Whether you celebrate a religious holiday or not, December is a special time of year. We talk about year-end traditions and emotions and staff share some favorite holiday stories. Plus our usual book and movie recommendations.
Michael Pierry 0:07
Hello and welcome to another episode of The Hamden Library Podcast. I'm your host, Michael Pierry. And with me, as always is my co host, Alyssa Bussard.
Alyssa Bussard 0:16
Michael Pierry 0:17
And today we're going to be talking about December, end of year traditions, and all the feelings that this time of year can bring out in us. We'll also have book and movie recommendations. But first, here's what's coming up at the library:
On Wednesday, January 5, the Brundage Community Library will host a gardening program on propagating pollinator plants from seed this winter. That's at 6pm until 7:30 Most materials will be provided, but please bring a clean empty gallon milk jug if you can. Registration is required. The same program will be held at the Whitneyville branch the next day, Thursday, January 6, at the same time, 6 to 7:30, and it will be held a third time at Miller Memorial Library on Saturday, January 8, from 2 to 4pm. Again, please register on our website or by calling 203-287-2680. If you cannot attend during any of these times, you can still participate. We can send you instructions and a list of seeds that we can provide just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hamden Library is calling all residents to join us for a collaborative art project. Join us in creating a large community puzzle to be displayed in the library. Stop by the Children's Desk to pick up a blank puzzle piece. Decorate that piece in a way that represents you as an individual. This is for all adults, teens and children. Pieces may be picked up beginning Monday January 10, and must be returned to the library by February 14. Pieces will also be available at Whitneyville and Brundage Community branch libraries.
Also beginning on January 10, there's another children's Grab and Go activity available at Miller library for grades K through 6. This one is called Build an Igloo. Bags of supplies to complete this activity will be available on a first come first served basis while supplies last.
On January 11, the Hamden Library hosts Beyond Resolutions: Setting Goals via Zoom, presented by business psychologist, human resource professional, and family business advisor, Dr. Matthew Kerzner. The program will explain how to build attainable goals and hold yourself accountable to those goals by turning them into action plans with clear purpose and results. Please register for this program on our website.
Then on Tuesday, January 18, while supplies last, Miller Library will have another Grab and Go activity, penguin craft. This one is geared toward preschoolers ages three to five, and like always will be first come first serve.
Finally on Tuesday, January 25, licensed naturopathic doctor Lindsay Maher, will present Simple Measures to Support Your Immune System via Zoom. You can register for this program on our website, and that's what's going on at the library.
Now let's get into our recommendations.
Alyssa Bussard 3:16
I feel like I know that you know what I'm going to recommend.
Michael Pierry 3:21
Is it Krampus?
Alyssa Bussard 3:22
It's Krampus! "Krampus, the Yule Lord" by author and artist Brom. Brom is one of my favorite authors. He actually wrote a retelling of "Peter Pan" that was so dark and twisted, but that recommendation is not for today. So, "Krampus the Yule Lord" is very unique because it's a story of a war between Saint Nick and Krampus, who is portrayed here as a trickster demon, kind of like Loki. Obviously, you know that Krampus is always portrayed as the evil one, the one who steals bad children and so on. Well, this novel kind of blurs the lines between good and evil because we learn more and more about the not-so-saintly Saint Nick. I feel like it's pretty obvious already that this book is right up my alley, but I loved it because it pushes against certain beliefs about Christmas, the religion, the joy and the jolly Santa. It makes you see that there are many traditions and viewpoints to any given topic and makes you look past the stereotypes or appearances.
Michael Pierry 4:19
You know, it's funny that we just watched "The Santa Clause" last night, and talk about Santa being a jerk.
Alyssa Bussard 4:28
Yeah. [Alyssa laughs]
Michael Pierry 4:28
Could be Tim Allen. Actually, the "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" Santa is kind of a jerk like, you know, in retrospect.
Alyssa Bussard 4:38
Well, that's kind of, I feel kind of like... it's always this portrayal between good and evil, but Santa is not always very nice either. I don't know. [Alyssa laughs]
Michael Pierry 4:47
Yeah, Santa's a little problematic sometimes.
Alyssa Bussard 4:49
Yeah. So what about you? What are you reading this month?
Michael Pierry 4:52
Well, my pick for this month is, of course, "The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics" by Tim Harford. Harford is an English economist, broadcaster and journalist. In addition to writing books on economics, he has a long running column in The Financial Times and is the host of "More or Less", a BBC Four radio program about accuracy of numbers and statistics in the public domain. He also hosts the podcast "Cautionary Tales: True Stories of Awful Human Error, Tragic Catastrophes, Daring Heists and Hilarious Fiascos".
