Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Merry or Happy? Potato - Pototo

Did you ever wonder why Americans say "Merry Christmas" and the British say "Happy Christmas"? 

One theory goes back to King George V, who used “Happy Christmas”  in his annual Christmas broadcasts. His first instance of using this came in 1932, when King George read his Christmas message, part of which was written by Rudyard Kipling:

“I speak now from my home and from my heart to you all. To men and women so cut off by the snows, the desert or the sea, that only voices out of the air can reach them; to those cut off from fuller life by blindness, sickness, or infirmity; and to those who are celebrating this day with their children and grand-children. To all—to each—I wish a happy Christmas. God Bless You!”

Even today, Queen Elizabeth II in her annual Christmas TV broadcast has continued the usage with “I wish you a peaceful and very happy Christmas.”

Looking at the words, 'happy' came from the word 'hap', meaning luck or chance and implies good-fortune. However, 'merry' goes back to 'the more the merrier' or 'merry making'. Naturally the Anglican Church in the 1800's thought of 'merry' as loud, raucous, perhaps drunken behavior. Then 'happy' was more sensible, loving, even dear.

'Merry Christmas' can be traced back a letter from Bishop John Fisher to a chief minister in Henry VIII's court, in which he said

And thus our Lord send yow a mery Christenmas, and a comfortable, to yowr heart desyer.” Unfortunately the Bishop came to an unfortunate end when he was executed on June 22, 1535 for refusing to accept Henry VIII as head of the Church of England.

An interesting take on the whole Merry vs Happy question came from the linguist Arika Okrent who pointed out that 'happy' is used a lot - “happy birthday,” “happy New Year’s Day,” “happy Thanksgiving,” “happy Easter,” and “happy St. Patrick’s Day”.  Apparently she shared the attitude of the 19th century Anglican clerics in that she suggested that 'happy' may be a better choice than 'merry' which she thought of as rowdy, raucous, and unruly. 

Then Dickens in his classic 1843 'A Christmas Carol' weighed in with these lines:

“A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another I, Bob Cratchit!”

So either way, 'Merry Christmas' and 'Happy Christmas' convey the same glad tidings. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Story of Rudolph 1939

Gene Autry's beloved song  asked ,“. . . but do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?” (Written in 1949 by Johnny Marks)

Generations of children have grown up watching the classic 1964 stop motion movie Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. The story is narrated by Burle Ive as the voice of Sam the Snow Man. As with many holiday traditions, Rudolph was created as part of a marketing campaign.

The eight “tiny” reindeer were introduced in Clement Clarke Moore‘s famous poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. So when did Rudolph come on the scene? The answer is in 1939, as part of a Montgomery Ward Department Store advertising campaign. 

That year Robert L. May, a copywriter for Montgomery Ward, created the character and wrote the story about the reindeer born in Santa’s barn, with the bright red proboscis that actually glowed. As the song goes, ‘They [the other reindeer] wouldn’t let poor Rudolph play in any reindeer games’. But that foggy eve came along and the rest is history. Everyone likes an underdog who saves the day.
Fun fact - Rudolph was born over a hundred years after his eight flying counterparts. For Montgomery Ward’s purpose, the publication of the story was to bring traffic to the store. And it did. The first year it sold a whopping 2.5 million copies, followed by over 3 million when it was reissued 7 years later.
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The 1964 movie was based on May’s story but added a few more characters, Hermey the Elf - who wanted to be a dentist,  Yukon Cornelius, and the Spotted Elephant, to name a few. There was a great soundtrack for the movie including Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, We are Santa’s Elves, There’s Always Tomorrow, The Most Wonderful Day of the Year, We’re a Couple of Misfits, Jingle, Jingle, Jingle, and Silver and Gold. 
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There are several fun facts about the movie. The title song is second only to Big Crosby’s White Christmas in Christmas song sales. Gene Autry wasn’t impressed with the song and originally put it on the “B” side of another record he was recording at the time. After it became such a hit, it was responsible for the success of his Easter song, “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.” Also, the stopmation production of the movie was made in Japan.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A December to Remember

Ever wondered about the red bows in the annual "December to Remember" Lexus campaign. (If you awoke to find a brand spanking new Lexus in your snowy driveway with a red bow atop - move along.  You are not the audience here!)

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The campaign dates back to 1998. The bows are made for Lexus by the King Size Bow Company and run about $49.99 each. The company says that they sold about 5,000 bows their first year. That number has ballooned to 25,000 a year now. 

