31 January 2006

...With a Compass in the Stock

Here's a fun site devoted to A Christmas Story. Follow the link to the site for the house, an actual Cleveland home which is being restored to the way it looked in the movie.

19 January 2006

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Here's a link I hadn't seen before about The Twelve Days of Christmas.

06 January 2006

"What the Kings Brought"

A story for Epiphany by Ruth Sawyer.

Sawyer is perhaps best known for her Newbery-award winning book Roller Skates, about Lucinda Wyman's year as "an orphan" in gaslight-era New York City. Both Christmas and Twelfth Night play a significant role in the story. She did several Christmas-oriented books, including The Long Christmas, The Christmas Anna Angel and a collection of folktales called This Way to Christmas.

Here's a story of Sawyer's, The Primrose Ring, as a free e-text.

"Old Christmas"

It all happened in 1582.

The world at that time used the Julian calendar. But its calculation of time was slightly off when it was adopted, which added up to ten days by 1582. The spring solstice was falling, by the calendar, ten days too early. In that year Pope Gregory chopped ten days from the calendar and instituted other changes (such as leap years not falling on certain century years) to bring the calendar in line with the seasons.

The Catholic countries of Europe adopted the system immediately, but the Protestants wanted nothing to do with any Pope's proclamation--until the 1700s, when things were now 11 days off and posing problems. In 1752 in England and in the American colonies, September 2 became September 14. Many people rioted, demanding their 11 days back. (Think of it: rents and other monthly bills would now be due 11 days sooner.)

More about this calendar business. (And a scientific explanation.)

This produced an interesting effect in England re Christmas, related to the story of the Glastonbury Thorn:
"The Glastonbury thorn legend ties in Christ's death as well as the celebration of his birth. The legend goes that soon after the death of Christ, Joseph of Arimathea came to Britain to spread the message of Christianity. When he traveled there from the Holy Land he brought with him his staff. Being tired from his journey, he lay down to rest. In doing so, he pushed his staff into the ground beside him. When he awoke, he found that the staff had taken root and begun to grow and blossom. It is said he left it there and it has flowered every Christmas and every spring . It is also said that a puritan trying to cut down the tree was blinded by a spllinter of the wood before he could do so. The original thorn did eventually die but not before many cuttings had been taken. It is one of these very cuttings which is in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey today."
Note the reference to "flowered every Christmas." With Pope Gregory's calendar reform, the thorn that bloomed on Christmas "old style" now bloomed on January 5, so many people refused to believe in this "new" Christmas and continued to celebrate the holiday in January.

Here's more about the story.

And a link to Glastonbury Abbey itself.

Some Eastern Orthodox churches did not accept the calendar reform; therefore in those churches today is Christmas Day, with Epiphany falling on January 15.

Epiphany and "Old Christmas" have nothing to do with each other.

Here are some other Old Christmas links, several from the Appalachians, where people celebrated Old Christmas for years after the calendar change.

A British site, Christmas-Time's entry.

Telleco Hills "Old Christmas Eve".

Chuck Larkin's Old Christmas page, with links to other Appalachian Christmas tales.

"Old Buck," an Outer Banks Old Christmas tradition, with a photo of the celebration from the 1940s.

And here are some Christmas sites I hadn't seen before:

An antique Christmas ornament collector's site—check out the Gallery link for photos of beautiful antique ornaments.

Fashion-Era's Christmas Pages—this is a website of fashions; however, the Christmas pages also contain text, stories, and recipes associated with Christmas.

Also check out the entire Christmas-Time site.

05 January 2006

"The Holly-Bough"

(Probably a little more appropriate a week ago, but I just found the full text.)

Charles Mackay

Ye who have scorn'd each other,
Or injured friend or brother,
   In this fast fading year;
Ye who, by word or deed,
Have made a kind heart bleed,
   Come gather here.
Let sinn'd against, and sinning,
Forget their strife's beginning,
   And join in friendship now;
Be links no longer broken,
Be sweet forgiveness spoken
   Under the Holly-bough.

Ye who have loved each other,
Sister and friend and brother,
   In this fast fading year;
Mother and sire and child,
Young man and maiden mild,
   Come gather here;
And let your hearts grow fonder,
As Memory shall ponder
   Each past unbroken vow:
Old loves and younger wooing
Are sweet in the renewing
   Under the Holly-bough.

Ye who have nourish'd sadness.
Estranged from hope and gladness,
   In this fast fading year;
Ye with o'erburden'd mind,
Made aliens from your kind,
   Come gather here.
Let not the useless sorrow
Pursue you night and morrow,
   If e'er you hoped, hope now--
Take heart, uncloud your faces,
And join in our embraces
   Under the Holly-bough.

"The Holiday Time Forgot"

Christmastide was a joyous period long ago. It began at dusk on December 24 and lasted through Epiphany. Twelfth Night, the eve of Epiphany, was a time for masquerade parties, a big feast, and the crowning touch, the Twelfth Night cake. A bean and a pea were traditionally baked into the cake; the man who found the bean was the King of the festivities and the woman who had the pea was the Queen. (Other little tokens were often put into the cake for "fortunetelling" purposes: a thimble symbolizing spinsterhood, a baby indicating the finder would become a parent, etc.) You had to be very careful eating a Twelfth Night cake!

