Branching Out

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20091213/news/branching-out.283859

The Christmas Tree has nothing to do with Christmas. It is merely a pagan tradition dating from when people revered evergreens as symbols of sexual prowess, fertility, and reproduction. Today’s Christmas tree is the direct descendant of “Yggdrasil”, the Great Tree of Life Norse mythology.
To Vikings, evergreens were reminders that Winter would be banished by Spring. Druids venerated the oak, which they adorned with fruits and candles as harvest-time approached. Romans placed candles, metal objects and lucky charms on their trees during their Saturnalia festivals. Indeed it is said that this custom begat the modern one of placing gifts beneath the tree.
Later, in non-Christian homes in mainland Europe, trees were set up as temporary domestic winter-season idols. Eventually, even Christians in Germany would have decorated trees inside their homes. If evergreen trees could not be had for love or money, the alternative was a pyramidal wooden structure to which branches were attached. Candles were placed on the branches.
Does anyone remember the commotion that ensued when last year, in the town of Armonk, New York, an Islamic star and crescent as well as a menorah were placed by the town’s Christmas tree? This was not called a “politically correct” gesture, but an “all-inclusive” one.
This year, it may be worthwhile introducing a new twist to the tale by combining a “traditional” tree with some Feng Shui principles in order to make it a pleasing addition to the Christmastide home-scene, rather than a flashy must-have that means nothing except an excuse to show off baubles and trinkets.
Feng Shui aims to create balance and good fortune. Here, we will just ‘customise’ Feng Shui tree decorations for aesthetic, interior décor purposes, since there are some time-honoured knick-knacks that also fit into the Feng Shui mould.
When you decide to decorate the tree, it may appear easier to get it over and done with while the children are still asleep. Yet doing this together will provide memories for years to come, and despite the frayed nerves this exercise may entail, it will contribute to tranquillity within the family… eventually!
Feng Shui Meaning of Christmas Tree Ornaments:
Angels – God’s protection and miracles
Apple – Good health and peace
Bells – Peace and harmony
Bird – Happiness and good news
Candles – Unselfishness and brightness Carousel Endless joy and happiness
Cat – Money luck and to attract affection
Champagne – Celebration and party time
Cherubs – Goodwill and tranquillity Chimney Sweep Good Luck – sweeping away the bad luck
Cow – Wishes coming true and a comfortable life
Dog – Faithful friend and ally Dove Purity and peace through the year
Fish – Blessings with food all year round
Flower – Beauty and good fortune
Frog – Good luck in business Fruit Generosity and goodwill
Gold – coins Prosperity
Grapes – Friendship and abundance
Heart – True love and romance
House – Shelter and support
Owl – Wisdom and intelligence
Pig – Wealth and good fortune
Pine – Cone Motherhood and longevity
Rabbit – Hope and security
Rose – Madonna and Beauty
Santa – Goodwill and presents
Sheep – Devotion and loyalty
Snowman – Patience and loving energy
Star – God’s Guidance
Stork – Fruitfulness and fertility
Tea / Coffee Pot – Hospitality
Teddy Bear – Companionship

A Friend In Deed

I am – I was – an Eastern European mail order bride. Estonian, to be precise.

There, that got your attention, didn’t it?

Well, all right – I’ll admit I met my husband through Facebook… which is more prosaic but equally true.

I’m Eliisabet; Liisi for short. I speak Maltese like a native – but my naturally platinum blond hair gives my foreignness away… although some people assume that I dye it because… since I live alone in Qawra, I “must be a prostitute”.

These charming people also assume I am a godless whore. Actually, I am – I was – Greek Orthodox, but I lapsed. My neighbours get on my nerves, so I keep myself to myself… and add fuel to their fires.

Out of the corner of my eye I see twitching curtains and moving venetian blinds. I note the intake of breaths when I walk into the corner shop to ask for stuff in a Senglea accent. You can’t blame me. I lived there for ten years, and my then husband insisted I learn and speak the vernacular, because his mother did not understand English, go figure Estonian.

In the end, it was the possessiveness of his mother that led me to leave him. I was bent double with pain because of what later turned out to be a ruptured appendix – and he was on the phone with her, and kept pushing me away when I was frantically showing him a note on which I had written Hospital! Then, when he rang off, he grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to the car, all the while saying that I knew his mother came first, and that I was cheeky to dare interrupt his conversation with her.

