Tag Archive | Christmas

Leavenworth, Washington

Bavarian Village in the Cascade Mountains

December 21, 2021

This time of year it’s easy to find ‘lists’ of the best holiday and Christmas towns in the U.S. For those who live in Washington State, it’s no surprise to find Leavenworth always on those lists.

A view of downtown Leavenworth during the Christmas light festival, courtesy of Seattlerefined.com

It was named, a few years ago, as the ultimate holiday town by the A&E TV network. No wonder, then, that the place has been overrun in recent years with tourists – especially during November and December.

The Leavenworth story began in 1892 when lumber was king. A sawmill was located on the Wenatchee River and the Great Northern Railway established its terminal there; the last stop before the climb up and over Steven’s Pass to Seattle.

Downtown looking west 1953

The town thrived for several decades until the railway moved the terminal to Wenatchee in 1925. Over the course of the next 25 years the lumber mills closed and residents – with no hope of employment – moved away, leaving much of the town boarded up and abandoned.

Leavenworth could have followed the fate of other small towns, withering away into historical obscurity. But thanks to the vision of two Seattle businessmen, a plan was hatched. The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:

“The city looked to tourism and recreation as a major economy as early as 1929, when they opened a ski jump. In 1962, the Project LIFE (Leavenworth Improvement For Everyone) Committee was formed in partnership with the University of Washington to investigate strategies to revitalize the struggling logging town. The theme town idea was created by two Seattle businessmen, Ted Price and Bob Rodgers, who had bought a failing cafe on Highway 2 in 1960. Price was chair of the Project LIFE tourism subcommittee, and in 1965 the pair led a trip to a Danish-themed town, Solvang, California, to build support for the idea. The first building to be remodeled in the Bavarian style was the Chikamin Hotel, which owner LaVerne Peterson renamed the Edelweiss after the state flower of Bavaria.”

Perhaps the thing which was most compelling for the Bavarian theme is Leavenworth’s incredible natural scenery. At an elevation of 1,170 feet, Leavenworth is noted for its Continental Mediterranean climate. Summer days are primarily sunny and hot but with cool, crisp nights. Winters are typically cold and snowy.

The snowiest winter on record in Leavenworth occurred in 1968-69 when over 18 feet of snow accumulated. The most snow in a single month was December 1996 with 92.3 inches – yes, that’s nearly 8 feet of snow! A typical YEAR is 90 inches.

The mountains to the west rise precipitously, becoming the perfect backdrop for an Alps-like village. In the winter, the picturesque slopes and snow covered trees and hills causes one to stop and ponder.

Leavenworth has, in many ways, become a victim of its success. So popular is the destination that hotel rooms are sold out – often a year or more in advance – for the big festivals and finding a place to park becomes impossible. Seattleites (a generic description of anyone from the Westside of the Cascade mountains) have in recent decades discovered the Bavarian village and cars stream across the mountains in search of a magical experience.

Aerial view of the Icicle Village Resort. The wedding was held on just the otherside of the fence past the pool… lower right of the photo to the left of the parking lot.

As a girl growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s in Yakima, visiting Leavenworth was NOT a thing. The first time I stayed in Leavenworth was when my sister and I hatched a plan to celebrate New Year’s eve there on December 31, 1999 – to ring in the year 2000 (I wrote about that here.)

In the ensuing years, we made the occasional trip to Leavenworth but never again in December. Until this past weekend.

My daughter – having survived the Y2K scare during that 1999 trip – and her fiancé decided they wanted to get married someplace in Washington where there would (they hoped!) be snow. Thus Leavenworth was chosen as the perfect spot. Waaaaaay back in March 2019 right after getting engaged, they visited Leavenworth and reserved their venue at the Icicle Village Resort for December 19th… 2020.

The planning commenced. Save the Date postcards were mailed. A wedding dress was purchased. Attendants secured. All was coming together right up until March 2020 when the world shut down.