Eventually the Twelfth Night cake because Britain's Christmas cake and Americans fell out of the habit altogether, developing a cookie tradition instead (the word "cookie" is derived from "small cake," so it still holds a bit of the meaning).

Many SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) groups still celebrate Twelfth Night and often have public gatherings at the time.

"Twelfth Night; or King and Queen"
Robert Herrick

     Now, now the mirth comes
     With the cake full of plums,
Where bean's the king of the sport here;
     Beside we must know,
     The pea also
Must revel, as queen, in the court here.

     Begin then to choose,
     This night as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here,
     Be a king by the lot,
     And who shall not
Be Twelfth-day queen for the night here.

     Which known, let us make
     Joy-sops with the cake;
And let not a man then be seen here,
     Who unurg'd will not drink
     To the base from the brink
A health to the king and queen here.

     Next crown a bowl full
     With gentle lamb's wool:
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
     With store of ale too;
     And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

     Give then to the king
     And queen wassailing :
And though with ale ye be whet here,
     Yet part from hence
     As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.

Here's a very informative article about Twelfth Night called "The Holiday Time Forgot"


"Fish Eaters" Twelfth Night Page

School of the Seasons Twelfth Night Page

Recipe for King's Cake/Twelfth Night Cake

Shakespeare's "Twelfth NIght"

"Viva, Viva, La Befana!"

Befana is one of the gift givers in Italian Christmas culture. She is usually portrayed as a witch, complete with broomstick (this is how she carries and distributes her gifts); images vary on how "witchlike" her face is. Her traditional day to leave gifts is on the eve of the Epiphany ("Befana" is a corruption of the word "Epiphania"). Italian tradition would leave Christmas as a sacred holiday and leave Epiphany for gift-giving and partying. But today of course many Italian children follow the "Santa Claus" legend (he is also known as "Babbo Natale," "Father Christmas" there).

Befana is also left a treat, the way American children leave Santa Claus cookies and milk and British children give Father Christmas a piece of Christmas cake and a glass of wine: she is given a goblet of wine along with an orange.

More about La Befana, and another interesting page about her—and a Canadian Italian page as well.

The story surrounding her origin is similar to the Russian Babushka.

02 January 2006

Too Cute

I went by the American Greetings store at Cumberland Mall and they had all the Carleton ornaments 75 percent off. Carleton does some cute stuff—I have all three of their Lassie ornaments—but they tend to concentrate on more media and commercial things than Hallmark does (not that Hallmark doesn't have their share of Disney, classic movie, Peanuts, etc. ornaments!). I saw ornaments for I Love Lucy, Dora the Explorer, Dean Martin, and more.

I got their set of four small Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer ornaments in a decorated tin box and another ornament that features Santa and baby Rudolph; press the button in the back and you hear Stan Francis sing "Jingle, Jingle, Jingle." They had a third ornament with Hermey, Rudolph and Yukon Cornelius, but I skipped that...now I'm wondering what it does! (I skipped the Nancy Drew ornament and feel a bit sad that I did.)

Oddly, both Hallmark and Carleton did Rudolph ornaments this year; the Rankin/Bass folks struck a good deal, I guess!

Sears was selling off the last of their Christmas things, too; they had a dozen or so boxes of Christmas crackers. Do Americans actually use them, or are they for British or Canadian folks in the area, I wonder?

01 January 2006

Holiday Excursions Once Again

We had a busy, busy day yesterday. First we drove down to Warner Robins (120 miles) to exchange gifts with James' mom and sister (his niece is in Michigan visiting a friend, and youngest sister was out). We stopped at Books a Million on the way down where I found the winter issues of Country and Birds and Blooms. The latter has the cutest photo of a chickadee on a holly branch as the centerfold. I cannot resist chickadees; they are so cute!

Then we called Ann and Clay, our friends in WR, and visited them and did "pesents." They have a third dachshund now, a longhaired mini named Chloe, who they adopted after her owner died. The three of 'em kept things lively, and we also saw Spot, James' grey tabby cat that he had to leave behind when he moved to Atlanta. Spot is eighteen years old now, but she still recognized James—after she ate her dinner she wandered over and sat on his chest and demanded to be petted.

We left early and were able to go by Alice and Ken's house for about 90 minutes to exchange gifts with them and chat with the friends they had at the house. At 8:30 we drove across town to Bill and Caran's annual party and were there until well after midnight. Saw many people we only see a few times a year, like Marilyn and Robert Teague and Marilyn's son Chris, and got to talk with Sue Phillips, who we hadn't seen in a dog's age.

We headed home about 12:30-12:45 and tumbled into bed soon after wishing Pidge and Willow a happy new year and also offering the same greetings to some folks on chat. Boy, I was tired: slept until almost eleven...