He dared me to leave him, saying that I was a stupid dunce who would never manage to find a job.

So I left him, and hid in my sister-in-law’s summer flat for a couple of days (she is the only one who ever gave me the time of day). I went job- and house-hunting, and landed both within the week…perhaps because my sister-in-law and her friends prayed over me – perhaps not.

As soon as I moved into the spartanly-furnished studio flat, Iona did a whip-around among her friends and got me some flatware, cutlery, bedding, curtains, books, an ancient fan, an old radio and an even older television set – and even some knick-knacks to make the place more welcoming. The rent was low, so I did not complain to the landlord about there being only the bare necessities. .

And then, it began.

The key would jam in the lock, and when I opened the door, I would hear footsteps sprinting toward the veranda. The curtain would move slightly, and then…nothing. I always kept the entrance and balcony doors locked, so nobody could have come in from either of them.
I would smell cinnamon and cloves. The next day it would be lavender. The day after it would be tea rose.

Clothes I’d left on the lines in the veranda would be folded neatly, and the breakfast mug and fruit salad bowl I’d have rinsed out and placed on the draining board would have been dried and put away in the hanging cupboard.

Once or twice, the kettle was actually whistling when I managed to open the door – but it would stop as soon as I moved toward the kitchen.

Iona got me new curtains, courtesy of the charity shop. I was too tired to hang them up – yet sure enough, when I got back home from work on the morrow, they were just where I had intended to hang them. Moreover, there was a tiny glass Christmas Tree ornament that had not been there before, on the desk beside my laptop, where I couldn’t fail to notice it.

Once, one of my male work colleagues called with a Care Package. He said he was feeling hot and bothered, and I thought it was an excuse for him to get his togs off. I switched on the fan, and opened the window to let the breeze in – and yet he sweated profusely still. He kept putting his index finger between his shirt collar and neck, and moving it backward and forward.

That was weird. Iona used to say my place felt like a second home. At one point, he gulped down his glass of orange juice, and said he had to leave.

I knew at that moment that this had to stop. I knew I was sharing the flat with a spirit being; but as long as I felt comfortable, I did not mind. But what if ‘something’, anything, happened to any of my guests when this entity did not take a shine to them?

Mulling over what I could do, I risked losing my sanity – or what there was left of it. Because meanwhile my husband had traced me, and told me I’d better get back home…or else. I countered by filing for legal separation, with a view to applying for divorce later. He didn’t like that at all.

In the end, I wrote a letter thanking my unseen friend for the kindness shown to me, and asking whether I could do anything to help with the “eternal rest” clause. I left the letter face up on my bed, and on my return home, I found it on the kitchen table. So I knew it had been read. There was no reply, written or otherwise.

I was at the office when the phone-call came. My husband had been to my flat, kicked in the door, and thrashed the place. He even ground the glass Christmas Tree into the kitchen mat. The neighbours of the flat below assumed he was fighting with me, because they heard “voices” shouting; one male, one female.

Then, they heard a thud just outside their door, and when they opened it, they saw my husband lying there in a pool of blood, with his skull caved in and his neck broken. I had a clutch of alibis; and so the verdict was “accidental death caused by a fall”.
Nobody else ever came to do my housework again, and yet there is an all-pervading sense of peace in the flat, about which everyone comments.

Just the other day, I discovered that a Maltese woman had been murdered here by her German husband…

