Susan Craig

Live, Love, Learn……Every story is a journey

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Remember Hallowe’en? – Happy Times and Traditions

A Happy Scary Time

Happy times are always worth remembering. Today let’s celebrate the changing traditions of Hallowe’en with a memory of how it used to be.

Children dressed for Halloween

Hallowe’en? What’s with the apostrophe?

Halloween originated as the Eve of All Saints Day, which used to be All Hallows Day. That accounts for the ‘hallow’ part of Halloween. Lots of you already know that. So did I.
But I recently learned the rest of the story. The Eve of All Hallows Day, or Hallows Eve, should have given us Halloweve. But, back in the past, instead of using Eve as an abbreviation for Evening (meaning the night before the big day), Evening was shortened to Even. So you had Hallows Even, which eventually became Hallowe’en, and still later… Halloween.
Now you know.

Halloween used to have October all to itself.

When I was a child, there was no competition from other October holidays, and every free moment of the elementary school day for the entire month of October was devoted to drawing detailed pictures of haunted houses populated by skeletons, ghosts and black cats who hissed as witches rode brooms across the face of the moon.
When we tired of haunted houses, we drew graveyards with tombstones carved to read R.I.P., I. M. Dead and U. R. Too. 
Instead of reading about Harry Potter’s Halloween feast, we walked with Ichabod Crane as the teacher read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
There wasn’t a pilgrim or Thanksgiving turkey in sight. And Christmas? That was far, far away. No candy canes, no ads for Christmas toys, no Hallmark channel movies.
Only Halloween enlivened October.

Halloween has always been scary.

At first, people believed that the dead and/or their spirits walked the earth on the night before All Hallows Day. 
Much later children disguised themselves and used the evening as an occasion to play tricks on their neighbors—think of Tootie and the flour sack in the old musical,“Meet Me In St. Louis.”

Tootie in "Meet Me In St. Louis"
Tootie

Still later came the notion of providing treats to avoid the children’s tricks. By the time I was a child, the custom had evolved to chanting “Trick or Treat!’ at the door. In that more trusting time, we children would often be invited into the home and asked, “What are you going to do?” You had to have something to offer to get a treat—a joke to tell, a song to sing, a little dance—but the treats were great! Candy apples rolled in crushed nuts, popcorn balls gooey with caramel, rich sugary fudge, and homemade cookies. Instead of a ransom to avoid mischief, the treat had become a reward for performing some trick to amuse the household.
And when we hauled the loot hime, no one checked our candy, and with no lectures about nutrition or tooth decay, we ate until we could hold no more.
Scary!

Glowing in the dark.

Costumes have changed, too. We wore costumes made at home. One year, my brother and I wore paper sacks from the dry cleaner (apparently it was the pre-plastic wrap era) on which our father had painted skeletons with white bones highlighted in a pale glowing green. We were probably more laden with radium than a wristwatch dial—but who knew? Happily we traipsed from house to house, mob after mob of children, with nary an adult in sight: Hobos, Ghosts, Gypsies, Pirates, Witches, Princesses and Clowns. If there was a Superman costume, it was homemade and clearly ahead of its time. The nights I remember were cool and crisp, with air that held the nutmeg scent of dried leaves and often a tang of woodsmoke.

Children in halloween costumes

 Parties and hayrides

In high school, a classmate might throw a Halloween party. We’d carve Jack o Lanterns, with a prize for the best one. There would be apples floating in a tank of water. You had to bob to get one—that meant putting your face in the tank and grabbing the apple with your teeth—no hands allowed. And for snacks we had caramel or even chocolate popcorn balls with apple cider in punch bowls smoking with dry ice.
Sometimes there would be hayrides under clear cold skies lit by full, harvest moons. Back then, a hayride didn’t mean square hay bales on a flatbed trailer, but slippery, crunchy, resilient mounds of straw in wagons built to hold hay, not people, and pulled by massive, patient draft horses, instead of tractors.
We sang songs from our parents’ day—Shine on Harvest Moon, You Are My Sunshine, and Clementine. We laughed ridiculously hard at ancient knock-knock jokes, so hard that some of us fell off the wagon and had to run to catch up. The horses were never stopped to wait for stragglers, so jumping back on required the help of friends who would pull you to safety, or failing that, tumble off themselves.
When the night ended, we’d walk home, under a black sky pierced with white-hot, quivering stars, kicking through drifts of leaves, and smelling the cold, the ripeness, the anticipation that was autumn.

Live every day. Make a memory.

Until next time,
Susan.

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Mid-Holiday Thoughts

mountains in Alaska-a holiday picture

Ten favorite quotations

I am a collector of quotations. To my mind they are the ideal collectible. They don’t take up space on your mantle or bookshelves, and they offer wisdom and encouragement when you take them out. Plus, they are easy and often useful to share. So without further explanation and in no particular order, here are ten of my current favorites:

  1. He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail. –Abraham Maslow
  2. I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance. — e.e.cummings
  3. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence , then, is not an act, but a habit. — Will Durant
  4. All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure. — Mark Twain
  5. Work is love made visible. –Kahlil Gibran
  6. There are some problems you cannot solve in a million years unless you think about them for five minutes. –M.L. Goldberger
  7. You’re never a loser until you’ve quit trying. — Mike Ditka
  8. When a man’s willing and eager, the gods join in. — Aeschylus
  9. Success is on the far side of failure. –T.J. Watson
  10. Doors are interesting. They open. They close. And the doors we open and close each day decide the lives we lead. –Flora Whittemore

May your New Year be blessed.

