30 November 2019

"We'll Keep Our Christmas Merry Still..."

from Marmion by Sir Walter Scott

Heap on more wood!-the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.
Each age has deem’d the new-born year
The fittest time for festal cheer:
Even, heathen yet, the savage Dane
At Iol more deep the mead did drain;
High on the beach his galleys drew,
And feasted all his pirate crew;
hen in his low and pine-built hall,
Where shields and axes deck’d the wall,
They gorged upon the half-dress’d steer;
Caroused in seas of sable beer;
While round, in brutal jest, were thrown
The half-gnaw’d rib, and marrow-bone,
Or listen’d all, in grim delight,
While scalds yell’d out the joys of fight.
Then forth, in frenzy, would they hie,
While wildly-loose their red locks fly,
And dancing round the blazing pile,
They make such barbarous mirth the while,
As best might to the mind recall
The boisterous joys of Odin’s hall.

And well our Christian sires of old
Loved when the year its course had roll’d,
And brought blithe Christmas back again,
With all his hospitable train.
Domestic and religious rite
Gave honour to the holy night;
On Christmas eve the bells were rung;
On Christmas eve the mass was sung:
That only night in all the year,
Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.
The damsel donn’d her kirtle sheen;
The hall was dress’d with holly green;
Forth to the wood did merry-men go,
To gather in the mistletoe.
Then open’d wide the Baron’s hall
To vassal, tenant, serf, and all;
Power laid his rod of rule aside,
And Ceremony doff’d his pride.
The heir, with roses in his shoes,
That night might village partner choose;
The Lord, underogating, share
The vulgar game of ‘post and pair.’
All hail’d, with uncontroll’d delight,
And general voice, the happy night,
That to the cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down.

The fire, with well-dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide:
The huge hall-table’s oaken face,
Scrubb’d till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
 Then was brought in the lusty brawn,
By old blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar’s head frown’d on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garb’d ranger tell,
How, when, and where, the monster fell;
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar.
The wassel round, in good brown bowls,
Garnish’d with ribbons, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reek’d; hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pie:
Nor fail’d old Scotland to produce,
At such high tide, her savoury goose.
Then came the merry maskers in,
And carols roar’d with blithesome din;
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong.
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery;
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visors made;
But, O! what maskers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!
England was merry England, when
Old Christmas brought his sports again.
‘Twas Christmas broach’d the mightiest ale;
‘Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;
A Christmas gambol oft could cheer
The poor man’s heart through half the year.           

29 November 2019

It's Hot Cocoa and Cookies Time Again

Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, edited by Amy Newmark
It's time for another collection of warm and fuzzy Christmas tales from the Chicken Soup folks. As always some of them are deeply sentimental, but some of them are downright funny, too, like the story of the ugly elves, the traditional Norwegian breakfast ale, and the one-page poem about an unexpected flight. You'll meet reindeer named Chester and another named Fwank, tales of homemade gifts that meant so much to the givers and the recipients, the pony that wasn't quite the gift a little girl expected, acts of kindness to people in trouble, wonky Christmas decorations, a young man who spends an unexpected Christmas with a Jewish congregation in need of one more participant, a fruitcake that goes to the Mideast and a happy gift that makes a difference in Kenya, and more.

There are also some recipes, Charlie Brown Christmas trees abound, and a nice warm blanket of words to keep you cozy over the holidays.

This year's treat for 2019.

28 November 2019

Happy Christmas With the Happy Hollisters

The Happy Hollisters and the Trading Post Mystery, Jerry West
One of the most fun children's series of the 1950s was the "Happy Hollisters," about the lively Hollister family: Dad owns a combination sports/hobby/toy store called The Trading Post in the lakeside community of Shoreham, and, of course, Mom stays at home supervising her active brood: the two elder, more responsible children Pete, 12, and Pam, 10, then mischievous Ricky, age seven, and sparkling Holly, age six, and finally little Sue, who's only four, plus Zip the collie and White Nose and her kittens (who stay kittens for the duration of the books). Author Andrew Swenson (Jerry West) based the kids on his own children and the stories on trips the family took, adding simple mysteries to drive the plots. I was never able to read these as a child, and began picking them up one and two at book sales or used book stores, and recently ordered three of the reprints.

