The Christmas decorations are up.  The process always brings back memories from lots of past Christmases.  The picture below is of houses and toys from the Christmas Garden or train platform I grew up with beginning in earliest memory.  They were on the platform for my brother before me so, presuming he got them by age five, they’re around 87 years old now.  The items are a little chipped here and there, one of the cars has lost a wheel, and one of the houses is leaning a little.  I’m kind of in the same shape.

Image 01

I have more of the items including the Lionel freight train set from the 20’s but they’re stored away in the basement.


Here is a city comprised of models based on buildings found in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, particularly with the emphasis on half-timbered construction.  I’ve built these models over the past thirteen years from kits made by Faller, a German company.   The prototype for the six buildings together on the right is in Frankfurt and I’ve visited there.  Known as the Römer, the square was heavily damaged by Allied bombing but since rebuilt.  The model city being arranged on my coffee table, I think of it as Stadt Kaffeetisch.

Image 02


Here is a closeup of the building fronts showing the great detail in these kits.

Image 08——————————————————————————————–

Below is a more contemporary, classic small town winter/Christmas scene.  Grandma Moses and Norman Rockwell are in there somewhere.  It includes two of the ceramic houses from the Snow Village line of Department 56.  These are a pretty good scale size next to O-gauge trains so I began to buy these in ’87. 

Image 03 

I soon had some 44 buildings plus accessories on my old 200+ square feet, O-gauge, three rail, three mainlines layout seen here.  My daughter, Sigrid, used to say that she’d like to live in the village.  It seems like a world where there is peace, no stress, no poverty, no disease, and everyone’s nice all the time.   As a part of my move, however, the residents were evicted by right of eminent domain: the layout was disassembled and the houses packed away but I pulled out eight of them for the living room this year.

Image 13——————————————————————————————-

In the years before I plunged back into photography I did a lot of stained glass work.  Here’s an original design that has just been hung again for the holidays.  The creche set next below was from a 70’s pattern book and I still see them from time to time.  I made a number of them over the years but lavished special care on the last three sets, one each for my daughters and one for me.   I visited Sigrid this week and was pleased to see her set out amongst the greens.  (For more of my stained glass work you can click on that title at the top of the screen.)

Image 04

Image 06


Finally, I still struggle with a real tree.  (N.B.  It’s not a holiday tree; it’s a Christmas tree.)  It’s a chore getting it home and into the house and into its holder and stringing the old fashioned lights with the foil reflectors I found on ebay.  Then my friend, Barbara, helped me hang the ornaments.   A few carry tags as from my grandparents’ or my parents’ trees;  others were accumulated by us over the years, typically from the Wanamaker Christmas Shop after seeing Santa.  Of course there’s the late Vince Guaraldi’s “Charley Brown Christmas” or Julie Andrews’ “Christmas Treasure” albums playing while we do the trimming.  The tree is then dressed with glass icicles and tinsel from my dwindling supply that I hide from the EPA.  (I think I still have a lifetime supply.)

What a joy it is to see it done, glowing softly and filling the house with its fragrance.

I understand the ecumenism and inclusivity that has led to “Happy Holidays” and I certainly wish them to all.

But, I also have to say (borrowing from Clement Moore) … Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Image 05


I know it doesn’t start officially until Tuesday but….winter’s here.  With night times in the low 20’s and some days only in the high 20’s let’s not be fussy about dates.  A dusting of snow doesn’t bring thoughts of spring, either.

The 1828 Barclay Farmhouse.

I confess: the snow around the farmhouse is last January’s, not this week’s but you get the idea.  The land for the original farm is where Bob Scarborough built the Barclay Farm development in the 50’s.  Pet Peeve Note:  It’s Barclay Farm, not Barclay Farms which the shopping center sign says.

The farmhouse was saved by a group of volunteers beginning in 1974 (including my late wife who was dedicated to it for 25 years).  By 1978 it was on the National Historic Register.  Over the years the Friends of Barclay Farmhouse have overseen its period  restoration and furnishing and a useful role in teaching school kids about early 19th century Quaker farm life.  It was eventually acquired by Cherry Hill Township from the late Helen Barclay, the last surviving family member.  Helen actually lived at the farm as a child, and her restored bedroom with its massive Victorian furniture can be seen on house tours.  The farmhouse has an active life in the community, including a festive Holiday House program in December.

Another sign of winter is that my household humidity is condensing on the cold window panes.  When I raise the blind by the breakfast table in the morning there’s an attractive arch of moisture beads which makes the bare trees more mysterious.  Do you feel a picture coming on?

My trees through the moisture on my window.

But, the dark winter solstice (sun standing still) comes with celebrations of life as we rejoice in friends and family.  We remember many Christmases past, and those who were a part of it, some of whom have left us.   My father believed in the principle that nothing appeared in the house until Christmas Morning, and he and mother pulled it off Christmas Eve, retrieving everything from the attic after I had pinned my stocking to an armchair (no fireplace) and drifted off.  Invariably he had to call my Uncle Jesse to resolve some mysterious problem with the wiring of the trains but it was all there the next morning, bright and dazzling to a five year old excitedly rubbing sleep from his eyes.   I remember that I couldn’t run the trains on Tuesday mornings when Ruby, our ironing lady came.  It was the 1930’s; we had an ironing lady but only one extension cord.  Go figure.

My childhood Christmas garden.

Some of the houses in the village and the Lionel freight set were purchased for my brother’s youth, circa 1925.  I still have them.  The Christmas garden tradition continued in my family but one year, in our salad days, the best bargain I could find was this tree for two dollars.

My $2 tree.

I didn’t think it was so bad but my family has never forgiven me for “Dad’s weird tree.”  I prefer to think of it as an upscale version of Charley Brown’s tree.

Anyway, I’ve had a great December, highlighted by two splendid concerts.  The first was the Philadelphia Orchestra playing Smetana, Prokofiev and two lush Respighi works…The Fountains, and a roof-raising Roman Festivals.   This past week we went to the Philadelphia  Holiday Pops program which included a very full Pops orchestra, the Philadelphia Boys Choir, 1oo voices of the Pops Festival Chorus, some fifty voices of the African Episcopal Church gospel choir, vocalist Rachael York, and Peter Richard Conte (of Wanamaker’s Organ) at the Kimmel Center organ.  I felt as though I had been to a great party.  When all of those voices and instruments lifted up the Hallelujah Chorus, folks were waving their arms from one end of Broad Street to the other.

I’ve watched Scrooge and Miracle on 34th Street (please, the 1938 and 1947 originals, respectively).  I’ve checked out the Christmas Village on Dilworth Plaza, the amazing show at Comcast Center, and the traditional light show at Macy’s (i.e. Wanamaker’s).

Seen at the Christmas Village

My house is decorated, thanks to daughter Sigrid; my tree (real) is up and decorated thanks to my family; the tree lights are the old C7’s with colored aluminum reflectors that I found on ebay; and the tinsel is real, from my dwindling hoard that the EPA has designated hazardous.   I’ve had three festive dinner gatherings with friends, some of whom have been there for almost fifty years; others have left but we remember them.   The Christmas cards arrive, some with not good news about the decline of still other and older friends, and even an obituary notice of one whom I had hoped to see again.  But, life goes on and it can still be a wonderful life if one works at it.  Say, that might be a good movie title, “A Wonderful Life.”

I’ll close this post with my annual Christmas Greeting card.  The scene is my home after the December 2009 snowstorm.  To my non-Christmas friends, God Bless, Be Well, and have a Happy New Year.   To others, add

Merry Christmas.

The cards are in the mail but if yours gets lost, here it is.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year