Until next time,
Susan

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A Two-step Plan to the Best Christmas Ever

Christmas decorated houseWhat does it take to make Christmas happen? Holiday season commercials tell you to do MORE this year in order to make Christmas a success. Before your eyes flash pictures of things to buy or to do that, the ads imply, will make your holidays better. But must every year somehow surpass the year before?  That’s a wonderful recipe for stress.

Sorry, decoration hawkers of the world. I don’t agree. I think the way to make the most of your holiday this year may be to do less.You only need to do two things to have the best Christmas ever. The first is rooted in thinking, the second in doing.

The first requirement for a great holiday is to adopt the best attitude.

Thinking refers to our attitude. The first requirement for a great holiday is to adopt the best attitude. Children can teach up how.

When my grandkids were six and seven, everything was the best ever.
“This was the best day of my whole life.”
“This is the best dinner ever.”
There was no limit to how many things could be best. This became clear to me one day when, for no good reason really, I challenged my seven-year-old granddaughter when, for the second day in a row, she declared “This was the best day ever.”

“You said that yesterday,” I observed. “So which really was the best?”
“Both,” she replied. “Yesterday was the best, and today is the best.”
“So on tomorrow, which will be the best: today or yesterday?”
“Both. They were both the best.”

After a while, I got it. In her mind, once a day is the best, it stays the best, and it can be followed by another best day without being superseded.

We should all be as smart as seven-year-olds. The attitude that makes Christmas the best ever, includes understanding that we are allowed more than one “best”. In fact, we can have as many as we choose.

The second requirement for a great holiday is to do something to celebrate.

So let me tell you about one of my many best Christmases. We were newlyweds, my husband and I, living in an efficiency flat situated in an old, but well-kept area of Chicago. That meant we had a bathroom, a kitchen with a small dining area, and a living room with a Murphy bed that folded up into the wall during the day. (Yes, really!)

Being young, foolish and broke, we decided the smart thing to do would be to buy gifts at the after-Christmas sales and, of course, we weren’t going to spend money on a tree or decorations. My mother and his had always made Christmas happen without much help from the rest of the family, and we honestly didn’t realize that some  effort on our part would be required. Consequently, our Christmas spirit was sadly lacking that year, and we weren’t really sure why.

When my parents came to visit on the day after Christmas my brother, a high school senior, was scandalized. No tree, no decorations, no presents…it wasn’t to be borne. When my husband and I went with my parents to shop the sales, he stayed home.

Hours later we returned, tired and cranky, and found the apartment transformed. Our first clue was a small rectangle of green construction paper taped to the front door. On it was written: WREATH (big and beautiful). We opened the door and dangling from a long strip of tape hanging from the high ceiling was a construction paper square—yellow, this time. It was labeled in black ink, similar to the sign on the front door, as MISTLETOE.

As we stepped into the apartment, a strange and wonderful sight met our eyes. In one corner of the room, the old army cot that was my brother’s bed had been upended, and the upper legs collapsed in to make a point, of sorts. The cot was covered with a bright green thermal blanket and hanging from the blanket were a dozen or more of the construction paper signs.

At the tip-top was a yellow rectangle: STAR (big and beautiful). Below that one could find ORNAMENT (gold), ORNAMENT (striped), ORNAMENT (sparkly) and ORNAMENT (red), plus TINSEL (lots of). On the floor next to the one straggling corner of green blanket was the inevitable… ORNAMENT (broken).

Sitting at the base of the “tree,” a yellow sign proclaimed itself to be the MANGER SCENE (Mary, Joseph, and Babe included).

You’ve guessed it. The second requirement for a great holiday is to do something to celebrate. And money is no object. My brother didn’t spend any money, but he took action. The effect was immediate and dramatic.

Suddenly it was Christmas.

Of all the Christmases I remember, even the wonderful ones when our children were young, there is none that taught me as much as the Christmas my brother gave us that year. I learned that it isn’t about the lights, or the candles, or the tree—though those are all good things. It’s about the love that puts them there. And it doesn’t matter if the ornaments are fancy, or homemade, or even just construction paper signs. It is caring enough to make the season special—with some sign of celebration, however small—that wakes the Christmas spirit in our hearts. It doesn’t have to be bigger than last year. It doesn’t have to be brighter. It doesn’t have to be shiny or new. But someone has to care enough to make an effort to set the scene.

This year I will be traveling in mid-December, to spend Christmas with family. I wasn’t going to decorate the house…it seemed a silly waste of effort. But you know, I think I will. Not the boxes and boxes of things I enjoy hauling out and putting up most years, but something. Something small, put up with love, to celebrate the season. Maybe even a few construction paper signs, though they are brittle now, and yellowed with age. Something to make Christmas happen.