Category Archives: Memories

Only 364 days to go…

The Christmas tree in our living room
Fills the room with pine perfume
And colored lights dancing on the walls
While Nat King Cole sings “Deck The Halls”
Don’t you get the sense tonight
That for now the world is right
And as another Christmas ends
My mind drifts and once again
I’m thinking like a six year old
Only 364 days to go

This Brad Paisley song had to work a day later due to leap year.

Enjoy the full song here.

Gift-giving blues this Christmas

It’s no secret I love the holidays (I mean, I did start a website called It’s Christmas 365).

But gift-giving is another story.

As I write this – a mere two days before my family exchanges gifts – I’ve not purchased one gift.

It isn’t that I’m in a frumpy Christmas mood.

Quite the opposite: This probably ranks among my favorite holiday seasons in recent memory.

I dislike the transactional feel of buying gifts – as though, we must buy gifts simply because that is what one does at this time of year.

I’ve never been one to hop into Target or Macy’s or go on Amazon to buy everything. I’ve made such an effort to think local – not necessarily small, but local. For instance, I usually give someone Eat’n Park gift cards. Last year, I gifted my parents a weekend stay at the Sheraton hotel on Erie’s Bayfront.

I like the gift of experience, but my family members don’t seem to be interested in those things. Several years ago, I bought my parents tickets to Kennywood Park. They’d been saying how they hadn’t been there, so I thought it would be great. My mom loved it when she opened it on Christmas Eve.

Fast forward to the summer and I kept asking when they were going. Mid-August rolled around and the tickets hadn’t been used. Someone on Facebook was seeking tickets to the park and I asked my mom if I could have them back to give them to someone who would use them.

My mother’s idea of gift-giving is very transactional: buy things people need. I’m sure I’ll get jeans because she thinks I need them, for example.

I encourage her to be creative. She explains how she’s too busy all month getting ready for one night that she doesn’t have time.

“So let’s change how we do Christmas,” I say. But that’s quickly nixed because she wants to continue the same idea of traditions she has known forever.

It’s hard to change mindsets – especially when people yearn for “the good ol’ days” (whatever those mean for people).

I’d prefer much more of a seasonal celebration – taking in the sights and sounds of events and activities that happen during November and December.

My mom, on the other hand, is a firm believer in Christmas Eve and Christmas Day being this huge production. She loves the entire season, but can’t see beyond Dec. 24-25.

A friend explained to me his family’s list-sharing experience, where they offer lists of items each of them want. So each family member goes and buys things from that list. There’s no element of surprise or room for creativity. While some of the items are useful, I’m hard-pressed to think opening many of the items on his family’s lists would be exciting.

Other friends have shared similar sentiments with me about their families. I recently told a friend (and fellow Christmas enthusiast) that I hadn’t started shopping. He was shocked, but when I explained why, he understood and then offered his own examples of family members buying practical gifts.

Not to turn this into a damn the corporations! post, but … big business wins when we believe the only way to celebrate Christmas is with gifts.

The gift-giving aspect isn’t what my Christmas is about. My Christmas is about spending time with family and friends, making memories, enjoying anything with peppermint in it!

And it isn’t that I dislike giving gifts. I buy gifts for some friends, getting them things I think they’d like. I don’t buy them socks (well, I did buy a friend socks this year, but they’re funny) or jeans.

If I was even the slightest bit crafty, I would make things for people.

Gifts certainly are a great way to show affection, respect, thanks to those we care about. Gifts can be small and inexpensive or whatever we want them to be.

It all goes back to the Grinch: “He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”

Christmas memories, changing traditions

As a brief introduction, I actually wrote the following as a Facebook post on Dec. 17, 2014. I find myself feeling the same this year, and I know many other people feel, or have felt, this way as well. I thought I would share this again with new readers.

I was waxing sentimental about the holidays and change. Here’s my rambling post about it.

Things change.

People get older, get married, have children, move away, fade away, pass away.

Never are life’s inevitable changes impressed upon me more than during the holidays, especially Christmas.

I love tradition and consistency. Long after my brothers and I had outgrown the magical fantasies of Christmas, we still insisted presents not be placed under the tree until after we had gone to bed. And we still woke early on Christmas morning to dig into our stockings and then sit in the dark living room with only the tree lights on until our parents were up and ready to start the day. 

We grew up going to Grandma and Grandpa Garrett’s house for Christmas Eve, and then to Grandma and Grandpa Onestak’s house on Christmas Day and cousin Patty’s house on Christmas night.

Quite often I would spend the night of Dec. 23 at my grandparents’ house. I can remember waking in the morning in a chilly room and an antique bed, warm under layers of sheets and blankets, listening to my grandmother in the kitchen, cooking and singing along to Christmas carols on the radio.

I loved those mornings and the anticipation of the days to come. I looked forward to not only presents, as children do, but seeing all of our family and having a big family dinner and playing games and visiting relatives.

Over the years the natural changes in life have also changed those traditions. I’ve accepted those changes and embraced new traditions, but sometimes I really miss the way things used to be.