Prietka taċ-Ċajt

Lehen is-Sewwa 15/03/2014
Inzertajt kont Ħaż-Żabbar, u ntbaħt li fil-Bażilika kien qed isir tieġ. U dħalt. Kienet waslet il-prietka, u poġġejt bilqegħda biex nisma’.
Ħin minnhom, iċ-ċelebrant qal li jinħabbu kemm jinħabbu, l-għarus u l-għarusa għandhom jagħmlu mezz li jitħalltu ma’ ħadddieħor. “Qabel,” qal, “kienu jniżżlu mawra lejn il-Buskett għall-Imnarja fil-kitba taż-żwieġ. Nispera li f’tagħkom hemm miktub Ħadd in-Nies.” U hawn, il-kongregazzjoni nfexxet tidħaq, u ta’ ħdejja qaltli, “Kemm hu ħelu!” Assumejt li l-ħlieqa tal-qassis għoġbitha, u tbissimtilha. Kien hemm xi żewġ ċajtiet oħrajn żgħar, imma għal din il-mara kienu “vera tajbin, hux?” Mur meriha.
Ħriġt mill-knisja bi tbissima fuq fommi – kemm minħabba l-prietka kif ukoll għax tajt ħarsa ħafifa ħafifa lejn dak li kienu lebsin il-mistednin…imma dik storja oħra.
Kulħadd jaf lil xi saċerdot li jħobb iżellaq xi ftit umoriżmu fil-prietki. Hemm min jagħmel hekk biex iżomm l-atmosfera ħelwa u ħafifa filwaqt li jagħti tagħlima xorta – iżda wieħed minn dawn qalli li jekk in-nies ma jidħqux, sinjal li ma jkunux attenti, u jaqta’ fil-qasir.
Hawn min jgħidlek li l-knisja mhux post għaż-żufjett…u kuntenti li jimxu mixja papali sal-kappella l-oħra biex jisimgħu quddiesa iżjed tard, jekk ikun se jqaddes “dak il-buffu”. Jgħidulek li bil-ħmerijiet tiegħu ma jkunux jafu x’qed jisimgħu.
Issa rridu nifhmu li kulħadd għandu l-istil tiegħu. Min hu espert tal-Bibbja; min iħobb jirrakonta l-istejjer; min jaqra dak li jkun kiteb b’leħen monotonu; min jidħollok f’ruħek u jriegħxek; min idum għoxrin minuta u ma jgħid xejn; u min idum ħames minuti u jsensel ġawhar.
Iċ-ċajt huwa postu fil-knisja? Messaġġ jasal aħjar jekk jasallek bi tbissima. Jew forsi taħseb int li l-kelma t’Alla “mhux taċ-ċajt” u s-saċerdot li jwassalha hekk, ikun qed jonqos? Hu xieraq li aħna nċarrtu ħalqna u nirrilassaw? Jew ‘suppost’ li noqogħdu serji għax qiegħdin f’dar il-Mulej?
Hu sewwa u xieraq li s-saċerdot ibiddel leħnu meta jgħid xi storja, biex qisu qed jirrakontaha fil-klassi tal-Kindergarten? Jew suppost irażżan ilsienu? Jekk qassis ikun ċajtier, għandu jħalli l-personalità tiegħu tixgħel, jew jgħattiha. Jgħodd, hawnhekk, il-kliem “Belt li tkun qiegħda fuq muntanja ma tistax tinħeba. Anqas ma jixegħlu l-musbieħ u jqegħduh taħt il-modd, iżda fuq l-imnara, u hekk idawwal lil kull min ikun fid-dar. Hekk għandu jiddi d-dawl tagħkom quddiem il-bnedmin, biex jaraw l-għemejjel tajba tagħkom u jagħtu glorja lil Missierkom li hu fis-smewwiet.”(Mt 5, 14-16)? Jew dan hu biss kliem li jerrefi għat-tagħlim?
Aħna suppost ilkoll qed naħdmu biex inkunu perfetti, bħalma hu perfett Missierna tas-sema. U allura, tbissimha f’waqtha se ttelifna l-perfezzjoni? Il-proċess tal-ħsieb mhux ta’ kulħadd jaħdem l-istess. Forsi jkun hemm min jibqa’ jaħseb fuq iċ-ċajta u ma jismax il-bqija tal-prietka.
Staqsejt li xi erbat iħbieb x’jidhrilhom dwar dan, u qaluli bejn wieħed u ieħor dan li ġej:
Qatt m’għandu jsir ċajt goff, iżjed u iżjed waqt funeral, anqas jekk il-mejjet ikun ħalla messaġġ biex waqt il-quddiesa, tingħad xi ċajta biex kulħadd jidħaq mhux jibki.
M’għandux isir ċajt dwar in-novissmi; biżżejjed li hemm minn qed jipprova jgħidilna li l-Mulej isostni li m’għandniex bżonn ħorġa li fiha nitfgħu l-għemejjel tajba, għax “il-fidi biżżejjed.”
M’għandux ikun hemm ċajt fuq individwu speċifiku, iżjed u iżjed jekk ikun qiegħed fil-knisja.
Kliem bħal “ħa ngħidilkom din ħa tidħqu” jdejjaq lil kuħadd, imma storja li fiha xejra umoristika tpaxxi.
U int, x’taħseb?

