Saturday, 15 December 2012

Christmas Collectibles at Roger's Garden

It's that time of year when we trim our homes in preparation for our Christmas holiday celebration. 
A visit to Roger's Gardens in Newport Beach, California is like going to a holiday fantasy land. Themed Christmas trees, wreaths and holiday accoutrements are displayed to feast on and draw ideas from.
Natural or fabricated, the holiday items certainly make delightful Christmas eye candies. 
Taking a look at the decorating details gives one ideas as how to decorate just about most parts of the house and how to use everything you may find in your own home.
 A unique way of decorating - large metal trivets have been positioned about a foot apart from each other, vertically to the tree trunk, making them the perfect aid to hung the ornaments from.
 The Christmas tree themes range from the holiday designs of the winter season, hobbies and professions...
 to the Holy Family.

Christmas collectibles are a big thing among the clientele here.

Father Christmas started out as a European tradition. The true-to-life character behind this figure is St. Nicholas - a bishop who lived in the 4th century in the former Asia Minor Territory of Myra, which is now our present-day Turkey. Orphaned at a very young age and left with a fortune, he grew up to be a kind man who devoted his life in the service of God. He earned a good reputation as he was known to help the poor, giving secret gifts to people in need. He became legendary during his time.

One popular story told about him suggests the origins of when hanging stockings became a practice at Christmas time. There was a very poor father with three daughters who could  not get married because he could not afford to give a dowry. Once St. Nicholas found out about this, he dropped a bag of gold down the chimney into the poor man's house, that landed straight into one of the stockings hanging to dry. This enabled him to marry off his eldest daughter. Again, the same thing happened a second time, enabling the middle daughter to get married. Wanting to find out who the benefactor was, the father hid every evening until he saw St. Nicholas, one evening. Even after St. Nicholas had begged for the man to say nothing about the incident, the word got out. Everyone concluded from then on that when anyone received a secret gift, it was assumed that it was from St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas was canonized  a saint. He is considered the saint for children and for sailors. The miraculous survival of some Turkish sailors who prayed to him while in the midst of a terrible storm is attributed to His intercession, as he appeared on the ship's deck and commanded the sea to be calm.

St. Nicholas was a victim of Emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians. He was banished and imprisoned away from Myra. It is believed that he died on December 6 in the year 345 or 352 AD. His bones were stolen from Turkey by an Italian merchant sailor. His remains are now housed in the Basilica San Nicola in Bari, Italy. On his feastday which is celebrated on the 6th of December, the sailors of Bari carry his statue out to the sea and  petition him to bless the sea that they may all have safe voyages all-year-round.

The traditions regarding St. Nicholas waned in the 16th century. The gift giving role of St. Nicholas was taken over by other figures to deliver gifts to the children at Christmas time. In England, the character of "Father Christmas' from old children's stories, replaced the legendary and traditional gift-giver, St. Nicholas. In France, he became known as "Pere Noel," and as "Christ Kind" in Germany. In the early days of the United States, he was known as "Kris Kringle." Eventually, the Dutch settlers who brought the traditions of St. Nicholas with them. changed Kris Kringle to "Sinterklass" which we now say as "Santa Claus."

Still to this day, December 6 is celebrated as St. Nicholas' Day in Europe. Children leave their clogs or shoes to receive presents. St. Nicholas' popularity was rekindled with the publication of a poem during the old Victorian era entitled "A Visit from St. Nicholas" or "T'was the Night Before Christmas," in 1823. From this came the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in 1949.

Father Christmas figures in the European traditions continue to be popular among collectors.

Creations from Byers' Choice LTD - a handcrafted American tradition
 Byers' Choice Carolers

What started out as home-made Christmas decorations have now become known as the Byers' Choice Carolers. It was in the late 1960s when Joyce Byers decided to make her own holiday decorations that reflected her memories of Christmas. With a degree in fashion design, she easily came up with her own original designs using some fabric scraps, a part of a fur coat that belonged to her mother, cut hair from her children, a coat hanger, plus plaster and some paint. What she came up with were figures of Christmas carolers dressed in plaids with cheerful, singing expressions. The first set of carolers she made were set up in the dining room table that Christmas and she received so many compliments from those who got to see them, mostly her relatives. The following year, she decided to make more carolers to give away as Christmas presents. 

A neighbor had suggested to Joyce to take some of her original Christmas carolers to a local store which was part of a Federation of Woman's Exchanges, and right away they sold. Soon, Joyce's items were introduced to other exchanges all over the country, and orders for more poured in.

Joyce asked the help of her husband and 2 sons to fill the orders, by helping her make the products in the dining room, to be ready by autumn. With the downturn in the economy, Bob - Joyce's husband, saw the potential in making the carolers into a full-time business, thus it became in 1978, as they hired their first employee and turned their garage into their workshop. After college, the two sons also took key positions in the company. A team of 180 trained artisans in Pennsylvania now work the production line. 

The carolers, with their distinct look and handcrafted quality have become collectibles through the years. Carried in fine gift stores in many parts of the world, the company - since day one, continues to produce their unique Christmas line of products at an affordable price. At Roger's Garden, a special presentation by the Byers representative introduced the 2012 holiday line of the carolers, plus their Advent calendars, at the start of the holiday season.

Collectible Nutcrackers

Invented by the Greeks more than 2000 years ago, the nutcracker is a device used to crack open the shell of a nut to get the meat inside. The decorative nutcrackers began to appear in Europe in the 16th century. An Erzgebirge wood craftsman, Fuechtner, was the first to design a decorative nutcracker in the mid 19th century.

The Steinbachs, originally from Austria, had moved to the town of Erzgebirge, Germany, around the 13th century. This family of successful professionals had been threatened by wars and religious persecutions during the medieval ageAfter they established themselves in Germany, life was good for them in Erzgebirge, until the mines dried up in the 18th century. 

Erzebirge means "Ore Mountains" as it was rich in metallurgical deposits. It's harsh weather conditions are enfluenced by the cold Russian winds from the east. Its picturesque countryside of castles, snow in winter has made it a popular winter, holiday,  destination. Their traditions were brought in by the early settlers in the 13th century.

The cultural traditions in the Ore Mountains were shaped by the mining industry that dates back to the middle ages, in the different aspects of their lives - from the landscapes, lifestyle, handicrafts and folk art, and cuisine. Their customs and traditions at Advent and Christmas time are showcased in their mountain folk art - in their "smoking figures, Christmas pyramids, candle arches, nutcrackers, miners' and angels' figures," which they all use as decorations. Traditional Christmas mining celebrations, Mittenschicht  and Hutzenabende, have been visitor drawers during the holiday season, as the Ore Mountains turn into Weihnachtsland (Christmasland). Christmas markets and other folk festivals are also part of the Christmas traditions. 

Back to the Steinbach family, it was under Herr Christian Steinbach that their companies in Hohenhamelin in Northern Germany and Marienberg (built after the fall of the Berlin wall) had flourished. The Steinbach nutcrackers and other wooden collectibles have been produced in the last, almost two hundred years. With the passing of Herr Christian Steinbach in 2007, his daughter Karla - a sixth-generation Steinbach family member, took over the reigns of the company, Steinbach GmbH. Last November 30, there was a signing event at Roger's Garden with Karolin Steinbach.

The traditional  Erzgebirge nutcrackers are designed after authoritative figures from the18th and 19th centuries, like policemen, kings and soldiers. What made the Steinbach nutcrackers appealing to a worldwide audience was the range of design that included famous people, legendary characters, literary and folkloric characters, as well. For the U.S. market, portraits of generals and some U.S. presidents have been added.
The Ulbricht family - another family from Erzgebirge - has  been in the business of making nutcrackers, since 1928. Their line goes as far back into the 17th century, where their roots can be traced in the German village of Erzgebirge, known as "Ore Mountain" rich in gold, silver, and tin deposits. It was a wealthy community of miners whose hobbies included wood turning. When the mines dried up in the 18th century, the miners turned their wood-turning hobby into their sources of livelihood, making nutcrackers, incense smokers, Christmas pyramids, candle arches, wooden music boxes, and other figurines and ornaments.

Otto Ulbricht was a very talented wood turner. He had set up his business in 1928. He had a successful business, had moved to Seiffen to have a larger factory, but had to move again at the end of World War II in 1945 as his factory was on the East German zone, under Soviet control. He and his family relocated to Bavaria. Upon his death in 1968, his son Christian successfully took over the business. With the fall of the Berlin wall, the family property in Erzgebirge was regained. 

With factories in Erzgebirge and Bavaria, Christian Ulbricht had added new designs to the nutcracker line, aside from the traditional designs of kings, soldiers and policemen. His nutcracker line includes the more modern designs, such as the mouseking, George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt, Pope Benedict and Martin Luther. 

Other third generation members of the family are now active in the business. Inge Ulbricht, apart from designing most of the ornaments, is in-charge of production in the Seiffen factory. She and her brother, Gunter, organized the Christian Ulbricht Collectors Club in 1998. Gunter Ulbricht, who inherited the family's creative genes, is responsible for most of the nutcracker designs now available. A signing event was organized last December 8th. Gunter made a personal appearance at the garden, met and personally signed the pieces chosen by the guests.

Glass ornaments
Ne'Qwa Art Ornaments

In Mandarine, Ne'Qwa refers to the "artistic tradition of reverse painting on the inside of mouth-blown glass." This art form flourished in the 17th century when snuff bottles were in vogue in China.

There are only a few groups of Chinese artisans living in remote villages who are skilled in the art of reverse painting. Ne'Qwa Art, which was co-founded by Jim Sexton - and who also happens to be their head designer, aims to revive this ancient art form tha is over a thousand years old, with the collaboration between internationally known artists and the Chinese artisans.

Ne'Qwa Art has its own art school in China. There they train new artists in the painting tradition hat has been passed on by the Chinese artisans.

The Ne'Qwa Art Ornament event was held last December 9 at Roger's GardensTrieste, the only American artist trained in the centuries-old art form of reverse painting in glass, was on hand to personalize ornaments for those who came. 
A set of Christmas-themed Ne'Qwa glass ornaments

This was my favorite set of Christmas ornaments. It told the story of Christmas. These pieces are works of art and are highly collectible at reasonable prices.

Bejeweled trees and globes
These creations are unique. Each piece is handcrafted with antique-looking jewelry pieces. Pricey at hundreds of dollars each.

The holiday look with plants
Ivory-colored poinsettias and white hydrangea
moss-covered containers
 Wreaths and garlands
Poinsettias and Amaryllis in Christmas red
                                           shells, cones, twigs, evergreen branches and a live Christmas tree
garlands of lights for the trees and garden hedges

With just a couple of weekends before Christmas,  you can still spruce up the house and the garden to give it that festive look. Keep it simply elegant!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Christmas Time in Disneyland, Anaheim, California

If there is anytime I would choose to go to Disneyland, it's during the Christmas holiday season. With two dear friends, we decided to meet and spend a couple of hours in the "happiest place on earth."

With no kids in tow, we were kids at heart, choosing our own favorites. At California Adventure, which hass been renovated since the last time I was there, we headed to the Hyperion Theater to watch Aladdin. It's a must-see musical entertainment. If ou have not seen it, you can watch it here. It is hilarious as part of the script includes references to what we are familiar with like the TSA search, twitter, and more. It's a grand production that will trasport you as you allow Aladdin to take you to "...a whole new world..." on a magic carpet.

Our next stop was Soarin' High. It's a trip around the state of California, while flying high. Here we go...join us!

With our tummies growling, we headed to the train station on Main Street for our ride to New Orleans square. It was time to have our late lunch with our three o'clock reservation at the the Blue Bayou restaurant in the vicinity of Pirates of the Caribbean. Our choices for lunch were the Monte Cristo sandwich, Stuffed Salmon (with goat cheese and potatoes au gratin on the side), and Sirloin Steak. For starters, we had a choice between a salad and Gumbo soup. That Gumbo soup was excellent, so perfect for a chilly day.

It was while we were going to take our  train ride that we had noticed a big stage set-up facing the Disney Main Street, right next to the train station. This reminded us that there was going to be a Candlelight Ceremony and  Processional at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30p.m. We made a quick decision to forego our 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. fast-track reservations at World of Color - a musical extravaganza of film, light and water show - which we had seen before, in favor of watching this seasonal event for the first time.

Lunch was great. More so, it was a time to catch up with one another. Then, it was time to secure our places  to watch, the Candle Ceremony and Processional/Christmas concert at Town Square, Main Street, U.S.A. 

Disneyland is even prettier at Christmas time as it is decorated and lit up like a Christmas-fantasy land. 
With the sun going down earlier in the winter months, the Christmas lights were turned on as we walked along Main street.
 A little after five o'clock in the early evening, the Christmas tree was aglow. 
People were coming into the Disney grounds and exiting on the other side just a couple of hours before closing time, while we we searched and found our favored spot in the cordoned off areas, next to the section reserved for wheelchair-bound visitors. So as not to be impatient while we were waiting, we posed for our souvenir pictures.
There were chairs in some sectioned-off areas, reserved for guests who received invitations to this event and for those who won seat assignments by lottery (last August). From our vantage point, our view of the giant stage was partly obstructed by some big trees, though that was not much of a problem when the show got underway. 
 At past five in the afternoon, the orchestra members took their places on stage, and by five thirty it was showtime. Under the baton of Nancy Sulahian, the concert began with familiar tunes that were classically arranged for a grand collaboration of the different, musical instruments to create the most magnificent melodies for this presentation.
 Soon, the members from different choral groups processed on Main Street towards the stage.
With the chorus in place, the sweet sound of Christmas carols filled the air.
Lou Diamond Philips was introduced after the opening number as the narrator for the evening's performances. Thus began the story of the first Christmas. "The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph..."

This turned out to be a very touching concert. We got emotional and teary eyed. It was a presentation that reminded us of what we are celebrating this Christmas. "For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." John 3:16 NAB

The Candlelight Ceremony and Processional was started back in 1958 by Walt Disney. It was first held as a private event, by invitation only, to thank the community partners of Disneyland for their continued support. This year, this event which is normally scheduled for the weekends, will  be  scheduled on some days of the week, with two performances each evening. It is available to annual pass holders and the purchase of new dining packages. For the complete schedule this season, please check here

This holiday event has become an annual, traditional event at Disneyland and Disney World.  If you are not able to go to Disneyland or Disney World during this holiday season, here is what it was like.

May you all have a blessed, merry Christmas.


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