31 December 2019

The Real Spirit of Christmas

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Re-read: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson
"The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain..." Their mother works double shifts to make ends meet, their father left home long ago, and they move through elementary school, as the narrator states, "like those South American fish that strip your bones clean in three seconds flat..." Luckily, they don't go to church, the one place the local kids have any peace.

Well, until our narrator's little brother tells one of the Herdman kids that the minister gives them snacks at Sunday School. And they just happen to show up the day the yearly Christmas Pageant is being cast.

This is a fast, funny, but ultimately poignant story about a misfit bunch of neglected kids who cause chaos but prompts at least one person, our unnamed narrator, and hopefully the reader, to take a new look at the Nativity story. Even though this story was published in the 1970s, it has a timeless quality that still makes it relevant nearly 40 years later. A great before-Christmas read.

Re-read: The House Without a Christmas Tree, Gail Rock
In Alan Shayne's book A Double Life, he talks about how the classic 1972 Christmas special was conceived; asked by CBS to concoct a Christmas tale and wanting to present one that hadn't been done before, Shayne took a prompt given to him by a co-worker, a Nebraska native named Roberta Gail Rock. In the process he asked Gail to write down everything she remembered about her home growing up: how it looked, how her grandmother and father looked and acted, what her schooldays were like, and she did.

I have a feeling most of those notes Gail took made their way into this terrific novelization of the television production, for not only is the script told pretty much verbatim, but she adds what the best media novelizations do: delightful details that flesh out Addie Mills' everyday life in 1946, especially with much more description of the critical character of her grandmother and her eccentricities. Little pieces of business like Carla Mae's home life, Addie and Carla Mae making their names out of the letters in alphabet soup, etc., just provide homey detail to an already touching story: for years 10-year-old Addie has wished to put up a Christmas tree in her home, just like her friends, but her distant father thinks it's a waste of money. This year Addie's request will bring things to a head—but in a way that will change things forever.

This is one of my two favorite Christmas specials ever, and the novel just adds richness to already rewarding tale. Thanks, Gail Rock!

30 December 2019

A Bumper Crop of Reading

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Carols From King's, Alexandra Coghlan
Since 1918, King's College (commissioned by Henry VI and completed during the reign of Henry VIII) in Cambridge, England, has offered a program on Christmas Eve at 3 PM called "Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols." I have a CD of the service, but for the first time this year had an opportunity to listen to it broadcast live thanks to the internet. I had also picked up this little book from the BBC about the history of the service.

What this "little book" is is delightful, telling not only the story of the "Nine Lessons and Carols" but the history of carols in general—they weren't originally just for Christmas, they were considered earthy folk contributions and generally didn't fit the "hymn" category of sacred, they came from disparate sources, the Puritans (of course) hated 'em. Another novelty about the service is that for many years now they have been commissioning a new carol for each year's service, and some of the disapproving comments King's has received about them are very funny. She talks about the backgrounds and the creation of several of the new carols, but, sadly, she missed one of my very favorites, "Candlelight Carol."

Truth be told, I was kind of disappointed when I saw what a small book it was, until I got into it: it's a little volume packed with a lot. If you've heard of or heard the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols and would like to learn more about it, this is the right book for you.

Ideals Christmas, from the Ideals Publication
I've been buying these seasonal books—I really, really, really miss their Thanksgiving/autumn edition—probably since the 1990s, when the photography and artwork improved, and every year it's a treat. This, their 75th anniversary issue, was delightful, with some poetry I had forgotten (e.e. cummings "little tree") and original verse written by readers, the usual Christmas essay from Pamela Kennedy, apt quotations, a couple of recipes (which is Quite Enough, thank you!), and the usual illustrated version of the two different Bible narratives (Luke and Matthew) about the Nativity.

Some of my favorite verse from this edition: "Silhouette," "Wonderful Wintertime," "Red Birds," "Christmas Brunch," "Chickadees," "Children's Winter," and "Sparkle Sparkle."

I also particularly enjoyed the essays/stories "Christmas Thoughts for All the Year," originally from "McCall's," Clara Brummert's "The New Skates," and Pamela Kennedy's sweet "A Long Way from the Manger."

The final third of the issue is a representation of covers over the years since 1944, the story of how Ideals came to be, and some representative pages from each decade. Truly a "box of delights" in the pages.

Re-read: A Little House Christmas Treasury, Laura Ingalls Wilder with colorized illustrations by Garth Williams
This is a compilation volume of most of the Christmas stories from the "Little House" books: from Christmas in the Big Woods to Mr. Edwards' encounter with Santa Claus on the prairie to two different Plum Creek Christmases (Christmas horses and Laura's first Christmas tree) to Almanzo Wilder's food-filled Christmas to a Christmas celebration in May after the Long Winter to a final Christmas with Laura just before her marriage. It's sweet to go back and read these, about children who have such full lives that they are content with items like red mittens, a stick of candy, or a tin cup for Christmas.

These aren't all the "Little House" Christmas tales, however; this "Treasury" volume omits the story of Pa getting stuck in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve and also the Christmas when little Grace received the swansdown cape. To get all of them you must purchase both volumes (one red and one green) of A Little House Christmas.

28 December 2019

Vintage Carols and Poems: "The Carnal and the Crane"

A Nativity parable.

[Note: a "carnal" is a French term for a crow.]

As I pass'd by the river side,
    And there as I did reign [run],
In argument I chanced to hear
    A Carnal and a Crane.

The Carnal said unto the Crane,
    If all the world should turn,
Before we had the Father,
    But now we have the Son!

