On Thursday, April 8, Vivian Lawry will be leading a discussion of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows). Time: 7:30 p.m. Place:Tuckahoe Branch of the Henrico Public Library. The event is free and open to the public.
Yes, it’s August 10th, and some events are in the rearview mirror.
Like the anniversary of the Emancipation of 500. On August 1, 1791, Virginia planter Robert Carter III shocked his family and friends by filing a deed of emancipation for his 500 slaves. Not all at once, but the document established a schedule such that 15 slaves would be freed each January 1 over a 21-year period. Children would be freed when they reached adulthood: age 18 for women and 21 for men.
In addition, Carter made legal provisions to care for freed slaves who were elderly or infirm. Before being emancipated, people were taught trades and set up with bank accounts and legal identity papers. The lands that had made up his multiple plantations were rented or sold cheaply to freedmen.
He wrote, “I have for some time past been convinced that to retain them in Slavery is contrary to the true principles of Religion and Justice and therefore it is my duty to manumit them.”
Robert Carter’s “Deed of Gift” is believed to be the largest act of emancipation in US history, and it predates Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation by 70 years.
But some things are celebrated all month long, so there is plenty of time to observe the various “holidays” at your own convenience.
Outdoor adventures are a great way to maintain social distance while we wait for Covid to die out completely. I might add, doing so would raise awareness that the United States is not equivalent to America.
Six months after Black History Month, the point of Black Business Month is to boost awareness of black owned and operated businesses. The month is dedicated to starting, maintaining, and buying from black owned businesses. Maggie Walker (founder of the Penny Bank, among other things) and Oprah Winfrey didn’t start at the top!
This is a relatively new one, dating only to 2010. Many organizations, including the AARP and Senior Living Magazine, arrange events to encourage those in the Boomer generation to volunteer in their communities. Some also celebrate baby boomers who have made special efforts to help others in need improve their lives.
Bystander Awareness Month
The Bystander Effect is a social psychological phenomenon: the more people who witness a person in need, the less likely that person is to get help. Everyone assumes someone else will step in. The purpose of this month’s awareness is to encourage people to be active bystanders and step up when witnessing injustice, sexual assault, domestic violence, etc. Even traffic accidents and house fires cause this effect. It’s far better to have too many people call 911 than to have no one call.
Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month
The American Academy of Ophthalmology encourages parents, doctors, teachers, and anyone working with children to look for signs of poor eyesight or eye health in August. In addition to near-sightedness or far-sightedness, children’s vision development is commonly affected by lazy eye, crossed eyes, color blindness, drooping eyelids, and astigmatism.
This is closely related to Children’s Vision and Learning Month, established in 1995. Because 80% of learning is dependent on vision, parents and educators need to be alert. Just before starting a new school year is the perfect time to schedule an eye exam. Estimates are that 25% of children have an undiagnosed vision problem.
Support the happy transition to Kindergarten. Nearly 2 million children in the US enter kindergarten each year, changing not only their lives but the lives of their parents siblings, and teachers.
This year will be especially challenging for families and teachers making the change back from online school while trying to avoid new Covid outbreaks.
August is a good time to get kids adjusted to a new sleeping and eating schedule, ensure new students are up to date on all their doctor visits and vaccines, and buy a giant pair of sunglasses to hide your tears when your little one skips off to the classroom.
The Secret Society of Happy People breaks their solemn vow of secrecy every year to sponsor this event. The goal is to encourage people to express their happiness and discourage raining on anyone’s parade.
Many people do not realize how their actions affect others. They live their lives selfishly, not realizing the impact of their life choices on present and possibly future generations. So, the point of this month-long celebration is to have people reflect on ways to make make positive changes that will affect generations. Start by planting positive seeds in the children in our lives.
NIAM is part of an outreach program by the CDC, the WHO, local hospitals and health organizations. It’s a chance for researchers and health providers to focus on the critical role immunizations play in preventing life-threatening diseases among people of all ages and cultures. Each year in the US, tens of thousands of people die because of vaccine-preventable diseases or their complications—and that doesn’t include those who suffer pain or disability.
Join The Belly Laugh Bounce Around the World: on January 24 at 1:24 p.m. local time, smile, throw your arms in the air and laugh out loud.
