Holidays are steeped in tradition. For 56 years on the Friday before Thanksgiving, Duluth, Minnesota has kicked off the Christmas season with a parade through downtown, filled with festive floats, marching bands, and dance troupes. Rain or snow, balmy or brisk, the Christmas City of the North Parade brings people out, bundled for whatever the weather brings, filling the curbs along the parade route as they look for family, friends and holiday favorites.
The parade staging area is filled with the energy of sled dogs and horses …. last-minute adjustments are made to lights and float décor … a group of brightly clad girls skip along the sidewalk with their dance leaders, excitedly waiting for the parade to begin.
I tucked my hand warmers in my mittens and we bundled up with the rest of the parade goers, as the parade signaled the holiday season had officially begun.
Santa Claus makes his first appearance, and children can be heard squealing his name, and calling out to Mrs. Claus as she asks whether they have been good this year.
And the rhubarb stalk was decked out in colored lights, to remind us that CHUM’s summer Rhubarb Festival will be returning in June.
Royalty from towns and competitions in the region waved with mittened hands.
While some may be counting down to Christmas, others can count down to the Lions’ Pancake Days, an annual event as longstanding as the holiday parade.
The Disney musical movie hit “Frozen” was popular during the community procession, with dancers dressed as “Frozen” characters dancing to the popular tunes, and everyone’s favorite snowman Olaf guiding a float from one of the local auto dealerships.
High school marching bands from northern Minnesota and northern Wisconsin looked sharp in classic uniforms, layered over stocking caps and ski gloves.
As the band moved past, the beat of the drums kept marchers in line and spectators’ toes tapping.
We age and often become jaded about holiday — traditions like the Christmas City of the North parade. But, when we leave ourselves open to possibility, that childhood magic can be recaptured — in the young parade goers’ hopeful anticipation of the first sighting of Santa, in the classic carols played in harmony by sons and daughters, or in the mesmerizing glow of brilliant strings of holiday. We are reminded why the tradition has endured for over a half-century, and is certain to last another half-century more.
“The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.” ~ from the New York Sun’s “Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus”
Wishing you and your families a Merry Christmas, whatever your faith or inclination is this time of year ~ good tidings of peace and joy are universal in their message. I leave you with the timeless words of the New York Sun’s editorial, “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus,” to remind us of the need to keep magic in our hearts and to always light a candle of hope, even when the world seems dark:
“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?
“115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.”
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.
[Full text of the editorial, as published in the editorial pages of the New York Sun on September 21, 1897, courtesy of Newseum website.]
Believe in the magic that only the heart can see . . . may your holiday be full of love and generosity.
Ciao! ~ Kat
“Yes, Virginia” links and resources, to learn more about the history of this editorial and the little girl who wrote it:
As you may have gathered from some of my other posts, I rarely cook since my husband actually enjoys it and gets annoyed with me putteringpesteringinterfering helping in the kitchen while he is exercising his creative cooking skills.
As we were brainstorming ideas for dessert to bring to our upcoming dinner club (kicking off our 21st year of quarterly gatherings this December! ~ more on our dinner club tradition in this post and this post), I fondly recalled one of the rare occasions I prepared dessert, which happened to be for one of our December dinner club gatherings several years ago.
I share this recipe with you, fellow non-bakers, as a gorgeous holiday option that doesn’t take all day (or multiple days) to prepare ~ Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries, courtesy of a 2008 issue of Gourmet magazine.
Mascarpone-Filled Cake with SherriedBerries
Ingredients for cake:
2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
Ingredients for berries:
1/2 cup Fino (dry) Sherry
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups mixed berries, cut if large
(Kat suggests using Chambord instead of Sherry and then cutting back on the sugar instead ~ this wise suggestion was in one of the comments to the recipe. As for the berries, use whatever fresh berries are in season ~ different berries could easily change the look of the cake to suit different occasions or holidays.)
8 ounces mascarpone (1 cup)
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
Instructions for making the cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan (2 inches deep). Line bottom with a round of parchment paper, then butter parchment.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer at low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing after each addition until just combined.
Spread batter in cake pan, smoothing top. Rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.
Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Discard paper and reinvert cake onto rack to cool completely.
How to macerate the berries:
Bring Sherry (or Chambord if following Kat’s suggestion) and sugar (go light on the sugar, especially if you’re using the Chambord) to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Put berries in a bowl and pour hot syrup over them, gently tossing to coat. Let stand 15 minutes.
