30 December 2005

Creeping Pink

Yes, the Valentine stuff is taking over: JoAnn had hearts scattered everywhere and even has their garden things out. CVS is hung with pink hearts and so is Michael's.

I always tend to slide into depression after Christmas; the pink only makes it worse. I hate pink...

28 December 2005

On the Fourth Day of Christmas...

...the sobering events of Herod's paranoia is told at Feast of the Holy Innocents (Childermas). A priest's vestments will be purple today in memory of the infants who died.

Because of the massacre of the children, Childermas is considered an ill-omened day. No new projects should be started on Childermas day, lest they also meet with a bad end.

"Voices of Christmas Past"

I've been listening here this afternoon to this novel CD of old Christmas recordings—and I do mean old, since the newest song here is from 1922; the oldest is from 1898. It begins with Santa Claus addressing children and telling them he is hiding in the phonograph (1922). In an era when an Edison phonograph or a "Victrola" and records in the house was still high technology, imagine the faces of the small children of the house when they played this offering!

This is not the only spoken word selection in this collection. Recordings of comedy bits and scenes from plays were common in those days, and rural and ethnic humor was very popular. Two of the selections are about a country town called "Pumpkin Center" and loquacious old "Uncle Josh" narrates the stories, and another is an Irish dialect schtick. There is also a recitation of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and an interesting piece from 1917 about British soldiers around the campfire during the "Great War," telling jokes and singing.

Others are instrumental pieces, and some have the jazzy ragtime beat that was the rage in that era, and there are standard carols as well, one sung by the leading tenor of the "teens," John McCormack. One is an unabashed love song "Come and Spend Christmas With Me," also sung by a lush tenor, which was the fashion.

Two of the spoken pieces are duplicated on this page of .mp3s, which contain other songs not on the album. (One of the songs is from 1944 and the other from 1938, but the latter is done in the style of the older recordings.)

It is interesting listening to the voices of the singers and noting how the sound of people talking or singing has changed. The group singing sounds much like what we would call today "barbershop quartet" style. There is also an interesting accent in the voices which reminds me of Jerry Colonna when he was on stage (but it is not a "funny" effect like Colonna). I can only term it as kind of a warble. The spoken pieces are also what we might consider stagy today; it was the typical recitation voice of the time and even children, learning "pieces" for school, were trained to present their offerings thus.

This is a wonderful album to listen to if you are interested in history in general or in the history of sound recordings. The selections take you back to the time when our great-grands wound up the gramophone and enjoyed the "hits" of the day, scratchy record surface and all!

27 December 2005

Let's Keep Christmas

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "Christmastime" or "Christmastide" as "A festival observed from December 24, Christmas Eve, to January 5, the eve of Epiphany." Other sources include January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, in the count. Scandinavians celebrate until January 13, St. Knut's Day, and depending on the reference, Christmas greenery can be kept up until Candlemas Day, February 2, but must be removed by then.

It's Christmastide, folks! Why are folks so all-fired quick to tear down their Christmas things the moment December 25 is over? It's Christmastide: go out and enjoy it! Some folks have spent weeks shopping, decorating, and baking. Now is the time to sit and enjoy it; make Christmas visits (after work, since we must) and still drink the eggnog and munch on a treat or two. Granted, the folks who've had their Christmas decorations up since before Veteran's Day may have pretty dusty ornaments by now. Why do folks put 'em up so early anyway when there's Thanksgiving to enjoy in November?

Even if you don't want to do the entire "twelve days of Christmas" routine, it would be nice not to see trees discarded in the trash at least until the day after New Year's. We always had the tradition that the Christmas lights stayed on all night both Christmas—to guide the Holy Family to your house and New Year's—to see the new year in. Why not keep the winter doldrums at bay a little while longer with the beautiful welcoming lights and adornments and music?

Those Thank You Notes!

The classic story "Down Pens" by Saki (H.H. Munro).

26 December 2005

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, It's Shopping We Go

Thank God most of the places we went did not have excessive traffic. The ramp to Gwinnett Mall wasn't even backed up, which was surprising. We didn't go to the mall {ugh}—we had to go to Fry's. I wanted one more set of dual DVD cases and another of triples to finish the video-to-DVD project. The videotapes need to be gone by the time we move.