Suggestions for acts and activities can be found at bellylaughday.com. Why bother? Because laughter is good for your physical and mental health!
According to the Mayo Clinic: When it comes to relieving stress, more giggles and guffaws are just what the doctor ordered. Here’s why.
[NB: I’ve changed some formatting and left out some bits, but you can fill those in by going to the Mayo Clinic website.]
A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body.
Stimulate many organs.
Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
Activate and relieve your stress response.
A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
Laughter isn’t just a quick pick-me-up, though. It’s also good for you over the long term.
Improve your immune system.
Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity.
By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
Increase personal satisfaction.
Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations.
It helps you connect with other people.
Improve your mood.
Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier.
How’s Your Sense of Humor?
Ask the professionals.
Find a few things that make you chuckle, such as photos, greeting cards or comic strips, and hang them up at home or in your office.
Keep funny movies, books, magazines or comedy videos on hand for when you need an added humor boost.
Look online at joke websites.
Go to a comedy club.
Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress begin to fade away.
Even if it feels forced at first, practice laughing. It does your body good.
Consider trying laughter yoga: people practice laughter as a group. Laughter is forced at first, but soon turns spontaneous.
Share a laugh.
Make it a habit to spend time with friends who make you laugh.
And then return the favor by sharing funny stories or jokes with those around you.
Browse through your local bookstore or library’s selection of joke books and add a few jokes to your list that you can share with friends.
Retelling jokes or anecdotes that are stale or dated could be a good indicator of a character’s age or social awkwardness.
Know what isn’t funny.
Don’t laugh at the expense of others.
Some forms of humor aren’t appropriate.
Use your best judgment to discern a good joke from a bad or hurtful one.
A hurtful sense of humor might indicate a character’s villainous nature before any deliberately villainous acts.
Go ahead and give it a try. Turn the corners of your mouth up into a smile and then give a laugh, even if it feels a little forced. Once you’ve had your chuckle, take stock of how you’re feeling. Are your muscles a little less tense? Do you feel more relaxed or buoyant? That’s the natural wonder of laughing at work.
A week ago, I wrote about all the packages that hadn’t arrived before Christmas. Well, as 2021 began, the backlog continued. Again, drawing from my circle of family and friends, the waiting continued.
LJ: I’m SO frustrated. We mailed a box of gifts to Virginia on December 7. It sat in Cuyahoga Falls [Ohio] PO till December 15 before it arrived 7 miles away in Akron regional distribution center, arriving on December 17. It has been sitting there since, no movement shown in the tracking system! I know all the problems they have been having this year, but what is going on now? It only needs to get to Fredericksburg now. Just a little farther…
NP: We’ve had the same problem here. A package G was expecting sat 10(!) miles from our house for more than a week.
KC: My box is still in Akron. No movement. The cookies are stale.
TB: Me too, L! I hope EL finally got hers.
DA: BTW—we were not nearly as happy with UPS & FedEx. Several packages were randomly tossed “somewhere” in the vicinity of the house. One package (of nice chocolates) sat for a day and a half out in the rain before the meter man saw it & alerted us.
LJ: MJ had a photo of a package he sent to his sister in Buffalo. The Amazon guy left it in the snow. M got the delivery photo notice and he sent it to his sister. If they can’t get up to the house because of heavy snow, delivery people should have some way of notifying the recipient. At least Amazon’s photos help with that.
TB: Our son’s pkg took almost 3 weeks from Oregon [to Ohio].
LJ: Weird, since the packages I sent to Florida and Memphis arrived at their destinations in time for Christmas with time to spare. Only my East and West destinations were screwed up. Arizona made it yesterday and Virginia is the one still traveling. That was the shortest journey by road mileage.
LJ: Mine is still at Dulles in Virginia; this is the 31st day. It needs to get to Fredericksburg. I’m happy you got yours before the New Year, however.
KC: I received a message on Dec 20 that my package was to be delivered Dec 3! It arrived on the 22nd!
MH: I think Ohio is the problem! D had an order for pants from LLBean and there were in the center near Columbus for a month! It wasn’t a Christmas present so it didn’t matter. We didn’t realize so many people were having this problem. In Ohio’s defense, I’m sure the diversion of trucks for vaccine delivery and the major storms were a factor.
LJ: There is something wrong with the Ohio to Virginia connection.
