Archive for February, 2007

One Woman’s Drive Leads to Holton Christmas Tradition

Everyone has their family traditions on Christmas, but for one Holton family putting together a community dinner is theirs.

Every year, Holton residents enter St. Dominic’s Parish for a warm Christmas meal and to remember the person who started it all.

Hundreds of Holton residents have a little lady named Edna to thank for making their Christmas a little brighter. Looking back Frank DeVader recollected, “my wife started this in 1985, the first year we had 15 or 16 people and then it grew.”

“She was a little Potawatomie woman who had the courage to move a mountain and the heart to win a war,” described her son Marty.

When she died in 1997 her family jumped right in to keep the tradition going.

For Marty, “it keeps her alive inside of me and all of us, this is something she wanted to do and she put her heart into it.”

It was a way for Edna to help the less fortunate with a warm meal and a warm smile.

“Some of them don’t have families so people don’t have anyplace to go and so she’d have them come here and they can get a meal and feel loved. it’s the right thing to do,” said Marty

More than 20 years later, the dinner’s average attendance is around 250. Her family says it’s proof she is with them in spirit.

Hanover’s World: A different experience at Christmas

With the holiday season now winding down we often have a little time to reflect on how we celebrated the season. We may ask ourselves, as the bills begin to arrive, whether we spent too much money on items that have already been pushed aside. We may question whether we really needed to indulge quite so much in the huge quantities of food that seem to be around every corner as we loosen our belts just a bit. We may promise ourselves that next year we will not put so much pressure on ourselves to make the holidays “perfect,” thus creating more stress for ourselves and taking away from the true meaning of the season. Each year I tend to think to myself that next year I will simplify the season just a bit more than the year before and now I believe that next year I have a plan as to how to do it.

The evening before Christmas Eve our family happened to have a night free from obligations, which is a rare thing indeed. We thought about heading out for dinner and stopping to look at Christmas lights in the process. While we got ready I happened to mention to my husband that my friend Jeannie and her husband Mike had spent some time volunteering with their children during the previous two weeks for an organization called My Brother’s Keeper. My Brother’s Keeper is a volunteer Christian ministry. Their mission is “to Bring the Love and Hope of Jesus Christ to those we serve.” They provide gently used furniture to people in need throughout the year as well as household items, clothing and food. Upon delivering such items they always end the visit with the gift of a crucifix so that the person receiving the “gifts” knows that it is Jesus working through them that allows them to be able to provide such goods to people in need. What started out as a husband and wife on a mission to help people and bring the light of Jesus into the lives of others during Christmas back in 1991 has blossomed from a ministry that once assisted 14 families to one that assisted 1,720 families this year. With more than 2,000 volunteers donating their time, talent and/or treasures this year was the most successful year yet for the organization. Since my friend Jeannie had mentioned it to me and told me about what a beautiful experience it was to help out I decided to call during the week before Christmas to see if more help was needed. Like many of us I wanted to find a way to reach out to others during this time of year and to teach my children to do the same but unfortunately I could not get through on the telephone to see if help was needed. I was relaying this to my husband when he suggested that we drive over anyway to knock on the door. Being that it was in Easton, Mass. and it was already 6 p.m. I was hesitant but at his urging we decided to try.

Upon arriving at the very large warehouse My Brother’s Keeper functions out of my husband went out to knock on the door. He was greeted by an enthusiastic volunteer as well as a great deal of thanks. They had so much to do before Christmas Eve and just one day to do it. We were given the wish list of a family and throughout the warehouse that was filled with various new donated toys and clothing, we “shopped” for them. We then went to the wrapping stations and wrapped and labeled all of the gifts so that they could be delivered to the proper homes the next day. After shopping and wrapping for three hours we finished with a prayer with the other volunteers, led by the founder of the ministry, Jim Orcutt. We were then on our way. We never did go out to dinner that night (I don’t count the Burger King drive through) and our trip to look at the Christmas lights took a detour but it was certainly one of the best and most memorable evenings that we spent as family during the entire season. I hope to have many more like it in the future as well.

What struck me as I thought about how nice it was to volunteer as a family during the Christmas season was that the needs of those less fortunate than us do not end simply because the season is over. People are still hungry and need furniture and various other means of assistance throughout the year. This ministry along with many other organizations works tirelessly all year long to help those in need.

Lets all keep the sprit of Christmas alive all year long as we continue to keep this in mind.

Novelty Christmas song, zoo linked for 50 years

Certainly in the 100 years of Oklahoma’s past, there have been events in which citizens demonstrated character and heroism that propelled them to a place in history. In other circumstances it was the event itself that mattered, carving a niche into which a prominent Oklahoman slipped. Whether through design or chance, those individuals and those circumstances combined to fashion the inimitable parts of our chronology we treasure as “uniquely Oklahoman.”

Others, are just fun.

Consider the chance that a small 10-year-old girl and a novelty song could forge a near-legendary story. If one chooses to ignore that it, in fact, isn’t true, it’s still a great story. As with so many “legends” of the type, however, there is a kernel of truth, and so therefore remains part of Oklahoma’s history. The byproduct, in this case, is the fun.

According to lore, the song “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” was written as a means to raise funs so that the Oklahoma City Zoo might gather enough funding to acquire one of the quarter-ton African-native mammals for its exhibition. That legend forever ties the song to the Oklahoma City Zoo in the minds of many around the country. Sadly, it’s not quite true, but it’s no less a good story.

Truth be told, the song’s composition had nothing at all to do with the zoo and became a happy coincidence. It was published in 1950 by John Rox and, in 1953, Columbia Records sold over 300,000 copies of the 78-rpm disc. No doubt a portion of the song’s success could be attributed to the attitude-laced voice of its singer. Gayla Peevey, a native of Oklahoma City whose family also resided for a time in Ponca City, had reportedly performed on “Sooner Shindig” and “The Chuckwagon Gang” for WKY-TV, which had sent recordings of her voice to Columbia. Later under contract to the label, she was only 10 years old when she was selected to perform “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”, with no less than the Mitch Miller Orchestra.

The song’s commercial success, it is said, inspired WKY and the Oklahoma City Times to launch a fundraising campaign to purchase a hippo for the facility. Then not quite 50 years old, and lacking a hippo, a program was conceived that would solicit pennies, nickels and dimes from area schoolchildren, to buy a hippo for Gayla, who would then donate it to the zoo. The drive raised between $3,000 and $4,000 and a baby hippo named “Matilda” was soon a resident of the zoo’s third home in the northeast quadrant of the capitol city. While not written specifically for the zoo’s efforts, it did, finally bring the named prize to its new home.

Peevey, as it turns out, left show business with several other recordings to her credit, but the family moved to San Diego where she received an education degree, and later owned her own advertising firm. “Matilda” spent the rest of her life at the zoo and, like many humans, was planning to “retire” to Florida at Walt Disney World. However, before that move could be accomplished, she passed away in March of 1998, having entertained visitors for over half a century.

Still popular at Christmas-time, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” remains one of those songs that can produce either irritability or foolishness in adults. It found a new round of success in 2005 when TELUS, the Canadian telecommunications giant gave it a lot of play. The company, which routinely uses animals in their ad campaigns, paired the song with “Hazina”, a hippo from the Greater Vancouver Zoo, pledging $10,000 to help rebuild the animal’s habitat. The program was so successful, in early 2006 a campaign launched for the “adoption” of plush hippos raised an additional $20,000 for improvements and modifications to the zoo’s hippo enclosures.