Chanukah

 

Saturday, November 28, 2009

 

 

Beginning with the 25th day of Kislev, the eight Days of Chanukah [various spellings] are observed. This feast is different from others, in that fasting is not permitted.
Judaism recalls the time when the Seleucid Greeks profaned the Sanctuary, after capturing the Temple. They sacrificed pigs to Zeus on the holy altar, and defiled all the Holy Oils. After three fierce years of battles, the Maccabees’ army led by “Judas the Hammer” liberated Jerusalem. The Temple was searched for untarnished Oil for the re-dedication of the altar.
However, only enough Oil with the seal of the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) for one day was found – and this, through a miracle, lasted for eight days until new Oil could be blessed. The celebration marked the third anniversary of the original desecration of the Temple by the Greeks.
The following year, the Rabbis nominated the days as Yomim Tovim (Holidays), and decreed that the Miracle of the Light must be remembered. This is a time when, if possible, finer meals than usual are served, with cheeses featuring well in them, as well as fried foods such as latkes (potato and onion patties) and doughnuts.
The latkes and other friend foods are in memory of the Miracle of the Oil. Jewish people also recall the story of Judith, who served goats’ cheese to Holofernes as part of her clever plan to bring about his downfall.
Chanukah is also different from other feasts because usually, women do not work (sewing, laundry, etc) for at least half an hour after the candles are lit – yet during this feast, they may cook. On the Friday evening, one lights the Chanukah lights before the usual Shabbat candles.
Most people associate the Menorah (Candelabrum) with Chanukah; most Jews light one olive oil cup with a cotton wick, or a candle, on the first night (the extra “Shames” or “server” candle is used to kindle the others); two on the second, and so on. It is customary to set up the candles from right to left, but the candles are lit from left to right. This 8-branched Menorah differs from the 6-branched one used in the Tabernacle and Temple.
The light derived from the candles is not to be used for anything other than the Glory of God – and that is the practical reason for having the Samesh Candle a little way apart. For Chanukah, it is not strictly necessary to use a Menorah – one may place a row of candles, in a straight line, upon a wall. Any fancy version of a menorah, the candles of which are not in a straight line, is not suitable for Chanukah. The candles must be far enough apart such that their flames do not intermingle.
One cannot fulfil the Chanukah obligation using electric lights, or by simply taking part in a communal Chanukah party, without having conducted the ceremony at home beforehand. The Menorah must be situated as close as possible to the doorway of the home, such that they may be seen from a distance by a number of people, who will then recall the Miracle.

Why Does NORAD Track Santa?

Monday, December 28, 2009

 

Once upon a time, there was CONAD (The American Continental Air Defence Command). Since 1958, this has been known as NORAD (The North American Aerospace Defense Command).

Included in the nitty-gritty that was part and parcel of the workload of the former, passed on to the latter, is literally and figuratively a flight of fancy.
NORAD is responsible for tracking Santa’s Flight across the skies. This will take him past Mount Fuji , 100 times faster than a 500 series Shinkansen bullet train, and also to Britain, France and Switzerland – but for some reason he does not fly across the Mediterranean. This began through whimsical happenstance. There was a Sears Roebuck and Company advertisement with a typo in it. This gave the number of the agency rather than the Santa Hotline one it had been supposed to give.
When a little girl saw the advertisement, in a Colorado Springs newspaper, which said “Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct and be sure and dial the correct number.” She obeyed the instructions. Yet she got through to Colonel Harry Shoup, the Director of Operations on duty on December 24, 1955 at the time. He happened to be the right person in the right pace at the right time. Rather than being officious and telling the child she he had a wrong number, the Colonel, perhaps touched by the innocence of the child, decided to ask his staff for the radar readings of the whereabouts of Santa’s Sleigh. The children who called later were given updates – and so a cute tradition was born.
In 1997, Canadian Major Jamie Robertson took over the programme, and went on the www with it. The idea remains to track Santa as he travels across the skies to deliver presents – not only through the original radar, but through satellite systems as well. Thousands of volunteers staff computers and telephones at Cheyenne Mountain and Peterson Air Force Base in order to answer phones and provide Santa updates live – to children, adults, as well as the media.
This tracking scheme has now achieved cult status; this year, Google introduced its own 2D and 3D Google Earth maps, which indicate Santa’s position on lifelike maps. The NORAD Tracks Santa website http://www.noradsanta.org offers a service in seven languages – English, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish.
This year, new videos of Santa flying over Zurich, Switzerland; Toronto in Ontario, Canada, and Mexico City, Mexico were added on You Tube. Like all the others, it features a voice-over by a member of the NORAD staff, indicating Santa’s location, and showing the sleigh, complete with Rudolph’s hooter at full brilliance, approaching the city and then slaloming in the air currents over it, accompanied by the familiar jingling bells.
Those who were after a more personalised service, however, could email his team at noradtrackssanta@gmail.com and get updates sent directly to their inbox. There were also several social networking sites offering the service – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and TroopTube.tv.

