and even bathroom, was as magical as that first step through the closet in “The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe.”

Sharing Christmas with this assortment of too-short, too-thin, too-lopsided and too-bald trees seemed almost as right as if they had been lonely people.

Of course, after a day or two they began to shed needles, so with the same post-holiday efficiency one uses on a turkey carcass (carve it up and turn it into soup), we dragged our former friends outside, chopped them up and turned them into firewood. We were still vacuuming needles out of the rug years later.

I always remember this episode when the trees start to pop up on Christmas tree lots. Suddenly weedy vacant lots turn into enchanted forests. Families still shop together, looking for the perfect tree, the one that will not only fit the living room but also will turn each ornament in their collection into a magical, tiny world unto itself.

I know artificial trees have made advances in realism over the years. When it comes to symmetry, efficiency, tidiness and reliability, an artificial tree beats the real thing every time. Now often pre-lit, they spare the fingers and the patience of the former light-stringer.

You can buy packs of ornaments, color-coordinated, of course, to give your tree the latest look, one that fits in with the rest of your decor.

I say bah humbug to that.

Give me dropping needles and sap-stained fingers any day. Give me the same ornaments year after year, with a few new ones to replace those that didn’t survive the last visit out of the tissue-lined box.

Give me the styrofoam ball sparsely covered with sequins and bits of ribbon stuck in with pins. I inherited it when my parents were paring down their possessions, and remember it to be a project of my then 8-year-old sister, who started with big dreams of a Faberge-egg sort of ball but tired after the first 37 sequins or so.

There is a Santa face, drawn in marker on a paper plate, with cotton for a beard and the tuft on the end of his cap, a project from my now-adolescent nephew.

There are the few remaining painted-glass birds from my childhood, wispy tufts of real feathers still clinging to their tails, a straw star from a Norwegian visitor, a resin cowboy hat.

Christmas trees are relics of our pre-Christian history, when northern people would decorate a tree and prepare to celebrate the lengthening hours of daylight beginning around December 21. It was almost as if they sacrificed the tree to make sure the light would return.

So when I look into the branches of a real tree, the colors of the globes and the lights twinkling in the corners of my eyes, I see the tiny shoots and buds that will never grow, and take in the aroma that will eventually fade, and know that they are reminders that winter is the time when the earth and the things that grow in it are gathering strength, when the days are just about to start to lengthen, and that the promise of rebirth will be kept once again.

Operation Christmas Child US Denies Banning Christian Items

An official with the US branch of Operation Christmas Child (OCC), an outreach of the international relief ministry Samaritan’s Purse, has denied claims that the programme banned its donors from offering religious items to children. [The Criminalization of Christianity: Read This Book Before It Becomes Illegal]

Operation Christmas Child spokesman Jim Harrelson said that media reports, claiming that the OCC had imposed the ban as part of an effort not to offend Muslims, were not true and that such a ban would be inconsistent with the ministry’s global mission, policies, and practices.

“Christian literature is not banned from the OCC shoebox gifts, as reported,” Harrelson insists. Some items, such as war-related toys, are removed from gift boxes. But seeing as this programme has had an evangelical focus from its inception, he notes that a gospel presentation for children is placed in every shoebox OCC distributes.

However, the ministry representative notes said there is “a slight operational difference in the way the OCC gifts are processed for overseas shipment.” In the UK programme all religious literature as well as “political and military things” are initially removed from the shoeboxes, he explains.

Then, according to procedure in the UK, the OCC staff sorts through these items. However, Harrelson emphasises, the ministry “keeps all the Christian literature, and all of that is sent to the national leadership teams for distribution to the children.”

The processing of the OCC shoebox gifts in the UK “is different from what we do in the US and some of the other sending countries,” the programme spokesman explains. But again, he stresses, “all the Christian literature is forwarded to the national leadership teams, and it’s used specifically for evangelism to children in and through the local churches that we work through.”

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and distributed more than 46 million shoebox gifts to children in more than 120 countries. Last year alone, the ministry collected 7.6 million shoebox gifts worldwide and distributed them to children in 95 countries.

Battling Over Christmas

With Thanksgiving now past us, we find ourselves just days away from Advent, and already fully immersed into the Christmas season. Along with the tidings of “peace on earth” and “goodwill to men,” undoubtedly a number of familiar old arguments will also return; arguments over whether “Christmas is over-commercialized” and whether “our civic institutions are supporting state religion” are particularly cherished traditions of the season. It is the same old, same old, and lack of thinking on the subject will allow the debates to rage on despite that.

The first argument’s main thrust is that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’s birth, not of retailers’ profits, and to support the merchants’ profit making schemes, and all the frenzy that goes along with it, is really a rejection of the true meaning of Christmas. It is certainly true that the true meaning of Christmas is not about who scores an iPod or about right jolly old elves in bright red. On the other hand, it seems worth pondering precisely how much is actually lost by these activities. Rightly or wrongly as it may be, if the allegedly evil commercialization of a religious holiday were to cease, I sincerely doubt that Christmas observances in most places would be suddenly transformed into everything they should be. They would simply grow much smaller.

