30 November 2005

St. Andrew's Day

St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland. His saint's day is one of the celebrations within Advent, at least within Scottish borders.

The City of Edinburgh's St. Andrew's Day Page

U.K. Traditions' St. Andrew's Day Page

Send a St. Andrew's Day card.

29 November 2005

Musical Disharmony

Last year, before satellite radio was even more than a glimmer in our minds, Dish Network picked up the Sirius music channels. When there was nothing else on television, we'd pop on the 60s channel instead, and at Christmastime I discovered they'd taken one of their regular channels (Easy Listening, I'm almost positive) and turned it into a holiday music channel. Now there were two, along with Dish's own Holiday Music Channel, each with a different playlist.

So now that I had satellite radio, I looked forward to having Christmas music when this time of the year rolled around.

I'm now really disappointed. This year the holiday channel is on Channel 2, StarTime or StarLight, whatever, and I think someone broke into their holiday music catalog and destroyed everything but about 36 hours of the same songs. Since Saturday (and I've only had the channel on for a total of about three hours) I've heard Bruce Springsteen yelling a Christmas song at least four times; I've also heard "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole upteen times and John Lennon's Christmas hit and many others too many times already. When they play Gene Autry, it is always "Here Comes Santa Claus." Perry Como is always "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays." Etc. Plus they have really bad rock Christmas songs mixed in, like the Springsteen, and Macy Gray, who sounds like she's 100 years old with strep throat.

So I finally went back to the real radio and settled on 94.9. I have to listen to commercials, but anything's better than another Macy Gray rendition and yet another repeat of the last fifteen songs. My God, in my own personal collection I have at least three days worth of Christmas music, no two versions alike, and I don't have half of what's out there.

While tuning 94.9 back in I accidentally hit the preset for 104.whatever, and that terrible song "The Christmas Shoes" was on. For that I'd go back to Macy Gray. God, I despise that song. Oh, I loved the original story when it was a six paragraph story at the end of an article in Reader's Digest over 20 years ago; it was simple and touching and made you think. I didn't even mind the different embellished versions in those Chicken Soup for the Soul type books. But this wailing, lugibrious version of the tale is simply horrible.

Country Cards

Ahhh, now I remember. It's because I put them away in the card box that I bought a few years ago.

I chose a country theme for the Christmas cards: it's artwork of a wooden door with a sleigh leaned against it, a Christmas tree to the left with some gifts, snowmen to the right. Country without being cutesy.

28 November 2005

Time to Write the Christmas Cards

“In America, the printing of Christmas cards was introduced by the Boston lithographer Louis Prang, a native of Breslau, Germany. Prang offered them to the public for sale in 1875. Since the present popular designs of Christmas symbols were not yet known in [the United States], he adorned his cards with Killarney roses, daisies, geraniums, apple blossoms, and similar floral motives. These first American Christmas cards, like all other products of Prang’s lithographic art, are still famous among collectors because of their exquisite design and craftsmanship. A few years later he broadened his designs to include children playing in the snow, fir trees, fireplaces, and finally Santa himself. In 1890, when a flood of cheap and gaudy novelties in Christmas cards swamped the market (dried flowers, chenille, bits of colored glass, corks, and seaweed), Prang abruptly stopped the production of his beautiful cards to register his disgust and disappointment.”
                                            . . . . Francis X. Weiser, The Christmas Book
Louis Prang

More About Louis Prang

I'm embarrassed to admit that I don't remember what this year's Christmas cards look like! I picked out a design I loved last year just before Christmas, tucked them away in the closet, and haven't looked against since!

Are Gifts What Christmas is Made Of?

Handling the 'Gimme' Season

I understood from a very early age that (a) Santa Claus doesn't have everything and (b) Daddy works in a factory and we don't have a lot of money. It wasn't presented as anything horrible, but it was a fact of life. I remember several nice Christmas presents when I was small: Patty Ann, my walking doll; some great stuffed dogs; a baby carriage, but mostly I remember coloring books and a new box of crayons and small gifts. And then there were the bigger gifts as I got older: my 12-inch black and white TV (so Dad wouldn't have the fantods every time I wanted to watch Lost in Space—he loathed Dr. Smith), my first cassette recorder, and my wonderful manual typewriter (part of which I had to pay for myself, but I didn't care).

