Holiday “Letters”

Today’s blog comes from a Daily Writing Prompt.  I thought this was a fun idea.  Some of my answers came immediately, while others I had to think a little bit.  Here is the prompt:  “Make an alphabetized list of the 26 best things about the holiday season, with one item for each letter.  Choose your favorite thing and write a short paragraph about why you love it.”

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“A”

A Christmas Carol.

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Every year since junior high school I have read this amazing tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation by Charles Dickens.  I also listen to Patrick Stewart’s wonderful audio performance, as well as watch the many movie versions.  No matter how many times I hear this story, it always makes me happy.

“B”

Blessings.

The holidays are a time where we reflect on what we are thankful for, and a time for counting our blessings.  In years past, I suffered from severe depression and often never really was conscious of those things.  With the changes in my life, I am much more aware of how blessed I am.  I have so many things to be thankful for and I am truly blessed in more ways than I can count!

“C”

Christmas Cookies.

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To borrow a phrase from Sesame Street – “C is for Cookie.”  Every year as kids, my brother and I would wait for my grandma to ship us a huge tin can of cookies!  She would make Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal, Sugar, Ice Box, and so many more.  The cookies pictured above are called Pizzelle cookies.  My grandma always made them at Christmas!  My brother still has her pizzelle maker.  Today, I still make the Chocolate Chips from a recipe she had in a metal index card box!

“D”

Dante’ & Dimitri

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My sons.  Sharing the holidays with them means so much to me.  I LOVE watching their excitement as they open their presents.  I love spending time with them, whether it is watching TV, playing a video or board game, or just having a heart to heart talk.  They continue to grow into fine young men, and I am proud to be their father.

“E”

Eggnog

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I LOVE eggnog!  My grandmother always had it for us at Christmas.  There used to be an eggnog mix that she would buy, but I can’t find it anywhere anymore.  My brother and I used to drink this like water!  I recently discovered a “custard” eggnog that was really good, too!  All things eggnog – I like:  McDonald’s Eggnog Shakes, Starbucks Eggnog Latte’s, and even the alcoholic eggnog!  There was a place in Frankenmuth that had a drink called the “dirty elf” – it was eggnog with a shot of Fireball whiskey in it – SO good!

“F”

Family and Friends.

What would the holidays be with out them?!  When I look back on holidays of the past, they are special because of the friends and family who were present!  I look forward to the holidays each year because it means special times with these special people in my life.

“G”

Garland.

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When I think about Christmas, I always think about garland!  My mom used to string it on the tree.  She’d hang it on walls, wrap it around things, hang Christmas Cards from it – it was everywhere!  We had gold and silver garland, thick and thin garland, and even garland with snowflakes on it.  I don’t use it today, because I know our cats will just eat it.

“H”

Holiday Music.

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I have blogged about this enough that you had to see this coming!  I love Christmas music.  There are so many wonderful memories connected to specific holiday songs.  While there are some songs that bring tears to my eyes, the majority of them bring me so much happiness.

“I”

Italian Food.

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EVERY Christmas Eve – my grandma made ravioli.  That was part of our tradition.  We also had breaded steak with ammoglio (moy-gyoo) sauce.  She always made an Italian feast.  I have tried to keep this tradition going, even though my sauce is no where close to being as good as hers.

“J”

Jingle Bells.

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This is two-fold.  First, the sound of jingle bells goes hand in hand with the holidays.  To me, there is something about hearing those bells that makes it feel like Christmas.  Second, it is one of those holiday songs that I love.  It’s probably THE universal Christmas song.  My favorite versions are done by Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Doc Severinsen & The Tonight Show Band, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, and SO many other versions!

“K”

Kris Kringle.

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Also known as Santa Claus.  He’s the subject of many Christmas songs.  Millions of children sit on his lap and convey their Christmas list to him.  In one night, he delivers millions of toys to good little girls and boys!

“L”

Lights.