You can watch Santa’s message here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZ-YkFOfITc, and the one by General Renuart, Commander of NORAD, here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hipMSF5vpA0

Santa’s Blog 11

Saturday, December 19, 2009, 20:28

When They asked me to take over the Santa Stint the Missus had laughed at me and said I was too thin, too tall, too blue-eyed, too handsome, too dark-haired, too conceited and too everything to fit.
I think she was a bit peeved, frankly, that when They extended the offer to her she had already committed herself to hands-on lecturing for The Natural International Traditional Practical Contemporary Gourmand Cookery School, and so she couldn’t very well be chief cook and bottle washer for Them, too.
It’s already bad enough that we’d had to knock down the walls between the pantry and the dining room and the kitchen, to make it an open-plan area (I feel uncomfortable if I want to dunk my doughnut in the coffee when there are twenty pairs of eyes stabbing my back…) so that the trainees could move around without a by-my-leave.
Anyway, just for the record, whatever she said was wrong about my not being suitable for Santa is turning out to be exactly what is being recommended for Santa to be, as from this Christmas..
The press was agog with snide comments about how the old man ought to share his reindeer’s snacks, rather than eat cake. And how his rotund figure, with a BMA of at least 30%, was a walking time-bomb, making him a primary candidate for a heart attack or a stroke and dementia.
There were rumours that PETA was going to sue him for animal cruelty, and several letters appeared in the press complaining that the people who protested about the Zoo in your country said nothing about the fact that this overweight ball of lard overloaded his sleigh with more than the amount of presents it could reasonably hold, in order to deliver the gifts on time.
Someone at NASA told me that crashing continuously through the fourth dimension, and black holes at warp speeds, and crossing time zones did the reindeer’s metabolism no good at all – it wrecked their reproductive systems (which was just as well, he said, because the gene pool was damaged anyway). It is also further endangering the ozone layer, but does he care?
And of course, the AA had its say too – Santa’s photographs on Christmas Cards usually showed him DUI, and it was only rarely that a cop appeared in the frame with him, slapping him with a ticket for over-speeding or being drunk and disorderly, even if his beard was askew and his face more florid than usual because of the alcohol he’d have imbibed.
So here I am, the tall, dark and handsome alternative. What more could you want? I don’t smoke – and yes, there are still cards that show Santa with stripy socks, lolling on an armchair beside the fire, smoking one of his priceless collection of Meerschaums and not giving two hoots about the bad examples he is giving without even trying.
My lifestyle is bleached pristine. I know that some of you may consider me too thin, but as you have seen, these last few weeks I have pigged out… My exercise routine makes my metabolism balance out… or something. To think that in some countries, Santa is even more recognisable than Mickey Mouse or Superman!
Or even Santa Muerte. But she’s a totally different kettle of fish…. which reminds me it’s octopus stew this evening (the Missus chucks in a couple of squares of bitter chocolate and a handful of walnuts to bring out the taste better).

