12 September 2016

Autumn Poetry

My Autumn Leaves
By Bruce Weigl

I watch the woods for deer as if I’m armed.
I watch the woods for deer who never come.
I know the hes and shes in autumn
rendezvous in orchards stained with fallen
apples’ scent. I drive my car this way to work
so I may let the crows in corn believe
it’s me their caws are meant to warn,
and snakes who turn in warm and secret caves

they know me too. They know the boy
who lives inside me still won’t go away.
The deer are ghosts who slip between the light
through trees, so you may only hear the snap
of branches in the thicket beyond hope.
I watch the woods for deer, as if I’m armed.

25 August 2016

Rudolph Day, August 2016

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

A Yorkshire Christmas, George Collard
This is another in Sutton's line of Christmas books, either from English shires (their equivalent of a county) or during a certain time or literary period. Having picked up one (Worcestershire Christmas) at a book sale, I've collected one or two at the time when I can find them inexpensively (not to mention Surrey Christmas turned up a year later at the same book sale).

This one is a particularly happy find because so many familiar writers are contained within. The Brontes were from Yorkshire, so both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre supply Yuletide passages and the family is heavily represented. Charles Dickens apparently wrote most of A Christmas Carol in Malton, and Scrooge's office was based on the office of Dickens' friend. Lewis Carroll, Winifred Holtby (from her famous book South Riding), and James Herriott also supply seasonal literary passages. Historical events taking place at Christmas, such as King Arthur's Christmas in York, the defeat of the Duke of York by armies commanded by Margaret of Anjou (the wife of kidnapped King Henry), William the Conqueror's victory over King Harold on Christmas Day, and others are also included. The best readings are nostalgic memories of old Yorkshire customs like the Waits, Lucky Birds, frumenty and fluffin, the amazing Yorkshire Christmas pie, charity by the rich to the poor, simple gift exchanges (oranges or figs, small toys, the custom of families knitting, travel by stagecoach, and instances of deep snow.

The volume is liberally illustrated with vintage illustrations and photographs from 1900 through the 1940s. The passages are all short and can be read one or two a night before the holidays.

* * * * *

For a classic story, but on the American side of the Atlantic, none is more heartwarming than Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory," here read on stage:

05 July 2016

Already Anticipating Christmas!

I'm the guest blogger today at Joanna Wilson's "Christmas TV History":


04 July 2016

25 June 2016

Rudolph Day, June 2016

Hurrah! It's Leon Day! Only six months until Christmas! Have you begun your Christmas shopping yet? Don't let the holidays leave you with another enormous bill in January; start buying now, as soon as you see something you know a friend or family member would like. These can be hidden in boxes under beds, in the dark corners of closets, if they are not perishable in the high corners of the garage or the attic, etc. Gift cards from established stores can be purchased now and put away. Don't be afraid to shop clearance sales—some beautiful items can be found marked down and they can be stored away for the next five months.

Summer already on your last nerve? Yeah, me, too. Here are three Christmasy pictures to cheer  me  you up:

1001 Christmas Facts and Fancies, Alfred Carl Hottes
This is a grand little book about Christmas that I first read at the library and then found an inexpensive copy online. It is the sort of Christmas book I like, with chapters about different aspects of Christmas: the history of Christmas celebrations, customs in different countries and traditional foods in those countries, kinds of Christmas trees, legends and stories of Christmas, etc., all illustrated with black-and-white scratchboard and pen-and-ink.

The chief draw of this book is that it was originally published in 1937. My edition is postwar, from 1946, but the text remains the same, so that "current Christmas customs" have no mention of synchronized singing-and-dancing house lights, computer graphics, and other 21st century garnish. Indeed, the author shows a slight scorn for artificial decorations and plays up fresh greens and real trees. He even opens with a definition of Christmas that includes Santa Claus leaving gifts in stockings and on (not under) the Christmas tree, which was the original custom,  for everyone who's ever puzzled about "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and the line about "presents on the tree." (I read a story taking place in World War II which had a man in his twenties questioning that line, which I knew was wrong; a man that age would have remembered when gifts were hung on the Christmas tree. Books published in the late 1940s still mention this custom.)

(Another old custom which I has vaguely heard of Hottes quotes as common: leaving a red candle [specifically red, in a green candle holder] lighted as a Christmas decoration. I thought that was solely an Irish custom, but apparently it was popular in the United States as well.)

In the 1930s the fascination with medieval Christmas feasts seemed to have still been in effect, because there is a lively chapter about a Yuletide banquet in a medieval castle, with its odd foods like peacock served in its own feathers, bread trenchers used as plates, traditional games like Hot Cockles, etc. Another chapter dealing with Christmas music includes the original English translation for the now classic "Silent Night," words different than we know them today. The stories about Christmas in other lands come directly from descriptions written by people who were there observing them, so they are different than the usual canned narrations used in other books.