James ended up getting a new motherboard and processor because his new computer has gone from locking up repeatedly only when it was cold (you had to leave it on or it locked up and had to be rebooted a dozen or more times before it warmed up) to locking up all the time. I replaced my "taped off Mystery" copy of Oliver's Travels with the UK-release version DVD (Mystery edited 15 minutes out of the first two parts) and also found a blast from the past at a discount price: a collection of Wild Kingdom shows that include programs with Marlin Perkins. Wild Kingdom was a Sunday night ritual at our house in the 1960s; Mom and Dad were thrilled that I loved watching educational programs and not just cartoons.

We also went to Media Play to see if there was anything worth buying and spending our last replay coupons. We bought mostly bargain books, but I found a Christmas book I'd never heard of before, European Christmas by Rick Steves and I did get a used copy of Sirens and also Bullwhip Griffin.

Our last stop was Borders at "the Avenue at East Cobb" (ohhhh...lah-dee-dah). The place is full of clothing stores like the Gap and Talbots and was packed, but we finally found a spot. Some friends (thanks Ron and Lin!) gave us some Borders gift cards for Christmas and that finally "pushed us over the edge." We took the two cards and the sixteen $5 Borders credit card rewards coupons I had been hoarding since after Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out and bought The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which Borders had finally marked down from 20 percent off to 30 percent off a few weeks ago. (I got a big kick out of reading my comics this morning and noting the subject of today's "Fox Trot." LOL! It's true!)


Got up early (well, 7:15 is early on a non-work day) and zipped to the nearest Hallmark store where I got my cards for next year. I couldn't decide between the chickadees and the English robins, both which I adore, so I got both; now I have cards for two years. I also got an English robin candle holder (which is sort of silly since I don't do candles, but I do have battery candles; those could work), a "tin" reindeer ornament, and another reindeer ornament. On the way out I noticed they were putting these "perpetual calendars" on sale, the type that has two blocks with numbers on all sides for the date and smaller blocks with the months on them. One was a "Nature's Sketchbook" calendar, like the English robin candleholder and cards (but it had a rabbit on it rather than one of the birds). I've always wanted one; when she went to ring it up it turned out it was a dollar! Too cool.

Boxing Day...

...dates from the Middle Ages when the contents of the church alms boxes, especially put out for the purpose at this time, were distributed amongst the needy. Apprentices also traditionally received small amounts of money from their employers and customers over the year. This would be collected in small earthenware money boxes that would be broken open with anticipation on Boxing Day. In [Edwardian] days, it was those who offered a regular service, such as the postman, who would be rewarded, along with farm labourers and needy cottagers living the estate of a kindly benefactor." Often the "box" included a meal or an assortment of food, and perhaps even some wood or coal for fuel, along with the money.
                                                   . . . . Sarah Hollis, Country Diary Christmas Book

25 December 2005

"Merry Christmas!"

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Sing a song for the glorious season.
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Sing a song for a happy new year.

Sing merrily, merrily, loud and strong,
Welcome the wintry season.
Just follow along with the holiday song.
Santa is here again, yes!

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Sing a song for the glorious season.
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Sing a song for a happy new year.

The reindeer fly, if you need any proof.
It's merely a matter of reason.
Just listen, you'll hear when they land on the roof.
Santa is here again, yes!

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Sing a song for the glorious season.
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Sing a song for a happy new year.

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Sing a song for the glorious season.
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Its a magical, miracle, annual, lyrical,
sing-along now, sing a song for a happy new year!
                                         John Williams, Home Alone

24 December 2005

Christmas Fun Fact

Before you start watching endless runs of A Christmas Story, here's the answer to the question "Are Peter Billingsly and Barbara Billingsly [of Leave It to Beaver fame] related?" The answer, from the askingman:
"The two Billingsleys are related, but very remotely.

"It begins with Sherman Billingsley, who ran New York City’s famous Stork Club nightspot during the 1940s and ‘50s. Barbara Billingsley was married for a time to Sherman Billingsley’s nephew, Glenn. They were long divorced before Peter came along. Peter Billingsley, meanwhile, is the son to another of Sherman Billingsley’s nephews.

