29 November 2017

A Story for Every Night Before Christmas

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Book of Christmas Virtues, edited by Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen with Carol McAdoo Rehme
This is an older "Chicken Soup" book, which means the stories are a little bit more rugged than the modern versions that are offered. Arranged around the seven virtues of kindness, joy, love, gratitude, faith, simplicity, and wonder, each section opens with an introduction and ends with ideas for Christmas projects. In between you will meet people down on their lucky, selfless givers, cute kids, and those who learn what Christmas is really all about.

28 November 2017

How To Make a Williamsburg Christmas

Christmas Decorations from Williamsburg, Susan Height Rountree
It was nearly brand new and only a dollar. This is the only way I can explain that I bought a book about how to make the same sort of Christmas decorations as they use at Williamsburg. This is definitely decorating for people who like to work with flowers and live fruit, and use metal frames, roofing nails, wet floral foam, and other support systems to put it together.

There are many nice photos, including close-ups of windows and different styles of wreaths (one interesting one is made of tobacco leaves with a long pipe across it), of the Williamsburg streets, but most of the text is instruction how to make the fruity arches over the doors and wreaths on the door, topiary shapes, and even towers of decorative food for the table.

The photos are even a bit nostalgic as they mentioned the last time we went to Williamsburg that they are decorating less with fruits than they used to, especially with oranges and pineapples, which were rare and costly during colonial times and would have not been wasted nailed up outside a home or shop, but saved for Christmas punch. But really, for purchase full price you must seriously want to make these decorations.

27 November 2017

Elfs in Bondage, Keeping the Yule in Yuletide, and Other Thoughts Over the Holiday Season

Christmas Philosophy for Everyone: Better Than a Lump of Coal, edited by Scott C. Lowe
I confess, it has taken me literally years to finish this book, which I bought at Borders before it closed. It's a series of pretty much serious essays about Christmas: whether it's good or bad to tell your kids the Santa Claus myth, if there really could have been a virgin birth or is it something too unbelievable even to take on faith, is there really a "War on Christmas," where'd this Santa Claus dude come from anyway, and why is he wearing a Hawaiian shirt, etc.

Last time I only made it halfway through; this time I had changed enough to enjoy all the entries, even the one about Festivus (and I'm not a Seinfeld fan), although the wrestling business sounds intimidating. (I can see fights breaking out during the airing of the grievances, though.) I was heartened by the essays saying that telling your kids about Santa Claus is okay, because I've never figured out why some people have resented it so when they found out what their parents told them was a story. I mean, my parents also told me about Cinderella, unicorns, Robin Hood, and the Easter Bunny. When I was old enough, I realized they were all neat fairy stories, and that included Santa Claus (but it didn't include Jesus). You grow out of Santa Claus the way you grow out of your blankie or your favorite teddy; it's a natural progression into adulthood. Why resent it or your parents? Did you resent the fact they read to you about a spider talking to a pig, or about tesseracts? Odd.

One of the most interesting essays talks about how Santa's predecessor St. Nicholas, a real-life bishop, was no wimp. When he attended the Council of Nicaea, he decked someone for implying that Jesus was not divine! (The conflict about this goes on to this day.)

Other essays address Christmas consumerism—and it's been there a longer time than you think—and the working conditions at the North Pole (does Santa Claus run a sweatshop, and could Hermione Granger and SPEW find a good place to protest at Santa's workshop?), plus there are even essays on A Christmas Story (what does Ralphie learn from his BB gun gift?) and A Christmas Carol (what's Scrooge's problem, anyway?).

Definitely something different for Christmas reading, if you can keep an open mind and not get huffy if a belief is contradicted.

26 November 2017

Almost Advent

Stir-up Sunday is an informal term in Anglican churches for the last Sunday before the season of Advent. It gets its name from the beginning of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer, which begins with the words, "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people." But it has become associated with the custom of making the Christmas puddings on that day.

Last year, when Christmas was on a Sunday, the season of Advent was the longest it could be. This year, with Christmas on a Monday and Christmas Eve being the last Sunday of Advent, it is the shortest. So this final Sunday of November is the ending of the church liturgical year instead of the beginning of it.

The Christmas pudding never caught on as an American custom, but here it's presented in all its glory in Great Britain: The Ultimate Guide to Stir-Up Sunday.

