Where did the pretty Christmas lights go?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 19, 2005

Titanic moments fill the heavens these days, but before I get around to my passion for astronomy, let me share a few of the delightful responses I've received to last week's column on putting away the Christmas tree.

Calgary coffee companion Theo Reiner wrote:

"I, too, have great difficulty putting away the Christmas treasures. Most treasured, for me, are the 'nickels' cut from the base of our real – not artificial – trees, sanded and polished and serving as a guest registry of all the folks who brightened my Christmases of the past 26 years. The 'nickel' includes family details like ages and pets; and each guest must sign it. Now the two-dozen-plus tree rings are not only the most read and commented-upon items in my home, but are the very last to be sentimentally – and prayerfully – tucked away for yet another celebration of the birth that changed our world."

From Oakville, Ontario, Helen Hare wrote:

"This year I tossed my old and weary artificial tree and went out on a limb and bought a small Norfolk Island Pine. Only a few light decorations could go on, for it is fragile, but the one that is a must from time immemorial is the silver foil paper star which my late husband made for the tree when the children were tiny. It is battered and fixed up a dozen times but it goes atop every year. Now I have a tree I can save and put in our family room and keep alive all year. Hopefully it will do something to keep a smidgen of Christmas spirit in me, too."

Speaking of keeping a Christmas tree around throughout the year, Edmonton writer/editor Allison Kydd wrote:

"I have a real Christmas tree and I make a point of putting it up on Christmas Eve, as that's what my mother did when we were children. One year I actually kept it all year. It must have sat in state in the living room for six weeks; it just took that long to find the time to take it down with the respect it deserved. Then it went to the basement, though I intended to plant it in a snowbank on the lawn the next day. (When I was a child Mom used to hang treats for the birds on the tree when she took it out of the house on the twelfth day of Christmas.)

"That particularly busy year – are there any others? – I 'forgot about it' until it was time to get the stand for the new one. Though it had lost most of its needles, those that remained had dried an attractive reddish brown. I finally carried it out to the rubbish pile by the lane, feeling sheepish, sad and bereft, but also with a sense of the continuity of things."

Before leaving the topic of Christmas decorations, have any of you been wondering whatever happened to all those miniature white lights that hung from eaves and verandas?

The night sky swiped them for a party!

If you don't believe me, just look up any clear evening this month and indulge yourself in the celestial celebration. And what they are celebrating is no doubt the Jan. 14 safe landing of the European Space Agency's Huygens probe on Titan, Saturn's largest moon.

Around 8 pm you'll see Saturn with your naked eyes high in the eastern sky. The cream-colored planet lies just below the bright star Pollux at the east end of the rectangular constellation Gemini.

While you're caught up in the moment, take in the rest of the sky, as well. Twinkling bluish low in the southeast is Sirius, the brightest star in our sky, while off to its upper right Orion the hunter with his three-starred belt dominates the winter skyscape.

Just south of overhead are the Pleiades, a small cluster of stars with the elegance of a diamond broach against black velvet, especially when viewed through binoculars.

Meanwhile, half-way between the Pleiades and the western horizon appears an awesome faint fuzzy spot. This is the Andromeda Galaxy, at 2.2 million light years the most distant object visible to the unaided eye.

So that's my take on what happened to all those pretty white Christmas lights. Enjoy!

© 2005 Warren Harbeck

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