Okay, so let me get this out of the way first. Yes, this is a book about statistics, and no, it isn't dry and boring. It's really a kind of self help guide, and if you take the author's lessons to heart, you will find yourself being less reactive and more thoughtful about news and information. It's not a tome, by any means. It's a relatively short read that's packed solid with great advice on how to approach statistics, as used in news, politics and other areas of life. And Harford is that magic kind of nonfiction author who has the ability to make the reader feel smart, rather than impressing them with his own intellect, which is always kind of key for me. Making any kind of subject more approachable that way.
The 10 rules of the book's title each get their own chapter, and while they're solid essays on their own, they definitely build on one another. Harford sums up the common thread of these rules in the book's conclusion with what he calls the golden rule: "be curious". The idea is that you should approach a news article or a report neither with absolute credulity, nor with cynical dismissiveness, but rather with an open mind and a scientifically curious attitude.
There are many examples of statistics being misleading, and it can drive one towards the conclusion that they are only used as an elaborate method of deception, but Tim Harford cautions against this. He contrasts Darrell Huff's best selling book from the 1950s, "How to Lie with Statistics", with the work of Austin Bradford Hill and Richard Dahl, who compiled the data proving conclusively that cigarettes cause lung cancer during that same time period. Huff's book is a fun read, but Hill and Dahl's study actually saved lives.
Actually he points out, in the same part of the book, that Huff's book was not only a bestseller, but he was then co-opted and paid by the tobacco industry to lie for them. There's plenty of bias, usually unconscious that creeps into scientific studies. This is because studies are done by humans and humans are biased. But this does not mean such studies are worthless, nor that the endeavor to understand the world through gathering data is a fool's game. As Harford says in the book's introduction, "I worry about a world in which many people will believe anything, but I worry far more about one in which people believe nothing beyond their own preconceptions". This book aims to remedy the latter, and I heartily recommend it.
Alyssa Bussard 7:54
Wow, that's a lot.
Michael Pierry 7:57
Alyssa Bussard 7:57
But also pretty interesting. I am always grateful that you read nonfiction because then you can tell me awesome parts about nonfiction that I know would probably be over my head if I would try to read it myself.
Michael Pierry 8:10
Well, this was, this isn't really over your head, I don't think. It's really written in a very accessible style and I think it's good for anyone to sort of keep an open mind and not get swept away by the emotions in, um, when reading news and things like that.
Alyssa Bussard 8:31
Well, yeah, the fact that you said being "less reactive and more thoughtful about news and information" is probably important for all of us right now.
Michael Pierry 8:39
Yeah, he mentions for news junkies, his recommendation is to go slow and don't read so much, basically. Don't read the quick headlines, read more in depth things. So I think that's good advice.
Alyssa Bussard 8:54
That is good advice.
Michael Pierry 8:56
And now let's hear from Mike Wheatley.
Mike Wheatley 8:59
Ah, the holiday movie season. A friend of mine is looking for a movie, which is not an unusual situation for me. "Christmas In A Royal Fashion" is its name. It's not on disc... not legally, that is. It is one of 1000 Hallmark engineered products that are churned out each year. I haven't seen it, but it sounds like a cross between "The Devil Wears Prada" and Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". The problem is that my friend won't watch it streaming on a small screen. There are illegal copies for sale somewhere on the web, but since they are being sold by someone breaking the law, I would not recommend giving them your personal information.
All this reminds me of a problem that Dickens had with the original "Carol". The week after it was published, someone turned it into a play and numerous knock offs were published without his permission or financial gain. Copyright issues would be a problem that pursued him all his life. By some estimates, there have been more than 272 screened adaptations of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", silent films to a dark 2019 FX network two episode version, starring Guy Pearce as a brooding conflicted Ebenezer. It's unfortunately only available for streaming. Have you read the original? It's a short, quick read. To quote Film Inquiry.com: Dickens' rather innocuous in 1843, anti capitalist Christian novella wound up being so good as to revive an entire holiday. The Victorian Yuletide was wanting for some festive cheer, since the overworked middle class and displaced poor could not afford to and frankly didn't care about recognizing the holiday. Virtually nobody celebrated Christmas. With "A Christmas Carol" Dickens emphasized feasting, snowfall, and charity, and he even coined the term "merry Christmas". The book proved to be such a smash hit that nearly overnight London had embraced the holiday.
