Sign of the Times

We’ve been meeting a lot of the neighbors lately, and a few of them stopped to tell me they enjoyed this sign out on my lawn.

trump sign

The sign was a prop from our Christmas card. I had it made online by a company that prints campaign signs, and for some reason, they allow customers to modify the highly recognizable Trump sign. I’d post the Christmas card, but not all of the participants would appreciate that. The inside of the card read, “Finally, a candidate we can all agree on.”

Without context, some people might see the sign as a symbol of solidarity with our new president. Nothing could be further from the truth, but in conversation with the folks on my street, I’ve carefully avoided talk of politics. Good fences aren’t the only thing that make good neighbors.

The Tossing of the Tree

There’s no big hurry in my house to take down the Christmas tree. Many people believe it should be gone before the Feast of the Epiphany, which is January 6, but we’ve never met that deadline.

My routine is to lop off the branches and reduce the tree to a prickly stalk; it’s a lot easier than dragging it through the house intact.

My cut up tree would be of no use in the Irish Christmas Tree Throwing Championship, where contestants compete to see who can toss a five foot tree the farthest.

Rules are scarce. It’s hard to find information on how heavy should the tree be or whether a running start is allowed. There are also regional variations in these sorts of contests, some of which in Germany and England judge how high you can throw the tree over a bar.

tree toss
John O’Dea’s winning throw. Clare Herald photo.

This year’s winner — and defending champion — was John O’Dea of Limerick. The distance of the winning throw is unavailable, but he’s tied for the Irish record of 10.2 meters, or about 33 feet. German Klaus Pubnaz, holds the world record of 12 meters.

This contest is something we need here. Why just throw out a tree when you can literally throw one out? Come on, America. We can do this.

The War on Christmas Signs

It’s scandalous that Bethlehem refuses to allow signs in the town square that wish folks a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! I’m never one to take these things sitting down — unless it’s to sit down and pound out an angry screed to our town supervisor, John Clarkson.

Dear Mr. Clarkson,

It’s good to see that you embrace the spirit of Christmas, but most unfortunate that it’s the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge you embody, shouting out a hardy, “Bah, Humbug,” in the face of Bethlehem residents.

I’m writing, of course, about your decision to ban the Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah signs from the Four Corners.

Yes, there is a Christmas tree, and yes, a menorah — perhaps the world’s largest menorah, actually — but how are we to truly experience the joy of these holidays without printed signs that wish us well?

Indeed, I felt great emptiness as I drove through the intersection on Monday and did not see a sign wishing me a Merry Christmas. Who is it that ruined Christmas for our town, I asked? I was not surprised to learn that it was you, the very same John Clarkson who this fall did not make sure our leaves were collected in a timely manner!

When I saw a photo of the sign that offends you in the Times Union, it only made matters worse. Here is the picture:


How fiendish to deprive our citizens, especially our little children, the experience of seeing this wonderful sign that warms the heart and exemplifies the true meaning of Christmas. It’s shameful, that’s what it is!

What’s next? A ban on residents decorating their homes? A prohibition on displays that you find distasteful? Maybe you’ll outlaw inflatable Santas and only allow us to hang those sterile looking white lights, the ones that are so popular in socialist countries, like Denmark and Canada.

Let me tell you this , Mr. Clarkson: when it comes to your war on Christmas, you can expect voters like me to have our boots on the ground next election day.

I suppose that like Scrooge, you will keep Christmas in your own way and we will keep it in ours, but it’s my sincere hope that on the morning of December 25 you wake up and see the light shining through your window. Then you will dash to the Four Corners and  hang those signs where everyone can see them. Only then will Christmas in Bethlehem be saved. And yes, Hanukkah, too.


An Anonymous Voter

State of the Grinch

For years I’ve complained about journalists misusing the Grinch metaphor around the holidays. Every evil-doer is a Grinch if the crime involves holiday anything. What they miss is this: to be Grinch-like, you must not just seek to ruin someone’s Christmas, but in the end, discover the holiday’s meaning and find redemption.

A few examples of misplaced Grinchitude:

Grinch steals Christmas from multiple Shreveport families

Grinch steals gifts meant for 3 year-old girl

Sparks Grinch Gets Six Months In Jail

This year I noticed another type of Grinch story, people who are stealing Christmas lights, wreaths and other decorations:

Upstate Grinch Steals Holiday Lights

“Grinch” caught stealing holiday decorations

Grinch swipes $800 in Christmas lights from New Dorp home

Consider this for a second: are people who steal Christmas decorations actually Grinchy? Not if they want to use the stolen decorations to deck their own halls. That is absolutely not Grinch-like.

