Archive for December, 2006

Greece is Celebrating Christmas

The greatest exodus in past years for the Christmas period began on Thursday. Thousands of excursionists abandoned the big cities, taking advantage of the festive holidays. Most of them are traveling to the provinces and abroad. More than 250,000 Greeks will spend Christmas in European capitals, in tourism destinations and exotic islands.

There will be an increase in movement in the coming days at the country’s airports, as many will pass the festivities abroad and at tourism places domestically.

At Athens’ “Eleftherios Venizelos” International Airport, from December 22-28 there will be more than 300 extra flights and another equal number is estimated to be made during the New Year period.”

However, those who enjoy winter sports and are planning to have a white Christmas in one of the ski centres of Europe and Greece will most probably be disappointed, as the lack of snow is unprecedented for this period.

The Greeks living abroad, being active citizens in their countries while, at the same time, maintaining unbreakable ties with Greece and having Ecumenical horizons of interests, contribute in multiple ways to the efforts aimed at allowing Hellenism to occupy the place it deserves in the new international environment of the 21st century, stressed Hellenic Republic President Karolos Papoulias in his message to the Greeks living abroad on the occasion of the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

The President also underlined that the Greeks living abroad managed to become assimilated in their new countries in an exemplary fashion and under adverse conditions without forgetting their identity, serving as a bridge of cooperation between different peoples and societies.

Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos, the head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, on Friday warned against a tendency toward “secularising” Christmas and losing touch with its central meaning in his message for the holiday.

“We must not allow Christmas to be secularised. Children should not be left in ignorance, unaware of what we are celebrating,” he said, noting that outside influences were seeking to replace the religious aspect and theological dimensions of the holiday.

“The world around us is in turmoil. And many would desire our people to become a ‘dizzy herd’. To not react to the levelling. To accept their role as a consumer unit without spirituality, without Orthodox prospects, without historical continuity, without the ability for self-determination. And for the holidays to be diminished to seasonal opportunities to exchange social greetings and gifts,” he said.

The sanctity of family is underlined in the Christmas message of Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana.

The Archbishop points out that when family, the fundamental nucleus of society that shields human beings and ensures their growth, is disturbed, then individuals become deeply traumatized as personalities and social decadence follows.

Archbishop Anastasios also pointed out that the Church has to highlight the value of the human being and display a special interest in the poor and the misfortunate.

Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa Theodoros II in a Christmas message on Friday said that “peace and harmony is not achieved with agreements, treaties and signatures, but through their consolidation deep in the soul of all of us, through the love which is offered to us by the birth of Christ.”

The Patriarch of Alexandria said he was against every form of violence, poverty and hunger and particularly wars “which not only are not condemned in practice but are justified in the name of freedom.”

Christmas Most Important Holiday, Most Americans Say

Christmas is one of the nation’s most important holidays, the majority of Americans say, even more than those who listed the Fourth of July.

A Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 adults, conducted Dec. 15-16, found that nearly nine out of ten Americans celebrate Christmas. Only 7 percent consider the holiday one of the least important while 71 percent consider it one of the most important.

On a more religious note, 65 percent of Americans would like to see more emphasis on the birth of Christ during the season and 59 percent plan to attend a Christian Church service on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Another Rasmussen Reports survey found the 69 percent of Americans prefer stores to use the phrase “Merry Christmas” in their seasonal advertising rather than the generic “Happy Holidays.” An earlier Zogby International poll found the 95 percent of Americans said they were not offended by a “Merry Christmas” greeting in stores.

Major retailer Wal-Mart welcomed back the Christmas phrase to their stores this season. And the war on Christmas is dying out.

After battling an “outrageous” attack on Christmas last year, Christians are happy to see a more peaceful Christmas season this year.

“The war on Christmas seems to be over and Christmas won,” said veteran film critic and talk show host Michael Medved on a Focus on the Family radio broadcast earlier this month.

Medved attributed the end of the Christmas war to the small number of protestors.

“The number of people who were anti-Christmas – you could probably fit into a phone booth,” he noted.

Stores, such as Gap, still afraid of offending nonbelievers have chosen to leave out “Merry Christmas” in their greetings, advertising, and store decorations. And nativity scenes are still protested in some areas.

But overall, the latest surveys and reports support the comeback of Christmas.

Even among non-Christians, the majority want to see Christmas decorations and displays, Medved pointed out.

Christmas trees are no exception. The Rasmussen Reports survey revealed that 62 percent of Americans will have a Christmas tree. Additionally, 78 percent of all Americans believe that Christian holiday symbols such as a baby lying in a manger should be allowed on public land while only 9 percent disagree.

Other findings showed that 75 percent of those who celebrate Christmas open their present on Christmas morning; 28 percent have not started shopping for gifts; and 14 percent will go Christmas caroling this year.

Up the chimney he rose: Is it magic … or physics?

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.’’

So begins the much-loved poem by Clement Clarke Moore about Santa’s visit to a household where ‘‘the children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.’’ The poem has inspired generations of children and grown-ups alike with the wonders and the magic of Christmas.

Much of the Santa Claus story invokes magic – but there’s physics involved, too. [The Physics of Christmas: From the Aerodynamics of Reindeer to the Thermodynamics of Turkey]

Take just one aspect of Santa’s visit: at each household stop he parks his sleigh, goes down the chimney and delivers presents under the Christmas tree for the good boys and girls of the house.

According to the poem – our definitive source for Santa facts – the trip down the chimney is described as something of a free-fall: ‘‘Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.’’

After dropping off the gifts and taking a quick snack of milk and cookies, he leaves: ‘‘laying his finger aside of his nose giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.’’

Santa’s trips both down and up the chimney pose puzzles from a physicist’s point of view: if the typical household chimney is 30 feet tall, simply dropping down the chimney would be dangerous indeed.

More than 350 Yuletides ago, Galileo examined the motion of bodies falling under the constant acceleration of gravity. From his results it is easy to calculate that in free-fall, Santa’s descent would take about 1.4 seconds and he’d hit the earth at about 30 miles per hour. As Galileo showed, aside from air resistance, the drop time and impact speed do not depend at all on the mass of the body.