From whence does the Son come,
    From where [or when] and from what place?
He said, In a manger,
    Between an ox and ass.

I pray thee,1 said the Carnal,
    Tell me before thou go,
Was not the mother of Jesus
    Conceived by the Holy Ghost?

She was the purest virgin,
    And the cleanest from sin;
She was the handmaid of our Lord
    And Mother of our king.

Where is the golden cradle
    That Christ was rocked in?
Where are the silken sheets
    That Jesus was wrapt in?

A manger was the [or his] cradle
    That Christ was rocked in:
The provender the asses left
    So sweetly he slept on.

There was a star in the West land,
    So bright it did appear,
Into King Herod's chamber,
    And where King Herod were.

The Wise Men soon espied it,
    And told the King on high
A princely babe was born that night
    No king could e'er destroy.

If this be true, King Herod said,
    As thou tellest unto me,
This roasted cock that lies in the dish
    Shall crow full fences three.

The cock soon freshly feathered was
    By the work of God's own hand
And then three fences3 crowed he
    In the dish where he did stand

Rise up, rise up, you [or my] merry men all,
    See that you ready be;
All children under two years old
    Now slain they all shall be.

Then Jesus, ah! and Joseph,
    And Mary, that was so pure,
They travell'd into Egypt,
    As you shall find it sure.

And when they came to Egypt's land,
    Amongst those fierce wild beasts,
Mary, she being weary,
    Must needs sit down to rest.

Come sit thee down, says Jesus,
    Come sit thee down by me,
And thou shalt see how these wild beasts
    Do come and worship me.'

First, came the lovely lion,
    Which Jesus's grace did spring,
And of the wild beasts in the field
    The lion shall be king.

We'll choose our virtuous princes
    Of birth and high degree,
In every sundry nation,
    Where'er we come and see.

Then Jesus, ah! and Joseph,
    And Mary, that was unknown,
They traveled by a husbandman,
    Just while his seed was sown-

God speed thee, man! said Jesus,
    Go fetch thy ox and wain,
And carry home thy corn again
    Which thou this day hast sown.'

The husbandman fell on his knees,
    Even upon [or before] his face:
Long time hast thou been looked for, [or talked of,]
    But now thou art come at last.

And I myself do now believe
    Thy name is Jesus called;
Redeemer of mankind thou art,
    Though undeserving all.

The truth, man, thou hast spoken,
    Of it thou may'st be sure,
For I must lose my precious blood
    For thee and thousands more.

If any one should come this way,
    And enquire for me alone,
Tell them that Jesus passed by
    As thou thy seed did [or had] sow.

After that there came King Herod,
    With his train so furiously,
Enquiring of the husbandman
    Whether Jesus passed by.

Why, the truth it must be spoke,
    And the truth it must be known;
For Jesus passed by this way
    When my seed was sown.

But now I have it reapen,
    And some laid on my wain,
Ready to fetch and carry
    Into my barn again.

Turn back, says the Captain,
    Your labor and mine's in vain;
It's full three quarters of a year
    Since he his seed has sown.

So Herod was deceived,
    By the work of God's own hand,
And [or No] further he proceeded
    Into the Holy Land.

There's thousands of children young
    Which for his sake did die;
Do not forbid those little ones,
    And do not them deny.

The truth now I have spoken,
    And the truth now I have shown;
Even the Blessed-Virgin
    She's now brought forth a son.

25 December 2019

Everyone is Family at Christmas

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
The Tuckers: The Cottage Holiday, Jo Mendel
Dear America: Christmas After All, Kathryn Lasky
These are two of my yearly Christmas reads, and I've reviewed them so many times I'm loathe to repeat the reviews. You can search for the titles and review all the different things I've noted about them. They are both series books: one in a series about a family and one in a series of epistolary historical novels.

The Tuckers are a common series family: five kids, mom, dad, grandparents, the inevitable shaggy dog, and a cat. The kids occasionally quarrel, but are always ultimately kind to each other and other people. The vocabulary is simple, so this is safest for even younger children, although there is an incident involving an abandoned baby and a lost woman stalked by a cougar. The others in the series are alternately sweet or funny, but this one has a special touch to it as if the author was adding some depth to the character of Penny, who is pretty much just a sweet seven-year-old in the other volumes. Compared to her active brothers and sister, Penny is physically frail, and she hopes a Christmas trip to the family's lake home will help her find her own strengths. It's a wonderful snow romp with almost every Christmas dream you might have ever had as a kid: endless days playing in the snow, skating, cutting your own Christmas tree, lots of yummy food, and adventures with happy endings. The ending always brings a lump to my throat.

Christmas After All is a Christmas tale of a different sort: a family in 1932 Indianapolis having to tightening their belts as the effects of the Depression grow deeper. Youngest daughter and next-to-youngest child Minnie Swift narrates as the family closes off more rooms in their home to save coal, eats pretty-much-meatless meals as it's all they can afford, and notice that day by day their father comes home a little earlier until one day he doesn't go to work at all, as his company has gone out of business. Then a twist of fate sends them an orphaned cousin, Willie Faye Darling, who comes from a dust-bowl ravaged town in Texas. As Minnie and her science-geek little brother Ozzie and the rest of the family are awed by the different life Willie Faye has led, the Dust Bowl survivor also is fascinated with the chatty, diverse Swifts, who, like the Tuckers, rally around each other in times of need.

Yet it's quiet, artistic, humble Willie Faye that will prompt their inventiveness in a seemingly dark Christmas, and who will get the Swifts through their greatest family crisis. It's a dark story sometimes (something very upsetting happens to one of Minnie's friends, and then something shocking happens to the Swifts themselves), but also one full of hope. The one false note is the standard "Dear America" epilogue that strays into the realm of fantasy, and checks off every significant late 20th century historical event to involve the various members of the family with.