SB: Yup, still waiting for mine. Jan 6th now.
DM: My friend ordered a Christmas present for her husband on 12/2 and by 1/4 it still hadn’t arrived!
DA: We must be the only people alive who had no (zero, null, nada) problems with package delivery. Our mailings to California, New Jersey, and Boston were delivered exactly when the tracking said they’d be. On the other hand, “normal” mail is quite another thing: no regular magazine deliveries (New Yorker, etc.), one priority mail that was sent from Hiram to our Hiram PO Box (for $3.80) took seven days. (Simply bizarre.) Not a single package or card from Europe has arrived yet—but Australian mail has exceeded all expectations. Tell me it’s not a plan to destroy the USPS so that it can be privatized….
[You may recall that in my blog about the Great Delivery Debacle posted 12/29, I offered three possible explanations—other than sheer overload—but an effort to privatize wasn’t one of them!]
Since January 1, a dam seems to have broken—but still no rhyme or reason I can find!
January 2-4, I received 11 packages, everything from nutritional supplements to a present I’d ordered to give as a present. Saturday and yesterday packages were delivered morning and afternoon.
Because you must be waiting with bated breath to know about the package from my sister, I won’t keep you in suspense: box of presents she mailed in Lancaster, OH, 12/11, arrived Saturday, 1/2! I was sorry to see that she had paid $20.40 for priority shipping!
Similarly, a standard 8.5X11-inch family calendar mailed from Massachusetts, $9.90 for two-day delivery, arrived after 5 days.
The other packages, mailed from all over the country between December 18 and 28, all arrived together. I noticed that two from Florida on the same day, one priority and one first class arrived together.
Surprise, shock, and awe! An item scheduled for delivery on January 6 arrived January 4!
There is a method to all of this madness… sort of. Several factors combined this year to delay mail and package delivery schedules in every company. The various delivery services—US Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, Amazon, and others—often work together to carry goods to their destinations.
In particular, the Post Office is often responsible for delivering mail to individual residences in less populated areas, regardless of which company began the shipping. This means that a delay in any of the delivery services almost always ripples out.
Holiday delivery surges happen every year, but this year was extra special! You may remember some disruptions in US mail services from this past year, highlighted again at election time. Many of those disruptions are still in place.
Sorting equipment that was removed and destroyed has not been replaced. Delivery trucks have not been serviced and so have broken down. Employees are still exposed to COVID, and many are sick or have passed away.
Kim Frum, a senior public relations representative for USPS, released a statement that read, in part, “While every year the Postal Service carefully plans for peak holiday season, a historic record of holiday volume compounded by a temporary employee shortage due to the COVID-19 surge, and capacity challenges with airlifts and trucking for moving this historic volume of mail are leading to temporary delays.”
Employees at Amazon, FedEx, DHL, Hermes, and UPS also interact regularly with the public and thus are exposed to increased risk of COVID. International service has been disrupted because of travel restrictions. Everyone is dealing with increased volumes because people are ordering things online to comply with quarantine orders.
The madness comes from playing Russian roulette with your packages. Will your box be the one in the back corner of the truck? Will your letter be the one that won’t fit in the bag and has to be left for the next round? Will your parcel be the one that hasn’t been sorted by the end of the shift and must stay in the warehouse until tomorrow? Most chancy of all: whose mail will that shifty new guy take to the TV studio with him?
Bottom line: I’m waiting to see what the new mailing normal will be.
January is named for the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and endings. He’s depicted with two faces, looking in opposite directions. In any event, this is the customary time of year for people to take stock of what was and what’s to come.
In the most basic terms, we do know some things about 2021 for an absolute certainty. 2021—MMXXI if you’re particularly old-fashioned— will be a common year (not a Leap Year) starting on Friday of the Gregorian calendar. This is the 2021st year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 21st year of the 3rd millennium, the 21st year of the 21st century, and the 2nd year of the 2020s decade.
2021 Chinese Zodiac Predictions
In the Chinese Zodiac, 2021 will be a year of the Metal Ox beginning on February 12th (2020 was a Metal Rat). According to custom, the Ox is very hardworking and methodical. In the year of the Metal Ox, we should all focus on relationships of all kind (so let’s hope we don’t have to keep social distancing too much longer).