"So that would make Barbara Peter’s ex-aunt, thrice removed from a previous marriage. Or something weird like that."

23 December 2005

An Elfin Look

The idea that Santa has elfin helpers is probably related to ancient Northern European folklore. Scandinavians have long believed in small, magical men called tomten or julenisser...In order to ensure a prosperous year, farmers offered food to the elves to keep them happy. Later...the julenisser became bearers of holiday gifts in the popular imagination. These days they are believed to do helpful things like cleaning up the kitchen, making a batch of cookies, bringing in wood from the barn and keeping the fire going in the fireplace. If the family is good to the elves, leaving them a bowl of rice pudding or other dessert on Christmas Eve, the elves do even more important things like reminding the family to unplug the iron before leaving for a party, to blow out a candle, or put the screen in front of the fireplace before going to bed.....
                                                         . . . . . . . . . . . Annette Spence, Christmas

"The Mistletoe Bough"

Ghost stories at Christmastime, acknowledged in the present by a line in the popular Andy Williams-sung "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," were quite popular in Victorian times (not to mention earlier). Another popular "thrilling tale," which was also adapted as a song, was this poem which to modern ears sounds a bit morbid for the season. It was, nevertheless, apparently a favorite holiday recitation piece among young unmarried ladies who found the whole situation romantic.

"The Mistletoe Bough"

The Story of "The Huron Carol"

This First Nations page has the story of the Canadian Christmas carol, "The Huron Carol." This is a song I haven't heard played for years on any radio station, although I remember hearing and learning about it in school. It may be because in New England we were closer to the Canadian border. I seem to remember it being in one of our singing books in elementary school.

I've managed to find two different Christmas albums that have the "Twas in the Moon of Wintertime" translation on it. I'm not sure I've ever heard it in the original Huron.

"An Atlanta Christmas"

If you're somewhere in the range of a Georgia Public Broadcasting radio station this afternoon at 3 p.m. (or somewhere where you can listen to it online—Oooh, look, there's an announcement on the web page), they're presenting a short form version of the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company's "An Atlanta Christmas." This version has a variety of the more humorous sketches from the presentation:

Old Atlanta Christmas (song)
Mr. Currier, Mr. Ives, and all that Snow
The Santa Claus Blues
USO Christmas
The Ultimate Christmas Pageant
The Legend of the Poinsettia
The Zen Santa Claus
The Experts
Bumpers Crossroads: Rose's Fruitcake

It repeats again at 10 a.m. Christmas morning.

22 December 2005

NORAD Tracks Santa 50th Anniversary

NORAD's been tracking the big guy since just after I was born.

Here they tell you how it started and then how they do it. I didn't know Rudolph's nose gave off an infrared signature. Too cool!

Here are the test announcements from earlier this year when Santa participated in the famous Hollywood Santa Claus Lane parade.

Stay tuned.

21 December 2005

In a Pickle

I don't know how old I was when I first heard the story about the Christmas pickle, but it was well into adulthood.

This site explains where the custom of the pickle came from.

And here are two sales sites, Catholic Supply and Christmas Decorations & Gifts, that also tell the story of the legendary Christmas pickle.

I thought it was a charming custom, and several years ago, while wandering in a gift shop in Helen, GA, James and I found a small pickle ornament. We have no children, but I hide the ornament on the tree nevertheless and when we have our Twelfth Night party, I allow the children attending the party to search for it and give a small gift to whomever finds it.

But is the Christmas pickle really a German tradition? About.com's section on German myths says it ain't so!

And here's a discussion about "the controversial Christmas pickle."

Looks like that old German tradition may not be so old or so German after all.

It's still a fun treat in a fun season.

19 December 2005

Christmas Specials

Just finished watching Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol; I have watched this since it premiered on television in 1962. Even as a small child I loved the songs. Today it still holds up well—despite being abridged (nephew Fred is nowhere to be seen), whole passages of dialog are directly from the Dickens text and the music is excellent: it was written by Jules Styne and Bob Merrill, two Broadway veterans. Interestingly enough, the story is mounted as a play being presented on Broadway, with Magoo starring as Ebenezer Scrooge. The usual nearsighted Magoo jokes are woven within the Dickens dialog and sound completely natural (since Dickens at several times mentions Scrooge not seeing properly; it works well).