But sometimes the tail wags the dog. Often folks will wait until the holidays to by a loved one a car. More bang for buck. After all the reaction to a "Gee Honey, which color do you want?" is not quite as effective as all the neighbors knowing you got a Lexus for Christmas - many before you did. Nothing quite says I love you like a giant red ribbon atop a brand new luxury automobile. Talk about conspicuous consumption. The envy of the neighborhood brings an incalculable value. (In the immortal words of Dana Carvey's Church Lady - "Well, isn't that special".)

The campaign has become so successful that dealerships find themselves delivering cars with bows atop to driveways across the country on Christmas Eve. Most dealerships are good sports, after all a sale is a sale. They are willing to go the extra mile (no pun intended) to make a customer's December one to Remember. 

Dealerships have stories of loyal employees who pride themselves on meeting a customer's wishes. Precise instructions are followed as to when should it delivered and exactly where should it be parked for maximum effect.

This year the campaign has focused on the excitement of the giver as well as the receiver. Face it, this is a pretty serious gift and the presentation only makes it better. After all, a shiny new Lexus in one's yard could be that of one's in-laws visiting for the holidays. But a shiny new Lexus with a giant bow on top seals the deal, 'No, that doesn't belong to Bob's parents. He must have gotten Mildred that LS 600h L she has been asking for.' Given that cost Bob the north side of $200,000 (for that particular model), personally, if I were Bob, I would want more than a big red bow. For that money, Santa should include an elf. 

The idea is that the bow is returned after the holidays. That doesn't always happen. The dealers usually point out at the time of the sale, 'Don't worry, you bring the bow back after the holidays.' Even if the bow never makes it back to the dealership, at $49.99, it is money well spent. No doubt that cost is built in the sticker price somewhere between the expense for the clear coating and the 'State Side Import Tax', which by the way, no one could ever find reference to on a Google search.

Naturally, Lexus has not cornered the market on the Big Red Bow topped vehicle. But face it, they have made it a staple of their annual year end sales drive. Anyone can purchase a bow and put it on a car. Hell, one can go to carbowstore.org and get the entire car gift wrapped. A bit much in my book.

Personally, I cannot think of any other automobile ad campaign that has become one of the first signs of the holiday season. That along with Christmas Music on the radio and Christmas movies on TV, officially brings in the Holiday Season.

And Santa, just for the record, an UX 250h in Nebula Grey Pearl would do nicely, if you were wondering.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

A Tree for Everyone, It's Not Just Green Anymore

Any one who knows me, knows I love a fresh Christmas tree. Don't get me wrong, there are situations when an artificial tree is appropriate. I specifically have problems with the house wife, who when it is time to trim the tree, goes into the attic and pulls down a full size tree from the last Christmas wrapped in plastic. But the tree is not "trimmed", rather it is "unwrapped" when it reveals all the lights, ornaments, and tinsel still in place. I don't judge. . . much. But, I digress.

Watching the news last night, a commercial caught my attention. It was as if Ronco decided to reincarnate the iconic silver tinsel tree from the 60's and put it on steroids. If this was your idea, sorry, someone beat you to it - Treetopia. If only there was an infomercial.

Of course there is the white one:

And the pink and blue ones: 

And, then there is the All American (or French) tree as well as a Rainbow tree

Among the silver, gold, black, red, and green (imagine that!) I was surprised not to find a camouflage tree. There has to be a market for one of those. 

There are different shapes: the standard, the slim, and the pencil.

There is the "Timeless Tinsel Tree"
And times have changed. No longer is there a rotating color wheel throwing different colors on the tree. These days there is a hand held remote that allows you to dial up the color for the tree.

Fear not, after some more research thanks to the Google Machine I did locate a camouflage Christmas tree. And, to go with it - a NASCAR tree.

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The tree at Hogwarts:

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And one for the truly fashionable.

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And the whimsical 

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After reading up on the Christmas tree, I am bit flumoxed. This attraction, the traditional center of the family holliday celebration, was once a veritable toxic waste site.

Remember "Angel Hair" - that lovely airy 'stuff' mothers used to add a bit of elegance to the family tree or as a base for the manger scene on the coffee table. Come to find out it is spun glass that will not only cut your fingers, but your insides should you confuse it with candy.

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Then there was the magic 'snow' one could throw on the tree to give it that flocked look. Fear not, those bulbs that often over heated would not ignite this 'snow' since it was Fire Proof Asbestos.

And those icicles that added reflection to the tree started as silvered paper. When silver became too expensive they made them from lead. (Think how many you handled over the years trimming the tree.) That was until the 1970's when FDA stepped in and stopped that practice. 

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Don't forget the special Bubble Lights on the trees. That magic liquid that has a low enough boiling point to bubble with just the heat from the tree lightsmethylene chloride - a highly toxic fluid.