Otherwise, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.

Vintage Carols and Poems: "Bells Across the Snow"

[Note: Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) was a noted writer of verses for Christmas cards. Her most famous verses were these.]

O Christmas, merry Christmas,
Is it really come again,
With its memories and greetings,
With its joy and with its pain!
There’s a minor in the carol
And a shadow in the light,
And a spray of cypress twining
With the holly wreath tonight.
And the hush is never broken
By laughter light and low,
As we listen in the starlight
To the “bells across the snow.”

O Christmas, merry Christmas,
‘Tis not so very long
Since other voices blended
With the carol and the song!
If we could but hear them singing,
As they are singing now,
If we could but see the radiance
Of the crown on each dear brow,
There would be no sigh to smother,
No hidden tear to flow,
As we listen in the starlight
To the “bells across the snow.”

O Christmas, merry Christmas,
This never more can be;
We cannot bring again the days
Of our unshadowed glee,
But Christmas, happy Christmas,
Sweet herald of good will,
With holy songs of glory.
Brings holy gladness still.
For peace and hope may brighten,
And patient love may glow,
As we listen in the starlight
To the “bells across the snow.”

24 December 2019

Finding Home on Christmas Eve

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
The Story of Holly and Ivy, Rumer Godden
This is a darling little story that almost takes as long to describe as it does to read. Ivy is an orphan who has not been "claimed" by some nice person to spend Christmas, so she is sent by train to the orphanage's Infants Home. Rebelliously, she gets off the train in Aylesbury (for some strange reason changed to "Appleton" in newer versions), looking for a home with a Christmas tree but no children. In a nearby Aylesbury toyshop a doll dressed for Christmas named Holly wishes for a little girl. And close by, childless Mrs. Jones, wife of the town policeman, wishes for a little girl. For this is a story about wishing, simply told but full of detail and feeling.

A little gem.

Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot, Frances Frost
"On Friday, the last day of school before Christmas vacation, Toby gazed dreamily out the windows of the seventh-grade classroom.... 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."  

I first read this book around 1964 and it was one of the first ones I looked for when I had my own money. Visiting with the Clark family in Vermont in 1948 is like visiting relatives, and I've been envious of their farm Christmas for years (although I really wouldn't want to be Mom cooking that Christmas dinner!). It awes me with the energy everyone has: Toby repairs a sleigh all day, does farm chores, and still has effort left for skiing. And the food! On Christmas day Toby gets up, does chores, opens gifts, eats breakfast, helps his Mom with dinner, eats cookies, has an enormous dinner and dessert, takes Tish into town and they both have hot fudge sundaes (!!!!), and later on eats more at a party. But he's so active he never gains a pound!

This book leaves you wrapped in warmth. As busy and as choked by chores as a farm family is, this family always has time for each other and their friends. They attend homey town functions, sing carols together, make sure no one feels left out, and do Christmas the way it should be done: not all about expensive gifts, but about togetherness and love. Along with that, there's an adventure with a bear and another with skiing, but the best parts are like the passage quoted above: time spent in homey actions and simple holiday preparations, and finishing up warm and happy with friends and family gathered around.

Vintage Carols and Poems" "Before the Paling of the Stars"

By Christina Rossetti

Before the paling of the stars,
Before the winter morn,
Before the earliest cock crow,
Jesus Christ was born:
Born in a stable,
Cradled in a manger,
In the world his hands had made
Born a stranger.

Priest and king lay fast asleep
In Jerusalem;
Young and old lay fast asleep
In crowded Bethlehem;
Saint and angel, ox and ass,
Kept a watch together
Before the Christmas daybreak
In the winter weather.

Jesus on his mother’s breast
In the stable cold,
Spotless lamb of God was he,
Shepherd of the fold:
Let us kneel with Mary maid,
With Joseph bent and hoary,
With saint and angel, ox and ass,
To hail the King of Glory.

23 December 2019

A Sermon on Skating, Distaff Day Celebrations, and Other Fenland Customs

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
A Fenland Christmas, compiled by Chris Carling
Alan Sutton Publishing has a series of these "Christmas anthologies," the first which I bought at a book sale several years ago. Now I try to pick them up used when they're a dollar or under, with the postage as the bulk of the purchase. I had two others picked out originally, then decided to get this one and A Lakes Christmas because of thoughts of Lord Peter Wimsey and Beatrix Potter, respectively.

Peter Wimsey makes his appearance briefly in a very short excerpt from The Nine Tailors, which takes place in the fen country, an area of England that is very like Holland in that it has lowlands tamed by dikes and sluice gates and worked by windmills. Because of the abundance of water, there are many essays about skating and other uses of the canals (including a sermon stating Job was probably a skater). The collection begins with, appropriately for a British Christmas collection, a ghost story about a woman awaiting visitors. The other offerings are mostly nonfiction essays from the early 1800s all the way to the 1980s on subjects as varied as butcher shops at Christmastime, larks and pranks of the choir members of King's College (who do the "Nine Lessons and Carols" each Christmas Eve), children's memories of lean but merry holidays in the early 20th century, kids' festivities on Plough Monday (the first workday after Epiphany; the celebrations sounded a lot like trick or treat), and even gift suggestions from 1896!

You might wonder why so many books are needed when there's only one England, but each shire has its own landscapes and geographical features as well as its own customs and literature. A fens Christmas is as different from a Lakes Christmas as one can get.

