Monday, December 15, 2014

…and God Bless us Everyone…Christmas Traditions

Out of the mouths of babes, or in this case one Tiny Tim from probably the most popular Christmas story every written, “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens. This novella has been filmed and staged many times over since it was written in 1843.
As a novice historian I am always interested in how things started, how certain traditions became part of our lives. This story began my quest of discovery as far as Christmas in America is concerned.

I watched what I believe is the best representation of this story on YouTube yesterday. It stars George C. Scott. The whole film is darkly lit until the very end when the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Yet to Come have made their points and departed. When Scrooge, who represents darkness and winter in the beginning, becomes a happier human being and is renewed in life, or spring comes into his life at last, the scenes become brighter. With every broad smile emanating from Ebeneezer Scrooge’s face, the brighter the world around him becomes. Here is that video if you’d like to watch it.

Dickens is credited with being one of the greatest influences in reintroducing his fellow Englishmen to the old Christmas traditions such as the Christmas tree and greeting cards. The novella has also been credited with restoring the Christmas season as one of merriment and joy after a period of Puritan sobriety in the United States.
History of the First Christmas Tree

My first research on the origin of the Christmas tree claimed that Prince Albert, the German consort of Queen Victoria, introduced the Christmas tree to England in 1840. However, Queen Charlotte, the German wife of George III set up the first known English tree at Queen’s Lodge, Windsor, in December 1800.
The legend goes that her compatriot, Martin Luther, the religious reformer, invented the Christmas tree. As the story goes, one winter night in 1536, Luther was walking through a pine forest near his home in Wittenberg when he looked up and saw thousands of stars glinting among the branches of the trees. The sight inspired him to set up a candle-lit fir tree in his house that Christmas to remind his children of the starry heavens from whence their Saviour came. (This information comes from Go to that site for further information about Christmas trees.)
Prince Albert's Christmas Tree
History of Christmas Cards
The origin of Christmas Cards also comes from England. The custom was begun by Sir Henry Cole in 1843 to see if cards could be sent using the new ‘Public Post Office.’ He was a government worker and wondered if the new system could be used by ordinary people instead of just by rich people who could afford to send anything by post.
Trains, rather than horse and coach, were making it easier to send things. As cards became popular in the UK they could be sent in an unsealed envelope for one halfpenny--half the price of an ordinary letter.
This is a picture of the first Christmas card sent by Sir Henry.
They sold for 1 shilling or 8 cents today. It had three panels. The outer panels showed people caring for the poor and in the center was a family having a large Christmas dinner. Some people didn’t like the card because it showed a child being given a glass of wine. About 1,000 were printed and sold and today are very rare and cost thousands of pounds or dollars to buy.

I seem to remember in my own past that Christmas cards could once be sent cheaper than a usual letter if you didn’t seal the envelope. I guess that tradition carried over to the U.S. at least for a period of time. To see more on this history go to
History of Santa Claus
When did you stop believing in Santa Claus? I think I was 10 or so when my mother’s family gathered at my grandparent’s house which was then called the Berry House, now Berry Manor Inn, for Christmas festivities.

I noticed that all of a sudden my grandfather, Herman Winchenbaugh, or Grampie Wink, as we called him, was missing. Then behold we heard ringing bells and a big “ho ho ho” as Santa entered the room with a pack on his back. I knew at once that it was my grandfather and not Santa and so I moved one more step forward into my growing up.
Two New York Americans are credited with introducing Santa Claus as we know him here in the United States. Here’s how it came about.
Thomas Nast, a caricaturist and editorial cartoonist drew an illustration of Santa Claus for the poem of Clement Clarke Moore called “A Visit from St. Nicholas” also known as “The Night Before Christmas.”
Here is that illustration from Wikipedia:
Of course the poem became very famous and the rest is history, as they say.  There is many a father all over the country who reads this poem to his children on Christmas Eve as part of their family traditions. There are those who insist that Coca Cola invented the modern Santa we see today. That could be true. What do you think?

Here’s a video from VideoWorksSamples on YouTube about the history of Santa Claus.

The Christmas Truce
One of the most heartwarming Christmas stories is a true one. At a time when many of our servicemen and women are serving overseas during the Christmas season, we are reminded of history once more and some U.S. and German soldiers during WWI. Here’s the YouTube video in case you don’t know that story. The video comes from the movie: "Oh What a Lovely War."