Broadway veteran Jack Cassidy is the voice of Bob Cratchit and lends his mellow tenor to several songs, including the inspirational "The Lord's Bright Blessing."

The backgrounds are typical sketchy UPA-animation art, but of a period flavor that works well. As an inside joke, UPA cartoon character Gerald McBoing-Boing (who, in his own stories, speaks only in sound effects) plays Tiny Tim and has a voice (and gets to sing about the infamous "razzleberry dressing").

Other Christmas-y stories watched lately: "Christmas at Plum Creek," the first and best of several Christmas stories done on Little House on the Prairie. The series' 70s links are even more obvious now and several anachronisms abound (the Ingalls have a Christmas tree, for example, when the family never saw one until Laura was much older and it was at church; the real Laura and her sisters received only small gifts, delivered in stockings—you can also tell the tree is artificial!), but it's a sweet little story about the family finding ingenious ways to give each other Christmas surprises. Laura's gift is an ultimate heartbreaker.

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together—always fun: someone commented in a newsgroup that it was appropriate, because John at that time did look a bit like a Muppet. He certainly fits in in this combination of comedy and variety, with some serious overtones including the reading of the Bible story and singing "Silent Night." Miss Piggy, of course, causes most of the laughter, whether it's jazzing up her part in "The 12 Days of Christmas" to singing a round to sucking up to John Denver to get a larger role.

Hill Street Blues: "Santa Claustrophobia"—it's just business as usual at Hill Street station: a series of brutal shootings shakes up the neighborhood, Neil is consumed with guilt over an accidental shooting, Faye is upset (again) over Frank Jr spending Christmas with his dad, and a cynical kid has put the kibosh on Belker's stakeout. Add a hospital Christmas show for sick kids and Renko's infamous "Oh, Lordy God, it's Christmas Eve and I'm gonna be shot dead in a moose suit," and you've got an engaging hour of television.

The Waltons: "The Best Christmas"—the best of the three Christmas stories done on the series. The family plans to make the Christmas of 1937 extra-special for Olivia, then all are separated on Christmas Eve after Mary Ellen and John-Boy help after a car accident, Grandma and Grandpa are stranded after making a hospital visit, and John and Jason help ready the church for the Christmas service after a tree falls through the roof. I know this was filmed on a hot soundstage in August, but the wintry feeling is so well done that you wince and shiver when John-Boy and Harley Foster plunge into the icy pond to rescue a woman and her niece.

Our Ceppo

You might call this an "Italian Christmas tree." Most ceppos are pyramid shaped, but this is an alternate style. The largest level usually has a Nativity scene, and other levels contain food gifts and other little Christmas keepsakes.

The little tree at the top has all our Hallmark minis (and some miniature ornaments I bought at Thall's drugstore in Cranston before they closed). The little Nativity was something Hallmark put out once upon a time. I built the stable from balsa wood and the angel is one of the Thall's ornaments. We'll put our gifts under that. In the candy dish on the right are the few old glass ornaments left over from my mom's tree that I did not incorporate into apothocary jars as gifts for my cousins who cared for her so much. (If you can make it out, behind the ornaments is our partridge—Shirley, of course.) I didn't feel like digging in the bins for the winter flowers, so I put a garland and bow in the container hung on the wall. Next year I can put flowers in it.

ceppo with nativity and Christmas tree

18 December 2005

Remember Glass Wax Stencils?

We all remember Glass Wax, don't we? It was a liquid solution with a pinkish white cast that came in a bright pink metal container. You shook it up, then applied it to your windows and let it dry. It dried to a white hardness, then you polished it off. (I always thought it was made by Johnson's Wax, but it wasn't. The company was Gold Seal.)

Some bright person realized that this whiteness could be used for another purpose and voila, Glass Wax stencils were born. These were made of waxed paper in all sorts of Christmasy motifs: Santa in his sleigh and also coming down the chimney, reindeer, bells, angels, snowflakes, a nativity scene complete with a shepherd and Wise Men with camels. You applied the Glass Wax with a dry sponge and presto, your windows were festive. Then when Christmas was over, you wiped off the stenciling and the windows were also clean. It was a decoration any mother would love. If you were really ambitious, you could add a few drops of food coloring to the liquid Glass Wax and have multicolor festiveness.