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I love Christmas lights.  When I first got my driver’s license I would pop a cassette tape of Christmas music in and I would drive around looking at the lights.  I remember driving around Jefferson Avenue where all these huge mansions were.  They would have their lights done by professionals and they were just amazing.  Walking through Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo, or taking the Christmas train at Crossroads Village to see lights is also a treat!  I love the way they look and enjoy them more and more every year.

“M”

Mail.

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In a world where most communication is done by phone, e-mail, or text messages, I really enjoy getting Christmas cards in the mail.  I also love getting the “year in review” letters in them.  I can never understand why people diss these letters, because I love to read about what my friends and family have done over the past year.  I love when they include pictures from the past year, too.  I also love family photo Christmas cards.  I used to send them every year.  Sam and I were just talking about how we need to get better at sending them.

“N”

Nostalgia.

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No surprise here, especially since 95% of this blog is about nostalgia!  When the holidays come around, I get VERY nostalgic.  I think of my grandparents, my mother, and remember the good times we shared.  I remember past gifts.  I remember past relationships.  I remember good times and bad times.  There are many memories connected with the holidays for me.

“O”

Ornaments.

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One thing I love about Christmas ornaments is that when you put up your tree, as you unwrap each ornament, it brings back a memory.  Every year, Sam and I go to Bronner’s in Frankenmuth and get an ornament that signifies an even from the past year.  This year’s ornament is obviously about us expecting our baby.  We have an ornament from when we got married and when we got engaged.  I have a few ornaments that I brought with me when I moved in with Sam.  One of those ornaments is from 1977!  It was an ornament that we all got when we were in Catechism in 2nd grade.  It is an ornament of the baby Jesus.  It is the oldest ornament I have.

“P”

Presents.

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When I was a kid, it was all about what presents I was getting.  As an adult, and as a parent, your focus shifts.  It becomes about what special gift you buy for someone else.  What can I get that will make the boys smile?  What is the perfect gift for my wife?  What do I get for my dad, who seems to have everything?  It truly is better to give than to receive, but it is also nice to get something special from someone, too.

“Q”

Quiet.

I know, this seems impossible!  I would agree to a certain extent.  Many holiday gatherings are noisy as hell, but I am speaking of a specific quiet. One of my favorite things is standing outside after a snowfall, just listening to the quiet of the neighborhood.  There were many times I’d be out shoveling the walk, and stop just to enjoy the quiet of a winter day.

“R”

Rudolph

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Sure, I love the Rankin and Bass TV special!  I, however, and talking about the above decoration.  My grandma had these, and so did we!  This decoration was made of melted plastic.  Pinterest calls this a “melted plastic popcorn wall or window hanging decoration”.  There was a Snowman, a Christmas Tree and a Santa in a sleigh decoration, too.  My grandma hung 9 of these reindeer and the Santa in a sleigh on the wall every year!  Man, do I miss seeing this every year!!!

“S”

Snow.

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One of the things I love about living in Michigan is that we see all four seasons.  The holidays without snow are very disappointing to me.  If it is mid to late December and there is no snow, the song White Christmas really hits home.  I NEED to have snow on Christmas!  It is just one of those things that makes the holiday mean more.  I love the beauty of snow on the ground and stuck to the trees … but, yes, I do hate driving in it!

“T”

The Tree.

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You can check out the blog I wrote a week or so ago entitled “Oh Christmas Tree” to read about why this means so much to me.  For now, just know that it is one of the things I LOVE about the holidays.

“U”

Underwear.

I really didn’t have a lot of “U” options.  I don’t like underwear for Christmas, but I put it here because of something I started seeing a few years ago.  I guess you would call it a meme today.  I see it posted on Facebook a lot and it makes me laugh:

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“V”

Vacation.

