Sunday, December 16, 2018

putting the ‘tree’ back in christmas

For the first time in years and years, I have a Christmas tree in the house, a legitimate tree standing tall in the corner of what could be the dining room if I ever actually dined which I don’t, I just kind of eat, but that aside, there the tree is in the dining room peeking into the living room through the archway all decked out, aglow with tiny lights, a perfectly shaped tree, a balsam fir bought at the farmers market, thirty bucks and tied atop the car, brought home, I had to go out and buy a stand but everything else just came up out of the basement and out of these boxes I’ve had for years and years.

My sister took this picture. I cropped it so I am not in it, only Josie and the tree.

Luckily one of my sisters was visiting so I had help stringing lights, hanging ornaments. Her visit also meant a lot of new house stuff got done like painting some walls, hanging some pictures, fixing the doorbell. We got pumpkin shakes at Beef-A-Roo and went to Tuba Christmas. We didn’t get to Ex-Voto, an exhibit by ceramicist Scott Leipski, but somehow the ornaments on my Christmas tree kept reminding me that this exhibit was out there, still going, so late this week I went over to the library and down the stairs to the renovated lower level where Ex-Voto is on display.

Ex-Voto by Scott Leipski.

As you can see, it is rows of clay tiles, each tile with a hand stretching out, holding an object: a figurine, an iron, a fish, a whatnot.


Here’s an explanation from a sign on the wall:
An ex-voto is a votive or offering. Each offering in this series is meant to remind viewers of the sweetness of youth …
Colors may run, the sign says, like memories.


I like this idea of offerings. Back home I see a tree full of offerings.

Ye Olde One-eared Christmas Mouse From Sweet Days Gone By.

The Head Of An Old Pez Candy Dispenser From Too Long Ago.

Now killing a tree and dressing it up, waxing poetic about it, all to celebrate life and its offerings, seems slightly ironic, so eminently human. As I was told, my tree grew up just a bit south of here, not far from Lake Michigan (near Gladstone, where, coincidentally, Leipski resides), and no doubt my tree had some pretty good years and now gets to participate in a celebration of sorts, but there is no denying that its future is no greater than that of being thrown on a heap of other dead trees, left to rot; or being fed to a wood chipper, spread around; or maybe being stuck out in the yard festooned with bread crumbs and crackers for gluttonous birds and squirrels to peck at and quarrel over. All in its sweet youth.

An online search of “history of christmas tree” leads to a lot of reading (some select links below), but I find no definitive story of why we have decorated trees in our homes in December. Rather, I find many stories, varied stories, kind of growing and everchanging stories, like the limbs of a tree intertwining, the stories, the traditions, they all start somewhere, with a seed, of course, and growing up my family always had a tree decorated much like the one I have now so now I have a tree decorated like the trees we had then.

My favorite snippet from the online search is from History.com.
But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.

It is not surprising that, like many other festive Christmas customs, the tree was adopted so late in America. To the New England Puritans, Christmas was sacred. The pilgrims’s second governor, William Bradford, wrote that he tried hard to stamp out “pagan mockery” of the observance, penalizing any frivolity. The influential Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.” In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations. That stern solemnity continued until the 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy.
Well thank goodness for immigrants. Just imagine how pinched and sour we all would be with only New England Puritans for ancestors.

My parents rued the day these ornaments that stick out their tongues entered their childrens’ lives. Well, maybe. After all, seems to me they brought them home.

Some sites give sole credit to the Germans for getting the Christmas tree established in America, while others suggest various other ideas, including the influence of an 1848 engraving of Queen Victoria and family gathered around a brightly lit tree (brightly lit with candles, no less) that appeared in a London paper and got picked up by others, spreading like a clever tweet. Apparently by this time Americans were through with rebelling against the Crown; rather, hey, if the Queen is doing it, so must we! Bring on the trees!

What I do not understand is how all Christmas trees, lit with these candles, did not go up in flames and burn houses down. That might have put an end to the frivolity.

So. Anyway. In my Christmas, the tree is back.

