31 December 2018

"Ring Out, Wild Bells!"

From Tennyson's "In Memoriam"
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

29 December 2018

A Warm Family Treat

The Cottage Holiday, Jo Mendel
The Tuckers series of books began in 1961 with the publication of the Whitman book The Wonderful House, in which the family moves into the big old house on Valley View Avenue in the fictitious town of Yorkville after having lived in a small apartment in nearby Castleton. They were a typical 1960s literary family: working father, stay-at-home mother, five rambunctious kids under twelve, loving grandparents, a big wooly dog, and a cat, plus an assortment of friends. The kids got into usual foibles: rivalries, mistaken impressions, summer vacation adventures, arguments, but family love always wins through.

The Cottage Holiday revolves around Penny, the shy seven-year-old, who catches cold easily and is always being pampered. But she doesn't revel in the attention; she inwardly resents it, and is tired of being told to sit still and take pills. She wants to play with her brothers and sisters and be part of family activities, and she wants to know what her part is in the scheme of family dynamics: Tina's domestic, Terry's clever, Merry's musical, Tom's sensible, but what is she? Then she makes an idle wish: she would like to spend Christmas at the family's lake cottage, where they could all participate on an equal footing. Surprisingly, her pediatrician says she's well enough to do so as long as she takes precautions, and suddenly the family is off for a winter adventure that includes a marauding cougar, a missing calf, an abandoned baby, and the sheer fun of finding a Christmas tree, not to mention making treats for one another, playing in the snow with their lake neighbors Mel and Butch Smith, having an ice-skating party, and doing other fun activities that didn't involve staring at a screen or manipulating a game controller.

The story is simply told with a limited vocabulary that often makes the dialog stilted. Yet Penny's wish to participate more fully in her family's activities shines through the story like a beacon, and the final pages will make you misty eyed. It's more introspective than the other books in the series and that serves to make the story more timeless. A yearly treat for me. Penny's search for self is something everyone, adult or child, can identify with, and Christmas just adds irresistible icing to the cake.

28 December 2018

The Elements of Christmas

Merry Christmas!, Karal Ann Marling
Having refreshed myself with Christmas history via Restad and Nissenbaum, I felt I had to revisit this entertaining volume about the history of the elements of Christmas with almost all the emphasis on the US. Marling begins by "unwrapping" that ubiquitous bit of Christmas misdirection, wrapping paper (originally gifts were hung, unwrapped, in stockings, in wooden shoes, and even on the branches of Christmas trees), skips to the decorations of Christmas (the original trims of Christmas greens to candles and ornaments and finally to the putz village which begat Department 56 and other village manufacturers), the role of department stores in Christmas (displays, Santalands, and parades), how Dickens and Washington Irving contributed to Christmas nostalgia and thus to Christmas charity, the rise of the Christmas tree from family "toy" to public display, Santa Claus' evolution from "a right jolly old elf" to the hearty man portrayed in advertisements, American fascination with "different Christmases" including the portrayal of people of color, how Christmas cards came for a while to substitute for Christmas gifts, and the intriguingly-titled "How Bing Crosby and the Grinch Almost Stole Christmas" (and how a season run mainly by women is so male-centric).

Marling cites vintage magazine articles, advertisements, and illustrations (many included) to make her point, and I found it enjoyable that many of her cites came from my old favorite "St. Nicholas" magazine, where many of the Christmas tropes (children on trains experiencing a happy Christmas due to charitable passengers, poor children doing good deeds and receiving a Christmas reward, children learning to contribute to worthy causes rather than obtaining gifts themselves, etc.) were so popular. The illustrations (all in black and white, alas) are as enjoyable as the text.

Very happily recommended!

"Crown of Thorns"

Sulamith Wulfing's Madonna and Child

26 December 2018

"A Christmas Prayer" by Robert Louis Stevenson

Loving Father,
Help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of the angels,
the gladness of the shepherds,
and worship of the wise men.

Close the door of hate
and open the door of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift
and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil by the blessing
which Christ brings,
and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

May the Christmas morning
make us happy to be thy children,
and Christmas evening bring us to our beds
with grateful thoughts,
forgiving and forgiven,
for Jesus' sake.

Five Things People Get Wrong About the Nativity

25 December 2018

An Uncommon Christmas

Ever since James has been able to telework, he's been volunteering to work Christmas. In past years he has gotten holiday pay, but with the reorganization, that isn't happening anymore. So with the mandate from right before Thanksgiving still in place—with him only working 24 hours a week—it was essential that he work anyway to assure three days' pay.

So we were in bed early Christmas Eve, and James was at his desk promptly at eight. He had no calls, not even a person who had called the wrong number and was looking for support for his new Lenovo laptop, which would have been transferred because James works with blade servers. We basked in the Christmas lights, listened to Christmas music, I watched The House Without a Christmas Tree, and a little after noon, started cooking a turkey.

Now previously when he's teleworked at Christmas, James had ended work at five, we would have already been dressed, and we would have headed to the Butlers for Christmas dinner. But Lin had been in the hospital over Thanksgiving, so Pat and Alex volunteered to do Christmas dinner instead. They live in Lawrenceville, nearly an hour's drive away. By the time we had gotten out of the house and there it would have been 6:30, enough time to gobble and run so James could be ready to work the next day. What use was going all that way to have to stuff your face quickly and not get to spend any time relaxing and chatting.

So we had already planned our dinner: we would buy turkey thighs, have them with potatoes. I found a package of huge thighs that would provide us with Christmas dinner and even enough leftovers to make a sandwich or two later on. This changed when we took a trip to Sam's Club and found an 11.5 pound turkey I dubbed "Clifton" (after Clifton Road where CDC headquarters is located). Okay, so James would monitor the phones and I would get my first turkey-cooking lesson.

Anyway, back up a few days. We went to Hair Day, and found out that Mel and Phyllis were not going to Christmas dinner either; they are in their 70s and driving that far in the dark was daunting. Mel was wondering if we wanted to go out somewhere to eat with them on Christmas evening. So impulsively I invited them to Christmas dinner and we changed the time to evening.

Yes, we had our Jewish friends over for Christmas.

It was very informal. We completely forgot to cook the carrots we added to the menu. I started the turkey early because even being in the refrigerator for three days it was still frozen. I started it uncovered and had to tent the wings after just an hour and the breast after two hours. It was basted and rebasted in wine. However, the oven came through again and the bird was thoroughly cooked and ready by the time our guests arrived. We ate on paper plates and had Christmas music on softly in the background, and were talking about the old days when we were in school. Tucker mooched food, and Snowy sang happily in the background.

After they left James put up the rest of the carcass and only then did we exchange gifts. Because money was short this year we only bought one thing for each other, and knew what we were getting. I bought James an organizer for his modeling desk. It's specially made for modelers and has a ruled workspace and places to put paintbrushes and other accessories. He gave me a Cricut lightbox (which, thankfully, was on sale at Michael's on Black Friday). I've been wanting a lightbox for some time now.

