I love tinsel. It’s so glittery and cheerful and colourful. It’s instant Christmas decoration that you can pull out of a bag and strew around the room and it immediately feels more like December.
Tinsel seems like a fairly recent invention, and in its current form, it is. Its history, though, goes back five hundred years to the very fine strands of hammered silver used in Nuremberg, Germany, in the early 1600s. At first, it was used more often to decorate sculptures or statues than trees., but it’s ability to sparkle and magnify the light from the candles used to illuminate Christmas trees caused its popularity to grow.
Flawed by both brittleness and tarnish, early types of tinsel were nowhere near as hardy or long-lasting as what we have now. Over time, various other tinsel-like decorations were made using various different shiny or sparkly materials: silver or gold thread, or pieces of shiny fabric, and foil made from lead, copper or aluminium. During the 20th century, the advent of plastics made production of what we now know as tinsel cheaper and easier, while the dangers of other more flammable or toxic materials caused them to decrease in popularity.
The word tinsel dates back to the mid-1400s when it was used to describe cloth with gold or silver thread woven through it.
It is this sense of the word that is used by Shakespeare in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ where Margaret describe’s Hero’s fine wedding gown as being enhanced with a “bluish tinsel”.
The word came from Old French estencele, or estincelle — the es- was not pronounced– which meant ‘sparkle’ or ‘spangle’. From the 1590s onwards, tinsel was the name given to very thin sheets, strips or strands of shiny metal or fabric. This Old French word is related to the Latin word scintilla meaning ‘spark’ , which in turn most likely came from the PIE roots*ski-nto, from which English also gets ‘shine’ and ‘scintillate’. It is also related to ‘stencil’.
By the mid 17th century, tinsel was also used in a non-literal sense to mean something showy or shiny, but not with any real value.
Our local council has created this gorgeous candlelight memorial for all the people in our local government area of Corangamite Shire who have passed away in 2020.
Most of these people‘a families were very limited in how many they could have at the funeral. The way we have mourned and comforted one another has had to change. Our ability to travel and see each other has been limited or, at times, impossible.
Gestures like this help us to feel less alone, and to know that our loved ones are remembered. It’s very touching that the community as a whole is able to acknowledge their absence from the towns and social circles in which they lived.
There are 129 lights burning through the night. That’s 129 families like mine that have been changed forever. And, I’m sure, it’s 129 families who appreciate the thoughtfulness of a local government that thinks beyond budgets and logistics to stop for as long as it takes to light 129 candles, and invite the community to stop, remember and reflect.
My sister and I went to see the memorial tonight, to pay tribute to our dad and to share the sight with our family interstate via video.
Thank you to the Corangamite Shire and the local community members who helped make this happen. It is very much appreciated.
My comment yesterday that I was playing songs full of snow even though I live in Australia generated some interest in what Christmas is like here, so I thought I might share a little about how Australians celebrate Christmas.
Many of our traditions are the same as everyone else’s. We sing the same songs, send Christmas cards, decorate with Christmas trees, tinsel, wreaths and lights, and hope that Santa will visit and leave us gifts. We have Christmas music in all the shops and soppy Christmas movies on TV.
There are a few key differences though.
Christmas happens in summer here. When we sing ‘Let it Snow’ and ‘White Christmas’ it’s wishful thinking— usually because it’s ridiculously hot outside. My little Canadian spruce is decked with tinsel and fairy lights, but it will probably never see snow– at Christmas, or at any other time of year.
Because it is summer, kids are on their long break between one school year and the next. Term 4 finishes sometime in the middle of December, and the kids return to school sometime toward the end of January.
This gives people the opportunity to more easily travel longer distances to visit family, or to spend Christmas near the beach or in other desired locations. While this certainly happens in other countries, Australians have made a time-honoured national tradition of ‘going away for the Christmas Holidays’.
Some of the traditional Christmas songs like Jingle Bells have been rewritten to reflect Australian conditions, and we also have some of our own songs that probably aren’t sung anywhere else, except for maybe New Zealand. Many of these are less well-known now than they used to be, partly because our culture is significantly led by American and British influences, partly because their lyrics and subjects are outdated, and mostly because they were ridiculously hard to sing.
