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#1493568 --- 12/23/16 10:02 AM "Musings on Christmas"
Teonan Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 05/30/12
Posts: 4970
Loc: Malmö

Musings on Christmas past, present and future

Carol Kammen, Correspondent
Ithaca Journal

December 22, 2016

The historic figure known as St. Nicholas lived in the 4th century. Born to a wealthy family in Asia Minor, he was orphaned, left the family fortune, and raised by an uncle who was a bishop.

Over the years, St. Nicholas acquired a number of roles and attributes: He was the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers and students. And he is beloved in a number of religious traditions.

So bifurcated is St. Nicholas that his bones can be found in two separate places.

He has also changed overtime. Once an aesthetic monk, he had grown in Saint Nicholas, the roly-poly man with a pack on his back expecting cookies each time he comes down a chimney. He keeps the post office to which children send their Christmas wishes.

Those wishes have changed over time. In the 19th century, Christmas often meant going to church and receiving an orange — much prized and infrequently enjoyed in those days.

For some, recalled E.R. Eastman, who grew up over in Berkshire, a turkey, games — tiddly-winks and dominoes dominated — and the holiday was enhanced by visiting and with songs. The family gathered around the piano and sang songs that “would really stir your blood.” It was an era when people made their own music.

Carrie Manning, the young teen who kept a diary, noted that she went to school on Dec. 24, where the class read compositions and spoke pieces, meaning that they recited memorized poems.

Lois O’Connor, writer and Tompkins County historian, beloved by all who remember her, thought of Christmas as a community affair rather than a family party.

In our own times, Christmas is often heralded in by a fierce competition for the right presents, beginning after Thanksgiving and lasting throughout December.

Toys have changed: From dolls and blocks, children today hope to receive Lego and electronics of all sorts. There has been a move from the handmade to the mass-produced, with the items desired the same everywhere. Plastics are involved today, rather than wood.

As we age, our own desires for Christmas switch from wanting things for ourselves to hoping that we can please others with carefully thought-out gifts and with wishes — and even actions in the form of checks — for the community.

The Food Bank of the Southern Tier (388 Upper Oakwood Ave., Elmira, NY 14903) is always in need. I support Loaves & Fishes, which feeds people daily — 210 N. Cayuga St., Ithaca, NY 14850.

Planned Parenthood (620 W. Seneca St. Ithaca NY 14850) provides medical services for women and girls, and the Family & Children Services (127 W. State St., Ithaca), the Ithaca Health Alliance (521 W. Seneca St., Ithaca), Hospicare (172 W. King St., Ithaca, all 14850) and other providers of care are deserving of our contributions.

Our cultural organizations also deserve our aid as they add so much to the rich life in this community. Everyone has favorites, but it is important that we appreciate the wide range of museums, performing groups and galleries we have to fill our lives with joy.

Political action is always important and one of the responsibilities of citizenship. We need vigilance concerning actions of government. We should run for office or help others do so. We are a wonderful country with diverse views to which we all can contribute, knowing that it is our duty and privilege to do so.

My Christmas and holiday wish is that everyone is healthy, has work that brings a sense of accomplishment, and has family and friends with which to celebrate and who bring consolation in time of sadness. Do smile at someone you do not know, contribute to a cause you believe in, take a child by the hand, sing a bit, walk in the woods, wave to a neighbor, and rejoice that we are together.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Carol Kammen is the Tompkins County historian and the author of several books on local history.
"Everything that has ever happened to us is there to make us stronger."
-John Trudell

#1493604 --- 12/25/16 07:17 AM Re: "Musings on Christmas" [Re: Teonan]
Teonan Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 05/30/12
Posts: 4970
Loc: Malmö

Christmas is coming

By Arne Vainio, M.D.
News From Indian Country

24 Dec. 2016

“I always miss her, but Christmas is the worst.”

“She was working in a café when I first saw her. She had dark hair and she was quick to laugh and I just stopped in for the special. They had something different every day and the hamburger steak they had was so tough I could hardly cut it. They could have served me cardboard and I would have been fine as long as she brought it to me.”

