The Children’s Friend

The Children’s Friend

This poem was published anonymously as a booklet in 1821. Clement Clarke Moore drew from the themes and ideas of this poem to craft his own “Visit from Saint Nicholas”.

Old Santeclaus with much delight
His reindeer drives this frosty night,
O’er chimney tops, and tracks of snow,
To bring his yearly gifts to you.

The steady friend of virtuous youth,
The friend of duty, and of truth,
Each Christmas eve he joys to come
Where love and peace have made their home.

Through many houses he has been,
And various beds and stockings seen;
Some, white as snow, and neatly mended,
Others, that seem’d for pigs intended.

Where e’er I found good girls or boys,
That hated quarrels, strife and noise,
I left an apple, or a tart,
Or wooden gun, or painted cart;

To some I gave a pretty doll,
To some a peg-top, or a ball;
No crackers, cannons, squibs, or rockets,
To blow their eyes up, or their pockets.

No drums to stun their Mother’s ear,
Nor swords to make their sisters fear;
But pretty books to store their mind
With knowledge of each various kind.

But where I found the children naughty,
In manners rude, in temper haughty,
Thankless to parents, liars, swearers,
Boxers, or cheats, or base tale-bearers,

I left a long, black, birchen rod,
Such as the dread command of God
Directs a Parent’s hand to use
When virtue’s path his sons refuse.

Xmas Heroes – Gayla Peevey

Xmas Heroes – Gayla Peevey

The 1950’s were a great time to be a kid. In the wake of the Second World War, America was expressing a new sense of optimism and can-do attitude. Industry that had ramped up to facilitate the war effort was converting to a peacetime footing. Jobs that had been so scarce in the Great Depression that preceded the war were now plentiful and looking for returning veterans to fill them. This bounty led to new families in new houses starting a Baby Boom. As these kids began to mature, popular culture began to accommodate this new and highly valuable demographic.

TV shows like “Lassie”, “Leave it to Beaver” and “Howdy Doody” were created to celebrate the abundance of children in the country and to idealize family life and joyous childhood. Since Christmas had been increasingly focusing on childhood, it’s only natural that Christmas would be tremendously child-focused in the Boom era. Wonderful classic toys like the Daisy Model 1938 Red Ryder youth BB gun that Ralphie so desires in “A Christmas Story” and the Radio Flyer wagon became cultural legends.

With all the focus on children, Columbia Records signed a precocious singer from Oklahoma to sing a variety of novelty songs. Aged 10 years old, the very talented Ms Peevey debuted with the song “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas”. Naturally, it was a hit. Because it caught on and because Gayla was a local talent, the Oklahoma City Zoo started a fundraising campaign to get her a live hippo for Christmas in 1953. They had recently completed a fundraiser with children putting pennies in jars to buy the zoo an elephant, so they thought they might be able to do the same for a hippopotamus. They succeeded. Gayla was presented with a baby hippo named Matilda who she donated to the zoo. Matilda lived until 1998.

Gayla performed a variety of other comical holiday hits like this one.

Gayla’s performances represented the way that children were seen in the fifties. Kids were cute, optimistic and silly. It was a time to believe that all things were possible and that society at large was set up to make that happen.

In 1959, she changed labels and began recording under the name Jamie Horton. She moved on with her life after age 19 when she married her husband, Cliff. She graduated San Diego State University and became a teacher, advertising executive, wife, mom and proud grandmother.

Even today, Gayla is the embodiment of everything that is great about being an American. Gayla is a wonderful living Christmas legend and the season is that much more enjoyable because of her music and joyous attitude.

Ms. Peevey talks about her experiences with the song that launched her to childhood fame.
The Oklahoma City Zoo shares in a sing-along with Gayla Peevey by video conference

Xmas Heroes – Francis Pharcellus Church

Xmas Heroes – Francis Pharcellus Church

A child asked a question that is of concern to so many children at one time or another. Virginia O’Hanlon asked her father, who referred her to their favorite newspaper. The family had often written to the editorial staff of the New York Sun to have matters clarified. Editor Frank Pharcellus Church took up the momentous task of addressing this most vexing of childhood dilemmas.

Frank was a graduate of Columbia College of Columbia University and a Civil War correspondent. In the post-war period, he saw a trend of losing hope and faith in the wake of great suffering. We commend him on his contribution to Christmas spirit and his kindness to Virginia in particular.

Here is the famous inquiry and the wonderful editorial response:

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Xmas Heroes – Clement Clarke Moore

Xmas Heroes – Clement Clarke Moore

Clement Clarke MooreAfter a sleigh ride from Greenwich Village in 1822 and struck with the holiday spirit, the staid professor of classics and religious studies at the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church was inspired to write a bit of entertainment entitled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” for his kids.