There’s nothing quite like a global pandemic to change plans. The ‘wedding’ did happen on December 19, 2020 but with a total of five people present besides the bride and groom: the officiant, the maid of honor, the best man, a photographer, and a videographer.

As the bride’s mother I was not happy with this but also being a realist did not lament over it but resolved to make the best of the situation. As did my daughter and new son in law.

Determination took over and no way were they going to let a little thing like the world being shut down (eat your heart out Y2K – 2020 said ‘hold my beer.’) to stop them from having the wedding event of their dreams.

Fast forward to December 2021. The Pandemic still raged and yet people had finally figured out that the world continued on despite it all.

Thus it was we found ourselves in Leavenworth on Friday, December 17th, preparing for a party. We rehearsed and then picked our way down icy streets to downtown to eat German style sausages and raise glasses of beer (except me – I don’t do beer). The younger folks continued on to a couple other locations while the hubby and I walked back to the resort.

Within a short time of our arrival back, I looked out our window – which had that perfect view of the mountains to the west – and noted that snow had started to fall.

The mothers of the groom and the bride taking care of the garbage bags for chair coverings.

The next morning, the snow continued. Both Stevens and Snoqualmie passes were closed for a time and about a dozen guests opted out.

Even so, just before 4 p.m., those who had made the trek, arrived for the OUTDOOR wedding. Worried about the comfort of the guests, my niece’s husband had graciously – at my behest – gone and purchased white garbage bags so everyone would have dry chairs to sit on. I stood, in my formal dress and snow boots, at where they entered and handed bags to every single person!

And then it was time… first the groom’s mother was escorted down the aisle and then me. The snow fell as if in snow globe, everything blanketed in glittery white.

Next came the officiant and our son-in-law. Then the train of groomsmen followed by the bridesmaids bedecked in shades of blue.

Then, at last, we all stood, turned and watched as my daughter – looking every bit a Bavarian fairytale princess – swept down the aisle on her father’s arm. And I was so very glad she had persisted in her desire to have not one – but two – weddings. It was a magical moment which I will carry with me the rest of my days.

It occurred to me that along the way, Leavenworth would forever hold a special place in our family’s history; an exclamation point for a few important events. I have a suspicion that there’s a whole bunch of Washingtonians who feel the same way.

The Bavarian Bride escorted by her proud Padre.

The links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leavenworth%2C_Washington

https://www.historylink.org/File/9475

https://bestlifeonline.com/american-christmas-towns/

The three other Washington State ‘theme’ towns pictured on Facebook are: Winthrop, Lynden, and La Conner

Hallmark Ornaments

Not A Creature Was Stirring, Not Even Chris Mouse

December 8, 2020

When Hallmark introduced these in 1973, no one could even begin to imagine how, over the next 40 plus years, the company would lead the industry through an unprecedented demand for Christmas ornaments.

A display in a Hallmark store, circa 2013

That first year, Hallmark only had 18 different ornament designs available for sale. Apparently buoyed by the success of sales that year, however, the collectible ornaments were expanded the next year. Betsey Clark – a popular artist featuring whimsical big eyed children- had two entries that year, up from one the year before. Seen also for the first time were scenes from Currier & Ives as well as an iconic Norman Rockwell holiday painting. The number of balls was tripled but yarn figures – prominent the first year – were only half of what they’d been in 1973.

It went this way for several more years with more and more Ornament balls being offered… but with a catch. A shopper could not just walk into a Hallmark store or retailer and purchase the exact same ornament they saw the previous year. Each ornament incorporated the production year into the design. Once the baubles were sold out, that was it.

The introduction of annual orament series spurred interest. Each fall, collectors would rush to the store to snap up the newest one.

My sister’s 1978 Betsey Clark ornament

Surprisingly (at least to this author) is that the Infallible Wikipedia does not have a page devoted just to the Hallmark phenomenon. It does, however, offer up this information on a more generic page:

“In 1973, Hallmark Cards started manufacturing Christmas ornaments. The first collection included 18 ornaments, including six glass ball ornaments. The Hallmark Keepsake Ornament collection is dated and available for just one year. By 1998, 11 million American households collected Hallmark ornaments, and 250,000 people were member of the Keepsake Ornament Collector’s Club. There were as many as 400 local Keepsake Ornament Collector’s Club chapters in the US.  One noted Christmas ornament authority is Clara Johnson Scroggins who has written extensively on the topic and has one of the largest private collections of Christmas ornaments.

