Monday, December 27, 2010

The Dark Side of Christmas Lights

While researching in the New York Times I came across a story about a man dressed as Santa Claus who was badly burned when he stepped too close to a Christmas tree and a candle ignited his costume. From reading old accounts I knew that people used real candles to decorate their trees and the danger of that was immediately obvious, but I began to wonder how rare these Santa accidents were. I was surprised to find out they were not very rare at all.

25 December 1879. Paris, Kentucky.
Frederick R. Jaynes was fatally burned when his Santa Claus costume caught fire from a lighted taper at the residence of J. H. Bassett.

25 December 1882. Montgomery, New York. 
George Smedes was painfully burned when his Santa Claus wig caught fire at the Academy Hall.

24 December 1888. Boston, Massachusetts. 
T. D. Roberts received severe burns when his Santa Claus costume was ignited by a candle on the Christmas tree at the Boston Industrial Temporary Home where he was Superintendent. He is not expected to recover.

26 December 1888. Geneva, Illinois. 
John M. Stillwell was fatally burned when his Santa Claus costume caught fire from a candle at a church festival.

26 December 1889. Bourbon, Illinois. 
Samuel Beardsley was seriously burned when his Santa Claus costume caught fire at the town's Christmas festival. He is not expected to live.

2 January 1890. Brooklyn, New York. 
James E. Manson, 26, died from burns received when his Santa Claus costume was ignited by a candle on the Christmas tree at the home of his brother-in-law, John Ramsey.

28 December 1893. Mount Vernon, New York. 
Mrs. C. M. McLean, wife of Col. C. M. McClean and a niece of the late Col. George W. McLean, was badly burned when her Santa Claus costume was ignited by the candles on the Christmas tree in Willard Hall.

24 December 1894. Hoboken, New Jersey. 
Edward Beyer was burned when his Santa Claus costume was ignited by a candle on the CHristmas tree at the home of his brother-in-law, Frederick Gunkel.

25 December 1894. Fairlown, New Jersey. 
Reading (Pennsylvania) High School teacher Charles S. Foos was severely burned when his false Santa Claus beard was ignited by a candle on the Christmas tree at the home of his fiancee, Miss. Marie Demarest.

18 January 1895. New York, New York. 
Edward L. Pratt died in St. Mark's Hospital as a result of burns received Christmas night when his Santa Claus costume was ignited by a wax candle on the Christmas tree.

25 December 1895. Parkersburg, West Virginia. 
Clyde Farnsworth was burned to death when his Santa Clause costume caught fire at a Christmas party when a guest playfully threw a lighted match at him.

25 December 1896. North Attleboro, Massachusetts. 
Deacon Edward Southerland of the Baptist Church was seriously burned when his huge bushy beard was ignited by a candle on the Christmas tree as he played Sata Claus at the Christmas festival.

6 December 1897. Trenton, New Jersey. 
Josephine Wagner, a domestic servant employed by Col. A. R. Kuser, was badly, perhaps fatally, burned when her Santa Claus costume caught fire from an open grate.

21 December 1900. New York, New York. 
Carrie Hanley, 14, was horribly burned with little chance of recovery when her Santa Clause costume caught fire by going too near a lighted gas jet at Public School 44 in North Moore Street. Also burned, though not severely, was Veronica Schwab, 10, who was dressed as Mrs. Claus. Carrie died on 22 December in the Hudson Street Hospital.

22 December 1900. Bellevill, New Jersey. 
Leroy Sargent, 14, was seriously burned at Public School #1 when his Santa Claus costume was ignited by a light on the Christmas tree.

27 December 1901. Summit, New Jersey. 
Bert Underwood, a prominent missionary of the Baptist Church in America, was badly, if not fatally, burned when his Santa Claus costume was ignited by a spark from a lamp.

25 December 1901. Oldtown, Maryland. 
John Carder, Jr., was probably fatally burned when, as he left for the church, a young man playfully held a lighted match to his back igniting his Santa Clause costume

23 December 1904. Southbury, Connecticut. 
Burritt M. Tuttle, Judge of the Town Court, was severely burned when his false Santa Claus beard caught fire from the Christmas tree candles in the Methodist Church.

26 December 1904. Peterstown, New Jersey. 
John Signora was hospitalized in a serious condition when his Santa Claus costume was ignited by an exploding cigar given to him by a friend as a joke.