And so we wandered off to bed at the usual time, full of Christmas and friendship and lots of turkey.

Today's Christmas Gift

Despite what the title on the video says it is, it is the classic Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "Christmas and the Hard-Luck Kid."


24 December 2018

More Christmas Reading!

Santa Claus: A Biography, Gerry Bowler
Bowler, whose World Encyclopedia of Christmas is a classic, has tackled a smaller field in this history of "jolly old St. Nicholas." The original Nicholas was a Christian Bishop who was born in Turkey; he ended up being the patron saint of children, sailors, pawnbrokers, students, repentant thieves...and more. How he ended up delivering presents in a sleigh drawn by eight reindeer (two named after "thunder" and "lightning") and wearing a red suit is a convoluted tale that includes Holland, Spain, wooden shoes, and a New York society devoted to the good saint.

Once the history lesson is over, Bowler gets into juicier territory with chapters about Santa Claus as an advocate for good causes, in advertisements, in wartime (with creepy little details about how Adolf Hitler made the holiday all about him), and in the media, with a final, wistful chapter about the future of his persona.

Bowler is, as always, a delight to read, and his final four-paragraph conclusion may leave you with tears in your eyes. If you're looking for a history of Santa Claus, this one is excellent.

Christmas Ideals 2018, from Worthy Publishing Group
Ideals annual Christmas is the usual cheery combination of simple poetry, cozy essays, and charming photographs mixed with nostalgic artwork. Of the poems, "The Colors of Christmas" is my favorite ("Little Lights" is also sweet). There's a breathtaking photograph of a red covered bridge in the snow, and two other familiar places popped up: a beautiful white church in Queechee, Vermont, and a shot of the Public Garden in Boston in the snow. Homesick now. I'm also partial to the lovely painting of the stable animals overlooking the baby Jesus, and the essays "Planting Hope" and "Christmas Photographs."

Lovely as always.

And the last two (unless I find a copy of Christmas in Puerto Rico) of the World Book Christmas books,
Christmas in Greece 
Christmas in Finland
These are lovely books of interest to both children and adults, with color photographs and text talking about how the people in that particular country (or, in the case of some of the books, region) celebrate the December and January holidays. The Greeks celebrate the Advent period (while so many of the rest of us are running around shopping) by fasting and do not start preparing for Christmas until Christmas Eve. Even then, the day is reserved for religious pursuits, and it's only then gift-giving preparation begins, because the Greeks reserve New Year's Day (St. Basil's Day) for that purpose. During the 12 days of Christmas everyone must beware of the kalikantzari, evil imps who will bring bad luck if you don't stay on your guard! The Greeks even have a version of "First Footing" on New Year's Day, like the Scots.

To the folks in Finland, Lapland is where Santa Claus lives, and you can indeed go visit him in Santa Claus Land and interact with his reindeer, but the Finns have other unique customs: a Christmas sauna, the making of complex ornaments out of straw (straw used to be scattered on the floors of home, to remind people of the child in the manger, but it's now considered a fire hazard), their version of Santa Claus having evolved from a goatlike character who now looks like everyone else's Santa (but still has a goat's name), and the Finns' fondness for St. Ann, the mother of the Virgin Mary.

There are insets about the Sami, the original inhabitants of Lapland, who believed in magic; the annual proclamation of peace that means Christmas can begin; the visit from joulekuppi (Santa) in person to the children. And in both books, as in all of the World Book Christmas volumes, there are crafts, songs, and recipes at the back.

"Christmas Eve is Here," an Old French Carol

Christmas Eve is here—see, the moon is waking!
Christmas Eve is here, clear and cold the night.
Trudging thro' the snow, go the quiet people;
Trudging thro' the snow, go the quiet people.
Christmas Eve is here, clear and cold the night.

People on the road carry lighted lanterns;
See their bobbing lights lead the way to church.
There they will keep watch 'til the hour of midnight;
There they will keep watch 'til the hour of midnight,
When the bells will ring joyous melodies.

Hear the ringing bells swinging far their music,
Hear the ringing bells playing merry chimes!
Christmas Day is here, day of joy and gladness;
Christmas Day is here, day of joy and gladness,
Bringing peace on earth, and goodwill to men.

Traditionally, the French people singing this song would then be joyfully going home to celebrate La Réveillon, a post-Mass feast featuring a beef roast wrapped in pastry, escargot, oysters, pate de foie gras, chestnuts, truffles, and of course a fine wine. Dessert will be a cake that resembles a Yule Log, the Bûche de Noël (usually chocolate, but can be any flavor).

"The Christmas Tree"

by Carl August Peter Cornelius

The holly's up, the house is all bright,
The tree is ready, the candles alight:
Rejoice and be glad, all children tonight!

The mother sings of our Lord's good grace
Whereby the Child who saved our race
Was born and adored in a lowly place,

Once more the shepherds, as she sings,
Bend low, and angels touch their strings:
With "Glory" they hail the King of kings.

The children listening round the tree
Can hear the heavenly minstrelsy,
The manger's marvel they can see,

Let every house be ready tonight —
The children gathered, the candles alight —
That music to hear, to see that sight.

23 December 2018

The Fourth Sunday of Advent: Food and Family

O LORD, raise up, we pray thee, thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through the satisfaction of Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be honour and glory, world with out end. Amen.
                                          Book of Common Prayer, collect for the fourth Sunday of Advent
We were up at seven this morning to eat a quick breakfast and commit the "perambulation of the pooch." We left for Warner Robins at eight with the truck loaded with gifts.

We hadn't had such a long drive in literally years, but this early on Sunday, even on the Sunday before Christmas, the freeway was very clear, although there was a steady stream of migration of travel trailers, mobile homes, and packed-up cars going south, probably to the "House of Mouse." The biggest problem was the sun in our eyes (no matter which way you drive in this state, the sun is always in your eyes!).

We arrived in Warner Robins after one bathroom break, about 10:30, and hung around with Candy and Mom until Candy's daughter Nicki and her husband Vinnie and little Max arrived from where they had stayed with a friend last night. We hadn't seen Max since he was a baby. He's a fine little imp now, blond, angelic, and gets into everything. He took a shine to me and kept leading me to decorations or toys to show me. Nicki was making pigs in the blanket and Max kept coming back for "just one more" until he finally had to be shooed away. Nicki placed the remainder on a plate on the dining room table and I found Max kneeling on a chair peeling away the "blankets" from the "pigs" and eating them!

Eventually we had a swell little buffet with chicken wings, meatballs, chicken salad sandwich halves, crackers and meats and cheese, fruits, veggies, and of course sweets (lots of cookies, cake, gingerbread) among other things, and we had a bigger surprise: James' youngest sister Sabra and her husband Lee showed up from Charleston!