Then I found out all of them are available to read if you have Kindle Unlimited, and this was the first one I had not yet read. As I somehow managed to turn up an Easter-themed one last April, and still had the Cape Canaveral-set book left to read for the anniversary of the moon landing, this book is providentially set at Christmastime.

In a previous book, The Happy Hollisters at Mystery Mountain, little Sue fell in love with a black burro, and the owner promised to send the little donkey to them as a gift for helping his family. Now it's just before Christmas, and Domingo is on the way! But when they retrieve him from the airport, he has a cryptic rhyme attached to his bridle, and even when they take him home new little rhymes keep showing up in his stall.

In the meantime, the kids prepare for Christmas at school by studying Yuletide customs in other countries, their uncle and aunt and cousins arrive for the holidays, and they participate in their dad's wonderful idea for a Christmas promotion at the Trading Post: if people buy toys for charity, he will discount them. And, to advertise the store, he's bought a complete Santa Claus outfit for the roof, Santa, sleigh, reindeer and all. It's a great promotion and they're collecting lots of toys—until sneak thieves steal the entire outfit one night! So now the kids have two mysteries to solve.

It's another breathless adventure where modern kids will gape at the idea of Pete and Ricky being able to go search for thieves with a friend (riding an iceboat on a frozen lake, no less), and the kids track down clues on their own, all with no hovering adults—although Dad and Officer Cal and several other adults seem to turn up when the Hollisters and friends need them most. The odious Joey Brill and his buddy Will Wilson are back as well, and no matter how many times they get reprimanded, they're always good for yet another mean prank.

These are great, lively books with imaginative kids who make their own fun rather than sit around and play video games, love each other and help each other unashamedly, and if some old-fashioned terms (the Hollisters have a friend who is Native American who is referred to as an "Indian") and stereotypical sex roles (the boys help with "boy" chores and the girls usually clean up, but all the kids participate in the adventures) work their way into the tales, they can be used as teaching moments to compare changing attitudes. This particular book bubbles with all the glow of a classic midcentury Christmas.

A Thanksgiving Feast With a Side of Owl

As for many years now, Thanksgiving Day began with the Macy's parade. I still remember fondly waking up upon Thanksgiving morning and rushing to get breakfast so I could park myself before the television and watch the parades on CBS. They had the "Thanksgiving Parade Jubilee," showing parts of the J.L. Hudson parade in Detroit (Hudson's is long gone, but one of their offspring survives: Target; the parade survives as "America's Parade," I discovered this year), Gimbel's parade in Philadelphia (Gimbel's is gone, but Philly still has a parade), the pre-recorded Eaton's Santa Claus Parade (which, as I read in a book about the parade, long confused Canadian broadcasters on why the Americans wanted a Christmas parade on Thanksgiving; Eaton's is also gone, but Toronto still holds the parade), and finally the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade usually coming in last to present Santa Claus. In the real "old days" it was hosted by Captain Kangaroo from the Treasure House, later William Conrad took over the host duties from a richly-appointed men's den, drinking a toast at the very end. Later they ditched the Hudson's parade and started showing a parade from Hawaii with Jack Lord as the host (who the dickens wanted to watch flowers on Thanksgiving? I wondered), and Gimbel's got tossed in favor of a Walt Disney parade. Now CBS also has Macy's coverage and I heard the CW has the parade from Philadelphia. Probably had I known the latter I might have changed channels. Macy's has turned into, amazingly, not a big ad for Macy's, but a big ad for a bunch of young singing stars. Most of them were good, but who really cares? The announcers spend too much time yapping and promoting upcoming NBC shows.

This year, it was the commercials that were amazing. First came a four-minute epic from Xfinity, about a distant traveler who comes home for the holidays. Next came a magical visit to "The Time Shop" (I want to visit there!) with echoes of Narnia. And finally a little girl gets to ask all those pressing things a kid wants to know from the oddest of sources.