So let us assume that Santa probably slides down a rope tied to his sleigh on the rooftop.

Also, as we know, he is ‘‘chubby and plump,’’ with a ‘‘little round belly, that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.’’

No doubt, by bumping his tummy on the bricks during descent he would further brake his downward plunge, while rappelling down the rope like a mountain climber.

In a chimney, this would be messy, so it’s no surprise that ‘‘his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.’’

Going back up the chimney offers a much more challenging physics problem. Santa could just climb, hauling himself hand-over-hand up his rope. But for such a chubby fellow, that would be slow and strenuous – much too demanding in view of his incredibly busy schedule.

Even if Santa could leap like Michael Jordan in his prime, a quick jump up the chimney is not feasible.

With no room for a running approach, the jump would have to be from a standing start, and the world record for a vertical high jump is only 4 feet. In order to exceed that, and reach 30 feet, Santa would need a means to blast off like a human rocket.

Simple calculations show that, in order to exit in a second or so, he’d have to be subjected to uncomfortably strong forces; Santa would emerge not merely tattered but fractured.

Surely, ‘‘laying his finger aside of his nose’’ is a telling clue. Our conclusion is that in his cap he has a little electrical device of kind that would have delighted Ben Franklin, who pioneered the understanding of electricity.

The device evidently must be triggered by his finger, probably by interrupting a faint light beam near his glowing cheek. That would generate a photoelectric signal in a way described by Einstein in 1905. The device could then send a radio signal to activate a winch on the sleigh, thereby winding up Santa’s tether and enabling him to rise effortlessly.

So up the chimney he goes – with a little help from physics – and into the night he flies in his reindeer-driven sleigh – with a lot of help from magic.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Severson family keep expanding their Christmas lights display

The few lights on a bush outside the house have multiplied at the Severson place.

Who started it?

Theresa points at her father and her father points at her.

“He decided to put up some Christmas lights one year,” Theresa said of her father, Calmer Severson. That was about 10 years ago.

Now, they can’t count the number of strands of lights they put up beginning in mid-October each year.

Decorating the farmyard is a family affair. Theresa is the designer. Brother Todd does the metal fabrication. Calmer does the wood work. Mom Karen is the cook.

The lights come on after the family finishes their Thanksgiving meal and the decorations come down on New Year’s Day, when the family enjoys Karen’s chili.

Todd is blamed or credited, depending on who you ask, for providing the inspiration to expand the few strands of lights into a farmyard filled with figures, dancing trees, carolers, fishing penguins, sliding children, a carousel and Ferris wheel, and a countdown to Christmas É to name a tiny slice of the action.

The Seversons add or change something in the display each year. Some folks can identify the changes right away, Theresa said. Others say their children make them stop every night just to see how many days remain until Christmas.

“Some of them really take an interest,” she said.

“It’s crazy É I don’t know (why we do it),” Calmer said.

“We do it for the kids,” Karen said. “They enjoy it.”

Soldier works as a Salvation Army Santa – from Iraq

Minnesota National Guard Sgt. Lacy Hennessy has found a way to make up for a back-home Christmas tradition — ringing a bell beside a Salvation Army kettle as she’d done in holiday seasons past.

Hennessy is serving as a virtual bell ringer with an “online red kettle.”

“My friends and I always had fun with it, singing Christmas carols and being goofy,” Hennessy wrote in an e-mail from Iraq. “I love to see generous people throwing even just some change in the kettle because it all adds up.”

The Online Red Kettle drive augments the Salvation Army’s annual bell-ringing campaign, which raises money to provide housing, clothing, food, toys and other aid to the needy. Around 25,000 bell ringers are out on any given day during the holiday season, and they collected an estimated $111 million last year.

The sergeant set a goal of $3,000 for her kettle. She was $715 away from that goal as of Tuesday morning. Hennessy’s campaign ends Dec. 31.

You can donate to Hennesy’s virtual kettle by going online to and using the search function.

Christmas Store Helps Families In Need

There is a store that is making the holidays a bit brighter for hundreds of families.

“Everybody gets gifts. To me, Christmas is Christmas. You give Christmas to everybody. It’s happiness,” said Nancy Martin of Community Services League.

Barbara Hatfield said this year has been tough for her family and money is tight. She is using the Christmas Store at the Community Services League to pick out gifts for her five kids. All of the items in the store are free, KMBC’s Jere Gish reported.

“There would not be anything under the tree if it wasn’t for them,” Hatfield said.

All of the merchandise is donated.

Gish reported that needy families come in and get what they need to make their Christmas special. It’s one of six stores operating over the holiday.

Tonya Gable shopped for her two young children.

“She’s going to love it. She loves baby dolls. She thinks her brother is baby doll,” Gable said.

Gish reported that the store is not just for kids. Adults can pick out gifts for themselves as well.

“They even let us pick out things for ourselves, which I wasn’t expecting to get anything under the tree this year,” Hatfield said.

The Christmas Stores will serve more than 1,000 families this year, and they still need more donations to fill everyone’s Christmas list, Gish reported.

The Community Services League is looking for new donated items, especially for 8 to 12-year-old boys and girls.

Judge orders Christmas tree out of courtroom lobby

A judge from the Ontario Court of Justice on Jarvis Street has ordered a Christmas tree out of the courthouse lobby creating some politically-correct controversy this holiday season.

Walk around downtown Toronto and you’ll see several Christmas trees serving as a reminder that the holiday season is here. But while trees like the huge one at Nathan Phillips Square are generally viewed as a common symbol this time of year, many view it as offensive and potentially alienating.

It’s a level of politically-correctness that borders on ridiculous according to one resident. [Persecution: How Liberals are Waging War Against Christians]

“I think everyone should just get over it and we should love each other. I mean Christmas tree or not, what’s the difference? Can’t we just be nice to each other and just tolerate each other a little better?”

According to reports, the order to remove the Christmas tree has angered a lot of the staff at the court house who say that the tree has been placed in the lobby at Christmas for many years.

The judge however, has claimed that it’s a Christian symbol that sends a message to people with different beliefs that they are not part of the institution.