So, it seems, notoriety can come from many sources. Or, like so many other circumstances, just the right mixture of time and talent creates success. Take a novelty song of the ‘50s, combined with the talent of an Oklahoma schoolgirl, add the inspiration of thousands of children and the spirit of giving, and you create an odd, quirky tale of Oklahoma history.

Sometimes the legacy of circumstance creates a classic tale of heroism and triumph. Those narratives routinely make their way into books and scholarly lectures. Other times, they are mere footnotes to history. Sometimes, it just creates a little bit of fun and a story to tell the children.

Holiday spirit

Youngsters exhibited the best of the holiday spirit Friday morning as they chose gifts for their siblings or other family members rather than themselves during the annual Shop with a Cop outing at the Alma Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Ashley Bruce, 15, opted to spend $33.37 of her $60 shopping allotment to choose an Interactive Caterpillar Rocker for her six-month-old niece, Rachel.

The generosity is touching considering Shirley Bruce’s monthly income is $800 for her family which includes four children ages 9, 16, two 15-year-olds and her infant grandchild, the daughter of a 15-year-old.

“This year, being able to come here at the invitation of the police means a lot. It has been a tight year because I helped my sister a lot,” Shirley Bruce said.

One group of four siblings purchased gifts for one another so they would be surprised on Christmas rather than selecting gifts for themselves.

“It is always great that the folks in the local store care so much and that the police give so much that children give thank you cards. Even though they may be underprivileged they think of others,” said Wal-Mart operations manager Stan Beard. “It is amazing how giving these children are even when they have nothing. If the adults of this world would come see this it would be a better place.”

Upon arrival at the check-in desk, a sealed card addressed to the police was handed to a Wal-Mart corporate executive. Inside, in a cryptic child’s handwriting, the message spoke volumes, “Thank you police for all thise presents. You are our heroes.” The card was signed by Andy and Cesar Lopez.

The Van Buren Fraternal Order of Police sponsor the shopping event each year for underprivileged children with donations from generous community benefactors.

Det. Sgt. Steve Weaver who spearheads the event declared the event “wonderful,” although 10 of the 230 youngsters did not show up.

“It ran smoothly. The community really supported us this year. We are looking forward to next year,” Weaver said.

Children arrived squirming with delight while their accompanying parents or grandparents were grateful for the gift-selection opportunity.

Rebecca Geurin’s children, age 9 and 11, chose clothes and shoes and one game each. A first-time recipient of the police officers’ generosity, the mom was grateful her children would have gifts.

Zackary Risenhoover, 4, flitted from toy to toy, in search of the perfect gift. J.J. Izard Elementary submitted the family’s name. Zackary and his two siblings’ mom is single for the first time this Christmas.

Violet Merideth of Van Buren has been the custodian of her daughter’s three children for almost four years, she said between repeatedly telling her granddaughters their shopping money was gone. She wipes at a wayward tear falling over faded lashes. The girls, ages 4 and 7; and their 8-year-old brother, have different fathers. Their mother lives in Fayetteville. Merideth receives no child support for the children. Joe-Joe, the grandson, cannot spell his last name, but he was determined to spend a portion of his money on a car one of his sisters wanted.

“No, Joe-Joe, you need to spend the money on what you want,” Merideth patiently explained.

“My other daughter is here with her three children. She gets a check for $116 a month from the daddy of one of her children. It makes things easier for her,” she said with sadness in her voice.

The joy of the shopping excursion is apparent on Lisa Brewer’s face.

A first-time Shop with a Cop invitee, she is grateful.

“I wasn’t going to be able to get much this year. Their grandpa usually helps me out but he is unfortunate this year, too,” she said.

Daughters Kayla, 11, Shania, 9, and Jessica, 8, carefully chose wearing apparel and one inexpensive toy.

The shopping experience enlightened Brooke Hoffsommer and Connor Petray, both 11, the children of Cpl. Chris Hoffsommer and Sgt. Frank Petray, respectively.

Both accompanied their fathers in helping other children choose Christmas gifts.

“I think the police need to do this more often,” said Brooke Hoffsommer. “After we leave here, my Dad and I have to drop off two bikes. One of the kids picked out a bike but he said he couldn’t get it home because it wouldn’t fit in their car but my Dad said he would deliver it.”

“This made me sad but happy about what I have compared to what other people have,” Connor Petray said.

Sharing a Christmas tradition

When Shonna Ilgenfritz was younger, it was easy to explain where she lived in Spring Garden Township.

“I live, you know, where the Christmas decorations are,” she’d say.

In 1970, Ilgenfritzes moved across the street from the elaborate light display local dentist Robert Pfaltzgraff had had set up on his Country Club Road lawn for maybe 20 years.

The next year, the Ilgenfritzes took over the display, which is made up of old-fashioned lights, a wooden sleigh with eight reindeer, an army of toys and a 6-foot-tall mechanical Frosty the Snowman.

But Frosty the Snowman is saying goodbye to Country Club Road for good.

Shonna, now a 49-year-old York city resident, helped her parents, Joyce and Morgan Ilgenfritz, and several of their grandchildren pack up the display outside their home on Saturday for the last time.

Morgan Ilgenfritz recently had his knee replaced, leaving him unable to put up the decorations on his own. Last year, C1 nine of his grandsons came from nearly two hours away to help. But he and his wife decided that maybe it was time to call it quits.

“We are getting older,” he said. Though they have had several offers to buy the display, the couple doesn’t want to sell.The lights belong to York County, they said.

“It’s a landmark,” Joyce Ilgenfritz, 70, said.

They hope to donate the display to Rocky Ridge County Park in memory of Pfaltzgraff.

York County Department of Parks and Recreation officials are considering whether they can give it the “tender loving care” it needs, said Jeri Jones, special events and program coordinator for the department.

“It’s certainly a very historical piece,” he said.

Pfaltzgraff, who died in 1975, built what they call the “children’s Christmas wonderland” from toys his patients would bring him. A rubber Popeye doll, Morgan Ilgenfritz’s favorite, rides a merry-go-round with toy animals, next to a Ferris wheel populated by old bubble bath bottles emptied by the dentist’s patients.

“This was built because he loved children,” but had none of his own, Morgan said.

The Ilgenfritzes took over when “Doc’s” heart began giving him trouble, they said. He told them to put it in their yard since he could see it better from there anyway.

Morgan Ilgenfritz, a 73-year-old retired electrician, was the only person Pfaltzgraff ever let beyond the lock and key that secured the elaborate system of pulleys, leather belts and motors that he crafted to run the display.

He’s taken over the same care that Pfaltzgraff gave the display, watching as his grandsons carefully wiped each piece down before packing it away in boxes Saturday.

The family said they’ll be sad to see the display go, to no longer have visitors drive slowly by their home in December and meander up to the decorations.

“I’ve really gotten to meet a lot of our neighbors through the decorations,” Joyce Ilgenfritz said.

One of their daughters asked if they could donate everything but Frosty, and give the snowman to her.

“Everybody would like to have Frosty,” Morgan Ilgenfritz said. But he wants the whole set to stay together.

Christmas tree in City Plaza loses its top

City Plaza’s Christmas tree will be topless for the next few years.

Heavy winds caused the top tip of the blue Atlas cedar used as the city’s Christmas tree to break just above where the city attached the star, city Urban Forester Denice Britton said Monday.

Britton said the tree is fine and will form a new point. However, it will take a couple of years for that to happen, so the tree will be still be flat next Christmas.

