It is very easy to regard Christmas as both a time of happiness and a major pain in the ass—all at one and the same time. Below are some excerpts from the letters of Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins (1824-1889):
“This awful Christmas time! I am using up my cheque-book – and am in daily expectation of fresh demands on it.” to Charles Ward, December 1860-62 (I 286).
“at this festive season when the Plague of Plum pudding extends its ravages from end to end of the land, and lays the national digestion prostrate at the feet of Christmas…I had planned to give up eating and drinking until the return of Spring …” to Miss Frith, 27 December 1870 (II 226).
“…are the filthy ‘Christmas festivities’ still an insurmountable obstacle to any proceeding that is not directly connected with the filling of fat bellies, and the exchange of vapid good wishes?” to William Tindell, 29 December 1874 (III 60; B&C II 387).
“…there are all sorts of impediments – literary and personal – which keep me in England at the most hateful of all English seasons (to me), the season of Cant and Christmas…But for Christmas-time, I should have read it long ago. I have returned to heaps of unanswered letters, bills, payments to pensioners, stupid and hideous Christmas cards, visits to pay – and every other social nuisance that gets in the way of a rational enjoyment of life…There is no news. Everybody is eating and drinking and exchanging conventional compliments of the season. You are well out of it” to Nina Lehmann, 28 December 1877 (III 180; B&C II 409-410).
“I suppose the dreadful Christmas literature is absorbing Mr Kelly’s printers.” to A P Watt 5 November 1883 (III 434).
“There is every temptation to die. We have not seen the sun for three weeks, in London – the plague of Christmas Cards is on the increase…Oh, what a miserable world to live in!” to Sebastian Schlesinger, 29 December 1883 (III 452; B&C II 463-465).
“Your kind and liberal letter reaches me , at the season devoted to prodigious eating and drinking, universal congratulating and holiday-making, and voluminous appearance of tradesmen’s Christmas bills. ‘Business’ is at a standstill, this year, until Monday next” to Perry Mason & Co, 26 December 1884 (IV 74).
“But there is surely a chance of a change for the better, after the horrors of Christmas are over” To Emily Wynne, 19th December 1885 (IV 139).
“The horrid Christmas Day is over -. Let me forget it – and heartily wish you a happy New Year.” to A P Watt, 28 December 1885 (IV 140).
“It is a relief to hear that you have got over Christmas Day, and that you have energy enough to confront (I don’t say to eat) that dreadful composition called plum pudding.” to Emily Wynne, 28 December 1885 (IV 141).
“I have just discovered a letter of mine dated the 1st of this month – and thanking you for your kind new year’s gifts – huddled away, God knows how, among a mass of Christmas and New years’ cards in my ‘Answered Letters’ basket.” to A P Watt, 5 January 1887 (IV 222).
Despite these feelings Wilkie did keep Christmas. On 18 December 1854 he invited his friend Edward Pigott to his home in Hanover Terrace.
“Don’t talk about having no home to go to – you know you are at home here. Come and eat your Christmas dinner with us – you will find your knife, fork, plate and chair all ready for you. Time six o’clock…Mind you come on Christmas Day.” (I 110; B&C I 129).
I owe the above selections to the Wilkie at Christmas website, which also contains much useful information about this author, whose work I like more the more I read him.
The Pico-Union District of Los Angeles is a tough neighborhood with heavy concentrations of Central American immigrants. Yet there on Bonnie Brae Street lies the Grier Musser Museum with its huge collection of antiques and seasonally related memorabilia. During the key holidays of Halloween and Christmas, there are fascinating exhibits of decorations, music boxes, pop-up books, greeting cards, postcards, and other popular culture highlighting the present and past.
Although Martine and I have visited only during those periods, there are also special exhibits for Valentines Day, Chinese New Years, and Independence Day.
Susan Tejada with Christmas Elf
On Saturday, we spent several hours viewing the Christmas exhibits and chatting with Susan and Rey Tejada, the owners (and inhabitants) of the museum. Christmas is now safely in the past, but it was nice to see the constantly growing exhibits that Susan has collected. They represent what we all want the holidays to be like, far from the mayhem in the parking lots and department stores in mega-malls which it has become. Visiting the Grier Musser Museum gives you a picture of what we all want Christmas to be like. It’s actually a nice feeling.
Today, Martine and I visited the Grier Musser Museum on South Bonnie Brae, about a mile west of downtown L.A. Even before we pulled into the museum’s parking lot, however, disaster struck. The right sole of my New Balance shoes came unglued and flapped like a tongue as I walked.
Fortunately, Ray and Susan Tejada, curators of the museum, allowed me to do the tour in my stocking feet. Else, I would have pitched down the stairs and landed on my head. When we left, Ray and Susan gave me some masking tape to wind around the shoe. The fix held until I walked into my apartment, whereupon the sole flapped—but I immediately tossed the shoes into the nearest trash bin.
This time of year, the Grier Musser Museum is chock full of Halloween displays ranging from antiques to recent Hallmark creations. The net result is to give us a sweeping view of what is fast becoming one of our major holidays. (I wonder how long it will be before it becomes a national holiday.)