Take away the carols, the gifts, the parties, the food and what’s left of Christmas that most people observe is perhaps attendance at a Christmas Eve service and maybe a manger under a tree – but, oops, that tree is another pagan symbol that must be ousted. In truth, few are advocating such a draconian approach to re-centering Christmas, but it is worth considering for the moment. All the trimmings, the secularized trimmings, the traditional, festive and perhaps sometimes misguided trimmings serve to put Christmas on the map far more than any other holiday in the year. Consider how many people even know what other notable church calendar days – Pentecost or Epiphany, for example – are, much less observe them.

For better or worse, Christmas towers on the calendar, and rather than complaining, it is useful to examine the traditions and see how they can again be used to add further meaning to that Christmas eve service attendance. Even Jolly Old St. Nick need not be cast away; remember, it is Saint Nicholas – yes, he really is a saint in the parts of the Church that keep track of those things – and the good saint has a reputation worthy of remembering as a defender of the Christian understanding of God and as a most charitable of gift givers.

But, then, of course, there is the flip side to the “battle for Christmas,” as some have dubbed it, and that comes from those who see Christmas not as too secular, but as too religious. You know this argument, the one that has come to despise Santas and nativity scenes alike on government property, insists on Christmas break being known as winter break, and so on. It stems from two related causes. First, those who think anything to do with government should have religion utterly stricken from it (and any really caring person or private institution ought to follow the same guidelines when dealing with people, so as to avoid offending anyone) and a second one that says that there are three holidays going on among major faiths, so we should at least honor them all.

For those who argue the latter, please reduce it to two holidays – you only hurt your own arguments when you argue ignorant to the fact that Ramadan is a roaming holiday, and, in fact, started in September this year. That was a few years ago that it happened in December. Likewise, Christmas – sorry – “winter” break often times does not even occur during the time period of Hanukkah, only Christmas. Everyone knows that the break is arranged to cover Christmas, so why not just admit it? Yes, it is a religious holiday (some have tried to argue the nonsensical position that it is not, as an extension of the first set of concerns I considered), but does the quest for secularization go so far as to command we try to deceive ourselves into pretending to overlook Christmas? The fact is most Christmassy things that people attempt to re-label “winter” or “holiday” are so clearly related to Christmas all it does is turn these other adjectives into euphemisms for Christmas.

Should nativities and even euphemistic ways of referring to Christmas be banned from publicly funded organizations, then? This seems absurd, for the vast majority of Americans observe Christmas, even those who a do not observe it for religious reasons. And even if only the faithful observed Christmas, it is worth reiterating that the U.S. Constitution merely prohibits the creation of a state church, not the display of goodwill to the millions of Americans who are celebrating this holiday. Go read the First Amendment for yourself if you do not believe me. This does not mean Christians should force everyone to celebrate Christmas, of course – but do a few cheerful decorations and a well-intended wish of “Merry Christmas” really hurt anyone?

What both of these conflicts from opposite sides of the spectrum demonstrate is a lack of common sense. Yes some of the excesses of the season do not seem to be well focused on the meaning – but rather than complaining, thankfulness that at least the season is observed and hence causes many people to be as open to hearing about the real meaning as they ever will be seems in order. Yes, some people have no interest in celebrating Christmas, but given that Christmas is a holiday of goodwill (God’s goodwill to humanity, first, and now ours to each other), why not spread a little goodwill even in your non-observance?

Ultimately, wouldn’t a little more interest in goodwill, rather than perfect observance of the holiday or “rights,” make everyone a bit happier as we look toward 2007?

Shoppers’ Brains Under Brand-Name Control

Your brain may figure out what you’ll snatch up for this season’s holiday gifts even before you check your lists, according to new research presented today. [Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping]

Well-known commercial brands have now been proven to get a positive emotional reaction from the human brain, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.

Scientists found that your brain might make purchase decisions for you — based just on a product’s brand name.

To understand how different product brands affect the human brain, a team of German researchers used a functional MRI machine, or fMRI, to test 20 adult men and women.

The volunteers were shown logos of well-known car manufacturers and insurance companies followed by other, lesser-known logos.

The resulting fMRI images showed that well-known brands activated an area of the brain involved in positive emotions — such as emotions associated with a reward.

The lesser-known brands elicited brain activity reflective of a negative emotional response

Surprisingly, the brain’s reactions had nothing to do with what product or service the logo was selling.

The response depended on how strong — or familiar — the brand was.

That observation is consistent with what marketing executives see in real life.

“It’s not necessarily the brand identity that resonates with people, but the meaning within that matters,” said Tom Burchard, vice president of brand experience at Design Continuum in Boston.

“Brands … communicate meaning that elevates the status of that brand,” Burchard said.

Brain Research Provides Important Market Data

The brain had an easier time processing images of strong brands, according to today’s research. Lesser-known brands demanded more action from parts of the brain responsible for memory and negative emotion.

This kind of research is called “brain branding.”

It’s a special approach to studying how the brain perceives and processes commercial brands “to determine whether companies have a ‘direct hit’ with their target audience,” Burchard said.

Researchers may use the technique to study neuroeconomics — which is basically the study of why people decide to buy what they buy.

It’s a hot and developing area of market and economic research.

“The vision of this research is to better understand the needs of people and to create markets that are more oriented towards satisfaction of those needs,” said study author Christine Born, a radiologist at University Hospital in Munich, Germany, in a news release.

Study authors hope this research will shed light on the power of brand names and will help create markets that better fit people’s needs — and wallets.

