Thursday, December 18, 2014

Our Cherished Christmas Tradition: Christmas Pulp Covers, Part Two

A special thanks to a couple of friends who have been posting these on Facebook. You know who you are.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cherished Christmas: Poor, Sad, Old Mr. Christmas Tree

We have a guest blogger tonight, Walker Martin, who regales us with the story of his poor, sad Mr. Christmas Tree.

The accompanying photo is from A CHRISTMAS STORY.


Growing up in the 1950's we always had a live tree, so when I got married in 1970 my wife and I went off into Trenton NJ to buy one. It was the first and last time that we ever made such an attempt. Most people like live trees and many times I've heard friends say they would never buy an artificial tree. Laurie has described her trip to buy a real tree and it sounds like fun.

But my experience was different because of the hassle involved. We had to visit a few places to find a suitable tree and then tying the thing to my VW Beetle was a problem. Frankly I was glad to throw the tree away a few weeks later as the needles were falling off.

The next year we decided to buy an artificial tree. Right away I found the perfect tree and it looked real. It was a little over 6 feet and came in a big box labeled MR CHRISTMAS TREE. It was easy to put together and came in three parts: the stand, the main body of the tree, and the top portion. As you pulled it out of the box the branches sort of fluff out and are easy to arraign.

Back in the 1970's Mr Christmas Tree looked pretty good in our living room. I thought it looked real and we had plenty of decorations to put on it. Our children liked the tree and often made homemade things to hang on the tree.

Each year, I descend into the basement and bring up the Mr Christmas Tree box. At first it was no problem but as the years progressed, I slowly filled the basement up with books and old magazines. Plus I was younger and could handle the box up the stairs. Now when I go to find Mr Christmas Tree, I have problems finding it and I have to move several boxes and piles of books.

Another problem involves the fact that not only am I getting older but the tree and box are also getting older. It's been over 40 years since I bought the tree and I don't even think they make them any longer. A few years ago, a friend was over and saw the tree and burst out laughing. He thought it looked funny, bedraggled and leaning over at a dangerous angle.

But the tree has now become a family tradition. No matter how old or strange looking, I'll keep dragging Mr Christmas Tree up the cellar steps. The big box is beat to hell but still survives. My wife keeps threatening to stop the tradition but so far we have kept decorating it every year at Christmas.

It's funny but the tree now even has a personality, sort of grumpy and banged up like me. My son usually decorates it each year and this year while I was up late at night I thought I'd put a couple decorations on it. The first decoration I put on almost caused Mr Christmas Tree to topple over. I guess I better leave that tradition to my son.

So while the rest of you travel out and go through the hassle of buying a live tree each year, Mr Christmas Tree and I happily coexist. I'm looking at it right now and it doesn't look strange to me. Others may think it looks funny but it looks great as far as I'm concerned. Often I'll read a Christmas story from one of my pulps and look over at him. He looks happy even if he does lean quite a bit.

One other thing about Mr Christmas Tree. He has saved me over a thousand dollars which I have spent on books and pulps. In fact, he may be the best bargain I ever bought!

Merry Christmas!

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Cherished Christmas: Angel Chimes

Angel Chimes are one of my favorite decorations of Christmas. They originated in Germany, but have been popular in the rest of Europe and America for over a hundred years.

I first learned about angel chimes when we lived in Germany in the late 1960s. I think that Christmas in Frankfurt, with it's old town section with candy stores, bakeries, beautiful decorations and cobblestone streets, completely spoiled me. No other Christmas can come close to that one.

All candle chimes are constructed on same simple principle: lighted candles create a warm updraft of air, which moves an impeller carrying small clappers; as the impeller rotates, the clappers ring a set of chimes.

Here is a quick video of one person's very pretty sideboard with angel chimes set up on each end. I picked this video because the pretty sound of the chimes can be heard clearly.

I don't have a set right now. It seems that whenever I think of them at Christmas, it's too late to find them in any store. You can find them online at Plow & Hearth and of course, Amazon.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Our Cherished Christmas Tradition: Christmas Pulp Covers, Part One

What would Christmas be without pulp covers? This is OUR cherished Christmas tradition. This first series of Christmas covers is brought to you by Barry Traylor, who found most of these.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cherished Christmas: Christmas Tree Farms

Believe it or not, this was my first time picking a tree at a Christmas Tree Farm.

This is the Twain Harte Christmas Tree Farm in Twain Harte, California. In 1951, Dale and Ann Moore moved here with their sons, and in the early 1980s began a choose and cut Christmas Tree Farm. They have thousands of repeat customers every year.

As I went on a Tuesday afternoon, relatively late in the season, the place was almost deserted. I was dumbstruck by the beauty of the surroundings.

A friendly young woman directed me down a dirt path to a pasture where Don, one of Dale and Ann's sons and now the proprietor with his wife Peggy, met me with his dog Chloe.

I always had the impression that the trees at a Christmas tree farm were grown in a more uniform way, in straight lines and with little variety. This was nothing like that. Douglas Fir, Scotch Pines, White Firs, Sierra Redwoods, Incense Cedar were all growing together in merry Christmas harmony.

Don advised me that they had stopped selling Douglas Firs for this year, apparently the most popular and the first to sell out. I was only slightly disappointed, because my first choice has always been Noble Firs, even though they are more expensive. (I was surprised to find that their prices aren't much more than prices you'd find at the big box stores. They don't have to include costs of transportation, middle men, etc.) White Firs are very similar to Noble Firs, so Don sent me off on my own to pick one out.

