Chit Chat From Here and There

The excitement of little ones can hardly be contained as the time draws nigh for Santa Claus's visit. Yes, I'm even running on high octane too -- after all, this is my favorite holiday.

The other evening I could hardly believe my ears when I heard the clip-clop of a horse's hooves traveling down my street. I ran to the window and saw the Montrose Shopping Park's bright red trolley and its trusty steed passing by.

The trolley was all lit up and it was quite magical as its passengers waved hello. There is something truly delightful and village-like about strolling down Honolulu Avenue these days and nights with the colorful decorations and lights.

My neighbors said they did all their Christmas shopping in the village shops. They took a ride on the trolley and then stopped for a refreshing pick-me-up-beverage at the Baru , a popular watering hole.

They said this was their happiest Christmas shopping experience ever!

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The Oakmont League recently had their annual Christmas party for members, spouses and friends. The setting was the beautifully decorated Oakmont Country Club.

Martha Feutz deserves many kudos for her exceptional coordination of the party that was themed, "Nutcracker Sweets." Martha is a fan of these wooden figures that first appeared in Germany many years ago.

Each of the dining tables was centered with a differently dressed nutcracker, surrounded by a wreath and candles. Martha is an avid collector of the wooden nutcracker figures and brought several of her own "guys" to display the evening of the party.

The party was a joyful beginning to the festive Christmas season.

Guests sipped cocktails and then were seated for a lovely dinner. Later on in the evening the Frank Jordan band provided the tunes for dancing.

Some of the guests included Monica and Jose Sierra, Ann and Ron Wacker, Fran and Terry Buchanan, Carolyn Beaton, Jeri Benton and Bob Clark, Denneen and Gordon Acker, Marlene and David Hirt, Shirley Johnstone, Joe and Roberta Raffaelli, Marla and Jeff Butler, Chris and Michael Halajian, Amparo Henspetter, and Shauna and Ken Lehman.

More party people were Marion Graydon and Paul Green, Doris Boyer and Leonard DeGrassi, Ken and Esther Bowen, Barbara and Les McCullough, Donna and Frank Sauer, Lucy Yarick, Reah Carmichael and Daniel, Wanda and Tom Bistagne, Loma and Dale McCune.

Still more starting off the Christmas season in a joyful way were Nina and Larry Ratliff, Linda and Ralph Malmquist, Pam and Ian Spiszman, Viviane and Paul Furlong, Judy and Joe Mendicina, and Bill Holderness.

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After chatting with Martha about nutcrackers and her great appreciation for them, she inspired me to learn more about these traditional Christmas decorations.

According to German folklore, nutcrackers were given as keepsakes to bring good luck to a family and to protect their home. The legend says that a nutcracker represents power and strength and serves like a trusty watch dog guarding the family from evil spirits and danger.

Nutcrackers of all types came from the Erz Mountains in Germany, at the Czech Republic border, were first seen at Dresden's Christmas Market in 1745. The nutcracker, as a friendly guy -- despite his formidable appearance -- began in the Biedermeier period, roughly equivalent to England's Victorian era.

Writers, composers and artists sang and danced the praises of the legend of the nutcracker beginning with the novel, "The Nutcracker and the King of Mice," written sometime between 1776 and 1822 by E.T. Amadeus Hoffman. This novel became the basis for Tchaikovsky's beloved "Nutcracker Suite, which debuted as a ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1892. The bllet was not performed in the United States until 1944.

Heinrich Hoffman, in 1851 wrote a poem about the nutcracker:

The King, mighty

Handsome and tall

With scepter, crown and red britches

A proud lord, fur of majesty

By jove, what a rarity.

In the same book the nutcracker says to himself:

"King Nutcracker

that's my name

I crack hard nuts

And eat the sweet insides

But the shells, ugh

I throw to others

Because I am the King!"

Standing wooden nutcrackers in the form of soldiers and kings were known in the Sonneberg and Erzgebirge regions of Germany by the 18th century and by 1830 the term "nussknacker" appeared in the dictionary of the Brothers Grimm. In 1872 Wilhelm Fuchtner, known as the "father of the nutcracker," made the first commercial production of nutcrackers using the lathe to create many of the same design.

The traditional nutcracker always portrays an authority figure such as a king, soldier or policeman. It is a perfect example of folk art -- not only is the nutcracker functional, but it contains an element of social satire.

The nutcracker uniforms represent different roles in village life. The nutcracker we most often see with his red or blue military jacket, shiny black boots, and black and gold crown, was created by Wilhelm Friedrich Fuechtner around 1870. Slowly other figures representing people in the village appeared -- the chimney sweep, the toy maker, the chef, etc.

A nutcracker collection just happened by surprise as I realized that over the years I had gathered about 15 of the figures. Some of my soldiers have received war wounds over the years of love by my children and now by my grandchildren.

There may be a boot missing here and there and an arm that had to be replaced, but they are a brave lot and so very loved.

I am off to spend Christmas with my children and grandchildren in Northern California. I want to wish all of you a very merry Christmas.

And to all of my Jewish friends, I wish you a happy Chanukah.

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