In the meantime James was in the kitchen cooking up goodies for our Friendsgiving feast, corn casserole and brown-sugar-glazed carrots, plus we had some Belgian chocolate seashells to bring along. We set the National Dog Show to recording and skipped out about one o'clock to find the feast about to begin at the Lucyshyn house. We had turkey, duck, pot roast, spiral-sliced ham, a whole passel of vegetables, Ron's mashed potatoes, a relish tray, bread, and, after all that, two kinds of pies, blondies, the chocolates, and brown bread with raisins (Oreta had to give out the recipe for the latter because it was so popular). We spent the time chatting, enjoying, and digesting.

The apex of the day was just after the sun had set. A line of orange and yellow was still on the western horizon, brightening the gap between two houses behind the Lucyshyn back yard, but above it, it was beginning to get dark and a quarter moon with Venus dangling beneath it was hung in the deep blue western sky just above the orange streak. I only had my phone with me, but I thought I might try to take a picture of it. So I went outside and snapped several photos.

Clair had followed me outside and both of us heard an owl hoot several times. Clair suddenly said "There it is!" and  pointed out the tallest tree in the neighborhood, silhouetted black against the southwestern sky. There at the top of the tree was the owl—we could see it stretch out every time it hooted, showing its head and tail! And then a few minutes later a second owl flew up to the same tree, different branch, and they hooted back and forth at each other for a few minutes, sketched against the sky like an Arthur Rackham illustration. Magical!

We drove home after admiring yet again the neighborhood overachievers nearby (the house at the very entrance of the development across from Alex and Pat's development) who had the front of their house covered with lighted Christmas trees, a manger scene, Snoopy on his doghouse, light spheres hanging from the trees, and so much more. (As a friend of mine might say, it looked like something had barfed up Christmas all over the place.) When I got home I went to the Cornell Ornithology website to identify the hoots, and it seemed we had two Great Horned Owls up in that tree! Clair confirmed that it was probably mating season for them, and what we saw might have been an attempt at courtship.

Turkey for dinner, owls in the night sky, and budgie song when we got home: that's what I call a Thanksgiving Day!

For Your Thanksgiving Library

• Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience

• This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving

• The Mayflower: The Families, the Voyage, and the Founding of America

• Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

• Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday

• Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, an American History

• 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving

• Mayflower 1620: A New Look at a Pilgrim Voyage

27 November 2019

What Are You Reading for December?

Here's my pile!

This is all but Merry Midwinter, which I liked so much as in e-book I bought a real one, but it hasn't yet arrived.

A Lakes Christmas, A Fenland Christmas, and A Wartime Christmas are part of Sutton Publishing's Christmas series; they are short excerpts of Christmas/Christmastide passages from various British novels, memoirs, and poetry books, with the action taking place in that shire or era. I buy these when I can find inexpensive copies (these were 38¢ each plus postage). I chose the fenland one in memory of The Nine Tailors (and was surprised to find the opening passages from that book in the text) and the Lakes book due to Beatrix Potter and Arthur Ransome and was equally surprised to find no contributions from either, although Potter's town of Sawrey was mentioned.

I've never read a Georgette Heyer book. I hear her Regency romances are better than the mysteries, but I shall try this one out. I love English country house mysteries.

There's also a book in one of my series (the Witch City mysteries) that is set at Christmas.

Of course I plan to re-read my annual favorites: A Christmas Carol, Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot, Christmas After All, and The Cottage Holiday.

What's in your book pile?

25 November 2019

Rudolph Day, November 2019

"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.

Well, this is it, folks: it's one month until Christmas Day. Had it been several hundred years ago, Advent would have already have begun on November 11, Martinmas (St. Martin's Day). Like Lent, Old Advent was forty days (not counting Sundays) during which you refrained from eating rich food and prepared yourself for the coming of the Christ Child. The animals one could not feed during the winter would be butchered and smoked, and the root cellar was full of vegetables carefully stored so they would not rot to feed the family during the winter. You feasted on this bounty before Advent began.