Clement Clarke Moore was a serious academic. He earned his Bachelor of Arts and Master’s Degrees from Columbia University in 1798 and penned the two-volume work entitled A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language in 1809. This scholarly work and his donation of a portion of his inherited estate secured his position as a professor at the newly created seminary in 1820. He held this position proudly until 1850. From 1840, he also served as a board member for the New York Institution for the Blind.

Night Before Christmas (1888 book cover)The poem he wrote for his kids was a personal affair to him. He was advised to share it, but he didn’t want to diminish his standing as a serious professor. In 1823, a family friend submitted the poem to be published anonymously at the Troy Sentinel 150 miles away in Troy, NY. The poem was reprinted annually and eventually included in The New-York Book of Poetry in 1837 where it was officially attributed to Moore. Moore finally relented to accept authorship when he also included it in his 1844 anthology, Poems. A Visit from St. Nicholas was printed in booklet form repeatedly over the years.

Moore was influenced by the Dutch settlers of New York in his writing of the poem. The Dutch Sinter Klaas was actually based more directly on the historical Bishop Nicholas of Myra and typically depicted as a tall, stately figure. Moore collected ideas from Washington Irving’s 1809 Knickerbocker History and an 1821 poem called “The Children’s Friend” as well as the stout Dutch sleigh driver who had delivered him home from his cousin’s house on Christmas Eve of 1822. The poem “The Children’s Friend” had vaguely mentioned Santa’s reindeer, but Moore specified eight and named each of them. The poem had so captured the creative imagination and transformed the character of Santa that it was frequently published in booklets and became the topic of short films once the movie camera was invented by Edison in 1889 in the form of the Strip Kinetograph. Edison directed “The Night Before Christmas” in 1905. Watch it below:

Parallel Santas

Parallel Santas

People love to tell stories at Christmastime, particularly about Santa. While we know that the origin of Santa is derived from Saint Nicholas of Myra, people just love telling alternate tales of where Santa came from. Here are some of my all-time favorite stories of where Santa came from.

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

This Rankin & Bass classic introduced us to the origin of Santa independently of his historical and mythological forebears. A baby is left at the doorstep of the Burgomeister Meisterburger. The grumpy old autocrat tells his henchman to take the baby to the orphanage, but a blustery winter wind whisks the baby away to the doorstep of the Kringle family. The stop animation special leads us through a number of twists and turns until Santa is a fully fleshed out character with a brand new origin. Classic family fun!

Santa Claus: The Movie

This charming movie with Dudley Moore had Santa and his wife as a kind, elderly couple who were on their way to deliver gifts to the extended family. They succumbed to winter weather and joined a colony of elves to continue their toymaking in perpetuity. It’s a bit grim, but it does explain why Santa and his wife seem to be immortal.

Another common theme in parallel Santa origins is that it is a title that is passed from one person to the next. Here are some of my favorite stories that follow this angle.

The Santa Clause

Tim Allen is a divorced dad trying to connect with his son on Christmas Eve. When Santa falls off of his roof, the red suit becomes his destiny. This is such a funny movie. I look forward to watching it every single year. The transformation from self-absorbed corporate hack to the living symbol of generosity and holiday spirit is wonderful to watch.

Ernest Saves Christmas

Jim Varney is Ernest P. Worrell in this quirky holiday treat. Ernest is a taxi driver who picks up Santa from the airport. Santa has come to Orlando, Florida to pass the torch to another man before the magic leaves him entirely and cancels Christmas forever. Ernest’s zany behavior is a treat, as always. I always keep this on my Christmas playlist to ensure I get a smile for the holidays.

These stories and others bring a new wrinkle to the origin of Santa Claus and that much more magic to the holiday season. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. If you know of other good Santa origins, please let me know in the comments!

Christmas Eve and National Eggnog Day

Christmas Eve and National Eggnog Day

Tonight is the big night! The man in the red suit is making his deliveries tonight so get those cookies ready and have a toasty warm mug of eggnog to help you get to sleep.

Christmas Eve

Up on the rooftop Christmas Eve is a wonderful time for my family. My wife sets the nativity scene figures throughout the house at the beginning of Advent. Mary and Joseph travel towards the manger. The Magi follow the star. On Christmas Eve, Mary and Joseph have reached the manger and the shepherds are nearby.

We go to the church service in the evening and come home to watch a holiday movie like It’s a Wonderful Life. Everyone goes to bed so Santa can come and do his thing. We enjoy the religious and secular aspects of the holiday together as a family. We hope you do, too.

National Eggnog Day

Eggnog is a splendid, creamy holiday beverage. I love eggnog served warm with a dusting of nutmeg and cinnamon.

Some people like their eggnog spiked with bourbon, brandy or rum. I don’t care for booze, so I just take my eggnog with a dash of spice and maybe some whipped cream.