The city will still put a star on the tree next year, but it will not be as high as this past holiday, she said.

The urban forester said she’s heard a number of concerns that someone stole the Christmas star or that city maintenance workers broke the tree, but neither is the case.

The city has only used the tree, planted in the 1950s, as its Christmas tree for the past two years. A redwood at the north side of the plaza had the honor before that, but the city decided to promote the cedar as the Christmas tree during a reconstruction of City Plaza.

Britton believes the original purpose of the people who planted the tree was to have it serve as the city’s Christmas tree.

Town revives Christmas for absent soldier

The residents of this Central Kentucky town weren’t about to let a native daughter miss her favorite holiday because of military service. So they re-created it.

When National Guard Spc. Shannon Dale, 20, returned from duty in Afghanistan on Tuesday, it was as if time had stood still.

There were twinkling Christmas lights galore in store windows and throughout the Garrard County town of roughly 2,000 residents.

Many of them waved flags to welcome Dale, who was presented with a bouquet of roses and baby’s breath, and a salute from the bearer of the flowers, Tim Robbins, chaplain of the Paint Lick-Cartersville Volunteer Fire Department. The welcome was followed by a reception with cake, punch and hot chocolate.

“I didn’t expect all this,” Dale said, a little overcome by the hoopla. “I appreciate it a lot. This was my first Christmas away from home, and I was pretty upset about missing Christmas.”

Downtown Paint Lick is less than a city block long, but several businesses kept up their Christmas decorations as a show of support to Dale, a member of the 198th Military Police Battalion based in Louisville.

Red and white ornaments still hung from a Christmas tree in Sweet Pea’s General Store and Diner. The post office window still sported garland. Wreaths and lights still graced several homes, and yard decorations remained.

And on Sunday, the Methodist church congregation will sing Christmas hymns.

It was all part of “Operation Homecoming,” in which Paint Lick resident Rita Mackin Fox encouraged businesses and residents to show their appreciation for Dale and other soldiers overseas.

Fox, who attends the same Methodist church as the Dale family, came up with the idea after learning that the Dales planned to postpone their exchange of Christmas presents until Shannon Dale returned home.

Dale said she plans to resume her studies in occupational therapy at Eastern Kentucky University. In the meantime, she has Christmas shopping to do.

Family keeps holiday tree tradition alive after fire

This year’s Christmas tree may be smaller, but it has a lot more meaning for Bob and Terri Kulhanek.

The miniature pine dressed with garland and colored lights marks the first Christmas for the Kulhaneks and their four children since a fire gutted their Sylvania-Petersburg Rd. home March 18.

Among the decorations are six special ornaments bearing the names of their dogs and cats who died in the fire. Jynx, Kallie, Lovey, Velvet, Scooter and Moe Moe are gone but haven’t been forgotten by the family.

“It’s our memorial to them,” Mrs. Kulhanek said.

She said she had reservations about putting up a tree at all this year, given that the family has been living in a cramped mobile home since the fire. The tight trailer will be their haven until their new home is finished in January.

However, Mrs. Kulhanek said the family couldn’t go against the Christmas tradition of the tree surrounded by presents.

“It’s not the same,” she said, even if the tree is only half the size.

Salvation Army serves Christmas tradition

The Salvation Army’s Christmas dinner is a bittersweet tradition.

On the one hand, more than 100 volunteers happily spent much of Christmas Day at the Dallas Salvation Army shelter, cooking, serving and cleaning up. About 1,000 people – men, women and kids of all ages and backgrounds – got a hot meal and a friendly smile.

On the other hand, the tradition exists only because there are many people for whom the Salvation Army is the best and maybe only place to get a hot meal and a friendly smile on Christmas.

Companionable strangers Francoise McCollum, Dwayne Parker and Jose Diaz shared a table for lunch.

“We don’t have any family here,” Ms. McCollum said. “So we come here to eat with this family, here.”

Mr. Parker agreed.

“I’m a sole survivor, the end of a generation,” he said. “I don’t have no money, I’m disabled, and I’m homeless.”

Yet, for the moment, he was warm and full.

The traditional Christmas menu hasn’t changed for generations. The quantities for the Dallas meal have stayed the same for several years: 120 turkeys, 400 pounds of dressing, 400 pounds of yams, 350 pounds of green beans, 1,600 rolls and 1,600 slices of pie.

A few years ago, most of the diners would have been like Mr. Parker – single men, living on the streets. These days, many more families come for dinner. The shift reflects changes in the demographics of the local needy, Salvation Army officials say.

Minerva Mondragon was there with her son and two daughters. This was their third year at a Salvation Army Christmas dinner.

“We’re here to celebrate and give thanks,” said Ms. Mondragon’s daughter Bibiana, 14. “We want to volunteer next year.”

Monday’s meal was pulled off by a hundred or so volunteers, but three times that many were turned away, said Nancy Kerley, the Dallas shelter’s volunteer coordinator. The shelter always has too many would-be volunteers for the high-profile Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.

Everyday programs attract fewer volunteers. The shelter serves 1,100 meals every day, mostly for the 400 to 500 people who live there or participate in one of the programs offered on-site. But Ms. Kerley said that some of those people who can’t get in to volunteer for the holiday meals do volunteer for the less popular times.

The Salvation Army is not just a glorified soup kitchen, it’s a Christian denomination born in London in 1865. And the “salvation” part of the name was part of this Christmas Day. Services were held in the chapel. Men handed out slips of paper with New Testament verses in Spanish and English: Luke 2:10-11 and Matthew 1:21.

But the meals come with no strings; no prayers are necessary.

The shelter, located at 5554 Harry Hines Blvd., had traditional Christmas decor. A tall tree graced the lobby. Santa statues in various sizes smiled at the kids. Wreaths and garlands were hung along railings and stairways.

The volunteers cheerfully worked the room as if it were a well-coordinated restaurant.

Stan Hare of Irving was there for the fifth year with his wife and two children. After opening presents at home Christmas morning, they come to Dallas to help feed the needy.

“It helps keep our kids grounded,” Mr. Hare said.

Lawmakers seek to defend “merry Christmas”

Georgia’s Legislature has reentered the “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” debate.

State Rep. Clay Cox (R-Lilburn) has revived legislation that would prohibit all state and county government agencies and school boards from barring people from saying “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” or any other holiday expression.

Cox has said he has heard from teachers, public employees and students who were afraid to say, “Merry Christmas.”

“It protects free speech of our public employees and our students,” Cox told the House Civil Judiciary Committee this morning moments before the panel gave preliminary approval to his bill.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia raised Constitutional concerns about the bill before the committee endorsed the measure.

“It is problematic because it is actually constitutionally unsound,” said Maggie Garrett, legislative director for the ACLU of Georgia. “Because of the way the bill is drafted, I think it may actually create more confusion for teachers.”

The Georgia School Boards Association is also raising concerns.

“It is a very short, simple bill,” said Angela Palm, director of policy for the association, “but I have to tell you I find it very confusing as to exactly what it is that it would direct a school board to do.”

HB 12 applies to all public and legal holidays. But government agencies and schools would still be allowed to enforce regulations preventing “unlawful speech or expression” that disrupts class work or violates the rights of others.

The bill is similar to legislation Cox introduced last year. That bill passed the House but didn’t make it out of the Senate.

National radio talk shows have fueled the debate over whether government employees should say “Merry Christmas” or the more generic “Happy Holidays.” And some Christian groups have also complained about government agencies and major retailers taking the words “Merry Christmas” out of seasonal marketing displays.