Christmas Carols

Wednesday, 2nd December 2009

 
I know this is not an original sentiment, but Oh, Christmas! What Crimes Are Committed In Your Name seems an ample interjection for what got my goat early this morning as I was catching up on my mail. I thought my friend was joking, but I checked, and triple-checked, different references, and it turned out she was not pulling my leg at all.
But let’s start at the beginning. One of the many things associated with Christmas is, of course, the carolling. But, if His Grace the Bishop of Croydon gets his way, no more a-wassailing’ people’ll go – almost.
Apparently, it has suddenly occurred to the Right Reverend Nick Baines that some of the phases and sentiments expressed in the time-honoured carols are, to use his own descriptions, “silly” and “inaccurate” and “embarrassing” and “nonsensical”, and that the sight of people singing them was “slightly bizarre”.
Waxing definitely less than lyrical, the minister says that the carols were written with a Victorian frame of mind – I think he means to say they were politically correct for their time – and now there is the need to overhaul the traditional carols and make them more real, or at least slightly more realistic.
Of course, I thoroughly agree with the man, when he says that snakes and bears have no place in school nativity plays, since this turns them into some sort of “holy pantomime” (my words, not his)… but I cannot for the life of me understand why he would want to ban carols such as Once in Royal David’s City and Away in a Manger. The latter, he says, “cannot be sung without embarrassment”.
Parents and teachers usually accompany these ‘lessons’ with an explanation. Besides, learning poetry by heart is an ideal way to train the brain into being able to recall facts and details.
Those who believe in the Christmas which is portrayed in a cross-section of carols have a vision that is “tame, fantastic and anaemic”. Similarly the phrase “no crying He makes” appears to have annoyed the minister because “Jesus would have been abnormal if he did not cry” – but, I didn’t see that the carol says he never cried, it was just when the word-photo was taken that he did not cry. But the Bishop insists that it was the attitude of “children should be seen and not heard” that caused the poet to pen these lines. Could it not have been his wishful thinking? Who knows whether he had a sleepless baby at home?
Yet… there may be another factor in this equation. Why Wish You a Merry Christmas? is the name of a book penned by… you guessed it. And nothing boosts sales like a little controversy. Especially when religion and politics are involved in tandem.
His Grace argues that an imaginary Grotto Scene will eventually lead children to suppose that Jesus is akin to Father Christmas and other fantasy figures. He stops short of mentioning “… the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy” by name, though. Carols, he says, add to the confusion that people have about the real meaning of Christmas.
Incidentally, the title of Oh Come All Ye Faithful comes in for some bashing, too, because on the night, it was people who had no idea of what was happening (and not those who believed, or even those of little faith) were the ones who heard the angels’ tidings first.
I, for one, think that the whole argument has been blown out of proportion. The Bishop makes no allowance for poetic licence. Why does he turn his cannon only towards Christmas Carols? Most pop songs are full of exaggerations (when, indeed, they have lyrics and not a sentence that is repeated a thousand times or, worse, syllables that pass for words).
Nursery rhymes and fairy tales give another meaning to the word “incredible”, and so idioms often reply on an impossible juxtaposition of ideas to work. Are we to remove all figures of speech from our literature?
Are we to treat hyperbole, and for that matter, understatement, as “lies” that cannot be included in our day-to-day communications?

 

 

Saint Nicholas vs. Santa Claus

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20081124/news/saint-nicholas-vs-santa-claus.234169
Monday, November 24, 2008

The jury is still out on whether parents should perpetuate the “myth” of Santa Claus. After all, he was a ‘real person’ who wore bishop’s robes before he acquired the familiar red suit with the white fur trimmings…
Santa Claus could be more familiar than Baby Jesus to some people – especially those who do not know the reason for celebrating Christmas, other than as an orgy of conspicuous food consumption and gift-giving. But then, Santa Claus is not a religious symbol, and he therefore cannot be considered “provocative” if he is used in advertising or decorations in public buildings in countries where Catholicism is not the state religion.
There is another facet to this argument, however. The person who was Sant Nicholas has become secularised as almost everything else about this festival has lost its religious undertones. Not many people know that the original Saint Nicholas was a sombre person, rather than a rotund character who goes around ringing bells and uttering ho-ho-ho in a sonorous voice to make us believe he is laughing. In fact, before Thomas Nast drew the 1863 cover for Harper’s Weekly and turned him into the fat super-hero everyone recognises, even Santa Claus’s image was often of a gaunt, tall man.
It was artist Haddon Sundblom, however, who added the final touches towards today’s representation of Santa Caucasus. In 1931, his advertisements for Coca Cola showed an old, overweight, Santa.
Saint Nicholas is the Patron Saint of children – so it is to be expected that children look up to him, under whatever guise he appears. But sometimes, he finds himself in a quandary – Christians object to how he is depicted because he has been divested of his “religious” origins – and others object to him because he did, indeed, have Christian roots.
Santa Claus has become a commercially lucrative icon that is impossible to ignore. And children know this – whether or not they are encouraged to believe in him by their parents, and whether or not they have been told the “truth” about him. Ironically, the same children who hate it so much when they are fobbed off with half-truths, or lied too, willingly accept the myth of Santa Claus… if it means they will acquire gifts ‘from him’.
In homes where the gifts are said to have come from Santa, there will not doubt be comparisons with gifts brought by him to other children. The more street-smart kids may well ask why the rich kids get the most expensive presents their parents could have afforded anyway, whereas those who are less better-off get mundane things they need and not what they really, really want. It may also happen that children who have been “bad” get gifts, whereas those who are always good get nothing.
Some children may show signs of uncertainty about flying reindeer. They find it implausible that fat men could go down chimneys without getting stuck. The inevitable question about how one person manages to travel the world in one night is met with a “just because” reply. Kids who don’t really swallow the take are faced with “irrefutable evidence”- far-off sounds of jingling bells, half-eaten carrots in hallways, and drained glasses of the other Christmas spirit. And the gifts, of course.
If it’s Saint Nick rather than Santa Claus who visits – he rides a horse, and the horse could have eaten the carrots anyway.
Is it fair to “make” children conform and behave because Big Brother, in this case, Santa Claus, is watching them from some hidden eye-in-the-sky? Is it feasible to make children expect gifts because they can innately show charm and are gifted with empathy and kindness?
Christmas is an international celebration, albeit it is supposed to be a Christian festival. Ironically, the very symbols that make it Christmas are deemed offensive in some quarters, because if religious and cultural differences – and a Christmas Tree does not quote “personify” all the jazz as a caricature of a jolly old man does.
Interestingly, in Malta, Santa Claus is rarely depicted as Saint Nicholas – for the chances are that children would then not know who he is. So all the stories about how “blackface”-type makeup is applied by supermarket workers in Scandinavia, so that they can pretend to be “Black Peter”s (zwarte Piet) for the customers’ predilection, would make no sense here.
Would anyone bother going to the beach on his feast day (December 5) to see the Bishop arrive (‘from Spain’)? Why would anyone bother picking up the peppernuts (special biscuits thrown into the room by “Saint Nicholas” when he visits) when there are so many other goodies to be had during the Maltese Christmastide?
Children have made their choice – a pick-and-mix amalgamation of the story of Saint Nicholas and the myth of Santa Claus. In the future, they could well choose to place the latter in the same category as the Tooth Fairy and the Sock Goblin…

