All I Want for Christmas is My Sense of Humor

Tis the season for crazy sweaters, spiked eggnog, and blackmail photos. If you’re following the library on Facebook you’ll know we’re not above poking fun at ourselves around the holidays.

Crazy Sweaters

But if you’re like me, this time of year is so crazy-busy you really try to find the humor in whatever new holiday-related predicament you find yourself in. Let me lead you through my holiday routine and you’ll see why I believe there’s no place like the library for the holidays.

awkwardfamilyphotos.comWhen my waistline is somewhat back to normal post-Thanksgiving and my calendar is now screaming DECEMBER at me, I will usually gather up my husband and our cats and attempt to pose us into some semblance of order. We aim for cute. What we usually end up with are semi-strangled pets and harried looking adults grimacing in what is sure to be the 30th attempt, one that will “have to do” because no one wants to do this anymore. The Awkward Family Photo books have similar photos to show you what I’m dealing with on an annual basis.

People of WalmartOnce the photo has been taken, it’s off to get the prints made. Usually I can send the photo over the Internet to be printed at my local pharmacy. But if you’re unlucky enough to need to wade through the hordes of holiday bargain-hunters and actually set up your photo card in person, you will be sure to find some truly bizarre individuals completely oblivious to social norms. The People of Wal-Mart books have just a few samplings of folks who haven’t paid any attention to their attire—or in some cases paid entirely too much attention to what they’re wearing, to a horrifying degree.

sketchy-santasIf you have children, or feel like a child yourself, the next stop will probably be the North Pole, aka your local mall Santa. These days you can even take your pets to visit Santa, though I suspect my cats would be truly horrified should we ever attempt that with them. While there you may find yourself face-to-face with what can only be called a Sketchy Santa.

Who’s that excessively jolly fellow with the fake beard, shifty eyes, sweaty hands, and boozy breath? Why, it’s not just Santa but sketchy Santa!

crap at my parents house

Eventually we will arrive at the big day: holiday celebrations with the family! I was lucky to have grown up celebrating Christmas Day at my Grandma’s house, a home which was tastefully decorated and yet still inviting for the sticky-fingered, running, screaming grandkids. However, occasionally I would visit friends’ houses during Christmastime and inevitably stumble across something that could have come straight out of Crap at my Parents’ House: creepy ceramics, giant Santa figures that could easily be mistaken for a Sketchy Santa, and hundreds of Precious Moments dolls crammed into one tiny hutch.

my kids ruinedAfter the holidays come to an end, there’s always something else to look forward to. Yes, there will be another holiday season to anticipate next year. But really I’m talking about the time when that gift you loved getting is inevitably ruined by someone you love and thought you could trust. Sh*t My Kids Ruined features some prime examples. Toys shoved in the VCR, diplomas graffitied with ink pens, and countless pets massacred with everything from condiments to vomit are sure to leave you clutching your loved ones close but your prized possessions closer.

This holiday season, I am fortunate to be able to travel back home to Illinois, where my story began. Spending so much time with my family I can guarantee I will laugh, I will cry, and I will be thankful for the life I have and for the possessions that haven’t yet been destroyed.

Carol

Other People’s Homes

What do you think of when the word “home” is mentioned? There are those who still live in their childhood homes filled with memories; there are those who wander this earth looking for a place to set down roots; and there are those who  only want to sell a house after remodeling and redecorating.

Then, there are a handful of individuals who become caretakers of grand, historical homes only for as long as they live; for after they die their oldest male heir will likely inherit their estate. In Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, the Countess of Carnarvon tells the story of Highclere Castle and its surrounds.

People have been living at Highclere for thousands of years as demonstrated by the Iron Age hill fort on the property. The land was owned by the bishops of Winchester for hundreds of years before being awarded, in the late seventeenth century, to the Herbert family, Earls of Pembroke and ancestors of the Earls of Carnarvon. Because of the expense of maintaining palatial properties such as Highclere, male heirs were often encouraged to marry into money so that these properties could be preserved and their splendor sustained. This fascinating book covers the estate and its inhabitants from the late Victorian era to the mid 1920’s.

