Christmas – 2018 and Beyond – Part 5 – Duncan

I’m home.

I’ve an incredible Christmas with my entire family. I’m emotionally spent.

I’m on my laptop writing and watching Christmas shows. Doing what I love doing

I’m sipping vodka club and settling into blissful night of my own satisfaction.

 

It’s 10pm and I’m well into my zone.

My phone rings and it’s Duncan. My very best friend of 20 years who explains that he’s in Old City right now.

I’m half in the bag at this point and can’t believe he’s in the city.

He wants me to come out and hang.

Let’s be clear.

 

If I’m home and done work and don’t have to see anyone or have a date… once I’m home I’m done.

It’s like a vault. Once I’m down to the T-shirt and shorts and slippers there is no turning back.

Ever.

I have said that if Alessandra Ambrosio was knocking at my door to come out and hang I would blow her off.

I love her and have met her, (See: Alessandra Ambrosio) and have the pictures to prove it and I wouldn’t come out.

But I love Duncan and this asshole is some how in the city so I have to do it.

God Dammit.

Ha wants me to come to Amada for free drinks. For fuck’s sake. I don’t care about that. I spent the whole day with my family. I’m tired. There is no way I can come out and hang with you and your girlfriend and cousin.

Why have I not gotten on any notice on this arrival?

 

15 minutes later  I’m in a Lyft and on my way to Amada.

 

For Duncan I’ll do it. We have history. Deep history. I have to see him.

I arrive. It’s great to see him. The last time we were together was when the Eagles won the Superbowl ‘

 

I love Duncan.

 

There is also a welcome addition. His girlfriend Misa.

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about her.

I was so happy to meet her, and she is an absolutely lovely person that Duncan should probably marry. That’s how good she was. I thought she’d be like Yoko between John and Paul.

 

But Misa was wonderful. I wish only happiness for these two.

Later that night after I pounded a couple of free Manhattens, I told him that Misa was so amazing he should marry her or I would.

He seemed shocked.

I told him I was drunk and not to try to marry anybody.

 

But I can’t wait to see Duncan in February for the Superbowl.

 

EAGLES ARE IN THE PLAYOFFS!

 

We are so going to hang at the Ritz Carlton and sip expensive cocktails and nosh on some savory snacks.

 

I love Duncan and I’m so happy this fucker is still in my life!

 

Happy Holidays, one and all!

 

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Christmas – 2018 and Beyond – Part 4

The kids pick me up and I’m stupid happy to see them. Lorelei’s boyfriend has the coolest car. It’s a black ex-law enforcement vehicle. So it’s a Crown Victoria, Still has the bigger motor, spotlight, the special suspension, and the battering ram on the front.

So technically, he can never be stopped by the cops for ANYTHING.

I love this car and I love the identity tied to it.

They’ve been together for 4 years and everybody loves Liam.  He’s a great guy and if he can put up with my daughter were good. (LOL!)

Oh course we have to stop at Wawa because they need coffee. (These kids and their lack of energy today!)

We drive to Janice’s house and I love that Liam is on point and I literally have to do nothing but provide banter.

It’s so relaxing. Just to be.

 

We figure out parking and all stroll up to the house.

We enter though the garage as everyone does. I decide to make a grand entrance and start with the opening bars of Andy Williams:”The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

My cousin exclaims that’s her favorite holiday song and immediately hugs me.

 

The party is in full swing. I hand Tom his mystery bottle of booze and we scatter to talk and mingle with everyone..

 

I don’t have to get into detail here because that’s our time, but it was amazing to see what’s left of my entire family.

Me and all of my sisters. They’re all amazing women. I love all of my brother in-laws too. The nieces and nephews. My daughter! So good!

 

Janices’s son got engaged to his lovely girlfriend. I adore them both and wish them nothing but health and happiness. (I’m not going to say anything about grandkids, but by writing this I already did!)

 

It was magical day as it always is thanks to Janice who has kept the Christmas candle burning after all of these years.

