By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
Regarding 750 words: On some occasion, and probably several of them, some prominent person was asked before his speech, “What are you going to talk about?” He answered, “About 30 minutes.”
The implication was, he (and the celebrity is always a “he” in the 287 varieties I’ve heard of this anecdote) would make it up as he went along.
The part that is generally omitted from this story is, according to the general opinion of the audience the speaker did not disappoint. Maybe it was Al Capp? Or Groucho Marx? Perhaps it was Mark Twain, or even Socrates. It doesn’t matter, though, for if these gentlemen needed to haul out something, they hauled from resources they appreciated and even loved.
For Al, it was Dogpatch, USA; for Groucho, it was his brilliant, insane characterizations; for Mark Twain, it was what would become the core of Americana; for Socrates it was the love of wisdom, circa 450 BC.
Well—I like good recipes. I like urban legends, folklore, regionial history. I like weird news and stories. I like trivia. It’s not that I’m rushing in at the last moment because the intended column has been rejected, though, maybe sometimes it is. But as it is, I’m sharing or unloading tidbits I’ve carried for decades, because I’m older than I act, younger than I look, and because the latest submission was rejected by friends and family, and perhaps would have been by my editor. So, here is Christmas Trivia, instead:
First, did you know Santa Claus goes by a variety of names? In England, he’s Father Christmas. He’s Saint Nicholas in Belgium and the Netherlands. The translation from Russia is Grandfather Frost. In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, it’s Christkindl. There are dozens more, but this selection will make the point, Santa is who you pretend he is. But note, there is a historical Saint Nick. We would do well to learn from his history. And this “Kris Kringle” stuff? It’s an Americanization of Christkindl.
Christmas towns. There’s a Christmas, Mich.; a Christmas, Fla.; and a Santa Claus, Ind. There’s a Kissimmee, Fla, too, but that’s a different holiday.
Tree Trivia: 98 percent of Christmas trees sold in the United States each year are grown on tree farms, and an estimated 25-30 million trees are sold every holiday season. On average, it takes six to eight years for Christmas trees to fully mature. Franklin Pierce was the first president to have a tree in the White House; Grover Cleveland was the first president to have one with electric lights.
The season is the reason I’m a sneezin’: Are allergies one of the reasons seven out of 10 holiday trees are artificial? That’s how it is at my house. Lots of Christmas tree varieties produce pollen in late fall and winter.
Do you still have the partridge? If you had all the gifts mentioned in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” carol, you’d have 364 things you probably wouldn’t have much use for, but—
Do you still have the fruitcake? Alcohol-soaked fruit cakes can remain edible for up to 25 years. “Edible” is likely a relative term, though, in this context.
My wife brought home a beautiful poinsettia, and we can thank Joel Poinsett for it. Not that he gave her the poinsettia; but he was the U.S. ambassador to Mexico who brought the plant north of the Rio Grande, where horticulturalist Paul Ecke got hold of it and made the weed a seasonal necessity. There are over 100 varieties, over 1,000 colors, and over 60 million are sold every Christmas.
Popular gifts: I have the vaguest sort of recollection of receiving a hula hoop, unwrapped, as a gift one Christmas morning. It’s gone. Do you still have your Cabbage Patch Kid? What about the Mighty Morphin Power Ranger dolls? Or the Furby, or the Tickle Me Elmo? What’s the hot item you or the kids are clamoring for this year? If you’re old enough, you know as well as I do, it’s something that will eventually end up someplace collecting dust. There’s an alternative, though:
The best gifts: If I may quote Jesus, the “Reason for the Season”: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
This may require a reorienting of values; but those who succeed enjoy Christmas every day of the year.
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