But my fond Christmas memories are about visiting the relatives and playing Po-ke-no in Papa's cellar and driving around to see the decorations and lights, and baking wine biscuits and molasses cookies and almond bars and butterballs with Mom, and lying under the Christmas tree to look up through the branches or writing stories by its lights, and finding just the right thing for my mom and dad or best friend, and going to Mass and the big creche scene near the altar. The gifts received were only incidental; the best part was the celebration with people you loved.

New "Felicity" Movie Premieres Tomorrow

Looks like the American Girl people are going to start doing one as a yearly holiday event right after Thanksgiving. Seems sensible with this one as the highlight is a Yule Ball at the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia.

I'm glad they've chosen to do "Lissie." I was rather surprised at the Samantha choice last year. Of all the girls, Samantha has always seemed the least interesting.

Preview the movie.

27 November 2005

Making Someone's Day, Trapped in Holiday Traffic, and Other Holiday Stories

We wanted to make a trip down to the flea market south of Jonesboro before the Christmas rush got to be too much. The flea market used to be off this lonely road; now there is a big shopping center down there with a BJ's (this was the first BJ's in Atlanta) and a Books-a-Million and a Super Target and many others, and many times there are cars lined up at the exit.

First we stopped at Ikea and had lunch. :-) We didn't go there just for lunch: we were looking for a certain Christmas decoration they have, six strings of eight lights each that make a "curtain." We don't want it as a Christmas decoration: in the new house the living room opens on to the foyer. We were thinking if we could put these lights in the opening to make a "curtain," Pidge might not attempt to fly into the foyer. We plan to keep the light out and he usually won't go where it's dark, but this is Pidge, after all, the crazy one.

Well, they hadn't restocked the white ones we were planning to get. In fact, they had taken down the display string of the white ones, so I guess they are truly out. Another couple was there looking for a set of the gold ones; they had bought several sets but had miscalculated the space they were trying to cover. They wanted at least one more, if not two or three.

All they had left was red and we didn't want a Christmasy color for every day. Amazingly, in the big mass of red boxes, James found a box of the gold ones and suggested we get those. To me, the gold was just as Christmasy as the red.

As I watched the other couple searching in the pile for more gold ones, I shrugged. Red's a fall color, after all, and perhaps I can wind the strings with fall leaves. We have red cushions on the dining room chairs and I want to do red curtains in the dining room windows, too. So I picked up a box of the red ones and told James they would do, and he gave the gold ones to the other couple. Merry Christmas!

Anyway, we were trying to beat the Christmas crowd, but forgot about the Thanksgiving one! We were making good time on I-75 south until just before Southlake Mall, where traffic slowed down to a near crawl. It had nothing to do with accidents; there were just a lot of cars! It took us about a half hour to go eight miles. We were glad to get off; the traffic stretched south to Macon in a solid line.

We stopped at Books-a-Million because there isn't one near us (and to use the bathroom!). James bought me something but I don't know what it was. I did see a lovely book that I would love to have, but I will try to find it for a cheaper price (it's $35). It's called St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas and is co-written by Joe Wheeler, who does the Christmas in My Heart books. It's full of wonderful photos and drawings and stories.

Did find some magazines that are almost never at any of the stores in the Atlanta metro area: Country Extra with fall photos, and the Christmas issues of Country Woman and Reminisce Extra. Annoying to have to drive over an hour for something that should be in every bookstore.

We walked around the flea market, and if Willow wasn't so chary around other dogs (including those smaller than her), we probably would have come home with a Pomeranian puppy. I was in love with a fox-faced 4-month old red-and-white girl puppy at one breeder's stall, but James fell in love with a younger male puppy at another stall: he was mostly white with brown patches over each eye. He kept romping at James and chewing on his fingers; James wisely did not hold him, or puppykins would have been transported back to Marietta between us in the car.

On the way home we detoured to Stone Mountain to visit the M.C. Twinklin's Christmas store on Route 78. We found a very nice, unlighted tree—but it was nine feet tall! All the other trees were either pre-lighted or not of the needle type we wanted. Man, are we asking for the impossible?: trying to find an artificial Frasier fir type with no lights on it and six to seven feet tall? Sigh.