26 December 1905. Houston, Texas. 
W. H. Osborne was badly burned when his Santa Claus costume caught fire as his distributed present for his neighborhood. He is not expected to live.

26 December 1905. Houston, Texas. 
Sid A. Anderson was burned with his false Santa Claus beard was ignited as he lit the candles on his Christmas tree. It is believed he will recover.

23 December 1905. Leicester, Massachusetts. 
Leicester Academy assistant teacher Alfred M. Frye was dangerously burned when his Santa Claus disguise touched a candle and flashed into flame.

25 December 1906. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 
Miss Ella Sudflow died when her long Santa Claus coat was ignited by the candles on the Christmas tree.

24 December 1908. Denton, New York. 
Henry Campbell was severely burned when the candles on the Christmas tree in the village schoolhouse caught his long white whiskers on fire.

24 December 1910. Albion, New York. 
Schoolboys Charles Anderson and Peter Groce were seriously burned at the Hindsburg schoolhouse when their Santa Claus and Jack Frost costumes caught fire.

21 August 1921. Ferndale, New York. 
Mrs. Bessie Jacobs was badly burned when the paper Santa Claus costume she wore to a masked ball caught fire on the lighted candle she wore.

Changing Servers - some downtime

It seems while we were all enjoying Christmas the web server went down and no one noticed. We are moving the files to a new server and should be back in a few hours. Will keep you updated here, on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent Calendar 2010: December 14 - Fruit Cake

I love fruit cake! Not the brightly coloured ones filled with red and green candied cherries and bright yellow pineapple, but the dark, aged, brandy soaked, raisin, sultana and currant filled ones of my childhood.

Everyone in my family makes their Christmas cake the same, Grannie, Mum, Aunti Di, Jacqui and me. The cake is always baked months in advance so it can age properly and be fed brandy to keep it moist. A lovely thick layer of marzipan is glued on with apricot jam. Then the cake is decorated with royal icing in peaks like snowdrifts and wrapped with a wide red ribbon. I think we all do the peaks because it is much easier than getting a smooth finish. Little figures and silver dragees are added to create a wintry scene - a penguin, a child on a sled, and a snowman.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent Calendar 2010: December 6 - Santa Claus

I don't remember when I stopped believing in Father Christmas, but there was a time when I believed very strongly.

According to the story, and I was far too young to remember it myself, I was about 2 yrs old and my sister would have been about 4. We went to a Christmas Party on camp and Father Christmas himself was there! When he arrived, I assume we children were not expecting him, our eyes were wide with excitement and awe. He gave us presents and I received a white poodle pajama case that I had for years. It seems it was my favourite thing for a very long time, but at about 8 or 9 I decided I did not like it very much. A poodle seemed a bit childish and it was so much easier to just put my PJs under my pillow.

A couple of years ago, the poodle PJ case come up in conversation and I mentioned that I could not imagine who would have given me such a thing and that surely I never actually liked it. That was when my Mum told me the story of the Christmas party, the poodle and Father Christmas. The really surprising part? My Dad played Santa that year! It seems unbelievable to me now, but neither my sister nor I recognised him as anything other than Father Christmas.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent Calendar 2010: December 5 - Outdoor Decorations

First an apology about missing yesterday - it seems my problem with Christmas cards extends to writing about them as well as in them!

I don't remember ever seeing houses decorated on the outside until I moved to the US in my early 20's. I am not sure if that means people didn't decorate their houses or if, like so many things, life was a bit different growing up on military bases.

When the boys were younger we always drove around the neighbourhoods looking for the best decorations, but we have never decorated the outside of our house.

Each year Karl makes a wreath for the front door. He uses the branches he cuts off the Christmas tree along with various bits of holly and other native plants from the farm. The one thing he does not collect is the mistletoe that grows in one of two of the tallest trees. One year our eldest son, Dan, was determined to get some mistletoe for his girlfriend. He tried the extension ladder but it would not reach, so he climbed to the very top rung of the ladder and reached with a telescoping fruit picker until he was just able to rake off a tiny piece. Obviously the heroics worked because the girlfriend is now his wife. Hopefully his younger brothers will not think that death defying, mother scaring, stunts like that are a necessary part of all marriage proposals.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent Calendar 2010: December 4 - Christmas Cards

I don't send Christmas cards. I have a long history of buying boxes of cards, writing and addressing them all and then not mailing them. Realising that was a waste, I stopped buying them. I hope ESP is real because I mentally wish everyone I love a Happy Christmas.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent Calendar 2010: December 3 - Christmas Tree Ornaments

I remember very little about our Christmas tree ornaments. I know we had them and I know they were glass, but I don't think I could describe a single one. I did buy some a couple of years ago that reminded me of some tiny baubles from my childhood and Karl said his family had the same type too, but even they are rather generic.