A Decorated Christmas House to Remember

Mark Ritter is a low-key kind of guy who, when speaking, comes off as a cross between Eeyore the Donkey and Bob Newhart — steady, matter-of-fact and unexcitable.
But one look at his house in Centreville’s Country Club Manor community, and it’s clear that something excites him very much: Christmas. His corner lot at 5700 Claret Place, on the corner of Greymont Drive, is lit up like, well, a Christmas tree — actually, an entire Christmas village!

THIS IS HIS eighth year of decorating, and visitors come from miles around to see this magical masterpiece that features flashing lights set to music and takes some 25,000 LED lights and 350 extension cords to accomplish. And for something that brings joy to many people, Ritter, a network administrator, takes its creation seriously.
“As soon as Christmas is over, I start planning for the next year,” he said. “In March, when other people are thinking about summer, I’m thinking about Christmas. And this year, I’m going to a Christmas trade show in Gatlinburg, Tenn., Aug. 2-4.”
He and wife Marcie have three children, Matt, 15, Michael, 14, and Marissa, 7, and the family’s lived there since 1999. “I always enjoyed going to people’s houses and seeing the Christmas lights when I was a kid,” said Ritter. “The first year, I built a manger scene and had a few lights, and it grew rapidly through the years.”
All year ’round, he purchases decorating items through the Internet — especially e-Bay and The latter site is where he found his new lighting system for this year.
“I outline the roof of the house with lights and put them on the bushes and trees,” said Ritter. “And my front, side and corner yards are lined with approximately 110 candles and toy soldiers, about 2 feet high each.”
He uses multicolored, white and red lights, and all the different colors are synchronized to “dance” to different beats of music. The lights are on from 4:30 p.m.-midnight, and the musical light show — which is on every single thing in the yard — runs from 6-9:30 p.m. (It’s available at
“I have an FM-radio transmitter broadcasting on 105.7 FM,” explained Ritter. “It only transmits 150-200 feet from the house, but you can tune your radio to that station when the light show is on.”
It plays “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Jingle Bells,” “Carol of the Bells,” “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and “Linus and Lucy” from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Visitors hear the complete songs, and the program lasts about 20 minutes, with a five-minute break between each set of five songs.”
There are also about 100 other Christmas decorations, including a Nativity scene with a choir of 20 angels; lighted plastic figures of Santa Claus, penguins and 20 snowmen; and Santa and his reindeer and sleigh lit up on top of the roof.

IN ADDITION, there are three animated bears skating on a pond, a moving train, an animated Santa, four lighted-fabric snowmen, two elves riding a seesaw and an elf going down a slide. Oh, and don’t miss the 15 Christmas trees made out of rope light or the lighted area featuring gingerbread people, a gingerbread house, candy canes and lollipops.
“I put it up Dec. 2, and it about triples my electric bill to about a thousand bucks a month,” said Ritter. “But I enjoy it and the kids love it, and I love seeing all the kids looking at it. There’s a steady flow of people coming by.”
His wife’s favorite thing is the pond, but he especially likes the 10-foot Christmas tree in the front with red, green and blue lights. Said Ritter: “When it’s synchronized to music, it’s pretty cool.”
He’s also proud of the North Pole scene with some 30 lighted, plastic figures, including Santa, four elves, eight penguins and two polar bears. And the four deer pulling a golden, rope-light sleigh and Santa Claus, near a “Reindeer Crossing” sign also add a special touch.
But that’s not all. Ritter’s rhapsody also features nine, lighted singers in a children’s choir, plus various lit-up cartoon figures such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Snoopy, Tweety Bird and the Tasmanian Devil. And there are seven, holographic, lighted figures from the movie, “Rudolph and the Land of the Misfit Toys,” plus Rudolph and his girlfriend, Clarice.

“IT TAKES 140 hours to put it all up,” said Ritter. “My father-in-law helped this year, and my wife and kids. But my daughter says she’s my biggest helper.”
The whole shebang keeps him busy changing light bulbs and replacing light strings that go out. But he says it still works, even in the rain. The toughest part is “trying to get it done in time,” said Ritter. But his satisfaction comes when he turns on the lights each night.
“When I start getting it out, people drive by to ask when I’m turning on the lights, and it’s pretty cool to hear that,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s also fun and I’m still enjoying it.”

Lucky students go on Christmas shopping spree

Christmas came early for some lucky Tigard-Tualatin students last week. They were chosen by their school counselors to participate in Christmas for Kids, an annual event held at the Hollywood Fred Meyer store in Portland that provides clothing, toys and other items for the selected kids plus gifts for their siblings.

Counselors at the 10 elementary schools in the Tigard-Tualatin School District each chose four children in kindergarten through third grade, who joined dozens of other kids from around the metro area for a morning of shopping and surprises.

Each local child was accompanied by an adult personal shopper plus a Tigard High School student to help select items listed on a form that parents had previously filled out. The forms included the child’s sizes plus information about the siblings, and each child was allowed a certain amount of money based on the number of siblings and other circumstances.

Dan Goldman, who works in administration at the district office, and THS freshman Jayati Ramakrishnan met up with Templeton Elementary student Govanni at the front of the store. Armed with a calculator so as not to go over the budget, they first stopped by racks of parkas.

The first one Govanni tried on was a bit big, but the second – a snazzy red-and-black one in a size 8 – fit perfectly and even gave him a little growing room.

Govanni also got to choose a sweatshirt before the group moved on to the next stop, where he was handed dental hygiene kits for him and his brother and two sisters.

Govanni was almost overwhelmed when a couple of deputies invited him to choose a stuffed animal from a long table piled high with animals of all sizes. After much deliberation, he chose a small Snoopy dog.

Then the group headed toward the children’s clothing section of the store, which soon became clogged with shopping carts and people trying to find just the right styles and sizes.

In the department, Byrom Elementary first-grader Arturo was shopping with Julie Dove of Ron Rothert Insurance and THS sophomore Sarah Goodman, while Alberta Rider Elementary student Jacob was shopping with Karen Williamson with First Tech Credit Union and THS senior Shawana Lee.

“Most of the leadership kids are doing it,” Lee said. “I thought it sounded like fun to go shopping.”

Bridgeport Elementary student Juan, who has one brother and one sister, was shopping with a businesswoman and Alexa Kanbergs, a THS sophomore.