Christmas waits for homecoming

The residents of this central Kentucky town of just over 2,000 weren’t about to let a native daughter miss her favorite holiday because of military service, so they recreated it.

When National Guard Spc. Shannon Dale, 20, returned from duty in Afghanistan Tuesday, it was like time had stood still.

There were twinkling Christmas lights galore in the store windows and throughout the Garrard County town, about 26 miles south of Lexington. Many residents waved flags to welcome Dale, who was presented with a bouquet of roses and baby’s breath, and a salute from the bearer of the flowers, Tim Robbins, chaplain of the Paint Lick-Cartersville Volunteer Fire Department. That was followed by a reception with cake, punch and hot chocolate.

“I didn’t expect all this,” Dale said, a little overcome by the hoopla. “I appreciate it a lot. This was my first Christmas away from home, and I was pretty upset about missing Christmas.”

Downtown Paint Lick is less than a city block long, but several businesses kept up Christmas decorations as a show of support to Dale, a member of the 198th Military Police Battalion based in Louisville.

Red and white ornaments still hung from a Christmas tree in Sweet Pea’s General Store and Diner. Garland was still in the window of the post office. And wreaths, lights and yard decorations still graced several homes.

It was all part of “Operation Homecoming,” in which Paint Lick resident Rita Mackin Fox encouraged businesses and residents to show their appreciation for Dale and other soldiers.

Fox, who attends the same Methodist church as the Dale family, came up with the idea after learning that the Dales planned to postpone the exchanging of Christmas presents until Shannon’s return home.

Dale said she plans to resume her studies in occupational therapy at Eastern Kentucky University. In the meantime, she has Christmas shopping to do. And Sunday, the Methodist church congregation will sing Christmas hymns.

Lights, camera, Christmas

In my neighborhood the harbinger of Christmas is the candelabra that appears in Bob and Doris Viviano’s kitchen window right after Halloween.

By Thanksgiving their house in the Forsythia Gate section of Levittown is decked with some 20,000 lights. The place glows like a happy liner on a dark sea.

I drive past the Viviano house frequently, since it is at the end of our street. As we slow for the stop sign, my children, who are 4, 5 and 7, are overcome with “wows.”

I hate this, because I know what’s coming.

“Dad,” my son Danny inevitably asks, “how come we can’t do this? How come we don’t have lights on our house?”

The others join him, bugging me.

I remind them that we used to hang lights of the icicle variety. (My wife insisted.) But two years ago, the stepladder shifted on soft ground and I went tumbling.

“You kids don’t want me to break an arm putting up Christmas lights, do you?”

Silence.

Last week, when they raised the issue again, I rolled out a fresh reason. Our house is fairly tall and I don’t like heights.

“But you flew airplanes — how can you be afraid?” Danny asked.

“I’m afraid of ladder heights, son, not airplane heights,” I said.

They persisted.

I said: “Children, we should remember to keep Christmas in our hearts. Who needs lights when we can glow with the reason for the season from within?”

Groans filled the minivan.

Somewhere along the wilderness trail of marriage and mortgages, of bill paying, child rearing, and lawn cutting, of T-ball, football, school meetings, work meetings, e-mail, snail mail and all the other treadmill stuff that take up my day, hanging Christmas lights lost its charm.

So why do folks like the Vivianos still do it, and so spectacularly?

“We had really good childhood Christmases,” Doris said. “We came from really good families, secure families. We find that when we look back and remember, Christmas and the lights was pure happiness. We want to bring it to other families.”

As I stood in front of their house the other night, a memory returned. I was about 5 and there was a family in my North Park neighborhood who decorated in similar style. They even had a loudspeaker from which Wayne Newton Christmas songs blared.

Standing in the darkness in the cold, holding my big sister’s hand, I was transfixed. Something big and exciting was on its way.

Last week, I walked my children to the Vivianos, who were nice enough to let us tour their display.

“Dad we should do this,” my son Jaime said, as he patted an illuminated reindeer head.

Before I could say anything he and my daughter Maria were pinballing through the yard, from a toy soldier, to a pair of Victorian carolers, to some candy canes, to a snowman.

“Don’t step on the Baby Jesus!” I yelled at them.

“Look at all the stars,” Danny said, pointing at the sky. He whooped his way over to a Santa Claus.

By mid-life, I suppose it is easy to forget what 20,000 colored lights pulling 100 amps at night can do for your spirits.

I took my camera and made movies of the children running, laughing, and touching everything.

If, by the time they reach the wilderness of the grownup world, and they have forgotten the magic of Christmas light and starlight and Santa, they’ll be able to see it in themselves as they were, long ago.

Christmas socks make everything warm and cozy

My mother-in-law and I have a Christmas tradition that I appreciate more with each passing year. It is not a fancy custom, but it is one I treasure.

My mother-in-law gives me wonderful socks every year for Christmas. Usually three pairs or more. I don’t know where Bea finds them, but I adore them. This is the quintessential perfect gift, for me, for I am a sock lover. As my daughter Lucy is a dress and tights kinds of gal, I am a socks and jeans woman. And I love great socks.

My friend Jessica gave me a pair of argyle socks for Christmas in high school that I wore until the wear-holes were bigger than the foot-hole. (You know, the only hole a sock is supposed to have – the one you slide your foot in.) My mother used to give me a pair of red and white or pink and white socks for Valentine’s Day. Now Bea gives me socks every Christmas and, remarkably enough, the socks keep getting better, which I appreciate mightily of late.

When Bill and I get rich – it should be any day now – perhaps we can do something about raising the temperature of the floors in the Old Beauty.

I am not sure exactly how we would do that, because they are hardwood. I, like most lovers of older homes, adore my hardwood floors. But hardwood floors, even with carpeted stairs and area rugs, tend to be chilly during the New England winter. I have seen, in This Old House magazine, many high-tech solutions to this heating problem, such as running tubing full of hot water between the subfloor and the existing wood floor. I considered this a fabulous idea until Bill explained that doing so would probably cost more than our previous house, the Little Cottage on the Souhegan.

There are other solutions I can envision: We could get some kind of secondary heating system, like a woodstove. Or, we could give our natural gas supplier half ownership of the place in exchange for unmetered gas usage during our long (OK, not so long this year) cold winters. But, instead of having to complicate things, I just pull on a pair of Christmas socks.

I’m wearing some right now. They are an outrageous hot pink – just looking at them warms me up – with white polka dots. I do not know what they are made of, and I have never felt anything quite like this before. They are not wool, because wool makes me itch the moment it touches my body. Not wool. Or silk. It’s some kind of ultra-soft fiber that is like walking on clouds. I feel like I have a kitten on each foot – my feet begin to purr when I slip these babies on.

I love last year’s edition, as well, which were velour, jewel-toned ankle socks. Have you ever worn velour socks? They are wonderfully soft and cozy, and breathable, as well. These were my favorite socks until this year’s arrived. Pairs in fuchsia, dark purple and blue, which is perfect for winter, especially decorated with little white snowflakes as they are.

What I do wonder as I wear my glorious socks is this: How does my mother-in-law find these incredible socks in Kentucky every year when I can’t find socks around here that I like for squat?

Which has just triggered my next great idea: I’m going into business with my mother-in-law. We’ll open an imported socks store in downtown Nashua. I’ll have her out every day buying and boxing up socks in Kentucky – you know, they’re cheap there because hillbillies go barefoot – and shipping them north.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

Mindful of his Late Mother, he Continues a Christmas Tradition

He told his wife he was not going to hang Christmas lights this year.