And don't even start thinking about the electrical cords overly extended with lines and lines of lights plugged into together. Not to mention that the heat generated by the bulbs themselves would comfortably warm a nice size den. 

But we (most of us) survived.

However, the best tree for me is the one I would wake up to on those magical Christmas mornings in the 1960's. Such as this:
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Sears Wishbook 1930's

The first Sears Christmas Wishbook (Officially called the "Sears Christmas Book") came out in 1933. It was a whopping 84 pages. The catalog offered everything from Lionel Train Sets to Singing (live) Canaries. 

1937 Catalog contained 104 pages. Included were Mince Meat Pies that could be ordered in time for the holidays.

Pages from 1937 - Trains


1937 - Personally, I love the free "Auto Goggles and Helmet" that came with the 1937 Streamliner.

All Types of Candy in 1937

Bicycle from the 1938 Catalog

The rest is history as they say. Now children of all ages could see what Santa could possibly bring. The artwork of the items on the pages alone fascinated me.  Remember this catalog came out in the midst of the Great Depression, so it truly was a “Wishbook” for most Americans.

Sears offered insurance through their insurance line, Allstate, starting in the catalogs of the 1930s.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Neiman Marcus Christmas Book 1920.

In 1907, Herbert Marcus, Carrie Marcus Neiman, and A.L. Neiman opened the first Neiman Marcus store in 1907. The 3 invested their money in the retail store rather than invest the money into an unknown "sugary soda pop business" in Atlanta. So they passed on the fledgling Coca-Cola Company. 

Neiman Marcus' first holiday mailing was in 1915 when they sent out a post card, inviting customers to the store for their holiday shopping. 

The "Neiman Marcus Christmas Book" first came out in 1926, 7 years before Sears' "Christmas Catalog Book" was released in 1933. Over the years, the "Neiman Marcus Christmas Book" has become famous for their annual 'Fantasy' gift. 

The business prospered in Dallas, thanks to their patrons with lots of the oil and cotton money. Their offerings were very upscale and fashionable.

One of the many promotions, that are now seen as iconic, was the weekley fashion show held in the Dallas Store. Through the years the best known designers from around the world would paticipate in these shows. Coco Channell, Dior, and others. 

That intial 16 page 1926 catalog would be the beginnings of something great.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

American Christmas in the 1930's

Unlike the festive 1920's, the 1930's were known as the Great Depression. Gifts and decorations were simpler and often homemade. However, there were several Holiday milestones that first appeared in this decade.

For the first time, cookies and milk were left for Santa Claus. Whereas prior to this decade, only the more affluent homes had electric lights on their trees, in the 30's almost everyone had them. Radio City Music's first Christmas Spectacular debuted in 1933 with the Rockettes. And in 1939, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer made his first appearance.

As for toys, Parker Brother's Monopoly game was introduced in 1935. The game was designed to allow everyone the chance to be a millionaire during the hard times of the depression.

New song was 'Winter Wonderland' written by Felix Bernard in 1934.

Popular toys of the 30's included the View-Master, that was introduced at the World's Fair in 1939. 

The Buck Rogers Ray Gun (1934). Every little girl wanted a Shirley Temple doll. There was the Bottletot doll (1937) that drank and wet her diaper. Train sets, Teddy Bears, and the Texas Ranger Cowboy suit (complete with headband, shirt, bandana, lasso, leather belt, holster, pistol, and real suede chaps) were popular with the boys.

Common Christmas decorations in the 1930s were bells, balls, tinsel and golden haired angels as toppers on the tree. Honeycomb paper angels and glow in the dark icicles became all the rage, just like wire-wrapped ornaments.
Fake snow (aka artificial flocking) was very popular during this time. Families flocked their Christmas trees and windows with Lux Soap Flakes to achieve the winter wonderland effect.

Chalkware decorations made of moulded plaster decorated with water-based paint and then glossily varnished, were the must-have Christmas decoration.  

Also fold-out paper decorations were also popular.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Way too Early!!

I fear I have become a curmudgeon about Christmas. Well, not so much Christmas, but celebrating early - all the Christmas tree paraphernalia, giant blow-ups of elves, sleighs, and Santa, and wrapping paper are over whelming me when I walk into a Lowes before Thanksgiving. Hell, before Halloween it is frightening (no pun intended).

Don't get me wrong, my little heart goes pitter-patter when I see that first decorated (albeit not-real) Christmas tree. Nothing fills my mood with glee as boxes and shelves of elegant tree ornaments. Or the wonderful smell of scented pine cones. However, these experiences are not just the same when I am on the hunt for an Autumn wreath for my front door. 