I do remember one year Mum decided to spray paint some pomegranate shells and we had to remove the seeds very carefully with a pin and leave all the inner membranes intact. The shells were then dried and spray painted gold. I don't remember being very impressed with them, sorry Mum!

Another decoration I vaguely remember was a paper bell. It was made of tissue with a cardboard cover that closed like a book. When you opened the cover all the way until it was inside out, a beautiful honeycomb of tissue created a fully 3-dimensional bell. This was big - maybe 8 inches tall - and was hung from the ceiling where the swags of paper chains met. There were more than one of these - I remember yellow and red - but cannot recall if both were bells.

We didn't have candy canes on the tree but we did have little foil wrapped chocolates that hung from the branches - what a treat it was to be allowed to eat one of those!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent Calendar 2010: December 2 - Holiday Foods

It is not possible to talk about Christmas food in my family without mentioning the infamous "Day Dad cooked Christmas Dinner." I was about 5 or 6 so my memories of this only come from the repeated telling of the story and some parts of it I don't actually know - did we eat it?!

Mum had come down with the Hong Kong flu on Christmas Eve or perhaps on Christmas morning itself, but whenever it started she was bedridden on Christmas Day and feeling awful. My dad can cook so the obvious answer was for Dad  to cook the Christmas dinner. I do not know if it was a goose or a turkey or how the rest of the dinner came out. What I do know is that at some point someone became aware that the giblets had not been removed from the bird - perhaps the smell of the plastic bag melting was the clue? For me the story is incomplete, but I tell it to my children every year anyway.

The other story I always tell as we sit around the table, is of Christmas dinner at my grandmother's house. My grannie died before our youngest sons were born and our eldest was only a baby, but she was a wonderful lady and I hope they feel a connection to her through my memories.

Dinner was always roast turkey (maybe goose when I was very young), roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, brussels sprouts, white sauce, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy and bacon wrapped chipollatas. This was always followed by Christmas pudding and custard or cream and trifle or individual jellies for those who did not like the pud. My own Christmas dinners are the same except for the chipollatas (can't get those here) and the vegetables vary by what we have growing at the time. The story of my grannie is less about what she cooked, but more about how she served it. She would offer a second helping of turkey and when the unwitting diner assented she would pressure them to have seconds of everything until their plate was piled almost as high as the first time! "More turkey, John" "More for you Derek" she would say, and dad and Uncle Derek would be suckered in. Once the plates were passed there was always an excuse for each added morsel - "can't have turkey without stuffing," "there are only a couple of sprouts left," "don't want to waste the white sauce," and so on. Everyone would laugh, but no one was safe! The same ritual was repeated with desert and no matter how full we were, no one could resist a tiny portion of pudding and a splash of custard - which together always managed to fill a bowl.

A few hours later the table would be re-set for tea. A Suffolk ham, rusks, celery sticks, pickled onions, green tomato chutney, sausage rolls, mince pies...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent Calendar 2010: December 1 – The Christmas Tree

We always had a real tree until I was about 8 or 9. That year we were living in a small flat in Berlin and my parents came home with an artificial tree. I think the tree came from a large cash and carry in the French sector. My sister and I were never allowed in, we had to sit in the car outside while my parents shopped (not a very unusual thing back then, though it seems shocking now). The tree looked quite real - the branches had to be assembled and were adjustable. It looked like a blue spruce which is still my favorite Christmas tree. I last saw that tree in 1993 - I haven't been home since then. I really miss that tree and all the lovely Christmases we had around it.

My own children have grown up with real trees cut from our own land. They are Charlie Brown trees, but we love them anyway. Karl and the boys usually pick out a tree, cut it down and carry it home before realising that although the tree looked tiny out in the woods, it is far too big to fit in the house. Limbs are removed, sections of truck cut away, usually the tip goes too (thank goodness we have a large star to cover up the wounds) and by the time it is set up everyone is rather tired of the tree and thinking the "other" one would have been a better choice. Once the decorations are in place, though, everyone agrees that this really is the best tree ever!

Christmas 2003