First Sunday of Advent

     Blow, blow thou winter wind—
     Thou art not so unkind
          As man's ingratitude!
     Thy tooth is not so keen,
     Because thou art not seen,
          Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh ho! sing heigh ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly.
     Then heigh ho! the holly!
     This life is most jolly!
     Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky—
     Thou dost not bite so nigh
          As benefits forgot!
     Though thou the waters warp,
     Thy sting is not so sharp
          As friend remembered not.
Heigh ho! sing heigh ho! unto the green holly,
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly.
     Then heigh ho, the holly!
     This life is most jolly!
                                            . . . . . . . . . . . William Shakespeare, "The Song of the Holly"

"Tradition bestowed a holy status on the holly long before the birth of Christ. It is said that it was a holly bush from which God spoke to Moses.

"Many legends speak of holly and its association with Jesus. One ancient story is that wherever Jesus walked, holly grew out of his footprints; witnessing this miraculous growth, the animals vowed never to disturb the holy plant."

November 27 is the earliest day that the first Sunday of Advent can fall upon. Early in the Christian calendar, Advent lasted 40 days, similar to Lent, and began on November 15, although some churches counted Martinmas (November 11) as the first day of Advent.

26 November 2005

A Christmasy Saturday

Well, between packing paperback books (I have seven XeroxTM boxes full from two bookcases, and still have a larger bookcase to go) and washing two loads of clothing and packing up two clear storage boxes, anyway.

Anyway, we went checking out Christmas trees again; there's a lovely one at Hobby Lobby, but it's pre-lighted. We have our own lights—and not only is it pre-lighted, but it's white lights. Sorry, no. I know the original Christmas trees had candles, technically "white" light, but I was brought up on multicolor and I like multicolor. If only we could find a plain tree that looked like that. The needles are very realistic.

We also went to JoAnn to use a 50 percent off coupon (I wanted some of the new DMC "light effects" floss and they had two different collections, pastel and jewel) and found the cutest Christmas deer. All the Christmas stuff is already 60 percent off, so it cost nearly nothing. It's about 15 inches tall and plaid with black button eyes, brown antlers with aged sleigh bells on them, and a "pine garland" marked with cones and berries around its neck.

It told me his name was "Rusty." :-) I didn't argue with him.

We watched our first two Christmas specials tonight: we had been quoting from "Silly But It's Fun," the Good Life (Good Neighbors) Christmas ep already, so we saw that and the All Creatures Great and Small episode "Merry Gentlemen." We both love the gentle humor.

25 November 2005

There is something about saying, "We always do this," which helps keep the years together. Time is such an elusive thing that if we keep on meaning to do something interesting, but never do it, year would follow year with no special thoughtfulness being expressed in making gifts, surprises, charming table settings, and familiar, favorite food. Tradition is a good gift intended to guard the best gifts.
                                                                         . . . . . . . . . . . Edith Schaeffer


I'm back. Ohboy. Mostly bought storage stuff (ended up at JoAnn twice because I was sleepy enough that I didn't realize that 50 percent off those large clear storage boxes with another 20 percent off was a Real Deal, so I only got 10 percent off extra on most of them). Bought strings of blue lights at Lowe's.

Was bad and bought Christmas books; one is funny and one is a collection of excerpts from Victorian magazines. I did look through a volume about Christmas in the South and was convulsed by the chapter where the author talked about how designing magazines published in the north talked about decorating your Christmas tree with candy canes, cookies, and other food goodies—since obviously they didn't live in the land of palmetto bugs and ants nearly all year round!

I didn't run into any really big crowds because I didn't go within even winking distance of a mall, or anyplace that sold clothes {shudder} or shoes {double shudder}. Just went to JoAnn, Lowe's, Media Play, Costco (for gas), Barnes & Noble, and Eckerd's.

I did buy one totally stupid thing: the November 28 issue of People.

But the picture of Hugh Laurie is soooooo nice. :-)

Well, I'm Off...

...which is probably what most people think I am after getting up at this hour. I'm off to JoAnn...or maybe just to Lowe's...

24 November 2005

Thanksgiving Mural

Create a mural with great expertise;
Paint scenes depicting Thanksgiving and Peace.

Start with a mountain, majestic and grand;
Drape it in mist like the palm of a hand.

Sketch in the bear, the eagle, the deer;
Wind little streamlets, icy and clear.

Plunge shaggy cliffs straight down as they go
Or drop a worn path toward the village below.

Show me a valley bursting its seams;
Paint in the harvest; lace it with streams.

Dapple with yellows; touch it with red;
Rustle the wings of wild geese overhead.

Find me a fence, split-rails asunder;
Nestle the crops from chill winds and thunder.

Dig me a well; construct a cool fountain;
Plant me some maples to color my mountain.