The Ox is also associated with hard work and responsibility, so expect lots of that in 2021 as well. The repercussions of previously made decisions will hit this year (oh boy!), but at least all our hard work will be rewarded.
2021 Angel Number Predictions
Angel Numbers are a branch of numerology based on the idea that groups of reappearing numbers or sequences of numbers are coded messages from angelic protectors.
The Angel Number 2021 symbolizes faith, whether it be in your guardian angels, your relationships, or your own intuition. Don’t doubt that your angels have good plans for you and that allowing change will bring progress. Seeing Angel Number 2021 indicates that you need to control your thoughts more, as they can affect your reality.
As per the Numerology Horoscope 2021, this year will be good for you financially. You will have a balanced and flourishing family life. Though you may face some stressful situations in the middle of the year, you will gradually overcome those challenges with your understanding and wisdom.
What about 2020?
In general Numerology, 2020 is like 1616, 1717, 1818, and 1919, because the first two digits match the second two digits. Being alive in 2020 is special because it is the only year you are likely to live through wherein the first two digits will match the second two digits—unless you believe in cryogenics or reincarnation.
The energy represented by the number 2020 has a resonance of focus and relationships. It also resonates with conscientiousness, pragmatism, and teamwork.
Apparently, the Angel Number 2020 was telling us all to be prepared for what is coming our way. Guardian angels were telling us that extreme changes were about to enter our lives. Had we paid attention, perhaps we would have been more prepared, both mentally and physically.
“The year 2020 ushers in the Universal Year 4 – a number representing stability, organisation, industriousness, convention, and a mini-wealth cycle,” said Gracy Yap, a Singaporean numerologist and author of Secrets Of Golden Numbers. Jan 3, 2020
It seems everyone said 2020 would be a year of healing and big changes. Well, that was half right.
Interestingly, no one foretold the COVID-19 pandemic or the upheaval surrounding our presidential (and other) elections. Massive wildfires in Australia and California, murder hornets, flesh-eating bacteria in Mississippi, swarms of locusts in Africa, and wide-spread civil unrest in Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, America, Hong Kong, and Sudan… none of these were mentioned in all those 2020 predictions.
Bottom line: We have every reason to believe that 2021 will be a good year, new president in place and COVID vaccinations injected. But don’t count on it!
UPS and FedEx are much involved in delivering COVID vaccines, and their reported delays are at least partly due to that. On the other hand, USPS delays are attributed to sheer volume. How bad is it? Reportedly, more than 93% of USPS package arrived on time. If so, why am I so special?
Here’s a look at the sorts of delays that happened this year—and are ongoing—within my own circle.
I ordered a gift for a friend on 12/02/20. It has not yet been delivered.
On 12/16/20, I mailed 4 packages, to OH, MA, CO, and CT.
12/19/20 The package arrived in Arvada, CO.
12/24/20 Packages arrived in East Longmeadow, MA, and Winstead, CT.
12/28/20 The package arrived in Lancaster, OH.
12/11/20 A package was mailed to me from Lancaster, OH, and as of this writing, it still hasn’t arrived.
12/17/20 Est. delivery 12/22/20, in transit, currently in MD
12/18/20 Est. delivery 12/23/20, in transit
12/20/20 Est. delivery 12/26/20, still in transit
12/21/20 Out for delivery in Henrico
12/28/20 Again out for delivery in Henrico—but not delivered.
Hiram, OH, is a town so small that there is no home delivery of mail. A former colleague there reported mailing packages to CA and two other distant states, all of which arrived on time.
On the other hand, a local friend of his (in Hiram, OH) mailed a Christmas card to him at the same post office, which showed up in his mailbox six days later.
A family member in East Longmeadow, MA, shipped two packages at the local USPS on 12/19/20, one to PA and one to VT.
Both packages left the local USPS at 2:30 that afternoon.
The PA package arrived at its destination on 12/22/20.
The VT package arrived in Atlanta at 5:17 on the 12/20/20.
On the 21st it arrived at the “local” USPS facility in Stockbridge, GA, and was out for delivery.
On 12/22/20 it went from Stockbridge to southern CT, arriving on 12/23/20.
That night it went to Nashua, NH, where it remains.