Christmas Festival Nixes ‘Nativity Story’ Ads Over Fears of Offending Non-Christians

A public Christmas festival is no place for the Christmas story, the city says. Officials have asked organizers of a downtown Christmas festival, the German Christkindlmarket, to reconsider using a movie studio as a sponsor because it is worried ads for its film “The Nativity Story” might offend non-Christians.

New Line Cinema, which said it was dropped, had planned to play a loop of the new film on televisions at the event. The decision had both the studio and a prominent Christian group shaking their heads.

“The last time I checked, the first six letters of Christmas still spell out Christ,” said Paul Braoudakis, spokesman for the Barrington, Ill.-based Willow Creek Association, a group of more than 11,000 churches of various denominations. “It’s tantamount to celebrating Lincoln’s birthday without talking about Abraham Lincoln.”

He also said that there is a nativity scene in Daley Plaza — and that some vendors at the festival sell items related to the nativity.

The city does not want to appear to endorse one religion over another, said Cindy Gatziolis, a spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office of Special Events. She acknowledged there is a nativity scene, but also said there will be representations of other faiths, including a Jewish menorah, all put up by private groups. She stressed that the city did not order organizers to drop the studio as a sponsor.

Christmas Tree Ornament Sparks Controversy

A controversial Christmas tree ornament is sparking outrage but still selling like crazy in Central Florida.

The Glittery Gun ornament is sold for $6 at Urban Outfitters, WESH 2 News reported. It’s less than 5 inches long.

The product description says “bust a cap in your tree with this glittery ornament.”

“I don’t like guns. I don’t like weapons of any sort, and they don’t belong in the tree or in my house,” Ethel Robinson said.

“Everybody has the right to put what they want in their trees, whether it’s a gun or whatever it is. I mean some people like it, and some people don’t,” Gary Armstrong said.

Some protestors in Philadelphia are now boycotting Urban Outfitters. The quirky store sells clothing and products for teenagers.

Central Florida only has one Urban Outfitters inside the Mall of Millenia, and they’ve sold out of the gun ornament.

HOA Bans Christmas Wreath With Peace Sign

HOA President Says Peace Sign Is Anti-Iraq War, Symbol Of Satan

In a town in scenic southwestern Colorado homeowners are battling over whether a Christmas wreath that includes a peace sign is an anti-Iraq war protest or even a promotion of Satan.

“We have had three or four complaints. Some people have kids in Iraq and they are sensitive,” said Bob Kearns, president of the Loma Lynda Homeowners Association in Pagosa Springs. He also said some believe it is a symbol of Satan.

Jeff Heitz, of the association board, sent a letter to Lisa Jensen saying, “Loma Lynda residents are offended by the peace sign displayed on the front of your house. … This Board will not allow any signs, flags etc. that can be considered divisive….”

The subdivision’s covenants said no signs, billboards or advertising are permitted without the consent of the architectural control committee.

When Kearns ordered the association’s architectural control committee to require Jensen to remove the wreath, they refused. Jack Lilly, chairman of the group, said it decided it was merely a seasonal symbol that didn’t say anything. Lilly also said he had received no complaints from homeowners. Kearns fired all five members of the architectural control committee.

“Somebody could put up signs that say, ‘Drop bombs on Iraq.’ If you let one go up you have to let them all go up,” said Kearns in a telephone interview Sunday. Earlier another homeowner had complied when required to take down a peace sign that was made of a pie plate held up by two skis.

Jensen, a past president of the association in the subdivision of 200 homes 270 miles southwest of Denver, said, “I honestly wasn’t thinking of the Iraq war. Peace is way bigger than not being at war. This is a spiritual thing. I am not going to take it down until after Christmas. Now that it has come to this, I feel I can’t get bullied. What if they don’t like my Santa Claus?” she said.

Kearns said the association will fine Jensen $25 a day for everyday it remains up. She calculates that will cost her about $1,000, although she said she doubts they will be able to make her pay.

Kearns, meanwhile, also said he was concerned about the pagan symbolism of the peace sign. “It’s also an anti-Christ sign. That’s how it started,” he told the Durango Herald.

The newspaper, citing the 1972 edition of “Symbol Sourcebook: An Authoritative Guide to International Graphic Symbols” said that the author was also uncertain about the source of the “crow’s foot” design in the peace symbol. While some say it’s a symbol of total nuclear disarmament (coming from the semaphore signals for N and D) others claim the symbol represents an upside-down cross with broken arms and is therefore anti-Christian or Satanic.

“It’s something that ought to be resolved between the Homeowners Association and the resident right now,” said attorney Mark Payne of Winzenburg, Left, Purvis and Payne.

Payne said these kinds of disputes can be public relations nightmares for homeowner groups even if the facts are on their side.

“The better associations try not to let these things happen,” said Payne. “They try to find a way around it. They try to find a way to resolve the dispute. Other times, these things can’t be resolved and they do end up in court.”

Jensen said she put up the wreath to honor the biblical call for peace and goodwill toward men. She said she and her husband hung the wreath on their outside wall Nov. 15 and plan to leave the wreath and all of her other Christmas decorations up until after Dec. 25.

Jensen said that she’s already gotten a lot of support.

“One of the guys who called us was in tears almost, choked up. He said, ‘I went to war and I fought for peace and they don’t have the right to take that away from you,'” Jensen said.

Poisonous Christmas Trees

Consumers should know that if they are shopping for a Christmas tree this season they need to check the labels before they bring it home.

