“Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus . . . . . . and More!”

Most everyone is familiar with the phrase “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” but may not be familiar with the interesting historical information behind it.

The phrase comes from an editorial entitled “Is There a Santa Claus?” first appearing in the September 21, 1897, edition of ‘The (New York) Sun’ newspaper in reply to a question sent in by a young girl. The editorial response has since become the most reprinted newspaper editorial in the English language.

As the story goes, eight-year-old Laura Virginia O’Hanlon first asked her father the question “Is there a Santa Claus?”  Virginia’s father, Dr. Phillip O’Hanlon, a coroner’s assistant in Manhattan, suggested that she write a letter to the prominent ‘Sun’ newspaper, advising that “If you see it in ‘The Sun’, it’s so.”

There is some question due to the wording if Virginia actually completely penned the letter herself at age eight, or more likely with the aid of her father. Regardless, the query arrived at ‘The Sun’. Few may be aware of the rest of the story.

The editor who prepared the response to Virginia’s question was named Francis Pharcellus Church. Interestingly, Mr. Church had been a war correspondent during the devastating and horrific American Civil War and suffered from a great loss of faith and hope in society afterward.  He was a hardened cynic, an atheist not given to superstition, curmudgeonly, and wanted no part of writing the newspaper’s reply, to the point of initially not allowing his name to even be attached to the piece.

Nevertheless, Mr. Church’s response turned out to be a masterful testimony much more far-reaching than the original, simple Santa Claus question. Addressing the philosophical issues of not only the existence of Santa Claus, he uncharacteristically affirmed hope, encouragement, generosity, love, and faith, as well.

Despite being placed seventh in order on the newspaper’s editorial page, even appearing below an article on the newly-invented chainless bicycle, Mr. Church’s reply was both noticed and well-received by readers, taking on a subsequent life of its own which has endured over a century and still going strong.

Reprinting here for everyone, should you wish to share this inspiring piece with your family this holiday season . . . .


“We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.

“We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

“Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

“You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

“No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”


Virginia went on later in life to become an educator, receiving a doctorate from Fordham University in 1930, with her dissertation on ‘The Importance of Play’, a theme later echoed famously by Fred (Mr.) Rogers, that play is actually the work of childhood.  Later in life, she credited Mr. Church’s editorial response to her Santa Claus letter to influencing and shaping the direction of her life in a positive manner. She passed away on May 13, 1971, at the age of eighty-one.

At the time of the editorial reply, Francis Pharcellus Church was fifty-eight years old. He passed away a few years later at the age of sixty-seven and is buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York. He had no children.

One wonders what forces of the Universe combined to bring together such an unlikely pairing? An innocent young girl and her curiosity about Santa Claus, and a childless curmudgeon, to inspire a timeless literary piece of love, generosity, and devotion.

What would the world be and what would we do without Santa Claus? Without Kindness, Hope, Faith, Love, Compassion, Generosity, and Charity? Without Santa Claus embodying the Spirit of Christmas?  Without our faith and belief in the unseen? Truly, there is nothing more real, indeed. May the Spirit of Christmas continue to live within and inspire us all.

Thank You always for visiting and spending part of your day with us! And in the words of Charles Dickens thru Tiny Tim —“God bless us, every one!”  — Jim  (and Red!)


“They err who think Santa Claus enters through the chimney. He enters through the heart.” — Charles W. Howard

“Of course there is a Santa Claus. It’s just that no single somebody could do all he has to do.            So the Lord has spread the task among us all. That’s why everybody is Santa Claus.        I am. You are.” — Truman Capote


Old-fashioned, Family-friendly, Multi-generational Stories and Fun for All Ages!
~ About an Uncommonly Special Bear and His Friends ~

“Whenever you give someone a present or sing a holiday song, you’re helping Santa Claus. To me, that’s what Christmas is all about. Helping Santa Claus!” — Louis Sachar


“To say there is no Santa Claus is the most erroneous statement in the world. Santa Claus is a thought that is passed from generation to generation. After time this thought takes on a human form. Maybe if all children and adults understand the symbolism of this thought                             we can actually attain Peace on Earth and good will to men everywhere.”                 —  Charles W. Howard


This is a purposefully non-monetized, ad-free site to be able to offer the most enjoyable reading and viewing experience for everyone, with all content freely shared, and generates no income to offset the costs of maintaining and operating. If you enjoy your visits and time with us, Join our new Patron Community today. Patrons help my friend Little Red Bear and me to continue this as an ad-free site,  dedicated solely to entertainment and educational purposes.


“Whenever anyone was unselfish, that was Santa Claus. Christmas Eve was the time when everybody was unselfish. On that one night, Santa Claus was everywhere, because          everybody, all together, stopped being selfish and wanted other people to be happy.         And in the morning you saw what that had done.” — Laura Ingalls Wilder


 

 

“That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown . . . .”

The morning of December 9th, 1965 found me one week away from my 16th birthday, approaching nearly not fast enough at the time, as you may well imagine. That evening featured the debut of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on the CBS television network, based on my favorite comic strip “Peanuts” by creator Charles Schulz. The show remains a much-anticipated classic and delight each holiday season for millions of viewers to this day. Fifty-two years have not diluted the show’s message.

While there are many discussion themes running thru the story, the most poignant for me has always been Linus’s speech on stage, responding to a frustrated Charlie Brown’s question of — “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!?”