After lots of talk and laughter and food we did gifts, and soon it was time to leave. I have a hard time driving in the dark these days due to developing cataracts, and James and I intended to leave about three, so as to get home before dark; we did leave before dark as it was still quite light when we were gabbing in the driveway for fifteen minutes. By the time we got down Watson Boulevard (and Watson Boulevard now goes all the way down to the freeway now), clouds were scudding in. We had our plastic box, but we only got a few splashes of raindrops.

I drove from Warner Robins to the exit for the Tanger Outlets (in retrospect we should have gone up to the flea market exit ten miles ahead; everyone was turning right towards the shopping area). We just wanted to get to the QT station, use the potty, and swap drivers, which finally managed to do despite the relentless passage of shoppers' vehicles. We got home just before seven to find a package from Rodney on the doorstep.

The internet seemed to have calmed down from earlier in the week, and I was able to finish watching The Man Who Invented Christmas (a comedy drama about Dickens' writing of A Christmas Carol) without continual dropouts, and then St. Nicholas: The Real Story, and finally another neat documentary with Ruth Goodman and Peter Ginn, Tudor Monastery Farm at Christmas.

22 December 2018

International Christmas: "Knecht Ruprecht"

"Knecht Ruprecht" is the most famous poem written by Theodor Storm, North Freisan poet and author. In parts of Germany, St. Nicholas, or the Christkindlein (Christ-child) is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht. "Knecht" means "servant." From a website dedicated to Storm: "Historically, Ruprecht was a dark sinister figure clad in a tattered robe with a big sack on his back in which, legend has it, he will place all naughty children. In Storm’s poem, Knecht Ruprecht is featured with a cane with which to chastise such children." Today we joke about coal in the stocking, but parents back in the 19th century were strict enough to deprive naughty children of a Christmas gift and even to given them a gift of a switch or leave an empty stocking if their behavior is unchanged.

From out the forest I now appear,
To proclaim that Christmastide is here!
For at the top of every tree
are golden lights for all to see;
and there from Heaven’s gate on high
I saw our Christ-child in the sky.

And in among the darkened trees,
a loud voice it was that called to me:
‘Knecht Ruprecht, old fellow,’ it cried,
‘hurry now, make haste, don’t hide!
All the candles have now been lit --
Heaven’s gate has opened wide!

Both young and old should now have rest
away from cares and daily stress;
and when tomorrow to earth I fly
“it’s Christmas again!” will be the cry.’

And then I said: ‘O Lord so dear.
My journey’s end is now quite near;
but to this town* I’ve still to go,
Where the children are good, I know.’

‘But have you then that great sack?’
‘I have,’ I said, ‘it’s on my back.
For apples, almonds, fruit and nuts
For God-fearing children are a must.’

‘And is that cane there by your side?’
‘The cane’s there too,’ I did reply;
but only for those, those naughty ones,
who have it applied to their backsides.’
The Christ-child spoke: ‘Then that’s all right!
My loyal servant, go with God this night!’

From out the forest I now appear;
To proclaim that Christmastide is here!
Now speak, what is there here to be had?
Are there good children, are there bad?

21 December 2018

The Shortest Day of the Year

"Just think what it must have been like for our distant ancestors, long before the invention of electric lamps, yearning for the return of the light. Many an hour they would have spent gathered around the warmth of a welcoming hearth fire, sharing stories, telling tales, and singing songs to while away the long and chilly nights. Might not our tradition of gathering family and friends together at Yuletide be echoes of those past times?

"The key to all this, of course, lies in the fact that this is the time of year when we celebrate the rebirth of the light at the winter solstice, when the Northern Hemisphere is positioned furthest from the warming rays of the sun, and the nights are long and chilly. This is a significant moment, as the sun appears to stand still in the heavens before slowly, but inexorably, making its 'ascent into the light.'"

Ark Redwood, "The Simple Things," December 2012

20 December 2018

Christmas Reading...So Far!

book icon  Re-read: Christmas in America, Penne Restad
book icon  Re-read: The Battle for Christmas, Stephen Nissenbaum
While watching the History Channel's Real History of Christmas, the presence of both Restad and Nissenbaum made me dig up these fairly similar histories of Christmas in the United States.

People wonder what some early Americans had against a nice family-oriented holiday like Christmas. Was it the gift-preparation frenzy that frustrates us today? Rather, it was because the early celebrations of Christmas—which combined the religious story of the birth of Jesus Christ with older midwinter festivals—had increasingly become a noisy, drunken celebration (think St. Patrick's Day combined with New Year's Eve and Cinco de Mayo) in which inebriated gangs of boys and men had a "right" to invade your home and demand liquor and food. Gunfire was often involved, as were fireworks. Children were still considered "small adults" and not worth petting and praising, let alone giving toys to. Toys supported idleness.

As both writers explain, all those traditions we consider "old fashioned" are less than 200 years old. Christmas started out being banned by strict Christians in New England, but it wasn't long before these strictures became loosened. The holiday was only "illegal" for less than twenty years, and even though well into the 1870s businesses might still be open on December 25, more and more people were taking up this "new" Christmas, that involved family, children's toys, reasonable feasting, and charity to the poor. It also involved a new figure: Santa Claus, who was, Birnbaum tells us, not only a gift giver, but an egalitarian man, one who smoked a short pipe! (Long pipes were for the wealthy!)

Incidentally, if you've complained about the commercialism of Christmas, you'll agree with this woman, who laments "Christmas is coming in a fortnight, and I have got to think up presents for every body!" It's so tedious! Everybody has got everything that can be thought of."

This was written in 1850!

Both books are interesting glimpses into U.S. Christmas history, but Birnbaum goes into more detail about the aspects: when the Christmas tree did arrive on these shores (it wasn't after Queen Victoria received a Christmas tree from Prince Albert) and the development of gifts solely as Christmas presents (like annual Gift Books). Both address the issue of Christmas in the slave states, where in general license was given to the workers during Christmas and New Year as a safety valve to keep them under control the rest of the year. (Drinking to excess was encouraged and even forced, so later the "massa" could say the slaves were irresponsible and not worthy of freedom. Again, Birnbaum goes into more detail.)

I recommend both.

book icon  Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Wonder of Christmas, edited by Amy Newmark
This year's edition of 101 heartwarming and/or heart-tugging stories about the holidays (including Thanksgiving mishaps, Hanukkah tales, and even a New Year surprise or two). If you enjoy books of inspirational stories or like the other books in this series, this one should also be a winner.

book icon  The Christmas Book, Francis X. Weiser
I've wanted this book for years. This is one of those volumes about Christmas that is quoted in numerous other volumes about Christmas, and it was only reprinted in 2017 by St. Augustine Academy Press.