Several artificial trees and Christmas lights are being sold at Birmingham stores with a warning that the products could contain lead which is known to cause cancer and birth defects, among other things.

FOX6 On Your Side bought a pre-lit tree with one of the labels on it and took it to the Jefferson County Health Department for an environmental specialist to check it out! FOX6 News Investigative Reporter has the story.

Christmas Tree Vs. Menorah Debate Heats Up In Fort Collins

A holiday decorations dispute involving the Christmas tree and the menorah is heating up in Fort Collins.

Several religious leaders sent an email to the city council on Tuesday urging them to reconsider a decision made in the summer that said the menorah could not be displayed at the city’s public holiday display.

The July ruling said the Christmas tree is OK for the city’s public holiday display, but the menorah is not.

“I think everyone here is Christian essentially, so a Christmas tree, Santa’s workshop and everything associated with it is considered generic, everybody does it,” said Rabbi Yerachmiel Gorelick. “But that’s really not the case.”

Gorelick is trying to include a Menorah from the Jewish faith in the city’s formal holiday display, but the city council said no.

“Our holiday display policy had been a simple secular Christmas tree,” said Fort Collins Mayor Doug Hutchinson.

On Friday, as in years past, the Christmas tree display will go up on city property as part of the Fort Collins Downtown Development Authority’s annual event where Santa’s workshop and angels reside.

“According to our attorney, the tree is secular, the menorah is not,” said a spokesman of the Downtown Development Authority.

Dictionary.com defines secular symbols as things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual or sacred.

“They are making a decision that is comfortable for them, but quite obviously not reflective of what the average person of Fort Collins wants,” said Gorelik. “That’s the problem.”

Hutchinson said he hopes the city council will reconsider next year.

“I would like to see the holiday symbols be more inclusionary and that’s a good way to send a message,” said Hutchinson.

The city council had a work session Tuesday night but Hutchinson said they won’t rule on this issue because it’s not on the agenda.

Gorelik said he has been patient waiting more than a year. He said he might file a lawsuit to force the city’s hand.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that Christmas trees, menorahs, and nativity scenes can be displayed on public property and are not in violation of the constitution.

All-faith tree vs real Christmas?

I don’t know whether the city of York has jumped on some kind of bandwagon, but I was saddened to see that our civic leaders have succumbed to the prevailing political correctness by making reference to several faiths around the area of the Christmas tree (if one is permitted to call it that), located in St Helen’s Square.

May I ask if this is really necessary, when Christmas is, after all, essentially a Christian festival?

When discussions of this nature take place, it is said that unless we either water down Christmas, or at least make reference to other faiths, people of other faiths might be offended. [The Criminalization of Christianity]

However, I have noticed that we only ever hear this from white, Anglo-Saxon local government officials. I have never heard of any Muslim, Sikh, Hindu or adherent to any other faith being offended.

Quite the opposite; I hear them saying on radio, TV and in newspapers “celebrate Christmas and remember the birth of Jesus Christ at this time of year”.

It would appear that certain government officials would like to see the end of the Christian faith in this country, while hiding behind the excuse that we might offend somebody.

As a leader of a medium size to large Christian Church in York, I have respect for all faiths and the people who live by them. Indeed, I worked among people of a mainly Muslim community for three months in 2003.

However, I see no reason to make a hotchpotch of an important Christian festival in the name of political correctness.

Paul V Westlake, The Salvation Army, Gillygate, York.

I have noticed the Archbishop of York’s name cropping up all the time in The Press.

I think this man should be running the country, and just do a bit of church work in his spare time.

Too many people with titles don’t say what they really think in case they offend some one, I think some times you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette.

I wish John Sentamu and his family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

A Stephenson, Huntington Road, York.

Christian lawyers are ready to fight ‘war on Christmas’

As regularly as the Christmas decorations hit the stores, the drums start beating about the “war on Christmas.”

“About this time every year, our phones start to ring off the hook from people reporting cases of discrimination,” said Mike Johnson, a Louisiana attorney who works for the Scottsdale-based Alliance Defense Fund.

Every year for the past four, the fund has issued a news release before Thanksgiving to tout its free lawyer service and to point out what it contends is an organized plot to remove all religious meaning from the holiday.

The plotters are the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and others, Johnson says.

Each of those organizations denies such a plot.

“The plot against Christmas is a manufactured plot,” said Bill Straus, Arizona director of the Anti-Defamation League, a group that defends the rights of Jewish people.

“I have not heard of one complaint where somebody was berated for celebrating Christmas. If saying ‘happy holidays’ is offensive, then it is not us who has the thin skins.”

Johnson, who has led the campaign for the Alliance Defense Fund since it began, says the organization got 400 phone calls last year about possible discrimination.

He said that more than 350 of them were resolved with a letter explaining what is and is not permissible in classrooms, on city hall lawns and other places where issues of the separation of church and state are fought.

He declined to say how many cases were taken to court.

Johnson acknowledges that most of the cases are the result of efforts to be inclusive and sensitive to non-Christians, not part of an organized plot.

“A lot of people have been misled by the far fringe left groups,” he said. “A very vocal minority has a clear objective to silence religious expression.”

He cannot point to any such objective in writing. But, he says, just look at the cases the ACLU takes to court.

“The proof of the tree is in the fruit it bears,” he said.