(Kat suggests: If you are serving this dessert other than at your own home, you can macerate the berries ahead of time and bring them in a sealed container to top off the cake before serving – however, some berries tend to get “soggier” than others, so ideally, macerating the berries relatively close in time to serving tends to provide a better fruit texture).
Final steps: making the cream and assembling the cake:
Beat mascarpone and cream with sugar in a large bowl using cleaned beaters until mixture just holds stiff peaks.
Halve cake horizontally with a long serrated knife. Carefully remove top half and reserve. Put bottom half on a plate, then spread evenly with all of cream and replace top half. Serve with berries. (Kat suggests: Wait to pour the berries over the top until shortly before serving, so as not to create a soggy sponge cake resembling a holiday jello “poke” cake instead.)
‘Tis the season for Martha Stewart-esque images of perfectly decorated homes, elaborate craft ideas shared on Pinterest, and a pervasive pressure to create the ideal holiday memory for your family. Has the holiday to-do list already grown three heads and taken over your life as we countdown to Christmas over the next 30 days? Have you asked yourself why you are doing each task and who really cares about it? Not knocking it, as I certainly enjoy hauling down my bins of holiday decor, putting on the Christmas tunes, bringing in the fresh Christmas tree that fills the house with a wonderful aroma of pine, and fa-la-la’ing for an evening as the house is transformed into holiday central. But, if I don’t watch myself, I certainly can turn into the monster with at least two heads at various points of the season, as “mom the martyr” emerges when the other members of the family (coincidentally, all other members of my household being of the testosterone variety) fail to get as giddy about some of the traditions as I do.
Over time, I have tried to let go of that disappointment and modify expectations, which provides for a much happier household all season long. Some things I do for myself and the pleasure I get from them, and that is enough. By letting go of expectations and “must do” traditions occasionally, though, sometimes the most delightful doors open to new traditions and experiences. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Don’t let those plans and to-do lists overshadow the potential happiness of the holiday season — it can be such a special time, and there is a certain magic in the air if we open ourselves to it.
Speaking of holiday happiness, though, not everyone meets the season with glee. For some, the season reminds them of family members gone or fractured relationships; for others, the increasing expectations of the season coincide with the shorter, darker days, culminating into the perfect “SAD” (Seasonal Affective Disorder) storm; and for yet others, the daily struggles they have do not diminish with the gaiety forced upon them from all sides, perhaps deepening their frustration with the hardships life has handed them. I viewed this video today and felt compelled to share this moving story. Whether you are struggling with health concerns, personal relationships, a fitness goal, or are just having a bad day, I dare say all of us can find a spark of inspiration in Arthur’s journey:
Be mindful of the things that matter during this holiday season. If you fall off the happy wagon (I can assure you that I do at least once a day, just ask my husband and my teens . . . ), brush yourself off and hop back on (knowing you are not alone in these seasonal “bah, humbug” moments). If you overindulged, rather than depriving yourself of the enjoyment or beating yourself up with guilt, simply hit the reset button, go for a nice long walk or run to help balance things out if you are able to do so, or start anew in whatever way you can (so says the blogger who ate way too much cheesecake this weekend). If you are facing a goal or burden that seems overwhelming, and many days are two steps forward, one step back, then think of Arthur and his transformation, and take each day as it comes, one at a time.
I leave you with this thought as we countdown to Christmas, just a small excerpt from a classic Dr. Seuss tale, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”:
“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
The Grinch was wise indeed in recognizing that the true meaning of the holiday season comes from focusing on the “stuff” that matters — and that many gifts come already opened. Isn’t that true of life throughout the year?
Duffy was a mutt who appeared to be the product of a child’s imagination gone wild — dog parts selected from multiple breeds and merged together in a one-of-a-kind way. A classic humane society rescue dog. He had been neglected at his first home, although not abused, as he was always was a trusting soul. He came to us severely underweight and malnourished, and having no knowledge of the joy of attention and physical love from human companions.
We brought Duffy into our lives when he was not quite a year old, as our first dog Bruce (not yet two years old) came to the premature end of his, suffering from uncontrollable seizures and medicated to the point that his quality of life was no longer positive. We adopted Duffy, thinking that Bruce would like the comfort of a companion as he declined, and that we would have a companion as we anticipated the need to help Bruce say good-bye and ease his pain.