Click the picture for Alton Brown’s festive eggnog recipe

St Nicholas Day

St Nicholas Day

St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra in what is now Turkey. He was known for his generosity during his lifetime. Over the centuries, the legends of his kindness and gift-giving have given birth to the character of our modern day Santa Claus.

fatherchristmas2Until Clement Clark Moore created the famous poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas, Christmas gifts were customarily exchanged throughout Europe on the Feast of St Nicholas.

The traditional gifts were what we’d now call stocking stuffers. Children put their shoes outside their bedroom doors in hopes of finding gold coins, candy canes, oranges and small toys in the morning. Fortunately, in the United States, our dollar coins are now minted with a gold finish and can be placed in the children’s shoes along with chocolate gold coin candy. The candy cane symbolizes the bishop’s crozier carried by St. Nicholas. There are some great ideas to celebrate this saint’s feast day at the St. Nicholas Center.

Santa’s List & Cookies

Santa’s List & Cookies

A lot of kids have already penned their letters to Santa by now, but if yours haven’t it’s not too late. Today is the day when Santa finalizes his Naughty and Nice lists. Most likely, your kids are on the Nice list. Santa is pretty lenient, but he wasn’t always so mellow.

In earlier years, the various versions of Santa found throughout Europe had a sidekick who dished out his own version of Christmas cheer. Known by a variety of names such as Knecht Ruprecht, Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) or even the diabolical Krampus, this fellow carried a bundle of switches to beat the bad children. Fortunately, Santa has moved beyond the good cop / bad cop paradigm and settles for a Naughty List.


If you’d like to give your kids a little taste of the Naughty List, you can go to Portable North Pole and create a customized video where Santa calls your child by name and lets them know where they stand. It’s also fun for the grown ups.

My kids recently handed me their lists for Santa. It’s a special time of the year when your kids think hard about what they’d like to see under the Christmas tree. I remember my own childhood when I’d scour the pages of the Sears catalog looking through all the exciting things they had in stock.

Another great way to touch base with Santa is to go see him at the mall or a big department store. If you’re lucky, there is even a Santa who can come to your home like my friend Santa D. A professional Santa like Santa Dwight will provide a truly magical experience for your whole family.

So, once you’ve cleared the Naughty or Nice threshold and gotten your wish list off to Santa, there’s one more detail to consider: Cookies!

Santa does a lot of work on Christmas Eve delivering all those toys and he needs his cookies and milk to keep him going. Since it’s National Cookie Day, it’s only right to think about getting some practice on those cookies. I’ve found a playlist with 27 different types of cookies that you can try your hand on.

I’ve always been a fan of chocolate chip cookies, particularly when they’re fresh out of the oven. I’m also crazy about Italian Rainbow Cookies and Pizzelles. I love the wonderful flavors of the holiday season and cookies are a great way to get in the spirit of things. Another benefit of Christmas Cookies is explained in this song by George Strait, performed by Scotty McCreery. Enjoy!

Classic Christmas Toys Available Today

Toyland Tuesday

Classic Christmas Toys Available Today

Oh, sure, you can go into mounds of debt to pay for the holiday extravaganza of buying the latest electronic gizmos only to see them strewn about the house while the kids are yelling about how bored they are.  Isn’t that a fun family tradition?  Well, once upon a time children had imaginations and toys that helped to fire that creativity. Here are some great suggestions to return to those simpler days.

Board games are classic crowd pleasers. Favorites include MonopolyMonopoly, Hi Ho Cherry-OHi Ho Cherry-O, LifeLife, Trivial PursuitTrivial Pursuit, ChessChess or CheckersCheckers. There are also great card games like Old Maid, Go Fish, Crazy 8’s, Matching, Slap Jack, MemoryOld Maid, Go Fish, Crazy 8's, Matching, Slap Jack, Memory or UnoUno.

Puzzles are great for developing minds and hand-eye coordination.  You can find puzzles that are made from many different materials: wood, cardboard, or plastic. They can also be flat, round, square or 3 dimensional. My son really enjoys the Perplexus maze ball.

Train sets are a real treat for the whole family.  They come in all sizes and for any age group. You can find a set to fit any budget.

Wooden toys are great because they are kid powered by muscle and imagination.  In the same vein, imagination driven toys also fall into the categories of dress up, play kitchens and playhouses, puppets, and books.

Get $10 Off Orders of $50+ at Magic Cabin when you use Code: LSMCTENOFF

Get $10 Off Orders of $50+ at Magic Cabin when you use Code: LSMCTENOFF

If you have older kids, crafts are always a big hit. There are some wonderful craft clubs where your gift will be appreciated all year. You can also make up your own kits by looking through craft magazines or books, copying down the instructions, making a list of the materials needed and then go shopping for what you need. Make up 12 crafts and then put each one in its own separate box. Wrap each box and put the name of a month on each box. Put all the boxes in one huge wrapped box and Tada! A perfect Christmas gift that will last all year.