This year I miss the old traditions more than ever. Life’s circumstances are once again changing the holidays and how we celebrate, or, in some cases, how we don’t celebrate. I get the feeling that the next few years are going to be full of more changes, and it may be awhile before we get settled into a new holiday routine.

Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy our family and friends and watch my children experience the magic of Christmas, and I’ll treasure all of my childhood memories.

HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on, 
our troubles will be miles away.

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.

Through the years 
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

‘Feel the Love of Christmas’ one final time

Monday night was the first last “Feel the Love of Christmas” concert at Heinz Hall. Tuesday night was the last last “Feel the Love” concert there.

For more than 20 years, B.E. Taylor lit up the holiday season with his recognizable voice, smile and positivity – selling out concerts across the tri-state region.

The beloved Aliquippa native died in August 2016. His son – B.C. Taylor – and other family members and longtime friends have celebrated his life and love of the holiday season with fans for the last three years.

But the show will come to an end Dec. 23 with a final performance where it all began – Wheeling, West Virginia.

I’ve loved B.E. Taylor’s Christmas music for as long as I can recall. I’d watch him sing at the old Horne’s/WPXI sing-along shows and the Kaufmann’s Celebrate the Season parade, as well as his performances on WQED-TV and on 94.5 3WS and Wish 99.7.

The tribute shows have served as a time to celebrate the season and to reflect on a talented man who loved his family, the season and his fans. Portions of a live recording at Heinz Hall were embedded into the show, letting B.E. Taylor’s voice shine for all to hear.

“The fact that people still want to come and celebrate, even with dad begin gone, is such a tribute to what he created and what everyone on stage created and the fact that we get to say goodbye on our terms and let this go and send everybody out feeling the love of Christmas one more time, it’s the way I wanted to do this,” B.C. Taylor told WTOV-TV.

B.C. Taylor said the family decided to end the show’s run because of the emotional toll it takes.

“It weighs on me or my family, and I just feel that it’s time to move on, but I wanted anyone that wanted to come and sing ‘Feel the Love’ or ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ or whatever, see the drumline come down, I wanted them to have the opportunity to do it one more time,” B.C. Taylor said.

When B.E. Taylor released his first Christmas album in 1994, he had already been a solidified musician, reaching No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1984 with “Vitamin L,” which was written by fellow bandmate and friend Rick Witkowski.

In a 2016 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obituary story, bandmate Hermie Granati talked about who B.E. Taylor was as a person and not a musician.

“All the superlatives have been said about his musicianship, but the guy that we knew, when he talked to you, he made you feel like you were the most important person in the room,” Granati said. “Very at ease and very comfortable being himself. There was a light emanating from Bill, and he pulled everyone into that light. He wore his faith on his sleeve and he lived it.”

At the time of B.E. Taylor’s death, WDVE’s morning show host said he was “the kind of person that you strive to be. He was kind, he was thoughtful, he was happy and full of love for his friends and family. There wasn’t an ounce of pretense to B.E.”

The final performances for the show are Dec. 21 in Indiana and Dec. 23 in Wheeling. For ticket information, visit the concert site.

Kennywood Park Holiday Lights named one of nation’s top theme park holiday events

For the fourth time in as many years, Kennywood Park’s Holiday Lights was named among the nation’s Best Theme Park Holiday Events by USA Today.

Kennywood came in tenth place.

The 10Best.com site says a panel of experts chose the first 20 parks. The final votes came from people like you.

“We want to thank all those who took the time to vote for Holiday Lights,” Kennywood GM Jerome Gibas said in a statement. “Our team members put in many hours to bring Holiday Lights to life, and it’s rewarding to see our efforts recognized.”

Topping the list was An Old Time Christmas at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. Coming in at No. 2 was Smokey Mountain Christmas at Dollywood (Pigeon Forge, Tennessee), which was recently featured in a Hallmark Channel movie.

Also making the list were Kings Island (No. 3), SeaWorld Orlando (No. 5) and Busch Gardens (Tampa at 6, Williamsburg at 8).

Kennywood offers 2 million lights, photos with Santa, local choir group performances, two synced lights shows at the lagoon and, of course, Potato Patch fries! In addition, Thomas Town and Kiddieland rides are available, plus some other rides (all weather permitting, of course).

I’ve written before about how amazing Kennywood at Christmas is. Words can’t properly describe the feeling of strolling through the park seeing the magic of Christmas at one of the world’s best amusement parks.

So, go to Kennywood before it closes for the season!

It is held Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights through Dec. 22 and is open nightly from Dec. 26-30.

As of this posting, admission – if purchased online in most cases below – is as follows:

  • General admission: $19.49 (valid any night of Holiday Lights)
  • Friday or Sunday admission: $18.49
  • Holiday Lights season pass: $28 (valid for unlimited visits to Kennywood Park during the 2019 Holiday Lights season)
  • Select Passholder Nights: Free! Active season passholders receive free admission on select Holiday Lights dates. Kennywood’s site indicates that 2019/2020 Silver, Premium, Ride & Slide, and Senior passholders can show their pass at the main gate for complimentary admission on Dec. 13, 15, 20, 22, as well as 26-30.

