Will You Watch The Ball Drop?

Saturday is New Year’s Eve and many of us are trying to figure out how we will usher in the beginning of 2017.  A recent poll of 1000 Americans found that while 66% plan to celebrate on New Year’s Eve, 54% of those will do so at home or at the home of loved ones.

The overall consensus seems to be that going out that night is overrated because the celebration rarely lives up to expectations.  People are concerned about where to celebrate, spending too much money so soon after Christmas, and the dangers of drinking and driving or being on the road while others are drinking and driving.

Three years ago, my husband and I began a tradition of trying a new restaurant for lunch on New Year’s Eve day.  Because many people do still go out for New Year’s Eve dinner, the restaurants are easy to get into at lunchtime and are often decorated beautifully for the anticipated evening crowd.

We are still deciding which restaurant we will try this year, but we plan to be home by evening when the revelers hit the roads.  Like many Americans, we will probably tune in for the live entertainment before the ball drops in Times Square at 11:59 p.m.

The actual idea of ball “dropping” to signal the passage of time dates all the way back to the year 1833.  That year, the first time ball was installed at Greenwich on top of England’s Royal Observatory.  The ball would drop at precisely one o’clock every afternoon so the captains of nearby ships could set their chronometers.

Although approximately 150 time balls were installed around the world after the success of the time ball in Greenwich, very few of them still work today.  One of the remaining working time balls is located at the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, DC.  It descends from a flagpole at noon each day.

The most famous time ball is the one that has been descending 141 feet in 60 seconds in Times Square for over 100 years.  The tradition began on December 31, 1907 by Adolph Ochs, (who was the owner of The New York Times newspaper) to welcome the year 1908.  The time ball has descended down the flagpole atop One Times Square every New Year’s Eve since then except in the years 1942 and 1943 in observance of wartime blackouts.

The ball’s design has been updated seven times over the years to reflect improvements in lighting technology.  The original design was made from wood and iron.  It weighed 700 pounds and was lit with 100 light bulbs.

The original time ball was replaced first in 1920 by a 400 pound wrought iron ball, then in 1955 by a 150 pound aluminum ball with 180 light bulbs.  In 1995, the aluminum ball was upgraded with rhinestones and computer controls.

The first crystal New Year’s Eve time ball was created in 1999 to welcome the new millennium.  In 2007, for the 100th Anniversary of the New Year’s Eve time ball, the light bulbs were replaced with modern LED technology.

Finally, in 2008, the final and permanent version of the time ball was unveiled atop One Times Square.  Instead of appearing only on New Year’s Eve, it sits and sparkles above Times Square throughout the year.

This final version of the time ball is a geodesic sphere with an aluminum frame, 12 feet in diameter, and weighs 11,875 pounds.  The Ball is covered with a total of 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles and is illuminated by 32,256 Phillips LEDs (light emitting diodes).

2016 Times Square Ball Dropping

This proud tradition of the Times Square ball drop is now a universal symbol of the New Year and will be seen this year by an estimated one million people in Times Square and over a billion people worldwide.  Will you be one of them?

Animals Talk On Christmas Eve

Growing up, I had a city grandmother and a country grandmother.  I loved them both dearly and I learned vastly different things from them, as you might imagine.  My farm grandmother’s name was Pearl.  She was my mother’s mother and it was her farm that I loved visiting when I was a girl.  Coincidentally, my husband’s maternal grandmother was also named “Pearl.”

One December a couple of weeks before Christmas when I was around 12 years old, my grandmother told me she had always heard that the animals talked at midnight on Christmas Eve to proclaim the birth of Jesus.  I asked her if she planned to go out to the barn that night to see if any of the animals would talk.   She told me she thought she might.

The story circulated throughout the family and everyone chuckled about the idea of grandma going out to the cold barn at midnight on Christmas Eve to see if the animals would talk.  The children in my family were very excited about this and we all wanted to know if it was true.

A couple of weeks later, my grandmother made her way through the light snow to the barn a few minutes before midnight on Christmas Eve.  She pulled open the large, red door and then closed it securely behind her. All the animals were in their pens and stalls and the barn was warm and protected from the cold, winter night.

She noticed that the animals seemed a little anxious and unsettled as she sat down on a bale of hay to wait for the midnight hour.  She was seated next to the goat’s pen and right about midnight they began to move around.  My grandmother held her breath and then she heard it…a low voice from right behind her said, “Pearrrllll.”  Then she heard it a second time, “Pearrrllll.”

And that was the point where my Uncle Ken (my mom’s younger brother) couldn’t contain his laughter any longer.  He stood up laughing and looked into the shocked face of his mother, my grandmother.

I don’t know what she said to him that Christmas Eve night…I probably don’t want to know…but the story and the epic prank became a part of our family’s folklore collection and here I am telling you about it some 40 years later.