When is Stir-Up Sunday 2017?

When is Stir-Up Sunday?

A History of The Christmas Pudding

11 November 2017

"St. Martin on His White Horse..."

You might hear this charming saying in the Czech Republic or Poland or some other Balkan countries, commemorating St. Martin of Tours, the soldier who became famous for tearing his beautiful cloak in half to give the half to a beggar he found shivering on the road. Since then he's been a patron of the poor. If you see "St. Martin on his white horse" it means that it is snowing.

His saint's day falls on November and is also known as "Martinmas." Back in earlier centuries, Advent was celebrated in a similar fashion to Lent and was a fasting period except on Sunday, and it also lasted forty days and began on Martinmas. In honor of St. Martin's Day and the original start of Advent, here are a couple of Christmas books that span media styles (some horses involved, but no white ones):

The Triple Dog Dare, Joanna Wilson
Wilson, the nostalgic writer behind the blog "Christmas TV History," and with two books about the subject under her belt, was curious if anyone has ever sat through the entire TBS/TNT 24-hour marathon of 1980's marvelous masterpiece A Christmas Story, and what it would be like to do so. She found one blogger who had, but that person had just used the time to catcall the film. Wilson wondered if in watching she could figure out the answer to some questions: why is the movie so popular? Are there any movies that would make a better marathon? Why is Christmas Story so popular as a marathon movie anyway? (2017 makes the 20th year it will be shown in a marathon format.) Would she hate the movie after she saw it so many times? And she was going to watch it with commercials! Would they drive her crazy before Ralphie did?

With her boyfriend's help, Wilson set up her experiment for Valentine's Day weekend so her real Christmas plans would not be interrupted by her experiment. She put up a tree, played Christmas music, had Christmas cookies. She even managed to find a copy of a broadcast with commercials from the 1980s (her boyfriend pinpoints the date from sports scores mentioned during the broadcast), so her commentary on 1980s commercials and "must have" gadgets become part of the text. She notices bits she's missed over the years even after viewing the film so many times, discovers many parallel scenes, and even familiar faces from recent television shows. Along the way, she references several times a book I didn't realize anyone else remembered: the 1968 Seven Glorious Days, Seven Fun-Filled Nights by Charles Sopkin, who uses six televisions to watch a week's worth of network programming to comment about Newton Minow's "vast wasteland." (I can tell you without looking at the book what week he watched: April 23-29, 1967, because the Lassie episode he describes is "Goliath.") I love that on each run she notices something different: behind the scenes actors in one, the music in another, the scheming of the kids in a third, etc.

If you're a Christmas Story fan or just wonder who would do such a crazy thing, you'll probably enjoy this exploration of leg lamps, Christmas nostalgia, and "you'll shoot your eye out!"

A Christmas Carol Christmas Book, Tim Hallinan
This was only a buck at the library book sale and I keep looking at it every time it shows up, so this time I finally "done the deed." It's a thin, coffee-table size book put out by IBM to celebrate the release of 1984 television version of A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott. The first third of the book is a "photonovel" ('member those?) of the film and the last third is a complete version of the novel. In between are four sections about Charles Dickens and how the Carol came to be written and how the family celebrated, about Victorian crafts and traditions at Christmas, of typical Victorian holiday food and drink offerings, and about caroling.

Obviously, if you're a big fan of Scott's Carol, this will have the most draw for you, and you'll have a copy of the original book, too, which is a big plus as far as I'm concerned! The historical chapters are cool as well if you've never read anything about Victorian food and games. A nice primer to the Dickens' era.

(But everyone knows the best version of Christmas Carol is Mr. Magoo...[winks, ducks, and runs])

01 November 2017

November Exactly!

November has a contented glow about it. Not only from the autumn colours but fire and light bring a cheeriness and warmth to the now long, dark nights. Make time for your own golden hours during this peaceful month—festive preparations can wait—and indulge in slow cooking, appreciate the landscape or your neighborhood, simply enjoy reading or maybe drawing in a journal. Wherever your pleasures lie, be soothed and rested as this mellow season comes to a close. Calming comforts cannot be rushed, so light a fire, pull up a blanket and let the world get along without  you for a while. It will.

Lisa Sykes in the November "The Simple Things"