The first recording of a family Christmas

The Wall family Christmas of 1904 has been preserved on the equivalent of an early dictaphone.  The link gives more details, including samplings.  (Be sure to play the one of the 7-year-old singing, with his big finale.)

Curators at the Museum of London have discovered what they believe to be the first ever recording of a family Christmas.

They were made 110 years ago by the Wall family who lived in New Southgate in North London.

There are 24 clear recordings on wax cylinders which were made using a phonograph machine between 1902 and 1917.

Music curators say the sound quality of the music recorded is outstanding.

Cromwell and Minnie Wall had nine children, eight of whom appear on the recordings. All the recordings are bursting with vibrancy and life, according to Julia Hoffbrand who is the curator at the Museum of London who helped restore the recordings.

Wall Family

 

via BBC News – Curators discover first recordings of Christmas Day.

May you and your family continue this tradition, handed down from generation to generation, century to century, of having a Christmas celebration “bursting with vibrancy and life.”

If you have a big estate, die or give it away by January 1

Income taxes for everyone are not the only taxes that will jump up, should we jump off the fiscal cliff.  The estate and gift taxes will also soar dramatically. George Will is sardonic about it:

If you have worked hard for five decades, made pots of money and now want to squander it all in Las Vegas on wine, women and baccarat, go ahead. If, however, you harbor the antisocial desire — stigmatized as such by America’s judgmental tax code — to bequeath your wealth to your children, this would be an excellent month to die. Absent a congressional fix before Jan. 1, the death tax, which is 35 percent on estates above $5 million, reverts to 55 percent on those above $1 million.

via George F. Will: Fixing the tax code at the cliff’s edge – The Washington Post.

Rather than dying, many wealthy folks are giving their money away to their heirs, something else that will be heavily taxed after January 1.  From CNN Money:

Currently gifts and estates of up to $5.12 million are exempt from taxes, but as part of the fiscal cliff, any portion of a bequest that exceeds $1 million will be taxed next year — and at a 55% rate (currently, the rate is 35%). That will kick in unless Congress and the president agree to extend the current exemption or agree on a new one. Many older Americans are not waiting to see if that happens.

“It’s crazy,” said Richard Behrendt, Director of Estate Planning for Baird’s Private Wealth Management. “I bet more wealth is transferred this year than in the past 10 years combined.”
Jonathan Blattmachr, a principal of Eagle River Advisors in New York who has lectured groups of estate planners about the expiring exemption, said the amount given away in 2012 will be three or four times that of any other year.

The drop to a $1 million exemption means that the tax bill on gifts or estates of $5.12 million will go from zero this year to $2.266 million next year, according to Blattmachr.

What do you think about the estate tax?  One strain of puritanism has always disapproved of the “idle rich,” such as those trust fund kids on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous jetting to Monaco and other of the world’s playgrounds.  The thought is, people should earn their wealth by hard work, not just live off of the hard work of their forebears.

Then again, inheritance is related to the unity of the family across generations.  Also, those with inherited wealth are not necessarily “idle,” since they usually have to keep the family business in good working order.

The inheritance tax is often devastating to farmers and owners of small businesses.  Farmers are often cash poor, but land rich.  That is, the soaring price of land makes them wealthy on paper, in terms of assets, but they don’t necessarily have much actual money.  Frequently, when the landowner dies, the farm has to be sold to pay the estate taxes.  The heirs don’t have that kind of money even if they want to continue the family farm.  The same can hold true for small businesses, which often have to be dissolved upon the death of the owner when the heirs can’t come up with the cash to pay the inheritance tax.

Supreme Court to rule on gay marriage

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases that may settle the legal status of gay marriage in this country.  The court will rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage in federal law as being between one man and one woman.  It will also rule on Proposition 8, the referendum in which California voters rejected gay marriage, only to have the vote stricken down by a federal court.

Supreme Court to hear same-sex marriage cases – The Washington Post.

What do you predict will happen?

Our legal system has long been tinkering with what marriage is supposed to be.  For example, the definition of marriage as a permanent, for-better-or-worse estate was changed by no-fault divorce laws, but I don’t recall anyone complaining much.

Structure and freedom for kids

Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews discusses some findings in Michael Petrilli’s book The Diverse Schools Dilemma; namely, that middle class and working class parents tend to have different parenting styles that impact education:

A middle-class, college-educated parent of any ethnicity is likely to be like me: Overscheduling children’s free time but preferring innovative instruction and informal discipline at school.

