Category Archives: “Simple Gifts”

“Let’s Start at the Very Beginning”… of Seasonal Cards

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I love the first six words of this title, does anyone know why? It refers

to a famous song that has recently been remade by Carrie Underwood… I

will tell you the answer at the end of this post!

When Henry Cole, a London businessman decided to create the first Christmas

card, he is given credit for this undertaking in 1843. He originated this

card idea to his fellow business connections. Then, three years later,

it became a tradition or custom having spread itself around in big circles.

During English postal reform, 1846, this cost only one penny to send a

Christmas card to someone.

The very first card was commissioned by Henry Cole to the designer/artist,

John Calcott Horsley, of the Royal Academy of Arts (Fine Arts). There were

three panels on this first select card, two panels that held two of the

oldest Christmas traditions. These are also British in origin, “Feeding

the Hungry” and “Clothing the Needy.” In the middle of this tri-fold

card were the simple words, “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to You.”

This message is still one of the most popular ones, on Christmas cards, of

all time. The Hallmark Historical Collection of Cards has only two copies

of the “First Christmas Card,” along with over 100,000 printed artifacts

from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

When researching this lovely subject, which gives me special memories of

different styles, I learned that the cards do reflect the current times.

During the Depression years, there were American flags and wishes or

hopes for “better times.” During the War Periods, the words “Across the

Miles” and “Missing You,” became quite popular.

During the more modern “Cold War times” there was an increase of sharpened

wit and a wider demand for more humorous Christmas cards.

Throughout all years, the most popular Christmas card of all time would

be one with angels or the Nativity scene. The Baby Jesus in a Manger is

a sight that means so much to the Christians that are celebrating the

birthday of the Son of God.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s the designs reflected the times again, with

Flower Children, Peace Symbols and the First Manned Moon Landing. The

creative artists worked the Christmas message into the designs. I seem

to remember during this period of time, my parents ordering their

Christmas cards from UNICEF. One particular card’s design had the Peace

dove with its olive branch and the words, “Peace on Earth” on the outside

and the enclosed message being: “Goodwill to Men. Happy New Year.”

In the early 1980’s, a surge for a new sports-oriented society drove the

card designers or artists to depict Santa in a jogging suit with running

shoes on. This was our “fitness craze” beginning! I remember the cards

that my parents received including a relaxed Santa and a reindeer on the

beach in an old-fashioned red longjohn looking bathing suit. Maybe my

memory is playing tricks on that one! Ha Ha! There have been cards with

such product placement as Coca Cola or Budweiser beers, maybe some

other countries had ales or liquor, as in a toast given to celebrate

the upcoming New Year. Of course, there are the popular children’s

cartoon characters and current animated movies that make it on the

annual Christmas cards being sent out.

There have also, throughout the television era, (which it is still

going on, right?) “spoofs” on the T.V. shows and commercials were

worked into the Christmas card department! With new innovations, and

different accessibilities being included, there are certainly Braille

Christmas and other holiday cards to be purchased. I know the man down

the hallway, David, told me he cherishes “hearing” from his blind friends

he made in the Columbus School for the Blind. He also appreciates his

family members who order these special cards. He has an orange cat who

likes to try to sneak into my apartment that I told David he reminds

me of Garfield! I asked him if he had any residual eyesight when he

was younger, he answered he loved Garfield in the Sunday comics

when he was in elementary school. He is “nearly blind” he says but

is able to tap his way around the apartment building using his cane

and has a woman who comes in to help him once a week, doing his

laundry and she (Linda) put up a Christmas tree for him. I peeked

in and told him when he gets a Braille card to please bring it

down, since I had struggled with that course while in the Master’s

program at OSU. (I have an A average but received a “C-” in this

course, due to not being able to go beyond Elementary level in

my typing Braille. That heavy typewriter and taking the tests

in Braille, was almost the “death of me!”

The various holidays celebrated around the world have been shown in our

Christmas cards. My cousin, Heather, married a Jewish man in the 90’s,

so from that point on, we sent both a Christian card and a Jewish one

celebrating Hanukkah. My parents also had friends, the Lezbergs, from

when I was in third grade through their retirement, who received the

general box of holiday card, that was before the Jewish individual

cards were bought for Jerry, Heather’s husband and then, one sent

to Dad’s good NASA friend, Herb, and his family. I am not sure if

there is a timeline for when Kwanzaa cards came into being, I did

not see this in the articles I read. I am sure there is a historical

reference somewhere for this!

