Author Archives: Kirsten Talbot

Christmas Eve Tree Decorating

“Big Christmas. You went to bed, and when you got up in the morning, Santa Claus had been there. The tree was decorated, and all the presents were out. And little boys had trouble sleeping at night.”


“Well, didn’t, didn’t Mom say that you guys would decorate the tree the night before?”


“Yeah Christmas Eve.”


“So did you do that when you were a kid too?”




“Until we all got big enough to help. We did that for Pam [his younger sister]. I remember one year after Dad had run away from home, Mom was really upset about the whole thing. Pam had been sick. She had rheumatic fever when she was a little kid, and so Mom announced that we were not having a damn Christmas tree. We gotta have a Christmas tree Mom. Well if you want one you can get it, I can’t afford it. So I took a wagon and went to the market where my dad had been the manager and talked to Herb, the produce manager, and they sold Christmas trees, and he said ‘we’re closin’ up in a few minutes, take any one you want. We’re just going to throw them away in the morning.’ I went outside and there’s this beautiful tree, had to be 20 feet tall. Load it on the wagon, tie it down, start down the sidewalk and I discover I can’t walk under any of the trees or anything with that damn giant Christmas tree tied on top of the wagon. So I went right down the middle of the block and they used to have those, only in the middle of the street, hanging old-fashioned type streetlights, right over the intersection. And I’d even brush against those haha. Gosh when we got home, we took about eight feet out of the middle of it. Looked like a big sagebrush, almost round. But when Aunt Pam woke up in the morning, she had a Christmas tree, beautiful thing.”


“So where did that tradition start? Is that German?”


“That came with the folks. Came with the folks. Always when we were little kids, you woke up in the morning and the Christmas tree was up. Old Germanic thing I guess. And the christmas tree is up and presents around it, and Santa Claus had been there. Terrible shock to me when I found out there was no Santa Claus. ‘Mommy! …. There’s no Santa Claus!”


“How old were you?”


“Third grade, I think, something like that. But Mom did that even after we were big, uh, until she just got tired. And then we did that for Pam, my brother and I. One year she was really, really sick. And she kept wakin’ up. And she was like ‘Has Santa been here yet?’ ‘No, Pam. Santa’s not been here yet. Go back to sleep.’ So we’d reassure her and John and I were in bed, dressed, haha, and so she’d doze off. Back out again to put up the tree, out up some more ornaments. And the sun was coming up, and finally finished the tree. And Pam could not understand why we were so unenthusiastic about Santa had been there. Been in bed a few minutes haha and she woke up as soon as it was light. Got to go up and sit by the tree. and then you had to wait for Mom and Dad.”




Although this was a holiday tradition for my Grandpa as a child, and was then continued during my mom’s childhood, my immediate family seems to have put an end to it. For now, at least. Perhaps I’ll reignite it at some point, though I’ve always enjoyed having the Christmas tree up a few weeks before the big day, which isn’t really conducive to this tradition. It’s very interesting to notice how “Old World” traditions transform when they reach America. Our society is a melting pot of cultures and people, which can be both good and bad. A lot of ideas are remembered, but often in a skewed or inaccurate way, becoming “Americanized.” So, we are left with an interesting disconnected connection to our ancestral roots. And as seen with the ambiguity of where our traditions come from and why we do them, it’s very probable that at some point in the near future later generations will forget completely anything about their family history. It will take a very select group of determined people to maintain the future’s connection to past, and to not let it be forgotten entirely.

Some of the traditional practices of celebrating Christmas in Germany did, in fact, include decorating the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve “behind closed doors, then a bell [was] rung to admit the children” (731). Lebkuchen cookies were baked, which a neighbor of mine who was born in Germany has shared with my family during the holiday before. In the U.S., it’s safe to assume that most families decorate their trees with various ornaments, often made from glass or plastic, and ranging in degrees of artistry and craftsmanship. In German tradition, the tree could include “woven straw ornaments, painted wooden figures, glass baubles, toy birds, pinecones, and candles” (731), all decorations with distinctly less modern, commercial appeal. So, again, it would seem that although America still holds to cultural traditions, especially for such a popular holiday as Christmas, very few probably still celebrate with all of the original traditions, let alone are even aware of what they are.
Source: Griffin, Robert H. and Ann H. Shurgin. Editors. The Folklore of World Holidays. Second edition. Detroit: Gale, 1999.

(Re)Wrapping Christmas Presents

“My most disappointing Christmas ever.”


“Haha that’s uplifting.”


“I got so skillful at open hidden presents and resealing them that came Christmas morning, I knew everything I was getting. Never again did I open a present ahead of time. Because it was like, I know what everything is. And it was really a major disappointment, had to fake being surprised. So, never did it again.”