Originally written in 1951, Weiser, a Jesuit priest, tells the story of Christmas from both a Christian and secular point of view, starting with the Biblical history of Jesus Christ and some of the misconceptions around His story (they were Magi, "wise men," probably astrologer/astronomers, not Kings, and nowhere in Biblical text does it mention there were three; there were three gifts). There are two interesting chapters on the history of ancient carols (a carol, originally, was sung to a dance in which the participants went in a circle) and also of carols in other countries before moving on to more modern songs like "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Silent Night."

Later chapters talk about gift giving, Christmas trees, and feasting before going on to Christmas customs in other countries.

This is a nifty little book of old fashioned customs which you might want to use to bring back to your own home if you feel Christmas has become too "electronic."

book icon  The Ghost of Christmas Past, Rhys Bowen
In this latest of the Molly Murphy mysteries, Christmas is approaching, but Molly is not anticipating it as she might have. She has already received bad news on one front, and now she finds out her mother-in-law will be spending Christmas elsewhere with a friend, so she, husband Daniel, and toddler Liam won't be spending the holiday in the country. Worse, her friends Sid and Gus tell her that Bridie, the little girl Molly and Mrs. Sullivan have nurtured for years, will be leaving school because her workman father is finally returning. Molly's depression deepens until the friend of her mother-in-law generously invites them to their country house party as well. Once there, the Sullivans find an unsettled house and an old mystery. And there's nothing that piques Molly's interest like a mystery.

This is a nicely atmospheric Christmas mystery even if the villain is telegraphed almost from the beginning, with a Dickensian twist in a couple of places. All the old favorite characters return, but sadly two of them had to change to support the ending.

book icon  Top Elf, Caleb Zane Huett
This is a fast, funny, and very imaginative children's book that has a bit of resemblance to Christine Kringle in that Santa Claus is not an immortal, but instead "Santa Claus" is a job that's handed down from father to son (or perhaps to child). The current Santa Claus wishes to retire, and traditionally his eldest son, Klaus Klaus, an egotistical swaggerer, would take over the job. Instead Santa institutes a contest called The Santa Trials. Whomever wins the contest becomes Santa, even if it's not one of Santa's children (Klaus, Sally, Kurt and Bertrand). Our protagonist, good-natured Ollie Gnome (whose dad makes ice cream and whose mom is one of Santa's costume designers) decides to enter the contest with his best friend Celia Pixie, a prodigious inventor. Elf bully Buzz Brownie also enters the contest, a supposed kid named "Ramp" who looks like he's much older, and even a Claus cousin, the duplicitous Andrea. Day by day the entrants are led through increasingly tough trials, the situations get wilder, and cheating is rampant.

This is just a plain fun book, full of inventive inventions, puns, action, and novel characters and situations, like the reindeer Stable and "Crasher," Ollie's new reindeer buddy. Without making a big deal of the lesson, the author has Ollie persist without ever losing his ability to negotiate. Also, there are some very serious issues brought up in the text that add to the drama, such as a parent's expectations for their child and how it can harm them.

Amazon says this book is for Grades 3-5, and I guess in these sophisticated days kids don't believe in Santa much past age 6 or so, but if you have a child that still does believe in Santa in that age group, or a Grade 2 child who's an advanced reader, you might want to know that Santa reveals something that might upset a child.

book icon  Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors, adapted by Frances Frost
I found this 1952 book at a book sale and picked it up with fond memories of watching Amahl in my childhood. It's the story and the songs told in prose for children, with pen and ink illustrations, some of them colored. It was nice to relive the story, and then I found the original online (search YouTube), introduced by Menotti himself. If you can pick this up for a reasonable price it may bring back fond memories, and could also be used in homeschooling.

book icon  Re-read: Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot, Frances Frost
The Clarks are a small farm family in late 1940s Vermont in this classic four-book children's series by Frost, a Vermont native. In the opening book, 12-year-old protagonist Toby Clark received the dapple-grey pony Windy Foot as a birthday gift and raced him in the annual county fair pony competition, where he met 12-year-old Tish Burnham, a horse breeder's daughter. At Christmas, the whole family: dad, mom, Toby, 9-year-old Betsy, 5-year-old Johnny, and farmhand Cliff (who's pretty much family) are preparing to welcome Tish and her father Jerry for a visit as well as planning a true farm Christmas with homemade decorations, gifts ordered from the mail order catalog, caroling under the town Christmas tree and shopping at the general store, and Toby taking Tish out riding in the new sleigh he refit for Windy Foot.

Fifty years after I read it for the first time, I still get as much enjoyment out of this story as I did the first time, even if Johnny's little impromptu poems still make me roll my eyes and the girls' brief talk about dolls bore me. It's an annual read, and a portrait of a vanished era: cows milked by hand and barns lit by lanterns, kids going on their own showshoeing to gather Christmas greens or going skiing without adults keeping tabs on their every move, boys renovating things on their own, the family gathered by the fire instead of each around an electronic device. There's even a marauding bear, a skiing accident, and a stolen sleigh to add a little excitement. It's very easy to be taken into the warm home-circle and feel comfortable with these characters.

I have always found it notable that in a book written in 1948, Tish's ambition is to be a surgeon or at the least a medical doctor. Toby finds that this idea of "a girl being a doctor" fills him with "awe," but also thinks that she'd make a good one. There is no attempt by Toby or any other adult to try to dissuade Tish from this goal, a surprising attitude in an era when even "career girls" were eventually expected to quit their jobs in favor of marriage and a family. Also, Betsy is given an unusual Christmas gift and no one says that a girl should not be receiving such a gift.

Frost also has a talent with picturesque descriptions that remind me of Gladys Taber. Passages like this are common:  "The village lawns about the white houses lay withered and rusty yellow; the leaves had long ago been raked to the roadsides and burned; and the only brightness was the dripping scarlet of the barberry bushes around the north side of the square." Or there's this: "Up on the south hill the snow lay heavily on the dark green boughs of spruce and hemlock, pine and fire. Silently Toby and Betsy snowshoed through blue shadows and brilliant patches of sunlight...[t]here at the farther edge of the clearing, on the verge of the dark woods, stood a young fox, curiously unafraid, his fur golden russet against the snow, watching them with burning eyes." This is a nostalgic book well worth seeking out for its approachable characters, family interactions, Christmas-cozy factor, and pacing.

book icon  Re-read: The Victorian Christmas Book, Antony and Peter Miall
This book was referenced so many times in The Country Diary Christmas Book that I finally hunted up a copy. The Miall brothers use catalogs, images, and books of the time to paint us a Victorian Christmas, from the historical events leading up to the Victorian revival of the holiday as a children's festival, then to each sequence in the celebration, from the changeover from goose for dinner to turkey to the presentation of the pantomime (a uniquely British theatre experience that does not involve mime), to finally end on Epiphany. Included are pages of old magazines, gift projects, household books, original recipes, period illustrations and liberal quotes from that most Victorian of books, A Christmas Carol. The only problem is that the book is only 7" x 9 1/4" and many of the reproduced ads are not legible, and one wishes some of the etchings were larger so the details could be made out. Wonderful historical treat; however, not as good as The Country Diary Christmas Book.😀

The Eve of St. Thomas' Day (Old Style)

Previously St. Thomas' Day was celebrated on the 21st of December (in the Catholic Church this is now in July). However many still celebrate on the original date. There are several customs associated with the original celebration, linked and listed below.

Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle

St. Thomas' Day in German Culture

Attention, Single Ladies! Today is the Feast of St. Thomas

No Doubt, It's St. Thomas' Day

Feast of St. Thomas from Clement Miles' book Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, published 1912:
Many and various are the customs and beliefs associated with the feast of St. Thomas (December 21). In Denmark it was formerly a great children's day, unique in the year, and rather resembling the mediaeval Boy Bishop festival. It was the breaking-up day for schools; the children used to bring their master an offering of candles and money, and in return he gave them a feast. In some places it had an even more delightful side: for this one day in the year the children were allowed the mastery in the school. Testimonials to their scholarship and industry were made out, and elaborate titles were added to their names, as exalted sometimes as “Pope,” “Emperor,” or “Empress.” Poor children used to go about showing these documents and collecting money. Games and larks of all sorts went on in the schools without a word of reproof, and the children were wont to burn their master's rod.

In the neighbourhood of Antwerp children go early to school on St. Thomas's Day, and lock the master out, until he promises to treat them with ale or other drink. After this they buy a cock and hen, which are allowed to escape and have to be caught by the boys or the girls respectively. The girl who catches the hen is called “queen,” the boy who gets the cock, “king.” Elsewhere in Belgium children lock out their parents, and servants their masters, while schoolboys bind their teacher to his chair and carry him over to the inn. There he has to buy back his liberty by treating his scholars with punch and cakes. Instead of the chase for the fowls, it was up to 1850 the custom in the Ardennes for the teacher to give the children hens and let them chop the heads off. Some pagan sacrifice no doubt lies at the root of this barbarous practice, which has many parallels in the folk-lore of western and southern Europe.

As for schoolboys’ larks with their teachers, the custom of “barring out the master” existed in England, and was practised before Christmas as well as at other times of the year, notably Shrove Tuesday. At Bromfield in Cumberland on Shrove Tuesday there was a regular siege, the school doors were strongly barricaded within, and the boy-defenders were armed with pop-guns. If the master won, heavy tasks were imposed, but if, as more often happened, he was defeated in his efforts to regain his authority, he had to make terms with the boys as to the hours of work and play.

St. Thomas's Eve is in certain regions one of the uncanniest nights in the year. In some Bohemian villages the saint is believed to drive about at midnight in a chariot of fire. In the churchyard there await him all the dead men whose name is Thomas; they help him to alight and accompany him to the churchyard cross, which glows red with supernatural radiance. There St. Thomas kneels and prays, and then rises to bless his namesakes. This done, he vanishes beneath the cross, and each Thomas returns to his grave. The saint here seems to have taken over the character of some pagan god, who, like the Teutonic Odin or Woden, ruled the souls of the departed. In the houses the people listen with awe for the sound of his chariot, and when it is heard make anxious prayer to him for protection from all ill. Before retiring to rest the house-father goes to the cowhouse with holy water and consecrated salt, asperges it from without, and then entering, sprinkles every cow. Salt is also thrown on the head of each animal with the words, “St. Thomas preserve thee from all sickness.” In the Böhmerwald the cattle are fed on this night with consecrated bayberries, bread, and salt, in order to avert disease.

In Upper and Lower Austria St. Thomas's Eve is reckoned as one of the so-called Rauchnächte (smoke-nights) when houses and farm-buildings must be sanctified with incense and holy water, the other nights being the Eves of Christmas, the New Year, and the Epiphany.

In Germany St. Thomas's, like St. Andrew's Eve, is a time for forecasting the future, and the methods already described are sometimes employed by girls who wish to behold their future husbands. A widely diffused custom is that of throwing shoes backwards over the shoulders. If the points are found turned towards the door the thrower is destined to leave the house during the year; if they are turned away from it another year will be spent there. In Westphalia a belief prevails that you must eat and drink heartily on this night in order to avert scarcity.

In Lower Austria it is supposed that sluggards can cure themselves of oversleeping by saying a special prayer before they go to bed on St. Thomas's Eve, and in Westphalia in the mid-nineteenth century the same association of the day with slumber was shown by the schoolchildren's custom of calling the child who arrived last at school Domesesel (Thomas ass). In Holland, again, the person who lies longest in bed on St. Thomas's Day is greeted with shouts of “lazybones.” Probably the fact that December 21 is the shortest day is enough to account for this.

In England there was divination by means of “St. Thomas's onion.” Girls used to peel an onion, wrap it in a handkerchief and put it under their heads at night, with a prayer to the satin to show them their true love in a dream. The most notable English custom on this day, however, was the peregrinations of poor people begging for money or provisions for Christmas. Going “a-gooding,” or “a-Thomassin’,” or “a-mumping,” this was called. Sometimes in return for the charity bestowed a sprig of holly or mistletoe was given. Possibly the sprig was originally a sacrament of the healthful spirit of growth: it may be compared with the olive- or cornel-branches carried about on New Year's Eve by Macedonian boys, and also with the St. Martin's rod.

One more English custom on December 21 must be mentioned—it points to a sometime sacrifice—the bull-baiting practised until 1821 at Wokingham in Berkshire. Its abolition in 1822 caused great resentment among the populace, although the flesh continued to be duly distributed.
Perhaps in these modern times St. Thomas' Day can be used as a vehicle to collect funds, food, or clothing for charity.

Peter, Paul and Mary Sing "A Soalin'"

19 December 2018

Christmas Strolls and Christmas Cookies

Yesterday I thought I'd take my annual Christmas stroll through downtown Marietta. This is not as fun as it used to be, as many of my favorite stores are gone. Willow Antiques disappeared just about the time our own Willow died, and the Christmas store apparently shut down earlier this year. I did go in the antique shop on the corner where Luke the poodle "holds court." He was there on Tuesday, a big dignified white Standard Poodle with grave eyes. I looked at the old cameras and typewriters and records with envy.

Skipped the Local Exchange because the pretzels I like now give me indigestion, and The Corner Shop (the British store) wasn't open. I did duck into the Australian Bakery Cafe, but alas, no gingerbread men. So I walked on to the old DuPre's hardware store, which is now called "Park West Antiques" (after the street). Didn't seem to be as many Christmas decorations dotted about as usual. Very few books. Saw a fancy old parrot cage that looked as if Aunt March of Little Women kept her parrot in it. The antiques just seemed to make me sad this year.