For its part, the ACLU denies any such objective.

Alessandra Soler Meetze, the executive director of the Arizona branch, said the campaign “is a well-organized attempt to demonize us.”

“The reality of the matter is that there are millions of places where people can celebrate Christmas without fear of conflict,” she said. “State bureaucrats should not be the ones deciding which symbols to display on government property.”

As for the Anti Defamation League, Johnson accused the group of mailing to schools holiday guidelines that go too far.

But Straus said, “We don’t tell people anything about the holidays. We make it clear if the public schools have any questions, rather than cross the line, contact us, and we will help them.

“Can you mention Christmas, Jesus in school? Yes, but you cannot promote Christianity. That is against the law.”

Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center in Nashville says the distinction is relatively simple: Students and citizens may institute Christian activities, but school and government employees may not sponsor, endorse or promote them.

In an article on the organization’s Web site, he quotes former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She wrote, “There is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the establishment clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the free-speech and free-exercise clauses protect.”

Paul Eppinger, a retired Baptist minister, said he has noticed a greater number of people toning down their Christmas celebrations “out of sensitivity to others.”

Eppinger, who leads the Arizona Interfaith Network, said a better idea would be to go ahead and celebrate Christmas in all its glory.

But don’t do it on government property, and make sure all the other religious groups get their due for their holidays, as well.

“Because the United States is such a conglomeration of people from all cultures, peoples, races and faiths, we need some way to recognize and celebrate all their traditions with them,” Eppinger said.

Diving expedition reveals more on fate of `Christmas Tree Ship’

Researchers are learning more about the so-called Christmas Tree Ship that sank in Lake Michigan en route to Chicago 84 years ago.
The three-masted schooner Rouse Simmons apparently was not driven south by gale winds from the north, as researchers had presumed.

A diving expedition this past summer found that the ship’s 17-man crew actually was trying to head for a safe harbor when it sank bow first.

Wisconsin underwater archaeologist Keith Merveden says the ship wreckage was pointing north by northwest.

The schooner was believed to be carrying more than 5,000 Christmas trees when it set sail November 21st, 1912 from Manistique (man-uh-STEEK), Michigan on a voyage to downtown Chicago.

Every year, Captain Herman Schuenemann (SHOE-nuh-mann) sold the trees for 50 cents to one dollar each or gave them away to needy families.

Borough seeks to reduce Christmas injuries

Staff at a London borough’s council have been forbidden from hanging some Christmas decorations at work to avoid seasonal injuries.

The Tower Hamlet’s council advised staff in an e-mail Wednesday no decorations such as streamers could be displayed that required climbing to hang from ceilings or walls, the Daily Mail reported.

The council said it had the staff’s well-being in mind, but said it also wanted to avoid lawsuits from employees who were injured while decorating.

Christmas lights of all kinds were banned to cut power bills and to ensure compliance with unspecified safety standards, the memo said.

The council went to lengths to stress it was not canceling Christmas, and endorsed the use of tinsel and baubles and anything else that doesn’t use electricity, the newspaper said.

Is it ever too early for Christmas?

Christmas is coming whether you like it or not. And with it comes the songs, the lights, the trees and the advertisements that will bombard us from now until Dec. 25.
The hype seems to start earlier every year, to the point where stores still have Halloween decorations out when the holiday cards and icicle lights make an appearance.
“It’s certainly a sign of the times,” says Mark Doherty, executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement Area (DBIA).
“I have noticed in the past few years decorations going up even before Halloween. That to me is way too early.”
As a father of six children between the ages of 22 months and 14 years, Mr. Doherty says he prefers a more traditional approach. His family puts up the tree and decorations a week before Christmas.
“Kids get bombarded by TV way to early,” he says.
“It just creates such a hype.”
Mr. Doherty says many store and business owners decorate early because they rely heavily on Christmas season sales.
The DBIA and Peterborough Public Works are responsible for decorating the city’s downtown (the holiday flags and wreaths on lampposts.)
This year decorations went up on Sunday, Nov. 12. Mr. Doherty says it usually happens mid to late-November.
“We have to work within their [public works] schedule,” says Mr. Doherty.
He explains that it’s easier to get the decorations up when weather conditions are mild and city workers aren’t busy clearing away snow.
Lansdowne Place mall manager Rob Arkell says they always put decorations up on Nov. 12.
“I just like to wait to get Remembrance Day over, out of respect for the veterans,” he says.
He says it’s up to each store to decide when, or if, they decorate for the season or play holiday music.
“I’ve never had a complaint,” says Mr. Arkell when asked if customers mind the early start.
“But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.”
Debbie McKeller and her co-worker Lorraine Yaxley say it bothers them when they see signs of Christmas sprout up in early November.
“It’s too early,” explains Ms McKeller.
“I don’t think they should start until at least the 20th of November.”
Ms Yaxley says too much too soon takes away from the actual holiday.
“You just get tired of looking at it,” she adds.
David Van DerVecht, 22, is a “devout atheist.” He isn’t offended by Christmas music or decorations, but says he finds it annoying.
“I don’t think it’s about religion,” he says.
“Actually, I think the religion aspect is one of the more honourable aspects about it. I just can’t stand the music, everywhere, all the time.”
For others, when it comes to Christmas, earlier is better.
Shianne Reynolds’ home on Charlotte Street stands out; it’s one of the few on the street already decorated for the season.
The 25-year-old lives with her sister Tashanna. Between them, they have six children under nine years of age in the house.
“It’s for them,” she says, explaining that they usually start holiday crafts and put up decorations together by Nov. 1.
“It’s never too early for Christmas,” she says laughing.
“It only comes once a year!”