That event on that Sunday IS my Christmas now. Without that party, Christmas would simply be a day when nothing’s open in Philly to me.

So thank you so much Janice for the incredible party you put together every year for all of us.

It means the world to me and it’s all I have left of anything that resembles the incredible Christmases we all had as kids with mom and dad.

Those memories are locked in home movies but even clearer for me in my own mind. I have all of details right here. More vivid than any 8mm film could tell. Sadly those will go with me when I pass. But… Our Christmases where so epic someone should have made a film about them.

Didn’t Janice get a Volkswagen Rabbit one year? lol!

But all kidding aside, my dad loved Christmas so much. He passed 2 years ago but if he were still around I’m sure mom and dad would love to see that we’re all still together and still celebrating the season.

I thank my sister Janice for keeping that flame still burning.

 

I’ve stuffed my head with tons of food, and they’ve packed tons of cookies and goodies for my trip home, but my ride needs to roll so I have to leave.

I bid farewell to all of my brethren and off we go.

I’m the old guy in the back of the cop car going to the train station.

 

What a great day.

 

Christmas for me is now complete.

I’ve seen everybody in my family and the feeling is pure bliss.

I have a Tupperware container full of cookies baked by my sister April that is the EXACT recipe for my mother’s christmas cookies. They taste exactly like them and every bite brings me back to our time in the kitchen with mom at 312 Magee avenue at christmas with my sisters and my mom.

Every bite is worth s fortune.

Better than money.

 

The kids drop me at the train and the beauty of it all is that it’s perfectly timed.

I love that.

I literally pass my ticket and step on the train.

In 30 minutes I’m back in the majestic bubble of Rittenhouse.

I feel the rush of returning to my sweet city after and incredible day that couldn’t have been more perfect. It’s so good, even I couldn’t have written this level of joy.

 

I get home and settle in.

It’s 6:30pm. I’ll watch some christmas shows and have a cocktail.

A quiet night of love and refection.

 

4 hours later…. my phone rings.

 

WTF?

 

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Christmas 2018 and Beyond – Part 3

The train goes back underground as we enter Camden NJ. That place is a den of scum and villainy that could have been a mini mirror to Philly but has failed in so many horrible ways. I’m actually glad in this moment my internet connection has gone black again as we enter Camden.

I think back on good and bad memories in Camden and will write about them at some point but that time isn’t here.

Camden is an awful place in New Jersey, but at some point I’ll tell you some stories from that once great seaport but for now I’m just passing through.

Happily locked in an extruded aluminum passenger car on PATCO.

 

The train once agin rises from the darkness of Camden’s tunnels and re-enters the sunshine on the this fine sunny day.

I look at all of the scenery and as the train roars east. I see all of the ghettos and shit neighborhoods below the elevated tracks. It hasn’t changed in over 40 years. I’m sitting here in a brand new train in a comfy chair, listening to Howard Stern and Christmas Carols and I’m shooting past absolute poverty below me.

What will Christmas morning be for the children in this neighborhood.

But I’m facing backwards. So I watch it all fall away from my view. By not sitting forward the sadness was never coming up… but going away from me.

See how this is working?

We roll into the Ferry Avenue stop. This is the stop where for years I would pick up and drop off of my daughter with my ex-wife.

I remember I would pick her up there and bring her to Philly when she was younger. But I also remember when I would ride the train with my little one and arrive at Ferry Ave to give her back on Sunday, I knew I wouldn’t see her for two weeks.

I was always sad on that quiet train ride back to Philly.

 

I feel all of that rush back into me but I’m not sad because I know at the end of the line, my daughter and her boyfriend will be picking me up and we’ll all go to Janice’s house for an amazing gathering.

The train rings and surges forward, and I watch as that sad memory fades as well and becomes joy.

Collingswood, Haddonfield, and all of the rest of the stations pass.

I can see my whole history living in New Jersey in my miserable marriage fall away from me. All vanishing down the gleaming rails.