The cords, light bundles and props that fill a quarter of the basement would stay packed for the winter. So would the 20-foot snowmen made of plywood; the arches that curved over the driveway; the light-up replica of the Mill Mountain Star.

Raymond Jones just wasn’t in the mood.

In the past, Christmas started in August. That’s when the phone calls with his mother began. From his home in Boones Mill and hers in Baton Rouge, La., they began planning strings and scenes that would cover Jones’ 3 acres with roughly 130,000 lights.

They did this together for at least 14 years, a ritual that began with phone calls stretching from summer till fall and ended with his mother visiting for Christmas, followed by shopping trips each Dec. 26 _ collecting discounted lights.

Little did Jones know, Christmas 2005 would be his mother’s last. Cathy Jones-Whorley died in March.

And as humid summer days cooled and autumn neared, inching toward his first Christmas without her, Jones told his wife, Joyce, he was going to let the property stay bare.

Then, one mid-November night, Joyce Jones drove home and found her husband stringing cords around the fences.

And she knew he was all right.

On a bitter December evening _ the kind of cold that can make toes hurt _ Jones, 40, stood atop a spool wound with lights like a giant bundle of thread.

Plastic candy canes hung from the bed of his Toyota pickup as he strung a star from a light-up stick figure’s arm.

“What do you think?” he asked his wife, who stood watching.

He started decorating a month later than usual, so the display is not quite as grand. Still, tall stick figures stand like bookends on either side of a sign wishing the troops Merry Christmas. A smiley face with the words “Ho Ho Ho” rests on the hillside behind them. Off to the side, flowers and butterflies bloom like a scene from a child’s Lite-Brite _ only this garden is circled by red, glowing candy canes.

With his mother gone, Jones’ mop-haired Yorkie, Sebastian, follows him as his only companion as he spends nights and weekends perfecting the display.

His mother lived in Louisiana with his brother and two sisters. Because they saw her all year long, Jones thought it was only fair he got her at Christmas. He bought her a plane ticket to Virginia each December _ her annual present.

Mother and son had something special, Joyce Jones said.

There was a wood shop in the back of her mother-in-law’s house, plus stories about them building manger scenes together. Jones-Whorley called for updates each fall when her son began decorating. When he sent her presents of tools, saws, nuts and bolts, she got genuinely excited _ just like him.

It was Christmas tradition since Jones and his wife began their life together, when they lived in a house with a 50-by-50-foot yard on Manassas Drive in Roanoke County. Jones and his mother covered the property with so many lights, the lawn literally glowed.

There are pictures of Jones-Whorley standing beside her son’s Christmas displays, snapshots of her riding four-wheelers across the land.

But when she visited for Christmas last year, something was wrong.

She came with what she thought was a bad cold she’d contracted about a month earlier.

Back home in Louisiana, she saw a doctor in January, who diagnosed the lung cancer.

By March, at 59 years old, Jones-Whorley was gone.

Joyce Jones makes her husband come inside for dinner each night. He will even be outside on Christmas Day, walking the property, tweaking the displays, replacing burned-out lights.

While he told his wife he wasn’t going to set up the display, Jones knows his mother would be upset if he didn’t.

This is something she liked doing each December. With or without her, he likes it, too.

He promised more lights next year. He already added a Santa-hat-wearing dragon and a dog with a wagging tail to his light-up collection.

On this December night cold enough to freeze toes, Jones is just about ready to go inside. He gazes at a car that slows in front of his house on Back Creek Road. Holding little Sebastian, Jones waves as onlookers take in the lights.

But when his wife looks at the display, she sees something else _ more than the light-wrapped fences, candy canes and illuminated horses galloping among cactuses. She sees her husband and his mother, working on this all together.

Late Christmas gathering celebrates extended family

This past Saturday, my mom and I went to the Twin Cities to spend time with some of our extended family.

Mom’s side of the family decided to get together for a late Christmas. Mom and I had a lot of fun seeing all of our cousins and other relatives.

The oldest people in attendance were in their 80s, the youngest were 15-month-old twins.

Since we only see most of those people once a year, Mom and I stayed at the party until the very end.

You can see the family resemblance in some of us. For example, my mom and one of her cousins look more like sisters than cousins!

In fact, my mom and her cousins acted more like siblings than cousins when they were growing up.

Mom lived right down the street from her cousins when she was a kid, so they played together all the time.

Mom, who is an only child, says that when she was growing up she had “the best of both worlds.” She could be at home where things were usually quiet and relaxed, or she could go visit her cousins and be near other people her age.

After the party, Mom and I stayed overnight at my grandma’s house.

While we were there, Mom asked Grandma for some old pictures she had of our ancestors.

The pictures were of Mom’s Grandma Grace, her dad’s mom. One of the pictures also features Mom’s great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother.

When my mom and her friends go on their quilting retreat this weekend, Mom is planning to begin a quilt in honor of her Grandma Grace.

It was fun to see relatives that we don’t see that often. I enjoyed spending time with them, and I hope we can all get together again soon!

Blinded by the light

Even as the editor of the paper you don’t always hit a home run.

For those not in baseball mode yet, I end up looking more like the sad-sack Celtics or Bruins. Hey, even the Patriots don’t win the Super Bowl every year.

I often come up with story ideas which are then passed on to the reporters. If I didn’t think it was worthy of the reporter’s time, and thus making into the paper, I would keep quiet.

Recently (this week, actually) I felt it was worth to do a story on the fact that it is February and the Christmas lights are still on the trees on the Common.

While the idea of a homeowner with their lights and decorations still visible this late in the game does irk me, that was not the reason to have someone look into this story.

During a walk through the Common I noticed how the strands of lights were in quite disarray. Not only are there pieces of the green plastic wires and bulbs (whole and broken) on the ground where the wires are hanging, but parts of the strands in the trees were laying on the ground. And many of the wires not reaching the ground, have fallen down within arm’s length of children, and are all tangled.

If you ask me, that is a safety hazard. But, officials of Waltham disagreed. I know they have more important things to deal with, but I am surprised that it has been allowed to go on this long.

According to City Wires Inspector John Nedza, the decorations the city put up for the holiday season were taken down a couple weeks ago. The lights that we still see – not at night as the power has been shut off – are the responsibility of the contractor hired, CNM Electrical Construction, out of Braintree.

Apparently, the tropics-like winter is to blame.

“We can’t have a soft ground. If it’s too soft over there the big trucks will chew up the grass,” Nedza said.

Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t there a good stretch of frigid weather a couple weeks ago. I know the ground was frozen because I lost my wedding ring at a dog park (in Salem, but the weather was Arctic-like everywhere) and had to call off the search teams because we wouldn’t have been able to crack the frozen tundra.

Who knows, CNM might have been scurrying to take down lights in Peabody, Weymouth and Avon and didn’t get to the Watch City. I am not sure because the South Shore business didn’t call back.

A call to Mayor Jeannette A. McCarthy also proved fruitless in finding someone who was as concerned as I was.

“They are taken down weather permitting,” she said. “Honestly, I haven’t heard any complaints.”

So, I guess if no one complains they could, theoretically, be up there in November, when they won’t need to be installed again.

Ah, it might be getting clear now. Maybe the lights will stay up there all year, saving the city money? (Might be something for Newton to consider, to help pay for Newton North High School.)