"Christmas Eve"

by Kate Douglas Wiggin

My door is on the latch tonight,
      The hearth-fire is aglow.
I seem to hear swift passing feet –
      The Christ Child in the snow.

My heart is open wide tonight
      For stranger, kith or kin.
I would not bar a single door
      Where Love might enter in.

22 December 2019

Fourth Sunday of Advent


In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
 

When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."


21 December 2019

Winter Solstice — Happy Yule!



THE SHORTEST DAY

Copyright Susan Cooper 1974

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen,
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing, behind us — listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight
This shortest day
As promise wakens in the sleeping land.
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year, and every year.
Welcome Yule!


Winter Solstice 2019: A Short Day That's Long on Ancient Traditions 

Farmer's Almanac: Winter Solstice 2019

EarthSky: Everything You Need to Know About the December Solstice

Susan Cooper's Classic "The Shortest Day" Made Into a Book

"The Christmas Path"

Far though we wander
Among the world of men,
Once a year a little path
Leads us home again,
Leads us through a starry night,
To holly on a door,
To stockings by the chimney
And toys upon the floor . . . 
Every home's a sacred place
A star may shine above,
If it hold a memory
Of child-and-mother love.
The world's way's a wide way
And leads me far a-roam,
But the little path to Christmas
Can always bring us home.


Anne Higginson Spicer

20 December 2019

Embrace the Winter!

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Merry Midwinter, Gillian Monks
I awarded this book the ultimate accolade: after reading the electronic version, I ordered the "real" book. So this is technically a re-read, although I notice that when I read anything electronic it doesn't feel like I've really read it.

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 Osiris 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 coziest chapters include some of her personal memories of each of the holidays marking the winter season; she once lived along a country road and had the pleasure of gathering her own winter greens like holly and mistletoe. Plus there are family recipes and DIY crafts, but the thing she emphasizes most of all is simplicity and anticipation of each phase of the season: 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 Christmastide 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, not overspending but making some Christmas decorations out of items found from nature (her example which goes throughout the book is having found a large branch just as the leaves were changing and bringing it inside to fasten in a container; she allows the leaves to fall off it naturally, and supplements it with items like acorns and berries in the fall, then tinsel and ornaments and winter-themed items at Christmas, then removes the tinsel and ornaments and just leaves the winter themed items until spring comes and the wood is ready to be recycled into firewood), and also of not allowing Christmas revelry to be trapped in a 24-hour period as our modern society dictates.

At the back of the book there is an extensive calendar of autumn and winter celebrations you can observe, like St. Catherine's Day devoted to reading and learning, St. Cecilia's Day with an emphasis on music, Feast of Fools Day on December 29 when you can go out with tomfoolery, Distaff's Day after Epiphany celebrating your work life, etc.

Vintage Carols and Poems: "Adoration"

by Byron Herbert Reece

If I but had a little dress,
A little dress of the flax so fair
I’d take it from my clothespress
And give it to Him to wear,
     To wear,
And give it to Him to wear.

If I had a little girdle
A girdle stained with the purple dye,
Or green as grass or green as myrtle
About His waist to tie,
     To tie,
About His waist to tie!

If I but had a little coat,
A coat to fit a no-year-old,
I’d button it close about His throat
To cover Him from the cold,
     The cold,
To cover Him from the cold.

If I but had a little shoe,
A little shoe as might be found
I’d lace it on with sheepskin thew
To keep His foot from the ground,
     The ground,
To keep his foot from the ground.

If my heart were a shining coin,
A silver coin or a coin of gold
Out of my side I’d purloin
And give it to Him to hold
     To hold,
And give it to Him to hold.

If my heart were a house also,
A house with room to spare
I never would suffer my Lord to go
Homeless, but house Him there,
     O there,
Homeless but house Him there!

19 December 2019

"A Christmas Prayer"

"Let candlelight upon the tree,
My family have made for me,
Be soft with happines and love
Reflected from the sky above.

"Oh, let me, as I go to sleep,
Feel little dreams about me creep,
And let me say this evening prayer
For all the children, everywhere!"

Unknown

18 December 2019

The Christmas Excursion

So today I did my annual Christmas walk through downtown Marietta. It was either today or Monday, and the last thing I feel when it's almost sixty degrees is Christmassy.

I parked on South Park Square in front of the Australian Bakery Cafè, but left stopping there until later, and instead headed toward East Park Square. The Corner Shop (the British store) wasn't open until 10:30, so I skipped it and went into the candy store. This carries loose candies (what we used to call "penny candy") in bins around one edge of the store, and then shelves of rare and not-so-rare candy bars around the edge of the rest (underneath the candy shelves are specialty bottles of soda in so many flavors, including banana, and in mixed hues of labels). There are also different candies on "floating" shelves in the middle, plus they sell metal signs with funny sayings on them. I saw something that had a recent nostalgic memory and kept it in mind.

Next door is The Local Exchange which has souvenirs, some books, and food gifts; I tasted some local honey, but decided not to buy my favorite pretzels, since they give me bad reflux. Then onto the combination antique store and audiophile shop where Luke the white standard poodle usually hangs out; I found him asleep in the little office at the back. I looked at all the cool memorabilia they have, including old cameras, typewriters, and phonographs, checked out their bookshelves (swelp me, I never knew Wally Cox wrote a book based on Mr. Peepers), and then heard a familiar piece of music playing in the section of the shop set up as a little den with phonographs and speakers. Checked out the phonograph, and sure enough it was George Winston's "December" album.

