Story ideas for the holiday season

November 16, 1995

THE MYSTERY OF THE BETHLEHEM STAR PERSISTS. Written descriptions of the Star are vague. Not much is known about what it actually looked like, and the historical accounting of dates at that time is somewhat muddled. Still, celestial events of 7 B.C. involving Jupiter and Saturn produced a remarkable spectacle in late December, a spectacle predicted by astrologers. The Wise Men, accomplished astrologers with centuries of tradition behind them, probably knew about the prediction. Perhaps, says Richard Teske, professor emeritus of astronomy at U-M, their observation of the prediction’s fulfillment motivated them to search for a new king.

WHILE THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE IN THE MIDWEST was probably a fir tree introduced in Wooster, Ohio, in 1847, other evergreens, including pines, have been used as the center of holiday celebrations. Of the nearly 120 species scattered throughout the world, only three species of pine are native to Michigan. Paul Bairley, a board member for U-M’s Nichols Arboretum, discusses these native pines, their history, and how to use them in home plantings.

YOU CAN ENSURE A SAFE AND HAPPY holiday celebration by adhering to a few ” rule of thumb” safety practices during the holiday season, says Robert Patrick, associate director of U-M Department of Public Safety. Patrick offers tips for safe use of electrical equipment, traditional holiday greenery, and live and artificial trees.

A CENSUS, A CROWD, AND NO ROOM AT THE INN. We are told in varying styles and versions that Emperor Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that all people should be counted. The stipulation for the count was that each citizen of the Empire return to his ” hometown” and register there. For that reason the descendants of David returned to Bethlehem where King David had been born. Joseph was among those descendants. The account of his travels to reach that city and his travails once reaching there are told in the Gospels. But the actual logistics of such a counting are contained on papyrus leaves. Traianos Gagos, curator of U-M’s papyrus collection, a collection that includes census figures, explains the practice that took Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.

AND WE THOUGHT HE LIVED AT THE NORTH POLE. Not so, says author L. Frank Baum, who claims Santa resides most comfortably in Hohaho’s Laughing Valley. Baum, the creator of the Land of Oz, tells his version of this holiday folk elf in ” The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.” The 1902 edition of Baum’s book, a copy of which is in U-M’s Clements Library, answers the questions children of all ages have about the sprightly spirit’ origin and life-style” answered, of course, Baum style. (Black-and-white photo from the book available on request)

FROM WASSAIL TO THE TRADITIONAL HOLIDAY TURKEY, care has to be given to the handling, preparation, storage and serving of holiday fare. Nancy Wells of U-M’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety discusses the practices that can keep a holiday celebration from becoming a holiday disaster.

ABOUT THAT PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE” just how much would it stretch your credit card to send comparable gifts for the ” Twelve Days of Christmas” this season? A check of area suppliers indicates the cost might be well over $70,000. And then, what would you do with all those people and the livestock on your front lawn?

” ROSEBUD, ROSEBUD,” THE DYING MAN WHISPERED. The movie ” Citizen Kane” made the term Rosebud synonymous with a sled. However, we now know that sledding, even with that treasured ” Christmas” sled, can also wreak havoc on the hills and slopes turned into ” runs.” Anton Reznicek, curator of U-M’s Herbarium, discusses the damage to yards, and ultimately the environment, that can be caused by this most familiar of winter sports. Reznicek also gives tips on how to repair the damage.

Traianos Gagospapyrus collectionClements LibraryAnton Reznicek