Youtube
Youtube

9 Reasons This Sign Language Version of “'Twas the Night Before Christmas” is Great

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Youtube

Sheena McFeely is a deaf mom with a YouTube channel* where she and her husband Manny Johnson teach signs with the help of their two adorable daughters, one deaf, one hearing, both native, fluent users of American Sign Language. She recently posted this wonderful video of Shaylee, who is deaf, signing a version of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

You don’t have to know anything about sign language to be blown away by the sheer force of personality coming through in Shaylee’s performance. But with a little knowledge of how ASL works, you can also be amazed by the complexity of her linguistic and storytelling skills. Here are nine great moments from Shaylee’s video.

1. At 0:30, she signs a complex sentence with a topic-comment structure. She introduces a long noun phrase, (“a mouse that was running about”) and says something about it (“is now still”). The topic noun phrase is indicated by her eyebrow raise. She lowers her eyebrows appropriately for the comment part. A big sentence for a little girl.

2. Here, she uses a discourse strategy called role shift to great effect. She introduces the stockings as straight narration, with her eye gaze straight ahead, but then, describing how the stockings looked, she shifts her gaze toward the point in space where she has established their location, allowing her to use her facial expression to express a reaction to their beauty. And what an expression!

3. Again, she uses role shift, this time to provide coherence for a series of clauses. She introduces the children in straight narration, and then, with her face, adopts the role of the sleeping children, while maintaining the narration with her signs. The role adoption lasts as long as she produces clauses which have “the children” as their subject. Then she effortlessly shifts back out of the role. Anyone who has tried to learn ASL as a second language can tell you this is not easy to do.

4. This role shift, where her slightly worried expression represents dad’s reaction, also provides coherence. She adopts the dad role with her face as he springs from bed, then shifts to neutral narration to explain that it was because of a noise, then shifts back to dad as the action continues.

5. She makes the sign for “old” in an exaggerated, extra long way. It’s like she saying “old” with a slow, creaky, old person’s voice. Great, engaged storytelling.

6. In this performance, she’s not only representing a neutral narrator and a bunch of roles within the story, she’s also herself with her own opinions. Here, for a moment, her own feelings about Santa shine through, without breaking the rhythm of the story.

7. She continues to shift perspectives smoothly from dad to narrator to Santa and back without missing a beat.

8. This is a great illustration of how what she is doing with her role shifting is very different from simple playacting or pantomime. Her head turns to show Santa’s head turning, and she winks to show Santa winking, but at the same time she produces the correct ASL signs for head movement (the flat “base” hand, the fist, the orientation change from palm into to palm out) and the ASL sign for wink (an actual wink is not an ASL sign). She is acting and performing and expressing emotions and moods, but all within a linguistic context—just as you would be doing with your voice and face if you were telling this story (assuming you were any good at it, that is).

9. “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.” As she slows down to deliver the last line, she holds your attention in the palms of her capable little hands. Can you hear, and see, Santa’s voice echoing over the quiet, snowy landscape? Was there ever a sweeter end to this poem?

*To turn on the English captions for the videos, click the CC button at the bottom of the YouTube screen.

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Want to Recycle Your Christmas Tree? Feed It to an Elephant
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

When the holiday season finally comes to a close, people get creative with the surplus of dead Christmas trees. One San Francisco-based artist transformed brittle shrubs into hanging installation pieces. Others use pine needles for mulch, or repurpose trees into bird sanctuaries. For the average person, sticking it into a wood chipper or "treecycling" it as part of a community program are all eco-friendly ways to say goodbye to this year's Douglas fir. None of these solutions, however, are as cute as the waste-cutting strategy employed by some zoos around the world: giving them to elephants.

Each year, zookeepers at Tierpark Berlin—a facility that bills itself as “Europe’s largest adventure animal park”—feed the elephants unsold pine trees. The plants are reportedly pesticide-free, and they serve as a good (albeit prickly) supplement to the pachyderms' usual winter diets.