From there I crossed the street to check out the little decorated trees in Glover Park; each is decorated by a different elementary school in Cobb County. Passed by "Santa's" house, and gazed in happiness at the bright blue winter sky over the sketched leafless trees and the fountain bubbling at the center of the park. The bandstand was empty today, and two inflatable "wooden" soldiers stood guard at the other end of the park.

I crossed North Park Square to give a wistful look at Shilling's Restaurant; they finally closed after so many years. I remember Juanita always talking about her and Johnny going to Shilling's for special occasions.

I crossed to Church Street to go into The Keeping Room (gift and food shop), but it was closed (how odd before Christmas!), so just crossed back over to West Park Square and walked past the Dance Company, Piastra (the Italian place), the kids' store Lollipops and Lizards, Hemingway's Restaurant. Dropped in at the Tea Room but they had much fewer items for sale than usual, so ducked out again, and instead crossed Whitlock Avenue, went past the pizza place and Theatre in the Square and ended up at Park West Vintage, the new (well, before last Christmas) name for what used to be DuPre's old hardware/feed store now antiques shop. I love walking through here at Christmas to see how the various stall owners have tinseled up their areas to make it festive: sometimes it's just a tinsel garland, sometimes it's more vintage stuff.

I can't even describe what's in here: old furniture, vintage clothing, old radios and clocks, vintage artwork, old magazines (or pages torn from old magazines to make "art" to hang up), kitchen items, sets of china, vintage jewelry, old light fixtures, old bedframes, silverware sets, a few books. Mostly there are china knicknacks: cows, dogs, cats, other little animals, children, angels, bells, cups, and more. And to add to the fascination, the bones of the old hardware store, with the metal beams above and the old wooden floor below, a wooden floor polished smooth not by endless coatings of shellac and floor wax, but by the dozens of feet that came through the store over the years, farmers' boots and businessmen's shoes, ladies' sturdy Oxfords and pointed-toed heels, children's hobnailed shoes, and even the barefoot country kids who got sent for a few pounds of chicken feed while Mama was busy with the preserving and Daddy was out doing the harvest. So many people, so many years, you almost think you can hear them talking.

Anyway, I spotted a nicely illustrated book about King Edward VII for not a lot of money and picked that up (it's been vetted by Antonia Fraser, which should lend it verisimilitude) and very reluctantly skipped a couple of Shiny Brite ornaments, then went back to the corner and turned down Powder Springs Street. When we drove through here the other day I spotted an antique store I'd never seen before. It's called the Marietta Mercantile, and I climbed up the steps and grinned at the note about the door with a mind of its own, and was greeted by the two attendants.

This is a lot bigger store than it looks from the street because it goes way back and has a small ell in the rear. Nothing I couldn't live without, but one really simple and cute Christmas idea: resting red Christmas balls in "silver" candlesticks. Very festive.

Now I started heading back for the car (as you can only park free for two hours and my timer was running down) and did stop at the Australian Bakery. Last year they told me that close before Christmas they were expecting gingerbread boys. Either not so this year, or they didn't get them last year either, but none today, just sugar cookies in Christmas tree shapes with icky frosting. Instead I saw the Union Jack outside the Corner Shop and went in there. Lots of goodies, but nothing I really wanted to take home. The Doctor Who items must have sold poorly, because I found none in the store.

Finally I went back to the candy store and bought the nostalgic item I was looking at; will save it for Christmas Day.

And then, more prosaically, I had to hotfoot it home because the exterminator was due for his quarterly visit at one. But it was a nice time, nevertheless.

(Previously on my "walk" I had also gone to the antique mall on Cobb Parkway near the Big Chicken. But they moved at the beginning of 2018 and when I went to the new place on Canton Road last Christmas I was so disappointed, as a lot of the vendors didn't make the move, including the person who sold the old books who usually had a bunch of vintage children's stories, and almost no one had bothered to perk up the place for the holidays. Sad. I love the brightness and the color of Christmas; the world seems washed out after it is gone.)

"Under the Holly-Bough"

by Charles MacKay

Ye who have scorned each other,
Or injured friend or brother,
    In this fast-fading year;
Ye who, by word or deed,
Have made a kind heart bleed,
    Come gather here!

Let sinned against and sinning
Forget their strife's beginning,
    And join in friendship now.
Be links no longer broken,
Be sweet forgiveness spoken
    Under the Holly-Bough.

Ye who have loved each other,
Sister and friend and brother,
    In this fast-fading year:
Mother and sire and child,
Young man and maiden mild,
    Come gather here;

And let your heart grow fonder,
As memory shall ponder
    Each past unbroken vow;
Old loves and younger wooing
Are sweet in the renewing
    Under the Holly-Bough.

Ye who have nourished sadness,
Estranged from hope and gladness
    In this fast-fading year;
Ye with o'erburdened mind,
Made aliens from your kind,
    Come gather here.

Let not the useless sorrow
Pursue you night and morrow,
    If e'er you hoped, hope now.
Take heart,— uncloud your faces,
And join in our embraces
    Under the Holly-Bough.

17 December 2019

Christmas in Salem, MA

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Bells, Spells, and Murders, Carol J. Perry
Scheduled this seventh "Witch City mystery" for reading just in time, as it's December first, Lee Barrett's first day on the job as a field reporter for WICH-TV, and she's interviewing Albert Eldridge, a philanthropist and historian who funds many good causes. Or she was intending to interview him, until she discovered him dead in his office chair under the unsuspecting nose of his efficient secretary.

