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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 24, 2001

Clinging to tradition gives folks Christmas they craved

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Staff Writer

Victoria Gail-White finds herself making cookies, lighting the fireplace, assembling the ingredients for fruitcake, chopping fruit for chutney. And it's all about making the holidays cozy and homey.

Victoria Gail-White arranges Christmas decorations on her home fireplace, adding to the cozy atmosphere.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Family and friends will be close, and the holiday will harken back to a simpler, safer time.

"People have been through so much trying to process this, and there's a war going on, so you hold on to what's dear to you," said White, who wraps her Christmas gifts in her own handmade marbled papers. "And those are the moments when you're with your family and it feels like the world is OK."

White feels that filling the house with the aroma of mulled cider, with its scent of cloves and cinnamon, gives a sense of grounding to people longing for a return to old-fashioned normalcy. "The smells of the Christmas tree and cookies baking are very healing," she said.

She's not the only one longing for a cozy Christmas. As shoppers at Ward Centre drift through the inviting doorway of Vagabond House, or place phone calls to a flower dealer like Exclusively Bromeliads because they want something fresh and green, or wander the corridors of malls throughout the Islands, they seem to be in search of comfort in troubled times.

"We've seen people look real psychologically exposed," said Gerry Ralston, manager of the trendy gift shop Vagabond House. "At first they'd walk around with their hands behind their backs, just looking. "But now they're back with gusto. It's almost as if they're afraid if they don't have Christmas this year they're going to have to wait another 12 months and they don't know if they can wait that long."

But shoppers are making different choices this year, Ralston said, and she feels they're choices brought about by the need to cling to tradition. The handmade items are selling and so are the simple ornaments. And the garlands preferred are white, not gold.

"We just put the mulling spices out this morning. And we're selling a lot of anthurium plants growing on a rock. They're small, living and heart-shaped. We brought in 50 this morning, and half were gone in two hours."

When owner Patty Kincaid was planning her buying for Vagabond House's Christmas merchandise in late September, she, too, felt the need for tradition. "I brought in acorns and pods and a lot of things to make wreaths with," she said. "Swags of dried leaves and pomegranates, all natural-looking garlands. We've gone through three shipments and we have one more coming. Normally it's two at the most.

"And we've done a lot more food gift baskets with dried cranberries and pineapple and chopped mango slices packed in lauhala baskets or bamboo steamers. We've been making them by the hundreds and ran out of the steamers from Chinatown. We used everything on the island."

For poet Cathy Song, the season has had added poignancy. As the Sept. 11 tragedy unfolded on TV screens worldwide and the World Trade Center towers collapsed, she sat in a hospital room with her mother, who had suffered a stroke and then vascular dementia.

"Whether you've lost someone in the World Trade Center or you've lost someone to this terrible disease, it gives you a greater appreciation for the moment," Song said. "It just seems that all the superfluous running around that we get caught up in appears meaningless.

"And it makes you realize that every moment that those you love are safe and happy, that's as good as it gets. The awareness of the impermanence of life, gives a richer, fuller meaning to the moment."

The moments are exactly what artist Patricia Greene is celebrating. And those moments may be with strangers, standing in bank lines, waiting at the check-out counter at Longs Drugs.

"One of the things that's happened to me this Christmas is a feeling of helplessness — what can I possibly do? Then the answer came very clearly: You can't do any more than you can do, but you need to do what you need to do. And so for me, that's saying hello to people in the line at Longs. Or asking 'How are you doing?' I've ended up hugging some total strangers.

"I know people are hurting, and some have lost jobs and families. I can't do anything about that, but what I can do is be nice to everyone I meet."

Reach Bev Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.