We could not have asked for a better companion for our ailing Bruce than Duffy — that goofy-looking mutt adored Bruce. He gave Bruce moments of renewed playfulness and joy, but could not stop the inevitable decline that was only months away. Duffy was inseparable from Bruce, until the end.
Tearfully, we said good-bye and soon learned that Duffy needed his own companion now that Bruce was gone. Duffy cried. He barked a neurotic, repeated bark after he lost his friend. We were no substitute for the emptiness that poor dog obviously had gnawing at him inside. So, off to the humane society we went in search of a friend for Duffy. This resulted in Snowball (“Snowy”) joining our little family.
She was not quite a year old when we adopted her; Snowy had been her name while in foster care with her pups. Her previous owner had abandoned her while she was pregnant. The neighbors in the rural area became aware of her plight, and cared for her until the pups were old enough to be adopted themselves. The neighbors told the humane society what a protective and caring mother Snowy was to her pups, digging out a little den under a woodpile on the property. She obviously had not had a good life leading up to that young stint of motherhood, as her ears already were scarred with frostbite nicks from her first winter.
Snowy was always somewhat standoffish or even crabby toward other dogs . . . except for her forever friend, Duffy. They bonded from the moment they met, and became inseparable for the next 14 years. (I admit to tearing up, as I reflect back on the incredible love those two animals had for each other, and for us, their human family). They were our “children” for several years, before our first two-legged child was born into the family.
My husband and I took Snowy and Duffy to obedience class soon after they joined us, each taking responsibility for one of them during each class. We quickly learned that we needed to separate ourselves to opposite sides of the classroom, because our dogs otherwise would not focus on the task at hand; rather, they focused on each other. Even when separated, Snowy would cry and whimper from across the room whenever we stopped our heeling exercises — any extended “sit” or “stay” resulted in her looking longingly toward her buddy, accompanied by her whiny laments.
Snowy was the ring leader of our lovable but dimwitted duo. Perhaps it was the lack of nutritious sustenance for much of the first year of his life, but Duffy was not blessed with an abundance of intelligence. If dogs could talk, I am sure many of their exchanges would consist of Duffy saying in a bumbling, excited manner, “what do you think, Snowy, huh? huh? huh? should we run? should we play? yes? no?” And as soon as Snowy gave the signal, off they would go, racing playfully together, wrestling, snuggling, loving with a connection that words cannot explain.
From their harsh first year of life, Snowy and Duffy transitioned easily to lives as spoiled and much-loved pets. And they again transitioned beautifully to the role of children’s friends and companions as our family grew to add two boys over the next few years.
Those dogs are intertwined with the memories of our boys growing up. Hikes, imaginary play, wrestling, romps in the snow — Snowy and Duffy were there. Patient, loving, forgiving. The unconditional love that animals bring to our lives was exhibited in this goofy twosome time and time again.
Time at the cabin and on the lake were times of bliss for those two (not to mention the rest of us). They were with us for the first few summers we camped on the raw land (and Snowy was with my husband and son during a thunderstorm when she bolted straight through the zippered door of the tent, because she did not want to be left alone in the tent in the storm when my husband went to the car to retrieve something . . . . that neglectful first year of life resulted in some needy, neurotic tendencies on both Snowy and Duffy’s parts, but can you blame them?).
Swimming with the boys, fishing off the dock, enjoying pontoon rides on the lake. The memories of the first few summers when we enjoyed time at the lake were inseparable from memories of the dogs enjoying time at the lake. As our boys grew, the dogs simply aged. The pace of hikes had to slow and shorten in distance, as Duffy was the first to remind us that they would not be with us throughout the boys’ childhood years.
As is often the case with older dogs, they lost muscle tone and layers of fat, although Snowy’s Samoyed-Husky fur kept her cozy on the coldest of days even as she reached the end of her life. I made Duffy a little polar fleece jacket for late fall nights at the cabin, before we had a heat source to keep the interior toasty warm. My husband would take Duffy onto the cots we slept on at the time, tucking him into the sleeping bag where Duffy would sleep with a happy sigh (after first repeatedly grunting for more tummy scrubs).
Duffy turned 14; we knew it was probably his last summer with us, as he began to lose control of his rear legs and mobility significantly declined. One of the most difficult things about owning a pet is knowing when it is time to help them say goodbye. The answer rarely presents itself in black-and-white, and no matter how many furry friends you have been fortunate to know over your lifetime, it never gets any easier when it comes to helping them .