Many of us still have traditional Christmas food like turkey and ham, but we’ll often have salads on the side instead of hot vegetables. Some people barbecue steaks and other meats instead, while others opt for seafood for Christmas dinner. The traditional Christmas pudding is often accompanied or even replaced by cold desserts like cheesecake, trifle or iconic Aussie desserts like pavlova or chocolate ripple cake.
It’s still a day for family and friends, but lots of Australians spend Christmas or Boxing Day gathered at the beach or by the pool. Christmas meals are often eaten outdoors, hopefully under cover or in the shade. It’s not unusual for Aussies to enjoy their post-Christmas-dinner nap in the cool of the air-conditioning or in front of the fan.
One of my absolute favourite Australian Christmas traditions is Carols by Candlelight. Crowds gather outdoors, often picnic style, and sing Christmas songs together. There are local events all over the country, but there is also the nationally televised showbiz charity event held in Melbourne on Christmas Eve every year. Santa usually makes an appearance, as do various celebrities of TV and the music industry who, supported by a band, an orchestra, and premium choirs, entertain and delight the nation.
Because of Australia’s longitude, we start our Christmas Day while most of the world is still full of anticipation on Christmas Eve. Only New Zealand and some small Polynesian nations of the Pacific Ocean start their Christmas before we do.
While the rest of the world is waking up to Christmas morning, Australians can often be found gathering outdoors again for a game of cricket in the back yard, or another dip in the pool or at the beach.
On the 26th, many Australians will tune in to the Boxing Day Test Match— also cricket— on the TV or radio, broadcast from the Melbourne Cricket Ground where up to 100 000 dedicated fans attend the game in person for each of the five days scheduled for the match. Don’t let that surprise you – we’re a sports-mad nation, and the cricket lovers among us are as dedicated as any.
After all the excitement of Christmas, things settle down for a day or two before we get the barbecues out and gather together again to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
For many years, families have made a tradition of going into the city to see the department store Christmas windows.
We don’t live in a big city, or near one, but shop windows decorated for Christmas have become popular out here in the country, too.
Tonight we had the unveiling of the Christmas windows at the local hardware. They made an event of it, added in some competitions and games, and generated a lot of interest among the community. A good number of community folks turned out for the event, and there was a lot of excitement and chatter among the crowd.
The Christmas windows at H Hardware in Cobden, Victoria.
The windows, each decorated by a different staff member, are fabulous. They all show creativity and a sense of humour, and they are sure to be a feature of the Christmas lights viewing in town.
“Why would you live in Cobden?” is a question I get asked from time to time. My standard response is, “Why wouldn’t you?”
An evening like this is just another reminder of just a few of the reasons why my town is a really great place to live.
Yesterday, as I was unpacking and sorting the Christmas decorations, I discovered a keepsake that I didn’t even know I had.
It seemed odd at first when I found one of last year’s Christmas cards tucked into the bag of tinsel and other soft decorations: my elves from Canada, Morris the Rainbear which my sister gave me decades ago, some plush toys in Santa hats, and all the tinsel. And when I say “all the tinsel”, I’m not kidding. There’s a lot of it. I love that stuff.
The thing is, I don’t usually keep Christmas cards. I usually give them to the pre-school or school, where the kids use the pictures on the front or, in the case of the beautiful cards made by my very clever sisters, the whole fronts of them to make cards for their families and friends.
When I opened the surprise card, realisation was followed closely by tears welling up in my eyes: it was the Christmas card my father gave us last year.
I don’t know why I kept it.
I didn’t know then that it would be his last Christmas with us, or that it would be the very last thing I had with his handwriting on it.
When I saw his handwriting, all those mixed happy/sad feelings came rushing back. Tears from missing him so profoundly were mixed with laughter at how bad his handwriting was.
To say that Dad had lousy handwriting was no exaggeration.
