There was an error in this gadget

Friday, January 07, 2011

THOUGHTS ON THE NEW YEAR

This is a piece I wrote some time ago about celebrating New Years Eve. 

The balloons drop at midnight

ONCE UPON A NEW YEAR’S EVE


December 31, the final day of the Gregorian year and the day before New Years Day, is also called Hogmanay (in Scotland) and Sylvester (in Germany, Israel, Hungary and Poland) In the 21st century western practice, New Years eve is traditionally celebrated with parties and social gatherings. Many countries use fireworks and other forms of noise making to welcome in the new year. Some countries have odd traditions associated with this eve.

In Brazil music shows are held, most famously at the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro and in Sao Paulo they hold the Saint Sylvester Marathon, contested by athletes from all over the world. The Danes celebrate with family gatherings and feasts. In Ecuador they have elaborate effigies called Anos Viejos (Old Years) created to represent people and events from the past year. These are often stuffed with firecrackers. One popular tradition is the wearing of yellow panties, said to attract positive energy for the new year.

The French celebrate with a feast called Le Reveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre. In Berlin Germany, a huge display of fireworks is ignited at the Brandenburg Gate. There’s also fireworks in Hong Kong and in Japan the Buddhist temple bells are rung 108 times. Mexicans down a grape for each of the 12 chimes of the bell, and people who want to find love in the New Year wear red underwear (yellow for money).

Auckland New Zealand is the first major city to see the beginning of the new year as it’s 496.3 kilometres west of the International Date Line. The Filipinos celebrate with a dinner party called Media Noche; They have a custom of wearing clothes with a circular pattern, like polka dots, to attract money and fortune.

In Spain families celebrate with a special dinner of shrimp, lamb or turkey and also wear red underwear for luck, and eat the 12 grapes synonymous with the new year.

In Turkey homes are lit up and decorated with garlands and public celebrations are held. In Greece, while the adults gamble at card games, the children go around ringing little triangles while they sing “kalendelas” (carols) as this is the night that Agio Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) comes with gifts for them.

In the U.K. Big Ben strikes the midnight hour as the crowds count down the chimes to the hour. In London the London Eye is the centre of a 10 minute fireworks display illuminated with coloured lasers. In Scotland the traditional song Auld Lang Syne, by Robert Burns, is sung and street parties are held. In the States the Bell Drop at Times square in New York is broadcast through America and Canada.

I have both fond and melancholy memories of New Years Eves. In the old times it was one of the most anticipated holidays next to Christmas. You always had a new outfit to wear which was planned well in advance, something fashionable and spectacular to wear to the celebration which was often held in a night club or at a gala house party. I’ll never forget the year I’d made a gorgeous gold pois de sois two-piece dress. I looked fantastic. But when I arrived at the big party with several other couples, which was held in a big barn-like place on Grandview Highway, I was chagrined to find that another woman in the group was wearing a dress of similar style and material. I was crushed, but of course I had made mine myself so considered it be more ‘original’. I recall one new years eve when I was in my late teens, my girlfriend and I had been invited out by two American sailors to attend a show at the Cave supper club. My girlfriend had a new dress but hadn’t time to hem it so she’d pinned the hem up and all night long the pins scraped her legs until they were bleeding. After the show at the Cave, we tottered over to the Holy Rosary Church for midnight mass. I was in charge of holding the bottle of wine in a brown paper bag under my coat, and I distinctly recall dropping it in the back pew!

Yes, New Years eve was always a night of wild abandon and over-drinking. At clubs or house parties, when it turned midnight, you are supposed to kiss your pattern or date, but all to often I’d find myself alone in a crowd of st4rangers while my boyfriend was off in a corner kissing someone else. I soon grew weary of these episodes. New Years eve began to lose it’s romantic appeal, and instead it became a lonely time, especially once I was single. Eventually I decided I’d rather stay home alone, if necessary, so I’d bring in some goodies: the makings for Welsh rarebit, oysters to fry, a few bottles of McEwan’s ale and a bottle of Heinken Trokel sparkling wine. I’d tell a few people my plan and wait to see who’d show up, and usually a couple of close friends would drop by. One of my most memorable New Years Eves was one I spent all alone enjoying my own company, dancing to my favourite music.

I’ve had New Years Eve’s abroad, far from family and close friends, that were still fun in their uniqueness. One time I remember my room-mate and I heading off to a big hotel for the night and on the way stopped to get a bite to eat at a pizzeria. We walked into a party of rowdy Qantas airlines crew who immediately embraced us and invited us to party with them. That was one of my best times, and it landed me a nice boyfriend for several months, so long as Qantas was flying in and out of town.

New Years Eve with friends at the Dockside


Now I will occasionally make plans to go out, if friends are going along and the price is right. Being with close friends, dancing and dining, is quite satisfying. It’s no longer to me the ‘romantic’ exciting night it used to be, but it’s worth a little celebrating especially if it’s been a good year.