I wonder, as some of my friends have recently discussed this subject,

will technology take away the fun and custom of sending Christmas

cards? I know you can send e-cards and email family newsletters.

There are also, “walls” on Facebook, where you can post a general

“Happy Holidays” or “Enjoy the Festivities!”

But, I hope and truly believe there will be some of us that will

still buy the boxes of Christmas cards, sit down and address them,

write a personal message, possibly write a family newsletter,

copy this off to send in numbers or like I do, write each family

a personal note on Christmas decorated stationery. Which I enclose

in each of the cards I send off with Christmas stamps and little

seasonal stickers sealing them closed. Do you know why it is worth

the effort? To me it is so special and I get teary-eyed to see

the letters and cards coming to me. I feel like I am having a

“visit” with them, different from the phone calls and the

hurried notes that sometimes get written on birthday and

Easter cards.

There is something “magical” about Christmas

cards, or is it my age?

What do you think about this age-old tradition? Is it

going “by the wayside?”

I will make one more appeal or declaration Why it should

not be discontinued, this holiday tradition has managed

to “weather the storms” of wars, economic hard times, and

social changes, including more cultural beliefs and

embracing the changes.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you, those six words start the

song, “Do Re Mi” from “The Sound of Music!” I feel that

Carrie Underwood did a sweet, innocent portrayal of a

nun who falls for Captain Von Trapp. She sang every bit

as well as Julie Andrews and I know this is almost

“blasphemous,” but I enjoyed it better than any other

portrayal of Maria. This is also, a true story, which I

read while in elementary school and my Grandmother Mattson,

who came to America from Germany, encouraged me to read.

It is okay if you are on a totally opposite side from my

way of thinking or have a different take on this custom of

exchanging cards… Really, it is!

Let me know!

Hugs to All and no stamp needed!

One Christmas during the Depression

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My Mom was reminiscing about the period of time called the Depression

in the United States. She was remembering with fondness one of her

favorite Christmases. It was not one she received a lot of gifts nor a “big

ticket” item. It was all about how each of her family members worked

very hard to listen to what the others in the family were wishing for

and then, how they tried to make each other’s dreams come true.

My Mom wished for a lovely red velveteen jumper that would be

worn to school and church. She had already a special cream colored

blouse that her mother, my grandmother had stitched lovingly for

her “back to school” outfit. She did not need the black tights nor the

boots to wear with this special outfit that she had seen in a major

department store advertisement.

My Mom heard her younger sister wishing for a special matching

outfit for her doll and she to wear to early elementary school. We

may call it the ‘primary grades’ these days. She wanted to be able to

bring her old doll, all “spruced up” in a green corduroy or (“even

better,” Mom recalls, “a green satin dress with a ruffle attached.”)

My grandmother heard my grandfather wishing to have a nice hearty

meal with a roast of some kind and also, wishing for a cherry flavored

tobacco to put into his pipe.

My grandfather heard my grandmother wishing for a nice tablecloth

and a new apron, that would not be made by herself. She liked to

get dressed for Sunday services and afterwards, head home to wear

a pretty apron over her ‘Sunday best’ clothes.

My aunt heard my Mom’s wish and it was all about hair bows and a nice

mirror and brush set, seen at the Five and Dime Store in Middletown,

Ohio.

When her family awakened on Christmas morning, often the Christmas

tree, while my Mom and her sister were sleeping and young, would be

decorated. This was a tradition that changed when they got older and

what my Mom felt was more responsible and would not break the lovely

glass ornaments nor set the house on fire with the candles that were

placed upon the tree in their holders.

The years they did get to decorate, as older and more careful girls, they

had many glass ornaments, pipe cleaner angels with faces painted on

pink beads and golden or silver pipe cleaner wings and halos. There

were wooden ornaments of snowflakes, sleds and little houses, too.

Mom exclaimed,

“Amy and I were never again to see the candles lit on the tree, once we

became the ‘decorators of the tree.’ Sometime, along the way, my Dad

decided to invest in electrical multi-colored Christmas lights.”