People interested in vintage Christmas customs will probably enjoy Hottes' compilation. It can be read in chapter order, or one can dip in and read what interests them. And, thankfully, it doesn't contain any dialect-heavy "happy memories of plantation life" stories like many of these older books.

24 June 2016

04 May 2016

Should Old Customs Be Forgotten...

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/08/2e/56/082e566d14386d6a097a8978fe135a81.jpgIf you read as many books about Christmas customs as I have, you'll discover several writers quoted quite commonly. Charles Dickens, of course, is one, and Marjorie Holmes, from her At Christmas the Heart Goes Home, is another. But for Christian celebration customs, one writer is mentioned more than the rest: Francis X. Weiser, a Jesuit priest who wrote the classic The Christmas Book. Lesser known is Weiser's The Easter Book, which was written a few years later.

This is a very plain book, no fancy color illustrations or slick paper (there are line illustrations at the beginning of each chapter), just Weiser's lively narration about the Easter season, starting from the very first Easter (and tracing some of the pagan aspects greeting the spring that still remain in the celebration) and tracing ancient and modern celebrations from preparations before Lent through the Ascension. (I was amused at the revision of the tale of the Maypole, which was originally a pagan fertility symbol.) I learned several things here which I had never known before, one being that the word "quarantine" comes from preparations for Lent ("quarantine" referring to the forty days of Lent) many years before it was used for restrictions due to sickness. Also, there was always the joke when I was a schoolkid that it was really called "Length" because it lasted so long. Actually the word "Lent" does sort of mean that: it comes from Anglo-Saxon Lengten-tide (springtime), "lengten" referring to the days lengthening as the summer solstice approaches. Not to mention that the Sunday after Easter is "Low Sunday" because Easter Sunday through "Low" Sunday is all part of Easter week, with Easter being the "High" Sunday.

This book was published in 1954 and the one thing you wistfully wonder when you read it is if 62 years later the charming customs Weiser details so lovingly—sprinkling water in Hungary and Germany on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, not washing clothes on Good Friday, skipping rope in one English village, red eggs only in Greece, wearing mourning or at least dark clothing in Poland during Lent, etc.—are still kept. Even before I left home in the 1980s, it was no longer common to see Septuagesima Sunday, Sexagisima Sunday, and Quinquagesima Sunday listed in our missalettes (not to mention the aforementioned Low Sunday), although they were delightful tongue-twisters to a word-worshiping child. This book will make you nostalgic for seemingly innocent days when children reveled in finding home-made Easter baskets and you could hold open house where any stranger could walk in and not worry about being attacked.

A good edition to anyone's holiday library if you can find a copy at a decent price. This was the first one I found that wasn't over $50!

And I've finished this review just in time because tomorrow is Ascension Thursday...

25 April 2016

Rudolph Day, April 2016

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

An Old English Christmas—for some these are magical words, having read books about classic Christmas celebrations in Regency, Victorian, and wartime Britain. The streets of 20th century London can be seen here. Even older celebrations exist: wassailing of apple trees, mince pies baked for good luck, choral singing, church bells, Royal Christmas trees.

London still glitters today:

Image result for London Christmas


A London Christmas, edited by Marina Catacuzino
This is a lovely entry in Sutton Publishing's line of "A ____________ Christmas" series—one for each shire, some specialties (A Jane Austen Christmas, A Victorian Christmas, A Wartime Christmas, etc.), and of course this one, for the capitol city. They are collections of excerpts from nonfiction ranging from diaries (like Pepys and Swift) and police reports and memoirs (including children's writer John Garfield), and fiction from George Gissing and Charles Dickens (yes, of course from A Christmas Carol). There are descriptions of Christmas markets groaning with food, the rich going Christmas shopping, and a man mourning the Victorian fashion of children's Christmas parties. However, not all is jolly: poor costermongers going "a-Christmasing" describe their hard work, the bitter "Christmas in the Workhouse" appears, and two bleak holidays are described by Gissing. Historically we visit William the Conqueror's crowning, frost fairs on the Thames, London in the Blitz, medieval banquets at the Middle Temple, and the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square.

Certainly color photographs would have been much better, but these are decorated with vintage black and white prints and engravings that complement the text. Great for nightly readings before Christmas or, like today, as a respite against already sultry temperatures. If you see one at a used bookstore, give it a try!

27 March 2016

Happy Rankin Bass Easter!

I believe these are all available on DVD now! Buy these restored versions for yourself!

And my favorite of all:

22 March 2016

Something to Hold You Through the Long, Endless Summer

William Stanley Braithwaite

THERE is music in the meadows, in the air —
     Autumn is here;
Skies are gray, but hearts are mellow,
     Leaves are crimson, brown, and yellow;
Pines are soughing, birches stir,
     And the Gipsy trail is fresh beneath the fir.