I’ve never heard of a family (or Santa) not ever wrapping there Christmas presents. In the U.S. there is always a plethora of shiny, brightly colored papers to choose from in rolls that can come in tens or hundreds of feet long. I’ve also seen some people use newspaper or brown butcher-type paper, but nonetheless paper. It adds to the suspense and surprise of waking up Christmas morning and wondering what gifts Santa brought. Of course, in my Grandpa’s case, he learned his lesson of spoiling the purpose of the wrapping paper.

Japan’s Tomy’s Cherry Brandy

“Tomy’s Cherry Brandy was like the syrup you put on ice cream. Except it had a bite to it. And it’d come in a little half-pint hip flask. And, uh, it was almost like syrup. So you’d get a half-pint of it and go stand at the railroad station, outside, waiting for your train to take you back up to camp Fuji. And you’d take a sip a that stuff was like pshew… boom. Haha and it’d warm ya all the way down. Never found it out here.”


“Well where was it from cuz Tomy’s doesn’t sound very Japanese?”


“Oh it was T-o-m-y-’-s. It was an Anglicization. So, it was all in Japanese. That’s where I got to like Kirin beer. They had nothing but the big bottles over there. They didn’t make the small size bottles. Only had half-quart bottles.”



Alcohol is one of the few products that has the honor of being consumed in some flavor and form all over the world. Every culture has their own version, flavor, and sources of ingredients. It has been a target of social, political, and moral ridicule and veneration. It is very much a cultural commodity. And like food, acts as a gateway to the nation it stems from, inviting its perusers to explore its nation’s other consumable commodities. Although my Grandpa was unable to find the cherry brandy here in the U.S., Kirin can very commonly be found here at least in Japanese restaurants, showing the diffusion of cultures into one another at some point in history.



“I know that, um, my Grandpa would always recite certain rhymes like when I was younger. And the one that I think he told the most was the, the one about like, um, I forget what it was called, it starts with an ‘A.’”




“Um, Yeah, I know that’s really helpful.”


[Laughing] “That’s where the internet comes in.”


“Exactly! But I mean if you typed in the lyrics, or the words, it would be right there. Its like the ‘As I was going up the stair, I saw a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. Oh I wish, I wish he’d go away.’ So that one was always around.”


“And when would he say that, like, just randomly?”


“Yeah, just randomly. Kinda, ya know, like when we were just hanging out, over tea. Yeah, tea time is big, um, at my house. We always have, like, tea and biscuits. And we try to make it either at, I don’t know; I like having it at, like, 4 o’clock, but now that’s when I eat dinner, so.”


“So, have an early tea time haha.”




“Do you know where your Grandpa learned that saying?”


“Um, I’m, I’m not sure. Cuz I don’t know if that’s one, cuz he came from England so I’m not sure if that’s one that his parents would recite to him. I don’t even know when the thing was written.”








“That’s very helpful.”


“It’s funny, like, where, like, people pick up those random sayings from, like, and it becomes their trademark.”




“I keep trying to find my trademark but I haven’t come across one yet haha.”


“Yeah, um, I don’t know, well I guess it’s kind of interesting cuz, like, he had that one that was kind of like, ya know, he would always recite that one. And, um, and I’ve picked one up that, like, a different one, but I like saying that one. Even though it has nothing to do with anything.”



The poem that this saying comes from was originally written by William Hughes Mearns and published in 1922, though it originally was a song from 1899.

Divine Intervention

“This one I don’t know what it comes under, the category of, but I definitely believe it. Um, about two weeks before, uh, Uncle Perry passed away, he showed up at our front door with Cindy, his wife, and knocked on the front door. And now, he was living in Virginia Beach at the time, in Virginia, flying for the navy back there, and Southwest [Airlines]. And we didn’t know he was coming, and we were just at the house. And it was one Saturday, I think, and he just came and knocked on the door. Now we thought he was across the country. And he came in and we went and had dinner and had a great time. Well, I, to this day, would believe that that is, and I don’t know how to explain it other than religion. Ya know, God’s intervention of giving Perry, cuz he basically took a couple of weeks with Cindy and they went and saw a bunch of old friends and family. And I think that, ya know, God stepped in and said I’m gonna take ya early and ya know, here’s two weeks of time to enjoy with your life but also to say goodbye to family and friends. And I think that was more than just fate. So I think that’s God’s will.”




As long as religion has existed, I think some concept of divine intervention has also been present. It’s a way that mankind has attempted to connect to their idea of a higher power (God/gods), and to understand the influence that the divine may have over us. Legends, myths and tales, too, have a similar purpose of trying to bring meaning to what can’t be rationally and/or immediately understood.