“This is the highlight of my year,” Kanbergs said. “Of all the things we do in leadership, this is my favorite.”

Deer Creek Elementary third-grade Evan, who has one brother and one sister, was shopping with THS sophomore Alex Hogan, who said, “My best friend is in leadership, and I thought this sounded really cool, and I wanted to do it.”

THS school resource officer Dan Gill, who was shepherding a youngster around, called the event “a pretty neat deal.”

Pointing to a giant stuffed animal in his shopping cart, he said, “We have the biggest bear in town.”

Since he didn’t have a calculator, Gill was keeping track of the accumulated merchandise with a pen and paper.

“I’m doing it the old-fashioned way,” he said. “That’s what a good education does for you.”

In another part of the store, Patricia Keller, who works in school district administration and was helping Metzger Elementary second-grader Joshua shop, said, “This is too fun.”

Helping them was Lili Lam, a THS senior, who said, “Getting jeans to fit is our biggest problem.”

As the shopping spree wound down, Nancy Ferguson, Templeton school counselor, said. “This is such a wonderful event. And sometimes the personal shoppers contribute money of their own.”

Portland Life Underwriters organizes the event, soliciting donations from the various businesses and organizations it deals with to help provide a merry Christmas for underprivileged children.

Barbie still on Christmas list

As we all know, Christmas comes around every year. It doesn’t change, and neither does a child’s Santa list.
Over the past several years, the once popular Barbie, a 1959 production, has lost its spunk with the little girls.
I’ve got one of the first Barbie’s (that dates me I guess), and still to this day I usually get a Barbie for Christmas.
Several years ago, Barbie and Ken split up. (I’ve got Ken also) That was a little too much. Why couldn’t they have been the couple that stayed together through thick and thin?
I recently read where Barbie is the top toy for girls this holiday season. That’s great.
Walking down the toy aisles at the retail stores, the other dolls have nothing in comparison with Barbie. In my opinion, the other dolls are ugly and have no class as the Barbie doll does.
Through the years, the look of Barbie has changed. Her eyes have gotten bigger and her clothes go with the current fashion trend.
Her slick, thin appearance, with those blue eyes and blonde hair have remained.
There are all types of Barbies now. The tanned beach one to the rock star, teacher, presidential candidate and popular holiday Barbie.
Barbie has been produced in 45-plus nationalities. That is awesome.
In my collection, I’ve got about every outfit there was to have for my doll. The clothing for Barbie back in my day was a lot more tedious and showy.
My Barbie and Ken in their wedding outfits can’t be beat. I haven’t seen them dressed up like that for many years, but the exquisite detail to Barbie’s wedding gown is etched in my mind.
The popular holiday ornaments of Barbie are also something I collect. Most have Barbie sporting one of her back-in-the-day outfits, ones that I have in my collection.
This year’s regular holiday Barbie is gorgeous. I’ve paused several times in the Barbie aisle admiring the doll.
It wouldn’t be hard to guess one thing I want for Christmas, a Barbie. I’m still young at heart and will always cherish the doll.

Community is stepping up to help Christmas Bureau

The word is getting out the Christmas Bureau needs help.

After The Record ran a story last week detailing the effects the Candlelight Parade cancellation had on the annual program, people have been showing their concern, said Phil Hope, who has headed the Christmas Bureau for the past seven years.

“We’re still catching up,” said Hope. “There have been some very generous people coming by, but we still need lots more.”

The Christmas Bureau, which helps less fortunate families and individuals have a better holiday season, relies on the annual night-time parade for 25 per cent of food donations.

With significantly less donations compared to previous years, people are trickling in to help. One individual came in with a $2,000 donation, and somebody else gave $800, noted Hope.

“For someone to do that is incredible,” Hope added.

As of last week, the bureau had only raised about $10,000 of its $85,000 monetary goal.

To help make up for the loss, the Mission firefighters have volunteered to do another run around Mission to gather donations for the Christmas Bureau. The firefighter’s last ride will be tonight.

The trucks will leave fire station one at 6 p.m. and will be travelling along McRae Avenue between Hurd Street and Cedar Street to Kudo Drive.

Hope says he is grateful for the help, but originally declined the offer because “the firefighters do so much already.” However, Hope said the volunteers had already decided they wanted to do it.

“I applaud and thank them,” he added.

This week Wish Trees around town and the Angel Tree at Vancity will also be collected. “We’ve received the gifts from two of them,” said Hope on Monday. “And there are some nice gifts.”

Hope also noted some of the Wish Trees are bare, which means all the tags have been taken down.

People like to go shipping with their kids to pick up gifts and food, said Hope.

“I think everyone who brought in donations.”

Hope also thanked those who boarded the West Coast Express this past weekend with toy donations to the bureau.

While the Christmas Bureau is close to the home stretch, Hope says it’s not too late to register or donate. Food donations can also be dropped off at Scotiabank.

Long-ago Christmas gave the gift of redemption

Every year about this time I can’t help but recall my most memorable Christmas. It was 1975, and following a slow, almost imperceptible slide, I had left everything behind in Georgia and traveled the Eastern Seaboard before falling in with three characters from Detroit.

I was out of my element as they revealed to me the underbelly of society. It wasn’t like they were hard-core criminals; they weren’t. But they didn’t hesitate to take advantage of opportunities that our society provides daily to those who are not so scrupulous as you and I. One was fond of reminding us that “it’s a plastic world we live in.” He was referring to credit cards.

Maybe one day I’ll write a book about those experiences, but for now let’s just say that the day came when it was prudent that I leave Atlanta for parts unknown to anyone but myself and one of my partners.

We ended up in southern Illinois in a summer home on a private lake. The lake was “gated,” so no one came in or out without my knowing it. After about two weeks, my partner left for his home in North Carolina, as Christmas was soon coming. I was alone.

The owner of the house was the father of a girl I had met. Atlanta had chewed her up, and she had returned to southern Illinois, leaving her car with me. The return of her car was the pretense under which I arrived, and while no one set a limit on how long I could stay, she made it clear that I was not welcome for long.