I have been feasting on bounty from two electronic ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies)!

The Christmas Book, Andy Thomas
This is a nifty short book crammed full with color illustrations and black-and-white drawings that traces the history of the Christmas celebration, going all the way back to Egyptian observances of the god Horus and non-Christian solstice festivals. The Christian embracing—and frequent rejection of—a celebration of Jesus' birth is nicely summarized, with a section on the Puritan ban on the holiday after the English Civil War.

Although Thomas is from Great Britain and chiefly writes about the English and American way of celebrating the holidays, there are frequent asides to interesting customs in other countries, involving the Yule Lads in Scandinavia and Papai Noël in Brazil, and even a page about Russia's Grandfather Frost traveling with the Snow Maiden (the only male gift bringer to have a female sidekick). If you weren't aware previously, you'll discover that the Bible never mentions how many wise men (nor calls them kings nor states what gifts and how many they brought), that Prince Albert did not introduce the first Christmas tree into England, that the authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" is still in doubt, and that Stonehenge probably chiefly celebrates the winter solstice, not the summer event as previously thought, among other things. (Note to the author: The narrator of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was not "nodding off in front of the fire"; he was in bed, with his nightcap on, remember? Aroused by "such a clatter" that he flew to the window "to see what was the matter"?)

A great jumping off point to so many books about Christmas history and customs, from Williams Sansom's Christmas to Penne Restad's Christmas in America to Stephen Nissenbaum's The Battle for Christmas to Clement Miles and Karal Ann Marling, and more!

Merry Midwinter!, Gillian Monks
I have awarded this book the ultimate accolade: after reading the electronic version, I ordered the "real" book.

Monks, who describes herself as a Quaker and a practicing Druid (I didn't think that was possible!) has written a great book about celebrating all of the winter holiday season, from Hallowe'en/Samhain all the way through Candlemas, as our ancestors did. She traces the history of all the wonderful customs of the season, from decorating with evergreens (greens which represented both the spirits of nature and the "ever green" eternal love of the Son of God) to celebrating female bringers of light like Saint Lucy and Frau Holle to the connection of the winter solstice to the establishment of Christmas by the Christian Church on a day that was already celebrated as a religious holiday (the Saturnalia of the Romans, the feast of Mithras by the Persians, and ceremonies for the Egyptian Isis and the Greek god Apollo). And of course she addresses feasting, gift giving, the origins of some of the gift givers, including the now-ubiquitous Santa Claus, snow. As she states "Midwinter has always been a time for people to set aside their differences, lay down their weapons, and come together in a sense of community and celebration."

Her chapters include some of her personal memories of each of the holidays marking the winter season, along with family recipes and DIY crafts, but the thing she emphasizes most of all is simplicity and anticipation: not to rush any part of the winter season, but to enjoy each aspect of it, from the fun of Hallowe'en to the days building up to Christmas, and then not to let Christmas just stop at 11:59 p.m. on December 25, but to celebrate the entire twelve days of Christmas and even the January days leading finally to Candlemas/Imbolc on the second of February by walking in wintry woods or enjoying the cold weather, and enjoying days doing crafts indoors when the weather is inclement. She firmly believes in the philosophy of "there is no bad weather, only inadequate clothing" and invites you not to bemoan the loss of summer warmth but to embrace the wintry chill. I loved this whole attitude of enjoying all the seasons, and also of not allowing Christmas revelry to be trapped in a 24-hour period as our modern society dictates.

21 November 2019

Thanksgiving Books Online

The first book in this list is on archive.org and is out of print, so is readily available to borrow. To read all but the last book, you must register with archive.org (it's free) and then borrow the book for fourteen days. The final book is free on Google. (Archive.org is a great source for older books which are still under copyright, but out of print. You may enjoy being registered there.)