A bit closer to home, the residents of The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee rely on local residents to take part in their annual Christmas Tree Drive. In addition to being nutrient-rich, the tree's needles are said to help aid in an elephant's digestion. But beyond all that, it's pretty adorable to watch.

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iStock
5 Eco-Friendly Ways to Dispose of Your Christmas Tree
iStock
iStock

What’s the environmentally safest way to dispose of your Christmas tree? It’s hard to say. Grown, managed, transported, and recycled efficiently, a real Christmas tree’s environmental impact should be near neutral. Unfortunately, not all Christmas tree plantations are equal in their environmental impact.

The most eco-friendly way is to leave the tree in the ground, where it belongs, so you never have to dispose of it. But then you don't have a Christmas tree in your house to bring festive cheer. One thing you can do is be environmentally smart when it comes to the tree's disposal. After this festive season, why not try one of these eco-friendly methods.

1. CHIP IT.

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a big wood-chipper, you may be able to chip the entire tree. Wood-chip is great as a decorative landscaping material. But if you really want to do great things for the environment (and if you have access to a lot of Christmas trees), you could make a bioreactor to denitrify water. Nitrates are put on farms across the world to help increase crop output, but a considerable amount is washed away into lakes and rivers where it’s disastrous for fish and potentially toxic for people. A wood chip bioreactor encourages the growth of bacteria that break down the nitrates in the drainage water, reducing the amount that gets into the water supply. It's not a simple project, however. To make one, you have to dig a big trench, get the water to flow through said trench, and fill it with wood chips. More info can be found here [PDF].

2. CRAFT IT.


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If your tree hasn’t yet let go of its needles—and you haven’t yet let go of Christmas, get crafty with it. Cut off small branches and bind them around a circle of wire to make an attractive wreath. This looks even better if some of the cones are still attached. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could set up an essential oil extractor to get a supercharged Christmas scent. If you are already distilling alcohol, you have everything you need (here's how to do it). With a little less effort and equipment, you can make a weaker liquid called hydrosol, which is a fragrant condensate water containing water-soluble parts of the needles.

3. STICK IT.

Many legumes, such as garden peas, are thigmotropic, meaning that they respond to objects they touch, growing in coils along or up them. Needle-free Christmas tree branches have lots of twigs, texture, and knobby protrusions for peas and beans to get a grip on. This allows them to grow upwards strongly toward light. Simply stick a small tree branch in the soil next to each new shoot for a free, effective legume-climbing frame. Another advantage of this technique is that it makes grazing animals less likely to munch those tender green shoots, as they tend to avoid getting Christmas tree twigs spiked up their noses.

4. TREECYCLE IT.


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Come January, it’s cold, the festivities are over, work looms, and you’ve got too much on your mind to be thinking about dead Christmas tree horticulture or crafts. Fortunately, a simple solution is at hand: Most counties and municipalities now provide Christmas tree recycling points where you can take your tree for chipping. Some “TreeCycle” points will even exchange your tree for a bag of wood-chip or chip mulch. OK, this probably means that you’ll have to jam that Christmas tree into your car once more, but as long as you don’t have to drive too many miles out of your way, Christmas tree recycling is a quick and easy environmentally-friendly option.

5. DONATE IT.

After you’ve had your Christmas cheer, why shouldn’t fish have some fun? Several communities have programs in place where they’ll take your old Christmas tree, drill a hole in the base, tie a brick to it, and throw it in a lake. When humans create artificial lakes, they tend to be relatively featureless on the bottom for easy dredging. That’s great for us, but it means baby fish have nowhere to escape predators. Christmas trees provide a nice, temporary place for the fish to hide out and explore.

If, on the other hand, you’d like to see your Christmas tree mauled by a pride of lions, that’s OK too! Some zoos around the world take Christmas tree donations (but please remove all the tinsel first) and allow the animals to play with them.

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