Trees should be full of birds, old and new.

My tree drinks a lot of water, and, like life, has a lot to offer.

🎄

whychristmas.com explains trees
christianitytoday.com explains trees
britannica.com explains trees

Sunday, December 9, 2018

bayberry candles, they go with the season

At the farmers market yesterday a fellow vendor mentioned to me a book by Eric Sloane that includes a passage about bayberry candles. I looked up Eric Sloane this morning (I did not know who he was) and found he was an American painter, writer, and quasi historian who lived from 1905 to 1985. The bayberry passage I found is just a couple of paragraphs in “The Seasons of America Past,” first published in 1958.
Bayberry candles were made during late autumn, when the berries were ripest. The bayberries were thrown into a pot of boiling water, and their fat rose to the top and became a superior candle wax. Bayberry candles burned slowly; they didn’t bend or melt during summer heat, and yielded a fine incense, particularly when the candle was snuffed. So prized were bayberry candles that the gathering of berries before autumn in America once brought a fifteen-shilling fine.

The silver-gray bayberries of scented bayberry, known in England as the “tallow shrub,” were for many years sent overseas as Christmas souvenirs from the New World. In the 1700’s, the bayberry was more Christmasy than holly (which represents the thorns and blood of the
crucifixion rather than the birth of Christ). The burning of a bayberry candle at Christmas was as traditional in America as the burning of a yule log in England. “A bayberry candle burned to the socket,” an old verse goes, “brings luck to the house and gold to the pocket.” Children seldom went to bed on Christmas night without the magic charm of a bayberry candle, and the perfume of the snuffed bayberry candle was part of that magic night.
The mention of Christmas and that little ditty about sockets and pockets and gold makes Sloane’s depiction of bayberry candles and their place in our colonial history markedly different from Alice Morse Earle’s, but of course Sloane was writing some 60 years later and I have not had time to check out his sources and do not know if he cites any. He may just be a hopeless romantic remembering some old ad copy from his youth. But a nice illustration accompanies the passage, and it seems there are many illustrations throughout the book, which would probably make a nice Christmas present for somebody on your list.

As the Christmas decor begins to emerge, with bayberry wax candle.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

circle walk

Last Sunday we headed out and it was milder than I expected and I had the camera with me so if you are wondering what kind of walk you can take starting from South Marquette with a little dog in tow (or vice versa), here we go.

Just a few blocks from home, heading for the intersection with the stoplight so we can cross U.S. 41 safely and walk along the lake.

On the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, looking back across the highway.

There’s Lake Superior.

I cropped together three pictures, which maybe wasn’t the best idea, but there’s the old ore dock on the left and the power plant on the right.

Back on the trail, we cross over a creek.

We meet a snowman.

Ahead, we see developments: a hotel and a luxury apartment building. To our left (and what you can’t see) are new townhomes. Jutting out into the lake is the ore dock.

An old mysterious building.

We could have stopped for fresh fish, but it being Sunday, I guess not.

We turned left, hiked up a block, were downtown.

We walked a long block past stores and stuff and turned left, hiked down a skip and a jump, were at The Commons, where the farmers market is.

Jiminy, are we going up again? As we pass the court house.

Via a bridge we cross over the highway to get back to the neighborhood and luckily this bridge does not scare Josie or me. These are the houses the backs of which we saw earlier, from across the highway. At least one of them is a Sears house built a hundred or so years ago. I am guessing this neighborhood is rife with homes from Sears.

We turn right, are on my street, stop to take a picture.

We did not spit on the sidewalk.

And then we were home.

Saturday, yesterday, we took the same walk but in reverse. The only thing of note was the big, long boat alongside the power plant.

When on the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, it seems appropriate to see one of these boats that hauls raw materials such as iron ore or coal across the Great Lakes.

This boat seemed particularly long.

Seen from the mouth of the creek.

Is the whole world tilted or am I?


The circle walk is Blemhuber → Champion → Genesee → Iron Ore Heritage Trail → Washington → Third → Fisher → Champion → Blemhuber. And/or vice versa.