The second place I usually go is Cobb Antiques Mall, but that moved in January of last year. I had to drive all the way up to Canton Road near Piedmont Road to their new location. They are in a rather deserted strip mall behind the Cherokee Cattle Company restaurant (LOL...in the old Ryan's where I got food poisoning so long ago). It's a nicer building, but doesn't have anywhere near as many vendors as it used to, and the person who had all the books lined up behind a barrier of chairs and shelves is no longer there. I wandered about admiring the old furniture (and trying to figure out why they called an old Hoosier a "Dutch cabinet") and some electric typewriters the vintage of my original manual (1970), a lovely old Victrola, a wringer washer (glad I don't have to use that thing, and yet it was a godsend for people who had scrubbed their clothes on washboards), and other wonderful old things. Got a little thoughtful when I found a dish of old photographs for sale, the posed kind from the photographer's studio. All those faces stared out, people who lived, had their photo taken, went through their lives, and who are now gone, yet their images remain impressed upon paper. Were they happy? Did they live long? Did they marry? Have good jobs? My favorite was a little girl posing with her baby brother, with Mom carefully hidden under draperies to keep the baby quiet. You can see her skirt peeking out at the foot of the photo.

I did buy a book: Barnes' The Wonderful Year about a girl who moves to Idaho during the early part of the century. The illustrations are by Kate Seredy, but they aren't the lovely ones she did for her own books, or for Caddie Woodlawn and Winterbound. They're more sketchy. I wonder why.

Stopped by Book Exchange further up the street, but all the romance books were overwhelming and I was hungry, so I just lit out for Tin Drum, which I'd promised myself as a late birthday treat, even though I really didn't have the money. When I got there and opened the app, I found out I had enough points to get the meal for free! Yes!

Came home to watch Geraldine Page in Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory, and then the original broadcast of Amahl and the Night Visitors that I'd found on YouTube, which I did not realize was the very first Hallmark Hall of Fame. (I miss the Hallmark Hall of Fame. Now all Hallmark Channel does are kitschy Christmas love stories. Yech.) The composer himself, Gian Carlo Menotti, introduces the story. It was funny because next to me was the little hardback book in which the story was retold in print form in 1952, with pen-and-ink and brightly colored illustrations, which I'd found at one of the book sales. (Even funnier was that it was adapted to print by Frances Frost, who wrote the Windy Foot books, one of which, Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot, I was reading right at that moment.)

Had a happy moment during Jeopardy: they had a series of questions at the American Helicopter Museum, which we visited in 2009.

Today I baked wine biscuits and did laundry. James worked and we listened to Christmas music. He had found a bag of gingerbread cookie mix on the clearance aisle at Publix, and I made those, too. We got six gingerbread boys and four stars out of them. There was a fifth star, which I split in half. If they all taste like this, it will be delightful.

This evening we watched A Peter, Paul and Mary Holiday Concert. I can't believe this is thirty years old already!

16 December 2018

The Third Sunday of Advent

O LORD Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
                                        Book of Common Prayer, collect for the third Sunday of Advent
We were providing the entree at Hair Day on Saturday, so we left the house that morning with a big container of chuck roast that had slow cooked in teriyaki sauce and pineapple all day Friday as well as a bag of gifts since we aren't joining the Christmas gathering this year. (I had a marathon wrapping session on Friday as well). When we arrived the house was already a hive of haircutting.

Our hostess was sick over Thanksgiving and had been in the hospital a total of eight days; needless to say her Christmas preparations were way behind. The tree was up, but it had only a few ornaments on it. So Juanita and her sister Shirley and I grabbed hooks and ornaments and began hanging them all over the tree. The Butlers' tree, like ours, is a conglomeration of old and new, of sentimental home-mades and of Hallmark ornaments (Lin's a big football fan so she has several football player ornaments, and they have dozens of science-fiction related ones, from Princess Leia to Duck Dodgers). We kept the fragile ones from going down low (cats!) and otherwise scattered with abandon.

If we thought the roast tasted good last night—I gave a tiny sliver to Tucker and the scent made his eyes as large as saucers—it was even better today after the flavors melded. We ate it up, tooth and toenail, along with Lin's fabulous Asian salad (this should be a food group on its own) and rice.

Found some neat things to watch on Saturday night. First found a BBC production of A Christmas Carol with Michael Hordern as Scrooge. This was from the 70s and had minimal set design, but was remarkably faithful to the book. Then I watched the first part of The Yorkshire Vet on Acorn. This British reality show is centered around Skeldale Veterinary Clinic, which is the practice originally begun by James Herriot (in real life Alfred Wight) and Seigfried Farnon (Donald Sinclair). The original Skeldale House is now a James Herriot museum; this is a newer building, and one of the two leads in the series is Peter Wright, who trained under Herriot and his son Jim. I read his book about a month ago. (Julian Norton, the other partner, also has a book out.) Kind of like watching Dr. Pol, but in England.

I finished up with the fifth season Christmas episode of The Waltons, "The Best Christmas," which is my favorite of the Waltons Christmas stories, and then "Merry Christmas, Bogg" from Voyagers!

On Sunday we had to make a trip to Kroger, then went up to Barnes & Noble and Amy's Hallmark at Town Center to buy the final two Christmas gifts. I really did not know what to get in Hallmark until something caught my eye from a lower shelf. James did find some sugarless candy. At the bookstore we bought a book.

And thus Christmas shopping was finished, and I wrapped both gifts and was able to put the rest of the wrapping paper away. Yay! Just cookies to bake left!

This evening we watched Santa Claus is Comin' to Town and the wonderfully O'Henry-ish Little House on the Prairie tale, "Christmas at Plum Creek."

11 December 2018

"Dulce Domum"

One of my favorite Christmas stories is the chapter "Dulce Domum" from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. It is excerpted in several Christmas books and can be read (and heard) here:

NPR 2009 Christmas Story: "Dulce Domum"

Here's also an animated adaptation, Mole's Christmas.

And here is a lovely rendition of the song sung by the field mice, "Villagers All."

10 December 2018

Trim Up the Tree!

I threw my schedule to the wind today (it's housecleaning day, which mainly means scrubbing the bathrooms) and first toted all the packages and cards to the post office (when did parcel post get so expensive? there's only a dollar difference between parcel post and priority mail!) for dispatching, then came home, cleaned everything out of the corner (the rocker will sit in the other corner, in front of the phone, awkwardly, until the season is over) and commenced to decorate the tree.

Except I had to fuss over the lights. Again. Last year the Lightkeeper Pro gadget saved my bacon. I had one half of the middle section of the tree lights out and about three pulls on the Pro reconnected the circuits. This year, no dice. I tried the other method, which is something like using a stud finder for the Pro to find where the broken circuit is, but nothing would revive the string. I even tried replacing all the burned out bulbs, until I ran out of replacement bulbs and that didn't work. Almost every bulb in the string must be burned out; no wonder it won't light.

Now I did have extra strings of fifty lights that I bought for the miniatures tree. I had to finagle it, using the extension cord I use for the star at the top of the tree, which is dropped down the trunk. I fastened the string in place and, well, it worked: the middle of the tree doesn't have a dark spot.