At this time of year, trying to keep our wits about us while navigating thru and around all the hustle and bustle of crowded malls, traffic, grocery shopping, cookie exchanges, decorating, children’s school plays and activities, holiday parties, family pictures and greeting cards, boxes, packages, wrappings, and bows, all while trying to out-maneuver porch pirates from swiping online deliveries, do you ever find yourself wondering the same question — “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

Sometimes we simply need to pause, taking a moment to catch our breath and reflect.

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought,                doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”            — Dr. Seuss

As one of my sometimes forgetful uncles used to say years ago — “I don’t need to be told, but I do occasionally need to be reminded.”

In reply to his friend Charlie Brown, Linus took the stage to remind us all —

“Lights, please . . . .”


“And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid.

“And the angel said unto them — “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

“And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.””


And that is what Christmas is all about. For Charlie Brown. For Linus, Lucy, and Snoopy. For us all. The reason for the season, as they say. Christmas, it turns out, does indeed mean a little bit more.


Linus is famously noted for carrying around his trusted security blanket with him wherever he goes. Held tightly fast and never let go lest panic ensues. Have you ever noticed that at the point when Linus repeats the words of the angel “Fear not!” that the blanket is suddenly on the floor beside him, confidently lain aside until he once again retrieves it at the end of the speech?  There are subtle messages and lessons awaiting us in that simple action and demonstration of faith, too.


As Ebineezer Scrooge even came to realize in the end — “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year!”

Peace, Good Will, Kindness, Generosity, Charity, Compassion, Empathy, Love — none of these are or should be exclusive or seasonal things, as we should truly keep them in our hearts throughout the year.  The Christmas Season is an annual reminder of how we should be always, for everyone and all things in this miraculous and beautiful world we all share and call home.

Thank You for visiting and spending part of your day with us.  Wishing you and yours a very Merry and Blessed Christmas and holiday season! A simple act of kindness or encouraging word can change someone’s entire life around. Will you do that for someone today? In the Spirit of Christmas.  — Jim  (and Red!)


            “Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.”          – Peg Bracken

“Peace on earth will come to stay, when we live Christmas every day.” – Helen Steiner Rice


Old-fashioned, Family-friendly, Multi-generational Stories and Fun for All Ages!
~ About an Uncommonly Special Bear and His Friends ~

“Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves.” – Eric Sevareid


“Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.” – Washington Irving


This is a purposefully non-monetized, ad-free site to be able to offer the most enjoyable reading and viewing experience for everyone, with all content freely shared, and generates no income to offset the costs of maintaining and operating. If you enjoy your visits and time with us, Join our new Patron Community today. Patrons help my friend Little Red Bear and me to continue this as an ad-free site,  dedicated solely to entertainment and educational purposes.


“Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it’s Christmas.” – Dale Evans Rogers


 

A Christmas Poem — “Blue House on the Hill”

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!  Photos, pictures, and works of art frequently inspire me to write stories or poems about them.  Such was the case recently when I viewed a wonderful artwork featuring a beautiful blue house in winter.

Offering a new little Christmas poem, inspired by the “Dusk” painting by artist Trisha Romance, below.

“Blue House on the Hill”

Our old blue house sat up high on the hill,

Inside warm and safe from winter’s raw chill.

Cookies, cakes, and pies all scented our home,

None of us a thought to venture or roam.

Recalling holidays in memories now,

And longing to return, if only somehow.

Our Christmas tree twinkling with lights shining bright,

We awoke Christmas mornings, filled with delight.

Brightly-wrapped packages beneath the tree,

We dove in to open them with happiness and glee.

Our parents observed (from a safe distance),

Unwrapping packages never called for assistance.

New clothes and gifts always gave me great pleasure,

But now looking back, it’s the memories I treasure.

Wrappings, ribbons, bows, and gifts — all works of art,

But the thoughts behind them are what truly warmed the heart.

Family would visit later to come Christmas Calling,

We always shoveled the sidewalk to avoid any falling.

Each person bearing gifts, as we had presents for them, too,

Every Christmas an over-sized sweater, handmade by Aunt Sue.

Gathered at the table for dinner, someone then to say grace,

Silent moments, recalling ones now in a Heavenly place.

Christmas with roast turkey, dressing, potatoes, hot gravy, biscuits, and more,

Grown-ups would then visit and chat, tired children napped — fast asleep on the floor.

Desserts, goodies, and treats would all then come later,

Even though still full, making waistlines the greater.

Spiced punch for adults, eggnog for those not of age,

Mother’s spiced fruitcake always taking center stage.

I would like to go back to our little blue house,

Sneaking in to watch from a corner like a mouse.

Again, seeing Christmas thru youthful, wide-open eyes,

Knowing now the gifts and presents weren’t really the prize.

Oh, the joy-filled Christmases of my past,

So many memories, and still they last.


 As always, Thank You for visiting and spending part of your day with us. Sending the very best wishes your way for a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season!  — Jim  (and Red!)

“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.”  — Bob Hope
 
“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.” — Roy L. Smith

Old-fashioned, Family-friendly, Multi-generational Stories and Fun for All Ages!
~ About an Uncommonly Special Bear and His Friends ~

“The smells of Christmas are the smells of childhood.”  — Richard Paul Evans



“Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.” — Charles Schulz 


This is a purposefully non-monetized, ad-free site to be able to offer the most enjoyable reading and viewing experience for everyone, with all content freely shared, and generates no income to offset the costs of maintaining and operating. If you enjoy your visits and time with us, Join our new Patron Community today. Patrons help my friend Little Red Bear and me to continue this as an ad-free site,  dedicated solely to entertainment and educational purposes.