Perry jumps right into this one with both feet as Lee (neè Maralee Kowalski, journalism graduate, young widow of a race car driver, and now back living upstairs at the home of her librarian aunt Isobel [Ibby], who raised her) discovers the body right at the end of chapter one. All the clues are in place from the first, and if you read Agatha Christie you may have a "leg up" on the crime, as Hickory Dickory Dock is referenced several times. You'll probably suspect one or two people from the start, and you might be right, yet at the same time this is a quick-moving plot that gets tangled in numerous side stories. Of course, O'Ryan, the inscrutable marmalade cat, gives out a couple of clues, and Lee has a couple of her inexplicable visions that always grow clearer as the mystery is cleared up, although this time around River North, Lee's witch friend, doesn't give her a tarot reading per usual.

The best thing about this book is that it exudes Christmas spirit right along with the mystery. Decorations abound, carols in the street, a dancing traffic officer like they used to have in Providence every Christmas, Christmas lights everywhere, and Lee describing events as diverse as dollhouses decorated for the holidays, a battered women's shelter getting needed donations along with Christmas cheer, chocolate shop specialties, and even a yacht regatta with over-the-top Yule decorations. There's even a bell-ringing concert that lively Aunt Ibby is to appear in and a possible Christmas snowstorm. If it wasn't for the murder, the whole thing would be "kringly" to the max.

Got a little tired in this entry of Lee talking about shoes and shoe brands, otherwise a delight from beginning to end. Lee even mentions Route 128 and North Shore Mall (formerly Northshore Shopping Center when I was a kid), which gave me the warm and fuzzies for the rest of the night.

15 December 2019

The Second Shepherd, John Cannu, and a Dickens of a Carol

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
The Book of Christmas Folklore, Tristram P. Coffin
This is one of the first books I read about Christmas history and customs, right out of the library. And when the library sold it off, I brought it home.

The chapters address different historical aspects of the holiday, starting, of course, how it ended up on December 25, since no Christian scholar believes that Jesus was born on that date. It was, instead, a co-opting of already established midwinter celebrations that existed among the Romans, the Celts, and the Teutons, among others. Despite efforts to extinguish the holiday, especially by the Puritans and other disapproving groups, it never truly disappeared, just modified itself. Coffin then traces the history of the tree, the feast, and other customs, and, most interestingly, how the Christmas story morphed once introduced into other societies. The fascinating chapter "The Stardust of a Memory" discusses how the Nativity story engendered apocrypha like the myth of Joseph of Arimathaea bringing the Holy Thorn to England and tales of Jesus' childhood. One of the tales told is a Native American version of Jesus' life.

There's also a history of Santa Claus (and related gift-givers), and this is the first book I recall that mentions the chance that Clement Moore was not the author of "A Visit from St. Nicholas," and that the true author was Henry Livingston, a relation of Robert Livingston who signed the Declaration of Independence; a history of the Christmas carol; a narrative about the "miracle plays" that brought the Nativity to life with some additional comic relief; the custom of mumming all the way through today's Philadelphia Mummers Parade; and finally the tale of Charles Dickens and Washington Irving, who together contributed to the modern Christmas.

Written in an informative, lively, and occasionally witty manner, this is a great primer addressing how a riotous midwinter festival grew and changed with the centuries.

Third Sunday of Advent

For the third Sunday of Advent, the theme is Joy.

As streets fill with shoppers,
bright lights and tempting offers,
Christmas songs and children’s laughter,
You lead us along a different path,
to a desert and a prophetic voice,
a call to repentance,
a call to service,
a call to immerse ourselves
in living water that will never run dry,
a call to prepare a way in our own lives
for the Saviour of the world to enter in,
to know the touch of tender mercy
and rest in your forgiving love

God of hope
be with us in our Advent journey
to the stable and beyond,
be with us in our meeting
and in our travelling together,
be with us in our worship
and our praying together,
be with us in our Advent journey
to the stable and beyond,
our God of hope.

                                                            . . . from the Faith & Worship page

12 December 2019

When You Don't Care Who Gets Murdered...

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
A Christmas Party, Georgette Heyer
Heyer's Regency romances have been popular since I was a kid, but I never knew she wrote mysteries. A friend told me that she didn't think the mystery stories had the appeal of the Regencies, and if I had to judge all of her mysteries by this one, I'd certainly agree.

Joseph Herriard, a genial former actor, invites family and one close friend to his brother Nathaniel's home Lexham for Christmas (where Joseph and his wife Maud, a colorless former chorus girl, have been living since returning from abroad). There are Joe and Nat's sardonic nephew Stephen, his dippy fiancee Valerie, his niece Paula (excitable actress) and a playwright she drags along in hopes that her Uncle Nat will finance his play, cousin Mathilda Clare, and Nathaniel's business partner Edgar Mottisfont. Joseph seems the only one with Christmas spirit: the rest of the Herriards quarrel with each other incessantly and Nat and his partner are at odds as well, and it's evident Nathaniel hates his nephew's fiancee and the odious playwright, especially after the latter reads his play to the guests before Christmas Eve dinner. Nathaniel goes stamping off to his room to dress for dinner, locking the door behind him—and never comes down again. When a worried Stephen and Joseph break into his room, they find him dead, and bleeding from a wound in his back. The police are called, and, baffled, they finally ask for help from Scotland Yard.

I struggled getting through this book: every single one of the characters, even the officious butler, was so unlikable that it was tempting to wish all of them had been murdered. Even the optimistic Joseph and the pragmatic Mathilda are annoying in their own way. The police characters are dull and colorless until one of the continuing characters in Heyers' mysteries shows up to liven up the proceedings (Inspector Hemingway) and by then you are halfway through the book. They continue to accuse, backbite, and annoy, and then Valerie's even more annoying mother shows up. One can't expect every character in a book to be likeable, but these people are the limit.