There is rhythm in the woods, and in the fields,
     Nature yields:
And the harvest voices crying,
     Blend with Autumn zephyrs sighing;
Tone and color, frost and fire,
     Wings the nocturne Nature plays upon her lyre.

01 March 2016

For St. David's Day

St. David, patron saint of Wales.

19 Facts About St. David and His Day

25 February 2016

Rudolph Day, February 2016

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

Check out some of the wonderful black-and-white photos of Christmas tree past, nothing pre-lit, nothing shaved, just natural pine tree (or sometimes other kind of tree):

Vintage Christmas Tree Photos

Did you know the Irish always leave a candle burning in the window? This wonderful custom is supposed to welcome Jesus/the Holy Family. But there's another side to the custom.

Smart TV but no fireplace? Here, find this on your television browser! Now have some cocoa and put on some Christmas music!

Have you ever noticed this moment in A Charlie Brown Christmas?

02 February 2016

Candlemas Day

Merry Candlemas! It's Time to Undeck the Halls

Candlemas is a Fitting End to the Traditional Christmas Season

Wait! Does this have something to do with Groundhog Day? Well, yes, in a way:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won't come again.

The original animal to stick his nose out of his den to see his shadow was the badger.

Celebrating Candlemas - School of the Seasons

BBC: Holy Days, Candlemas

Candlemas Day: The Christian Festival of Lights

Candlemas: Jesus as the Light of the World

Candlemas and Traditions

From Chambers' Book of Days:

From a very early, indeed unknown date in the Christian history, the 2nd of February has been held as the festival of the Purification of the Virgin, and it is still a holiday of the Church of England. From the coincidence of the time with that of the Februation or purification of the people in pagan Rome, some consider this as a Christian festival engrafted upon a heathen one, in order to take advantage of the established habits of the people; but the idea is at least open to a good deal of doubt. The popular name Candlemass is derived from the ceremony which the Church of Rome dictates to be observed on this day; namely, a blessing of candles by the clergy, and a distribution of them amongst the people, by whom they are afterwards carried lighted in solemn procession. The more important observances were of course given up in England at the Reformation; but it was still, about the close of the eighteenth century, customary in some places to light up churches with candles on this day.
At Rome, the Pope every year officiates at this festival in the beautiful chapel of the Quirinal. When he has blessed the candles, he distributes them with his own hand amongst those in the church, each of whom, going singly up to him, kneels to receive it. The cardinals go first; then follow the bishops, canons, priors, abbots, priests, &c., down to the sacristans and meanest officers of the church. According to Lady Morgan, who witnessed the ceremony in 1820:
'When the last of these has gotten his candle, the poor conservatori, the representatives of the Roman senate and people, receive theirs. This ceremony over, the candles are lighted, the Pope is mounted in his chair and carried in procession, with hymns chanting, round the ante-chapel; the throne is stripped of its splendid hangings; the Pope and cardinals take off their gold and crimson dresses, put on their usual robes, and the usual mass of the morning is sung.'
Lady Morgan mentions that similar ceremonies take place in all the parish churches of Rome on this day.
It appears that in England, in Catholic times, a meaning was attached to the size of the candles, and the manner in which they burned during the procession; that, moreover, the reserved parts of the candles were deemed to possess a strong supernatural virtue:
'This done, each man his candle lights,
    Where chiefest seemeth he,
Whose taper greatest may be seen;
    And fortunate to be,
Whose candle burneth clear and bright:
    A wondrous force and might
Both in these candles lie, which if
    At any time they light,
They sure believe that neither storm
    Nor tempest cloth abide,
Nor thunder in the skies be heard,
    Nor any devil's spide,
Nor fearful sprites that walk by night,
    Nor hurts of frost or hail,' &c.

The festival, at whatever date it took its rise, has been designed to commemorate the churching or purification of Mary; and the candle-bearing is understood to refer to what Simeon said when he took the infant Jesus in his arms, and declared that he was a light to lighten the Gentiles. Thus literally to adopt and build upon metaphorical expressions, was a characteristic procedure of the middle ages. Apparently, in consequence of the celebration of Mary's purification by candle-bearing, it became customary for women to carry candles with them, when, after recovery from child-birth, they went to be, as it was called, churched. A remarkable allusion to this custom occurs in English history. William the Conqueror, become, in his elder days, fat and unwieldy, was confined a considerable time by a sickness. 'Methinks,' said his enemy the King of France, 'the Ring of England lies long in childbed.' This being reported to William, he said, 'When I am churched, there shall be a thousand lights in France I' And he was as good as his word; for, as soon as he recovered, he made an inroad into the French territory, which he wasted wherever he went with fire and sword.
At the Reformation, the ceremonials of Candlemass day were not reduced all at once. Henry VIII proclaimed in 1539:
'On Candlemass day it shall be declared, that the bearing of candles is clone in memory of Christ, the spiritual light, whom Simeon did prophesy, as it is read in. the church that day.'
It is curious to find it noticed as a custom down to the time of Charles II, that when lights were brought in at nightfall, people would say—' God send us the light of heaven!' The amiable Herbert, who notices the custom, defends it as not superstitious. Some-what before this time, we find. Herrick alluding to the customs of Candlemass eve: it appears that the plants put up in houses at Christmas were now removed.
Down with the rosemary and bays,
    Down with the mistletoe;
Instead of holly now upraise
    The greener box for show.