Sometimes, no matter how much you love your home and what it represents, it cannot be saved. In The House I Loved, Rose Bazelet is determined to stay in the only home she’s really known, a home she has lived in her entire married life. It is the 1860’s and Emperor Napoleon III has given orders to modernize Paris by widening the city’s streets, obliterating entire neighborhoods, included Rose’s. One by one her neighbors move out but Rose is determined to stay. She passes her days and nights writing letters to her dead husband and recalling their past together. Her two closest friends try to encourage her to relocate but she resists them, for how can she leave the place where all her memories reside.

Sometimes there are homes that seem to be charmed. In The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, Heidi, although mourning her husband’s untimely death, travels, along with her young son and sixteen year old niece, to a small village in the south of France. There has been a fire in the ancestral family home and Heidi’s mother has asked Heidi to determine the extent of the damage and stay while repairs are finished. While there, Heidi is drawn into the secrets and magic that pervade this home and, in time, will bring joy and hope back into her life.

There are also homes that seen to beckon us through generations and from distant lands. Going home to Lebanon, Anthony Shadid is determined to rebuild his great-grandfather’s home in House of Stone. His family had fled war-torn Lebanon to build a new life in Oklahoma City where he was raised. The call of family history was too strong, however, and so he returned to his ancestral home determined to bring it back to life again. This wonderful account of restoring a home is interspersed with memorable characters, myths, family histories and traditions, and explanations of the rich culture that exists in his chosen homeland. This superb book is made more poignant by the fact that Anthony Shadid passed away earlier this year.

Finally, if you’re interested in how homes have evolved over the years you should read If Walls Could Talk. This fascinating history covers everything we take for granted in our modern homes: from bedrooms, where sleeping in a private bed is a somewhat recent event, through the even more recent custom of bathrooms, and the modernization of the kitchens of today. This interesting and informative volume is filled with trivia of the everyday running of the home, past and present.

So, pull out a chair (keeping in mind that in a medieval house only the lord or owner was allowed to sit down), relax and be thankful that we live in the here and now and can take the time to enjoy reading about other people’s homes.

Suzanne

The Time When the Sun Stands Still

December 22, 2011 is the first full day of winter in the northern hemisphere. Now the sun has turned around and headed north and we realize that spring will return once more. It has been this way ever since ancient sky watchers, who may not have understood the movement of the sun, rejoiced when the sun discontinued its downward trend. In those days there were no light bulbs to illuminate the darkness and without the sun there can be no life. These days, since we have light on demand, many of us do not celebrate nor acknowledge the solstice.

In Persia, the solstice marked the birthday of Mithras, the Sun King, who was a precursor to Apollo. Mithras was sent to earth to slay a huge bull whose blood was the source of all fertility on earth. After doing so, he ascended back to heaven.

During the Roman era, the Emperor Aurelian declared December 25th to be the birthday of Mithras. In addition there was the lavish Roman festival of Saturnalia, which began around the Winter Solstice.  Sol Invictus, a festival marking the return of the sun, was also celebrated on December 25th. It was the Emperor Constantine, a follower of Mithras until he adopted Christianity, who chose the official birthday of Jesus to also be on December 25th.

But the oldest of the gods honored during winter was the Egyptian god Osiris. Married to Isis and much-loved and worshiped throughout the ancient world, Osiris was murdered by his jealous brother Set, who dismembered his body and hid it in various parts of Egypt. Isis searched until she found his remains and then restored Osiris to life on December 25th. Osiris’ death and resurrection came to symbolize the rising and setting of the sun.

Other ancient cultures also built monuments that observed the winter solstice:  Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland; Maeshowe in mainland Orkney, Scotland and Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England.

Another event that observes the re-emergence of light is Chanukah, the eight-day Jewish festival of lights. This holiday honors the legend of the miracle of the oil which burned for eight nights when there was only enough oil left for one night.

While there were many festivals, most had one thing in common – the exchanging of gifts. Mother Nature too, gives us gifts at this time of the year as the sky is clearer than in summer, the constellations shine brighter  and the nights are longer.

If you’re interested in the traditions of this season, these books will illuminate them for you.

Ceremonies of the SeasonsThe Winter SolsticeThe Book of the Year, and for children The Shortest Day and The Winter Solstice

Suzanne