In the last few years I've wondered if I have too many ornaments on the tree. I try not to add any more, but occasionally a Hallmark ornament or two catches the eye. This year I put the new ones on the little shelfy things on the television. But which of the older ones would I discard? My tree (actually all the trees) isn't a color or flower or specialty "theme" tree fit for a magazine shoot. Each of the ornaments on the main tree are there because they are loved, from the Carleton Lassie specialties to the glass budgies to my beloved satin balls to the long ornaments that were my mom's that I tried to fix up and failed at miserably, but James talked me into keeping. It would be like giving away a pet or a child.

The last step is the tinseling. Without it the tree looks naked, just a collection of branches with colorful figurals laid on. This is trimmed from bottom to top so the effect is like a waterfall. This year's weather, while damp and depressing for the past three days, was actually fortuitous for using icicles. I have decorated the tree on a day so warm I had to wear gloves because the strands of tinsel stuck to my perspiring fingers. Today, my fingers were cold through most of the process; uncomfortable, but perfect for pinching four to five strands out at a time and draping them over a branch. It takes a while, but all good things take time.

The final touch is Mother and Dad's nativity set, which is arranged under the tree in a board stable with one yellow light bulb through the convenient hole in the rear near the roof. It's never finished without that.

I like to think of it as an annual magnum opus, my Christmas masterpiece, a painting I do once year. Pretty much all the elements are the same, with some new things tossed in occasionally, but every year they are rearranged in a different pattern. Kind of like life if you think about it.

09 December 2018

The Second Sunday of Advent

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
                                      Book of Common Prayer, collect for the second Sunday of Advent

It was a wet and clammy weekend that managed some semblance of pre-Christmas festivities. The rain literally put a damper on things, though: chill, merciless in the way it crept into your bones, drenching everything and then keeping on, hour after hour, the cold sneaking under your collar and up your sleeves. If it had snowed, it might have at least felt warmer.

We arose just in time Saturday to get dressed and for dog-walking duties before we had to leave the house. James couldn't take the power chair to his club meeting Christmas party due to the rain and because of the usual Saturday and the seasonal Christmas shopping was doubtful of finding a close parking space where he would not have to walk past his strength. So I agreed to drop him off and then do a few errands in the area. If I wanted, I could have gone home, but in the end I didn't. Instead I pulled down my hat, hiked up my hood, and splashed onward.

First I popped off to Costco for gasoline, at a jaw-dropping $1.949, and then went through the store. We needed very prosaic things: trash bags, "plastic cheese" (Kraft slices), toilet paper. Of course ending up grabbing other things, including a new "Cooks Illustrated" as a surprise for James, but nothing else we couldn't use.

I usually buy discount toys throughout the year and save them for Toys for Tots, but everything's been at such sixes and sevenses this year I didn't get a chance. So I went to And That! (a.k.a. the local Christmas Tree Shoppe) to be immersed in warm Christmasy atmosphere. There were lights, decorations, and gifts everywhere, and Christmas music over the speakers, all which I enjoyed. I bought two small toys, all I could afford, and some pistachio nuts since I hadn't had breakfast. I could have gone to Panera, but instead I went to Publix and bought a small container of their chicken soup. Nowhere near as good and I had to eat it in the car, but half the price.

I also almost finished another Christmas gift, but won't mention it here, in case the intended recipients are reading.

Finally I just cut through the back streets and went to Barnes & Noble for a half hour, to check out the books and peruse the magazines until James called.

We spent the rest of Saturday evening at home, just noshing for supper, and had a double-feature on Christmas movies, first the modern Mercy Mission about the rescue of a small plane pilot by an Air New Zealand jet, and then the classic The Bishop's Wife. This is a delightful film as it is—I even love looking at the sets!—and a tribute to Cary Grant's acting chops, since he makes the Dudley character look effortless although he hated doing the film!

Today we tried to sleep late, but sleep was elusive. I washed the towels and some other things, but my main focus was getting the mail items done. I still hadn't written the Christmas letter, which seemed superfluous because only one person is now getting it (the person isn't online and hasn't followed the "adventures" of this year). Considering I have been re-telling James' medical saga for months, it was pretty much a doddle to write. It was harder to print, and I did half the labels upside down. Since they were still legible, I left them. So I finished writing out all the Christmas and Hanukkah cards (yeah, they'll be late) and sorted those that get mailed, and those that get mailed with gifts, and those that will get (hopefully) delivered in person, and since that got done, I hauled all the gift boxes out of the closet and turned the spare room into what looks like a gift shop behind held on a sofa. In this fashion I got the gifts wrapped that are going to be shipped and hopefully I can take them to the post awful tomorrow.

By the time I finished this task, it was suppertime. James warmed up the gravy and pork, cooked some fettucini, and I shoveled my way through supper (considering all I'd had today was a bowl of oatmeal, a cup of yogurt, some skim milk, a grilled cheese sandwich, and a PopTart, I was hungry for some real food).

Later it was time for the news, A Christmas Story, and Alaska: the Last Frontier.

08 December 2018

One of My Favorite Christmas Films Ever: The Bishop's Wife

Back when I was the distaff side of "a little shaver," as the old writers would say, this film about a bishop who is losing his faith in a race to erect a magnificent cathedral, his loving wife who sees, like Scrooge's fiancee, "his noble aspirations falling away" day after day, and the unconventional angel who comes to help them ran every Christmas on one channel or the other, usually one of the hard-to-see UHF channels with all the static that did not dim the movie's quirky humor or message one bit. I remembered the sermon of the empty stocking long after the old UHF channels disposed of black-and-white films.

Thankfully cable, and then DVD, brought this marvelous film back to us. Here are some links about The Bishop's Wife.

Ten Things You Did Not Know About The Bishop's Wife - My Merry Christmas

TCM's Summary of The Bishop's Wife

Classic Movies Review of The Bishop's Wife

25 Days of Christmas: The Bishop's Wife

The Case for Global Film: The Bishop's Wife

Fuse Film Commentary: The Bishop's Wife

Tropes in The Bishop's Wife

Discussion about The Bishop's Wife

"Family Values": 1940s Propaganda in The Bishop's Wife

"Conversation Over Chai": The Bishop's Wife Review

"Once Upon a Screen": The Bishop's Wife Review

03 December 2018

Christmas Reading Has Commenced!

Christmas After All, Kathryn Lasky
(I've done many reviews of this book, which I adore: here's a good one:)
This is my favorite of all the "Dear America" books I have read, because the characters seem so real to me, possibly because Lasky based them on her mother and aunts and uncle, and on the real house her grandparents lived in.