These events are, indirectly, caused by COVID: people are out less, traveling less, shopping online, and mailing rather than delivering presents. Thus, the presumed disruption is sheer overload of the system.
As essential workers, employees involved in packing, sorting, driving, and delivering all these orders are more exposed to infection. Every sick employee puts extra strain on all the others, who have to scramble to fill the supply chain.
But what if there’s more to it than that?
All of the above are true, but my writer’s brain can’t help spinning far more fantastic scenarios. Three possibilities come immediately to mind.
A Shadowy International Organization Did It
Foreign agents from several countries have demonstrated that they have the ability to hack into and interfere with U.S. systems. Perhaps it was the Illuminati. Maybe it’s a rogue branch of the CIA or the NSA.
In this case, possibly they created a bug in the electronic sorting systems to misdirect randomly targeted packages in a way that never shows up but creates massive unpredictability.
It could even be the manufacturer of what was ordered, secretly diverting every product bound for the East Coast and implanting surveillance equipment as part of their plan to take over the entire supply of saltwater taffy.
The Postal Workers Did It
Postal workers have felt overworked and under-appreciated. The new Postmaster General is a political appointee who doesn’t know or care how the United States Post Office works. Hours have been cut, essential equipment has been removed and destroyed, some customers are told to be treated better than others, and warehouses are filling with ever-growing piles of late deliveries.
Because December is always the busiest month at the Post Office, employees are burdened by irate customers. They retaliate at both the local and national level. At the local level, the packages of rude customers are shifted to a “delay” bin. When a customer comes in with an inordinate number of packages, half of them also go to the delay bin. When the packages in the “delay” bin go out, they are stamped with a secret symbol telling other works along the line to delay this package. Members of the Postal Workers’ Union have passed the word on the dark web.
The Fickle Finger of Fate is Responsible
A great, cosmic karma targeted people who haven’t suffered enough during COVID—who haven’t suffered food deprivation, loss of housing, loss of employment, depression, substance abuse, or actually suffering COVID hospitalization. These people have their packages delayed and lost as the first part of Cosmic Balance Restoration. Unfortunately, sometimes people outside the target group are affected.
Bottom line: Consider your delivery debacles (or any other disruption in your usual expectations) and what might be the real cause!
Part of the downside of Christmas is this myth that everything and everyone is merry and bright, and if you aren’t, you must be a Scrooge. Or a Grinch. Or Burgemeister Meister Burgher. Indeed, much of what follows also applies to Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ōmisoka, and other holidays too numerous to mention. Almost everyone (every character?) suffers one or more of these downsides of typical celebrations.
Going into a store in October and see “decorations” for Halloween, Thanksgiving, AND Christmas
Christmas music that begins to be played everywhere before Thanksgiving
Christmas music gets old fast, particularly for people working in retail
Commercials touting the “perfect” gift
The pervasiveness of sappy Christmas movies (and over-exposure to the good ones, such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street”)
Package wrapping and/or mailing
Attending celebratory events, especially navigating office/work place parties
Divorce lawyers have their busiest month in January
Feeling pressed to give a gift of equivalent value, even when the “gift lists” for giver and recipient aren’t the same
Dealing with a year when one’s gift-giving must be cut/downsized in number and/or expense and it will be obvious
Higher electric bill for huge outdoor displays
Travel, tickets, decorations, food, etc., can drain bank accounts and max out credit cards even without buying gifts
Emergency room visits are up 5-12% around Christmas
Slips and falls on icy walkways or while putting up decorations
Sharp object injuries from unfamiliar cooking utensils, new toys, assembling gifts
Falls from a height
Abdominal discomfort from overeating
Psychiatric disorders exacerbated by stress and crowds
Incorrectly prepared food
Overconsumption of alcohol
Disruption of healthy patterns
Abandoning diets or eating irregularly
Loss of sleep
Failure to follow doctor’s instructions for treatment and/or medication
A typical Christmas meal is likely to be two-to-three times the recommended daily calorie count
Indulging in meals, cakes, pies, chocolates, or whatever sweets
Cookies, biscuits, candy, homemade treats brought in to the workplace or shared by shops for the entire season
Stress levels are almost certain to be higher than usual
Stress contributes to heart disease, stroke, and cancer
Stress leading to immune system breakdowns, leading to colds, for example
Mingling with more people exposes them to more infections, especially flu and flu-like symptoms
Falls, cuts, and burns result in tens of thousand of visits to the ER
Alcohol consumption resulting in alcohol poisoning, broken bones from skips and fall, car and home accidents, etc.