We had a big glass window in the living room, horizontally sectioned into four long panes. I used to decorate the entire window every Christmas. The third level would be the Nativity scene. I would reuse the Wise Man and camel motif carefully three times so there were three, not one; and make one pair of reindeer into eight (in fact I would then dab the sponge on only one of the reindeer and make Rudolph at the front, using the edge of the sponge to make "beams" of light from his nose. Santa and the deer were on the second pane down; the top pane had the star and banks of angels on either side, ringing bells or playing trumpets (the angels only came with bells; instead I improvised the trumpets from the edge of the sponge). The lowest level was reserved for the miscellaneous motifs: bells, holly, Santa in the chimney. It was a lot of fun.

15 December 2005

An Old-Fashioned Christmas

Ten days to go...

"Old Christmas" by Washington Irving

14 December 2005

RIP John Langstaff

John Langstaff, the founder of Revels, Inc., died today at the age of 84.

I've always loved the Revels Christmas albums because they are different from the usual repetitive albums featuring a well-known singer and the same familiar songs or carols. The Revels albums feature some of the old standards, plus relics from medieval times and songs popular in regional areas of the US, England, and Europe. Some of the songs are old-fashioned rounds, shape-note music, or rhymes for children.

The live performances have a different theme each year, but all stress joy and audience participation. I hope to see a performance one day.

More about John Langstaff.

His obituary, quoted from the Boston Globe.

10 December 2005

Trim Up the Towns

We took a ride to Helen, Georgia, today. There is a gristmill, Nora Mills, dating back to the early 1800s, just as you approach the town and James likes their country gravy mix. (They also have a wonderful multi-grain "pioneer porridge" that is great on cold mornings.) Plus, since Helen has a Bavarian motif, they "do" up a lot for Christmas.

The clouds were scudding across the sky all day, so we never knew quite what the weather was going to be up to. First it was high cirrus clouds, then it became overcast, and by the time we left not a cloud was left. It was in the high 40s, maybe up into low 50s by midafternoon, and quite nice for walking around.

We bought Willow some "gourmet dog treats" for Christmas and wandered in and out of different shops: quilts, the glassblower's store, a Christmas store (the old store is gone, darnit), and others. The streets was roped with garland and ornaments, and on corners and in front of shops were colorful "lollipops" made with bright cellophane coverings.

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall a few months ago, it brewed storms that swept through Georgia, including up in the north Georgia mountains where Helen is located. A tornado ran roughshod through the southern part of town as well as destroying many trees around the Nora Mills area. We had seen the report on the news, but like all things, it was quite different seeing it in person. They had fixed the Econolodge, which had its top story sheared off, but the area that had once been outlet stores was badly damaged, and sadly, the beautiful expanse of trees behind the outlet mall area, which had been a picnic area along the Chattahoochee River, and a hill of thick trees beyond that, were ravaged. The hill looked as if someone had begun clearing it for a development and then left it to rot: broken, bent trees and lots of mud.

After we left Helen, we headed back for home, but made a side trip to Dahlonega (site of the first US gold rush, back in the 1830s). This is a pretty old-fashioned town with older buildings around a town square that contains the old courthouse; I had seen photos of it decorated for Christmas in the latest Points North magazine and had wanted to stop by. Amazingly, we found a parking space right on the square and were able to walk around and window shop at the old stores, now mostly occupied by antique stores and gift shops, as well as go in the used bookstore and in the general store. There was a large decorated tree before the courthouse and an even larger, real fir tree between 15-20 feet high next to a wooden sleigh and reindeer affair that James figured was where children came to visit Santa Claus. The storefronts were wound with garland and lights and there were candles and wreaths on the windows of the old courthouse as well as in many of the shop windows.

We hadn't eaten lunch and, surprisingly, couldn't find anywhere where we could just have an inexpensive sandwich it was either a big dinner at four available restarants, or sweets, nothing else. So we had to leave without making an inspection of the antique stores nearby because James' blood sugar was showing as low.

