25 January 2017

Rudolph Day, January 2017

"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.

Do you love photographs like this as much as I do? Do you sometimes want to leap into vintage photographs—especially Christmas photographs—and see what it was all really like? To see the ornaments you remember from Grandma's Christmas tree in the store window all new and shiny like they are here? To look overhead and see Christmas garlands and wreaths overhang the city streets, and then pan downward for the elaborately decorated Christmas windows showing this year's novelty toys, games, fashions, furniture, and appliances? To see the shoppers dressed in the clothing of the time and listen to their chatter? Maybe it would be something funny—"My goodness, my last date was a real sad apple! I told him '23 skidoo!'"—or it could even be something sad: "I wish Bob could be home for Christmas. Being stationed in the South Pacific must be gruesome, and Mama and Papa miss him so much." There could be happy smells of roasting peanuts and chestnuts from street vendors, the scent of coffee wafting out of a nearby coffee shop, the tantalizing odor of that Chinese restaurant down the street. On a cold day your scarf would flutter in your face and the ubiquitous awnings over store windows would flap in the breeze, and once your shopping was done you'd be glad to retreat to a warm diner for "a cup of joe" and some pie or the bus station to wait for your ride home.

Then I have a book for you! This is A Very Vintage Christmas by Bob Richter. Richter collects all things vintage Christmas, starting from when he was a little boy and his father gave him a box of old Christmas ornaments to start his collection. The book is filled with beautiful full-color photos of vintage ornaments ranging from gilded paper Dresdens and kugels to turn-of-the-century figurals to wire-trimmed "scraps" to unsilvered paper-capped World War II ornaments. He chats about the best way to decorate a Christmas tree, how to make little Christmas "vignettes" for every room of your house, and things that you can collect that have nothing to do with ornaments and lights: vintage Christmas cards, old photographs, postcards, placards once used in stores, Christmas sheet music, old magazines, etc. that can be combined with greenery and simple items like paper chains, beads, and old plastic Santa and reindeer to make great nostalgic displays, as he shows in his own home.

Whether you wish to also begin a vintage Christmas collection or you just want to bask in the happy comfort of nostalgia, this volume should satisfy—you may not want to come back to January.

15 Old Fashioned Christmas Craft Ideas

06 January 2017

Love and Inspiration

A Tree for Peter, Kate Seredy
I became a fan of Kate Seredy in elementary school when I read The Good Master and The Singing Tree in the library. Her wonderful stories combined with her evocative illustrations were as good as pied piper songs. In junior high I found a new favorite, The Chestry Oak, and in college The Open Gate. Ironically my least favorite book of hers so far is the one that won the Newbery Medal, The White Stag.

I'd heard about A Tree for Peter for years, but never had a chance to read it until its recent republishing. There is a Christmas element to the story, but it's not really a Christmas story—but yet it is, if you believe in the story of hope and renewal that is essential to the Christmas mythos. Small Peter is a lame boy who lives in a shantytown of abandoned homes, the only place his mother can find to live after his father's death and medical bills have stripped her of everything. She works in a laundry six days a week to feed and clothe them, while Peter stays alone. Shy and afraid, six-year-old Peter hides from the rough boys in the area and even the tall policeman who comes every day, until he befriends a tramp also named Peter, Peter King. It's "King Peter" who stills his fears and brings joy (and the gift of a little red spade) to his life—and doing so plants a seed of hope in the community.

Cynics will find it a corny story. The rest of us will find it inspiring, a modern-day parable about what kindness and community can do. One wishes the illustrations in the new edition were not so muddy, as they are beautiful examples of Seredy's art. A splendid book to end Christmastide.

Christmas in the Country

The Country Diary Christmas Book, Sarah Hollis
PBS's Masterpiece Theatre initially chugged along with costume epics like The First Churchills, but its breakout moment came as people got immersed in the life of the Bellamy family in the Edwardian-era Upstairs, Downstairs. 1970s' Downton Abbey, Americans who couldn't tell Edward VII (the portly one) from Edward VIII (the one who abdicated) and thought Brits were all upper-class twits were crazy for the program and its characters, especially parlourmaid Rose (Jean Marsh) and her fellow servants. Suddenly Edwardian-era things were all in demand. In the meantime, a member of Edith Holden's family cherished an illustrated nature diary the young woman had kept in 1906. Edith's watercolors of birds and plants, combined with diary notations and quotations, was finally published in a facsimile edition in 1977 as Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. Snapped up by Upstairs, Downstairs fans, the book spun off blank books, notepaper, china, etc. Another of Edith's diaries emerged in the 1980s and was published as Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady.

Author Sarah Hollis compiled several other books based on Edith's book, and I don't remember when and where I found this one, probably on the remainder table at Borders, but it's been a cherished part of my Christmas library and Christmas reading for years. It's an irresistible combination of winter entries from Edith's diaries, and paintings (including some by Beatrix Potter), engravings, poetry, essays, excerpts from books, Edwardian-themed Christmas cards, recipes, small crafts, and other Edwardian-era items that make you feel you are back in a wood-paneled, gaslit home accented with the heavenly scent of candles, evergreens, polished wood, and Christmas goodies cooking in the kitchen. It's perfect bedtime reading for Advent and Christmastide: warm, soothing, nostalgic. If these are the things that mean "Christmas" to you, find a copy of this book. A Christmas classic!

Happy Epiphany!

Why Christians Celebrate the Feast Day

Epipany and Theophany Around the World

The Vatican's Epiphany of the Lord, celebrated this year on Sunday, January 8

05 January 2017

What ARE The Twelve Days of Christmas?