It was serenely quiet as I wandered through the forest, literally, looking for one that fit my criteria. No traffic, no screaming kids, nothing. There was a smell of smoke in the air from people burning leaves in the neighborhood. When I found one, the hard part was making sure I wouldn't "lose" it if I walked away to find Don. A conundrum, to be sure, one that Don says happens a lot. I marked it by piling a few pieces of stray lumber and then went down to flag Don and Chloe down.

When they cut the trees, they leave some room at the stump, allowing for new growth to grow easily. So it was nice to know that when your tree is cut, another one will appear shortly afterwards. As it was, the tree I picked was an offshoot of an original tree. After he cut my tree, I was treated to a ride in the cart with my tree, with Chloe racing in front, back to the gift shop.

Days like this make me wonder why it took so long to do this. Oh wait, that would be because when I lived in Los Angeles, the closest tree farm would probably be 2 to 3 hours away in traffic.

The Twain Harte Christmas Tree Farm is also available for weddings and gatherings. If you're interested in getting a Christmas Tree, be advised that the last day to do so this year is December 14 (this Sunday). Their web site has all the details.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cherished Christmas: Christmas train sets

How many of you had a train set under the Christmas tree?

Christmas train sets seem to have been around since there was electricity to run them.

Barry shared this about his Christmas train:

This is the Lionel train I got for Christmas in 1949. My mother saved it and I got it from her around 1970 when my son Kevin was a little boy. After awhile I stopped putting it up as he got older and it was relegated to our attic. When I married Lynn in 1999 it came with me and was once again stuck in a closet. Last year to my surprise she took it to a local train shop and had it restored. The guy put all new wiring in the locomotive and also the transformer.

So last year I ran it around our Christmas tree. What a time machine that train has been for me.

A wonderful Christmas web site called Family Christmas Online has an extensive history of model trains and how they evolved. Here are just a few excerpts:

Between 1910 and 1960, it became common in some middle-class homes to build elaborate temporary railroads between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Many of these started as an extension of the Christmas tree route, but some took over spare rooms, back porches, and so on. In Roman Catholic homes, these often started with the Nativity set near or under the tree, then other buildings and accessories, were added, usually with no attention to scale or time period.
In the Baltimore/DC area, these seasonal railroads were called "train gardens;" they had buildings, figures, many accessories, and maybe even multiple trains running at the same time. The train garden tradition became so strong that Baltimore/DC-area fire stations would leave their engines outside until after Christmas and set up large community train gardens in their parking bays.

...After a while, it wasn't enough to have a single huge train running around the Christmas tree once a year. Rather, hobbyists might own several trains and have a permanent railroad set up on a custom-built table somewhere year-round. For decades Lionel owned the "lion's share" of such railroads, with American Flyer coming in a distant second. But both brands were still large enough to look good around the tree.

I encourage you to check out Family Christmas Online.

There are plenty of YouTube videos on Christmas trains. Here is one Christmas train that also features one of the most beautiful and elaborate Christmas villages I've ever seen. The owner of the video says this one, shot in 2011, was the ninth year they have built a Christmas train village, and it took 39 days and 433 man-hours to build it. Watching it full screen is the best way to see everything in the village.

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Cherished Christmas: The Ceramic Christmas Tree

We're beginning a series today on cherished Christmas trinkets, decorations, candies, food, or toys. Every few days we'll post information and photos about our favorites. I might even have guests post their stories and photos.

This all started when my sister and I started talking about one that is near and dear to our family: the ceramic Christmas tree.

I remember my mother bringing out a ceramic Christmas tree as early as the 1960s. We lived in Germany in 1967-68, and I have always linked that ceramic Christmas tree to our life in Germany. But it appears that according to what history I can find, they really became more popular in the 1970s. There is no specific company or person that designed the first one that we can find. They just started showing up. Then people wanted to start making them, and they started to become ubiquitous.

Dark Horse Art and Gifts, who specializes in making ceramic Christmas trees, has a short history of them on their website at

Back in the 1960-1970's, Mom or Grandma wanted to create their own gifts, keepsakes, pots, and dinnerware so they went to learn how to paint their own ceramics at a local shop. This lead to holiday decorations and - you guessed it - ceramic trees!

Several different ceramic mold companies in the Midwest started producing their own version of the now classic Ceramic Christmas Tree. The earliest versions of trees had tiny electric bulbs that lit individually. As technology developed in plastics and lighting, the older versions of tiny individual bulbs were replaced by trees that lit from within using only one lightbulb to light and entire tree that is decorated with small, colorful plastic "bulbs."

Vintage trees from this era are painted in a variety of colors, styles and textures. Some are glazed, some finished in acryllic paint, some with snow and many without, but one thing is clear --- people still love those remarkable handmade ceramic Christmas Trees!

Since these trees are made from fired clay, little care is required, making them perfect for holiday decorations and gifts that easily last many, many years.

My sister remembers making them in a ceramic class in the early 1980s.

Besides Dark Horse Art & Gifts, other companies that make ceramic Christmas trees. (I try to support small businesses and not big box stores.)

Texas Hill Country Ceramics and Gifts

The Vermont Country Store

Amish Acres

If you want to make your own, New Hampshire Craftworks has a kit to make your own - you can find it on amazon here:

Hopefully you can find something this late in the year. But you could also look in antique stores across the country (I found two in just one store near me a few weeks ago), and on places like eBay. And when I posted a photo of one on Facebook a few weeks ago, at least 20 people posted that they still have one or their family has one.

My mother's is now her official Christmas tree every year. Pretty hand when you're elderly and don't want to deal with a big Christmas tree and putting up and taking down decorations.

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A Day Which Will Live in Infamy

In remembrance of Pearl Harbor Day, here is President Roosevelt's speech the day after the attack.

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