We had a family wedding to attend mid-summer, and so we left Duffy and Snowy with the same caretakers we had used (and Duffy and Snowy had loved) for the prior 13+ years. One morning, only a couple of nights into our week-long vacation, I received a tearful call from the woman caring for them. Duffy was at the vet and he had tummy twist (bloat). Why it happened, no one will ever know, but given his already fragile elderly state, surgery was not advised. Our vet and vet’s staff stood compassionately in our stead as they eased Duffy across the “Rainbow Bridge.” To say that tears were shed by us during that day, and on and off throughout the remainder of our vacation, would be an understatement.
The next morning, I woke up with the most vivid dream seared into my mind. I told my husband that Duffy came to me that night, looking healthy and happy, leaning into me as I ran my fingers through his cinnamon-colored fur. I could feel his fur, feel his presence — it was not the typical feeling or memory one has when trying to recall a dream from the night before. My husband had an odd look cross his face as I told him this, and he said quietly, “Duffy came to me in a dream, too.” He had the same sensation of petting him, feeling his fur, and that sense that Duffy was at peace. My oldest son claimed he dreamed of Duffy that night, as well, while my youngest son burst into tears because he could not recall having seen or felt Duffy in his dreams. We assured him that Duffy would not have missed visiting him as he made the rounds to all of us, letting us know that he no longer was in pain, and that we need not worry about the fact he passed without us being there to say our goodbyes. He came to us to say goodbye instead, just another example of that purest of love that sometimes only an animal or child can seem to share.
Our vacation ended and we picked up Snowy from her caretaker, bringing her home alone. As she ran into our house, we realized that she thought Duffy must be waiting for her at home. She frantically searched from room to room, whimpering in an increasingly panicked manner, which brought a new round of tears and feeling of helplessness on our part. Once she realized her faithful friend was not waiting for her, she sunk into the deepest of depressions and appeared to even suffer a seizure at some point. She stopped eating, withdrew, and was inconsolable.
We made a trip to the humane society and we hoped that perhaps Snowy would find some solace in another dog companion. Perhaps it was the taking of interest in a new friend, or perhaps it was just that Snowy was a tough old bird who was not going to give up on life that easily, but remarkably, Snowy was like the phoenix, rising again and enjoying life to the fullest for another three years, exceeding the ripe old age of 17!
When she turned 16, we had “Snowy’s last birthday” party at the cabin, as she was increasingly showing her age and we figured it would be her last. The next year, we had the second annual “Snowy’s last birthday” party! At her second “last” birthday party, on her 17th birthday, Snowy started marching slowly down the hill toward the lake, zig-zagging to minimize the strain on her arthritic and weakened joints. Over the previous couple of summers, she had voluntarily wandered down to the lake less and less frequently. My husband would carry her to the pontoon a few times each summer so she could enjoy her favorite boat ride and a paddle in the lake. She was determined on her birthday, though, and celebrated turning 17 by taking herself for a swim, joined by her new furry friend and my youngest son.
We all watched in awe as she swam and enjoyed wading in the water. No one had to say out loud what we all knew — that this was likely one of her last ventures down to the lake to enjoy some of the activities she enjoyed most in life, with the people she loved most, who loved her right back with all of their hearts.
That fall was her last with us. On Thanksgiving Day, we ventured out for a short hike. In the past year or two, when heading out for longer or more strenuous hikes, we would reluctantly leave Snowy behind, knowing she no longer had the strength or endurance to join us. It was a holiday and no one was in a hurry. We just wanted to wander leisurely through the forest and enjoy our family time together.
As I look back at these photos from that hike, some of the last that we have of Snowy, I see that happy grin on her face as she and our lab wait for the boys to catch up. Once again, she surprised all of us, even galloping exuberantly on the trail for a brief time, always with that dog grin, barking playfully as the boys ran past. The joy she so obviously experienced that day was infectious.
With another Thanksgiving holiday approaching, and that often frenzied holiday season already nipping at people’s heels, perhaps we can take a cue from our animal friends as we did on that Thanksgiving several years ago. We all slowed our pace to enjoy the day with Snowy, and were reminded of one of the important things in life — that in this finite time we have together, we should always try to find joy in the moment and enjoy the simple things in life.
“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day. It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.” ~ John Grogan, author, Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog