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Written by Paul and Shelia Race for Family Christmas OnlineTM

The Christmas TimesTM, the Official E-Mail Newsletter of Family Christmas OnlineTM and Affiliated Sites

This newsletter is for people who like celebrating holidays, especially Christmas. It is produced in conjunction with the following web sites.

Family Christmas OnlineTMGo to Family Christmas Online.com
Cardboard ChristmasTMLearn about collecting, restoring, and reproducing vintage cardboard Christmas houses.
Old Christmas Tree LightsTMLearn the history of Christmas tree lighting.

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In this Issue

Welcome to the December, 2013 issue of The Christmas TimesTM.

Paul speaking: When I was a devout child in the pre-Vatican II church, believing in Santa was actually less challenging than believing in all of the medieval legends about the saints I had to learn for religion class. But the same people who told me about Santa and a whole list of (subsequently downgraded) saints also told me that Jesus died for my sins and rose again - so I had some sorting out to do before I could come to anything like a real faith.

For that reason (and - let's face it - personal obstinancy), when Shelia and I became parents, I insisted that we shouldn't tell our children that Santa was real. But I didn't see anything wrong with letting them watch Christmas specials like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." (How is that worse, say, than Snow White?). Unfortunately, what we thought was a reasonable approach gave us grief from all of our friends. Those who saw Santa as a usurper of the "true meaning of Christmas" were appalled that our children knew the names of the reindeer. And before we visited families who "did Santa," we had to caution our children not to "set their little friends straight." That didn't keep one angry parent whose kids had obviously seen through the pretense years earlier from blaming our kids for "letting the cat out of the bag."

Now that our youngest is through college, I can't see where letting them not believe in Santa hurt them any more than any of the thousands of other well-meaning decisions that we still second-guess every time one of them does something that makes us worry about them.

But Santa is still under fire from folks who believe he has "taken over" Christmas - as though the general public would suddenly start crowding around the Nativity to pray if somehow Santa could be removed from the picture. This is a conundrum that I have "mused" over for some time, so this year I've published my musings for the rest of you to react to.

In the meantime, we've been busy doing "Christmassy" things, decorating the house, running Christmas trains for visitors, evaluating worthwhile causes, etc. I promised I'd report on my attempt to work with the Salvation Army by playing saxophone for the kettles this month. I can proudly report that I haven't driven anyone away from the kettles yet. But I haven't drawn anyone to them either. The Captain hasn't got back to me since I sent in my application. Stay tuned (no pun intended).

This just in - the demagogues who see Christmas as a reason to wage cultural war on everyone who doesn't celebrate Christmas the "right way" have just announced that they are escalating their campaign for 2013. If their goal is to make the very word "Christmas" leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth, they're going about it the right way. To them, nothing says "Honor the Babe in the Manger" like boycotts, rumor campaigns, exaggerated claims, alarmist rhetoric, and browbeating hapless minimum-wage seasonal workers.

Here's a thought: if Christmas is really sacred to you, shouldn't you live this season like you really believe that "God so loved the world that He gave"? Substitute kindness for criticism, compassion for confrontation; shed the same grace on those you encounter that you believe Christ has shed on you.

Personally, I'm not a naturally thoughtful person - I have to work at it, and I never succeed like I should. It would be a lot easier for me to find something to get "up in arms about" every Christmas season and spend my time verbally assaulting folks who are just trying to get through the Christmas season with some shred of sanity and hope. But if I want Christmas to mean anything good to the people I encounter this year, I have to do better than that.

I have to be better than that.

This drawing is from an old Harpers magazine. The original book didn't have a picture of this scene. Click for a slightly larger picture.Here are the words to a song I wrote years ago, inspired by a children's opera of A Christmas Carol that my sister Tess, an elementary school music teacher, wrote and produced. Frankly, I was thinking about Bob Cratchit's family crowded around a nearly barren table yet still finding reasons to be hopeful and gracious. If you think that our country isn't full of similar stories today, you haven't been paying attention.

This song has yet to be sung by children, but it addresses Dickens' theme of what Christmas meant to the less fortunate who still desired to honor the Babe in the Manger.

    Christmas is a Hope rising in our hearts,
    An unexplained, but welcome change, just as the music starts.
    You and I have dreams; so has every one.
    Christmas is a time to hope for better days to come.

    Christmas is a time for doing what is right
    A helping hand, a list'ning friend, a candle in the night.
    Everyone has needs; everyone can share,
    Even if it's just a smile to show someone you care.

    Christmas is a Gift, sent down from above,
    To every home and every heart, an emblem of God's love.
    Celebrate the hope, celebrate the love,
    Celebrate the special gift that comes down from above.

    Christmas is a Hope.

Finally, please accept our wishes for a blessed and joyous 2013 holiday season. And especially enjoy any time you can spend with your family in the coming weeks.

