Joyful carols carried by wind, crazed shoppers hunting for bargains, and cookies cut into cute snowmen, sprinkled with crushed candy cane. Christmas time again. But it wasn’t always so merry. Not for my village.
They still talk about the mysteries of Mistletoe Wood today, which looms outside our village.
The legend starts with gingerbread.
It was a crisp December afternoon, and two girls were skipping home from school. All bundled up with rosy cheeks, they looked like little dolls. They carried baskets of goodies from the bakery that bounced with each step and were about to take the shortcut, which happened to lead directly through the Mistletoe Wood.
All of a sudden, a gaunt girl, Bertha, stepped out in front of them, dressed in rags and tatters. She wore a crown made of mistletoe. She begged for food.
“All we have is gingerbread cookies,” Gertrude offered, and the girl received them with gratitude.
Millicent, being proud as ever, declared, “We paid good shillings for those. Now we need something in return.”
“I don’t have anything,” Bertha frowned.
“I see you do,” Millicent’s eyes glimmered cruelly. “That crown is beautiful. Give it to me.”
Bertha took a step back in defiance.
“Milicent, stop being so wicked. Let’s go,” Gertrude interjected and took her friend by the arm.
With fiery eyes, Milicent snatched the crown off Bertha’s head.
Bertha tried to retrieve it, but Milicent was a good foot taller and held it way above her head.
Gertrude, being small herself, couldn’t recover it either as she pleaded with her friend to give it back.
“Okay, I’ll give it back,” Milicent finally acquiesced, and added slyly, “but only if you win. I challenge you to a bake-off. Whoever makes the best gingerbread wins. Tomorrow.”
Bertha agreed and stormed away.
Gertrude once more reprimanded Milicent, who shushed her.
A roaring sound rang through the forest, as if a grumpy bear had been awakened from a deep slumber, and the girls scurried off.
Gertrude and Milicent awoke the next day to a commotion outside. Shouts of amazement. Right outside of town, stood a huge gingerbread house with candied windows, icing and gumdrops. Beside it was Bertha, eyes twinkling.
The townsfolk stared in awe.
“It’s mistletoe magic,” Bertha said coolly. “The forest heard how rude Milicent was and for the first time ever, it uprooted itself. It helped me build this just to make a point. These trees labored over this thing all night. They assembled the roof, carefully passing pieces from fellow branch to branch. And voilà. I won.”
“Not so fast.” Milicent said, refusing to lose. “It could be a trick.”
“By all means, come inside and see,” Bertha beckoned. “It’s real and fully furnished.”
Milicent trooped forward, but Gertrude whispered at her not to go.
As soon as she stepped inside, the door slammed behind her.
Milicent whirled around and tried the door, but it was sealed shut by magic.
“Hello, Milicent,” a chorus sang. The oven popped open and a band of gingerbread people hopped out. “We’d like our crown.”
At that, Milicent screamed and the door swung open. The crazed cookies chased her outside.
“Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t outrun us, we’re the gingerbread men,” they chanted in unison.
Milicent stumbled, falling into the cool forest dirt, sullied dress. She scowled as she threw the crown down.
The cookies, who were decorated as little knights, picked it up gingerly and handed it back to Bertha, their rightful queen.
The girls eventually apologized to each other, and all was well again. Milicent learned her lesson and the gingerbread knights became small but mighty protectors. They even accompanied the girls to school.
However, the forest never quite calmed. Its anger and unrest lasted despite the amends that were made. The forest held a grudge against the humans and odd things had been happening ever since it was awakened, always around the time Bertha called it to help. Always around Christmas. We thought it was also because the forest didn’t like how its brethren evergreens were kidnapped and decorated during Christmas time. But a lot of things went missing as the forest played its tricks.
Once we got rid of the gingerbread house, which stood for years and years, Mistletoe Wood finally became still and quiet once more.
Besides, it was not good to leave an abandoned gingerbread house around. That kind of thing attracts unwanted attention. One day, a witch came across it and decided it would be a nice upgrade from the cave she’d been living in for centuries. After the witch was defeated by Hansel and Gretel, we knocked it down to prevent others from inhabiting it.
We still bake gingerbread around Christmas time years later, but we never forget the house and forest. We’re thankful now that Christmas can truly be merry and bright.
Love, Your Christmas Baby
It is December 28, 2001.
For the past month, Grandpa’s record player has been dedicated
Almost exclusively to Nat King Cole’s Christmas album.