Place a stone seat by the mural and then
Teach me to share God's blessings with men.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alice Leedy Mason

23 November 2005

Benjamin Franklin Speaks Out About Our National Bird

"For my part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character...For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird withal, a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey is peculiar to ours;...he is besides (thought a little vain and silly, it is true), a bird of courage, who would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guard who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on."

Traditions Change

Monday night I taped a couple of Thanksgiving specials, one from the regular series on Food Network, Unwrapped, and the other The Secret Life of Thanksgiving. Both, but especially the first, talked about traditional Thanksgiving foods and what (and what not) would have been eaten by the Pilgrims in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. (For instance, they wouldn't have had applesauce—no apple trees yet—or traditional bread—no wheat (although they might have had corn pone, a recipe learned from the Native people)—nor many other crop foods that had not been planted yet.)

As they went through the list of "traditional foods," however, you noticed, especially if you were a reader of older books, even as recent as the 1940s, that there are traditional foods for Thanksgiving that are no longer being eaten.

For instance, in every older story about Thanksgiving, you can usually find mashed/creamed turnips. They, and other root vegetables, were a staple of many a fall and winter meal in New England and the Midwest. It wasn't until people started canning vegetables that people were able to have greens in the wintertime and only very recently that there were green vegetables all year round thanks to refrigeration and faster shipping methods. Produce you would have found in a grocery store at Thanksgiving time even post World War II is very different from what you find in the supermarket today.

Another very popular Thanksgiving food that doesn't seem to show up on the "traditional list" any longer are creamed onions. These also show up in meal menus from stories more than fifty years old. Gladys Taber mentions them, or the little pearl onions, in her Stillmeadow books and it is one of the vegetables served in Gail Rock's 1947-set The Thanksgiving Treasure.

Neither of the specials even mentioned butternut squash, although it still comes with Thanksgiving dinner at most New England restaurants. I wasn't surprised, given the disappearance of squash pie from the supermarkets up there last November, although mashed butternut squash does show up on many of the cooking specials in the winter with a new twist, as a soup.

The one Thanksgiving food tradition that has apparently been around for years but which I had never seen until I moved south was something called "green bean casserole." I'd read about such an animal, but had never seen them in evidence on a New England table. If you saw "string beans" on the Thanksgiving menu they were served straight.

Creamed Onion Recipe

Mashed Turnips

Here's a squash pie recipe; it has a little milder flavor than pumpkin.

St. Clement's Day

"Once reckoned the first day of winter in England. It marks apparently one of the stages in the progress of the winter feasts towards its present solstitial date...[i]n Staffordshire children used to go round to the village houses begging for gifts...[h]ere is one of the Staffordshire "clemencing" songs:—
'Clemany! Clemany! Clemany mine!
A good red apple and a pint of wine,
Some of your mutton and some of your veal,
If it is good, pray give me a deal;
If it is not, pray give me some salt.
Butler, butler, fill your bowl;
If thou fill'st it of the best,
The Lord'll send your soul to rest;
If thou fill'st it of the small,
Down goes butler, bowl and all.
Pray, good mistress, send to me
One for Peter, one for Paul,
One for Him who made us all;
Apple, pear, plum, or cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry;
A bouncing buck and a velvet chair,
Clement comes but once a year;
Off with the pot and on with the pan,
A good red apple and I'll be gone.'"
                    . . . . . Clement Miles, Christmas Customs and Traditions

20 November 2005

Stir-Up Sunday

Traditionally, the British plum pudding should be made on this date and then stored away until Christmas. The sobriquet came not only from stirring up the batter for the plum pudding that will then be steamed in a cloth bag—and everyone in the family must give the pudding a stir, and stir in the correct direction, or there will be bad luck!—but from the Collect (opening prayer) once traditionally used in the Anglican church.
A term often used for the day referred to as "the Sunday next before Advent" by a rubric in the 1662 BCP. This phrase was then used in the 1892 and 1928 American Prayer Books as a title for the day which had previously been designated simply as "The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity," which was the last Sunday before the season of Advent. The term comes from the opening words of the collect of the day in the 1549 and later Prayer Books, "Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
"The Christmas Pudding"
Into the basin
put the plums,
Stir-about, stir-about,