Domestic violence is up about one-third compared to an average day
An ambulance driver explained it to me this way:
“It’s like everyone’s on a hurt-yourself schedule, same every year. Early morning starts with the drunk drivers going home from parties, sometimes the homeless with hypothermia, depends on the weather. Then the kids get up way too early and open their presents and start hitting each other with them or falling off anything with wheels and breaking any bone you can think of.
“After that, you get a mix of cooking accidents and alcohol poisonings through the afternoon. Eventually, people hit their limit with family, have too much to drink, and start beating on each other. That’s also about the time ‘lonely hearts’ start calling us, asking to go to the hospital just because they have no place else to go and they don’t want to be alone.
“People eat too much at dinner and get the ‘too-much-macaroni sweats.’ They get heartburn and think they’re having a heart attack. We get more alcohol calls, either people fighting or passing out.
“And then everyone heads home, driving drunk. Better hope your tree doesn’t catch on fire. Happy Holidays.”
There is a MYTH that suicides peak around Christmas – they actually peak in spring
That said, it is breakup season
The peak breakup time is the two weeks before Christmas
Overall, holiday depression is a real thing
Expectations of perfection
Singles watching couples get all mushy
Loneliness is highlighted, especially for older people who live alone and have no one available with whom to celebrate
People 65 and older are twice as likely to spend Christmas alone, compared to younger people
The loss of a family member—previous or recent—is especially painful
Being/fearing being left out of desirable events
Mistletoe invites unwanted advances
People with birthdays anywhere near Christmas often find the events conflated
Dealing with someone who has problems, like alcoholism or domestic violence
Wishing to skip Christmas because of other events in one’s life
Accessing helpful services that normally help one cope can be more difficult
Finding other religious festivals or holidays fade in comparison to Christmas
Overall, people are more likely to experience anxiety, sleep disturbances, headaches, loss of appetite, and poor concentration
Call rates to help hotlines spike on Christmas Eve
Massive amounts of trash going to landfills
Single-use wrapping paper
Imported foods enlarging your carbon footprint
Traveling burning fossil fuels
Turning up the heat
Electric lights inside and outside
Taking down/storing items for next year
Missing the buzz and activity
Realizing that nothing can be done about many things now regretted
Bottom line: These are all for typical Christmases. Consider which might be eased and which might be exacerbated in the year of COVID?
There are those, for example David C. Pack writing in The Real Truth magazine, who denounce the pagan origins of Christmas trees and other greenery. Pack cites Jeremiah 10:2-5 to support his assertion that we should have nothing to do with Christmas trees.
I am not among those. The reality of the world is that things morph and change—the meaning of words, clearly, but other symbols as well. So let’s take a look at the consensus around the evolution of the Christmas tree.
Long before the coming of Christianity, evergreen plants had a special meaning for people in winter. Ancient Europeans hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries, people believed that these would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. The Romans used fir trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Today, Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God. Why can’t it symbolize all those things?
Although evergreen trees are the through-line, in parts of northern Europe, cherry or hawthorn plants or branches were brought inside in hopes they would bloom in time for Christmas.
Many early Christmas trees were hung upside down from the ceiling.
The first documented use of tree at Christmas and New Year celebrations was in 1510, in Riga, the capital of Latvia. After the ceremony (involving men wearing black hats) the tree was burned. This is sometimes associated with the yule log.
The first person to bring a tree into the house, in the way we know it today, is thought to have been the German preacher Martin Luther in the 1500s. The lore goes that he was walking home in winter, was impressed with the stars shining through tree branches, and cut a tree to take home. He put small lit candles on the branches to share his vision with his family.
There are other stories, for example about St. Boniface of Crediton leaving England to travel to Germany. But this isn’t an encyclopedia, so I’ll move along.
But another point of consensus seems to be that Christmas trees took hold in Germany and spread across the world from there. In Germany, early trees were decorated with edible things like gingerbread and gold-covered apples. But by 1605, they were decorated with paper roses, apples, wafers, gold foil, and sweets.