One city councilor even refused to comment, saying he would probably get in trouble if they said anything. He also asked if it was a slow news day, further making his point that it was a non-story.

I went to the streets to see if average Joes like myself cared. About one-third of those I asked really didn’t care.

“If someone is stupid enough to run into (the wires) then they deserve to get whatever happens to them,” said Craig Elliott, who was walking along the Moody Street side of the common on the way to the Waltham Mills Artists Association.

Elizabeth Cardone, a Waltham resident, said she hadn’t noticed, but if she had she would wonder why they haven’t been taken down, almost six weeks after the holiday.

“It does bother me (now that I know),” she said. “People are so busy running around they probably haven’t gotten to it yet.”

Despite having very little support, I still feel it is a matter that should be looked into. Maybe the city will realize that, and a call to CNM will be hearing from Waltham soon.

Town with the Christmas lights jinx

IT’S the town with the Christmas lights jinx.

For years Diss has been the butt of jokes in Norfolk and even the national media as the town where the spirit of Scrooge is still alive and well.

This year a group of residents started planning in January to make certain the town finally got it right.

But this week they admitted it was not to be – and said they were considering legal action against the Kent-based contractors they blame for the latest “fiasco”.

Only three strings of lights had been put up in time for rock star Rick Wakeman to flick the switch earlier this month – and they fused straight away plunging the town back into darkness. Even the Christmas tree had to be removed because of health and safety fears.

Town officials said they had heard enough excuses from Cascade Illuminations – but once again promised that things would be different in 12 months’ time.

Town clerk Deborah Sarson said: “It’s such a blow for Diss. The town has been so let down by its lights and this is another year of it. It’s not just about what the company promised and didn’t deliver, it’s about a lack of credibility for the town.”

Problems first started three years ago when members of the chamber of trade were only able to raise £5 from the town’s businesses. It was a claim later denied but that time the damage had been done and Diss had become a national joke.

The next year the town raised £13,000 but organisers decided to start from scratch, bringing in a professional company and buying new lights – which meant only the Market Place and Mere Street could be covered.

Last year there were again murmurs of disapproval as organisers decided to “keep things simple” – which meant that the new display, again costing £13,000, consisted mostly of 50 small illuminated trees fixed on stores in the main shopping centre.

So this year planning started in January, with a new committee agreeing a three-year contract with Cascade Illuminations which would see £38,000-worth of lights put up in town this Christmas and the money repaid over three years.

At least that was the idea – the reality has been three strings of lights put up haphazardly in the market place for the December 2 switch-on, and empty promises to get more up by the week after.

Sub-contractors were in town this week to repair lights in the market place already damaged, and vowed to return on Monday to put more garlands up – but no one was holding their breath and the display looks just the same.

Cascade Illuminations sales director Kerry Whitaker has said the company will now give the lights already up in Diss this year to the town for free – but has not yet put these promises on paper and has become uncontactable.

Committee chairman Jackie Talbot said: “I am very disappointed and still hot under the collar as I do not like being let down, as I have worked so hard.

“The money I have collected is in the bank for next year, and the committee will be having a meeting at the end of January to decide the way forward.”

Diss is not the only town discussing legal action against Cascade Illuminations. Colchester is considering its options after parts of its display fell down on to crowded streets and officials in nearby Maldon have also been left disappointed with the quality of their display.

As for the Christmas tree – it was replaced with a larger one funded by the town council and erected by kind-hearted local charities. The lights were bought separately and Cascade Illuminations were not asked to put them up.

Christmas traditions live on

Usually Christmas starts the day after Thanksgiving. But there are those people who decorate Christmas Eve. It’s been a tradition for many years, and they’re the 70 year old people and they come in and this was their lifestyle. They never saw any Christmas in their house until Christmas morning,” says Kathy Hafner, owner of Hafner’s Red Barn in North Syracuse.

Unless you’re the Short family.

“Normally we use our artificial tree, but we didn’t get around to putting it up this year, so we’re out with the last minute shoppers trying to keep in the Christmas spirit and get that tree up before tomorrow,” said Robert Short Jr.

For the Urban family, buying a brand new ornament Christmas Eve at Hafner’s Red Barn is their tradition.

“Every year we get a new Christmas ornament and put it on the tree. It’s just a great tradition. We make sure we do it every year,” says Elizabeth Urban.

“Whatever their new traditions are, I go along with it. And I’m there to help them create and make a beautiful Christmas for their family,” Hafner says.

There are some advantages to buying your tree on the 24th of December. Your family can be together to put together the tree for a Christmas tradition. And also, you do get a little bit of a discount.

Regifting: When it’s much better to give than receive

Lots of people do, though most won’t admit it. Some think the practice shameful, others resourceful. It’s basically recycling. You give a gift that keeps on giving, from one unappreciative recipient to another.

Perhaps you got a tacky sweater, a particularly distasteful tie or maybe a fruitcake that’s been in the family for generations.

Whatever it is, you don’t like it, and want to get rid of it. You have a brilliant thought. Put the bad present to good use. Rewrap it. Send it to someone else. Save money and time. It seems like a great idea, until someone gets caught.

And people do get caught.

“I was busted for regifting,” said Paul Dambrek, of East Greenwich, who gave a second copy of a book his son received as a gift to someone else’s son, not knowing of a hand-written note inside.

In the days before Christmas, dozens of brave readers told us about their experiences.

These are their stories. Some are inspirational, others confessional.

Laurie Dutra comes clean. For the first time, the Portsmouth woman publicly admits being a regifter and pleads for forgiveness from her Auntie Annie.

“She’ll finally know the truth and I can begin to make amends,” Dutra said.

Years ago, Auntie Annie gave Dutra an absolutely awful sweater for Christmas.

“It looked like something one of Bill Cosby’s sweaters coughed up,” Dutra said.

Dutra, of course, did not tell Auntie Annie that. Instead, she profusely thanked Auntie Annie for her bad taste. Then she promptly put the sweater in a closet and forgot about it for years. Then one year, just before Christmas, Dutra rediscovered it, still in its box, and decided to put it to use.

“Yes boys and girls, I had given the same aunt back the sweater she’d given me,” Dutra said.

Dutra, however, wasn’t aware of that at the time. She didn’t realize her blunder until she saw her aunt reunited with the sweater and had a posttraumatic Christmas flashback. But did Dutra confess?

No, she lied.

With a straight face, Dutra said to her Auntie Annie, “Years ago you had gotten me a sweater almost exactly like it and I remembered how much you loved it. So when I saw this in the store, I couldn’t believe it and I thought it would be so cool for you.”

Now, years later, burdened by guilt for her dishonesty, Dutra has decided to clear her conscience with an admission, which she calls “one huge step for me.”

In some families there are regifting rivalries. Mitch Mekedsy, of Warwick, and his brother Norm have been exchanging the same “God-awful tie” for years. One year Norm gives it to Mitch. The next year, Mitch gives it back. Sometimes the tie is framed as a piece of art. Other times it’s hidden as a treat in such things as a cookie jar or a donkey piñata.

“The tie is now in my possession,” Mitch Mekedsy said shortly before Christmas. “But not for long. How or by what means it will be regifted will remain private until Christmas Eve.”