The research Petrilli cites says working-class and poor parents of any race are more likely to let their children amuse themselves as they see fit once their homework is done but tend to prefer schools with traditional teaching styles and strong discipline.

He cites the work of University of Pennsylvania sociologist Annette Lareau. She and her team closely tracked 12 families of different racial and class backgrounds. They found the center of life in middle-class families was the calendar, with what Lareau said were “scheduled, paid, and organized activities for children . . . in the two-inch-square open spaces beneath each day of the month.” But despite the forced march to improvement that characterized their children’s free time, those parents tolerated a lot of back-talk and often negotiated with children about what they wanted to do. They preferred teachers who did not give orders but encouraged creativity..

Working-class and poor parents, researchers found, left their children on their own on weekends and summer days but were more likely to set strict behavior rules. Those parents tended to like teachers who were tough and structured.

As a nation, we have been arguing for many generations about the best parenting styles. Those of us who prefer lots of scheduled activities but not much discipline should remember that many members of the revered Greatest Generation who won World War II were raised the way many low-income children are brought up today. . . .

Do loose school lessons teach more than structured ones? Does regular weekend soccer practice do more for our children’s character than roaming around with their friends? I don’t know. The research doesn’t say.

If middle class and low-income parents have different methods with their kids and different expectations for their schools, how do principals and teachers serve both populations?

via Do rich and poor parenting styles matter? – Class Struggle – The Washington Post.

So when middle class teachers go with a “creative” free-form approach to teaching, working class kids end up with no structure, either at school or in their free time.  Perhaps home-schooled middle-class kids tend to do so well because both their schooling and their free time are highly structured.  If this breakdown is correct, poorer kids would do really well if they only had more structure in their schooling.

As I recall, though we were middle class, my school was highly structured and my free time was my own.  That may have more to do with “greatest generation” parenting, times gone by, and local culture.  I think it’s good to give children some space for freedom and for pursuing things they enjoy on their own, rather than scheduling every minute with sports and self-improvement lessons.

Do you think this holds true?  Can you make a case for one of these parenting/educational styles over the others?  Are there other possibilities?

Shopping as ritual

John Hearn recalls shopping as a child in a family that didn’t have all that much money.  He reflects on what shopping has become today and reminds us of the true meaning of shopping:

We shopped rarely and with forethought and together. Shopping was a social ritual, a group activity that followed a set procedure. After the tax refund check arrived, usually in late March, when the cold ocean winds still swept the hills south of Boston, my mother gathered the four of us for our biannual trek uptown. Each of her three boys would get a pair of trousers, summer sneakers and a Red Sox cap, all at least a size too big, to better accommodate growth spurts. She feared the prospect of a child who had outgrown clothes that could not be easily replaced. “Don’t be so full of yourself,” she would admonish, after I complained that the new pants bunched up or the inexpensive sneakers turned skyward at the toes. “Do you really think everyone is looking at you?” . . . .

At Christmas, we received things we needed: socks and underwear, a sweater to grow into. When Frankie got a paper route and hired me as his helper, we would put aside money so we could buy gifts for our parents. The Friday before Christmas, after delivering the last of the newspapers, we’d walk by the shops, assuring each other that we’d find perfect presents, ones they needed and wanted too. But they needed everything, and what they may have wanted we couldn’t afford and they never would have mentioned anyway. . . .

I hated shopping. It was an activity filled with anxiety and embarrassment and guilt. It required that I deny myself: that I sit down, don’t fidget, listen, stop complaining, say thank you, shut up, don’t interrupt, stop staring at my brother, walk in the freezing cold and subdue the desire stimulated by the new and shiny to the modest reality defined by my meager paper-route profits. As an adult, though, I understand that neither the quantity nor the quality of the gifts really mattered. It was those social rituals I reluctantly shared with my family that remain a fundamental source of meaning. Shopping was all about the social processes that, like a shared meal or religious service, reminded us that we were together, as a family and congregation and neighborhood. We were embedded in a web of interdependence, a reality greater than ourselves, one in which we had to sacrifice our individual whims and desires.

via When shopping was a family ritual – The Washington Post.