It has been 28 days of “The Christmas Song,” “Joy to the World,” and “O Holy Night”
But today your home rests in an unusual state of quiet.
Scraps of wrapping paper and tinsel decorate the floor.
The hardwoods feel the absence of three jovial children and one fluffy, four-legged angel.
Today, they’re down the street at Aunt Jen’s house,
Patiently waiting for the arrival of their newest family member.
Mary is ecstatic and unaware that she will be my second mother,
Katie tenderly welcomes yet another squishy-faced baby into her life,
Chris prays that I’m a boy and drops the phone dramatically
when you call to tell him that he has a third sister.
Luckily his disappointment is short-lived
And when they meet me for the first time, he becomes increasingly concerned about me,
Specifically, the “cuts” and “acne” on my face.
Newsflash, Christopher: I just exited a womb; my skin is doing its best.
Mom, despite having just given birth to your fourth child,
You let everyone pile into your hospital bed
And swaddle me in a soft purple blanket.
Dad, you’re behind the video camera,
Capturing the welcome of a very lucky Christmas baby.
Best Acts of Kindness for the Holiday Season
- Hold the door for a fellow Friar
- Donate old toys, books, or clothes
- Bake cookies for your friends
- Pick up litter
- Go to your professors’ office hours
- Buy coffee for the person behind you in line
- Do the dishes for your roommates
- Give your professor a holiday card
- Tell your family that you love them
- Thank the Ray workers
- Give your professor a good “Rate My Professor” review
Tiff and Earl
Dear Tiff and Earl,
I want to give Ed Cooley a holiday present. What should I give him?
Ed Cooley’s #1 Fan
Hey Ed Superfan!
I heard that a coach’s favorite present is the win he gets off the court. Show coach Cooley some holiday spirit and consider showing your Friar giving spirit by donating to a local charity or toy drive this Christmas. Use the holidays to show coach Cooley why he picked the No. 1 school, Providence College!
Show That Spirit!
This will be cute: roll yourself up into a little Christmas basketball and roll down right into his little office and pop out and give him a merry little Christmas scare.
Rockefeller in Winter
The glow brightens the scarlet on my nose
and the burning in my chest.
It’s impossible to hide in the radiance,
Hands reaching for hands,
My want sticks out like a sore thumb,
Shining and blazing in the city crowds.
Even when the biting cold
of December stings my cheeks,
I can feel the warmth of New York
amongst the flickering lights.
I saw you on my walk today. I was listening to some Christmas song and wishing that the drizzle was snow. You were huddled in a crescent moon on a concrete step; your antennae wilted like the flowers you flew past in favor of stinging my arm. Normally when I see you like this it is early November, not a few days after Thanksgiving. The cold seeped into your small yellow and black striped body, and you grew tired. Was the concrete a pillow in your eyes? Was it a safe resting place? Or did gravity and frigid temperatures yank you down just inches from your hive?
You know, you stung me three times when I was in elementary school, and I hated you. I took every opportunity to step on you and the rest of your species when you were crawling around, wounded. I hated you, yet…there was a heavy sadness knowing that you wouldn’t return home. You wouldn’t continue to fly around and harass everyone on a hot summer day. I’m glad the cold is what took you away, the most natural way of doing things, rather than ripping out your insides and leaving your poison in my body.
I hope the snowfall this season allows for more of your comrades to drift into a cold peace. I hope that people realize you take care of our environment like honey bees, you take care of pests, and you deliver karma to those who need it. I think if you hadn’t stung me, I wouldn’t be thinking about you in this way. Maybe I deserved a little karma, a little wake-up call. I think that wake-up call gave me the room to think about you now with a little more compassion, and I think that’s what I needed. I think that’s what everyone needs. Thank you.
Thank You Notes!
Mom and Dad, thank you for believing in me and supporting my love for writing. I love you both so much!
I’m thankful for one of our lovely UG2 workers in Davis, Vita. Thank you for everything you do, your work and your kindness do not go unnoticed.
To Gil Donohue, who might read this: thank you for Lessons & Carols, and for choir week in and week out. You are, as they say, a goat.
” A huge thank you to my family – You support me in all my endeavors and are my greatest cheerleaders. I would not be where I am today without you! ” – Sara J.
To the ladies at the Ruane Starbucks, thank you for keeping me alive this semester!
Thank you Sonia for your wonderful omelets every day! You help make the start of every morning extra special.
Thank you to my family and friends for always providing comfort and love. I appreciate it more than ever during the holiday season
Class of 2023, thank you for being so great and making these four years the best!