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Again, a two-fold answer.  (1) Vacation time?  Yes, I do get some time off during the holidays, but nothing real big.  I wish I had the opportunity to actually take a few weeks off around the holidays, but that never is possible for me.  (2) Christmas Vacation Movie?  Who doesn’t love this Christmas film.  There are so many great lines and characters in this film!  Come on – you know any time you pass a house with a gazillion lights on it you call it the “Griswold house”!!

“W”

Wife.

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She makes EVERYTHING in my life special.  The holidays are already a special time for me, but spending them with her make them extra special.  There is not enough space on the internet for me to write about how much she means to me, how much I love her, and how happy she makes me.  I am so lucky to call this beautiful woman my friend, my partner, and my wife.  For Christmas this year, she is giving me the best present ever … she arrives in February.

“X”

X’s and O’s

Ok, it was hard to come up with something beside Xylophone for X!   X’s and O’s are hugs and kisses.  Hugs and kisses from friends and family during the holidays make the season special.

“Y”

Year Without a Santa Claus.

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You should have saw this coming, too!  Last year, many characters made a Christmas blog and this year I wrote an entire blog on it.  I HAVE to watch this every year!  I also have to listen to the Miser Brothers songs in the car during the holidays.

“Z”

Zzzzzzz’s.

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Yet another stretch, but Holiday Zzzzz’s are something I certainly look forward to!  In Twas The Night Before Christmas they talk of a “long winter’s nap”.  In my opinion, any time I can grab a nap over the holidays, it’s a good thing!!!

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That was a fun blog to write!  Now it’s your turn.  What are your “holiday letters”?  I’d love to read them …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too Early??

Halloween is barely behind us, and we are just a day or two into November.  Christmas is over 50 days away, however, it is everywhere! Even before Halloween, many stores had their Christmas displays and decorations up!

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For years, people have pondered, discussed, and debated the “how early is too early for Christmas” topic.  In September this cartoon was all over the internet:

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Just before Halloween, Sirius XM radio began adding their holiday channels to their line up.  Countless radio stations across the country flipped to “all Christmas” music yesterday and Facebook and almost every major news outlet had stories about it.  I really don’t know why people were acting so surprised by this, because it happens every year!  Is this the earliest stations have flipped?  No.  I recall a few years where some stations flipped to all Christmas BEFORE Halloween.

There was a time when Christmas music didn’t even start playing on the radio until Thanksgiving weekend.  I recall scheduling 3 to 4 Christmas songs an hour throughout that weekend, and then cutting back to 1 an hour after Thanksgiving weekend.  As Christmas got closer, the number of songs we played increased to 2, 3, and eventually 4 an hour.  We almost always went all Christmas music at 12 noon Christmas Eve and then would continue through 6pm Christmas night.  That’s not the case anymore.

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People inevitably ask me the question – “Why do stations go all Christmas so early?!”  The answer is a simple one – ratings!  Its not always the case, but most of the time, these stations who play all Christmas music do very well in the ratings books – which means more $$ for the station.  Some retail stores do not have the pre-recorded satellite music, so they will pipe the “all Christmas station” throughout the store.   That means more listeners to that particular station.

Is it good or bad?

So this brings me to a Facebook discussion some friends were having (after one person voiced his disgust at the fact that his station flipped to all Christmas) yesterday.  His argument was that “holiday music increases stress and is unhealthy for people.”  I knew exactly what he was referring to.

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A couple years ago, a psychologist named Linda Blair said that listening to Christmas music too early in the holiday season can have a negative effect on people.  She stated that it can affect mental health triggering “feelings of stress.”  She said that hearing holiday music is a reminder of all the things that you have to do to get ready for the holiday.  She said the music will cause you to worry about (and become overwhelmed by) the things on your “to-do” list like travel planning, shopping, and planning for parties.

She also said that people who work in retail, especially those who work at places like shopping malls, face a higher risk of what she called “Christmas music-induced stress”! “Hearing the same songs over and over each day could make workers struggle to ‘tune it out’ and they become ‘unable to focus on anything else,’ she said. “You’re simply spending all of your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing.”