Santa’s Blog 6

She caught me practicing in front of the mirror. I am going to be the star turn at… (Ah! that would be an unpaid advertisement…). But the Missus says that my career as a stand-up comic is over before it’s begun.
I don’t agree. These’ll sleigh them for sure and all:
What do reindeer have that no other animals have? Baby reindeer. What do the reindeer sing to Father Christmas? Freeze a jolly good fellow. What does Santa get at Christmas? Santapplause. Who delivers presents to baby sharks at Christmas? Santa Jaws! Why does Father Christmas have three gardens? So he can ho ho ho. How do you make a slow reindeer fast? Don’t feed it. What do they call Santa Claus in Australia? Sandy Claus. Why did Rudolph wear sunglasses at the beach? He didn’t want to be recognised. Why do reindeer have fur coats? Because they would look silly in Macintoshes. What do you call a reformed burglar? Saint Nick.
She said I sound silly. Well, frankly I would rather sound silly than look it. Not that I mean anything by that, of course, but, for example, let us imagine someone who likes to cook, well, stuff.
Today, this person who shall not be named decided that breakfast for us would be something called supoesi. It sounds like some kind of exotic soup, the word does, and that is exactly what it is supposed to be. A hot soup that is traditionally eaten for breakfast in Samoa, made from coconut cream and pawpaw (did I tell you that They sent us a box of tins of coconut cream that are nearing their expiry date?).
Instead of cereal, this morning we had fausi – traditionally it’s made from dasheen, but tell me where we are getting it at this time of the year. So she made it from pumpkin… and, you guessed it, served it with a caramelised coconut cream sauce. You lick your fingers after you eat it not because it’s good, but because it’s sweet and sticky. This is one experiment I did not like.
Nothing silly about cooking Samoan food, you might say. Oh no. But imagine wearing a lava-lava in winter. To get into the spirit, she says. I would have thought we ought to be getting into the Christmas Spirit, actually, not be South Sea spectres. Think pareo. Think sarong. Think gooseflesh.
At this point, I recalled the Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner? of The Simpsons – the one where Homer is a restaurant critic with Lisa as his ghost-writer. The French chef concocts an éclair dripping with chocolate so dark that light cannot escape. It has over one million calories, 25 pounds of butter per square inch… and a dash of poison. The dénouement is that he didn’t eat it after all because someone told him it was low-fat.
I guess I must thank my lucky stars that she didn’t go the whole hog – or rather, the less delectable portions of the sea slug. The drink, called Sea for some obscure reason, is made from the innards of this creature. If push came to shove, I’d rather have Kava, made from the ground roots of pepper plants… with a mild tranquilising effect.

Santa’s Blog 5

Arsenic and Old Lace has a plot that these days would be considered politically incorrect, since it shows depends upon the foibles of several people who are not mentally stable (“eccentrics”) for its dénouement. Cary Grant’s shouts “Can you hear me? I’m not really a Brewster. I’m a son of a sea cook!” and the taxi driver counters this with “I’m not a cab driver. I’m a coffee pot.”
At one point, Cary Grant, as Mortimer Brewster the drama critic is sitting by a tombstone that bears the name Archie Leach. Film aficionados would know that Grant’s real name was Archibald Alexander Leach. Just for the record, the final scene in the script of the play had Mortimer’s two maiden aunts pour some of their infamous elderberry wine for Mr. Witherspoon, the Manager of Happydale Sanatorium. This was eliminated from the film version.
Right now, the only names I can remember are rabanadas (fried toast); lebkuchen
(chewy, honey-flavoured cookies with candied fruits and nuts); kourabiethes (shortbread with almonds & cinnamon); and bibingka (coconut and rice flour pudding)… The Missus tired them all today and of course I had to sample them. I also ate a handful of surströmming (fermented Baltic herring) and some salmiakki (salty liquorice) and I’m feeling a mite queasy.
For many people, it is a mater of pride that they can name names – not in the usual sense of the expression, but in that they remember the names of characters in obscure indie films and poems, and the lesser-known characters in Shakespeare’s plays (Aemilius, Boyet, Egeon…) as well as Biblical personalities (Nehemiah, Jadon, Josiah…).
It is easy to remember that Rudolph’s girlfriend is called Clarice. But many stumble when they are asked to name Santa’s team. Nerdology requires that not only does one remember them in sequence, but that one never forgets Olive. As in Olive, The Other Reindeer immortalised in Vivian Walsh’s book that had a Jack Russell Terrier as Olive. The Robert L. May story that later became a song by Johnny Marks gave us Rudolph – who was had very nearly been called Rollo or Reginald instead.
The poem ’Twas the Night Before Christmas names eight reindeer; Dasher (or Dascher); Dancer; Prancer; Vixen; Comet; Cupid; Donner (or Dunder or Donder); and Blitzen (or Blixem). Dunder en Blixem literally means “thunder and lightning” in Dutch – but the phrase is also idiomatic for “get a move on!”
This explains why some people say that the sled was pulled by six reindeer, and what followed their names was an order to hurry up. As for “Vixen” being the given name of a male reindeer… well, that is another story altogether. Female reindeer retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring. So it might have been that there was at least one female reindeer in the team (many of the names appear to fit either gender, too).
The Missus takes it for granted that some of the reindeer are female; she says that otherwise, since males never ask for directions, the presents would never get delivered on time. Well, I’ll show her; it’s high time I broke in my new hovercraft snow-car anyway; much better than you know whose eight-reindeer-powered sleigh.