The Swift family is facing a grim Christmas. The Depression deepens weekly and Sam Swift is in danger of losing his job. The book's narrator, eleven-year-old Minnie, who idolizes Amelia Earhart, thinks that instead being of the time of plenty Christmas always is, the Christmas of 1933 will be a season of dwindling, with the family continually needing to close down rooms of their home to save on the coal bill and eating an endless succession of au gratin main courses and aspics to cover the fact that they can barely afford meat for the table.

The book opens with the arrival of a telegram that will change their lives: their orphan cousin Willie Faye Darling is being sent to them via train from a little town in Texas. Even though she is another mouth to feed and body to clothe, Sam and Belle Swift welcome Willie Faye into the family. Minnie finds her extraordinary: she's never seen a movie, doesn't know who Buck Rogers is, and owns only two pairs of underwear and a cat, which she explains to the astounded Swift family, that she had to suck the dust out if its nostrils three times a day to keep it from smothering in the Dust Bowl conditions of her home town. Willie Faye knows so little, Minnie thinks, that she will have a lot to learn from the Swifts. She doesn't realize that the family will learn some precious truths from this undersized refugee as the two girls cope with making Christmas gifts when they have no money, dealing with a tragedy that happens to a classmate, and finally facing a startling event in their own home.

I think this is a magical book. It reminds me of some of the stories my mom told about the Depression, and I love some of the offbeat characters, like Minnie's older sister Lady, a creative rebel who can work magic with fashions, and her nine-year-old genius brother Ozzie, who builds radio sets and helps his older sisters with their science homework. The only thing that mars the book is a bit of a fairy-tale epilogue. A worthy tale to add to any Christmas library.

Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol: The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special, Darrell Van Citters
Remember the first animated Christmas special ever made for television? Nope, it wasn't A Charlie Brown Christmas, or even the stop-motion animation of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It was, in fact, the 1962 Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, which was scored by two Broadway veteran songwriters, and adapted directly from Dickens' tale, with a delightful framing sequence that has the nearsighted Magoo as an egotistical actor playing Ebenezer Scrooge in a Broadway play (with a great song about Broadway to boot). This book is all about the making of that special, and it's a delight as well, telling how the idea of the special came about, how it was made almost "in tandem" with UPA's theatrical release Gay Purr-ee, and of the changes that were made to the story to fit it into a 52-minute timeslot. So if you've ever wondered if the scenes with Scrooge's nephew Fred, with Ignorance and Want, and with Belle and her husband were ever included in the original teleplay, you'll find out here. (The one mystery about the story that everyone asks about, why the Spirit of Christmas Present came first, is sadly not solved; in the original script the ghosts were in the proper order—however, as Van Citters notes, it gives you more insight into Scrooge and his relationship with the Cratchits before going into his lonely childhood). There are also nice tidbits about the actors—I didn't know Paul Frees' death was actually a suicide!—and the production (the original sponsor was Timex, and the minute the author mentioned the commercials I could remember them). If you are as big a fan of the story as I am, you will adore this book!

International Christmas: The Apple Fairy

Children in the past often received as special Christmas gifts food which we think of as "everyday" now: oranges, apples, grapes, bananas, nuts, raisins. In these days when foods can be shipped everywhere so that we have strawberries in December and root vegetables in May, it is difficult to imagine a time when food had to be eaten in its season from local sources, but on holidays rare foods—walnuts, cranberries, fresh oranges, figs, lemons, and other "exotic" items were stocked in groceries at great cost and markup. Some foods like oranges and raisins were eaten only at Christmas or other holidays, shipped in from California or Florida and people often saved up for months or weeks to buy an orange for each child and procure a small box of raisins for a plum pudding—and raisins in those days did not come pitted and had to be "stoned" before inclusion in a cake or muffin. Children who wanted raisin cake would have to do the work of pitting them before Mother or Grandmother could bake it. The same children waited all year long to taste their "Christmas orange."

Apples were a bit more common because they could be stored in straw in an attic or root cellar and eaten after the harvest and through the winter if kept in a cool enough place. Some apples might be cored, sliced, and dried, and a treat for a February night might be dried apple slices, or the same apple slices reconstituted in an apple pie. Red apples made perfect Christmas tree ornaments as well; dotted in with the gingerbread boys, popcorn strings, and home-made cornucopias, the red was cheerful and jolly. In Europe, baked apples were a traditional Advent treat.

The apple tradition goes back many years. In medieval times Christmas Eve was know as Adam and Eve's day, and, although apples are not native to the Middle Eastern area where the Garden of Eden was supposed to be, tradition has always held the forbidden fruit to be an apple. Apples were hung on what was called a "Paradise Tree" and the fall of Adam and Eve was acted out on a stage.

Our apple fairy above looks like an early representation of one of the European gift-bringers, the Christkindlein, or Christ Child, who is not portrayed as an infant, but as a young woman with golden hair.

02 December 2018

"A Great Miracle Happened There"

Sunset tonight marked the beginning of the eight-day Jewish feast of Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah). How special that the most well-known of December holidays involve light: the tree lights, candoliers, candles and home decorations of Christmas; the menorah (hanukkiah) of Hanukkah; the candles of Kwanzaa; and the Yule logs of pagan festivals. December nights grow short, and in the past, when there was no electricity, not even gaslight or kerosene, and feral creatures moved in stealth through the night, the dark must have seemed like a sinister fate.

Whether you celebrate the Festival of Lights or not, may a candle of hope always burn brightly in your heart.

The First Sunday of Advent

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.                      Book of Common Prayer, collect for the first Sunday of Advent
It's been a busy Sunday. I did not intend to go out today, but we needed something immediately, so I ran to Kroger for it. By the time I got home, the temperature was almost up to 70℉ (we've had a warm front come in, but thankfully it's supposed to be gone by tomorrow), so I had to quicktime it to get the lights outside before the sun swung around and turned the brick front of the house into a bake oven. The net lights properly fit the trimmed bushes (hurrah!), and I had to rearrange the bead garland on the little lighted porch tree (I'd rather tinsel a tree than drape garland—ugh!), and then program that temperamental timer, but it all finally worked out. I'd already put up the wreath, the greens basket, the mailbox cover, and the banner, so all it took was to decorate the two chairs with garland and holly and perch stuffed Santas on them, then lean the little metal sled against the side window, and I was done. (Realized later I'd forgotten to put out the log deer, but I can do that quickly tomorrow.)

Also put the candoliers in the windows, pulled out at least one box (the dining room one, but the table needs to be polished with mineral oil first), and put all the wreaths on the inside doors. I've even managed a candle in the kitchen window, where we've never had one before.

Of course everything is untidy right now and it makes me crazy. But it will come together the longer I work.

Spent the afternoon listening to Christmas music off TuneIn radio, found a little news between the football games this evening, and then watched some Christmas programs: Mickey's Christmas Carol (James' favorite) and Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (my favorite) before Alaska: the Last Frontier came on. Oh, and have sorted the pills for this week and washed towels.

As always this Advent, I pray for health and happiness.