Gun Christmas bauble under fire

When you think of the festive season, your mind turns to happy images of joyful families decorating a Christmas tree in all manner of sparkling and prettily coloured items, like baubles and streamers and handguns.

Okay, maybe not handguns.

But that’s what the determinedly edgy shop Urban Outfitters would quite like you to do. In America, the chain has unveiled a 5-inch long glittering handgun ornament as part of its Christmas offerings.

‘Bust a cap in your tree with this superglittery ornament in the shape of a handgun, complete with a satin ribbon for hanging,’ says the classy description of the ‘Glitter Gun Ornament’ in the retailer’s online catalogue.

Predictably, they claim that it puts an ‘ironic twist’ on the holidays.

It’s not the first time Urban Outfitters have courted controversy. They were criticised in the past for t-shirts with slogans like ‘Everyone Loves a Jewish Girl’ (juxtaposed with a dollar sign) and ‘New Mexico, Cleaner Than Regular Mexico’, while they attracted the most impotent rage when they sold a spoof board game called Ghettopoly, in which players competed to buy crack houses.

Leading the grumpiness over the bauble were anti-gun groups.

‘Once again, you see someone trying to profit off of the violent nature of our society, and if that’s the case, they should withdraw the ornament from their catalog right away and submit an apology to the community,’ said Darryl Coates, executive director of the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network – Philadelphia being the city Urban Outfitters is based in.

A statement from Urban Outfitters said: ‘This specific ‘Glitter Gun Ornament’ is by no means condoning the violence that we face in our city, or any city, for that matter, and is not meant to celebrate guns or gun violence.’

“A Christmas Story” House Becomes Tourist Attraction

Brian Jones thinks he knows a thing or two about great movies and tourism.

He’s spent a small fortune combining both in a way he hopes will attract your dollar the next time you head to the U.S.

What did he do?

He spent $500,000 to buy and fix up a house at 3159 West 11th St. in the Cleveland, Ohio suburb of Tremont.

But not just any house.

This is the place director Bob Clark used as the setting for the iconic holiday film “A Christmas Story”. [A Christmas Story: The Book That Inspired the Hilarious Classic Film]

The movie, about a little boy named Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder air rifle, is one of the most beloved of the season.

Although the interiors of the famous flick were all shot inside a Toronto studio and a school in St. Catharines was used for the legendary tongue-frozen-onto-pole scene, the house in the quiet Ohio neighbourhood was the one viewers saw from the outside.

And beginning Saturday, anyone who stops by can tour the fully renovated and restored property for just $5.

Jones’ quest to become a movie memorabilia mogul began when he first became obsessed with the film several years after its 1983 release.

When the house used in the show came up for auction on eBay last year, he offered the vendor a flat $150,000 if he’d stop the bidding and sell it to him – which he did.

But it cost Jones hundreds of thousands of dollars more to completely renovate the place, turning the interior it into a replica of the home seen on screen – including the original staircase.

He also bought the home next door as a kind of souvenir shop and museum that will sell you just about anything related to its movie roots.

His wife thought he was crazy. But the 30-year-old had a feeling about the home.

“I wanted to go see it,” Jones explains of his purchase. “And if I wanted to see it, then other fans would want to, too. Why not make the house a tourist attraction?”

He notes other movie tie-ins have become magnets for visitors, including the Iowa baseball diamond in the cornfield used in “Field of Dreams”.

Jones knew he was on the right track when people started coming by before he’d even finished the project.

“Once, when we were working, these college kids showed up in a car,” he recalls. “They had driven nine hours one way just to see the house. ‘Star Trek’ has Trekkies, I have Ralphies. I’m a Ralphie myself.”

Some of the actors from the film – including the kid who played Ralphie’s brother and the guy who portrayed the hated bully Farkus – will be there when the home officially opens to tourists this weekend.

Jones is expecting some 3,000-5,000 paying customers to show up the first day.

And like “A Christmas Story” itself, he hopes the legend of his new-old digs endures and that folks will get an eyeful. Although not the kind that will have grown-ups warning “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid”.

Your view: Don’t ban Christmas

I was listening to the radio Monday night and was appalled by what I heard. There was a man promoting his organization and trying to motivate people toward his cause. His cause is simply to stop the banning of Christmas in America.

Christmas! It seems, my fellow Americans, that in some parts of our beloved country, Christmas is being banned in public places simply because it offends some of the people who live there. This man on the radio was saying that some schools have banned the wearing of red and green because they are Christmas colors.

Some nursing homes have banned the ability to decorate the doors on the rooms with religious symbols. Some towns have banned the display of nativity scenes in places viewed by the public and the use of angels to decorate a tree.

Yet other places have banned caroling, and some have even banned the use of the word “Christmas,” replacing it with “holiday” because that is less offensive to those who don’t celebrate Christmas. [The Criminalization of Christianity: Read This Book Before It Becomes Illegal!]

For us to ban a part of this country, especially a part of this country that has been here for hundreds of years is wrong! And for those of you who are offended by it, maybe you should rethink living in America because you obviously don’t want to live in a free land.