One encouraging note: this story about a school in Missouri that’s using the Grinch tale to teach kids to be better people. As a bonus, these children will grow up understanding the significance of how the Grinch is not just bad, but good. Yes, it’s unfortunate that they’re making the kids watch Ron Howard’s hideous Grinch movie, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Christmas Tree Index 2015

This year’s Christmas tree harvest at Bob’s Trees bent tradition a little. We couldn’t go the day after Thanksgiving, but instead headed out the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. Secondly. number two son was not with us, stuck in California with the Marines instead of stuck with us.

Based on those factors, I was leery about our prospects, particularly considering the warm weather we’ve had. Nothing makes the tree cutting more miserable than ankle-deep mud. Was there any way we could beat last years score of 90 on the Christmas Tree Index? It seemed doubtful.

The Index rates the tree cutting experience on a scale of one to 100 based on mood, weather, field conditions, tree quality and transportation. Each of those criteria account for 20 points.

Well, surprise, surprise: this year we hit 100.

20151211104059It was a relatively warm day and ground conditions were surprisingly firm and dry. We got two beautiful trees and tied them to the roof of my car like a boss. Many factors can subvert the mood score, but there was good cheer all around.

Now, all we have to worry about is ticks jumping out of the tree.

Have Yourself an Itchy Little Christmas

It’s a well-known fact that real Christmas trees are superior to fake Christmas trees, but who am I to judge?

Really, it’s OK to have a plastic tree, just as it’s OK to have a house that looks like the Christmas section at Lowe’s vomited all over your property. No, no — all that stuff obviously goes together. The five different types of lights? The inflatable figures? Those illuminated candy canes? Yes, yes and yes. It’s all good. Why not put some of that shit on the roof, while you’re at it?

Speaking of real trees, this season’s news story du jour is a doozy: watch out for ticks hitching a ride indoors on your fresh-cut Tannenbaum. Yes, they say the warm weather means your tree could be infested with insects.

One story, on WTEN, warns:

If you do find bugs in your tree, don’t spray pesticides on the tree. It’s toxic to breathe in and could cause the tree to catch on fire if it has Christmas lights.

Sensible advice.

It’s hard not to think about this when I slither under the tree twice a day to water the thing. That would be the ideal opportunity for a tick to launch itself down on me. You may suck my blood, but you won’t sap me of my Christmas spirit. So there.

Pass the Latkes

My office is at the corner of State and Pearl, squarely at the crossroads of downtown Albany. It’s certainly not Manhattan, but the sidewalks bring an interesting blend of people.

On the way out of my building to get a cup of tea, two men, apparently Orthodox Jews, stopped me and asked if I’m Jewish. I said no as I held the door for them, and they cheerfully wished me Happy Hanukkah. “Thank you,” I said. “Happy Hanukkah!”

That may not sound unusual, but I don’t think anyone’s ever wished me Happy Hanukkah. I walked off with a smile because it really made my day for them to share their celebration with me in that small way.

Much is made of how to greet people this time of year and whether it’s OK to say Merry Christmas or whatnot. Look, stop thinking and just go for it. If someone’s offended by your Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Saturnalia or whatever the heck you celebrate, that’s on them.

Now, what did I do with that dreidel?

Wake Up and Smell the Christmas

The whole running thing is not what it used to be. Ten years ago I ran a marathon and today three miles is sometimes a struggle. But you get out there and do it. Why? As the man said when asked why he’s hitting himself with a hammer: because it feels so good when I stop.

Early in the morning when it’s dark, odors are amplified. You can smell the cigarettes people are smoking in their cars. Sometimes their smoking weed, even though it’s 5am.

Skunks, garbage trucks, wood stoves. Wet leaves, cut grass. Sometimes the smell of rain coming. After rain there’s that peculiar odor which I used to think was the smell of worms, but is actually not.

But every year you really know the holidays are here when you smell the Christmas trees. There’s a garden store along my route and every year a tractor-trailer shows up overnight full of evergreens. The store sets the trees up and strings of those bare bulb lights so people can shop at night. Then, for one or two mornings, the area near the store has that smell.

The smell of Christmas.