From My WindowIssue Date: December 20, 2018
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
I get daily pictures of my granddaughter in Oklahoma, often doing something that my son labels "danger toddler." It's a little joke that recognizes kids of her age (almost 2) are learning and applying new skills. It is absolutely necessary to their growth and healthy development that you allow them to learn to do things that sometimes make you a little anxious " like trying to climb up on a picnic table bench, running in the yard while trying to carry some large awkward toy with them, or ascending their first set of stairs not holding on to the hand of an adult. There is risk involved " but it is risk you tolerate, since you can't wrap kids in bubble wrap and have them grow up normal.
"Danger Toddler" made me think of things I'll call "Danger Christmas." I thought of a few from my childhood pretty easily.
When I was little, my Great-Aunt Josephine still had the little candle holders used to light Christmas trees before electric tree lights were available. They were little metal disks, with a soldered-on tube standing upright, meant to hold the thin, short candle vertically. You attached this to a branch with a clip like a spring-loaded clothespin. I often hear long-ago stories of Christmas trees being put up on Christmas Eve, and lit only one or two times with these candle holders " probably because of the extreme danger they presented. While a dried out live Christmas tree with modern lights still presents some fire risk, it's nothing like what these candle-lit trees represented, although I bet they were lovely. And talk about "danger toddler!" One of those trees around excited kids would fit that title nicely.
Aunt Josie also had some truly ancient decorations that were a hard wire, bent at 90 degrees, with a bright-red candy "cherry" on each end of the wire. They were meant to be hung over branches of the Christmas tree. These candies were extremely attractive to kids because although we weren't supposed to touch them they smelled amazing and we often stole a quick lick when no one was looking. They were aggressively sweet and strongly cherry, sort of like those old Luden's cough drops only better yet. Eventually these cherries were released to us - by that time they were probably 30 years old or more, and we ate them. (The only reason they survived so long was because Aunt Jo never had any children.) The wires were extremely hard and sharp and you had to be really careful to avoid getting a cut in your mouth from them. If you ran with one in your mouth and fell, there was a good chance the hard wire would go right through the roof of your mouth. Such a hazardous item would never be made or given to kids today, and it's a REALLY good thing that's the case.
In the early 60's there was a popular Christmas decorating trend using spray "snow" out of pressurized cans. You taped cardboard stencils on your windows, then sprayed the "snow" to make shapes like Santa and his sleigh, Christmas trees and candy canes on the glass. You could also use it to spray a mirror, or your entire Christmas tree where it got all over your lights and ornaments. The stuff was marked "highly flammable" and even back in those days of litigation-free unwise products, the warnings on the can were extensive " unplug tree lights before spraying, do not use near hot surfaces, candles, burners, etc. Besides being a fire hazard during application, this stuff was extraordinarily messy. The snow flakes went all over and the windows were really hard to clean at the end of the holiday season. You didn't even try to get it off your ornaments or lights. All in all, it makes you wonder why any of us thought this was a good idea at the time.
Finally, let's look at holly. Holly is one of those things strongly associated with Christmas that has nothing to do with the Biblical Christmas story, as far as I can tell. Rather, it is a remnant of "winter celebrations" in pre-Christian times. It was considered sacred by the Druids, and the Romans associated holly with Saturn, the god of agriculture and harvest. It's one of the few small trees or shrubs with evergreen leaves instead of needles, so it would have been a good choice for indoor decorations in the cold months. The thick, leathery leaves hold up well indoors. In fact, the leaves are so leathery and inflexible it is very hard to tell real holly from good artificial holly and I don't say that about many fake botanicals. And the fake stuff has the advantage over the real leaves in that real ones are extremely picky. Those points on the leaves end in little thorns and they can shred you up.
I know this after a window project at my son and daughter-of-the-heart's home last year. Their house has holly shrubbery around two sides of it. The holly slashed me up so badly I had to hack some of it back, and then got myself a heavy coverall to wear when working there, even in the Tulsa heat. That stuff is nasty, I am telling you. And the pretty red or white berries are toxic (the leaves are too, but few are willing to eat something so prickly,) and can cause vomiting and diarrhea. (Fatalities, though, are almost unknown.) Once the branches are indoors, the berries dry out and drop off, making them available to pets or kids. Since they don't taste very good, they are unlikely to eat many, but it is still wise to keep them out of reach " or use artificial. Interestingly, birds DO eat holly berries, but apparently only after they have been through a freeze/thaw cycle.
Luckily, Christmas is much safer these days. The most serious "Danger Christmas" most of us face is letting the baking, shopping, cleaning and general commercialized frenzy get between us and the real significance of this holiday. So I will make time for an activity that will really "light up" my Christmas. I have plans to perform an anonymous act of kindness. Maybe you could write someone who has greatly impacted your life in a positive way a personal letter of thanks. Or reach out to someone who had a difficult year, and may be a bit depressed this holiday season, as it's the first one without someone special. Because all of these things more accurately reflect the reason for the season better than candy, fake snow, or holly. And they are also safer.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
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