The best part of the book is the final two pages, when a character totally does an about-face and leaves you with a dropped jaw.

10 December 2019

Woolworths At Christmastime

A British page: Woolworth's lasted longer there than it did here, but alas, it's gone from Great Britain as well. "Woolies," as the Brits called it, was as popular a store there as it was here. There are still Woolworths stores in Australia.

Christmas Decorations at F.W. Woolworth

Woolworth Christmas Display at the National Christmas Center (sadly, now closed, but supposedly going to open again at another location in 2021).

9 Old-Fashioned Five and Dime Stores Still Existing

I still have a Woolworth's star on our Christmas tree. I always pray it holds out! I remember buying Shiny Brite ornaments, plain and stenciled, there, and also individual figures for the "manger scene" under the tree.

Remembering Woolworth's is a great book about the store.

09 December 2019

"30 Minutes of Disappointing Television"

...or maybe, one holiday broadcast to remember:

Mike Rowe's "The Way I Heard It" Podcast

Can you imagine Christmas today without those songs? Or without those classic lines of dialog?

Happy 54th anniversary!

08 December 2019

Second Sunday of Advent

For the second Sunday of Advent, the theme is Faith.

Annunciation
Denise Levertov

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
       Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.
       The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
         God waited.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
                  ____________________

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
         Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.
More often
those moments
      when roads of light and storm
      open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
                                 God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
                  ____________________

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
  only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
                     Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–

but who was God.
This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed,
                                Spirit,
                                          suspended,
                                                            waiting.
                  ____________________

She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
                                                       raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
                                  consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
                               and the iridescent wings.
Consent,
              courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

07 December 2019

Beatrix Potter Was Very Frugal and Other Stories

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
A Lakes Christmas, compiled by Sheila Richardson
Alan Sutton Publishing has a series of these "Christmas anthologies," the first which I bought at a book sale several years ago. Now I try to pick them up used when they're a dollar or under, with the postage as the bulk of the purchase. I had two others picked out originally, then decided to get this one and A Fenland Christmas because of thoughts of Beatrix Potter and Lord Peter Wimsey, respectively.

I was expecting a selection from Potter, actually, or something about her life on her beloved Hill Top Farm, but instead was amused to find her included in "Party Time at Sawrey," the remembrances of a young "cottager" who attended the children's parties given by the wealthier members of the community. She recalls the best party was given by a Mr. Edmondson, who had a big Christmas tree, treats like cakes and trifle served in the ballroom of his big house, a gift to take home, and even a Charlie Chaplin film! "Mrs. Heelis" (Beatrix Potter) gave them jam sandwiches in her chilly barn, and only gave them an orange to take home. Once a little boy untied all the girls' pigtails and pinafores, and she forbade him from coming to her party again, so none of the other children attended, and there were no more parties at Hill Top Farm!

The entries in each of the books is variable, but this one has some interesting ones: the Christmas memories of an evacuee, the first landing of an aircraft in the Lakes area, excerpts from the diary of Dorothy Wordsworth (who apparently has been rediscovered after slipping into the shadow of her more famous brother, poet William Wordsworth), going to visit Father Christmas on a narrow-gauge railway train, taking care of the sheep during the snowy winters, traditional Lakeland treats like rum butter, medieval miracle plays, several essays about frosts so severe that horses drawing coaches could cross the ice of the lakes, an interesting account about trail hounds (who are one year old on January 1, just like race horses), accounts of winter services in the area churches, and several tales of climbing the mountains around the Lakes, including one about rescue operations.

A charming mixture of very old (going back to 1500!) through the 1950s!

The biggest surprise: nothing mentioned at all about Arthur Ransome, who wrote so lovingly about the Lake country in his children's adventures beginning with Swallows and Amazons.

05 December 2019

One of the First Christmas Trees in the United States

From the Colonial Williamsburg podcast:

Professor Minnigerode Lights a Tree

Karl Minnigerode led quite a life; check out his biography!

04 December 2019

Is Santa Claus Really the Heir of St. Nicholas?

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Re-read: Santa Claus: Last of the Wild Men, Phyllis Siefker
I hadn't read this book since I bought it, and I had forgotten the amazing case Siefker makes for her theory.

We all know the story: a selfless man named Nicholas became a bishop, performed various miracles and was canonized as a saint. He became one of the primary gift-givers in Europe at Christmastime, and then was brought to the United States by the Dutch. They called him "Sinter Klaas," which was mutated into "Santa Claus."

Well...maybe. Because, according to Siefker, the jolly old elf of Clement Clark Moore fame who became popular in the the US, a chubby man all tarnished with ashes and soot who came through chimneys, consorted with reindeer, carried a big sack on his back, and who could seemingly travel the world in the wink of an eye didn't descend from Nicholas at all, but from the enigmatic, vengeful partner that the good saint had in Europe, the one who actually punished the bad children (since kindly St. Nicholas was too gentle to do so). This creature was variously known as "Black Peter," or "Knecht Ruprecht," or "Hans Trapp," and even then he wasn't even what he seemed, but was descended from the pagan "Wild Man" who was the spirit of the forest and who kept the land fertile. When he appeared in village plays he was usually portrayed in fur and sometimes half animal, such as a goat, and phallic symbolism was often used. Some of his other legendary relatives were Robin Hood, Robin Goodfellow (Puck), and Herne the Hunter, and he was also the ancestor of the mischievous Harlequin. And there were also female spirits of the forest who were associated with winter: Frau Holle, for example, and the spirits Berchta and Perchta. He was even associated with the elves and fairies, which past histories declared to be true.