In some families, regifting rivalries last decades. In 1967, Sue Connell-Quetta, of Pascoag, inadvertently began a Christmas tradition with her brother, Jim Connell Jr., of Harrisville. Connell had received a soap-on-a-rope from their mother the year before but didn’t use it. She took it back. Then, Connell-Quetta got the soap from their mother and, thinking he wouldn’t remember, again gave it to Connell as a gift. The next year, Connell gave it back to his sister. Since then, it’s been exchanged dozens of times, been broken in half and had its rope chewed off by a dog. But the thoughtfulness of the gift still endures.

“In spite of its weathered appearance and present uselessness, it’s still the gift that means the most to both of us,” Connell-Quetta says.

A few years ago, Ethel Pappas, of Wakefield, received a box of handkerchiefs for Christmas. She rewrapped them and gave them to her mother-in-law, who gave them to her niece, who gave them to her cousin, who gave them back to Pappas: their rightful owner.

Some regifters are brazen, or perhaps just not that bright. Julia Prout, of Coventry, remembers a man who gave her grandmother stationary, with his monogram on it. Patricia Crowley, of Matunuck, recalls getting a regift from someone she’ll identify only as Mr. C. She unwrapped the box and inside discovered a bottle of cognac, and beneath that a card – for someone else.

“I took out my notepad and wrote: Dear Mr. C, Please thank Mr. Smith for the lovely bottle of Courvoisier.”

Sometimes regifting is retaliatory. For several years, Michele Gouin and her husband Marc, of Seekonk, exchanged a highly prized Chia Pet for Christmas.

For her mid-December birthday, Mary Selmanie Spurr, of Glocester, who hates musicals, received a gift from her husband Jerry that she presumed he meant for himself: two tickets to Miss Saigon.

“Oh joy, I thought to myself, war and singing dialogue,” Spurr said. “Somebody shoot me.”

For Christmas, Spurr regifted the Miss Saigon tickets to her husband.

Regifting doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, it can be quite beneficial. A few years ago the Ocean State Center for Independent Living, in Warwick, began a regifting silent auction, according to Carol McKenna, the office manager. Staff members get rid of gifts they don’t want, sparing themselves the temptation and possible humiliation of regifting. And a local charity gets the proceeds.

“Everyone wins,” McKenna said.

Louise Tillinghast was on to this concept 23 years ago. The Providence woman began a post-Christmas party for regifting, though back then the term hadn’t been coined yet. The idea was for guests to bring gifts they didn’t want and to leave with someone else’s, at least for a short time.

“Everything has to leave the house,” Tillinghast said. “I point out the trash cans by the outside door.”

It’s safe to say ‘Merry Christmas’

he “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” debate is back at the Georgia Legislature.

A Republican lawmaker is reviving a bill that would prohibit state and county government agencies and school boards from banning “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah” or any other such holiday expressions.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Clay Cox (R-Lilburn), says he has heard from teachers, public employees and students who were afraid to say “Merry Christmas.”

House Bill 12 “protects free speech of our public employees and our students,” Cox told the House Civil Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, before the panel gave the measure preliminary approval. The bill would apply to all public and legal holidays.

The bill drew criticism from some Democrats, who argued it was not needed, and the Georgia School Boards Association, which found it confusing.

Before endorsing the bill, the Judiciary Committee asked Cox if he could cite any examples of schools attempting to curb speech. Cox said fliers for a holiday parade in Lilburn were not distributed at a local school last year because the word ”Christmas” was printed on them. Cox declined to identify the school other than to say it is an elementary school in his legislative district.

“Students were instead — on an announcement — encouraged that if they wished, they could attend a ‘winter parade’ at the city of Lilburn on Main Street,” Cox said. “And that is just absurd.”

A spokeswoman for Gwinnett County schools said the district was not aware of the situation Cox described.

“We don’t bar employees or others from wishing anyone a Merry Christmas,” Gwinnett schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said. Roach added that Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks wished employees a “Merry Christmas” in a December newsletter.

The bill is similar to legislation Cox introduced last year. It passed the House then but did not come to a vote in the Senate because of time constraints, he said.

The question of whether government employees should say “Merry Christmas” or the more generic “Happy Holidays” has flared as part of a wider debate about a “war on Christmas.”

Some Christian groups have complained about government agencies and major retailers taking the words “Merry Christmas” out of seasonal displays. Some stores restored “Christmas” greetings last year.

Sadie Fields, chairwoman of the Georgia Christian Alliance, said her organization supports Cox’s bill.

“At this moment in our history, Christian symbols are being discriminated against, and it is unfortunate that we have to have legislation,” she said. “But if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.”

A high-ranking Republican House leader predicted the bill has a good chance of passing the General Assembly this year because the debate has started early in the legislative session.

“There is a recognition by the people of Georgia — and therefore their representatives — that political correctness has run amok,” said House Majority Whip Barry Fleming (R-Harlem).

Some Democrats acknowledged that the bill puts them in a tight spot.

The bill “is unnecessary,” House Minority Leader DuBose Porter (D-Dublin) said, “but if it hits the floor, people are going to vote for ‘Merry Christmas’ and I will, too.”

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), who serves on the Judiciary Committee, voted against the bill last year and is still critical of it. “It seems to be inviting just a new round of litigation that will be expensive and painful,” she said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia said it has not found any evidence of schools banning children from saying “Merry Christmas.”

“We support legislation that strengthens student speech rights,” said Maggie Garrett, legislative director for the ACLU of Georgia. “We are just suggesting they strengthen the bill to make clear what students can and cannot say.”

The Georgia School Boards Association also raised concerns Tuesday, calling the bill “confusing.”

Under HB 12, government agencies and schools would still be allowed to enforce regulations preventing “unlawful speech or expression” that disrupts classwork or violates the rights of others.

The bill “would seem to prohibit a board from prohibiting an employee or student from any expression relating to a holiday or sort of anything else,” said Angela Palm of the school board association. “But then it also grants that you can limit unlawful speech. So I’m not sure where that exactly would leave us.”

Gary Zindars, a retired air traffic controller from Marietta, said he supports the bill.

“I believe this nation was founded on Christianity, and that is why we came over here to America,” Zindars, whose granddaughter attends a Cobb County elementary school, said in an interview. “And we don’t seem to have a problem with anybody else’s religions, but now the minority seems to have a problem with ours.”

Zindars was among the readers who posted comments under an article about the bill on ajc.com Tuesday.

A reader who identified herself only as “Deborah” wrote, “I would think the GA Legislature would have more important things to do than this. This is exactly why the state is always at the bottom of everything, except maybe traffic congestion.”

Some holiday lights just keep on glowing

Travis Johnson and his family know Christmas is over and that Thursday was the first day of February.

But last night, amid another snowstorm in Cheesman Park, it was obvious the Johnsons have not lost their holiday spirit. Their house has illuminated the quiet neighborhood with Christmas lights since Dec. 1.

Two reindeer are adorned with white lights as one mechanically bobs its head. Miniature Christmas and decorative trees line the lawn and either side of the house’s entranceway with red and white lights shining brightly.

The Johnsons aren’t so much carrying their holiday spirit over into February as they have been affected by the relentless snowfall, which has meant that their Christmas lights will remain lit.

Johnson said he had planned to remove the lights by the start of the National Western Stock Show.

“The extension cords are on the ground, and the snow is on the ground, and they’re frozen and covered,” Johnson, 35, said, explaining why he hasn’t been able to remove his lights.

“It’s just inconvenient.”

Johnson said he will get around to it next week – weather permitting.

“It’s not enjoyable being out and taking them out when it’s cold and snowing,” he said.