Here’s a list of places to find Safe Toys for your family’s needs:

Magic Cabin, Childhood’s Purest Treasures
This is a wonderland of classic toys and activities that will fire your child’s imagination.  You can save $10 off orders of $50 or more when you use code: LSMCTENOFF

Babesta, for trendsetting tots
You will find all kinds of gift ideas besides toys here.  You can also find clothes, accessories, crib decorations, books, CDs, DVDs and gift sets.

e-Beanstalk, Expert-Selected Toys Matched to a Child’s Development
They have developmental toys categorized by age. These educational and learning toys are hand picked by child development experts following both American and European safety standards.

Heirloom Wooden Toys
You can find toys here that are top quality and safe for kids. They also have games, furniture and kids decor. You can also search specifically for toys made here in the USA.

I also wanted to give you some tips for buying toys on a budget:

Explore auction sites like eBay for great buys (used and new). You can check out the Daily Deals for gift ideas for the whole family.

You can also search on Google using the key words “wholesale toys“, or “closeout toys” or “discount toys“. You will find a variety of companies that do not require a minimum order.

Another way to save on Christmas shopping is to hit the stores right after the holidays to take advantage of clearance sales.  Doing this will make it easier for the following Christmas, but if it’s later in the year you may wish to check the outlets and thrift stores for savings on your gifts.

Christmas Around the World

Christmas Around The World

Christmas Around the World

Christmas in the Birthplaces of Traditions — Israel, Germany and England

Christmas as we celebrate it today is a culmination of centuries of  traditions. These traditions are religious and secular and they came from various countries around the world. It’s interesting to learn how Christmas is celebrated in these countries. The traditions we will examine are from Israel, Germany and England.  They are examples of some of the things that are unique to that country and which are done today, or which were once done.


Let’s begin with the town of Bethlehem in Israel, which is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.  Israel has many famous biblical sites. The Church of the Nativity is located in Bethlehem.  At Christmas time, it is decorated with a lot of flags and other Christmas decorations. A huge crowd gathers at The Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve to see the dramatic parade procession of horsemen, who are mounted on Arabian horses. A lone horseman carrying a cross follows the police in the procession followed by churchmen and government officials. Members of the procession solemnly enter the doors of The Church of the Nativity where they place an ancient effigy of Jesus in the church.  A silver star mounted in the floor marks the site where Jesus was born.  This is in a deep underground cave-like section of the church.  A star is also set on top of a pole in the town’s square. In Bethlehem, homes of Christians usually have a cross over the door and a manger scene is typically set up inside the house.


Germany is the home of the Christmas tree tradition.  Their Christmas tree is usually hidden until Christmas Eve in a special room. It is decorated in secret with tinsel, candles, ornaments and angels.  It is also festooned with candies, nuts and cookies.  It is then lighted, the presents placed underneath and then shown to the children on Christmas Eve.

In Germany, December 6th is known as St. Nicholas Day.  This is when Santa visits the homes of boys and girls. Children leave a shoe or boot outside or by the fireplace for St. Nicholas the night before. If they are good, he places gifts and candies inside the shoe. If they are naughty, children will find twigs or a rod in their shoe.

Christmas Dinner includes roast goose, long loaves of bread filled with raisins, nuts and dried fruits. Other sweet delicacies are also enjoyed.


Many English traditions are similar to those in the United States because they were brought to the United States by settlers from England. The practice of sending Christmas cards started in England and is still popular as is the tradition of neighborhood caroling on Christmas Eve. Children also hang their stockings on Christmas Eve in hope that Santa Claus will fill them with Christmas gifts or treats. Holly, ivy and mistletoe are still around from pre-Christian times but were assigned Christian meanings and are still used in Yuletide decorations.

Some traditions that are different from ours are the pulling of Christmas crackers, waiting until Boxing Day to open presents and listening to the Queen deliver her Christmas day address.  A cracker is a paper tube that contains a party hat, riddle, toy or trinket, and is brightly colored and twisted at both ends. It gives out a crack as the contents pop out when it is pulled at each end. On Christmas afternoon, the Queen broadcasts a message to the nation which is heard on radio and television.  The day after Christmas is also a holiday that is known as Boxing Day. Boxing Day is traditionally when servants and tradesmen would receive a “Christmas box” as a gift from their bosses.


In England, the traditional Christmas Dinner is roast turkey, goose or chicken with stuffing, vegetables and roast potatoes. Dessert consists of the British or Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. A rich, fruit-filled Christmas cake may also be enjoyed later in the day.

Christmas Past & Future

As you can see, Christmas has been evolving from the dawn of civilization when primitive cultures observed the Winter Solstice as a beacon of hope in the bleak, darkening days of Winter right through to the birth of Jesus and on to the modern day celebrations.  Let us know what traditions you enjoy.

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