What's your favorite "Carol"? The Alastair Sim's 1951 version ranks high on my list, and my brother's is between Patrick Stewart's "Scrooge" from 1999 and George C. Scott's in 1984, but my favorite is a short 28 minute animated Oscar winning version by Richard Williams, the animation director for the brilliant "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". One particularly memorable moment is, and again, to quote Film Inquiry:
The splendor of the film's Christmas present montage when Scrooge and the spirit soar over ashen clouds to a solitary lighthouse, where drunk keepers laugh and sing carols. Then they're off to the high seas, where a captain sings that same carol over the chorus of the roiling sea. And finally, we're back at nephew Fred's abode, where his and his company's mirth and merriment is put into context, where the candle-lit corners of his living room look warmly welcoming after our brief flight over the sea.
From Mr. Magoo to the Muppets, Bill Murray to Henry Winkler, from musical spectacular, such as Albert Finney's Scrooge to Flintstones animated "A Christmas Carol". So many have interpreted Dickens' little book, it would come as no surprise that there might be another 200-plus adaptations in the next hundred years.
Michael Pierry 13:07
So didn't you grow up being told stories about Krampus or something like that?
Alyssa Bussard 13:12
Sort of. I'm just gonna quickly share some traditions from my childhood. So my grandma used to tell me about Belsnickel, who's kind of like this mean guy. He wore rags and he walked around carrying a sack and a switch. And some stories say that he wore a mask covered in fur and had a very long tongue. You can see the correlation here.
Michael Pierry 13:34
Yeah, sounds like Krampus.
Alyssa Bussard 13:35
Exactly. I just found it pretty neat how things pass down like that. For example, I mentioned above how in "Krampus, the Yule Lord", Krampus is portrayed as a Loki-type character. That's interesting because Yule's connected to the Wild Hunt and Odin, who is also Norse. This just reminds me that the different beliefs obviously borrow from one another, and I think it's really beautiful how traditions and these influential characters represent the same things at their core. The Christmas tree, for example. It started because people believe something that stayed green or lived through the dead of winter could help keep away evil spirits. It's sort of a reminder that things will live again. I know most of us don't think that deeply, but sitting in front of the tree that's all lit up gives me a certain kind of calm.
Michael Pierry 14:17
Yeah, me too. Even though it's a chaotic month.
Alyssa Bussard 14:20
Yeah, true. We actually had some of our staff share some things about this time of year.
Michael Pierry 14:24
We did. First we have one of our reference librarians on to chat with me about some traditions from her childhood in Germany, and one of her favorite stories.
Alyssa Bussard 14:34
Oh, yeah. I love this part.
Michael Pierry 14:36
Hello, Elizabeth. How are you?
Elisabeth Angele 14:38
I'm doing well. Michael.
Michael Pierry 14:40
Good. You have a favorite story you wanted to share with us? Is that right?
Elisabeth Angele 14:44
Yes. As you know, I grew up in Germany, and so this story reminds me of my childhood, and it takes place during the season of winter and Christmas, and I must have first read this story, I think in an anthology and I just loved it so much.
So the story was written by the Austrian writer Peter Rosegger, who lived from 1843 to 1918. The story is titled, "Als ich Christagsfreude holen ging" and the English translation would be "When I Went to Fetch Christmas Day Joy", and I believe it was written at the end of the 19th century in 1897. The story is based on his childhood experience.
Peter Rosegger grew up in Krieglach in Styria, which is the second largest state in Austria. It is a very mountainous state, and the village, Krieglach, has the elevation of about 2008 feet. So Hamden's elevation is 184 feet.
He [Peter Rosegger] grew up on a farm in the woodlands and mountains of Alpo, which is a small village near Krieglach. He was born the oldest of seven children and he spent the first 17 years of his life on this farm. The main farm house was built in the 18th century and there is a beam inscribed with the year 1744. It was a very simply built farmhouse with one central room where the family slept and ate and worked. Living conditions were very modest. They had a very small "smoke kitchen", they called it.
So the story goes that in the early morning hours of December 24, 1855, when he was 12 years old, he is awoken by his father, and his father tells him that he has to get up and walk down to Langenwang a village located in the valley below the farm. This hike will take him three hours. So the father gives him a lantern because it is still dark outside, and he tells him what he needs to do once he arrives in the village of Langenwang.
He first is supposed to go to church at 8am, and then he is asked to go see the local wood dealer and ask him for money, which this wood dealer still owes the father for a tree he [Peter's father] delivered to him [the wood dealer]. Then once he [Peter] obtains that money, he's supposed to go to the local grocer and buy food for the family's Christmas Day meal, like flour, and sugar, and butter. Then the mother is now awake too and she tells the father "No, no, that's not enough. We also need other ingredients", like certain spices and dried raisins, and so on.