Thank you to the AMAZING Cowl editors and writers who’ve worked so hard this semester!
I have a lot of people in my life that I want to thank. Not just for being nice to me but for just being in my life. Being someone I can count on when I have no one else to turn too, people who I know will always be there for me even when others turn their backs on me. I’ve known these three idiots for almost half my life. And I’ve never been more thankful for their existence. They’ve gotten me through incredibly rough times and I can’t imagine my life without them. To my best friends in the entire world, thank you.
I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas: How to Have a Sustainable Holiday Season
I love Christmas, but I also love the planet. I won’t be the Grinch and take away your wrapping paper and plastic trees, but it’s important to consider the environmental impact of this holiday so that we can celebrate in a way that is more sustainable and less harmful to our planet.
One way that you can minimize your environmental impact this year is by rethinking gift wrapping. According to Biffa, one of the United Kingdom’s most prominent waste management companies, 277,000 miles of wrapping paper are thrown out every holiday season in the UK alone. Considering that the US population is about five times the size of the UK’s, the amount of wrapping paper wasted in the US is likely much higher.
A substantial number of trees is required to produce this much paper. Deforestation not only decreases biodiversity and takes away important habitats from species, but it also impedes our planet’s natural ability to mitigate climate change. This is because trees naturally remove carbon dioxide from the air for photosynthesis. According to a 2021 study in the scientific journal Nature, some sections of the Amazon Rainforest, which once served as an important absorber of carbon dioxide, have been releasing more carbon dioxide than they absorb due to deforestation. This has major implications for climate change.
Instead of traditional wrapping paper, try reusing the same wrapping paper each year. Saving and reusing the gift bags and tissue paper that you acquire throughout the year is also a great alternative. You can even use brown paper bags that you get from stores as wrapping paper and add some decorative twine to give it a more natural look. The Cowl you’re holding can also be a great alternative (especially if you use its festive front page). Instead of using regular plastic tape, use washi tape, as it is made from natural materials and can be recycled along with your repurposed wrapping paper. If you’re set on using ribbons and bows, keep reusing them year after year rather than disposing of them after one use. Sustainable gift wrapping doesn’t have to be ugly.
Trees are also obviously a huge part of Christmas, and there’s always the question of whether real or fake trees are better for the planet. The surprising answer is that real trees are more environmentally friendly. According to the Nature Conservancy, 10 million fake trees are purchased every year, with 90% of them being transported long distances from China to locations all around the world. This results in a significant amount of carbon dioxide emissions associated with shipping and transportation. This doesn’t even take into account the energy and emissions from artificial tree production.
The Nature Conservancy adds that in the US, there are up to 500 million trees for sale on farms. Of these trees, only about 30 million will be bought and used for the holiday season. This leaves a significant number of trees left over to be used as a habitat by many different organisms. The remaining trees will also be able to absorb carbon dioxide for the rest of the year. For the trees that are cut down, farmers will continue planting seeds in place of those trees. When you’re done with your real tree, they can also be recycled, while artificial trees cannot.
During the holiday season, we see a sharp increase in electricity use because of Christmas lights. In a 2008 report from the US Department of Energy, 6.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity are consumed every year for holiday lights alone. The Center for Global Development states that this is more energy than countries including El Salvador and Ethiopia use in one year. Energy use is harmful to our planet because electricity relies on fossil fuels. According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2021, 61% of electricity consumed was generated from fossil fuels. When we burn fossil fuels like coal and oil to produce electricity, this releases greenhouse gasses which cause global warming. We should try to decrease our energy and electricity use to help mitigate climate change. Also, think of how many times you’ve taken your Christmas lights out of storage, plugged them in, and they don’t work. Buying new lights and throwing out the old ones only adds to this waste.
To help decrease the amount of energy used for holiday lighting, try looking for LED or energy efficient string lights and light bulbs. Traditional bulbs waste 90% of their energy creating heat, while only the remaining 10% is actually used to produce light. LEDs are also much more reliable and durable than traditional lights, meaning that you’ll avoid that yearly frustration when your lights don’t turn on. Additionally, you can put your lights and candles on a timer so that they aren’t on long after midnight when everyone’s asleep. This also means you won’t forget to turn them off and waste energy.
Having a sustainable Christmas doesn’t mean sacrificing your favorite traditions, but by making small changes, you can make the planet merrier.