'Patience young Grasshopper.'

Down South we aren't blessed with snow. I've never seen a white Christmas. Unfortunately, we also have this wonderful warm climate. Well, it's nice until you get to Christmas. If I wanted a warm Christmas, I'd move to Miami. Given all this, our falls can be warm, sometimes downright hot. The Christmas spirit does envelop my heart when I am shopping in short pants and a sleeveless shirt. However, this October I was in a store, dressed for the weather in a sun dress, when I found myself bombarded by twinkling lights, animated reindeer, and a blow up of Santa and his sleigh that was larger than life.

Searching my Psyche, I feel that as I age, time moves more quickly, and it seems to do so at a rapid pace. Personally, I am having enough time dealing with my mortality. As I try to live in the moment, I just want to enjoy life day-to-day. However, my little mind is overwhelmed by the confusion of the fall holidays with Christmas. Can we just go back to one holiday at the time?

Now, I will be the first to admit that the Friday after Thanksgiving is not "Black Friday" for me. The idea of fighting the crowds in the malls or the hoards blocking the aisles in Walmart make me breakout with hives. For me, that Friday is the kick-off of My Official Christmas Season - the day we get our Christmas tree. Say no more.

Personally, Thanksgiving is the beginning of the Holiday season. Not to disparage Thanksgiving - it is truly my favorite holiday of the year. But, I enjoy taking it in time, day to day, in the correct chronological order. Drugs and therapy have allowed me to deal with the mental overload of a premature Christmas. As I make my way through the displays of Christmas trees in late September, wade through the cards and wrapping paper looking for a roll of birthday paper among the rows of red, white, green, holly and  Santa rolls, or endure stacks of boxes of tree ornaments, I just quietly repeat my soul saving mantra - "It's OK, I can deal with this", "It' OK", "It's OK."

Eventually, I get to my car, take that deep breath, and reassure my self that I have not in fact skipped most of October and the first weeks of November. I still have those days to enjoy. As the car starts the sound of "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" comes over my XM radio. My soul is lifted. 

OK, OK, even I can have a guilty pleasure. My justification: it is only in my car, it is not hurting anyone. After years of professional help, I can admit to myself, that even I look forward to that joyous season. Now I just need to overcome my addiction to holiday movies that start airing on October 25.

Yes, I am in denial. However, it is not below me to fuss over the early displays and aisles of Christmas in October. That is just wrong - in so many ways. So, I am cranky. I'll continue to  fuss about the premature commercialization of Christmas. On my calender the 25th is circled in red - that is the 25th of October (when the first Holiday XM channels go on air). OK, sue me, get over it.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

How St Nicholas became Santa Claus

But, not so fast. The evolution of today's Santa Claus has been a long and circuitous route.

The oldest stories come from the Tudor era and St. Nicholas. We know how that developed. However, over the many centuries, there have been several iterations St. Nicholas in different countries.

Martin Luther in the 1500's wanted to steer the children away from St. Nicholas. (Saints were not popular during this time, Luther thought praying to any saint was blasphemy.) So Swiss, Austrian, and German children were told that Kris Kringle was the one who brought gifts to them on Christmas Eve. This name was derived from German 'Kristkind' which means 'Christ Child'. 'Kris Kringle' is quoted in history as most recent as the 1830's.

There is also the history that in Germany St. Nicholas was accompanied by devil-like 'Krampusse,' who carried a switch to mildly scare the children. But it was St. Nicholas who handed out small gifts to the children.
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Russia has a unique tradition of an elderly woman named Babouschka. The story goes that she gave the wise men the wrong directions to Bethlehem to keep them from finding Jesus. When guilt over took her, she could not find the men to steer them correctly. Even today,  on the evening of January 5, she is credited with leaving gifts at their bedside, hoping one is Baby Jesus who will forgive her.
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In Scandinavia, Jultomten, riding in a sleigh pulled by goats, delivered gifts to children.

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In France, Pere Noel left treats in the children's shoes. 

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Italy's tradition may be the most unique. Toys are left in the stockings of the children by a woman called La Befana, a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of the homes. 
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Then there was Sinter Klaas. 

When the Dutch settled New York, they brought with them their tradition of Sinter Klaas. In the colonies of the New World, the legends of the scary German gift givers endured. But not for the Dutch.  Their legendary "Sinter Klaas" eventually became "Santa Claus".
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Even the Salvation Army's 'Army' of Santas that traditionally man the red kettles at Christmas collecting money for the poor has deep roots in the history of Santa Claus. In the 1890's, needing to collect money to pay for the Christmas meals they wanted to provide the poor, the Army paid unemployed men to dress like Santa Claus in red suits and man their kettles on the corners of the streets in New York. So when you hear that familiar bell (which to me, is always one of the first signs of Christmas) remember that the Army was originally one of Santas.