So he listens to the things he has to buy and then goes on on his way, and he arrives at the village. He goes to the church, and then he goes to the wood dealer's house, and the wood dealer sees him coming and tries to escape through the back door.
Peter was told by his father to be very polite. So Peter thinks, "oh my goodness, I shouldn't go to the front door, I should go to the back door because I'm from a poor family and this would be the polite thing to do", and because of that he is able to catch up with the person who wants to escape and not give him the money. Then he [the wood dealer] tries to avoid paying any money but Peter insists that he needs to buy some food for the family and so the wood dealer then reluctantly gives him half the amount he owes.
Then with that money Peter goes to the grocer and he asked for all the things his mother asked him to get, and then when it comes to pay, he only can give him the money he just received. He doesn't have any more money, and he [Peter] tells him, "my father will pay you back at Easter", and then the grocer asked "Easter? Easter in what year?", and then his wife says, "Just give him, give him the food. Give him the ingredients. His father is very reliable, and he will give us back the money", and so he gets the food. Then he also needs to buy some rolls, but the rolls he needs to get from the baker, and of course he doesn't have any money left. So the wife of the grocer gives him the money so he can buy the rolls, and then he goes, gets the rolls. She also gave him some dried plums to eat as a dessert.
Then he starts walking back home, and it will take him several hours to go back home. While he walks along, another hiker approaches him and asked him, "What do you have in your backpack?". He tells the person what he got for his family for the Christmas Day meal, and then the hiker says to him, "Oh, I see you're very tired, don't you want to put your backpack in the back of my basket I'm carrying? So to make it a little easier for you to walk and you don't have to carry so much", and he [Peter] agrees to that. Then that hiker walks very quickly, and tries to sort of walk away with the food he [Peter] just obtained for his family. And he [Peter] tries to catch up with him [the hiker] and he cannot, and then in the distance, he [Peter] sees somebody he knows. It's a person who delivers coal and he has a sleigh, which is pulled by bulls, and he [Peter] calls out to him in the distance and tells him [the sleigh driver], "Please, please make sure this person puts my backpack on your sleigh". The hiker then sees that he will be overpowered because there's now another adult, and he then reluctantly throws his [Peter's] backpack on the sleigh and takes off. The boy is able to catch up to his friend and neighbor and is so happy that he can drive home with him and that they have the food secured for their festive Christmas Day meal, which is very, very special because they are very poor and they're looking forward to a very good meal. And that's the end of the story.
Michael Pierry 23:10
Wow, thank you. That's quite a story.
Elisabeth Angele 23:13
Yes, it just reminds me also a little bit of my childhood growing up because on when we celebrate Christmas, we always had like special food and food we would not have during the year. Like we had soda, for example, which we never had all year long and we only were allowed to have it for Christmas. So it reminds me of my childhood. And it has such a good ending too.
Michael Pierry 23:45
It does. Thank you so much.
Elisabeth Angele 23:47
You're welcome, Michael.
Alyssa Bussard 23:50
Oh, that's awesome. I love that story. She's actually shared that with me before. I'm so glad that she joined us.
Michael Pierry 23:55
Yeah, it was really fun.
Alyssa Bussard 23:56
I actually asked our colleagues to share how they feel about December and some of them decided to talk about snow. So here goes. "Snowfall makes me feel like magic exists in the world. Somehow everything gets quiet and still and beautiful. It feels like a deep breath to me". And then a vastly different answer. "Snow is only okay when your puppy first romps in it. Otherwise it is terrible and should be banned."
Michael Pierry 24:22
That was me. I'm not a fan of snow unless it involves my puppy,
Alyssa Bussard 24:26
Calling yourself out. Nice.
Michael Pierry 24:27
Alyssa Bussard 24:29
What about traditions? Do you have any for December?
Michael Pierry 24:33
I always change my profile picture on Facebook to a picture of Krampus.
Alyssa Bussard 24:37
Which is why we are friends.
Michael Pierry 24:38
One of the many reasons.
Alyssa Bussard 24:40
What else do we have? Oh, here, this one's nice:
In our house, we use the same platter for all special meals. We roll the cold cuts the same way as my father in law did 50 years ago for an antipasto or lay out the cookies and the other desserts the same way on certain platters. This is our way of honoring the relatives that have passed away and keeping them close during the holiday season. Something as silly as peas with small onions being served is another tradition to keep the memory alive.
Michael Pierry 25:13
I like that. That's a nice way to honor someone's memory.
Alyssa Bussard 25:16
Yeah. And speaking of memories, here is a sweet memory from one of our staff.