If practically illegible handwriting alone were enough to qualify someone as a doctor, Dad could have been a professor of worldwide renown. It was a problem for as long as I knew him, and there were times when even he had no idea what he had written. More than once, he found that even though he had written a shopping list, by the time we got to the supermarket he had forgotten what was on it and neither of us could read it.
So, my attempt to transcribe what Dad wrote on this card may be inaccurate, but I think it says, “Jesus who came to suffer in our stead to the glory of his Father. For so was his wish.”
It’s such a classic Dad thing to do: just casually pop a little mini-sermon into a Christmas card. It’s such a lovely reminder of his love for Jesus and his desire for us to put our faith in Him, too. Among all the glitz and glitter and parties and feasting and end of year rush and revelry, the reminder of the true meaning of Christmas is as timely and important as it ever was.
I can tell you now, I’m keeping this card forever. It is on display on my grandfather’s bookshelf next to my chair, safely nestled in the lap of Teardrop, the bear who cuddled me throughout the afternoon and evening of the day Dad passed away, and mopped up more than a few tears along the way. .
It is an unexpected bonus having another souvenir of my Dad on display in my study this Christmas.
Today I put the Christmas tree in my study and decorated it.
I know. I know.
It’s not December yet, and I usually have a very firm rule about that.
2020, though, has not been renowned for playing by the rules. In a year of so much heartbreak, social isolation, separation from family and friends, reinventing careers, and widespread misery, it seems to me that we should celebrate what we can, when we can.
I also have a rule about waiting until the exams are marked and my reports are finished and submitted before I can be ready for Christmas. I finished the marking on the weekend and finalised my students’ reports yesterday, so at least I managed keep that rule intact!
So, given that it’s the 25th of November, I decided this morning that a month from Christmas was as good a day as any.
Besides, I needed something to do. Abbey the Labby was at the vets having surgery to remove a lump, and while the vets had told me it was most likely completely benign, I wasn’t altogether confident that 2020 wasn’t going to take that as a challenge. Anxious as I was, staying busy was a good thing to do.
Just after the tree was finished, the vet called and told me Abbey’s surgery went well and that he is really happy with the outcome. When we picked her up, two vets and the nurse all told us how beautiful and well-behaved she is. They commented that she is she is in excellent health and the perfect weight for a Labrador. They congratulated us on taking excellent care of her.
I’m calling that my first Christmas gift of the year.
I won’t be playing any Christmas music untilDecember 1st, though. I don’t want to push my luck.
This Year, It’s Not Too Early #ChristmasIsComing #Christmas2020 #November25
Anyone who knows me well enough to be in my front yard knows how much I love my maple trees that I have carefully and lovingly grown as reminders of my beloved Canada. I can’t get there anywhere near as often as I want to, so the least I can do is have a bit of Canada in my own garden. It’s not too much to ask.
Today, though, someone who was in my front yard — unbeknown to anyone who lives here, of course, heartlessly ran down one of my maples.
Yes, it was a fairly small tree. That is irrelevant, because it was on its way to being big. Big maples cost lots more than smaller maples in Australia, and small ones cost more than enough. More importantly, it was my tree.
The only notification they left of the destruction of my tree was the tree itself, now horizontal rather than vertical. No note. No phone call or text. No apology. No identification of the culprit.
I am so sad. I’m sad for the loss of a tree that actually meant something to me.
I’m also sad that whoever is responsible felt it was okay to not be honest with me.
If I knocked over someone’s tree or broke something that belonged to someone else, I would be guilt-ridden and desperate to replace it.
Apparently, not everyone I know is quite so principled.
Fortunately for them, I have absolutely zero clues as to who is responsible.
Unfortunately for me, that means that my already cynical INFJ mind will not just go “oh well…” and let it go. Self-destructive as it may be, a little voice in my head will wonder ‘Was it you?’ every time I see people I should be able to trust. The question will probably never come out of my mouth, but it will be there, nevertheless.
The group of people in whom I have absolute trust was already a very small group indeed. And people wonder why.
I’ve been working on a beautiful jigsaw puzzle over the past month. I chose it in honour of Helen, because she and I often did puzzles together. In fact, this was the first jigsaw puzzle I’ve done without Helen in probably twenty years. I also chose it for my dad, who would have loved both the map and the fact it was created by a Dutchman.