This year I went out with a some friends to enjoy a night of partying at a rather posh restaurant where my son's band was playing. It was a more 'formal' affair but even the sedate older couples loved dancing to the Rhythm and Blues music provided by my son, Steve,  and his band. A great time was had by all.  I don't think you can beat celebrating the New Years with good friends and family!


                                        Steve Kozak and the West Coast Blues Allstars

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!
BEST WISHES FOR 2011



Sunday, January 02, 2011

CHATTY CATHY GIVES IT UP: How a Talking Doll Spoiled a Little Boy's Christmas

Since my childhood, I've lived half my life in a a fantasy world. Believing in Santa Claus was one of those myths, and one that I regretted having to give up. Christmas was always very special in our house. Mom and Dad played along with the Santa myth to the fullest, and besides the real Christmas celebration of Jesus' birth, there was plenty of fun, pageants, carolling, sleigh-rides, visits to view the Christmas lights and, best of all, the yearly visit to see dear old Santa Claus.

One of the best Christmases ever was the one when all the cousins came to stay. We were living at my Grandparent's house then, Mom, my sister and I, while Dad served overseas. Every Christmas at my Grandparent's house was full of fun. The Aunts and Uncles and cousins from various parts of Ontario came and the house was full of laughter and good cheer.

That particular Christmas, because of the crowd, my cousins and I were allowed to sleep in the sun porch room. As usual, we stayed up late, played monopoly, crochinole, and Chinese checkers, drank glasses of sparkling ginger-ale (our tee totalling family's 'champagne'), ate lots of delicious goodies that Mom and Grandma had baked, sang carols, told stories, and finally were tucked into bed.

Sometime after midnight, we heard a sound on the roof. Jingling bells. A loud 'Ho! Ho! Ho!" Unmistakable footsteps. It was Santa Claus! He was up on the sun porch roof getting ready to come down our chimney to deliver toys! None of us dared make a sound, and ducked under the covers pretending to be asleep. Sure enough, the next morning there were lots of toys under the tree. Santa had really come, and we had heard him! I could hardly wait for school to resume so I could tell my friends.

The first day back after the holidays, I was bursting with excitement as I entered my class. "Santa Claus came to our house. We heard him on the roof!" I announced to my classmates.
"What?" scoffed an older boy. "Don't you know that Santa is a fake? He's just pretend. You couldn't possibly have heard him!"
I was crushed! I went home for lunch that day in tears. "A boy in my class says Santa isn't real!" I sobbed.
Mom was sympathetic. The disclosure had spoiled some of her Christmas fun too. But she admitted to me that Santa really was just a myth.
"But I heard him on the roof!" I insisted.
"That was just your Uncle Frank pretending to be Santa Claus," Mom explained.

For me, it was one of my biggest disappointments. I was ten years old, and my fantasy world was shattered forever. I've never forgotten it.

Many years later, when I was married and had my own children, I always tried to make Christmas the same kind of magical, exciting time my parents had made it for me. We decorated the tree, had parties, went to visit Santa and took part in all the Christmas festivities in our community. The year my son turned six and my daughter was just about to turn two, the Christmas fantasy got spoiled again.

This is how it happened: That was the year Mattel put out a new kind of doll. One that talked. Her name was Chatty Cathy, a blonde little cherub with a saucy face. When you pulled the ring in her back, she spouted various lines of dialogue such as "Hello, I'm Chatty Cathy. What's your name?"
I couldn't resist buying one for my daughter.



On Christmas Eve night, after the children had been tucked into bed, and my husband and I had waited to make sure they were asleep, we started to put out the toys from Santa under the tree. This ritual also involved eating the cookies and Christmas cake the children had put on a decorated plate and drinking the beer that would help refresh Santa on his journey. After this was done, we took the carefully hidden packages out of the closet and began setting them up: the usual GI-Joe toys and cowboy regalia for my son, the little girl trinkets for my daughter. And Chatty Cathy. I couldn't resist pulling the ring to hear her talk. She was so cute! I knew my daughter would be thrilled with her. Chatty Cathy and I chatted for awhile, then I put her in her special place under the Christmas tree.

The next day, after all the excitement of finding what Santa had left under the tree, opening presents and trying things out was over, I noticed that my son was unusually quiet. I wondered if he was disappointed with his gifts. No, it wasn't that. Very quietly, so as not to spoil things for his little sister, he said: "I know that Santa didn't really bring Chatty Cathy, Mom, because I heard you talking while you were playing with her." I felt so bad! Chatty Cathy had given away the secret of Santa Claus and spoiled the Christmas surprise for my son, just as long ago my class-mate had spoiled Christmas for me by telling me Santa wasn't real. After that, Christmas wasn't quite the same for my son, although we always tried to make it just as much fun. He was a good sport, and went along with the myth of Santa Claus for his little sister's sake.