Topics discussed in this update include:

Why Our Culture Needs Santa Claus (and the Easter Bunny)

Santa gets blamed for a lot, including taking people's eyes off of "what's really important" about Christmas. But if we didn't have Santa, things could be a lot worse, even for those who claim to have a "corner" on the one, real, true "meaning of Christmas." Warning: this article contains big words, facts, and reasonable conclusions that just might make you question assumptions you've been force-fed all your life. It also might make you a lot more understanding about the way other folks celebrate the holidays.

Build a Twig Stable for Your NativityBuild a Twig Stable for Your Nativity

An unusual project from putz house designer Howard Lamey gave a friend an appropriate setting for her vintage nativity pieces. Natural materials, and a bit of elbowgrease will give you a project your family will cherish for years to come.

To see the Twig Stable building project, click on the following link:

Report: 2013 Christmas Train DayReport: Christmas Train Day, 2013

Our sixth November open railroad is over, and we had nice weather for the sixth year in a row, pretty good for this time of year. We had lots of visitors with small children, and lots of fun. Plus we've had two snowfalls since, so we included some eyepopping photos as well.

To see the report on our Christmas Train day, 2013, please click the following link

To see information about Southwest Ohio and Greater Cincinnati Christmas-themed open railroads that have yet to happen, please click the following link:

Click to jump to our Big Christmas Trains review and index pages.Christmas Train Update

If you still need a train for your tree or town, you can still get them, especially if you order soon. Our pages include several links to vendors who can get you a train lickity-split. Let's talk about trains for trees first.

If you have a really big tree and a lot of room, consider a Large Scale Christmas train, such as those shown in the following link. Some of them are downright "jawdropping" indoors:

The other major option for trains around trees is classic O gauge, such as Lionel. The Lionel Polar Express is a rugged, charming set you'll be tempted to leave out all along, but several other great sets are still available:

If you're looking for trains for your towns, you should know that O gauge trains will work, but modern On30 trains were developed especially for Christmas villages. Almost all of them are made by Bachmann, whose On30 Christmas trains include a trolley setup that goes back and forth, so you can set it up almost anywhere. Click on the following link to see Bachmann's offerings:

Most Hawthorne Village trains come a piece at a time, so it's too late to get a whole train for Christmas with a few of exceptions. One Kinkade-themed train, one Coca Cola-themed train, and several of the Sports-themed trains are available in "super starter sets" so you get the first three "issues" - a locomotive, two cars, and a circle of track and power supply at the same time. That is enough to run trains the first day, then the other pieces will follow, about one a month. As always, you can stop whenever you want to, and return any pieces you don't want.

To jump directly to the Thomas Kinkade-inspired villages and towns, click the following link:

To jump directly to the Coca Cola-themed trains, which are also going fast, click the following link:

And for the sports fan in your family, you can always start an NFL, MLB, or NASCAR collection by clicking on the following link:

Keep in Touch

Each month, we get more interest in this newsletter, in our Christmas sites, and in the Christmas traditions, ideas, and memories we discuss. We welcome your questions and comments as indicators of what we should be working on next (also, we always try to answer reader questions quickly). In addition, if you have any photos, tips, or articles you'd like to share with your fellow Christmas enthusiasts, please let us know.

Best Wishes!

As always, our hope is that we can continue helping you and your family (as Dickens said of Scrooge):

    Honor Christmas in your heart, and
    "try to keep it all the year."

In the meantime, please keep in touch, and let us know what you'd like to see added or changed.

May God grant you joy and wonder every season of this year,

Paul and Shelia Race




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Visit our affiliated sites:
- Christmas Memories and Collectibles -
Visit the FamilyChristmasOnline site. Visit our collection of resources for collecting, restoring, and making your own cardboard Christmas houses. Return to the OldChristmasTreeLights Welcome page Visit Howard Lamey's glitterhouse gallery, with free project plans, graphics, and instructions. Visit Papa Ted Althof's extensive history and collection of putz houses, the largest and most complete such resource on the Internet. Craft and collectibles blog with local news of Croton NY.
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Click to see reviews of our favorite family-friendly Christmas movies. Free, Family-Friendly Christmas Stories Decorate your tree the old-fashioned way with these kid-friendly projects. Free plans and instructions for starting a hobby building vintage-style cardboard Christmas houses. Free building projects for your vintage railroad or Christmas village. Click to find free, family-friendly Christmas poems and - in some cases - their stories.
- Trains and Hobbies -
Visit the Internet's largest resource on choosing and displaying Christmas trains. Visit Lionel Trains. Click to see Thomas Kinkaded-inspired Holiday Trains and Villages.
Learn about backyard railroading with Family Garden Trains
Click to see HO scale trains with your favorite team's colors.
Resources for O gauge and On30 model railroading
- Music -
Carols of many countries, including music, lyrics, and the story behind the songs Wax recordings from the early 1900s, mostly collected by George Nelson.  Download them all for a 'period' album.
Best-loved railroad songs and the stories behind them.
Heartland-inspired music, history, and acoustic instrument tips. Own a guitar, banjo, or mandolin?  Want to play an instrument?  Tips to save you money and time, and keep your instrument playable.
The struggles and influences of early Jesus Musicians and others who laid the groundwork for the Christian music and worship that is part of our lives today.