All of it. I’ve lived in several of those towns and it’s good to see them all fall away from me and know that my daughter and I are no longer prisoners to the lie that is a domestic life so many hold dear.

I no longer have any feelings or emotions about any of that nonsense, but it’s nice to see South Jersey simply go away through a window on a train ride.

I could feel the cleanse of that moment and the exuberance of all of the wonderful people I was about to see, and where I was now in my life.

 

I finally arrive in Lindenwold. I don’t know this station. iI don’t care. I get off and head down the escalator and go outside. I’m listening to music and feel really good. The weather is surprisingly mild and I take a seat on a bench outside awaiting the arrival of Lorelei and her boyfriend.

I’m so happy and so filled with holiday bliss and energy I’m not even listening to Christmas music anymore. I’m listening to songs by a Swedish metal band called Angel Dust. I haven’t listened to any of that in 10 years! Maybe longer. I must be drinking deep on my dopamine.

I text my daughter that I have arrived and I think she’s a little stressed as so many young people are. She doesn’t want to keep her dad waiting. I tell her not to worry and to take her time and be safe.

I know this lovely day will unfold as it should.

I sit back on the metal bench and smile.

It’s been a while since  I simply sat in the sun.

I feel it on my face and it is as comforting as my mother’s hand in mine.

I don’t know why, but I was just in such in a beautiful moment of calm sitting on this bench out in the middle of nowhere in a place I’ve never been.

I knew my daughter was coming, but I loved this moment in the morning sunlight by myself.

I felt the sun’s energy on my face. I put out my hand and felt the sun in my hand.

Sun in my hand.

Happiness in my hand.

It’s within me and right here on my face and right here in my hand.

This is my holiday alone moment.

Just waiting but not impatient. Just calm. It’s so nice. It’s never been like this.

Sun in my hand.

No problems. Just Happy Christmas time.

Maybe for the first time ever.

 

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Christmas – 2018 and Beyond – Part 2

I’m happy to see her fade from my view like all of the other beautiful women in my life. Like beautiful Christmas ornaments on the tree of my life. Some are gone. Some fallen and broken, some stolen by guests and strangers.

I had been talking last Sunday about how I had been searching for the Christmas spirit before my sister’s annual holiday party.

All of the Christmas carols, the lights in Rittenhouse, the hustle and bustle of the season. None of it gave me the surge I was expecting.

But if you read that post, (Christmas 2018) you’d know that the holiday season had been in me all along.

What a blissful feeling it is.

My life is so simple and elegant now. I finally get it. You don’t need a bunch of stuff and events to be happy.

Live simply, and simply live.

 

Before the event I stopped at the liquor store. Every year I have a ritual where I present my sister Janice’s husband with a quality bottle of liquor.

I figure, I come into his home, and eat and drink as much as I want and am surrounded with all of my favorite people in the world. So give the guy a good bottle of booze!

I pick it up the night before and settle in at home after work listening to Christmas music and writing. My favorite place to be most evenings.

I’m really looking forward to seeing my whole family tomorrow.

 

The next morning I get up and grab a healthy breakfast. In years past I always had a great deal of anxiety when I had to travel. Just an old ailment. Usually there were several moving parts to traveling to my sister’s party. There would be daughter Lorelei, my then girlfriend Michelle. We had to pull it all together and get to 30th Street Station.

It was always stressful for me. But the end result once we got to my sister’s was always so good.

I had to get all of the tickets at a machine I always struggled with at the station. I would sometimes go out there the day before and buy all of the tickets just to take the edge off.

I always got a large bottle of water and a package of crackers just to put something in my stomach. Just nerves and anxiety and travel.

All of that is long gone.

The plan has changed. NJ Transit is doing track work and not running. (Now what do I do?) I’m not getting any younger, and my lovely daughter Lorelei takes charge and I love it.

I get the text. “Dad. Take the 10:15 train at PATCO and take it to Lindenwold, NJ. You’ll get there a half hour later, and we’ll pick you up in the car and drive you to Janinice’s house.”

