Of the many Christmas decorations I've collected over the years, my Santas are the ones I love most. It began while Andy and I were on a trip to Germany in December 1985. In a gift shop, we found a smoker--kind of a Father Christmas--dressed in a dark red suit. You can lift his body from the base and put a cone of incense there. Light it, replace the body and fragrant smoke comes out of his mouth. Originally, he had a pipe in his hand, but it got lost during our many moves.
That Santa started a trend. We started to look for others that would complement his hue and demeanor. Consequently, most of the nearly 40 guys in our collection tend to be Father Christmas types. Almost all sport dark rather than bright red coats and only a couple are smiling. My four largest ones sit on the mantel. One has a long quilted coat and the other three look like woodsmen with packs on their backs. Each has a snowy white beard. When I was working for the Nemours Fund for Children's Health in Delaware, I would bring the four Santas in to display (no room in our condo) on top of a beautiful glass-fronted bookcase in the living room of Shands House, the beautiful home where our offices were. They looked right at home there, but when I retired they moved to Texas with me!
There are several I bought in shops at North Carolina's Outer Banks, including one made in Africa, a chubby box with a removable top. Our most recent Santa, a gift from Hannah, has a basket of wine bottles in his hand, a tribute to her Dad's interest in wine. Some of our Santas have fabric clothing, and others are ceramic, wooden or metal. A few hold candles that can be lit at Christmas time. A rather blocky fellow, purchased at the Swedish Shop in Wayne, PA, holds a lantern in one hand and a small Christmas tree in the other.
When my mom passed away, I inherited four large Santa figures people had given her, as well as a tall painting of a dour Father Christmas that fits nicely in one of our niches. There are a few I purchased from Paoli Memorial Hospital (where I once worked) gift shop and two that my daughter Alison found at a garage sale. She and I were looking around at the Christmas Shop in Paoli (now closed, unfortunately) and found a grumpy Santa we couldn't resist. I have another guy purchased in the Amish/Mennonite country in Indiana and even a small one I bought at Cracker Barrel! The three tiniest ones, including one that opens up, were gifts from Secret Santa exchanges.
When my grandson Noah, now 6, was just starting to talk, he endearingly called the Santas "ho-hos." He still loves to tour all the decorations, pointing things out and winding up the music box (which plays I'll Be Home for Christmas) inside the "traveling Santa" who is loaded down with a pack of gifts and a rolling suitcase. One year, he was at our house after the Christmas decorations had been packed away. With a concerned look on his little face, he asked, "Ho-hos die?" I assured him they were napping in the garage until next year and opened a box to show him. My husband still refers to them as "ho-hos."
In this year, when we have badly needed some Christmas cheer, I've enjoyed my Santa collection more than ever. Merry Christmas and a healthier New Year to everyone who reads this post.
Christmas in a Minor Key
I love everything about the holidays. I adore family traditions like building a new gingerbread house, making and decorating gingerbread ornaments to give away, buying Advent calendars and having a cookie decorating party at Hannah's for the kids which ended with the plastic tablecloth covered in frosting, sugars and sprinkles. My grandson Noah, age 6, is beyond excited by it all.
When driving, I listen to either the all-day Christmas station, which mostly plays pop standards like Jingle Bells and All I Want for Christmas is You, or the classical station, whose play list includes beautiful orchestral arrangements and more traditional music. I've always loved the ancient carols, including Once in Royal David's City, The Coventry Carol, The Holly and the Ivy and I Wonder as I Wander. Then there are the spirituals such as Mary Did You Know, Rise Up Shepherd and Follow, and Go Tell it On the Mountain. My favorite carols are the ones in a minor key. They seem especially appropriate this Christmas with the physical and economic suffering, as well as the loss of life that has been with us since spring.
Yesterday, we watched one of my favorite Christmas movies: The Family Stone. The five children of a college professor and his wife gather for Christmas, with the eldest son bringing his uptight girlfriend to meet everyone. While there are many hilarious and awkward moments, there's also an undercurrent of sadness. The mother of these young adults, played by Diane Keaton, has had breast cancer and she is once again sick, although not everyone knows. She stares disconsolately at a Christmas ornament and later marvels at the snow coming down, knowing that time is running out. When the family gathers the next Christmas, she is not there. There are two new grandchildren she will never know.
I thought of all the thousands of families whose loved ones will not be with them this Christmas because of COVID-19, and the cruel reality that many will not even be able to gather and console each other. We are so fortunate that most of our family lives nearby (except Pete, who lives in Richmond, VA). We feel comfortable in our little "pod" and are extra careful about exposure to others., so we've all stayed healthy so far.
My fervent Christmas wish is that the vaccine we will receive in the next few months will be effective and bring the pandemic to a halt or at least under control, that our economy will begin to recover and that next Christmas will be a happier one for our country.
I'm Chris Barabasz, retired from a 35-year career managing communications for health care development (that's fundraising for you civilians). I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance writer. My husband Andy and I moved from Delaware to Texas to be closer to our daughters and three adorable grandchildren.