Rules for Thanksgiving

Timothy R. Smith, a 26-year-old single guy, says that he is in the position this year of having to prepare a Thanksgiving Dinner for himself and a bunch of his friends.  He reports his relief at coming across Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well by food critic Sam Sifton, which gives step-by-step instructions on how to do everything.  From Smith’s review of the book:

Sifton sets down rules that must be followed to guarantee success. Some of those bylaws seem to turn the tastemaker into a taskmaster, but that lends the book a certain charm.

For instance, one should always carve the turkey in the kitchen, not at the table; a first course should never precede the turkey — serve the whole meal at once; do not cook anything out of season; begin serving libations once guests arrive; and salad is always an unwelcome guest. He eschews marshmallows in any form at the Thanksgiving table, whether on sweet potatoes or dessert.

The glue of the meal is cranberry sauce and gravy. “Debate that all you like,” Sifton declares. “But they tie every element on the plate together.” And dessert should be the meal’s blissful, final amphetamine. “A proper Thanksgiving should close out with a blast of warm, gooey flavor — a burst of sugar that can give a guest just enough energy to make it from table to couch, the holiday’s final resting place.” Dessert must be a simple American classic, preferably apple or pumpkin pie with a breast of whipped cream. He disapproves of tartlets or parfaits and any form of innovative pastry.

Above all, Thanksgiving must be traditional, Sifton argues.

via Sam Sifton helps novice holiday chefs in ‘Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well’ – The Washington Post.

I would add that the final point about tradition has to trump all other rules, including that idiosyncratic rejection of marshmallows.  He has a point about salads in the sense of green leafy healthy salads–unless one comes in under the tradition rule–though salads containing Jello and/or Cool Whip are permitted, especially if it’s never eaten except at Thanksgiving.

This made me think of other Thanksgiving rules:

(1)  To determine how big of a turkey you need to buy, count the number of guests and estimate how many portions each is likely to eat.  Then buy the biggest turkey you can find.

You need a gigantic turkey in order to create the impression of abundance, which, in turn, makes people feel a jolt of thankfulness.  Also, you want lots and lots of leftovers, enough to replay the feast until the Jello and Cool Whip salads run out, and, above all, to have turkey sandwiches throughout the holiday weekend and as long after that as possible.

Recipe for turkey sandwiches:  Get two pieces of soft, airy, pillowy white bread of the kind people who are serious about food scorn.  (You may have to get on E-bay to get some Wonderbread [current bid for a loaf:  $25]).  Lubricate one side of both slices with a thick layer of mayonnaise.  Pile high with turkey.  Than add a thick layer of salt, not as seasoning but as an ingredient.  Top with the other piece of bread.  Eat with potato chips.  The culinary principle is that it’s all white.  You may, however, eat it with a sweet pickle on the side.

(2)  Whether or not people like a dish has nothing to do with whether it should be served at Thanksgiving.  Foods sanctioned by ancient use must still be served, even if no one currently likes them.  New foods may be introduced, as long as the old foods are included.  If, however, a dish has been served for two successive Thanksgivings, it has become traditional and must be served from then on.

(3)  Tradition resets with the beginning of a new family.  Thus, newly married couples having their own Thanksgiving Dinner for the first time are entitled to start their own traditions, as long as they maintain some thread of continuity with the traditions of each person’s childhood.  The husband and the wife should each choose one or more dish they always had when they were growing up.  The criteria is, “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it.”  In this way, two families come together into a new family.  Newly-married couples are free to add any foods they choose.  But if it is served for two successive years, rule #2 applies.

(4)  Thanksgiving is about gratitude, so no fighting or sniping is allowed on Thanksgiving.  That can wait until the rest of the weekend.  Thanksgiving customs and observances should all provoke a response of thankfulness.  That applies to these rules themselves.  We are thankful not just for the food and the abundance and the material blessings they represent.  We are also thankful for our families, here and stretching back through time, for the memories, for what it was like to be a child and to grow up, for our history–personal and corporate and national–and for our culture, from the little community of our family to the local and regional and national cultures that we are part of.   We are thankful for the continuities, the social order and our place in it, as well as the uniqueness of everyone at the table.  And we are thankful for our senses and for so many sensory pleasures and so many good gifts, all of which we receive from the hand of God.

That’s how we do it in the Veith household, since time immemorial.  I hasten to add that since tradition trumps EVERYTHING, you and your family may do things differently.  So what are some of your rules for Thanksgiving?


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