For other residents in Cheesman Park and the Country Club neighborhoods who are still lighting up their neighborhoods with festive lights, the reason is simple: They haven’t gotten around to removing them, they said.

But some homeowners just like the lights.

“We keep them on until early February,” Chris Citron said. “It gives us some brightness and color at a very dark time, and I enjoy them. We just like keeping them on for a while.”

Jade’s ‘ludicrous’ £3,000 Christmas lights demand

DISGRACED Celebrity Big Brother housemate Jade Goody has been slammed after it emerged that she demanded £3,000 to switch on Ongar’s Christmas lights.

Organisers refused to pay such a “ludicrous” sum and instead asked Father Christmas to do the honours.

Jade, who lives at The Gables, off Fyfield Road, Ongar, made millions of pounds following her initial appearance in the third series of Big Brother but was unwilling to do something “for the good of the community”, the town’s business leader said this week.

Ian Goodman, chairman of the Ongar Town Forum which organises the lights, said such a demand was “ludicrous for a small town like Ongar”.

He said: “My understanding is that we decided we would look round and find someone to do the lights and her name was mentioned.

“It wasn’t a very popular choice because we felt it didn’t really reflect Ongar. Her name was put about and was just one of those in the mix because she’s local. Then I was at a meeting and someone said she wanted £3,000.
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“Whether she was actually asked I’d be surprised. In all fairness to her it wasn’t her who said it, it was her agent.”

Mr Goodman added: “Ongar Town Forum struggles to find enough money to put the lights up.”

Instead organisers asked Father Christmas to turn on the lights as hundreds of people filled the High Street to mark the start of the festive season.

In previous years West Ham United and Scotland footballer Christian Dailly and boxing star Frank Bruno have switched on the lights free of charge.

“They’ve all been more than happy to do it just for the good of the community,” Mr Goodman said.

Mr Goodman, licensee of the Cock Tavern pub in Ongar High Street, said: “It doesn’t matter who you are but if you live in a community you’re part of the community.

“If you live in an area you either decide to put something back into it she (Jade) obviously decided that she wouldn’t.”

Jade, who went into the Celebrity Big Brother house with boyfriend Jack Tweed, who lives in Buckhurst Hill, and her mother, Jackiey Budden, went into hiding – staying at a hotel – after she was evicted in a public vote after she made racial’ comments towards fellow housemate and eventual winner, the Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty.

Jade’s management company, London-based John Noel Management, has failed to respond to our telephone and email requests for an interview or response.

Lighting a fire for the love of lights

My Christmas lights campaign started early in December.

“Look, kids,” I’d say while driving the car from our day-care provider’s house or on the way home from school.

“There are Santa and Rudolph!” Or, “Aren’t those lights preettttty??”

My kids are typical suburban kids who put in a lot of riding-in-the-car time. They’ve figured out their own ways to pass the time.

“Yeah, sure,” my 4-year-old would say, in a dismissive tone learned from some teenagers she knows.

“Mom, I’m doing something,” her sister would say from her side of the back seat. “Something” might be sounding out words in a new library book or eating the rest of the day’s lunch.

“You’re missing the season!” I would tell them.

“Huh?” they’d reply.

In an exasperated voice, I told them to look at the brilliant, multi-colored display in front of us, actually stopping the car in full view of its glory.

“When you were little, you used to love Christmas lights,” I told my almost-7-year-old, Julianna. “You begged me to see ‘Kissmas yites.’ ”

“Kissmas yites,” Ella said, savoring the term and putting it away for future use.

Every day, on the way home in the dark, I’d find a different light display and point it out. Soon, Ella was on board with me, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

“Kissmas yites!” she’d say, with a sideways glance at her glowering sister.

Every day I’d veer off of our normal path, looking for lights we hadn’t seen before. We wound our way among MSU’s high-rise residence halls, with lighted packages and snowmen high above. We tooled down Michigan Avenue, looking for Santa and his reindeer atop Sparrow Hospital, and stopping at the light at Capitol and Michigan to admire the state tree. We drove blocks out of our way in our East Lansing neighborhood to chase a red-and-green glow.

Slowly, I began to win them over. They turned their eyes outward instead of inward. They started telling me where to look.

The piece de resistance was Roberts Street. We were eastbound on Mt. Hope Avenue between Cedar and Pennsylvania when one of the girls, looking south, shouted “Turn!”

The street full of cute little bungalows was nearly as bright as day with glowing inflatable figures, illuminated candy canes and hundreds of yards of lights covering porches and houses on both sides of the street.

“Stop!” shouted Julianna in front of one particular home. “Look!”

The wire-frame, lighted deer in the yard weren’t simply standing still. Two moved their heads from side to side, and one appeared to graze on the lawn.

“That’s so cool,” Julianna said. “Can we come back sometime?”

“Sure,” I said. “Anytime.” And I drove happily eastward, knowing they’ll appreciate “Kissmas yites” for the rest of the season and years to come.

Christmas Tradition Continues

One tree in Lubbock has been called many things over the years from the Tree of Joy to the Tree of Hope and even the Tree of Inspiration but it’s most commonly known as “The Tree of Life” and it’s creator Jeff Mills says it’s become a tradition here in Lubbock.

“A lot of people tell me that it’s just not Christmas until they see the tree,” says Mills.

The tree has been wowing audiences for over a decade and this year there’s an all time high number of lights.

“There’s 500 strands of 100 lights,” Jeff said.

That equals 50,000 lights and Jeff says it takes him a while, “It averages out about 5 hours a day for 3 weeks and I start about October and Finish somewhere around the 1st of December.”

He added, “I started about 15 years ago when my grandmother gave me all of her lights, I started just kind just wrapping the trunk – and the next year I put some more up and then it got to 20-thousand then 25 and 30 until we got to 50-thousand.”

Mega spending for Christmas on decline

THE BUSIEST TIME of the year for business houses has ended and by now merchants would have tallied the extra coppers in their coffers.

While everyone would not have achieved their projected targets, there was one characteristic that could not have escaped their observation – the spending patterns of Barbadians have changed over the years.

In times gone by there were no facilities in place to take items immediately and pay later; almost every item was for cash on delivery and shoppers had to be guarded in spending the little they had.

Throughout the year they had been making out on a shoestring aided by the modest amount the shopkeeper would allow them to have on credit.

Money plentiful

What they spent at Christmas time came mainly from sources like a meeting turn, bonus from the Friendly Society, livestock raised in the backyard for the purpose or the meagre extras their employers doled out as a token of appreciation for their services throughout the past year.

In these days money is more plentiful, credit is easily accessible and a variety of goods is always readily available.

Consumers really consume; they shop as though every day reminded them of Christmas. As a result, profits for merchants are now more evenly spread over the year, what with the several events that have been made commercial which were hitherto unknown.

From the beginning of the year to the very end, every opportunity has been taken to market their merchandise to suit the various occasions. There is the New Year’s Eve shindig, Valentine’s Day, Easter parades, kites and bunnies, hurricane preparedness, Labour Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, months of Crop-Over, a month of Independence celebrations and at least a full month of Christmas shopping.

There should be no need to complain if sales and profits did not reach the sought-after end-of-year levels. A steady flow of profit with these occasional increases along the way, and a smaller balloon at the end due to all-year-round spending as now occurs, should equal or surpass low profits throughout the year with a comparatively large balloon at year-end as previously obtained.

Perhaps in time merchants will understand that mega spending for Christmas starting from November is diminishing, not only because of changes in customs, but also as citizens demonstrate their preference for patriotism above commercialism.