My life was accelerating into a downward spiral, but I was confident that I possessed the intrinsic values to stop it. I just didn’t know how. The girl had taken her car, so I was without wheels and had no job. Money had run out completely. It was Christmas Eve day.

At that time, I changed my mind-set completely. I put the last year behind me and went into the woods to cut a Christmas tree. It was more like one of those Charlie Brown spindly trees than a full-size Douglas fir, but that was OK by me.

I wrapped a couple of small Tupperware containers in the Sunday funny papers and placed them under the tree. I cut out a star from cardboard and wrapped it in tin foil. I cut some more funny paper into streamers and decorated the tree with them. I went onto the lake and shot a duck to eat. (I have my shotgun to this day.) I knew in my heart that this Christmas would be special. It would signify the moment I rejoined society.

On Christmas Day, for the first time in a week, my friend came to check on me and was moved by what I had done. She invited me to her house for Christmas dinner. The next day she loaned me her car to find a job, and a few days later I landed at my first newspaper and began life’s journey anew.

Call it a miracle. Or maybe we humans have more of the “right stuff” than we know.

Christmas trees cause allergies

Researchers say those who suffer spring and summer allergies may get a midwinter flare-up from Christmas trees.

“We found there was pollen and moulds on the tree. Some of it was actively growing, some of it was stuck on there,” Jim Anderson of the London Health Sciences Centre told CTV News on Tuesday.

The trees collect ragweed pollen, moulds and fungal spores from the farms on which they are grown.

When the trees get moved or dry out, the spores and mould fly into the air.

As a result, the researchers found up to 200 times the level of such material in the air compared to a home with no Christmas tree.

Those who think an artificial tree solves the problem should think again.

Tests found small amounts of fungus on those two because they collected dust and mould when they are stored.

“I was kind of surprised,” Anderson said.

As a result, those who suffer from spring and summer allergies may suffer yet again.

Dr. Michael Alexander, an allergy specialist, had this advice: “I think for people who are susceptible, they should wear long-sleeved shirts with globes and maybe have a fan in the room to disperse the pollen.”

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has the following suggestions:

  • When brining a Christmas tree home, tie it to a roof rack, if possible, so the airflow can remove some of the dust and mould.
  • Bounce the tree’s trunk on the driveway or some other firm surface outside.
  • Wipe down the trunk with a rag using a mild bleach solution (one part bleach to 20 parts lukewarm water).
  • Submerge the trunk in a bucket of fresh water while letting the tree’s branches dry out a bit more.
  • Use a leaf-blower on the tree. Perform this operation outside while wearing a dust mask.

“Or the best option is to get somebody else to decorate it for you, and you just enjoy the Christmas tree!” Alexander laughed.

The good news is that once the tree is gone, the allergens disappear too.

Neighbors make Yow’s Christmas bright

Neighbors and friends of N.C. State Women’s Basketball Coach Kay Yow are making sure her Christmas is merry and bright.

They decorated the tree in her yard Monday night with Christmas lights.

Yow has taken a leave of absence as head coach due to the reoccurrence of breast cancer. The coach says she’s thankful for good friends.

“I know many people are praying for me and I know many people are praying for other people, and I’m praying for other people, and I know there’s power in prayer,” Yow said.

Yow was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987. In November, doctors noticed that the cancer was progressing and Yow announced she would take a leave of absence from the team to focus on her health.

Coach Yow ranks as the fifth winningest active NCAA Division I women’s basketball coach.

Christmas trees or winter trees?

Recently, I was talking to some kids at school about our upcoming Christmas break. One of the boys said that he prefers to call it winter break because some people don’t celebrate Christmas. To me, those are fighting words. Or, at the very least, arguing words.

I told the young man that just because one chooses to not celebrate the holiday does not negate its existence. I then went on to talk about decorations in the stores. I asked him if they are called Christmas decorations or winter decorations. Of course, he answered, they are called Christmas decorations. I then asked, what are the trees called that we put in our homes and decorate? Are they Christmas trees or winter trees? Again, he stated they are Christmas trees.

Then I asked him about Thanksgiving, Easter, Independence Day…you get the picture. Are they holidays, I asked? Of course, he replied. Christmas is, too, I said. It is historical and there is a reason why it is celebrated, although different people celebrate it for different reasons.

I went on to explain that I do not celebrate Halloween, but I do acknowledge its very real existence. Just because I choose to not partake in the festivities surrounding the holiday does not make it any less real. It is very real indeed and I have to patiently listen while hundreds of kids at school talk about trick-or-treating and costumes. Halloween is a reality to many, but I choose to ignore it. I don’t go around protesting it or telling others to not celebrate it. I simply choose to make my own decisions and let others make theirs.

Today, there was a story in the news about a Rabbi who was offended because an airport in Seattle had 14 plastic holiday trees, but no menorah. He complained about the trees, they were removed, and he was surprised. He should have known in our politically-correct society that something would be done about it. Why was he surprised?

Now the trees have now been restored to their original position. Apparently Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky wanted an 8-foot-tall menorah added to the display, but airport managers believed they would then have to display symbols of other religions and cultures, which was not something airport workers had time for during the busiest travel season of the year.

I have no problem with a menorah being added to the display as I love and respect Jewish people very much. I respect their holiday as well and their right to worship freely. I have more of an issue with airport officials who chose to get rid of the trees. It is Christmas. What is next? Will we have the politcally-correct police combing through malls, looking for any signs that say “Christmas” and replacing them with “Merry Winter” or some other crazy thing?

Like it or not, it is Christmastime. Millions of people around the world celebrate it. And it will continue to be celebrated. No one is forcing anyone to acknowledge it, just as no one will take away my right to say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays.

Christmas 1906: News from D.C. and prices you’d love!

Looking back at old papers is one of those simple joys of life

This was one dangerous column idea – go down to the Summit morgue, find the 1906 Christmas edition of the Summit and head back down memory lane.

I’m a sucker for old newspapers so an hour turned into two, which turned into 2 1/2 … you get the idea. I think before I brought the paper upstairs, I had read the entire Dec. 19, 1906, Summit.

And I enjoyed every minute of it.