On Sunday, Martine and I went to view the extensive Christmas collections at the Grier Musser Museum near downtown Los Angeles. Ray and Susan Tejada have displays dating back to the 19th Century—and as recent as this year, including hundreds of fascinating Victorian and turn of the century Christmas cards.
There aren’t too many things that we do that are Christmassy. For one thing, we never have a Christmas tree. (You can blame me for having somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 books.) When we visit my brother next week, we may view a holiday light display at the Living Desert Museum in Palm Desert.
We always used to visit the Department of Water and Power’s Holiday Light Festival, but budgetary constraints closed that down in 2009. We also regularly attended the Christmas Concert put on by the Torrance Civil Chorale, but Concert Master David Burks retired after the Spring concert; and we incorrectly assumed that the organization would undergo extensive rebuilding.
We may not go to Halloween parties (I’ve always thought dressing up was for … well … you know), but I find myself celebrating the day in my own way. It has been over fifteen years since we’ve seen any Trick-or-Treaters here (they stick to suburban neighborhoods without stairs to climb), but both of us like horror films—especially the classics—and I am growing increasingly fond of Victorian and Edwardian horror literature.
One of the ways we celebrate is visiting the Grier Musser Museum near downtown L.A., where Susan and Ray Tejada have assembled an outstanding collection of Halloween-related memorabilia, including cards, animatronic gizmos, figurines, and paintings. There are half a dozen rooms full of displays.
This is a museum for which one has to make an appointment, and Susan gives each group a thorough tour during which she turns on all the battery and other electrical figures and answers questions about how she and Ray assembled the collection. On Sunday afternoon, October 26, there will be a special tour with refreshments included.
Other holidays that receive the full treatment are Valentine’s Day, the Fourth of July, and Christmas.
Yesterday’s visit to the Grier Musser Museum near downtown L.A. put Martine and me into the holiday spirit. We discovered the museum and its fabulous collection of holiday-related antiques and displays as a result of watching Huell Howser’s shows on KCET. In all, he did two shows on the museum, so we decided it was a place we should get to know better. Although the museum has displays all year round, curator Susan Tejada puts together a special show around Halloween, Christmas, and Valentines Day—with the best show being around Halloween.
Martine particularly enjoys talking with Ray and Susan Tejada over a snack of punch and cookies afterwards, one of the advantages of attending the museum’s holiday Sunday exhibits.
If you want to visit the Grier Musser Museum, you have to make an appointment by calling (213) 413-1814. It is located at 403 South Bonnie Brae Street in the Pico-Union Area, which is near some excellent dining such as Langer’s Delicatessen-Restaurant with its great hand-cut pastrami, Papa Christo’s Greek Restaurant and Market, and a host of world class Korean restaurants.
Somehow, the Grier Musser always puts Martine and me in a holiday mood.
I had always heard of kewpie dolls before, but today was the first time I saw some of them. Apparently, they were originally a comic strip character invented by Rose O’Neill back in 1909. Their popularity took a number of forms, and they were popular and well-known through the 1940s. I always associated them with game prizes given at carnivals.
If you look closely, you will see my hands wrapped around my Canon PowerShot A1400 reflected in a mirror behind the dolls. Martine and I had paid another visit to the Grier Musser Museum, where there was an exhibit of antiques relating to Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year, and Black History Month.
Afterwards, we had a nice conversation with Ray and Susan Tejada, who own the museum and live on the premises. Visitors to their special Sunday tours are treated to cookies and punch, which Martine loves.
A Merry Christmas to all who happen on this website today! Although Southern California is bright and sunny today, with the temperature expected to reach record highs, I know that much of the country is mired in stormy weather. Regardless of the weather, may today be an oasis of peace and happiness for you and everyone you know.
There are actually three angels in this picture: Reflected in the mirror between the two angel statuettes is Martine. This afternoon, we visited the Grier Musser Museum near downtown L.A. to see their annual display of Christmas-related decorations and figures. We enjoy seeing what Rey and Susan Tejada have collected and arranged for display at their antiquarian Queen Anne style house and museum on Bonnie Brae Street.
But first, we ate at Langer’s Deli which is nearby at the corner of 7th and Alvarado, just cater-corner from MacArthur Park. It is incongruous to find a classic Jewish deli in the middle of the Pico-Union Central American neighborhood. Just when it seemed that it might be fading away like so many Los Angeles landmarks, the opening of the MTA Red Line brought customers from other parts of town, though they are no longer open in the evenings. Martine has not been feeling good all week due to a flare-up of her irritable bowel syndrome; and this was the first day she could eat anything other than bananas, rice, apple sauce, and toast. (She calls it the B.R.A.T. diet.)
After we toured the museum along with six other guests, we sat down to punch and cookies in the kitchen and chatted for a couple of hours. Over the years, Rey and Susan have become good friends of ours. We enjoy the museum, which always holds surprises for us, and we enjoy their company.
Afterwards, we drove back the slow way, right down Wilshire Boulevard so that Martine could see the holiday decorations in Beverly Hills before we did the turn-off toward West Los Angeles via Santa Monica Boulevard.
It was a good day and made me think that this would be a good Christmas for us. As I hope it will likewise be for all my readers.