Miniature Christmas villages offer big holiday charm

Whether it’s a bird’s-eye view of a Charles Dickens’ village, a seaside New England town or Christmas in NYC, small-scale winter villages offer a big-scale holiday charm under a tree, above a cabinet, in a display case or sprawled across an entire room.

I can’t pinpoint when I first fell in love with small villages. My uncle and grandfather introduced me to trains, and while they were great, I was more into the buildings and scenery around those displays – the little people and vehicles and storefronts.

Add to this my love of “SimCity” and “Sims” video games and the perfect recipe for enjoying small-scale villages is born!

I just love the idea of creating a storyline for the village, as townspeople move about in the days leading up to the holiday.

When I was younger, we placed a farm/rural village under the tree with some old-school buildings from my uncle. I mixed in some of my MicroMachines and had one eclectic little town.

Over the years, my village matured with Lemax pieces and some others (St. Nicholas Square from Kohl’s, etc). A number of my buildings and accessories came from Kmart, which used to have a great collection each holiday season.

I recently discovered that one of my buildings is a Norman Rockwell piece that was sold at Ames (of all places). I need to do some digging to find more about the history of that line.

But the crown jewel of mini villages is Dept. 56, with its vast array of quintessential New England pieces, its “A Christmas Carol” village, its NYC village collection and, more recently, its pop culture collections (think “Elf,” “A Christmas Story,” “National Lampoon,” etc).

I own one Dept. 56 building – the Heinz house. (It’s a ‘Burgh thing!)

As much as I love the attention to detail on Dept. 56 pieces, it’s difficult for me to pay the prices (even second-hand prices!) of those items. They are gorgeous and I envy folks with them, but they’re not in my budget.

But I love my hodgepodge collection of mostly Lemax pieces that also offer such attention to detail on buildings and within figurines.

The centerpiece to my village under the tree is the Wegmans grocery store building. I love Wegmans, so it was an obvious move to make that the center of town – right next to the village gazebo and choir singers.

My village under the tree usually also includes the Daily Gazette building, the Wegmans Farmhouse and typically the post office or pub (though, either made an appearance this year!).

New this year is The Secret Santa Christmas Gift Shoppe, complete with Santa standing outside the shop making his list and checking it twice.

The Norman Rockwell piece offers a glimpse into the dining room of a family about to celebrate a meal together.

A second village is placed above the cabinets in the kitchen and is kept up all year to keep a little Christmas magic going! (The village also offers some very nice soft lighting.)

The village above the cabinets includes three houses that I believe are from a collection that was part of Christmas Around The World. Foley’s Pharmacy (which I think is either a Kmart or Lemax piece) and a brewery (from St. Nicholas Square at Kohl’s) round out the businesses, which are centered around a choir group and tree.

A lighthouse at the end of the display offers a New England feel, complete with a snowman in a yellow rain slicker!

I haven’t officially named the villages, but I do tend to refer to them as Christmas Village (under the tree) and Christmas Village Heights (above the cabinets) – or, simply, The Heights.

I’m unsure how many village buildings I own, but I do know that of the 11 that are placed (12, if you include the house that’s always up in my bedroom), there is a good chance my collection has about 30 buildings.

Small compared to some folks, whose collections are well into the hundreds!

I’m in several Facebook Groups related to mini villages and get to see all of the hard work people put into their displays. Some people convert entire family rooms or basements into their Christmas villages, while others are content with a few pieces on the mantel.

I’m so inspired by the people in these groups, though. This is not just a hobby for some of them, but a true passion. (And, if for nothing else, these groups offer a place where every single person commenting is pleasant – unheard of on Facebook!)

Ask any village collector if their village collection is every complete and the answer is simple: nope!

I always tell myself not to buy any new pieces, but each year that’s a struggle. I, so far, have limited myself to just one new building (The Secret Santa shop). But I’ve purchased a few more figurines and accessories than I usually do a year.

One building I need for my village is a department store. But not just any department store. I’d like a Gimbels (from the Dept. 56 “Elf” collection), a Davidson’s Department Store (from Dept. 56), Dayfield’s Department Store (from the Dept. 56 “Christmas in the City” collection) or the dont-call-it-Macy’s “Department Store” (from the Dept. 56 “Miracle on 34th Street” collection).

Of course, I’d prefer having a Kaufmann’s Department Store (preferably the current building, but the Carnegie Science Center’s addition of the previous building would do!)

A recent quote in an Erie Times-News story about a couple who collects and displays Dept. 56 pieces resonated with me.

“I have a little stool in front of the big display,” Jeff Taylor said, “and sometimes I go out there and sit on that stool and just stare at the scenes. It’s just a great place. It’s very soothing. You look at it and you can almost see the people moving.”

Erie Times-News; Dec. 1, 2019

I’ll sometimes turn off the lights to the tree and keep the village lights on just to enjoy the scenery. I added four battery-operated lighted village trees this year and sat with just those on to illuminate the village.

Amazing what giant stories the mind can create from a tiny village.