“One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.”  — Andy Rooney


Christmas Trains — Tracking Memories Beneath the Tree

Looking back now over Christmases in my childhood, railroad trains were as integral a part and essential to the holiday itself as Santa Claus, Snickerdoodles, and Christmas trees. We are not talking 1940 as in Ralphie from ‘A Christmas Story’, but not far removed, being more early 1950’s for me, being born at the tail end of 1949.

Every year my family would devote one December Saturday for an annual pilgrimage to downtown St. Louis to see the big department store window displays with their trains running around and around, shop a bit, crane our necks up at the tall buildings, and have lunch at Miss Hullings’ Cafeteria. It was magical, at a time when all meals were made at home and “going out” was something that just wasn’t done except on rare occasion. The annual Train Window Displays certainly counted as a special occasion.

When very young, let’s just say around three to five years old for discussion purposes as memories before that are a bit more foggy, we lived in Kirkwood, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Every year, Santa Claus would arrive at the Kirkwood Railroad Station on a train pulled by a huff-chuffing steam locomotive, complete with whistles and bells. Santa would be greeted by applause and cheers by the crowd, step out of the train, wave, and then come inside the station for each of us to take our turns sitting on his lap for a photo while confiding our seasonal wish list.  Memories like that tend not to fade over the years. And I still have the photos of me on his lap. Somewhere.

I have not submitted to an official DNA test but would bet the next rent check that I inherited my train-loving gene from my father. Beyond the real world Santa train and department store window displays, my father was as big a train fan as I remain today. My third birthday (yes, I remember because it was that special) brought a Marx Passenger Train set from Santa, just like the one he arrived in at the station each year. Within minutes my father had the little train circling around the base of the Christmas tree. There is no doubt that train logged as many miles circling the tree as Santa’s reindeer that Christmas.  For an over-the-road truck driver, my dad made a crackerjack engineer!

The following Christmas brought another train, a Lionel Freight Train with a huffing, puffing steam locomotive that actually had a working headlight and put out tiny puffs of smoke as it ran around the tracks. The technology was advancing by leaps and bounds in the early ’50’s! We had two trains circling the Christmas tree that year, in opposite directions so the make-believe engineers could wave at each other as they passed each time around. It was dizzyingly awesome.

That was to be my last complete train set package for many years, as each subsequent Christmas brought more Lionel train cars, buildings, tiny people to be painted, bridges, trees, telephone poles, tunnels, and accessories. Adding on to the established base. Before long, my father and I had a complete, working Lionel model train layout going each holiday, complete with plastic buildings, Cowboys and Indians, army men, horses, pigs, and cows. It continued to build and grow for several years.

Buildings were lit from the inside.  Working switches were added.  A new transformer arrived later with a whistle button and a cool, side-mounted throttle. Two pre-fab tunnels were added, one tunnel with a little blue lake painted on top and the other, longer tunnel curved to fit over a matching curve at the far end. A tall tower with a revolving red and green lantern at the top arrived one year, along with crossing gates that blinked red lights and went down and then back up as trains rumbled by. We had a long, silver metal bridge which merely sat on the floor, bridging over nothing, but it was neat to see the train travel thru it. A few years later, a new flat car appeared, which at the push of a button launched a helicopter flying off thru the air in someone’s direction. The future had arrived right in our living room!

Meanwhile, apart from the ever-burgeoning Lionel empire, the old Marx passenger train dutifully encircled the Christmas tree on our living room floor each year. I don’t think our Christmas trees would have remained upright without that Marx train holding their roots in place over the years. It had a job and it did it well.

At some point around the age of nine or so, my older sister moved out to be on her own, leaving her bedroom vacant. It was just the right size to fit a 4′ x 8′ plywood board atop sawhorses for a permanent set-up, and it wasn’t long before my father and I were hurrying to construct a bonafide model train layout to be ready by Christmas, just a few months away. It was awesome and took up nearly the whole room.

But, and please pardon me if I get a little technical here in explanation, it wasn’t long before we reached the inherent problem presented by the old Lionel trains, the point where the train layout reached its limits. There was no more room for expansion.

In model trains ‘Scale’ represents the ratio of the model size to the real-life prototype. Lionel trains were ‘O’ scale, modeled on a scale of 1:48, where 1 inch on the model equals 48 inches in real life, making for fairly good-sized model trains which required a goodly amount of space to operate. Especially around curves, since trains do not handle 90 degree turns as well as automobiles and bicycles, having a much larger turning radius. Which in turn limits how much track and modeling can be done in a given space.

Still with me? Good — because now we’re getting to the dramatic part. Reaching my eleventh birthday, buoyed by a decent fifth-grade education by this point and having been exposed to Boy’s Life Magazine and the modern world thru the Boy Scouts, I had become aware of the newest, modern new thing in model railroading — ‘HO’ scale — ‘HO’ itself standing for “Half of O” scale.

‘HO’ scale modeling was at a 1: 87.1 modeling ratio, meaning one inch of model equaled 87.1 inches in real life. The decimal point alone made it much more scientific and cutting edge to the knowledgeable fifth-grader. In short, ‘HO’ model trains were about half the size of the old (and “out of date” in my young mind) ‘O’ scale Lionel trains while at the same time being much more detailed and realistic. The early train sets were truly more ‘toys’ while the new ‘HO’ trains were ‘models’, and to me at age eleven and now a Boy Scout, a vast difference. Madison Avenue and the marketers had my full attention. “Models” were for serious folk, while “toys” were for kids. And at age eleven and going on campouts and hikes, I no longer considered myself a kid, already being a Second Class Scout, after all.

In addition, it was all supported by the obvious fact that our Lionel train ran around on three silver tracks — Three! — while the new ‘HO’ trains ran on two more realistic, copper-colored rails with faux-wooden ties. Two tracks, like trains in the real world. Not to mention that my best friend down the street had an American Flyer set which ran on two rails like the real trains, which he constantly reminded me of.

The new ‘HO’ scale meant that in the same amount of space one could do twice as much modeling, track, and scenery work, with a much more realistic than “toyish” (three rails!) layout. Converting to HO meant that suddenly our 4′ x 8′ layout would not be maxed out, after all. The wonders of the modern age!

But, this is where my father and I parted ways. His affection for our early Lionel trains was deep-rooted and his opinions set in stone. I suppose, looking back with an understanding not yet acquired by age eleven, that he was emotionally invested in them. By advocating for the new ‘HO’ model trains, as far as he was concerned my position was pure heresy spoken by a greenhorn still wet behind the ears who didn’t know anything.

But, of course, in the fifth grade,  if really not quite knowing it all, I was aware of the unfortunate fact that if anything ‘HO’ related was going to appear under the Christmas tree that year, it wasn’t going to be delivered by Santa Claus. I negotiated, bargained, pleaded, and threw myself on the mercy of the court that year to no avail. Ol’ Dad wouldn’t budge. — No ‘HO’ — period.

And that’s where it stood for another three years. In my mind, he was being hard-headed and unreasonable, denying modern science. In his mind, I was simply out of mine. The ‘Marx’ train locomotive eventually wore out and was dutifully replaced under the tree by the old Lionel train set each Christmas, no longer running along the rails on the bedroom train layout which had long since been dismantled following the Great ‘O’ vs ‘HO’ debate of a few years past. As well as our having grown bored with it since any more work or expansion was out of the question due to having run out of space. The big Lionel was reduced to annually running its course on the floor, around and around and around beneath the tree once a year at Christmas time.

My father and I still had a good relationship, mind you. We just seldom if ever spoke about trains anymore, except in debate. With the determination and fortitude of Ralphie and his “Red Ryder BB Gun With A Compass In The Stock”, each year I would ask, plot, scheme, and maneuver for an ‘HO’ train set for Christmas, only to find myself with a pair of gloves or something else “more my age” now.

And then something happened that still to this day I cannot explain. Perhaps it was a Motherly Intervention. I have no idea and can only relate the event as it occurred.

One chilly, late October Friday night my Scoutmaster appeared in our home for an inexplicable reason, with three ‘HO’ scale, little ore car kits he was working on and building. He was seated at the kitchen table with my mother and father, explaining all about them, showing a completed model, one in progress about half-finished, and the other in pieces, still untouched in the box. I was called in to see them, and of course, I was mesmerized. The idea of building your own rolling stock from kits was fascinating to someone already loving to do handwork, and this was all being demonstrated by my Scoutmaster, nonetheless. The man who had taught me how to put up a tent, build a fire, and to make a foil pack hamburger dinner in a campfire!

If I had ‘HO’ fever already, I popped the top off the thermometer that night. After a while and having talked about all things ‘HO’ over a few cups of coffee, the mysterious discussion was over and he left. None of it ever to be discussed or mentioned again over the following months. I can only compare the strangeness of it all to Thomas Edison suddenly appearing unannounced in a colonial town square, switching on a light bulb, and then everyone going back to their candles and never mentioning it again.

And then followed the Christmas of my fourteenth year, two months later. With my birthday on December 16th, nine days before Christmas, one soon gets used to birthday and Christmas presents being combined into one, which worked out well sometimes for a larger gift than one might expect singularly for either event on its own. Other times not. But number fourteen was one of those auspicious times when it did.

That birthday was a swing and miss with something I do not recall, being told that we were just exceptionally poor and money was tight that year. I understood as we were admittedly and firmly entrenched in the “middle class — lower third” and subject to its economic ups and downs over the years, never in that “upper class” which we talked about in school.

On Christmas Eve, I opened the unusually large package which had been cleverly buried and hidden behind the Christmas tree in utter disbelief and amazement to find a brand spanking new ‘HO’ train set including my favorite — a smoke-puffing steam engine! An exact, half-size version of the old Lionel steam engine! Birds sang — Bells rang — Angels smiled — and I did a Happy Dance! The Universe was once again back in order.

Over the next year, my Father and I worked together again, in the basement this time, on a new 5′ x 9′ layout even larger than the old one, with a special “quieter” board he had come home with one day from the hardware store made specifically for train layouts, he maintained. Later as we went along, Dad protested, grumped, and griped all the way in typical fatherly fashion, complaining about the tiny ‘HO’ parts and concept in general to save face, but couldn’t hide the fact that he loved it all every bit as much as I did.

We ditched the old, pre-fab Lionel tunnels and constructed towering mountains from screen wire and plaster in their place with cuts and tunnels at two different levels. We sculpted rock cliffs, constructed trestles, built buildings, and formed trees and bushes. We wired automatic switches and every building with lights, had a working sawmill with its saw going up and down on mock logs, and a turning water wheel on a riverside mill. We had a building which “caught fire” (flickering lights, of course) and at the turn of a switch, firemen pumped real water into it to extinguish the “blaze”. To top it off, right before the next Christmas, we added an honest-to-goodness working waterfall behind which the trains passed thru another tunnel while real water drizzled down the mountainside in front. We were back loving our trains. Trains had made us “We” again.

A few years later brought the most-prized Christmas present I ever received — ever. Something I had wanted for years and had little hope of affording myself at the time — “The General”. Unwrapping the package, I remember being so excited that my sock-covered feet slipped out from under me on the newly-waxed floor! I hung suspended in mid-air for a moment and then crashed to the floor in a heap, all while carefully cradling the box in my hands to protect my new prize.

“The General” was a famed, wood-burning steam locomotive involved in a daring raid in the Civil War, when on April 12, 1862, Northern infiltrators stole the locomotive and headed back north, intent on sabotaging rebel railroad lines and bridges deep behind enemy lines as they went. They were pursued by another locomotive, “The Texas”, and eventually captured before much damage could be done. But, Fess Parker, of Davy Crockett and Walt Disney fame, had made a 1956 movie about it, “The Great Locomotive Chase”, and that was enough to have peaked my interest. “The General” was not cheap, and there it was in my hands!  I still have “The General” safely stored in its original box. Best Christmas present ever. Magic under the tree.

Nowadays, the old Marx train, worn out as it is but much too valued to be discarded, rests in a box. Emotional investment again, I suppose. The old Lionel train, together with all the attendant pieces and accessories, waits in two boxes on top of it. My collected ‘HO’ trains and materials gathered over the years? They reside in three boxes alongside. Boxed treasures of Christmases and times past. I cannot think of Christmas without thinking about trains. And cannot think of trains without recalling the times with my father. And perhaps my mother’s inserted influence. Hopefully, all to be resurrected and shown the light of day again soon following another move in the coming year, even if inoperable.  Memories on display and stories yet to be told.

Memories. And stories. That’s what holidays and Christmases are all about, aren’t they? The cherished memories we build together in our families and with our friends over the years?  Most are good.  Others maybe not so much, sometimes.  That’s the way life is. But, some of them are outstandingly special that remain with us forever.  My fondest family traditions and Christmas memories seem to run thru tunnels, over bridges, and along train tracks thru the years.

What memories of Christmases and family do you hold close to your heart? What are your most-treasured holiday traditions and stories?  Please feel free to share them in the ‘Comments’ section with us! And, I encourage you to visit my wonderful author and blogger friends listed below as they each share their cherished holiday traditions and reminiscences with us, as well.

Cat Michaels — “Holiday Traditions To Ring In Our Season”

Sandra Bennet — “Tis The Season For Holiday Traditions”

Rebecca Lyndsey — “Let’s Talk Holiday Traditions”

Rosie Russell — “Holiday Traditions Blog Hop” 

K. Lamb– “The Smell of Christmas”

Thanks as always for visiting and spending part of your day with us!  Your visits here are special to us, and we hope that in some way we help to make your day special, too.  Wishing you and yours a very Happy, Healthy, and Safe Holiday Season from Little Red Bear land! — Jim (and Red!)


From home to home, and heart to heart, from one place to another. The warmth and joy of Christmas brings us closer to each other.” — Emily Matthews

“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.” — Mary Ellen Chase 


Old-fashioned, Family-friendly, Multi-generational Stories and Fun for All Ages!
~ About an Uncommonly Special Bear and His Friends ~

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”  — Bob Hope


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The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree:  the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” — Burton Hillis


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“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ” — Norman Vincent Peale


 

 

 

 

 

Haddon Sundblom, Coca-Cola and Santa Claus

If you were to pause for a moment, close your eyes, and then conjure up the vision of Santa Claus in your mind — what would he look like?

Chances are he would be rather large, plump and portly in shape, dressed in a red outfit with white fur trim and a wide black belt, wearing boots, have a long white beard and of jolly disposition.  Am I close?

If so, thank the artist and illustrator Haddon Sundblom (‘Sund-bloom’). Haddon Sundblom is regarded as the Father of Modern Christmas by many, and was instrumental in defining the mental image of Santa Claus for my generation and for generations to come.

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Haddon “Sunny” Sundblom (1899 – 1976) was a Michigan-born American illustrator and artist of Finnish and Swedish descent, best known for the images of Santa Claus which he created for The Coca-Cola Company.  Previously, Santa Claus had been portrayed in sundry ways, from a spooky-looking little elf to a tall thin man, and wearing anything from Bishop’s robes to animal skins. Coca-Cola sought a more realistic and symbolic image for Santa Claus.

Artist and Illustrator Haddon Sundblom (1899 - 1976)

Beginning to place advertisements in popular magazines, in 1931 Coca-Cola commissioned Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus — showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa.

For inspiration, Sundblom turned to Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas”, or as more commonly known — “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. Moore’s descriptions led Sundblom to create an image of a more warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human Santa Claus, using neighbor friend Lou Prentiss, a retired salesman, as his model. Children in the paintings were two little girls who were neighbors as well, although he decided to paint one as a boy to appeal to both girls and boys.

The first Coca-Cola advertisement with the new Sundblom Santa appeared in “The Saturday Evening Post” in 1931, along with “Ladies Home Journal”, “The New Yorker”, “National Geographic”, and others.

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From 1931 to 1964, Sundblom’s creations for Coca-Cola had Santa Claus pictured as doing everything from delivering toys (and playing with them!), pausing to read letters, visiting with children who had waited up to meet him on Christmas Eve, raiding the refrigerators of several homes, warming his feet by the fire, and other activities — always with a bottle of Coke in hand or nearby. The Sundblom Santa became so popular that the images spread from print ads on to billboards, posters, calendars, plush dolls and more.

Haddon Sundblom created his final Santa image for Coca-Cola in 1964, incorporating the neighborhood florist’s grey poodle, painted black to stand out more in the image. The company continued to use the popular Santa image for several more decades. Various items bearing the Sundblom Santa image are popular collectibles to this day.

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In 2001, Haddon Sundblom’s Santa Claus was creatively brought to life in a Coca-Cola ad video tribute, animated by the Academy Award-winning animator Alexandre Petrov.

So the next time you envision Santa Claus and maybe even have a simultaneous unexplained craving for a Coca-Cola, please give a wink and nod to the artist Haddon Sundblom.  He was instrumental in defining the image of Santa Claus for us all.

Wishing the very best of the holiday season to everyone!

If you have not yet checked out our Christmas Holiday Story featuring Little Red Bear, Cinnamon Charlie and their friends, “Pine Holler Christmas” is available now on Amazon!

Wonder how Haddon Sundblom might have drawn Little Red Bear? Thanks as always for visiting.    — Jim (and Red!)

Family Times — Together Times — The Best Times 

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Check out the new Little Red Bear Adventure– “Pine Holler Christmas” on Amazon! Tap Here For A Free Preview!

 

 

Special Kid Lit Community $500 Holiday Giveaway

Only One Week To Go Before Someone Wins a $500 Amazon Gift Card!

The Special Kid Lit Community $500 Giveaway is still open if you have not had the opportunity to register and participate  yet.  The giveaway is sponsored by a wonderful group of talented kid lit authors working hard to promote children’s literacy.

The Giveaway closes on December 15th and we all know how time seems to speed up as we get closer and closer to the holidays.  Don’t put it off, register today.  Someone is going to win $500 to help with Christmas bills and goodies.  Why not you?

Entering is easy —

  • Simply sign in to Rafflecopter, the service administering the Special Kid Lit Community $500 Giveaway, using your email or Facebook account.
  • Find a list of actions that earn giveaway points to increase your chance of winning the final grand-prize of $500.00.  Actions include visiting an author Facebook page (we hope you’ll ‘LIKE’ it too!) or following an author on Twitter.
  • You can decide which actions to take and how many.  Enter just one or complete all of them at one sitting if you like. You can even enter a few actions daily, and then return at another future time to add more. It’s all up to you.
  • Rafflecopter keeps track of your entries and tallies them.  Be sure to use the same log-in each time to access the giveaway action list.
  • The Special Kid Lit Community $500 Giveaway is open now and runs thru  December 15, 2016, and is  open Worldwide.
  • Rafflecopter randomly selects and notifies the winner at the end of the event.

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Enter HERE to get started!  Remember, the more actions completed the better your chances of winning.  Little Red Bear and I strongly encourage you to enter and support this dedicated group of kid lit authors working so hard to promote children’s literacy and learning.

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”

— Emilie Buchwald

Thanks as always for visiting and wishing everyone the very best of luck!  The special Christmas Story for Little Red Bear — “Pine Holler Christmas” —  is available NOW on Amazon for Kindle and eReaders. Check below or to the side for a link and free preview.  — Jim  (and Red!)

❊ Family Times — Together Times — The Best Times ❊ 

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Check out the new Little Red Bear Adventure– “Pine Holler Christmas” on Amazon! Tap Here For A Free Preview!

The ‘Unbearable’ Work To Get a Simple Image

Sometimes we try to do something simple, and then the tech folks toss a spanner in the works and before you know it things start bouncing off the walls and we’re running for the aspirin bottle and holy water.

I purchased an online image yesterday morning for the upcoming Christmas Story featuring Little Red Bear. Now, I am just an old guy writing down stories being told to him by a bear, and not into all of the tech stuff.  I still have the old Post slide rule I used in college. So that should tell you something. I merely teach myself what I need as I go along, trying to get by and overcome each new tech hurdle and challenge as I come to it.  As usual, I downloaded what was indicated to be a simple ‘jpeg’ image. No big deal. It arrived, however, all wrapped up nice and neat in an ‘eps’ file.

Of course, my little computer had no idea what to do with it and refused to open the image file, approaching it with the same caution as a robot disarming a bomb.  Next step, research what is an ‘eps’ file, short for Encapsulated PostScript file, which can contain text as well as graphics.  Who knew?  Neat, but I didn’t need or want any text, anyway.  So then, how to open it?  More research to find a free opening app tool, get it to download, and then teach myself how to use it in order to convert the image to the jpeg format I originally wanted in order to include it in the Christmas Story.  One simple step turning into six.