The holly hitherto did sway,
    Let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter day
    Or Easter's eve appear.

The youthful box, which now hath grace
    Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
    Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
    And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin',
    To honour Whitsuntide.

Greeu rushes then, and sweetest bents,
    With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments,
    To re-adorn the house.

Thus times do shift; each thing in turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.'

The same poet elsewhere recommends very particular care in the thorough removal of the Christmas garnishings on this eve:
'That so the superstitious find
No one least branch left there behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.'

He also alludes to the reservation of part of the candles or torches, as calculated. to have the effect of protecting from mischief:
'Kindle the Christmas brand, and then
    Till sunset let it burn,
Which quenched, then lay it up again,
    Till Christmas next return.

Part mast be kept, wherewith to tend
    The Christmas log next year;
And where 'tis safely kept, the fiend
    Can do no mischief there.'

There is a curious custom of old standing in Scotland, in connection with Candlemass day. On that day it is, or lately was, an universal practice in that part of the island, for the children attending school to make small presents of money to their teachers. The master sits at his desk or table, exchanging for the moment his usual authoritative look for one of bland civility, and each child goes up in turn and lays his offering down before him, the sum being generally pro-portioned to the abilities of the parents. Six-pence and a shilling are the most common sums in most schools; but some give half and whole crowns, and even more. The boy and girl who give most are respectively styled King and Queen. The children, being then dismissed for a holiday, proceed along the streets in a confused procession, carrying the King and Queen in state, exalted upon that seat formed of crossed hands which, probably from this circumstance, is called the King's Chair. In some schools, it used to be customary for the teacher, on the conclusion of the offerings, to make a bowl of punch and regale each urchin with a glass to drink the King and Queen's health, and a biscuit. The latter part of the day was usually devoted to what was called the Candlemass bleeze, or blaze, namely, the conflagration of any piece of furze which might exist in their neighbourhood, or, were that wanting, of an artificial bonfire.
Another old popular custom in Scotland on Candlemass day was to hold a football match, the east end of a town against the west, the unmarried men against the married, or one parish against another. The 'Candlemass Ba', as it was called, brought the whole community out in a state of high excitement. On one occasion, not long ago, when the sport took place in Jedburgh, the contending parties, after a struggle of two hours in the streets, transferred the contention to the bed of the river Jed, and there fought it out amidst a scene of fearful splash and dabblement, to the infinite amusement of a multitude looking on from the bridge.
Considering the importance attached to Candlemass day for so many ages, it is scarcely surprising that there is a universal superstition throughout Christendom, that good weather on this day indicates a long continuance of winter and a bad crop, and that its being foul is, on the contrary, a good omen. Sir Thomas Browne, in his Vulgar Errors, quotes a Latin distich expressive of this idea:
'Si sol splendescat Maria purificante,
Major erit glacies post festum quam fait ante;

which maybe considered as well translated in the popular Scottish rhyme:
If Candlemass day be dry and fair,
The half o' winter's to come and mair;
If Candlemass day be wet and foul,
The half o' winter's gave at Yule.'

In Germany there are two proverbial expressions on this subject: 1. The shepherd would rather see the wolf cuter his stable on Candlemass day than the sun; 2. The badger peeps out of his hole on Candlemass day, and when he finds snow, walks abroad; but if he sees the sun shining, he draws back into his hole. It is not improbable that these notions, like the festival of Candlemass itself, are derived from pagan times, and have existed since the very infancy of our race. So at least we may conjecture, from a curious passage in Martin's Description of the Western Islands. On Candlemass day, according to this author, the Hebrideans observe the following curious custom:

The mistress and servants of each family take a sheaf of oats and dress it up in women's apparel, put it in a large basket, and lay a wooden club by it, and this they call Brύd's Bed.; and then the mistress and servants cry three times, "Brύd is come; Brύd is welcome!" This they do just before going to bed, and when they rise in the morning they look among the ashes, expecting to see the impression of Brad's club there; which, if they do, they reckon it a true presage of a good crop and prosperous year, and the contrary they take as an ill omen.

25 January 2016

Rudolph Day - January 2016

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

Check out some free Christmas cross stitch patterns.

Some poetry for the day!

[little tree]
By E. E. Cummings

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see          i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid

look          the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"