In 1996, the ornament industry generated $2.4 billion in total annual sales, an increase of 25% over the previous year. Industry experts estimated more than 22 million US households collected Christmas ornaments, and that 75% of those households collected Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments.”

And, according to the official Hallmark webpage, “What began as glass balls and yarn figurines has grown to more than 8,500 ornaments past and present, and a reputation for quality, craft, and above all, spirit.”

My first foray into the world of Hallmark ornaments began, coincidentally, the year I got married. During a trip into Hallmark I happened to go peruse the ornament section and, there it was, the perfect ornament to commemorate a couple’s first Christmas together.

Our first Hallmark ornament… the reverse says
“Christmas Is A Love Story Written In Our Hearts.”

I had to have it despite the fact that it was an extravagance not in the budget. The hubby was okay with the purchase of it and even another one which featured everyone’s favorite Christmas mouse, Mickey.

From that initial addictive purchase came more. Two more Hallmark ornaments were acquired in 1981. It was 1985, however, when things started to ramp up in my household.

That year saw the introduction of an ornament titled ‘Chris Mouse.’

Mr. Mouse was just about the most adorable creature you’d ever seen. His tiny little self was wearing what looked to be a sky blue night shirt and a red night cap. In his teeny hands he held a hunter green book with ‘1985’ on the cover in gold. But best of all was that he was sitting at the base of an old fashioned gold candle holder, leaning against a 4 inch tall red candle. At the top of the candle glows a yellow ‘flame’ which, when the ornament’s cord is plugged into a socket on a string of Christmas lights, is lit up.

I was enchanted and had to have that ornament.

Chris Mouse #1 who captured my heart

Soon I discovered that my Chris Mouse was only the first in the series. I eagerly looked forward to the next year’s entry. When it arrived in the stores the next fall I wandered in one day to take a look. Like the previous year, it was cute and this time featured Mr. Mouse asleep in a pinecone house, a tiny night light adding to the magic. I didn’t like it quite as well as the first one so I decided I might wait until after Christmas to buy it, maybe even find it on sale.

Sometimes, however, things work against you and such was the case in 1986. Just before Christmas I came down with a bad cold and was laid up for several days including on Christmas. The mouse was forgotten until, a few days after the holiday, I ventured out to the stores to do some bargain hunting. Alas, the second in the series was nowhere to be found.

In the following years, my lesson learned, I always purchased the ornaments I wanted well before Christmas. The Chris Mouse series? Ended up being 13 ornaments in all, each starring the adorable mouse in the blue nightshirt and red cap, each time doing something which featured a lovely little lighted object. It just so happened that I only had 12 of them and, every Christmas, I lamented not having the missing ornament.

Chris Mouse #2 who took years to join the line up

That was until a few years ago when there, under the tree for me one Christmas, was an unexpected surprise. Santa’s helper – who I call hubby – had located the missing Chris Mouse and bought it for me. The prodigal rodent joined his brother’s on the tree, the series now complete.

It takes several large Rubbermaid totes to house all the Hallmark ornaments in their original boxes. One bin is full of the lighted and motion ornaments, the other primarily a collection of whimsical critters. A third tote holds glass balls but only a dozen or so are part of the Hallmark collection.

By the late 1990’s with more than enough decorations to fill at least two trees, I stopped buying ornaments.

2020, however, seems like the perfect excuse to purchase a new bauble with which to commemorate this unusual year. An online search revealed that my local dealer is just down the hill. Time for a shopping adventure…

The links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_ornament

https://www.hallmark.com/ornaments/

Shiny Brite

A Christmas Tradition

December 17, 2019

Shiny Brite box

Shiny Brite box. Note Uncle Sam and Santa shaking hands.