The Christmas tree came to Britain sometime in the 1830s, and became popular in 1841 when Queen Victoria’s German husband had a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle. From England to the United States, from candles to electric lights, the evolution continued.
Artificial Christmas trees have long been popular, from the trees made from colored ostrich feathers in the Edwardian period on. Over the years, artificial trees have been made from feathers, papier mâché, metal, glass, and lots of plastic. Now lawns sometimes sport inflatable trees!
So, if pre-Christians and Christians both found good in the green of midwinter, fine with me! I plant hellebores and other evergreens where I can see them on the shortest days of the year.
OUR MISSION: To uphold the traditions and preserve the history of Santa Claus while providing students with the necessary resources to improve and further define their individual presentations of Santa and Mrs. Claus, allowing them to enter the hearts and spread the Christmas spirit to everyone they meet.
At the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, more than 200 aspiring Santas gather each year to attend a three-day series of classes where they learn everything from the history of Saint Nicholas to reindeer habits.
Each year, about 200 Santas (including a handful of Mrs. Clauses) attend class in Midland—but not everybody who applies gets accepted. Co-Dean Holly Valent rejects Santas who don’t seem interested in children or singing. (In other words, Santas who appear to be in it only for the money.) Additionally, she has to place around 40 prospective Santas on a waiting list each year. Thankfully, the workshop in Midland is not the only Santa school under the North Pole.
Child Psychology is the Name of the Game
The most important aspect of being a good Santa is learning how to genuinely listen to all kinds of children. “[Y]ou have to be on your toes all the time, because you never know what the children are going to ask you,” Mary Ida Doan, who plays Mrs. Claus, told WJRT. (Doan would know: She’s a member of the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame.)
During the workshop, the Santas get schooled in child psychology and learn handy tricks from experts and each other: How to deal with squirmy children, crying children, children who are afraid of you, and more. The Santas even learn basic sign language. “It’s important to be able to spread Christmas cheer to all children,” a Santa named Bill told Reuters.
An organization called Santa America provides extra training for Santas to connect with children who need a different kind of communication to reach all that Christmas cheer. The frenetic atmosphere at a typical Santa’s Grotto can be overwhelming and terrifying for any child. Santas who have trained with Santa America can create a quieter, calmer, slower space. These “Sensitive Santas” are in demand at Christmas for hospitals, very young children, children on the autism spectrum, and many others.
Santa America also connects local Santas and their companions with people who might need a visit from Santa Claus any time of the year: during a hospital stay, after major disasters, when a parent is deployed overseas. Part of their mission is to prove that Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and the elves never go off on vacation when children need them.
Gaining Background Knowledge Means Meeting Real Reindeer
Since kids are apt to ask Santa anything, it’s best that Santa draws his answers from real experience. What are the reindeer like? To find out, Santa students study reindeer habits and get to meet real reindeer.
How are toys made? The Santas spend quality time learning how to make wooden playthings.
The Santas also attend lectures about St. Nick’s backstory and the North Pole. “Know who you are,” Valent tells an assembly of Santas, according to CNN. “Know your legend. Know where you came from.”
They Have to Practice Their “Ho-Ho-Hos” and Their “Do-Re-Mis”
Since each Santa must prepare for radio and TV interviews, much of Santa school focuses on teaching students how to craft an accurate and authentic persona. “For example, they’re advised to create a backstory for their ‘elves,’ pulling names and characteristics from kids and grandkids in their own circles,” Kathleen Lavey reported for the Lansing State Journal. It also means learning how to deliver a hearty but balanced Ho Ho Ho. “You have to do it mild,” Tom Valent explained. “It’s got to be a laugh.” (And to ensure the Santas are really in the Christmas spirit, they’re also taught how to sing with cheer.)
There’s More Dancing Involved Than You Might Think
It’s not enough to nail the laugh. Being Santa requires you to be a full-body actor—and that means perfecting the big man’s jolly, bouncing swagger. The school is stuffed with movement lessons. “The school fitness teacher had them dance as if they were wrapping presents, baking cookies and filling stockings to classic Christmas tunes,” Christinne Muschi wrote for Reuters.
Santas also learn how to properly ease in and out of a sleigh and learn yoga and breathing exercises to keep limber. (It’s important work: Hoisting kids up and down from your lap for hours takes its toll.) As Tom Valent told CNN, “Santa is a healthy outdoorsman.”