Remembering Our Traditions
It is important that we remember our traditions. They are what make life worthwhile. Lift a glass in remembrance of Christmas pasts this season and also create your own traditions to pass down to the next generation. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and thank you all very much for listening this past year.
Note: If you are new to this blog space you might enjoy a few Christmas stories from the archives: 2012, “Christmas Art Class;” 2013, “The Days Between;” 2011, “Christmas in Maine” a poem by niece Bette which appeared in the Courier in 1987. There are also two fictional Christmas stories, “A Doll for Christmas,” 2012; and “A Boy and his Boat, a Christmas Story,” 2013.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Joy of Giving…Hunger in America

The joy of giving is what the holiday is all about to me. I can think of no better way to celebrate the birth of Christ than to feed his flock as He did when He provided bread and fishes to the multitudes.
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand, Matthew 14:13-24

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The numbers actually fed by Jesus vary from the Gospels of John, Mark and Matthew. Some biblical scholars believe that there were actually 15,000-20,000 people fed that day.
That miracle should be our challenge today to feed the hungry among us; because there is hunger in America. There is no community in the country that is not affected by the fact that some of their citizens go hungry every day. The most vulnerable of the population, namely children and senior citizens are of the most concern to me. Besides poverty there are other factors associated with food insecurity such as high unemployment, lower household assets, and certain demographic characteristics.
Here are some statistics I gathered for these two groups. This information comes from: For more information, please go to that site.

Child Hunger in America
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 15.8 million children under 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life. Although food insecurity is harmful to any individual, it can be particularly devastating among children due to their increased vulnerability and the potential for long-term consequences.
Charitable Food Assistance

  • Twelve million children are estimated to be served by Feeding America, over 3.5 million of which are ages 5 and under.
  • Proper nutrition is vital to the growth and development of children. While almost all (94%) of client households with school-aged children (ages 5-18) report participating in the National School Lunch Program, only 46 percent report participating in the School Breakfast Program.
Participation in Federal Nutrition Programs

During the 2013 federal fiscal year, more than 21.5 million low-income children received free or reduced-price meals daily through the National School Lunch Program. Unfortunately, in 2013, less than 2.5 million children participated daily in the Summer Food Service Program.
How Can You Feed a Hungry Child?

Search out the food programs in your community to see how you can provide better, more nutritious food to the children around you.
One of the best organizations focusing on feeding hungry children is “Child Hunger Ends Here” which is a program sponsored by corporate partners, ConAgra Foods and P&G. They provided an 8-digit code on their products which when entered at a special website, donated money to provide one meal to Feeding America. The program ended in September 2014. I challenge other corporate partners to team up in this way. Singer Hunter Hayes supported the effort also. Here is his video on YouTube:

For more information go to
As far as providing the right nutritional food for children I recently read of a wonderful program at the Belfast, Maine C+OP which has a program called C+OP Explorers for children. When the children sign up at the co-op they can pick out one piece of fruit a day to eat while their mothers shop at the Co-Op. Such a simple thing can make a big difference in the nutrition of a child.
Senior Hunger
There is a good chance that there are seniors in your community who are going hungry and are too afraid to admit it. Maybe their children are grown and gone; they are widows; or their health is an impediment to providing themselves with food security. Do a little research in your own neighborhood and try to help them out.
Here are some statistics I found for this vulnerable group:
Food Assistance for Seniors
  • Seven million elderly persons are served by Feeding America each year.  33 percent of client households have at least one member who is age 60 or over, and 76 percent of these households are food insecure - an estimated 3.9 million households.
  • Among all clients served by Feeding America, 17 percent were seniors age 60 or over, while 27 percent of adult clients surveyed at charitable feeding programs were age 60 or older.
  • Among all food programs in the Feeding America network, 12 percent of meal programs, such as home-delivered meal programs (or Meals on Wheels) and 7 percent of grocery programs, such as senior brown bag programs, are targeted for seniors. Three out of four (76%) client households with at least one senior report planning to use a food program in the Feeding America network on a regular basis to assist with their monthly food budget.
Local Food Banks and Good Shepard Food Mobile
If you live in Knox County and are a person in need of food assistance there is a food pantry run by Area Interfaith Outreach, at 70 Thomaston Street, Rockland. The Good Shepard Food Mobile will be coming to this site on December 9, from 10 AM to noon. You must bring your own bags and boxes to carry the food home in. About 7,000 pounds of food will be distributed, including fresh produce, an assortment of meats, essential non-perishable items and breads.
Talk about bread and fishes. We thank everyone involved in feeding the hungry folks in their communities. Maybe someday soon there won’t be a hungry mouth to feed in America anymore.
Believe with me in the joy of giving and thanks for listening.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas by Magazine

The inspiration for this story came from of all places, Delta Airlines. Let me explain. I got this letter in the mail from the airline for which I am a frequent flyer. Only thing is I don’t fly but once a year usually, therefore, my frequent flyer miles don’t add up to very much. If I only had to fly over a mud puddle of maybe a couple miles, I’d be O.K.; but of course that’s not the case.