Thanksgiving: Its Origin, Celebration and Significance

Thanksgiving: Memories of the Day, Helps to the Habit

Thanksgiving: Feast and Festival

Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday

The Thanksgiving Ceremony: New Traditions for America's Family Feast

The Fast and Thanksgiving Days of New England

12 November 2019

From Under the Maples by John Burroughs

The time of the falling of leaves has come again. Once more in our morning walk we tread upon carpets of gold and crimson, of brown and bronze, woven by the winds or the rains out of these delicate textures while we slept.

How beautifully the leaves grow old! How full of light and color are their last days! There are exceptions, of course. The leaves of most of the fruit-trees fade and wither and fall ingloriously. They bequeath their heritage of color to their fruit. Upon it they lavish the hues which other trees lavish upon their leaves. The pear-tree is often an exception. I have seen pear orchards in October painting a hillside in hues of mingled bronze and gold. And well may the pear-tree do this, it is so chary of color upon its fruit.

But in October what a feast to the eye our woods and groves present! The whole body of the air seems enriched by their calm, slow radiance. They are giving back the light they have been absorbing from the sun all summer.

The carpet of the newly fallen leaves looks so clean and delicate when it first covers the paths and the highways that one almost hesitates to walk upon it. Was it the gallant Raleigh who threw down his cloak for Queen Elizabeth to walk upon? See what a robe the maples have thrown down for you and me to walk upon! How one hesitates to soil it! The summer robes of the groves and the forests—more than robes, a vital part of themselves, the myriad living nets with which they have captured, and through which they have absorbed, the energy of the solar rays. What a change when the leaves are gone, and what a change when they come again! A naked tree may be a dead tree. The dry, inert bark, the rough, wirelike twigs change but little from summer to winter. When the leaves come, what a transformation, what mobility, what sensitiveness, what expression! Ten thousand delicate veined hands reaching forth and waving a greeting to the air and light, making a union and compact with them, like a wedding ceremony. How young the old trees suddenly become! what suppleness and grace invest their branches! The leaves are a touch of immortal youth. As the cambium layer beneath the bark is the girdle of perennial youth, so the leaves are the facial expression of the same quality. The leaves have their day and die, but the last leaf that comes to the branch is as young as the first. The leaves and3 the blossom and the fruit of the tree come and go, yet they age not; under the magic touch of spring the miracle is repeated over and over.

The maples perhaps undergo the most complete transformation of all the forest trees. Their leaves fairly become luminous, as if they glowed with inward light. In October a maple-tree before your window lights up your room like a great lamp. Even on cloudy days its presence helps to dispel the gloom. The elm, the oak, the beech, possess in a much less degree that quality of luminosity, though certain species of oak at times are rich in shades of red and bronze. The leaves of the trees just named for the most part turn brown before they fall. The great leaves of the sycamore assume a rich tan-color like fine leather.

01 November 2019


from Marmion by Sir Walter Scott

"November’s sky is chill and drear,
November’s leaf is red and sear:
Late, gazing down the steepy linn,
That hems our little garden in,
Low in its dark and narrow glen,
You scarce the rivulet might ken,
So thick the tangled greenwood grew,
So feeble trill’d the streamlet through:
Now, murmuring hoarse, and frequent seen
Through bush and brier, no longer green,
An angry brook, it sweeps the glade,
Brawls over rock and wild cascade,
And, foaming brown with double speed,
Hurries its waters to the Tweed.

No longer Autumn’s glowing red
Upon our Forest hills is shed;
No more, beneath the evening beam,
Fair Tweed reflects their purple gleam;
Away hath pass’d the heather-bell
That bloom’d so rich on Needpath-fell;
Sallow his brow, and russet bare
Are now the sister-heights of Yair.
The sheep, before the pinching heaven,
To sheltered dale and down are driven,
Where yet some faded herbage pines,
And yet a watery sunbeam shines:
In meek despondency they eye
The withered sward and wintry sky,
And far beneath their summer hill,
Stray sadly by Glenkinnon’s rill:
The shepherd shifts his mantle’s fold,
And wraps him closer from the cold;
His dogs no merry circles wheel,
But, shivering, follow at his heel;
A cowering glance they often cast,
As deeper moans the gathering blast."

Ten things you didn't know about November.