Next the good
white flour comes,
Stir-about, stir-about,

Sugar and peel
and eggs and spice,
Stir-about, stir-about,

Mix them and fix them
and cook them twice,
Stir-about, stir-about,

. . . . . from A Treasury of Christmas

Some Stir-Up Sunday links:

BBC's Food Website

Woodlands Junior School's Stir-Up Sunday page

15 November 2005

Old Advent

The original Advent season was 40 days long, like Lent, and involved fasting and prayer, and thus would have started today. It was Pope Gregory (he of the Gregorian Calendar) that shortened the period to four weeks. There's a nice overview of the season here:

Advent and Preparation for Christmas

13 November 2005

Christmas, Cloudy Days, and Other Wanderings

James had to work today, so I was on my own. I had to do the usual fetching-some-milk (and a newspaper) errand. I noticed that they have restocked the Christmas tree that we liked at BJ's. This is a seven-foot-high artificial Frasier fir (basically a larger version of the tree we have now). They were out last week, but they have more. It's a consideration...

It was what would have been a typical dreary November day, cloudy and with a bit of a breeze, in New England had it not had a Southern overtone and been so warm, about 20°F higher than your typical gloomy pre-Thanksgiving day, the kind that always makes me think of the exchange from Little Women:
"November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year," said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the frost-bitten garden.

"That's the reason I was born in it," observed Jo, pensively, quite unconscious of the blot on her nose.

"If something very pleasant should happen now, we should think it a delightful month," said Beth, who took a hopeful view of everything, even November.
Beth's words about pleasant things were particular appropo since I cheered up a bit when I arrived at Town Center Mall (especially after I found a good parking space). I guess I'm like many women that going shopping is a happy activity (rather than an ordeal that fills men with gloom), although unlike many women I hate shopping for clothes or shoes. (Talk about something positively gloomy.) It was energizing to walk through the bright and lively movement, although avoiding the strollers made it a bit dodgy.

I went to Hallmark for their Holiday Open House; not much of a "do" except for having some treats out, but they had peppermint bark, which is too good for words: a layer of dark chocolate topped with a thin layer of white chocolate, studded with broken peppermint candy cane bits. Mint and chocolate and crunch all in a sweet mouthful. Then I strolled to Waldenbooks and back. Even though it is not Thanksgiving yet, Christmas shopping is already going full steam and kids are queued up to see Santa Claus. It still always surprises me that Santa arrives so early in the Georgia malls. To me he's out of place (or perhaps that's out of time).

Also went to Media Play since it was triple points day and hit a bonanza: I saw a book on sale that I had really loved reading last year and quickly snatched it up for my friend Sherrye. Plus while wandering about the used CDs I blinked: they had something called "Smooth Yule" (cool jazz arrangements by folks like Kitaro, Kevin Eubanks, and Kenny G) for only 50¢. Remainder perhaps, but I played it for the rest of the afternoon and it quite fit my mood, a bit mellow and a bit melancholy all at the same time. There had been a break in the clouds about that time, but it clouded up again, and although it was only 3:30, the world had a twilight feel. Cars had their headlights on and you could see lights in the windows of homes glowing as if it was going on toward sunset.

I headed down John Ward Road to pick up something for supper and was about to pass by one of the housing developments popping up everywhere; this one is the usual upscale version, Ellis Farms, starting at the mid-400s. I had spotted the style of the homes from the street and just had to turn in, and was further enchanted while driving around: had I money to be totally, insensibly insane with, here's where I would buy a house. They resemble those wonderful country homes you see in old English dramas, with a fieldstone front, rustic looking shutters, and double garage doors that look like the original ones that opened like stable doors. While they are not huge, they are sizable homes, and the air is so old-fashioned that I want to walk in one and make sure there is one dark-paneled room full of bookshelves stuffed with leather-spined volumes and furnish the place with solid old leather chairs, claw-footed tables, and hunting prints on the wall. (I didn't stop at the show home; I wanted to imagine that the theme continued inside, with solid mahogany-reproduction doors, transoms, china doorknobs and the like. Imagination is probably better in this case!)

Oh, and then I want to dress them out for Christmas, with lots of evergreens garlands and swags and red velvet bows, kissing balls and "mistletoes," cornucopias and kugels and Dresdens on the tree. In that dusky light, the houses looked so perfect for decorations of green wreaths and scarlet bows and single white candles in the windows that they could almost be a movie set, just waiting for the snow machine to begin, or even a misty dream like Brigadoon.

It was a cheering way to end a day out.

