Tag Archives: Christmas Tree

Farewell Christmas Tree

By Vladimir Brezina
Photos by Daniel Kalman

A couple of days ago, we lit the candles on our Christmas tree for the last time before taking the tree down…

Farewell Christmas tree 1
Farewell Christmas tree 2
Farewell Christmas tree 3

These photos were taken by our friend Dan, who was visiting us for a few days.

Christmas, 2014

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina and Johna Till Johnson

Our 2014 Christmas treeMaybe it’s because we spent last Christmas on the waters of the Florida Everglades. Or maybe it’s because this year has held more than the usual vicissitudes. For whatever reason, this year we found ourselves focused intently on the traditional trappings and rituals: A live tree, with real candles. A wreath, with ribbons and a bell. Roast goose, mashed potatoes, and cabbage. Christmas carols.

And they were wonderful: As the sun set on Christmas Eve, the apartment filled with the scent of roasting goose (overpowering the fresh fragrance of pine). Dinner that night was magical, with light glittering everywhere, and the sound of Christmas carols on the air.

Johna's favorite ornamentChristmas Day, we slept late, then spent a splendid several hours opening gifts. Okay, more like a few minutes doing the actual opening—but since most of the gifts were books (and most of the remainder was food), we spent a lazy afternoon listening to music, reading, and nibbling cookies. On Boxing Day, we did the official tree-candle lighting (complete with obligatory stand-by bucket of water and fire extinguisher).

All the trappings were there, and the rituals were most satisfactorily observed.  But even more than the trappings and decorations, what resonated most with us was the meaning of Christmas: light in darkness, hope for better times to come.

Continue reading

Merry Christmas!

By Vladimir Brezina and Johna Till Johnson

Merry Christmas!(Johna enjoying our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of roast goose, red cabbage, and mashed potatoes…)

Merry Christmas to all our readers!!

Christmas Twinkle

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Twinkle.

And, at this time of the year, there’s no other possible response than this—

Christmas tree lit. 2011Christmas twinkle, 2012Christmas twinkle, 2012

More twinkling photos from Christmas 2011 and Christmas 2012 are here and here.

Christmas dinner 2013 in the Florida Everglades

And, so as not to get bored with twinkling lights year after year, this for a change was Christmas 2013—




We are working on Christmas 2014. Stay tuned!

Travel Theme: Fragrant

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Fragrant.

It’s not even Thanksgiving, but the first Christmas decorations have already made their appearance in NYC store windows, so it’s not too early for this post…

No plastic Christmas trees for us. We always have a real tree. Plastic trees can look pretty, but lack an essential element of Christmas—the fragrance of a real tree, especially when that fragrance is released by the heat of real candles…

DSC_0018 cropped small

More photos from Christmas 2011 are here, and from Christmas 2012 here. Looking forward to Christmas 2013!

The Last Day of Christmas

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

DSC_0013 cropped smallIt was the second weekend in January when we had our last Christmas dinner.

It was our third or fourth Christmas dinner. We  fixed a sumptuous meal, sipped wine, and lit the tree for the last time. As the candles slowly winked out, one by one, we talked about the meaning of Christmas.

To me, Christmas is unique. Sure, every holiday has its particular trappings (pumpkins, fireworks, candy canes…). But what’s different about Christmas is that it celebrates not that which is, but that which is to come.

Every other holiday celebrates an accomplishment or achievement: Thanksgiving is a classic harvest festival,  in which we give thanks for the year’s bounty (and historically, for having survived).  The Fourth of July celebrates the attainment of independence. Hallowe’en is the remembrance of the dead, and New Year’s celebrates the arrival of the New Year. And so on.

Christmas alone is a celebration of hope.

DSC_0027 cropped smallFor Christians, of course, the celebration is the birth of Jesus. But the birth of Jesus is, in a very real sense, the arrival of hope, the hope that an innocent child can be stronger than the worst evils of this world, that God is returning to His people, and that love will conquer evil. The birth of Jesus is just the start of that hope.

And the hope isn’t just for Christians. Regardless of when the birth of Jesus happened historically (and there is considerable speculation on this point), the ancient Christians elected to celebrate the birth of Christ roughly concomitantly with an older festival: Winter solstice.

It was a wise choice, because solstice, too, is a celebration of hope: The hope that the days will once again begin to lengthen, light will conquer darkness, and warmth will return.

Whether you’re a fervent Christian or an equally-fervent atheist or something else, in other words, celebrating Christmas is an act of existential courage. We are celebrating the hope that light, goodness, and warmth will return to the world.

Of course, that’s not strictly true. Vlad points out that his mother, with Eastern European clear-eyed cynicism, used to remark that the ancient Christians were wise to put Christmas a few days after the solstice proper—so by the time Christmas festivities began on the 24th, they could be certain the days were in fact lengthening again.

Nonetheless, Christmas is a festival of hope. It looks forward to better things to come.

DSC_0107 cropped smallFor this reason, in my book, Christmas deserves to be the most-celebrated holiday. The celebration of hope is the celebration of possibility. Rather than celebrating just one accomplishment, we’re celebrating the possibility of all that we can hope for: Light, love, happiness, joy. Peace on Earth, and God among us—and all the infinite accomplishments that could happen in a world in which these are realities.

That’s why we kept celebrating Christmas well into January.

And as we watched the candles sputter and wink, we thought about all the goodness we hope this year will bring.

One last time: Merry Christmas to all!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Illumination

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Illumination.

Christmas 2011—

In bright light, the Christmas tree looks pretty enough… but somehow still awaiting its true moment.

Candlelight works its magic. The whole tree glows with a soft radiance. The light picks out the glitter of ornaments from the pools of darkness deep among the branches. The candles burn silently, yet flicker perceptibly from moment to moment. The rising air sets strands of tinsel subtly in motion, shimmering in the light. The tree is alive.

DSC_0018 cropped small

More photos from Christmas 2011 are here, and from Christmas 2012 here.