STAWAR: Holiday Technology
> SOUTHERN INDIANA
A few weeks ago we took our grandchildren to see the animated movie, Arthur Christmas. Although our 5-year-old grandson was sulking when we went into the theater, as we left, he proclaimed it to be the best movie he ever saw.
While the central story line of Arthur Christmas deals with choosing an appropriate successor for Santa, a major subplot pits traditionalism vs. modern technology. Technological centerpiece of the story is Santas mile-wide ultra modern sleigh (the S-1), which suspiciously resembles a well-known enterprising starship. This conflict between tradition and high-tech is eventually resolved with a compromise. At the end of the film the sleigh is pulled by a 5,000-reindeer team, led by Santas original eight reindeer. This blending of technology and traditional Christmas magic recalls the movie Elf, in which Santas hybrid sleigh had acquired a jet engine to boost its power, when Christmas Spirit alone was no longer sufficient to power it. In many portrayals of North Pole workshop technology there is both ultramodern technology combined with the more colorful cartoonish pseudo-Victorian steampunk style.
Of course, in real life, the technology of today becomes the tradition of tomorrow. Bubble Christmas tree lights and aluminum Christmas trees, are examples of Christmas innovations that people still reminisce about today. Christmas Central.com says that Bubble lights have been used in American Christmas decorating since the 1940s and now are as popular as ever.
Back in 1965, when Lucy said to Charlie Brown, Get the biggest aluminum tree you can find, Charlie Brown! Maybe paint it pink! she wasnt kidding. There was even a temporary revival of aluminum Christmas trees in the late 1990s, when the Baby Boomers were turning 50 and the sale of retro products soared in the ensuing nostalgia craze.
Technology journalist and blogger Samuel Evans poses the question, Is Technology Ruining Christmas? Evans says although he is an unabashed fan of technology, if there is one time of year when all talk of mobile phones and laptops should be banished its undoubtedly Christmas. He is dismayed that well over one-third of children will write their lists to Santa this year using email, the web, or a smartphone application and over a quarter of children will send their Christmas greetings through Facebook, Twitter or other social media. He even found a smartphone application that allows children to scan the barcodes of potential Christmas gifts and then automatically sends an email to the parents, letting them know exactly what the child wants.
Technology has invaded nearly every aspect of our holiday celebrations. A few days ago we decided to stick with the traditional route and cut down our Christmas tree. Going to the modern cut-your-own Christmas tree lot is sort of like fishing in a barrel, compared to cutting down a tree in the wild. The trees are segregated by type and have been repeatedly shaped over the year.
This year there was no quaint horse-drawn hay wagon; our trip to the trees was powered by a noisy tractor. The tractor was driven by a young man who evidently was a NASCAR fan, judging by the way he took the first turn by the apple orchard. I told my wife Diane that I thought the wagon needed seat belts. Riding with us were a couple with two young boys. One of the boys was holding a saw to cut down the tree and the younger one screamed the entire trip because he was deprived of this masculine accoutrement. Last year we broke down and bought a precut tree. I felt a little guilty, but since it was so close to Christmas, we got it at a very good price, which helped soothe my conscience.
After an exhausting search through the muddy field of Douglas firs, we finally identified a tree to cut down. It wasnt necessary the best tree we looked at, but at that point we didnt care because we were getting tired, cold and hungry and we just wanted to go home. Diane took the traditional photos of me laying the mud, grimacing while trying to cut the tree close to the ground, so that the trunk would fit into the tree stand. At that point I could have used a little more technology like a nice chainsaw. Since all our children are grown and live away, I didnt even have a kid to yell at or help cut the tree. I kept whining about my pants getting wet and dirty and how my back was hurting, so Diane finished up the job (shes relentlessly plucky). Once the tree was cut, I used my iPhone to take a picture of Diane holding it up and I e-mailed copies to all of our unhelpful children, right there on the spot.
I found one glove stuffed into the pocket of my old woodcutting jacket. So like Michael Jackson, I put it on, in order to grasp the tree trunk, so Diane and I could carry it uphill to the road, where the wagon was suppose to pick us up. Diane made me carry the top part of the tree, which was oddly enough was the heavy part. When the wagon finally arrived, we suddenly had a burst of energy, threw the tree aboard and took a teeth rattling Mr. Toads wild hayride back to the parking lot. When we paid for the tree it only cost $10 more than last year and we had the distinctive pleasure of chopping it down ourselves. Maybe well be able to order one from Amazon.com next year.
Even Christmas cards are high tech these days. With built-in microchips they can play Christmas carols or even record a holiday greeting in your own voice. These microchips are pervasive. Diane bought a gift card box for our grandson the other day that plays music when you open it up.
I eventually cut out the music chip from my favorite Christmas necktie, after it kept embarrassing me by playing loudly in public. I now hear an annoying Christmas medley every time I open my sock drawer and accidentally touch the chip.
I think my favorite holiday technological advance, however, must be the Wireless Christmas Controller with remote control. I remember all the years that I had to squat behind the tree to unplug the lights, often knocking off ornaments and other decorations. Then there were those switches at the end of extension cords that you could step on to turn off the tree light, followed by those switches disguised as ornaments that you merely had to touch. I never was able to figure out how those things worked. But now with the remote control devices you can turn the tree lights on and off from across the house. I am hopeful that perhaps next year youll be able to just think on or off and some device will be able to read my brain waves.
Finally Id like to give credit to the low-tech, but user friendly Christmas tree watering funnel. This long funnel makes keeping your tree fresh and hydrated a snap. I think I stepped on ours last year and it is now held together with duck tape, but its still functional. There is a website that shows you how to construct your own snazzy version, using a large plastic candy cane and a kitchen funnel. If this is too low-tech for you, for about $25 you can add an electronic Smart Tree Keeper to the water base, which alerts you whenever the water level gets too low by playing Jungle bells every 10 minutes until you water it. A chime even sounds so that you wont overfill the base and the entire system shuts down when the tree lights are turned off so it wont wake you at night.
Perhaps this Christmas Eve, you just might want to establish a new family tradition by reading The Night Before Christmas on your Kindle, Nook, or iPad.
Terry L. Stawar, EdD, lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at www.planetterry.wordpress.com.