Happy Holidays!

Surfing the Sirius channels and came upon Mike Church ranting about the phrase "Happy Holidays" again.

Granted, I think some of the PC stuff going on these days is silly. Calling a Christmas tree a "holiday tree" is as absurd as calling a hanukkiah a "holiday menorah." But ranting about "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" is equally ridiculous.

For one thing, this is a nation of many beliefs. Since you may have no idea if the person you are greeting is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan or of no religious affiliation at all, "Happy Holidays" is a friendly greeting that encompasses all the varied December holidays. "Season's Greetings" performs a similar function, but is rather formal and more for signage than for conversations.

I do chuckle at the complaints because the folks that are complaining act like "Happy Holidays" as an all-encompassing December celebration term is a new thing. It's not only been around for a good long time this century, but goes back to the 19th as well. A book I purchased last year, Christmas in the Old West, features newspaper and magazine ads from the Lewis and Clark era to the "closing" of the frontier and "Happy Holidays" is noticably used in many different types of advertising. This is because Christmas celebrations were latecomers to many parts of the United States—while the South and the Mid-Atlantic states and the new Western territories celebrated the holiday, New England families and Quakers and Shakers either didn't celebrate at all, or the celebration was strictly religious. As late as 1870, many New Englanders worked on Christmas Day and stores were open.

The Scots, whether those of Scottish descent in the US or in their native land, also did not celebrate Christmas. Their holiday was Hogmanay, New Year's Eve. Christmas wasn't a national holiday in Scotland until 1957.

So a significant population of the United States gave out gifts and/or celebrated on the New Year. One of the earliest Santa Claus references had him distributing gifts on New Year's Eve and apparently there were some editions of "A Visit From St. Nicholas" that had the first and final line changed to "New Year" for those who celebrated gift-giving on New Year's Day.

"Happy Holidays" covered all those who celebrated on either day, and is just as useful today. I don't see what the problem is.

06 December 2005

"...And That's What Christmas Is All About"

Tonight is the 40th anniversary broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas. While it's traditional today, it was really quite novel when it premiered in 1965: Children did the voices of the characters instead of voice artists and Schultz touched on some of the real feelings about Christmas rather than going for slapstick humor and wildly exaggerated characters.

And of course there is the famous Bible passage that unnerved the executives at CBS.

The Vince Guaraldi score was inspired; it made the story timeless and is as much a part of it as the characters and the situation. Can you imagine the story done to a Hanna-Barbera-—or worse yet, Filmation-—type score?

Did you know you can buy a "Charlie Brown tree" this year? I saw it in last Sunday's newspaper. You get a scrawny, bent-over pine tree and a single red ornament. Here's the link at Urban Outfitters. (They seem to be sold out.)

You know, I've always wanted a sound clip of Violet saying "Oh, no, we're doomed." What a great comment to accompany opening Windows every morning! (Or at least Microslop Word—or even worse, Microslop Access...)

A Short History of St. Nicholas/Santa Claus

From St. Nicholas Center and linked at the bottom, from The Christmas Archives.

In fact, check out the entire site of The Christmas Archives.

05 December 2005

Did Clement C. Moore Really Write "A Visit from St. Nicholas"?

In Common-Place.org, a publication of the American Antiquarian Society, Stephen Nissenbaum (author of one of my favorite Christmas histories, The Battle for Christmas), discusses the claim that Moore was not the author of the famous Christmas verse in the essay "There Arose Such a Clatter; Who Really Wrote "The Night before Christmas"? (And Why Does It Matter?).

For many years now it has been the claim of the Livingston family of New York that an ancestor, Henry Livingston, wrote the now-celebrated story of a visit from Santa Claus, not Clement Clarke Moore.

04 December 2005

St. Barbara's Day

St. Barbara was a young woman who converted to Christianity and then was tortured for her beliefs; she was turned in to the authorities by her own father, who originally had her locked in a tower. Despite this rather morbid history, Barbara is the source of a beautiful European tradition that involves cutting small branches of flowering trees such as cherry or plum trees and taking them inside; with applications of warm water, care, and warmth, the idea is to have them bloom for the Christmas holidays.