Long before Hallmark introduced their line of annual Christmas ornaments, another American Company  had taken the market by storm, selling millions of baubles every year from 1940 to 1962. Marketed as Shiny Brite, the distinctive green boxes which featured Santa Claus shaking Uncle Sam’s hand were a fixture in the average home of the 1950’s and 60’s.

The story begins in 1937 with importer Max Eckhardt who, seeing the clouds of war encroaching and feared that his supply line would be cut, went to the Corning Glass company in Pennsylvania and made a deal with them to begin producing ornments. Thus was born Shiny Brite. From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Eckardt had been importing hand-blown glass balls from Germany since around 1907, but had the foresight to anticipate a disruption in his supply from the upcoming war. Corning adapted their process for making light bulbs to making clear glass ornaments, which were then shipped to Eckardt’s factories to be decorated by hand. The fact that Shiny Brite ornaments were an American-made product was stressed as a selling point during World War II.
Dating of the ornaments is often facilitated by studying the hook. The first Shiny Brite ornaments had the traditional metal cap and loop, with the hook attached to the loop, from which the ornament was hung from the tree.
Wartime production necessitated the replacement of the metal cap with a cardboard tab, from which the owner would use yarn or string to hang the ornament. These hangers firmly place the date of manufacture of the ornament to the early 1940s. (snip)
Shiny Brite ornaments were first manufactured at Corning’s plant in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, and continued there for many decades. During its peak, Shiny Brite also had factories in New Jersey, located in the cities of Hoboken, Irvington, North Bergen, and West New York. The company’s main office and showroom were located at 45 East 17th Street in New York city.
Shiny Brite’s most popular ornaments have been reissued under the same trademark by Christopher Radko since 2001.”
Although there were other companies which manufactured and sold ornaments in that era, Shiny Brite was by far the largest player.

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My collection of vintage ornaments

As a child in the 1960’s I loved the December day when our family’s tree would be put up. I always watched as my father strung the C-7 bulbs on the branches. It seemed as though it took forever for my mother to declare the moment when the ornaments could be hung. Out would come the green shiny brite boxes, their lids lifted, and one by one the delicate glass balls would soon dangle from the branches.

Each year it was as if seeing old friends arrive for the holidays. By the 1980’s – with their children all moved away – my parents quit hanging ornaments on a tree. Instead, they kept an artificial tree – lights already placed on the branches – in their basement storage room. Mid-December my dad would carry it upstairs, plug in the lights, and call it good.
The ornaments were squirreled away in a box in the storage room where they remained untouched for 30 years.
This past summer, as we worked to clean out my parent’s home after my Dad had moved to an Adult Family home, my sister and I kept waiting for the Christmas Box to be unearthed.
Finally, in late August, that day arrived. We sat on the floor and opened the ornament boxes, each picking out those we wanted to keep. Last week, after my tree was up, I went searching for my parents’ ornaments. I looked in box after box which had been stored in my garage since summer, but no ornaments.
Following a two day search, I lamented to my son that I could not find them. He, however, said he had seen them and a few minutes later produced a small box from a section of the garage where I had not looked.
Just like when I was a little girl, I opened the box and said hello to my old friends. But unlike during my childhood, I could not bear to hang them on my tree, fearful they might fall and break. Amazing how something so ordinary and familiar had now become precious and irreplacable. Instead, I placed the treasured ornaments in a bowl and, along with a pair of ceramic angels and two ceramic bells, set them in a place of honor.

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Precious ceramic Angels and bells

I can only hope that one day my own children will also cherish these heirlooms passed down from generation to generation.
The links:
I loved this story about Wellsboro, PA, where Shiny Brite’s were manufactured:
And a nice story about Shiny Brite:

Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer

December 3, 2019

A Christmas Classic?

elmo-and-patsy-grandma-got-run-over-by-a-reindeer-kimpat-ent-s

We know that the Christmas season is upon us when the calendar flips to December and those wonderful holiday songs waft nostalgic from the radio. And no song quite embraces the joyful Noel spirit more than… Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.