So let me share some of the news and advertising our newspaper shared with our readers a century ago …

NEWSPAPERS IN GENERAL are always trying to find a way to self-promote themselves. It’s something, I believe, that we don’t do as well as our friends in radio and television.

But let me tell you, in 1906, the Summit had no trouble self-promoting itself.

The Summit, on its front page no less, came up with a deal for its subscribers. Pay your overdue bill or buy a new subscription and you would get a 13-month subscription for a quarter. Not bad, considering the regular subscription rate was a buck a year.

“This is without a doubt the most liberal offer ever made in this county,” the ad said. “Just think of it. THE FOREST CITY SUMMIT 13 months – mailed to any address in the United States for 25 cents.”

Now, that’s self-promotion!

THE LEAD STORY in the Summit 100 years ago was a “Washington letter” from Olger H. Olson, the editor and manager of the newspaper.

Olson’s letter was filled with the news of the day from the nation’s capital, but a couple really caught my eye.

One hundred years ago, Washington was abuzz over the removal of Bellamy Storer, the American ambassador to the Austrian Empire. Everyone blamed Mrs. Storer, a recent convert to Catholicism who “by virtue of her own and husband’s position to promote church dignitaries.”

There was also the scandalous affair of former Utah Sen. Arthur Brown, who had recently been murdered in Washington by one Mrs. Bradley.

But it appears that the late Sen. Brown received little sympathy from our editor at the time. “His illicit relationship with the woman without a disposition on his part to remedy the wrong drove the woman into a frenzy which resulted in shooting him.”

IF YOU WERE traveling for the holidays in 1906, the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad had a deal for you.

If you bought one round-trip ticket, you’d get the second for one-third the price.

The only catch was you had to be back in Forest City by Jan. 7, 1907. Still, the Summit for a quarter and a round-trip train ticket for one-third the regular rate … there were bargains galore.

AS THE FATHER of two young boys, I appreciated the Christmas shopping deals offered by Forest City’s C.E. Wry & Company.

Wry was selling boys double-seat and double-knee overalls for 38 cents a pop. OK boys, let’s see you wear these puppies out!

Yet, my favorite part of the quarter-page advertisement was the 9-cent sale on “a lot of men’s black and fancy socks.”

AS MUCH AS I enjoyed the news, the ads in that 1906 Summit made for great reading.

Olson & Hanson Tailoring Co. made their pitch for new suits by telling customers “surely you do not want to start the New Year looking ‘seedy.’ Surely not!

N.P. Nelson was selling a phonograph that would be a much better gift than Christmas trinkets because, in part, “the trinkets please only the individual recipient [but] the Edison Phonograph offers a continuous round of pleasure for the whole family.”

And then there was this gem from Waldorf College, although it has nothing to do with Christmas. The college was looking for students to enroll for its winter term, which started on Jan. 2, 1907. The ad told prospective students what kind of degrees Waldorf bestowed but it added this nugget: “Classes organized for those who have neglected their common school education.”

Hmmmm, that sounds like an ad aimed for the Bob Fenskes of 1906.

THUS, ENDS THE trip through the yellowed pages of the Summit. Prices have changed, the news has changed (I doubt my boss is sending me to D.C. anytime soon) and phonographs are long gone.

But one thing hasn’t changed – Summit Editor Olger H. Olson and his staff wished everyone a Merry Christmas back in 1906. One hundred years later, we do the same.

Trees Being Returned to SeaTac Airport

Christmas trees are going back up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Pat Davis, president of the Port of Seattle commission, which directs airport operations, said late Monday that maintenance staff would restore the 14 plastic holiday trees, festooned with red ribbons and bows, that were removed over the weekend because of a rabbi’s complaint that holiday decor did not include a menorah.

Airport managers believed that if they allowed the addition of an 8-foot-tall menorah to the display, as Seattle Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky had requested, they would also have to display symbols of other religions and cultures, which was not something airport workers had time for during the busiest travel season of the year, Airport Director Mark Reis said earlier Monday.

Port officials received word Monday afternoon that Bogomilsky’s organization would not file a lawsuit at this time over the placement of a menorah, Davis said in a statement.

“Given that, the holiday trees will be replaced as quickly as possible,” he said.

Davis added that the rabbi “never asked us to remove the trees; it was the port’s decision based on what we knew at the time.”

There were no immediate plans to display a menorah, airport spokesman Bob Parker said, saying restoration of the trees was expected to take place overnight Monday.

“A key element in moving forward will be to work with the rabbi and other members of the community to develop a plan for next year’s holiday decorations at the airport,” the port statement said.

The rabbi has also offered to give the port an electric menorah to display, said his lawyer, Harvey Grad.

“We are not going to be the instrument by which the port holds Christmas hostage,” Grad said, emphasizing the rabbi never sought removal of the trees, but addition of the menorah.

The rabbi had received “all kinds of calls and emails,” many of them “odious,” Grad said, adding he was “trying to figure out how this is consistent with the spirit of Christmas.”

Thirteen trees had sat above foyers that lead outside to the airport drive. The largest tree, which Reis estimated to be 15 or 20 feet tall, was placed in a large lobby near baggage claim for international arrivals.

After the removal, some airline workers decorated ticketing counters with their own miniature Christmas trees.

Customer service agents with Frontier Airlines pooled their money Monday morning to buy four 1-foot-high Christmas trees, which they placed on the airline’s ticketing counter. Atop a Delta counter, workers put up a tree several feet tall.

The airlines lease space for ticket counters from the airport, and can display trees there if they want, Reis said.

Christmas tree growers battle poachers

While many Christmas trees sparkle with tinsel and lights during the holiday season, some reek of fox urine or wear a splatter of pink stain.

A surge in Christmas tree poaching has forced growers and property owners to take action. Smelly, discolored trees are less likely to be cut and dragged off by thieves, they say.

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, for example, evergreens are sprayed with a fox urine mixture and tagged with a warning to discourage tree thieves.

“It is a strong odor, and it smells just like what it is,” said Kirby Baird, a landscape manager at the school.

When the tree is out in the cold, the smell isn’t noticeable, Baird said. But once the tree is inside and starts to warm up…

“It’s nasty,” he said.