St. Barbara is the patron saint of a number of occupations, including mariners (George Von Trapp of the famous Trapp Family Singers was particularly fond of St. Barbara), unexpected death (her father died suddenly after betraying her) and, oddly, gunners.

More about St. Barbara at Catholic Culture—Liturgical Year : December 04.

And here is G.K. Chesterton's poem "The Ballad of Saint Barbara."

03 December 2005

O Christmas Tree! (O Christmas Treats!)

We found a new tree today. After looking again at Hobby Lobby and Michael's, we stopped at Seasonal Concepts on the way to JoAnn. (SC is very close to a tree lot and I'm having live tree envy this year. But I don't want to spend the Christmas holidays with bronchitis. Damn allergies!) Amazingly, they had more than two unlighted Christmas trees! Most of these trees, lighted and unlighted, were quite expensive—there was a 15-foot Douglas fir with white lights that was $1500!—and unfortunately the ones we liked the best, with very realistic spruce needles, were too tall, pre-lighted, and really expensive.

But amazingly we found a 6 1/2 foot tree with fairly realistic needles that was not too green like the other tree we had considered at Hobby Lobby. It basically looks like the tree we have now, but taller. It's also a slim tree because the place we have decided to put the tree in the new house will only be about 40 inches wide (but it's not one of those really anorexic-looking slim trees, either). This is very full; I'm already wondering if we're going to have trouble with our Hallmark spaceship ornaments!

James also fell in love with a neat-looking string of lights that look like little Christmas trees in five colors (no orange, unfortunately). They were half price so we bought two strings for an extra fillip.

They had many nice things: if I was really crazy like the folks on one mailing list I am on, I could have bought much of this wonderful stuff and decorated up a storm (at least next year; I still don't feel much like decorating this year, and it's not just being sick).

It was a nice find to a very gloomy day: when we left the house it was 39°F and drizzling ("But at least it wasn't snow!" Bosh!) I am still coughing but we had shopping to do (a pork loin coupon at B.J.'s that ran out today especially).

Earlier we had supper watching A Christmas Story and Ralphie's eternal quest for a Red Ryder BB gun. James had stopped by Costco to get gasoline and I ran inside to get some of their Asagio fresh-baked bread, with a crispy crust and a puffy inside so we could "zoop" the bread in the juice of the pork loin and apple and carrot stew we were cooking in the crock pot. We had run out of sugar-free ice cream bars and had nothing for dessert, so James dashed upstairs and baked a batch of Dromedary gingerbread. We watched Ralphie have "Chinese turkey" while enjoying warm gingerbread with Reddi Whip topping.

I'm presently watching a delicious (and I do mean delicious) special about Italian Christmas foods on the Food Network. Oh, what memories all that brings back! They have just finished talking about foods from Boston's North End, torrone and marzipan and they're doing panettone (a sweet cake with raisins). We always had torrone in the house and in relatives' homes at Christmas and Easter. You could get big slabs, but mostly my aunts and mom bought pieces in little rectangular boxes about two inches long and an inch wide. They had bright colorful paintings of Italian towns on the boxes.

I never could get into torrone; it was too sweet for me. But they were showing a dark chocolate torrone that I would definitely like to sample!

Later on I'm sure they will go to the main course of Christmas Eve fish. Traditionally you are supposed to have seven fishes on Christmas Eve (fish since you're fasting). My cousins Debbie and Richard still do the fish on Christmas Eve and since both of them are great cooks, this is quite a feast, I tell you. (It sure doesn't seem like fasting.)

01 December 2005

December Song

Sing a song
     of snowy nights,
     of neighbors stringing
     twinkling lights,
     of sugar cookies
     shaped like stars,
     and trees tied
     to the roof of cars.
Sing a song
     of spangled kings
     and angels wearing
     wire wings,
     of paper boxes,
     silver bows,
     and gifts hid under
     attic clothes.
Sing of warm
     against the cold,
     of simple, peace-filled
     stories told,
     of drums that thump
     and bells that chime.
     Sing a song
     of Christmastime.

. . . . . Eileen Spinelli, Ideals Christmas 2005