Mom, known as “Rosie,” and her sister, Amelia, known as “Amy” woke

up on one Christmas morning to smell the nice, wafting and intermingling

scents of a braided kuchen with cherry filling and vanilla frosting, the cherry

tobacco smell of their father’s pipe and the smell of strong coffee floating on

the air. I have researched the recipes for kuchen and they often list

peach as the fruit to be found inside this sweet yeast dough coffee cake.

My grandparents grew only a few plants on their property, but there

were several cherry trees to pick and ‘can’ for later use. We often

would have cherry preserve, my brothers and I almost thirty years

after this story is written, on our breakfast toast. We also enjoyed the

treat of fresh out of the oven, German made kuchen.

They ran down their hallway, wearing thick pajamas, robes, socks and

shoes, as they did not have slippers and the floors were not very warm

inside. Amy and Rosie paused to take in the wondrous sight of a fully

decorated and mysteriously “delivered” Christmas tree! It was not until

after they began to doubt in the reality of Santa Claus, that they realized

this was a parental gift to them, as well as the gifts in their stuffed stockings

and few wrapped parcels under the tree.

Mom mentioned while retelling this story to me, that the presents would be

wrapped in fabric scraps from “future items of clothing, so as not to ruin the

surprises inside, tied with ribbons or string. This was also, during this period

of time, another way to save money: very cost effective.”

In the presents, usually in past years of the Depression, there would be

“practical” gifts of sweaters, socks, mittens and other handmade items.

Grandma Mattson could knit, crochet and sew, as many women of these

hard times did, to make things look special. The challenge would be to hide

it in the process of making the items!

Mom said the stockings were stuffed with unshelled nuts, fruits and wax

-wrapped candies and fudge. There would be a pair of socks and a hair

barrette inside, too. She says while recalling the joyous moments, that she

never thought until this moment, while I was asking her for some Christmas

memories, of all the hours her mother must have spent while her sister and

she were at school, making and hiding these ‘treasures.’

All the gifts that were wished for, the wishes were ‘granted’ this year! She

wore her red velveteen dress to school, her sister, Amy, wore her green,

shiny satin dress with the petticoat trimmed in lace underneath it. Mom

remembers her sister twirling and twirling in circles in the excitement of

wearing her brand new (homemade with love) dress. She also, recalls

that the both of them wore these dresses in a photograph, where they

both have black hose on, with big sister Rosie, straddling little sister,

Amy, in front of her. The two of them, wearing the bright dresses now

displayed in the framed black and white photograph on my Mom’s

dresser,  look so completely darling!

The roast for dinner was pork and the after dinner desserts were Spritz

and other sugar cookies served with cocoa and coffee. The lasting effect

of everyone’s wishes coming unexpectedly true was apparent once again,

relived today on my Mom’s glowing face!

Purposeful Life

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There is a recent surge in the use of the words, “Purposeful life.” There

are many talk shows, a few books with the words in the title and some

people even singing about this. I have a special short story about a

young man who led a purposeful, although shortened too soon, life.

A young man, Jonathan Daniels, valedictorian of Virginia Military Institute,

when he spoke these inspiring words in a 1961 (note how long ago this

transpired!) in his commencement speech”

“I wish you new worlds and the vision to see them. I wish you the decency

and the nobility of which you are capable.”

This man, who has a similar contenance to Martin Luther King, Jr. and a

calming spirit in his appearance, gave his life a short four years later after

this amazing speech.

Jonathan Daniels was then a theology student (after graduating with his

bachelor’s degree, pursuing his lifelong dream of being a preacher.) He

stepped in front of a sheriff who aimed a gun at two black girls to prevent

them from entering a convenience store. Apparently, it was a “whites only”

place to shop. The bullet Daniels took was tragically fatal.

If you wish to see his valedictorian address in its entirety, please check it

out online at

http://vmi.edu/archives

I enjoy the words and music to a simple church song that can be sung

outside of church. It begins like this:

“Simple Gifts”

(Shaker song, written in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett)

“‘Tis the gift to be simple,

‘Tis the gift to be free.

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be the valley of love and delight…”

As we go through life, we need to seek the highest level of our abilities and

utilize our given talents. This is the way to serve our higher being, giving back

to our community and the world, if we are able to.

A purposeful life.