Being Santa is not for the faint of heart or the faint of sinus. Pet photos with Santa are increasingly popular, often as part of a fundraiser. The Humane Society, Paws for a Cause, Sidewalk Dog, and many local animal shelters ask Santas to pose for photos with dogs, cats, hamsters, snakes, turtles, and any other pet they can safely hold. Better take that Benadryl!
They Receive Financial Advice
At Santa school—which costs $550 for new students—they teach classes on marketing, accounting, and taxes. That’s because being a freelance Santa is not cheap. A Santa with a bare chin is advised to buy a custom beard and wig that can cost up to $1800. And while a generic suit costs about $500, a personalized one can run over $2000. Add to that $700 for a pair of authentic boots. And then grooming expenses. Oh, and makeup.
Santas Get Lessons in Grooming
At school, Santas also learn how to curl their mustaches and groom their hair and beards (or wigs) to create a windblown I-just-got-out-of-the-sleigh look. They receive lessons in bleaching their hair to get a snow-white glisten as well as lessons in applying makeup.
According to Lavey, teachers show other Santas all the insider secrets: “How to take the shine off their foreheads with powder, pink up their cheeks with rouge, and add stardust to their beards with hairspray that contains glitter.”
The big secret to making Santa’s beard smell magical? Peppermint oil.
Santa Day School
For those who can’t—or won’t—spend three intensive days and nights in Midlands, Michigan, there are options! In-person schools around the country and online for DYIers.
In November, 2018, Business Insider did an article on Santa schools, particularly the finances involved. Here are several quotes from that article.
“There’s two kinds of Santas: There are professional Santas and there are guys in red suits,” Santa Rick, a former mediator and divorce arbiter who runs the Northern Lights Santa Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, told Vox. “And the difference for me is there are those who want to better themselves and learn and master the trade, and there are the others.” This Santa school also has classes for Mrs. Claus and elves.
“I’m very high-energy, so I tend to put on a little bit of a show: The Night Before Christmas, and caroling, and magic,” said Santa Jim Manning, who is the official Santa Claus for Boston’s tree lighting and has covered the Red Sox Christmas card. “A lot of people think being Santa Claus means just showing up, sitting on the couch, and letting kids sit in your lap. But what I do is a lot more.” To the right, see Santa Jim jumping out of an airplane.
“Rick, of the Northern Lights Santa Academy, told Vox that high-end Santas can earn up to $25,000 a season, but the cost of travel, lodging, and garb can eat into the pay. A quality Santa costume and accessories costs at least $1,000 and a beard set made of human hair can range from $1,800 to $2,500, he said.”
Unfortunately, all 2020 International University of Santa Claus in-person classes have been cancelled. Online courses are available, so aspiring Santas can ask their grandkids for help logging in to Zoom classes!
Santa is a Super-Spreader
2020 is an atypical year. (You heard it here first!) And this is true for Santas and Santa schools as well. Dr. Fauci has assured the public that Santa Claus is naturally immune to COVID-19, but Santa can still spread the virus. Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Grandfather Frost, Sinterklaas, and all other Christmas gift-bringers have been declared essential workers and therefore exempt from quarantine or isolation rules.
Some Santas are adapting with smaller grottos, shorter visits, and lots of hand sanitizer. Others are setting up plexiglass barriers or arranging for children to stay more than six feet away. A few mall Santa Grottos are even setting up holographic Santas for photos.
However, possibly the safest option for Santa and for kids is to visit Santa digitally.
JingleRing will allow Santa and Mrs. Claus to speak to kids one-on-one with their very own North Pole TV platform.
AirBnBhas created virtual visits with Santa as well as the opportunity to tune in to Story Time with Mrs. Claus or with Santa and a rotation of children’s book authors.
Macy’s Santaland has gone virtual this year, though there will be no real Santas in their stores. There are pre-recorded video messages from Santa Claus, games to play with the elves, and the option to sign up for a real-time video chat with Santa himself.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Awkward Family Photos for sharing the very best of the very worst photos with Santa Claus.
Bottom Line: There’s more to being a good Santa than putting on a red suit! Consider how Santas and Santa schools might broaden your cast of characters and/or plots.