Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Our annual Christmas and Holiday cards

Bethesda Terrace. 10:00 AM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015. Cold in New York – for us these days: 40 degrees, with some precipitation thinking about a visit.

I had to pay a visit to the dentist in the morning, part of the process of getting a new tooth after smashing into an unopening door in the Sherry Netherland lobby ten days ago. The traffic in midtown was almost like a Sunday in summertime. Schools are closed for the holidays and so my neighborhood – which has Brearley and Chapin within a block from me – is very quiet.

Holiday memories. This photo was given to me by Mark Simone, the WOR radio host who is the man on the right. The lady in red is Judy Green, and the man in the middle is Rex Reed.
The picture was taken in December 2000 at the last Christmas party that she gave in her apartment at 555 Park Avenue. Judy loved giving parties and gave great ones – big cocktail parties, big buffet dinner parties with a lot of New York personalities, characters, and friends.

At Christmastime, Robert Isabell, the celebrated New York event designer decorated Judy’s apartment and being Robert Isabell, it was a spectacular event. It was always a big crowd and a lot of conversations and chatter going at once. Her living room was wood paneled with a roaring fire in the fireplace, and it all worked very well for Mr. Isabell’s creations.

One year that roaring fire got a little too hot and the evergreen boughs strategically strewn over the mantlepiece caught fire and the NY Fire Department had to come and put it out, while guests waited in the building’s lobby. Once out, however, the party resumed. Everyone had a very good time and the party would last well into the midnight hour.
In the Entry way of Judy Green's 2000 Christmas party.
A highly gregarious woman who loved humor and gossip and ribald stories, Judy was one of the most well-read people I’ve ever known. Her late husband Bill Green (who had died in the late 1970s) was a very close friend of Frank Sinatra, and so the Greens were very much part of Sinatra’s circle of famous friends. Judy loved that and one year she recorded a Christmas song for Ol’ Blue Eyes. I never heard Judy sing a note and I’d been told she couldn’t carry a tune, but nevertheless…. Sinatra on receiving and hearing frankly responded that she should leave the singing to him and keep giving the great parties.

Ten days after this photo was taken, in early January 2001, Judy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was a fighter by nature, but the disease took her from us the following September, three days after 9/11. Almost fifteen years later many of Judy’s friends still recall and reminisce about those wonderful times at her house. Her secret was showing people a good time. Vincent Minuto who advertises his Hampton Domestics on the NYSD, always catered the affairs and can still regale us with his tales of putting on the party for a great lady.
The guests gathered in Judy's dining room. As you can see, those tea sandwiches made by Vincent Minuto were hard to resist.
When I was growing up, Christmas cards were a big moment. People often hung them in the room where their tree was set up. They’d tape them around doorways and string them from one side of the room to another. I had an aunt and uncle who were out in the world more than the rest of us, and they received many more cards than everyone else. We knew this because my aunt was very proud of their popularity. I found it quite impressive also. No doubt there were many of us who were aware of just who got the most. Although the cards rarely had photographs unless it was a young married couple with their new child set out for the world to see for the first time.
Photograph by Slim Aarons, circa mid-1950s, Los Angeles.
Today we’re featuring our annual Christmas and Holiday card page. This has become a tradition for us, and longtime readers even write to ask when it will be running. The cards used to start arriving within days after Thanksgiving, around the first of December. The early birds at work.  They’d continue to arrive right up until Christmas Eve Day and even during the week between the “Eve’s”. This year they didn’t start to arrive until mid-month.

With little coming in that first half of the month, at first I’d thought to myself that perhaps the jig was up, i.e. people tired of sending a greeting card to some guy who never sends a card to anybody including those loved ones in his life. Although: I tend to think of this card page as my way of sending the greeting out to everyone. Lame excuse, yes; but true also.
The truth is I love getting the cards mainly for two reasons: the animals (almost always dogs), and the children. Not that it isn’t nice to see the smiling faces of friends and associates. It also fascinates watching the children grow. One of the cards this year is from friend who is a grandmother with her children. She’s been sending a card with those loved ones by her side since we started this annual display. In the beginning, they were just this side of toddlers. Today they are teenagers and young adults just about to go out in the world and make their own lives. This is one of the sweetest miracles of life, simple and ordinary as it is.

We also received many traditional Christmas cards – no photos, but with an etching or a reference to Christ in the manger, or a natural setting. When I was a kid, a popular one was people in open horsedrawn sleighs riding through the snow (“to grandmother’s house we go…”). Now grandmother comes to their house.
As much as Christmas is a “religious” holiday in its genesis, to me who was brought up as a Protestant in the Christian religion, it really is not so much religious as it is a celebration of an uplifting spirit, a moment of rest from the worries that follow us through our days; grace shed on thee. That is an optimistic view to many, but it resonates with me. For us at the NYSD it is also a bit of a respite, providing some free time. Just looking at the cards is good for that.

Another evolving change is the digital Christmas and Holiday greeting. This is nice in terms of photo-images in the holiday spirit. However, the translation is different and even more fleeting. Nevertheless, we are a society now steeped in the techno.


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