But, it’s all taken care of.  The sparkling new, converted ‘jpeg’ image is ready to go, and the aspirins kicked in after a while, blood pressure returned to normal and Little Red Bear and I eventually got back to work. Just please know that when you see the wonderful opening image in Little Red Bear’s  upcoming Christmas story, there was a whole lot more involved in it than just a simple copy/paste.

We just try to tell stories here and not get involved in all the computer and tech stuff. I try to leave that to the much more skilled and accomplished six-year-olds in the neighborhood. But they were all in school so Red and I had to figure it out by ourselves. Anyway, the situation has been handled, and now we both know what an ‘eps’ file is and how to handle it the next time we come across one.

Remember, if you have not done so yet, be sure to enter the Special Kid Lit Community Holiday Giveaway to have a chance at winning the $500.00 Amazon Gift Card. The event closes on December 15, and your participation will go a long way to help support fellow Kid Lit authors and child literacy efforts.

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Thanks as always for visiting! Best of luck in the Giveaway Contest, and please stay tuned for more updates on Little Red Bear’s upcoming Christmas Story — we’re almost there.  And it will have a really cool, hard-fought and won image in it, you know. —  Jim  (and Red!)

"It's Unbearable" -- Image by cdudak (Available for purchase at redbubble.com. Just tap on image.)

“It’s Unbearable” — Image by cdudak. (Available for purchase at redbubble.com. Just tap on image.)

Old-fashioned, Family-friendly Stories and Fun for All Ages and Fitness Levels!
About an Uncommonly Special Bear and His Friends.

 

Special Kid Lit Community $500 Holiday Giveaway

November is the traditional time of year when we all pause to reflect on what is important and what we are thankful for in our lives. We have a holiday fast approaching set aside for just that purpose — Thanksgiving.

Little Red Bear and I are truly thankful for you and all you who follow along, read our stories and send us the encouragement and inspiration to keep on going.   In the backwoods, $500.00 goes a long way to help put presents under the tree for loved ones during the holiday season.  So we have joined together with a marvelous group of fellow Kid Lit authors to give away a $500.00 Amazon Gift Card as a special Thank You for followers.

Entering is easy —

  • Simply sign in to Rafflecopter, the service administering the Special Kid Lit Community $500 Giveaway, using your email or Facebook account.
  • Find a list of actions that earn giveaway points to increase your chance of winning the final grand-prize of $500.00.  Actions include visiting an author Facebook page (we hope you’ll ‘LIKE’ it too!) or following an author on Twitter.
  • You can decide which actions to take and how many.  Enter just one or complete all of them at one sitting if you like. You can even enter a few actions daily, and then return at another future time to add more. It’s all up to you.
  • Rafflecopter keeps track of your entries and tallies them.  Be sure to use the same log-in each time to access the giveaway action list.
  • The Special Kid Lit Community $500 Giveaway is open now and runs thru  December 15, 2016, and is  open Worldwide.
  • Rafflecopter randomly selects and notifies the winner at the end of the event.

Enter HERE to get started!  Remember, the more actions completed the better your chances of winning.  Little Red Bear and I strongly encourage you to enter and support this wonderful group of authors working so hard to promote children’s literacy and learning.

Thanks as always for visiting and wishing everyone the very best of luck!  The special Christmas Story for Little Red Bear has passed thru the editing stage and cover design work has begun.  Please watch for more updates soon! — Jim  (and Red!)

give-away-banner

Old-fashioned, Family-friendly Stories and Fun for All Ages and Fitness Levels!
About an Uncommonly Special Bear and His Friends.

 

The Muse’s Challenge — A Christmas Story for Little Red Bear

Do you recall the ‘Writing Muse’ that I have mentioned before?  The one that awakens me anytime between 3-5am in the mornings with writing and other creative ideas and inspirations?  Well, she paid me a visit this morning right at 5am, with an idea for a Christmas themed short story featuring Little Red Bear.  She openly challenged me to have it completed for the holidays and is really adamant about it.  I have learned over time that one should never decline the challenge or assistance of a determined muse!

So, despite an already overloaded schedule, Little Red Bear and I began work this morning on a Christmas Story.  But a lot needs to be accomplished in a short time to pull this one off. Muses never really give much weight to schedules, working on Celestial time as they do.

As I said, the muse is insistent this be done and the story seems to be coming to mind rather quickly, so Red and I will be very busy to get it all completed in time for the approaching holidays.  Probably need to place some large chocolate and honey orders to get us thru this one!

I mentioned that her name should maybe be changed from “Creative Inspiration Muse” to “Last Minute Muse”, but she didn’t see the humor.  I guess it may have been too early in the morning for that, even for a muse.

Thanks as always for visiting with us.  Please wish us well with so much to do and pull together.  We’re off now to get to work and will keep you posted on our progress over the next few weeks.  — Jim  (and Red!)

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Old-fashioned, Family-friendly Stories and Fun for All Ages and Fitness Levels!
About an Uncommonly Special Bear and His Friends.

 

A Christmas Poem — “What To Do On A Christmas Week Night?”

What to do on a Christmas week night,

When everyone else is busy?

The shows are repeats and no sports on,

So I’ll call up my old friend Lizzie!

But wait – she carries that big bad axe,

And the last time I called her hair frizzy.