12 November 2005

Christmas at Lithia

A little disappointed...there were not as many vendors this year. The gymnasium is usually chock full.

And the "cow lady" wasn't there. I had just about convinced myself to buy the matching set of salt and pepper shakers.

But we did finish our Christmas shopping. All I have to do is get James something.

11 November 2005

From the Library of Congress

poppyToday in History: November 11

I remember school exercises each November 11, which was by then Veterans Day and had been since after World War II, but my parents still called it "Armistice Day." Each of the grades would present something, the younger children often singing all the service songs as well as "You're a Grand Old Flag," "God Bless America," and "America." One of the older children would always recite "In Flanders Fields," being careful to instruct them not to lapse into sing-song and thus separate "we throw" and "the torch" into two unnatural units, that sad verse being proclaimed in a childish treble. If you were performing you would come to school in your best clothing: suits on the boys, Sunday dresses on the girls. The rest of us sat in corderoys or heavy plaid skirts, long sleeved shirts and raglan-sleeved sweaters, trying not to wiggle in the hard auditorium chairs. The piano would be wheeled onstage and we would rise, the music teacher would play "The Star Spangled Banner" and then we would say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag and the exercises would begin.
In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
I remember buying poppies when I was a child; poppy sellers appeared on the streets of downtown Providence, but I haven't seen a lot of them in years. A few years ago I saw a poppy seller and bought one, but haven't seen any since.

Christmas is Coming...Martinmas Day

Typically celebrated by eating a goose, which means the song would be apt:
"Christmas is coming
The goose is getting fat,
Please to put a penny in the old man's hat..."
In England many centuries back, Martinmas Day was considered a harbinger for Advent, which was 40 days in length originally and began on November 15.

For a great book about Christmas customs, Clement Miles' Christmas Customs and Traditions is worthwhile. This is a scholarly tome and may not be everyone's cup of tea. What makes the volume more fascinating is that any recent copy is a reprint of the original 1912 edition, so Miles' view of Christmas is back from when the Christmas tree in a majority of American homes was a new custom and the "jolly old saint" alternatively has his name spelt as Santa Klaus. Even better, different countries still held their old customs. Scots still "first footed" on Hogmanay, English farmers still wassailed their apple trees, Germans still considered St. Stephen's Day as devoted to horses, and [sadly] the cruel custom of killing the wren was still practiced.

Miles begins with the Christian practices of the holiday, beginning with sacred music and continuing through devotion and drama. However, mindful that most of our holiday customs derive from the pagan, he devotes the rest of the book, the majority, to those practices, covering pre-Christian customs and then continuing through the old feast calendar, from All-Hallows (All Saints) Day through Martinmas, the saints' days such as Andrew, Clement, and Catherine, and so to St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia, and the Christmastide holidays themselves, not just Christmas Eve and Day, but those afterwards, through Epiphany and Candlemas.

10 November 2005

North Georgia Craft Lovers: Christmas at Lithia This Weekend

This is a wonderful crafts show: the vendors assemble in booths or setups in the school foyer, hallways, and cafeteria. Everything from dolls to special sauces and foods to wooden crafts to clothing can be found. You can purchase food in the snack area.

Lithia Springs High School is at 2520 E. County Line Road, Lithia Springs, Georgia 30122. You take exit 41, Lee Road, off Interstate 20. If you are coming on I-20 West, you turn left, I-20 East, right. Drive a little over a mile and turn right on E. County Line Road.

There are usually signs that say "craft show" or "Christmas at Lithia" on the exits that point the way.

If the folks from Pampered Chef are there, be sure to buy a sliced Granny Smith apple with caramel sauce on top. Ordinarily I'm not fond of caramel sauce, but it tastes super on the apples!

(By the way, it isn't just "Christmas shit" pardon my language. Yes, there are lots of "too cute for words" children's clothing and stuff like that, but there are also useful things for kitchens, baths, etc. If you're looking for a nice Christmas gift, this may be the place.)

(Which reminds me that I need to dig up my cute "Indian Corn" pin that I bought there last year out of my jewelry box.)

08 November 2005

The Lights of Life Return!

Life University, the chiropractic college, will resume their annual "Lights of Life" display on the campus after a one year hiatus. Here's the press release (it's a Microslop Word document).

Here's my Lights of Life photo tour.