I had the Norman Rockwell, Perry Como and Bing, and Johnny Mathis Christmas albums on the Hi-Fi. The trips to the city with aunts to see the department store windows and skate at Rockefeller Center, and ride in horse drawn carriages through the park, and dragging trees home on a sled from the farm in our snow suits. So many cousins we had to sit on the staircase because the house was full, and a fancy new dress for each of us, and marching to my grandmother's seven houses down for Christmas dinner, carrying my own stick of Land O' Lakes because she had the nerve to only have margarine one year, and I never forgot. If I had to choose a word it would be nostalgia.
Michael Pierry 26:01
Nostalgia is a nice feeling. I know we asked some people how this time of year makes them feel, and I think in a word it makes me feel loved.
Alyssa Bussard 26:10
Somehow warm even when it's cold outside.
Michael Pierry 26:13
Alyssa Bussard 26:14
Let's see. In describing this time of year in a word, we had an array: nostalgic, warm, chilly, bright, dark, sad, busy, cheerful, exhausting, fun, reflective, melancholy, hopeful. And as you said, loved.
Michael Pierry 26:33
That really is a lot of differing moods.
Alyssa Bussard 26:36
I know. I think it's easy for people to assume that this time of year is a joyous occasion for everyone. But in truth, it can be really, really hard for some people.
Michael Pierry 26:44
Yeah, I have something to read from one of our staff here that reminded me that you never know what someone's going through.
Alyssa Bussard 26:50
Okay, let's hear it.
Michael Pierry 26:51
This winter holiday season, I'd like to give a shout out to first responders, medical workers and hospital support staff. This isn't even a pandemic thing. I mean, yes, we're still in a pandemic, and yes, they deserve all the shout outs and praise and support because of everything they do to care for patients, and we're in this pandemic for the third winter in a row. Health care workers are facing unprecedented levels of burnout, and I do want to acknowledge that, but I thought about thanking them in our first December episode because of something that happened 20 years ago.
In 2001, Connecticut health care workers gave me the best Christmas present ever: almost 15 years with my grandfather that I wouldn't have had without their help. I wish I had a heartwarming tradition or a funny memory to share instead, but when I tried to remember childhood Christmases and think of something to share, I keep recalling the memory of the Christmas morning call that grandpa was in the hospital instead. I think it's the fear. I feel like I spent all of that Christmas in hospital, back when it was safer to be a guest in hospitals. I must have spent most of that time in waiting rooms and some of that time eating, probably in the hospital cafeteria. But all I remember was getting a turn to sit with Grandpa in the emergency room and see he was stable and hold his hand.
It's not like he went home the next day either. Grandpa was in the hospital for months. And in the last almost 15 years of his life, he was different. Not just "getting older" different. The effects of the illness that sent him to the hospital made him different. But he was still my grandpa, and we celebrated my graduating from high school and college, and he saw me start working here in Hamden. I don't know how to end this. Like I wrote this out, and I still don't know how to end it. It's been 20 years and even though the strongest memory of Christmas 2001 is the fear, the second strongest memory is that hospital staff were doing everything they could to give us the outcome my family and I were lucky enough to get: more time with a loved one we would have lost without their help.
Alyssa Bussard 28:54
Wow, I'm not sure how to react to that. It was so sad but beautiful, and you can probably assume I made you read it because I probably would have cried.
Michael Pierry 29:03
Alyssa Bussard 29:05
It really does bring things into perspective, though. There's a lot to be said about people who do not have fond memories of this time of year or family to see or they have family who do not accept them for who they are. I just want to say that if you're listening and you do feel lost and sad, you're not alone. That doesn't negate the pain or trauma, but you can move forward. Do something kind for yourself because you deserve it.
Michael Pierry 29:29
Yes. I have one last statement that I think we can end on.
Alyssa Bussard 29:33
Michael Pierry 29:34
December is a very sad month. Culturally, there's a great emphasis on families and memories. This is very hurtful for those whose past and present do not meet the Norman Rockwell image. This holiday season will be even more depressing for those who lost family and friends in the pandemic. It is difficult to fully appreciate the ripples of pain this year's holidays will hold for many we meet. Bearing this in mind we gentle to all, and to all a good night.
Alyssa Bussard 30:04
That's beautiful and true. You know, when we first talked about our December episode, we talked about how it should be light and fun, and as I was writing it, I struggled with that. Then I realized it isn't realistic to focus on one aspect of the season, just as it isn't right to focus on one holiday. So whoever you are, however you feel and whatever you choose to celebrate this season, we see you and we appreciate you.