But Delta in their wisdom recognized my plight and they have a solution. They offered me free subscriptions to several magazines for which they provided a list. So, using the list and the number of frequent flyer miles I have, I chose seven magazines. Great, right? What was I thinking?

I’ll never keep up with all these magazines plus the ones I already get, TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, and Maine, Boats, Homes & Harbors. My house looks like the reading room in a library at this point. The magazines I ordered were: All You, Martha Stewart Living, People, Southern Living, Time, and Travel & Leisure.

Back to the inspiration. My subscriptions to these new magazines all fell within the current holiday season so I thought, “Why not try to make a holiday-themed story out of them?” Easier said than done, but I did come up with a few things I thought you might enjoy.

Except for Time and Travel & Leisure, all of these magazines have tips on how to prepare for the best Christmas ever. From recipes, to decorating, to gift-giving, they cover them all. The price ranges go from the easiest and cheapest craft projects to entertaining at a lavish holiday dinner.

If you had all the time in the world; plenty of people to help you; money and more money; you could pull off everything in these magazines. That’s probably not going to happen, but let’s go through a few of the tips and suggestions these magazines have to offer. If something appeals to you, go out and buy the December issues of the magazine I’m talking about.

From all you:

How to make you own snow globe; recipes that are low-cost including 3 Christmas cookie recipes that you can make with one dough; how to make over your Christmas tree; solutions to difficult wrapping of odd items; gift suggestions, which I will discuss further later on; holiday treats for your pets. I was especially intrigued by the recipe for “Roasted Vegetable—Goat Cheese Tarts” which has 11 ingredients and which they claim can be made in 30 minutes. Really?

From Southern Living:

Don’t even get me started on this one. There is so much to see that it is definitely a keeper for years to come. Here’s a look at some of the topics in the Table of Contents:

The Gift Guide; making garlands and wreaths, decorating trees; transforming your childhood home for the new generation; dressing for the holidays; outdoor decorating, floral arrangements; recipes, including Jewish holiday recipes.

The oddest thing I came across, however, among all the Southern travel suggestions, was a one-page ad for the American Cruise Lines, the cruise ship that makes foliage trips along the coast of Maine. Seeing a bright red lobster in a southern magazine was a shock to be sure.

From People:

Even this magazine has Christmas recipes including recipes from the stars. The one for “Shaved Brussels sprouts salad with pecornino cheese” did not look too appetizing. What the heck is pecornino cheese? There is also a recipe from Sophia Loren, “Ricotta Pie” which has 13 ingredients, 9 steps, and which takes 2 hours to make. Interested? I did find a recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes, one of my favorite Southern recipes, which I will keep for sure.

This issue also had decorating ideas including party favors and decorating with lights.

As far as all these recipes go I found a perfect answer to them in today’s Sunday comics. It's what I usually end up doing. Here is that strip:
The best gift ideas can be found in Entertainment Weekly, People, all you, and also from Parade in my Sunday paper this week. You need go no further than these magazine malls or you could look them up on the internet. The best way to shop in my opinion.
Gifts for under $50 can be found on all you. They include a web site with codes for reduced prices: I see a robe, slippers, manicure set, necklace and watch here.
You can tell what century it is by all the geeky techno gifts pictured in several magazines. Parade has a robot for $100 from which obeys up to 100 commands and is compatible with a smartphone. Also offered is a 3-D printing pen for $99. From It uses hot glue. I wouldn’t suggest it as a gift for a kid. There is also an At-Home Drone which takes pictures from an aerial viewpoint for $100 and which are then viewed via a USB connection from: I’ll take all three, thank-you.
People has gift ideas from the stars including Britney Spears; Gwen Stefani, Mark Cuban of Shark Tank, Mel B, and others. People also suggests their stocking stuffer gifts for under $10 at www.peoplecom/presents.
Entertainment Weekly has gift suggestions for your entertainment: books, earphones, a video camera and fun gifts for kids.
I haven’t mentioned Martha Stewart Living because I haven’t received that one yet. God help me when I do.
The last magazine I would like to mention is one of my favorite magazines: Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors. In the holiday issue they always include a separate catalog of nautical-inspired jewelry which is way out of my price range; but they sure are beautiful. My wish list, however, is one of those Amphicars pictured on this issue’s cover. It’s a car that runs on fresh water like a lake or on the road. The one here is owned by a couple who drive it over the lake up at Megunticook. They say that if you can still find one they cost up to and over $60,000. Their’s is not for sale. Oh, well, I can dream, can’t I?
So there you are. I hope you’ve found something you can use for your holiday planning. Have fun and try not to stress out too much. O.K.?
Thanks for listening.


This column appeared in the Bangor Daily News on December 28, 1973. I have chosen excerpts from that column. The fictional Fanny was often a character in his columns.