A Totally Unnecessary Rant About Hallmark Movies
This article might be upsetting both to regular viewers of Hallmark movies (if such people really do exist) and to children who still believe in Santa Claus. To the latter group, I offer my sincerest apologies.
Ah, Christmastime—the season for caroling, hot cocoa, and…bad Hallmark movies. Why humanity must suffer through that last one is a mystery. Yet here we are: the filmmakers (one uses that term VERY loosely) behind these cinematic travesties are at it again.
Technically, they were at it again long before now. Hallmark’s chief executives seem to believe that Halloween marks the first day of the Christmas season. Forget waiting until after Thanksgiving; forget about waiting until the first of November. These people have managed to outdo those infamous radio stations that play Christmas music 24/7 from November to January. Ugh. Doesn’t Hallmark have any sense of shame?
Now, if the movies were halfway decent, maybe some of this shove-it-down-your-throat-until-you-die-in-a-Christmas-induced-coma consumerism could be forgiven. But alas, trying to find a halfway decent Hallmark movie is like trying to catch Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Where does one even begin? How about with the filmmakers’ complete lack of effort? Seriously, do they care about what they are doing, insofar as it is not bringing them a paycheck? Don’t they understand that snow on someone’s clothes will melt after a few minutes, as opposed to staying there for an entire scene? And don’t they understand that people generally swallow after drinking coffee? If you ever have the displeasure of watching some of these movies, you will be able to find countless other egregious errors like these. It does not take a Francis Ford Coppola or a Martin Scorsese to get these things right.
Then there’s the incessant presence of hot chocolate, cookies, and bake-offs. The bake-offs in particular irk me: I have never seen nor been to a bake-off in my life, yet somehow they always manage to be a central plot point of Hallmark’s Christmas programming. They would make you think that bake-offs are a fixture of the average American’s life. They have to keep up that small-town aesthetic.
This brings up another falsely represented aspect of Hallmark movies: their inane platitudes about small-town life. To be sure, I don’t hate small towns, nor do I hate people who like small towns. Living in a big city is not paradise on Earth. Yes, big cities have pollution, traffic, and, worst of all, people. But must their messaging be so clumsy and obvious? By the way, where are the homeless people in these small towns? Where is the trash? Most people have been to enough small towns in their lives to know that they have not eradicated poverty and garbage.
And don’t get me started on those corny love stories or that stupid derivative rom-com music that plays whenever the main love interests of the stupid plot first meet in the stupid way that they always do. Couldn’t these writers come up with a better way for the true loves to meet, without the clumsily concocted pratfalls? Hallmark characters appear more accident-prone than even the worst of klutzes.
But why bother getting so upset about this? Because I am upset for you, dear reader. I am upset that you must be subjected to this for the next three months or more. As the great writer Ralph Ellison said, “who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?”
Or maybe not. In that case, try to develop better taste in movies.
The True Christmas Spirit
Kate Ward ’23
Another day in the workshop—you know, it’s exhausting being an elf. We’re given shoddy tools and forced to work year-round. Do you know how insufferable it is listening to Christmas music all year? The good part is the Big Man sometimes shares letters from the kids with us, so that makes us all feel a little bit better. But my favorite part? The reindeer. We get to feed them sometimes and take them on long walks. But do you know how hard it is for me, an elf, to walk a reindeer? They’re fussy animals. I didn’t even want to work up here in the North Pole! I wanted to work somewhere warm with a wide variety of music and a diet other than Christmas cookies and hot chocolate.
We watch a lot of Christmas movies while we work, and a lot of them are extremely inaccurate to the elf lifestyle. The only one which got it right was Elf with Will Ferrell. We do have intramural sports and we do have quotas we need to reach! Plus, Buddy the Elf did a great job depicting our diet. I mean, I’ve never had spaghetti before, but I’m sure with all the sugar he put on it, it would be delicious. Our uniforms are the same as the ones in the movie but instead, the different colors represent our different ranks. I would do anything to get out of this workshop and out from under the foot of the Big Man, but he keeps us so busy that the only breaks we get are lunch, dinner, and sleep.
It’s not all holly and jolly here in the workshop. Instead, the mood is more like the claymation Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with Hermie who wants to be a dentist. Sure, singing songs and building toys for all the little girls and boys is great, but I have dreams and aspirations! I wanted to be an archeologist, and now I’m making toys! What happened? We definitely skipped a few chapters. Anyway, I’ll leave it there—I need to get some sleep so I can get up and keep making Etch-A-Sketches for kids who will use them once then leave them at their grandparents’ houses.