The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

In the grand scheme of both the social season and the Christmas holiday season, it must really stink to be a postman. Not only does the beleaguered postal officer have to deliver acres of nauseating sentiment written in illegible green and red ink, but he must also deliver junk mail and circulars that must eat up several counties' worth of Maine's forest.

Mind you, it's not easy on the rest of us, either. I haven't even begun to hear the threatening backup-alarm beeps issued by the Great Christmas Elephant (see a previous Decembrish blog), though it's probably already planning to poop on me. (The Christmas Elephant just does that.)
I have not made one stinkin' cookie. I haven't started the stupid fruitcakes. I should already have done so, since several of them need to go overseas.

I have managed to accomplish about one quarter of one of the tasks of the Season. I have addressed the envelopes for most of the Neujahrsnacht invitations. This is not such a small task; I need to consult the address-books and make sure that they've been updated, depending on who has married, died, divorced, remarried, moved twenty-seven times in the last year, or some combination of the forementioned. (I was somewhat surprised to learn that at least one acquaintance had both died and moved.) The truly irritating part of the invitation-writing, though, is not the addressing of envelopes, but the endless writing of the same damned thing over and over for the invitation cards.

I know that it garners a lot of cash for the nice people at Crane's, but I really can't approve of the preprinted invitations that require nothing of the sender but the insertion of time, date and address. Really, now! A proper invitation is written by hand. It's already exhausting to fill in the blanks on one of the pre-engraved sorts; one might as well go ahead and write the whole thing out, and be correct. Thus, I'll be doing so this week. You may all expect your invitations within the next ten days, or so, depending upon my level of workload and irritation.

Despite the bother of writing party invitations, they do have the distinct advantage of immutability. The correct form for writing an invitation has never, and will never, change. The greatest worry is whether to use white or ecru card stock. (I have waffled on this issue for about twenty years now and have yet to reach a concrete decision.)

About four years ago, I gave up on the idea of writing happy little personal messages in each Christmas card that I sent. I realized that my card recipients fell into two distinct categories: those with whom I maintained a constant correspondence, and those with whom I spoke only a few times a year. I then figured that the members of the first category didn't need a personal message, since they talked with me fairly regularly anyway. The next leap of faith was a bit more cavalier, but every bit as useful; I decided that the people who didn't talk with me regularly were probably not terribly concerned with the intimate details of my life. Therefore, I now just sign the cards with a nice little "Frohe Weinachten: D. P. Gibbs." The first year that I did so, I heard about it. I didn't know that so many people were really interested in my (I thought) uninteresting, uninspired Christmas greeting, but evidently they were; some felt insulted or believed that they had somehow given offense. I think that by now I have made it clear to all that, though I may love them dearly, I don't particularly enjoy concocting Yuletide pap.

Yet, the card-sending tradition is dear to me. I do love sending them, if not writing the slushy message within. I love getting cards and, yes, the slushy messages, and the pictures of relentlessly-growing children. (How did this happen? Children who had not even been thought of when I graduated from college are now contemplating their own William and Mary application essays.)

Thus it is with heavy heart that I shop for cards this year. I can no longer find a single damned Christmas card that I like. In years past, I delighted in sending cards that had some meaning for me, and usually some to my friends and family. The Maryland Historical Society used to have beautiful cards printed with scenes of Old Baltimore at Christmas. The Archdiocese sold lovely views of the Cathedral's high altar decorated for the Holy Day. I could always find some pretty cards showing Monument Avenue in the snow or a winter scene on Richmond's beautiful Church Hill. Naturally, William and Mary cards were a perennial favorite; there was always a card showing the Old Main Building, a.k.a. the Wren Building, dressed for a Colonial Christmas, and surely a snowy picture of the famous Crim Dell bridge.

These are all gone now. The world of Wal-Mart and made-in-China has obviated the production of such niceties. We no longer live in the world where Miller and Rhoads, or Hutzler's catered to civic pride. Richmonders and Baltimoreans are no longer interested in sending Christmas cards that hark to a more gracious era of their cities, and the William and Mary bookstore is now run by a company that wouldn't know Crim Dell if they fell into it, duck poop and all.

The death of the great department stores spelled the end of Christmas to me, for the most part; but the post-script is written on mass-produced cards. Perhaps I fancied myself more important because I sent Christmas greetings with a picture from one of my beloved cities. Perhaps the card really only counted as mine if it featured Capitol Square or Mount Vernon Place. I only know that it doesn't seem as warm and happy to sign "Frohe Weihnachten" to a card picturing cookie-cutter angels that might as well have come from Minneapolis as from Grove Avenue.

It is some small comfort that certain traditions have not yet died. Within the next two weeks, I will be standing in line for several boxes of Rheb's candy that I will pick out myself, according to lists I have jealously guarded for years. Soon, I will get around to Christmas Baking Hell, and there will be a lot of our men overseas who will enjoy it. And, on Christmas night itself, I know that it won't really be Christmas unless the organist is three sheets to the wind.