Do the animals actually talk at midnight on Christmas Eve?  I don’t know the answer but apparently they did that night!  I do know that a lot has been written about the possibility of it.  Why wouldn’t it be true?  Since Jesus was born in a manger with animals all around, why wouldn’t they too want to proclaim the birth of the King?

There’s yet another legend that says the farm animals kneel at midnight on Christmas Eve in honor of the birth of Jesus.  British novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy, wrote a poem in 1915 about the animals kneeling called, “The Oxen.”

Image result for Thomas Hardy poem about animals kneeling christmas eve

If you search Amazon, you will find several books written on the subject of the animals on Christmas Eve.  My favorite, and one I hope to read to my grandson, Graham, when he is older is called, “The Animals’ Christmas Eve” a Little Golden Book, by Gale Wiersum and illustrated by Jim Robison.

It begins like this:

“In the barn on Christmas Eve, after all the people leave,

The animals in voices low, remember Christmas long ago.

One small hen, upon her nest, softly clucks to all the rest:

‘Little chicks, come gather near.  A wondrous story you will hear.’

Two white doves, on rafters high, coo a quiet lullaby:

‘Long ago in manger hay, the little baby Jesus lay…'”

Wishing you all a blessed and Merry Christmas…and please, let me know if you hear the animals talk on Christmas Eve!

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas

I’ve collected Santa figurines for many years and have a lot of them.  My very first Santa was given to me by my mother in the early 1980’s when I was newly married.  It was a very old Santa that had been passed down through the family.  As a child, I loved seeing it every year when my mother would decorate the house for Christmas.  To this day, it remains my very favorite.

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My second Santa was one I chose for myself in the days when my house had a rather distinctive “country” decorating theme.  It fit right in and even though I don’t decorate like that anymore, I still like it.

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I have friends who collect really beautiful, collector Santa figurines.  I too have some of those, but mostly, I collect Santa’s I like because they look traditional, or have friendly faces or perhaps they are just interesting in some quirky way.

Over the years, family and friends have given me Santa’s.  The Christmas after I graduated from Purdue, I received my Purdue Santa.  He doesn’t look very traditional in his Purdue black and gold but he’s a Boilermaker fan like me.

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When my children were young, I tended to choose really friendly looking Santa’s who had bags of toys.  Santa shouldn’t be scary looking.

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One year when both of my boys were playing baseball, they very proudly gave me a baseball Santa for Christmas.  I’m sure if he could talk, he would be a Cubs fan!

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My kids also gave me a fun, large, Coca Cola Santa for Christmas another year.  He was a red-suited traditional Santa happily holding a bottle of Coke.  Sadly, that one got broken during my move to Texas seven years ago.

My most beautiful Santa figurine is another from my mom.  It shows Santa asleep in his chair with one end of a ribbon still in his hand and an angel standing behind him.  I love the idea of a guardian angel watching over Santa.

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Another of my favorites was given to me by my friend, Susan, in 2000, the year we co-chaired the Festival of Trees together.  I like that it says “St. Nick” at the bottom.

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Those who read my blog regularly know the story of my Homer Simpson Santa.  (Blue Christmas 12/10/14) I can’t stand him but I can’t get rid of him either.

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My brother, Jeff, gave him to me as a joke two Christmases before he died.  He thought it was so funny to give me that silly, singing and dancing Homer Simpson Santa to go with my collection of pretty ones.  How he laughed at the look of horror on my face that Christmas of 2004 when I opened his gift.

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Fortunately, I also have an earthy, woodland Santa my brother gave me a couple of years before the awful Homer Simpson Santa.  I really like that one.

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When I got married three year ago, along with a husband, I got a fishing Santa.  I don’t think he is a very happy looking Santa.  Perhaps he didn’t have much luck as a fisherman.

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Somewhere along the way, I picked up a bobble head Santa.  He is probably the most fun one I own…not counting Homer-Baby.

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When I pulled my Santa’s out of the attic storage this year, I was looking at each one and thinking about how varied they are and I became curious about the whole Santa Claus/Saint Nicholas connection.  After doing a little research, here’s what I found:

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Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, or simply Santa, is a legendary figure who is said to bring gifts to the homes of good children on Christmas Eve and during the early morning hours of Christmas Day.  The modern concept of Santa Claus is based on the historical Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century Greek bishop and gift-giver of Myra.

Saint Nicholas lived from March 15, 270 until December 6, 343 in Asia Minor which is modern-day Demre, Turkey.  He is also known as “Nikolaos the Wonderworker” because of the many miracles attributed to him.

During his lifetime, he had a legendary habit of secret gift-giving such as putting coins in the shoes that were left out for him on December 6th, the feast day of Saint Nicholas.  This reputation led to the traditional model of Santa Claus whose modern name comes from the Dutch “Sinterklaas” which means holy or saint.

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The historical Saint Nicholas is commemorated among Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox Christians, and even some Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches have been named in his honor.

Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children, students, sailors, fishermen, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, the falsely accused, brewers, pawnbrokers, coopers, broadcasters, and pharmacists.

A patron saint in Roman Catholicism is regarded as the heavenly advocate of a place, activity, class, clan, family, or person and can intercede for the needs of their special charges.  Since I work part-time in a pharmacy, I like the idea that Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of pharmacists.

Does anyone else collect Santa figurines?  I’d love to hear about your favorite or most interesting Santa!

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Candy, Candy Canes, Candy Corns and Syrup!

My husband and I are big movie buffs, and one of our favorite things to do this time of year is to watch Christmas movies.  Since we’ve accumulated a small collection on DVD, we pull them out Thanksgiving Weekend and try to see as many as possible by Christmas Day.  I bet a lot of you do the same at your house too!

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Many Christmas movies (think “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Miracle On 34th Street”) are heartwarming classics with messages of hope, and others (such as “Elf” and “The Santa Clause”) are just plain fun to watch!

I began the tradition of watching Christmas movies in the mid to late 1960’s with my younger brother, Jeff.  We could get three channels…ABC, CBS, and NBC…on our one, black and white television set in the living room back then, and I would read the TV Guide to find out when the movies were scheduled to be shown.

Black and White Television

In those days, there was no “On Demand” or DVR, or VHS or DVD movies.  Christmas movies were shown once a year whenever the networks scheduled them and if you missed the showing, you just missed out.

The first Christmas movie I remember watching as a young child was “Miracle On 34th Street” (released in 1947).  My brother and I would sit on the carpeted floor with our backs against the living room sofa, wishing we could be at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and watching for Santa Claus to appear on the screen.

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We would wonder how anyone could question whether or not there really was a Santa Claus.  We knew he existed and we both wanted to be on the “nice” list at Christmas time!

“Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (released in 1964) and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (released in 1965) came out while we were young and we grew up looking forward to watching them every December.  Recently, while shopping at Home Depot, I saw that they had a five feet high LED 3D Pre-Lit Yard Bumble for sale for $99.

 

The animated version of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” hit our TV’s in 1966 with Boris Karloff providing the voice of the Grinch.  “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” was adapted from a book written in 1956 by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.  It became a favorite of ours as well.

While these Christmas movies have all been around for 50 years or more, the very first Christmas movie came out many years before any of them.  It was made in 1898 by George Albert Smith, a British pioneer of filmmaking, and was called “Santa Claus.”  It was not only the first Christmas movie, but was one of the first movies ever made on any topic.  The movie is just one minute and 17 seconds long and has no sound, but it was considered a technical marvel for its time.

Here’s a link for you to watch “Santa Claus”, the first Christmas movie:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmSJ5SAXHws

When my own children were growing up, we especially enjoyed watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” together as a family every Christmas.  While George Bailey’s story is a staple of the holiday season now, it was a flop when it came out in 1946 even though it was nominated for five Academy Awards.  Movie-goers found the subject matter rather dark and depressing at the time…perhaps they were looking for lighter fare since WW II had just ended.

“The Santa Clause” movies (released in 1994, 2002, 2006) were favorites of my family as were “Jingle All The Way” (released in 1996) and “Christmas Vacation” (released in 1989).  “Christmas Vacation” is my cousin, Jon’s, favorite Christmas movie.  He says he can “recite the entire movie if you have two hours!”

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We also loved the first two “Home Alone” movies (released in 1990 and 1992) and even drove by the house (in Winnetka, Illinois) where the movies were filmed, one Christmas when we lived in Chicago.

The movie, “Elf” (released in 2003) was another favorite.  What’s not to like when you have Will Ferrell, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, James Caan, and Mary Steenburgen in the same movie!

Add to that, Zooey Deschanel’s wonderful singing of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and the four food groups the elves try to stick to…candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup…and you have a recipe for two hours of Christmas fun!  According to some reports, Jim Carrey was originally offered the role of Buddy but turned it down to pursue other movie roles.

I didn’t see “A Christmas Story” (released in 1983) until I had children of my own, but when I did, I understood Ralphie’s longing for the “Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range model air rifle” because one Christmas as a child, I wanted a certain new sled that badly too.  Rumor has it, he expresses his desire for the air rifle 28 times in the movie!  Another bit of trivia about Ralphie, is that the actor, Peter Billingsley, who played him in “The Christmas Story” also played the elf, Ming Ming, in “Elf.”

This upcoming weekend, we hope to watch “Elf” as well as my husband’s favorite Christmas movie, “White Christmas” (released in 1954).  One of my Facebook friends says it’s her favorite Christmas movie too because she and her mom had a tradition of watching it every year and “Would sing, Sisters, sisters together in grand style. Fabulous memories of sweet times I deeply miss.”

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No matter which Christmas movies are your favorites, treasure the time spent watching with family and friends.  And whatever you do, try to stay off the “naughty” list!