Just leave her be, so safe we’ll be,

As she sometimes goes off in a tizzy.

So what to do on a Christmas week night,

When everyone else is busy?

I’ll just have some cookies and punch,

And stop when I start to feel dizzy.   

Food- Punch- Hot Cranberry Punch

Merry Christmas and The Joys of the Holiday Season!

A Christmas Poem — “Fireside Questions for Santa”

“Fireside Questions for Santa”

With Christmas Day drawing nigh,

I have some questions and wonder– “Why?”

Like, what is it about Santa that makes little kids cry?

And how in the world does he get reindeer to fly?

How high do leaves go when they “mount to the sky”?

How many toys do elves make versus having to buy?

So going to stay up late, or at least I’ll try,

And will hide behind the sofa, on Santa to spy.

I want to face him– eye to eye,

To directly ask the jolly elf guy—

“With no disrespect or meaning to pry–

How is it a fat old man can be so spry?

And get down the chimney without bruising a thigh?”

So busily hanging stockings by the chimney to dry,

While waiting here for Santa with questions to ply,

But for now I’m hungry and will bid “goodbye”,

Here anxiously awaiting the Old Boy to drop by.

Goodness, gracious, me oh my.

I wish that I had some Pumpkin Pie!

Wishing a Merry Blessed Christmas to all– “and to all a Good Night!”

Santa Claus Drying Socks By The Fireside

Santa Claus Drying Socks By The Fireside

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from yours truly, Little Red Bear and the whole backwoods gang of friends and characters!   —  Jim (and Red!)

A Guest Post — “Christmases of My Childhood” by Kathleen Creighton

I am honored to be able to share a Christmas remembrance from friend and renowned author Kathleen Creighton.  With more than 50 books published and two million copies sold, Kathleen has long been a powerhouse of the romance genre. Her books have earned her five RITA awards, as well as a place in the Romance Writers Hall of Fame.  Please join Kathleen for a fond look back at childhood Christmases in Southern California.

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“The Christmases of my childhood and young adulthood were always spent at my grandparents’ house. A few days before Christmas, we’d pile into my grandfather’s old pickup—-Mom and my Aunt Mary and Uncle Russell and any cousins and friends who wanted to come along—-and drive up the canyon to cut a tree. We’d find a nice, hardy little pinon and Papa would chop it down, and we’d take turns dragging it back to the pickup. The tree would be installed in the living room on a base made from an old tire. It was Mary’s job to decorate it, because she was the only one who could put the tinsel on right. In the later years, we had electric lights, but when I was very small, I remember, we still used candles. They were only lit once, on Christmas Night.

“On Christmas Day, the family would gather for dinner. If the weather was nice—-and it often was at that time of the year in that lovely little valley tucked between the arid Tehachapi Mountains and the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada—-the children would sit out on the porch. The grown-ups sat at the big dining room table, expanded for the occasion so that it stuck out into the living room, with Papa in his overalls presiding at the head and Grandmother flitting back and forth between the table and the kitchen, ignoring everyone’s pleas to “Sit down, Mama, please!”

“In the evening, after the livestock had been fed and the cows milked, everyone gathered again around the Christmas tree. The old farmhouse wasn’t large, but somehow it always seemed to hold everyone–sons and daughters and in-laws, all the children and babies—-especially the babies! There were always a few “extras,” too, because anyone who didn’t have a place to go on Christmas was welcome at my grandparents’ house. And Grandmother saw to it that every person there had a package under the tree. We’d sing carols for a while, until the kids got restless. Then we’d light the candles on the tree and sit in their glow and sing “Silent Night.”

“Once the candles had been blown out, it was pandemonium, with kids yelling and paper and ribbons flying. Papa’s special gift was always a five-pound box of See’s chocolates, which, for the rest of the evening, he took great pleasure in passing around. Finally, stuffed with pumpkin pie and chocolate, loaded down with packages and sleepy children, everyone would drift away. But never very far away. Because to each and every one of us, that old farmhouse was home. And every day my grandparents lived in it was Christmas.

“When I was very small, we lived for a time with my grandparents. On one of those long-ago Christmases, a box arrived from far away—-no one seemed to know where. In the box was a beautiful, brand-new Lionel electric train. Everyone thought Papa must have bought it, though he steadfastly denied it, and to be sure, it wasn’t his way to be modest about his gifts. I think he would have been proud as punch to be the bestower of that wonderful train, as he was with his annual Christmas box of chocolates. So we never knew where it came from, and if Papa knew, he took the secret with him when he left us.

“In any event, on this and every Christmas, I wish for you the gifts my grandparents gave to me and to everyone—-kin or stranger—-who came into their home.

“Simple gifts: Warmth and welcome and unconditional love.” — by Kathleen Creighton

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Please visit Kathleen Creighton’s Author Page on Amazon and her Web Site.  This Christmas memory first appeared as the Author’s Note to Kathleen’s novella, “The Mysterious Gift”, available for Kindle and eReaders, in which she also included her famous Christmas Cookie recipe at the end as a special bonus ‘Thank You’.  Check it out.  Please visit and follow Kathleen on Facebook and Twitter.

Big Bear Hugs and Thank You’s to Kathleen Creighton for allowing me to share her wonderful memories with you.  And also to you, for visiting and reading.  Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and Holiday Season!  —  Jim (and Red!)

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