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Eastern View

A bit of a change.

With North Carolina beng so close, I have spent a lot of time over the years visiting the mountians there. Whether viewed from the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, or Pisgah, they are always awe inspiring. 

On my many visits I have been able to capture some images of the mountains, but even with the magic of the lens, nothing quite matches seeing it in person.

My favorite spot is an overlook on the Parkway, just past the Pisgah Inn. I have sent many mornings, often in the bitter cold, at dawn watching the sun rise over the mountains. And, as often as I find myself there, the view is never the same. The following are some photos I took at the exact same location at (approximately) the same time each morning over a period of 8 or 9 years.

This particular overlook happens to give one a 180 degree eastern view of the mountains. There were mornings when the view was a veritable rainbow of colors.

Sometimes, it seemed the hills were swimming in the morning mist.

Then there were the lovely pink mornings.

And the blue mornings when it was if there were a dozen hues from navy to azure bathing the hills.

The misty mornings that showed the hills and valleys awash in layers of light.

Some mornings seemed almost heavenly.

Others were so cool, that the mist was heavy in the valleys.

And there were the mornings when it was as if the hills were wrapped in gossamer.

I have many more views, but I will bore you no longer. I will, however, say that the takeaway here, if there is one, is to never assume the view never changes.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The North Pole

Why the North Pole?

Well, first, the Arctic is one of the most distant and unknown places on Earth. It is a place where it snows year round. The first expeditions to the Arctic were in the mid 1800's. Stories of the remote place and the adventures of the explorers fascinated everyone.

Snow is associated with Christmas (thanks to Moore's poem and Hannlaun's illustration). So when Thomas Nast was creating the images of Santa Claus, what better place for him to live - in a remote place that captures everyones imagination and few have been there. No one really knew exactly what was at the North Pole since it was not visited until Robert Peary's 1909 expedition.

During the 1840's and 1850's there were several expeditions to the Arctic, which gained worldwide media attention.

The Arctic had become a famous and fabled location. A place where it snowed all year round and it was easy to imagine it as a respite for a creature that is always associated with the cold. Snow had become a universal symbol of Christmas cheer and to Nast and his followers it only made sense for Santa to live with Christmas cheer every day of the year.

Nast’s publications celebrated the idea that the North Pole was still an untouched story. It was just as much of a fantasy as Saint Nicholas himself since no one would claim to have conquered the journey to the Pole until 1909, when Robert Peary received the honor.

Since it was so unknown, who could argue about whether or not Santa, his reindeer, and his elves lived there?

The story of the elves goes back to Scandinavia. By the mid 1800's the elves were no longer referred to as "House Gnomes". Thanks to the illustrations of several artists of the time, they were referred to as "Christmas Elves". As time and the story developed the elves (known for their magic)  helped Santa build the toys he delivered to the children every year on Christmas Eve. They also assisted Santa maintain the "Naughty and Nice" list and, they specialized in reindeer care.
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If you are ever in doubt, just ask any 6 year old where Santa lives. Chances are very high that they will reply,"The North Pole, of course."

Friday, November 1, 2019

The First Images of Santa Claus

Moore's poem about the "jolly old elf" played a big part in the development of today's Santa Claus. Shortly after the poem was published, Thomas Nast a cartoonist drew, what would become, one of the first iterations that we recognize as Santa Claus. His drawings of Moore's Santa presented a jolly, fat, old man with a white beard, and rosy cheeks. And for the first time Santa was seen carrying a bag of toys on his back. 

The image was first published in Harpers Weekly on January 1, 1881.

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Nast is credited with adding the red coat, the white beard, the North Pole, Santa's workshop, the elves, and Mrs. Claus.
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There is a great book The Life and Adventure of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum (the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) that was published in 1902. In the book, Baum brought the elves and immortality into the legend of Santa. A stop motion film was made of the story in 1985.

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Through the years Santa has played a large part in America's psyche. And, he has not changed that much. 

For example the 1947 Academy Award Winning movie, Miracle on 34th Street, is the story about a department store Santa who says he is the real one.  
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Then there is the 2003 movie, Elf, played by Will Farrell in the title role, who leaves the North Pole to find his real father in New York City. 
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In 2004, The Polar Express movie was released, based on a book of the same name written by Chris Van Allsburg, about a young boy who catches a train to the North Pole.

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Did you miss Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny? ( I certainly did!)

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And, it all helps if we believe.