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That story first hit the news in 2017, and has already be reprinted this year on many social media and news pages.  Blair never really cites any concrete evidence, or study results, so how do we know that this is actually the case?  Maybe she is just a Grinch who hates Christmas Music?? Who knows?!

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On the other hand …

In response to Linda Blair’s findings, there is another article (this one citing “scientific studies”) that says the exact opposite!  In those studies, it was proven that listening to “uplifting music”  – like Jingle Bell Rock, Frosty the Snowman and A Holly Jolly Christmas, to name a few – has been known to have a positive effect both physically and psychologically.

According to these studies, the feeling associated when listening to music can be sorted into two categories, perceived emotions (when we appreciate the emotional tone of the piece, but not feel that emotion ourselves) and felt emotions. Felt emotions are when we connect to the feeling behind the piece we are listening to and it can impact our emotional state.”

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As someone who has worked in radio for 30+ years, I know first hand the connection that music has to memories.  Do a google search on “music memory quotes” and there are plenty of them. One quote in particular holds true for the next point – from Michigan’s own, Stevie Wonder:

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“Music has a strong tie to nostalgia.”

This is why hearing a song from your childhood may bring back memories of elementary school, a high school dance, or a major life event like it was yesterday. It’s also why listening to certain Christmas songs can make people feel warm, fuzzy and child-like. Part of the reason why Christmas music is associated with joy is not necessarily the music itself, but the memories that come with it.

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So, listening to Christmas songs may make you feel nostalgic for your childhood or just generally happy, because your brain has already created positive associations with the music. And it’s been proven – research conducted by researchers at McGill University proved that when people listen to happy, upbeat music, they can recall happy memories within a short amount of time.   The entire article can be found here:

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“In the experiment, the researchers had participants listen to four different genres of original music they had never heard before: happy (positive, high arousal), peaceful (positive, low arousal), scary (negative, high arousal) and sad (negative, low arousal). The researchers found that when the participants listened to happy, upbeat music, it brought about happy memories.”

That being said, there are Christmas songs that can bring about sad memories, too.  So I guess there is that possibility, too.  For the most part, though, Christmas music is happy and upbeat.  That would suggest that listening to Christmas music brings about nostalgic thoughts which brings about happy memories and you being a happier person.

What’s my take on it?

While I don’t listen to Christmas music 24/7/365, I do have Christmas songs on my iPod.  When I am listening to it and a Christmas song comes on out of season, it depends on my mood as to whether or not I am going to listen to it.  There are some Christmas songs that I can listen to no matter what the season, because (as the latter study suggested) it makes me feel good or happy.

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I remember when I worked at Honey Radio in Detroit, we would throw in “summer songs” when it was summer time.  We’d play “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summmer”, “Wonderful Summer”, “Summertime”, and others and then cut back on them in the fall and winter.  I have never understood why songs like “Let it Snow”, “Winter Wonderland”, or “Jingle Bells” (which are basically winter time songs that never really mention Christmas) didn’t play throughout the Winter.

Final Thought

There are people who complain just because they like complaining.  Bottom line is this – radio is free.  You have many choices up and down the dial.  There are many other stations that are not playing Christmas music 24/7, so if you don’t want to hear it – DON’T!  Pop in a CD, listen to your Spotify, plug in a USB with your tunes on it, or find the satellite channel that plays the format you enjoy.  Problem solved!

I have always looked forward to the Christmas season.  People tend to be friendlier.  People seem to be kinder.  There is a sense of happiness that comes with the season.  Elvis Presely’s “Why Can’t Everyday Be Like Christmas?” captures that sentiment.  Just because you don’t want to listen to Christmas music, doesn’t mean that others don’t want to.  Christmas music and the holiday season bring about a joy that seems to be lacking today – don’t be a Scrooge!

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