Live Christmas trees have made a resurgence with consumers in the past three years, said Rick Dungey of the National Christmas Tree Association. While no one tracks the number of thefts, some believe the increased demand has fueled pine pilfering.

Tree poaching once was a problem at Washington State University, which has more than 150 evergreen, spruce and fir trees on campus.

“We did have a lot of trees cut for Christmas trees, either entire small trees or tops of large trees,” said grounds supervisor Kappy Brun.

The poaching all but stopped after groundskeepers began to spray campus trees with the oily, odorous liquid produced by skunks.

While Nebraska and Washington fought tree poachers with odor, Cornell University made their trees less appealing as Christmas decorations.

Workers there painted trees with “ugly mix” _ a solution of hydrated lime and red food coloring developed by one of Cornell’s veteran gardeners. The result: fluorescent pink trees. The mix stays on trees for about a month before fading, and is credited with saving dozens of evergreens over the years.

“Ugly mix” received widespread publicity and eventually was used by New York’s Department of Transportation.

“I have gotten calls from Christmas tree growers and from more homeowners and landscapers, and they want to know what do we do,” said Donna Levy, plant health care coordinator at Cornell Plantation, who said the university isn’t recommending the mix, just sharing its strategy.

Cornell isn’t using the pink goop this year because it sometimes is slow to fade.

“We thought we would go a year and see what happens,” Levy said.

Dave Velozo, who owns a nursery near Harrisburg, Pa., recently lost a rare blue Sierra redwood to a tree poacher.

A jagged three-foot stump is all that remains of a 13-foot tree, which Velozo said he had nurtured for the past 15 years.

“Somebody must have seen it over the years and decided, ‘Hey, this will look good in my trailer,'” he said.

Rabbi plays Grinch: Christmas trees removed at airport

All nine Christmas trees have been removed from Sea-Tac International Airport instead of adding a giant Jewish menorah to the holiday display as a rabbi had requested.

For more than 25 years, the airport has celebrated the holidays with Christmas trees over its entrances. But overnight, the Port of Seattle ordered all of them removed. Maintenance workers boxed up the trees during the graveyard shift early Saturday, when airport bosses believed few people would notice.

“We decided to take the trees down because we didn’t want to be exclusive,” said airport spokeswoman Terri-Ann Betancourt. “We’re trying to be thoughtful and respectful, and will review policies after the first of the year.”

Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky, who made his request weeks ago, said he was appalled by the decision. He had hired a lawyer and threatened to sue if the Port of Seattle didn’t add the menorah next to the trees, which had been festooned with red ribbons and bows.

“Everyone should have their spirit of the holiday. For many people the trees are the spirit of the holidays, and adding a menorah adds light to the season,” said Bogomilsky, who works in Seattle at the regional headquarters for Chabad Lubavitch, a Jewish education foundation.

After consulting with lawyers, port staff believed that adding the menorah would have required adding symbols for other religions and cultures in the Northwest. The holidays are the busiest season at the airport, Betancourt said, and staff didn’t have time to play cultural anthropologists.

Hanukkah begins this Friday at sundown.

“They’ve darkened the hall instead of turning the lights up,” said Bogomilsky’s lawyer, Harvey Grad. “There is a concern here that the Jewish community will be portrayed as the Grinch.”

Angry airport employees have started a campaign urging people to call the Port of Seattle to complain.

The Christmas trees are now in storage or hidden in unused areas of the airport where they won’t be seen.

Airlines companies that lease space in the airport are not being required to remove decorations from their check-in counters.

Rachel Garson with the Port of Seattle said the issue would be revisited after the holidays are over.

“Since this is the busiest time of year we decided to take the decorations down now and consider a new policy after the new year,” Garson said.

Couple Granting Kids’ Christmas Wishes

When children saw the phone number for the Wishing Well toy store advertised during a Whittier Christmas parade, they figured they’d hit the jackpot with a direct line to Santa Claus. The store’s phone started ringing off the hook.

Now, the owners of the store, Stephanie and Paul Brenier, are trying to make some of the children’s wishes come true, starting with a trip to Disneyland, the Whittier Daily News reported Monday.

Stephanie Brenier said their number “464-wish” is easy to remember and that many kids believed it was Santa’s phone number.

“We were still walking in the parade when (children) started calling the store,” she told the newspaper. “At least 40 kids called in those first few days after the parade.”

The couple started taking down the children’s wishes and phone numbers, according to the newspaper. The wishes ranged from toys to a request for parents to stop fighting. Stephanie Araujo, 9, wished for tickets to Disneyland for her family.

The Breniers decided they could grant that wish. And they delivered the surprise at the Lydia Jackson Elementary School, making young Stephanie shed tears of happiness.

The couple now plan to try to randomly grant one wish per month, to the best of their ability, the newspaper reported.

Church ban for Father Christmas

A vicar in Dorset has defended his decision to ban Father Christmas from a church carol service.

Reverend Tim Storey, who was leading the service at St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Blandford, asked Henry Cuff to remove a costume he was wearing.

Mr Cuff, a member of the town’s Lions Club, refused to take the Santa outfit off and left the building.

Mr Storey said his job was to place the birth of Jesus Christ at the heart of Christmas celebrations.

In a website statement, he said: “I do not believe that Father Christmas should be a part of church services any more than Santa’s grotto should have a manger and a baby Jesus present.

“Keeping the two distinct is important for both.”

Other church ministers in the area have defended Mr Storey’s comments.

Merry Christmas makes a comeback

“Merry Christmas!” It’s a greeting that’s making a comeback.

At Hewlett and Dunn, a Western store on Collierville’s square, that’s not just a salutation, it’s statement in response to the use of Happy Holiday’s by many retailers. Donna Buckner is proud to take a stand. “That’s something, you don’t touch that. It’s sacred. It’s about Christ and you need to leave it alone,” she said.

The store is running ads promoting the use of Merry Christmas and handing out pins.

Say “Merry Christmas” and you get five percent off. Customers like Dorree Smith like it. “I appreciate what they’re doing because they’re saying ‘yeah, this is what it is, it’s Christmas and we say Merry Christmas,'” she said.

Last year, retailers like Target and Wal-Mart replaced Merry Christmas with Happy Holidays and in some cases banned employees from using the phrase.