Epiphany by Janet McKenzie
Just what are the twelve days of Christmas? Well, the commercial community will have you believe they are the twelve days before Christmas, during which you need to spend, spend, spend to make sure you give your family and friends their due gifts. It's a cynical slap at what used to be twelve days of merrymaking between Christmas Day—the first Day of Christmas—and January 5, which is celebrated as Twelfth Night. (Those in Shakespeare's time knew this, hence his play, "Twelfth Night," as the merrymaking reaches its peak.)

January 6 is the Feast of the Epiphany, generally regarded as the date on which the magi from the east found the child Jesus. (The Bible makes no mention of three "kings" or three of anything at all, except the gifts that are mentioned: gold, frankincense, and myrrh—and these may be symbolic. The magi or "wise men" are never said to be kings, and they do not arrive at the stable along with the shepherds—the translation clearly indicates a house, and Jesus is described as a "young child," not a baby. They may have reached the family several years after his birth, which explains Herod's order to kill all male children up to two years old.)

Even then, Christmastide is not over for many segments of the population. Scandinavians celebrate until January 13, "Knut," when they dance around the Christmas tree and then plunder its contents (since the tree is often decorated with cookies). Eastern Orthodox Christians still use the Julian calendar, so Christmas falls on January 7 and Epiphany (Theophany) is not until the 19th.

Even further in the past, folks left up their Christmas greenery until Candlemas, February 2. But, after that, it's bad luck to keep it up. (This may come from sensible reasoning: Christmas greens back then were fresh, and the longer they remained up, the drier and more flammable they became!)

* * Wikipedia Entry * *

04 January 2017

All is Calm, All is Bright, All is Song

Christmas Ideals, Worthy Publishing Group
What can you say about "Ideals" annual Christmas issue? It's a mixture of attractive Christmas and winter photographs, nostalgic paintings and line art, simple rhymed poetry, quotations, and essays, and is unabashedly corny and comforting. Cynics and avant garde types will probably avoid. We corny folks will read and enjoy.

These annual issues have been published since 1944. The newer issues rely more on photography than on original art than the initial issues—but privately I thought the art in the old issues was pretty bad. This year's photographs weren't as spectacular as in previous issues, but most were cozy and warming enough. One thing I do miss from "yesteryear" is the essays; the authors did a better job in the past being heartwarming without being simplistic. Or perhaps that's the way the readers want it today.

Christmas Bells, Jennifer Chiaverini
I haven't crossed paths with Chiaverini before, as I am not a devotee of what is called "chick lit." I know she has done some well-received historical novels and a series of books based on quilting. However, since I am a devotee of Boston and Cambridge I was attracted by this novel's Cambridge setting and the two alternating storylines.

In Cambridge's St. Margaret's Church, choir director and music teacher Sophia has arranged a special performance around Longfellow's "Christmas Bells," set to music as "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." She is troubled after having learned she is about to lose her job teaching music due to budget cuts, and totally unaware that the church's talented pianist is in love with her. Two children in the choir and their mother are also troubled after not being able to speak to their soldier father/husband in Afghanistan. Father Ryan is hiding familial problems and a sad older woman who comes to watch rehearsals is similarly troubled. Only bright Sister Winifred is happy this holiday season.

The troubles of the modern-day characters are alternated with chapters about the Longfellow family and how Henry Longfellow broke from a long period of depression and not writing after the terrible death of his wife and the departure of his son to fight in the Civil War to write "Christmas Bells," one of his most well-remembered poems.

I found this book easy reading, but the modern day characters pretty much cookie cutter: the pretty choir director and the handsome pianist, the loving mom and troubled scholarly daughter and mischievous son, the devoted priest, the one not-sleazy politician and his partner wife, the stalwart soldier husband who loves music and an envious brother. They're all easy to love, but uncomplicated and you have no doubt that things are going to come out okay for all of them and that while there is sorrow in their lives, it is tempered with joy, just as a grieving Longfellow found happiness from his children and from translating Dante. Chiaverini is at her best as she recaptures the joy of a 19th century Christmas as well as the fears and trials of the Longfellow family during the American Civil War. Beware, however, that it is very slow moving. Definitely something to sit and relax with.

(BTW, I would have loved to have seen the mother's confrontation with the suspicious teacher who accused her daughter of cheating. Of all the plot threads in this book, this one was the closest to my heart. I wanted to bawl out that teacher so badly!)

03 January 2017

The Krampus Gang

The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil, Al Ridenour
Christmas for our ancestors was a darker, more dangerous season. Instead of a childlike, bright Santa Claus in pajamas and a stocking cap who gives gifts to children no matter what, the European tradition included St. Nicholas, who loved children but was a stern taskmaster. For disobedient children—especially deliberately disobedient ones—he traveled with a partner, a usually fearsome companion who threatened children with beatings and, in hard cases, being taken away to face further monstrous punishment, like being eaten alive.

One character enjoying a revival is the Krampus, a furred, horned, goat-footed monstrosity with a long red tongue, who evolved from other, older winter monsters called Perchta. This is Ridenour's journey to Austria/Germany/the Swiss Alps to find those who still follow the traditions and find out where they come from.  Some are newly revived, some go back centuries, all are now involved in complicated performances during Christmastide, and some of them are borderline professional, to the scorn of others who practice the old customs for love. All the side influences are also examined: evil Lucia personas to accompany St. Lucy on December 13, Frau Holle and La Befana, Silvester "Claus" characters, and the original Percht.

Ridenour tries to separate the original characters from what he thinks are false conclusions reached in the 19th century (that all the evil characters were ancient fertility symbols) and neopagan modern practices from more traditional processions. The book is lavishly illustrated with full-color, elaborate costumes and gatherings and the different aspects of the characters (fur-clad demons to men of straw to "pinecone men"). It's all fascinating reading, but his attempts to document every single different custom in each village may become tedious for some readers after a while.