It all began in December 1978 when songwriter/performer Randy Brooks sang the song during a live show at the Hyatt Lake Tahoe with husband and wife duo of Elmo and Patsy Trigg Shropshire. The pair asked for – and received – a tape recording of the song from Brooks after the show. The next year the duo recorded the song and began selling the record during their performances.
As much as we can hope this 1979 novelty song will go away it has actually increased in popularity over the years.

From there things spiraled out of control.

Elmo and patsy

Elmo and Patsy Trigg Shropshire

By the early 1980’s the song was being played on radio stations during the holiday season. Its popularity on the rise and the records sold out, it has been re-pressed and re-released several times.

The public continues to be split on whether the song is loved or hated. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Edison Media Research and Pinnacle Media Worldwide independently survey radio listeners on which Christmas songs they like and dislike. In both surveys, results of which were reported in 2007, the only song that reached the top of both liked and disliked lists was ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.’ Its ‘loved’ ratings in the Edison and Pinnacle polls were relatively high—47 and 32 percent, respectively—but so were the ‘hate’ or ‘dislike’ ratings—17 and 22 percent.

A major Washington, D.C. radio station, WASH (97.1 FM), dropped the song from its playlist. ‘It was too polarizing,’ says Bill Hess, program director. ‘It wasn’t strong, except with a few people, and it had a lot of negatives.’ The song also gained notoriety at Davenport, Iowa radio station WLLR in 1985 when a disc jockey played the song 27 times back-to-back during the morning show before station management was able to stop him. The disc jockey, who was suspended, was reportedly depressed and upset that a co-worker had left employment at the station to work out-of-state.

Shropshire claims it is ‘a beloved holiday favorite.’ The video of the song was ‘a holiday staple on MTV for many seasons.’ It has been ‘incorporated into talking toys and a musical greeting card.’ ‘My royalties are four or five times what they were’ 20 years ago, claims Elmo, who performs the song with his bluegrass group year-round. ‘A lot of younger people say it’s not really Christmas until they hear it.’”

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Songwriter Randy Brooks with Santa

When I first heard it – sometime in the early 80’s – I was amused. It did have a catchy tune and unusual premise. But upon listening to the lyrics I was appalled by the macabre theme wrapped up in a happy sounding jingle. For me, the song lands firmly in the dislike category and I will switch radio stations whenever it comes on.

For today’s Tuesday Newsday, however, I am taking one for the team so that my loyal readers can know the story behind the worst ‘holiday’ song ever.

Normally, I would put a link to a video up so you can experience the song first hand. Not doing that. Instead, here are the lyrics which do support my supposition that this is NOT a joyful Christmas classic:

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa
But as for me and grandpa we believe
She’d been drinking too much eggnog
And we begged her not to go
But she forgot her medication
And she staggered out the door into the snow
When we found her Christmas morning
At the scene of the attack
She had hoof-prints on her forehead
And incriminating Claus marks on her back
Chorus: Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa
But as for me and grandpa we believe
Now we’re all so proud of grandpa
He’s been taking this so well
See him in there watching football
Drinking beer and playing cards with cousin Mel
It’s not Christmas without Grandma
All the family’s dressed in black
And we just can’t help but wonder
Should we open up her gifts
Or send them back (send them back)
Chorus
Now the goose is on the table
And the pudding made of fig
And the blue and silver candles
That would just have matched the hair on grandma’s wig
I’ve warned all my friends and neighbors
Better watch out for yourselves
They should never give a license
To a man who drives a sleigh
And plays with elves
Chorus

For those of you who ARE glutton’s for punishment and want this ear worm in your head for weeks, here’s the video and, of course, a link to the Infallible Wikipedia article. I’ve also included one about Randy Brooks, the songwriter, as his tales from his childhood and how his family inspired the song is worth a read.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandma_Got_Run_Over_by_a_Reindeer

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-true-story-behind-gra_b_6307834