I love it.

I’m finally at a point in my life where I don’t have to figure everything out and manage everybody else.

After a nice breakfast, I head to the PATCO station at 16th and Locust. Normally for a solo mission to Absecon NJ on New Jersey Transit it used to run me $40 round trip.

I enter in my coordinates into the ticket purchasing machine at the station and it tells me it will be $6 round trip!

Six bucks! It’s a Christmas miracle!

I grab my ticket and hop on the train.

It’s been a while since I’ve set foot on PATCO. They’ve replaced all of the trains with newer models! Lovely train cars. I step into one of the cars and figure out if I want to sit forward or backward.

I know it may seem odd, but that’s part of the trip.

I go with my instincts and decide to sit at a window seat and actually decide for some unknown reason to sit backwards.

It was a great decision.

I don’t travel much and I don’t know why I chose this. Normally people like to face the way they are going and so do I. That’s just normal existence. Makes sense.

Underground in the subway at 16th and Locust there’s no wifi or cell contact. So I sit in silence waiting to go.

The bell rings and the train lurches forward. I’m just chilling in the darkness thinking about all of the wonderful people I’m going to see this afternoon.

This one day a year.

This one day in time.

A party that someday I will no longer be around to attend. Just like my parents before me.

The train is traveling east and then south. It will leave Philly underground and then rise from the depths of the subway and traverse the Ben Franklin Bridge which crosses the Delaware river into New Jersey.

I always took New Jersey Transit to get to my sister’s house. But like I said,  NJT is having construction done through January, so it’s down. I am taking PATCO for the first time to Lindenwold.

As the train roars up along the side of the Ben Franklin Bridge the view is spectacular. I watch my beloved city stand in the cold winter sun glistening under the blue blue sky on this Sunday before Christmas.

I love her.

I want to die in this city.

I’m happy to see her fade from my view like all of the other beautiful women in my life. Like beautiful Christmas ornaments on the tree of my life. Some are gone. Some fallen and broken, some stolen by guests and strangers.

I know I’ll be back around dusk to see her again. I’ll feel the snap in the air and the flash of her holiday season as her heart beats in every household, restaurant and chest of every Philadelphian in my city.

 

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The Gift of The Magi – By O. Henry – Part 2

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice– what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year–what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

 

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The Gift of the Magi – By O. Henry – Part 1

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silentimputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for themendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling–something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practiced hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value–the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends–a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do–oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty seven cents?”

 

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The Custom of Kissing Under the Mistletoe

The custom of kissing under the mistletoe could possibly be related to a Scandinavian goddess.  Frigga, the goddess of love, marriage, and destiny in Norse mythology, is strongly associated with mistletoe, which has been used as a decoration in homes for thousands of years.

According to Scandinavian legend, the god Balder the Beautiful was killed by a spear of mistletoe and his grieving mother Frigg, who banished the plant to the top of trees.  When Balder came back to life, Frigg made mistletoe a symbol of love.

In Brittany, France, the plant is known as Herbe de la Croix because it is thought that Christ’s cross was made of mistletoe wood.

Mistletoe is associated with many pagan rituals. In fact, the Christian church disliked the plant so much, thanks to its pagan associations, that it forbade its use in any form.  Some English churches continued this ban as late as the 20th century. Druids believed mistletoe growing on oak trees was the most sacred form of the plant and that it offered protection from all evil, as well as being the source of much magic.

The early Christian church banned this use of mistletoe because of its association with Druids. The mystery of the mistletoe’s method of reproduction led many people to link the plant with spontaneous generation, fertility and aphrodisiacs. In medieval times, women wishing to conceive would wrap mistletoe around their waists and wrists to increase their fertility.

Holly became a Christian substitute for mistletoe, which is why we ‘deck the halls’ with it. The sharply pointed leaves in holly were supposed to symbolize the thorns in Christ’s crown and the red berries were to symbolize his blood.

 

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