But after boycotts this year, many have brought Christmas back.

Smith says retailers felt the pinch. “All of a sudden it hurts them and they say ‘well, ok, maybe that’s not what the average person thinking that way and they change that because they want them to shop there,” she said.

A statement from Wal-Mart read, “we learned a lesson from that. Merry Christmas is now part of the vocabulary here at Wal-Mart.”

Those who are pro-“Happy Holidays” say it’s meant to not be offensive to anyone and point out it’s been around for a long time. Those who are pro-Christmas say it took on a life of its own when things like Christmas trees suddenly became Holiday trees.

That spurred the so called “War on Christmas” which may be over or at least under a cease fire.

Unthinkable act of Christmas kindness

LIFE in the trenches along the Western Front during the First World War was horrific. For hundreds of miles across Belgium and France, British forces – a large number of Scots among them – huddled in six-foot living graves fighting a German enemy who were only shouting distance away.

The early winter of 1914 was typical: cold, damp and grey. Rolling fog would add to the macabre surroundings. The ground was often frozen and the trenches so thick and deep with mud that men could have the socks and boots pulled from their legs.

It is in this bleak environment – where shells and other engines of death searched for their targets – that the unthinkable occurred 92 years ago. Peace broke out.

For the shortest of spells in this frantic 4 1/2-year ordeal of death and destruction, and rejecting orders from HQ to battle on, both the Britons and the Germans laid down their arms to shake hands, swap rations and tobacco, and pay respects to the religious holiday. It was a Christmas Truce like no other.

A young officer from the Royal Warwickshire Regiment wrote to a friend in Kirkcudbright: “It was the most extraordinary occurrence that I suppose ever took place in any war.”

The Rev Esselmount Adams, chaplain to the Gordon Highlanders, arrived on Christmas morning to conduct the funeral service for a 6th Gordon soldier killed a day earlier. Along this fragile battlefront, unarmed German soldiers walked from their positions about 200 yards away to join their enemies in a moment of solidarity and respect.

Dozens of bodies lay across this no-man’s land. The chaplain hastily arranged another service. On either side of him stood opposing forces in a line. A German interpreter assisted. Afterward, the dead – at least 100, say the soldiers – were laid to rest. It was a day of reflection, a day to exchange pleasantries rather than gunfire.

Germans love the Christmas season, so much so that about a half-million fir trees were shipped to the troops to raise their spirits. At night, burning candles produced a row of trees in silhouette atop the trenches and carols were sung well into the night. British servicemen couldn’t believe their eyes or ears, describing to their families of the impromptu “fairytale” moment as a “day of fiction”. But, the fairytale was true.

Private George Wylie, of the Seaforth Highlanders, wrote to his father: “The Germans have been singing every night in groups in their trenches, and some very good singers there are amongst them.” Of Christmas Day, he said, “there was nothing but groups of Seaforths and Germans (from the 10th Bavarian Regiment) shaking hands, patting each other on the back, and incidentally having a drink together, of which the Germans seemed well supplied.”

There were reports of a proper football match between the two sides but it was more than likely nothing more than a fun exchange. Jonathan Ferguson, assistant curator at the National War Museum of Scotland, notes: “Football was very much a shared interest between the two cultures (so) … there is very little doubt that there were at least informal kick-abouts.”

Many of the Germans spoke fluent English, after having lived and worked in Britain or America. During the brief truce, one British soldier learned from a German counterpart that they both had often attended the same church in London.

The officer from the Warwickshire regiment learned a great deal from the Germans, including where they were from and how long they were assigned to the trenches. He said some of them were as young as 16, adding: “One of our sergeants said if he caught them pointing a rifle at him he’d turn them over and spank them.”

A member of the Gordons, L-Cpl Stephen, told his parents in Aberdeen that the German men were “fed up” with the war, quoting one foe as saying, “The war is finished here. We don’t want to shoot.”

Many men from both sides were against the idea of fraternising with the enemy. One German soldier is quoted in Stanley Weintraub’s book Silent Night as saying: “Such a thing should not happen in wartime. Have you no German sense of honour left at all?”

The soldier quoted? Adolf Hitler.

A Liverpool chaplin, working in hospital at the front, put the development of an unscheduled truce in perspective when he wrote friends: “Christmas Day seems to have impressed everyone. It was a truce of God, and came not from official quarters, but from the men themselves.”

Indeed, it was a fairytale Christmas come true.

Christmas lights spell out Scrooge’s words

Jason Lee insists he’s not declaring war on Christmas, despite what the multicolored lights on his front lawn spell out.

His display of holiday decorations just happens to include the phrase “Bah-hum-bug.”

“I like the holidays, and I’ve always decorated for Christmas,” Lee told The Grand Rapids Press in Sunday editions. “Can’t have too many lights.”

Lee, 28, a sheet metal worker, said he was just having fun with the display when he included the sour sentiment made famous by Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

He started the display in mid-November.

It began with the word “bug,” followed by “bah” a few days later and finally, “hum,” said next-door neighbor John Stryker, who called the Christmas catchphrase odd but not offensive.

“They’re a real nice family,” said Sandy Yocum, another neighbor. “I don’t think they’re Scrooges at all.”

Byron Township Clerk Joel Hondorp, who has seen the display, said he’s not sure he “gets it,” but there are worse things people could spell out with lights.

Fairytale ending for Hitchin Christmas tree

A TOWN in Comet country was at the centre of its very own fairy tale last week.

The 30ft Christmas tree in Hitchin town centre was blown over by strong gales in the early hours of Thursday morning but within 36 hours a replacement tree had been found, secured in place and lit just in time for the weekend’s shoppers.

Hitchin Town Centre manager Keith Hoskins worked with the council and the Christmas lights contractors to hurry things along.

“The CCTV camera panned across at about 4.45am and then again at about 5am and the tree had gone over.

“It’s a tribute to teamwork the speed at which it has been dealt with. The new tree’s slightly taller but not quite as bushy.

“I’ve taken a look at it and it seems pretty secure.

“It was like a Christmas story. It began with a tragedy, along came the heroes to help fix the problem, and we have a fairy tale ending.