Fanny Vance
Blotville  Mt., Maine
Dear Aunt Fanny:
It’s that time of year again when we will bring you up-to-date on the major news events around these here parts. Guess you probably saw where the Associated Press picked the suspension and reactivation of the state prison furlough program as one of the top 10 Maine stories of the year.
The furlough suspension was triggered by the roadblock death of a Thomaston police officer by a car carrying a furloughed inmate and a parolee. At year’s end the program had been reactivated with almost 80 inmates given Christmas leaves without incident.
By far the story from this area which gained the most national, and even international, coverage was Judge Paul A. MacDonald’s famous five-cent fine in a littering case. Calling the charge of littering the street with a bottle cap a five-cent crime, the judge levied a five-cent fine. The judge received mail from all over the country on his decision.
During the year there were five armed robberies, almost 150 breaks into homes and businesses, a near mid-summer riot over use of a so-called park, and more than 125 broken windows.
The Nov. 29 robbery and shooting at Mazzeo’s rocked the community. A public $1,000 reward was quickly raised for information leading to conviction of those responsible. Also at year’s end, Rockland city councilman, Frank Lawrence, said he would “throw on the table for discussion” a proposal to enact and strictly enforce a city curfew.
Undoubtedly the worst fire in the mid-coast area during the year was the death of seven persons, five of them children, at St. George on April 7. A faulty heater was blamed for the home fire which claimed the seven lives.
Five cases of arson to buildings in Thomaston and Rockland within a few weeks’ span gained considerable news coverage in late November and early December, To date all are under investigation with no arrests made.
Of course all the news in the mid-coast area was not bad in 1973. Successful summer events: the Seafoods Festival at Rockland, the Broiler Festival at Belfast and a huge bicentennial celebration at Waldoboro were held.
Also during the year construction of a $17 million complex at the Samoset was started with a hotel and golf course scheduled to be in operation in mid-1974; and construction of an $8 million Penobscot Bay Medical Center was started with a 1975 completion date. Both projects are in Rockport, which at year’s end had competed plans for the start of a $200,000 marina on the waterfront. Plans to build a Holliday Inn at Rockland were revealed during the year, but as yet have failed to materialize.
Honors for the greatest personal gain during the year goes to a Tenants Harbor businessman, Hugh (Sonny) Lehtinen Jr. He lost almost 235 pounds, trimming his weight from 468 [pounds to 231 on a 66-week diet. He is able to enjoy many activities restricted because of his former heavy weight. One of these was flying. After being grounded for 12 years, he is able to once again pilot his own plane.
Another personal accomplishment worthy of note was that of 18-year-old Lewis Dublin of Belfast. The high school senior was named by the city to fill out a vacancy on the School Administration District 34 board of directors. He, therefore, became the first high school student in the state named to a school board and will have a hand in directing the future of a school system in which he is enrolled.
Several police chiefs in the area gained headlines in 1973. Rockland’s chief, Maurice Benner, was named police chief of the year. And the Camden chief, Albert Smith, was elected president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association. Police Chief John Hutchison of Belfast resigned his position amid a storm of controversy and Thomaston Chief Herb Laatz was fired from his job, amid another controversy.
In the world of fisheries, proposed clam and lobster fishing bills had thorough airings at Augusta. After all the hoopla and jam-packed, smoke-filled hearing-room testimony on what should or should not be done to regulate clam flats and restrict lobstering in the name of conservation, little came of it. Rep. David Emery’s clam bill was shelved to another session of the legislature, and a watered-down version of a proposed lobster bill finally died a natural death.
There are many other news events of this area which we could elaborate on, including homicides at Swanville, Liberty and Union; controversies of a Belfast property revaluation; a spite fence at Camden; proposed by-pass for Camden which is undoubtedly collecting dust on a forgotten shelf; retirement resignations of SAD 28 Supt. Casper Ciaravino and Rockland City Manager Henry G. Bouchard; local steps to combat the energy crisis; the Methodist Home property tax hassle; and political happenings of the year.
However, we could not close out our letter, Aunt Fanny, without reviewing the continued exploits of the friendly do-it-yourselfer.
Among his better accomplishments in 1973 were to plant his wife’s shrubbery with cement instead of fertilizer. They grew better than the vegetable garden in which the right stuff was used. He made out his own income tax and neglected to deduct allowances for his children. He fixed the brakes on his kid’s mini-bike so that when the brake pedal was pushed the brakes released, and when the pedal was released the brakes worked.
But truly his finest hour of the year, was unplugging his wife’s kitchen sink drain. He never gave up and finally succeeded—in blowing murky goo all over the kitchen cabinets, all over the pots and pans, all over the floor and all over himself.
Happy New Year, Aunt Fanny.