He stopped in often that summer and he was too shy to ask her to go out with him until he found out her family was leaving to go back to Nebraska at the end of the summer. Her mother was nice enough to him, but her dad didn’t like him because he was a lumberjack. “But so was everyone else around here.”

She left at the end of the summer and they wrote letters back and forth and “I lasted about a month and I drove my old 1964 Pontiac out there and we ran off and got married.”

No one thought it would last, but they were married for 38 years before she was diagnosed with breast cancer and she died within a year of her diagnosis. “We wanted to have kids, but she never got pregnant. Back then there wasn’t much of anything anybody did about it and we just lived our lives.”

They traveled in an old motorhome and one summer they went to Alaska and another time to the Grand Canyon. They finally built a cabin overlooking a small lake. “We celebrated every season from the ice going out to the leaves turning and the lake freezing over. She loved the first snow and she loved putting up the Christmas tree and every year she left it up until sometime in February.”

She always wanted to be at the lake after her cancer treatments and there came a day she didn’t make it home from the hospital.

“My world ended that day. That was fifteen years ago and all that’s left of her are my memories and some old pictures. It was always just the two of us and I never realized I didn’t have any friends until after she was gone. All the kids in the neighborhood only know me as the crabby old man who doesn’t want them in my yard. How and when did that happen?”

That was at a conference I was speaking at almost a decade ago. To be honest, time went on and I forgot about him.

Last winter I was back in that area and I stopped in at a small restaurant on my way home. I was sitting in a corner booth so I could watch the sunset over the lake. I watched an old man and a ten-year old boy sitting together and they were laughing and had their heads together and were clearly sharing a secret.

The boy had Down syndrome and he was constantly laughing and smiling. I mostly noticed him and didn’t pay as much attention to the man with him. They got up and paid at the counter and instead of going out the door, they came over to my table and the old man said, “Dr. Vainio, do you remember me? I’d like you to meet Nathan. I met him and his grandmother at the library a couple of years ago. I was reading the newspaper and I hadn’t shaved in a couple of weeks because I just didn’t care to. I had a big white beard and my gold framed glasses and he came and sat next to me and didn’t say anything for the longest time, he just kept looking at me with his eyes wide open. I finally asked him, “What do you want?”

“Do you know what he said?”

“No. What did he say?”

He said. “I’m glad you asked, Santa. I’d like to have a family again.”

“I didn’t know what to say to him and that’s when his grandmother showed up.” She said, “He never talks to people he doesn’t know and I’m sorry if he bothered you. I was checking out our books and he just wandered off.”

“Dr. Vainio, this boy melted my heart. I never thought of anyone but Grace and I didn’t think I’d ever find anyone again and I wasn’t looking. I started coming to the library the way I used to go to the café when I was eighteen years old and I just wanted to talk to them a little bit and I wanted to see him smile. It wasn’t long before they invited me over and his grandmother and I got married last summer. Nathan stood with us at the altar and we’ve been a family ever since. I really was the crabby old man in the neighborhood and I didn’t want those kids in my yard. I used to sit and stew about things and curse the day Grace died and I never wanted to see another Christmas tree as long as I lived. I didn’t want to see kids playing in my yard because I didn’t want to see anyone happy. Nathan is a blessing I never saw coming and it isn’t possible to have a bad day when he’s in my life. He just won’t allow it. Do you believe in second chances, Dr. Vainio?”

“I do.” I whispered.

Nathan looked at him and pulled on his sleeve. “Papa, can we go to the library on the way home?”

“I guess we can, son. I guess we can.”

He looked at me and he put his gold rimmed glasses on and he stroked his white whiskers that were just starting. He smiled and winked at me and said:

“I quit shaving a couple of days ago, Dr. Vainio.
Christmas is coming.”

Arne Vainio, M.D is an enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and is a family practice physician on the Fond du Lac reservation in Cloquet, Minnesota. He can be contacted at
"Everything that has ever happened to us is there to make us stronger."
-John Trudell