06 November 2005

Christmas Shopping

We ended up going back to Ikea today. No, we weren't obsessed (although I had to admit it was a good workout; between Ikea and Borders I racked up 8400 steps on the pedometer). As I lay dozing in bed this morning, an idea formed. And when James woke up, I asked him, "Remember the [interesting object] we bought at Ikea yesterday? Do you think [person we buy a Christmas gift for] would like it?"

He thought a minute. "Yes!"

So between trips to Borders (30 percent off coupons ended today), we went back to Ikea and ended up buying several [interesting objects] for various people. James also bought me a stuffed dog that looks remarkably like Louie the yellow Lab in the comic strip "Overboard."

And now...gulp!...the big news! After fifteen years of marriage I seem to have worn James down. Not only did he buy a Christmas CD (Jethro Tull) last week, bringing his grand total of Christmas CDs up to five, but today he actually urged me to buy a pair of five-candle candoliers. They're actually quite nice: small and solid, with white "candles" and a red base.

He also wanted to look at some lights we had seen: white stars hung vertically in strands, six or eight strands to a unit. The new house will have a living room open to the foyer and they might be useful to keep Pigwidgeon the daredevil out of forbidden territory. Unfortunately all they had left in the strands were red lights. There were at least four other people looking for the same lights.

Between two trips to Borders and the trip to Ikea, we have pretty much finished our Christmas shopping. I even found something for myself, a copy of The Best of James Herriot on the remainder table. These are abridged (it's a Reader's Digest publication) selections from each of the five Herriot books (most of the selections from the pre-war stories). I have all the Herriot books, but the draw on this is that there are not only color inserts of photos of the real Herriot areas, but the stories are annotated explaining and showing bygone things like the medical instruments that vets in the 1930s used, and what the farm implements, housekeeping tools, and various farm animals looked like. I love annotated books; I love to learn new things.

02 November 2005

A British Autumn

Autumn Time at the BBC. Includes recipes and games.


Today is All Souls Day

It was the custom many centuries ago for people, especially children, to go from house to house on All Saints Day or All Souls Day singing "souling songs" and receiving for their efforts "soul cakes."

Reading of these customs makes it sound as if it was an old version of "trick or treating," and indeed many historians trace the origins of trick or treat back to children going a'souling.

It was also once a holy day of obligation, like All Saints Day before it.

01 November 2005

Showing Their Colors

The leaves here have been so slowly turning color that it's almost as if it wasn't happening. While the saplings and short young trees have been exploding in red, orange and yellow, the large trees haven't been in a hurry.

Today, driving home, however, I noticed that the larger trees seemed to be converting to fall color rapidly. Part of this may have been from the temps in the 30s we had a few nights ago, but I think it was more because it was overcast, the sky a high, light grey. I have noticed this even in New England with the trees at their "glowingest" of scarlet, melon, and gold—I remember the Columbus Day weekend we went to Lake George, and it rained and rained, but nevertheless the trees seemed to be alight from within. One maple tree at a rest area had the most breathtaking crimson leaves I had ever seen. They never seem so bright on sunny days.

Perhaps it's because the trees have to compete with the too-brilliant sunlight and the bright blue of a fall sky, for certainly the trees didn't appear yesterday as colorful as they did today with a monochrome backdrop. Each maple in the neighborhood had at least one side that was bright with red or yellow shading into orange.


There is an elusive quality about November sunlight. The Connecticut hills are beautiful with a special beauty. At night, little faraway houses, never seen in summer, suddenly pierce the dark with their lamps. Fields of winter wheat appear, visible now the leaves are down. All the browns, a thousand browns, come out. Rust-brown, sand-brown, topaz-brown, and the faded gold of harvest fields. The contour of the land is evident, folds and hills and valleys. The sky over all is soft and hazy, and there is a feeling in the air that winter is coming. The shadows look different, sloping across the pale grass. This is a peaceful, serene land, and never quite so peaceful as now, with the crops in, wood piled high, houses snugged down, brooks running slow with leaves. The days grow shorter. Dusk comes before we are finished with the day.
                                            . . . . . . . . . . . Gladys Taber, The Book of Stillmeadow

If you love the country, or dream about living in the country, there is no better person to read than Gladys Taber and it's worth your while to hunt up her Stillmeadow nonfiction, even those books not in print and obtained from independent dealers. Her writing is lyrical. (And, no mistake, this is not rose-colored country living: there are broken pipes, insect infestations, uneven floors, misbehaving furnaces and crises aplenty, but beauty shines through at unexpected bends.)