If we’re going to ban the celebration of Christmas, then why not ban the celebration of all religious holidays? I mean, that would make everyone happy. No one would be offended then, right?

Planning ahead: Christmas shopping does not have be a season for headaches

Everybody has their own little cues, those little signs that signal the approach of Christmas. For some, it’s the sight of Christmas lights on the front porch and Christmas trees in the living room windows. Others look for the first snowfall or the Christmas sales in stores.

What sign do I seek out?

Well, it came last week when the “must have” item of the year was announced. One year it was Cabbage Patch Dolls that inspired smiles and riots. Another “must have” was the Tickle Me Elmo, which was scarce in toy aisles and available on eBay for a couple thousand dollars.

This year I knew the Christmas season was fast approaching when area stores received only 10 units apiece of the coveted PlayStation 3. When I heard of the demand, the scanty supplies, and the outrageous resales on the Internet, I realized that the Christmas season was here.

I headed for the Princeton Wal-Mart when I learned that four guys were camping out in the electronics department so they could snare PlayStation 3s when they arrived at the magical hour of midnight. Now I admit that I’m not a major fan of electronics and video games, but I admire fortitude when I see it. These guys were willing to sit on chairs and wait in line for hours just so they could get this year’s holiday holy grail.

Of course, these PS3 seekers were able to sit in heated comfort. If the Wal-Mart wasn’t open 24 hours, they would have faced the prospect of camping out in their cars. Personally, I think they would have done it.

I like to think that I have the fortitude to camp out and score the perfect gift for a loved one. I try to start Christmas shopping well before the dreaded Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. I urge my family to let me know what they want under the tree. Then when I see it for a good price, I can buy it immediately. That way I don’t have to rush and run up big bills all at once.

Unfortunately, the system breaks down at times. I’ve already gotten myself into trouble. I spotted the perfect present for my older nephew A.J. and grabbed it. Later, I told my sister Karen about my find and asked what she thought younger nephew Alex might like to receive from his “Unk.”

“Remember, Greg,” Karen warned me. “You’re talking about two very competitive little boys.”

Hearing that warning was like finding a drowned roach in my turkey gravy. I’ve been trying to find a second copy of that exact same gift (I’d name it, but the boys can read) and haven’t seen another. I may have to scout eBay, heaven save me, or worse, brave Black Friday. Frankly, I’d rather do on the scene interviews during a major flood than shop during Black Friday.

And I should be very thankful that the boys haven’t asked for a PlayStation3; it’s something Santa won’t have in his sack when he comes down their home’s chimney. I could buy one if I was lucky enough to find one for the retail price, but I’d be thinking “there goes two car payments” when I paid for the thing.

Yes, holiday shopping is usually fun, but I have my limits.

One affordable Christmas ritual I do enjoy is shopping for a less fortunate child. I select a name from one of the Angel trees, always a boy, and find what I can for him. I select a boy because I have a better sense of what he might like, plus you get to buy those cool toys you would have wanted when you were small.

I still remember the year I found an extremely cool ray gun that had three sequences of flashing light and electro sounds to match; exactly what I would have wanted when I was a kid. Naturally I included the receipt in case there was a problem. I was also glad that gifts are anonymous. After a Christmas morning with that ray gun, the boy’s parents might have sent a message stating, “Our lawyer will contact you.”

Giving to the unfortunate does give one a lift, especially when you’re hoping that your loved ones won’t want the holiday gift that inspires riots when it appears on the shelves. The Christmas season is a season for giving, but remember that it does not have to be the season for headaches and stress. Give what you can reasonably afford to give, and be glad that you could give it.

Christmas specials I remember best

Sometimes TV is more than just TV — like when it’s intertwined with Christmas memories. [A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition]

“‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ stands out most and blows every other TV Christmas special away,” wrote Deseret Morning News reader Michelle Llewellyn. “Thanks to that cute blanket-carrying boy, the first Bible passage I could recite by heart as a child was Luke 2: 8-14. We watched this every year on TV as a family. It’s become a part of every American family’s Christmas tradition.”
Carrie Johnson recalled a Christmas “16 or 17 years ago” when she she was up late making candy with her sister and the happened upon “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“We both loved it and had never seen it before. … It has become a favorite and reminds me of a favorite memory with my sister many years ago when our children were young and we enjoyed happy holiday times together.”
Leatha A. Betts is partial to “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.”
“There are hijinks at the very beginning and the ending, but the true meaning of Christmas is portrayed with a loving cartoonist’s hand, and glorious songs that can be sung year after year. … It brings back such wonderful memories.”
Lonette Anderson recalled that her parents didn’t want her and her siblings to watch TV, but every year her father would bring a set home from work so they could watch “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”
“The TV was small, no more than 12 inches, and of course we didn’t have cable, so there was rabbit ears to adjust and tin foil to apply so we could watch without snow. I remember the panicked feeling that we wouldn’t get reception soon enough for the show to start. We would set the small television on the kitchen table so all five kids and parents could crowd around to get a good view … ‘Rudolph’ is still the first Christmas special I look for in the paper each year. But in the days of large, flat-screen televisions, my favorite memory is still of sitting around our kitchen table one night a year to watch Rudolph’s nose glow red with my family.”