The image is an antique map of the known world, complete with solar systems and representations of the four elements; highlighted with gold embellishments. It was created by F. De Wit in Amsterdam in 1663, and the puzzle was produced by Hinkler Mindbogglers. Boy oh boy, did they get that branding right!
It really was a mind boggling challenge. Intricate lines, many pieces that still looked almost the same, and corner and edge pieces that were almost identical to one another made putting this puzzle together quite the labour of love.
Piece by piece, though, it started to happen. It is no understatement to say that I felt a profound sense of achievement when I finished a section and could anticipate how beautiful the whole thing was going to look.
Doing the puzzle in honour of Helen and my father gave me purpose, but the concentration it required and the distraction from other things in life gave me a sense of mindfulness and peace that really helped me in my day to day life.
Dealing with my grief and managing tasks related to Dad’s estate were somewhat complicated by the challenges of teaching online again during Victoria’s second major Covid-19 lockdown, but working from home also gave me the space I needed to do those things and start to heal.
In many ways, that puzzle became an allegory for my own life. I was putting those pieces together too, seeing how things fit and getting an idea of how things would look. I too have intricate lines and a complex design that needs to be observed carefully in order to achieve the desired outcome. My life is full of pieces that fit together neatly, and it’s up to me to make sure I get that right.
So, while the puzzle on the table is complete, the puzzle that is me is still a work in progress.
Today marks thirteen weeks since my dad graduated to heaven. Thursday marks the same interval for Helen.
Three months seemed like an appropriate goal for completing the puzzle, and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction at having done so.
This week, I will make arrangements to have it framed.
When it is hanging on my wall, it will be a daily reminder that doing life well is a process, not an event. It will remind me that every piece matters. And it will remind me of my love for Dad and for Helen, of their love for me.
I am so blessed to have known and loved them both, and to have been loved by them. The pieces they contributed to the puzzle of my life have helped to make it a thing of beauty. For that, I am very, very thankful.
I know that as the pieces of life continue falling into place and fitting back together, my grief will remain present, but it will change. It will transform to become a part of the bigger picture, while keeping its own shape and character. In time, it will be differently painful, but the picture of my life would be incomplete with out it. In its place, fitting in with the pieces that represent joy, achievement, love, and hope, it adds its own detail, texture and embellishment to the canvas.
They are beautifully made and delightful to hold, and their faces are so expressive!
Some of my bears mark special occasions. Others are rescues, having been adopted from other people who no longer want them. As I keep telling my husband, our home provides an important service as a refuge for orphaned bears. And others, I have bought because I just fell in love with them when I saw them.
If you’re interested in seeing my bear collection, there are photos of them all on my Pinterest board titled ‘Bear Collection’. There are some that are not Charlie Bears, because I already had a small collection of other bears before I discovered Benson, my first Charlie Bear, in a shop and was forced – forced, I tell you! – to bring him home with me and love him forever.
In additional acts of service to teddy bears, I’ve inspired my cousin and my sister to start collecting Charlie Bears. Between us, we’re saving the world, one bear at a time.
And in case you were wondering, the collective noun for teddy bears is a hug.
Yesterday, I wrote about completing thef tasks I needed to do after my father’s passing. That included rehoming a number of his things, including two bookshelves that have been in our family longer than me, the art prints that Mum and Dad loved to have on their walls, and personal things like his bed and his walker.
I don’t know how many times I told my siblings that I wasn’t sentimental about giving away things we didn’t need, or selling the things worth money, via buy/swap/sell groups on Facebook. There are people out there who needed them more than we did. That was mostly true.
I have kept Dad’s hat and his walking stick. I don’t need them, but they are so iconic of him in the last few years that they are deeply meaningful to me. Those are things that he held and wore most days. They identified him at any distance, and had become part of his identity to everyone who saw him when he was out and about.
These things are my souvenirs, tangible holders of memory, and valued physical symbols of my no-longer-present, much loved father dad.