Kay Barg mentioned both “Magoo” and “Rudolph.”
“But I think what would put me in the spirit the most was the holiday variety shows, especially Andy Williams’ Christmas special. He would have his whole immediate and extended family on at the end and talk about their memories. … That’s what would put me in the Christmas mood.”
Others getting mentioned included movies such as “A Christmas Story,” “Christmas Eve,” “Yes, Virginia,” “The House Without a Christmas Tree,” “One Magic Christmas” and “One Special Night”; specials such as “Mr. Krueger’s Christmas,” “A Claymation Christmas,” “Christmas Eve on Sesame Street,” “B.C.: A Special Christmas,” “Opus and a Wish for Wings that Work” and “The 12 Days of Christmas”; and even episodes of regular series such as “the Dec. 22, 1963, episode of ‘Bonanza’ (when I was 8 years old).”
Not all the shows that elicit strong memories are specials that air year after year.
“I have not seen my favorite Christmas TV special shown on network TV for a long time,” wrote Annette Huff. “Fortunately, I found a cheap, and very poor quality video of the animated classic about 20 years ago and bought it. The case is now cracked, the front is broken off and the beginning of the tape is wrinkled, but I continue to watch it every year. It is a version of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ featuring the Norman Luboff Choir. … I’m not sure what it is about this show that has caught my heart. Perhaps it is just the memory of watching it as a child, or the thought of a simpler time.”
It was much the same for Marian McCann.
“I would like to make a case for a couple of lesser known and, unfortunately, hard-to-find Christmas specials. Our favorites are the 1966 version of Truman Capote’s ‘A Christmas Memory’ and the 1978 Hallmark Hall of Fame ‘Stubby Pringle’s Christmas.’ I taped them years ago and we watch them often…. The stories are the kind of heart-warming, but not sappy, Christmas tales that are perfect for all members of the family and have lovely and timeless messages of sacrifice and generosity. I have never understood why they aren’t played every year as the classics they are.”
And it seems like just about every special has its fans — even the critically annihilated “Star Wars Holiday Special” that aired way back in 1978, which one reader (who identified himself — or is that herself? — only as “Monkaya”) remembered as “The Wookiee Christmas.”
“Thats right. I am talking Chewbacca of ‘Star Wars’ fame. But he and Han Solo do not arrive until later, after a obnoxious storm trooper invades his family’s home and rips apart his son’s (bantha?) plushy. … The family celebrates Christmas in Wookiee fashion together via a community pageant involving something similar to the Star of Bethlehem, as I recall.
“George Lucas likely has this one locked deep in his vault.”
Ah, but the memories remain.

‘The Nativity Story’ puts Christ back into Christmas

“With the release of ‘The Nativity Story,’ Hollywood is finally putting Jesus Christ back into Christmas,” Dr. Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission, said. The film, which has been called a prequel to “The Passion of the Christ,” heads to more than 3,000 of the nation’s movie theaters on Dec. 1. [The Nativity Story – A Novel]

“Hollywood has recognized there’s a gigantic part of the population that goes to church each week,” Baehr said. “Go see ‘The Nativity Story’ and tell your family and friends to do the same.”

From New Line Cinema, “The Nativity Story” has been called the best movie about the birth of Jesus since nativity movies were first produced in the 1890s. The movie tells the story of the birth of Jesus “in a compelling, captivating, entertaining and inspiring matter that shatters expectations,” according to Baehr, who has reviewed the film. “ ‘The Nativity Story’ is refreshingly dramatic, so much so that the movie will elicit tears at points,” he wrote.

Baehr, a renowned critic, educator, lecturer and media pundit, is the founder and publisher of Movieguide (www.movieguide.org).

Baehr’s assessment of changes in Hollywood track with similar trends in America. After years of “holidays” being used to describe the Christmas season, some cracks in the politically correct dam have begun to open, as retailers like Wal-Mart, Kohl’s Corp. and Macy’s are beginning to use the term “Merry Christmas.”

The movie responds to mounting criticism from religious groups that staged boycotts against Wal-Mart and other merchants after they eliminated or de-emphasized “Christmas” in their advertising.

They’re dreaming of a green Christmas

Bubble wrap, foil trays and yoghurt pots might not sound like the sort of things you would want to hang on the Christmas tree – at least until Norfolk schoolchildren get their hands on them.

Pupils will transform the items into environmentally-friendly tree decorations with the help of the county council’s Schools Waste Action Club (SWAC).

And the public will have the chance to see their handy work at the Forum in Norwich when the decorations will adorn a 12ft Christmas tree from December 13.

Waste reduction officers will be helped to decorate the tree by 30 pupils from Alderman Swindell First School in Yarmouth.

The lucky group, who were selected from around 1,500 primary school pupils, will also receive eco-friendly gifts from Father Christmas and take part in waste reduction games.

The tree decorating event will be the culmination of two weeks of workshops run in 16 schools. Pupils will be shown how to make tree decorations out of materials that would otherwise have been thrown away in a bid to raise awareness and promote waste reduction at Christmas.

Waste reduction officer Tracey Mitchell said: “Christmas is potentially a very wasteful time of year so we were thrilled by the extremely positive response we received from schools wanting to take part in our recycled decoration workshops. The children are doing a fantastic job and the finished decorations are so effective that it’s really hard to tell they are actually made from rubbish.”

The Christmas tree will be on display at the Forum until December 18 after which the decorations will be returned to the schools.