The only existing traces of this Wild Man today, we are told, are the rapidly disappearing Ainu on the north island of Japan, who are intermarrying with the Japanese. They still carry on the customs of their ancestors, which include raising bears (today they are kept as pets until age two, but previously they were sacrificed).

Some fascinating theories in this offbeat Christmas book. (But, beware, it's a McFarland small press book, so it's expensive!)

"Ballad of Christmas"

O sing a song of Christmas!
Pockets full of gold;
Plums and cakes for Polly's stocking.
More than it can hold.

Pudding in the great pot,
Turkey on the spit,
Merry faces round the fire,—
Sorrow? Not a bit!

Sing a song of Christmas!
Carols in the street,
People going home with bundles
Everywhere we meet.

Holly, fir, and spruce boughs
Green upon the wall,
Spotless snow upon the road,—
More about to fall.

Sing a song of Christmas!
Empty pockets here;
Windows broken, garments thin,
Stove all black and drear.

Noses blue and frosty,
Fingers pinched and red,
Little hungry children going
Supperless to bed.

Sing a song of Christmas,—
Tears are falling fast;
Empty is the baby's chair
Since't was Christmas last.

Wrathfully the north wind
Wails across the snow;
Is there not a little grave
Frozen down below?

Sing a song of Christmas!
Thanks to God on high
For the tender hearts abounding
With His charity!

Gifts for all the needy,
For the sad hearts, love,
And a little angel smiling,
In sweet heaven above.

03 December 2019

Vintage Christmas Videos

These are Christmas stories from the 1950s done either as shorts for a Christian film company, Cathedral Films, or were shorts done on anthology television series. They are all heartwarming if a bit old-fashioned.

"Star of Bethlehem" (the story of the Nativity told with narration and silhouettes)

"Three Young Kings" (three young Hispanic boys re-enact the story of the journey of the Magi)

"Christmas is Magic" (a war widow and her son take in an amnesiac veteran at Christmas)

"Holy Night" (the first part of "The Living Christ" series, about the Nativity)

"God's Christmas Gift" (a little girl learns that Christmas is more than about gifts)

"Child of Bethlehem" (a live-action black-and-white Nativity story)

"The Christmas Spirit" Part 1 and Part 2 (the story of a boy who wants a pony for Christmas)

"The Guiding Star" Part 1 and Part 2 (Uncle Henry solves the family's Christmas problems in his own way)

02 December 2019

Vintage Carols and Poems: "Greetings"

by Sydney Grey

Can there be any greetings, I wonder,
To feeling and friendship more dear,
Than the two that so seldom we sunder—
"Merry Christmas and Happy New Year"?

When affection's whole force is paraded,
A genial warfare to wage,
And each holly-crowned home is invaded,
Like that on the frontispiece page.

Our artist has surely with reason
Permitted his fancy to rove,
For good wishes just now are in season,
And letter-bags bursting with love.

Here's a bit of young madcap's sweet folly,
Which grandpapa's laughter will stir;
Here's a card to dear Ted from Aunt Molly,
And somebody's missive to her.

Cousin Tom has a certain small token,
The sender it fails to avow,
But I doubt not his thanks will be spoken
Very close to the mistletoe bough.

Well--away on your mission, fair greetings,
High embassy yours to fulfil;
Ever hailed amid joyous heart-beatings,
The pledges of peace and good-will.

01 December 2019

There's More to the Christmas Story...

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Light of the World, Amy Jill Levine
This is an Advent book with a twist. The author is Jewish, and teaches New Testament classes at a university. As a Jew, she knows the Old Testament history behind the heritage, customs, and forebears of the main characters in the Christmas story: Zechariah and Elizabeth, and then Mary and Joseph, and finally the young Jesus, and also the historical events that help anchor the story to what was happening in the area that is now the Middle East.

Levine also gives more than a cursory reference to the women involved in the story, including the involvement of Elizabeth, who would give birth to the boy known later as John the Baptist, and other Biblical women, including Moses' sister Miriam, Deborah, Hannnah, Anna (St. Anne, mother of Mary), and another Anna, a prophet who meets Jesus as an infant when he is presented at the temple. She weighs the differences between the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew, and discusses the erroneous details we have given to events like the arrival of the Magi (they are never referred to as Kings, nor do we know how many there were).

I enjoyed Levine's threading of the events approaching the Nativity back to details mentioned in the Old Testament, and the explanation of traditional Jewish customs and how this would have affected each of the main characters in a story we have all learned by heart. Recommended if you are looking for a new aspect to Advent devotions.

First Sunday of Advent

For the first Sunday of Advent, the theme is Hope.

This Advent, Lord, come to the manger of my heart.
Fill me with Your presence from the very start.
As I prepare for the holidays and gifts to be given,
Remind me of the gift You gave when You sent Your Son from Heaven.
The first Christmas gift, it was the greatest gift ever.
You came as a baby born in a manger.
Wrapped like the gifts I find under my tree,
Waiting to be opened, to reveal Your love to me.
Restore to me the wonder that came with Jesus' birth,
When He left the riches of Heaven and wrapped Himself in rags of earth.
Immanuel, God with us, Your presence came that night.
And angels announced, "Into your darkness, God brings His Light."
"Do not be afraid," they said, to shepherds in the field.
Speak to my heart today, Lord, and help me to yield.
Make me like those shepherd boys, obedient to Your call.
Setting distractions and worries aside, to You I surrender them all.
Surround me with Your presence, Lord, I long to hear Your voice.
Clear my mind of countless concerns and all the holiday noise.
Slow me down this Christmas, let me not be in a rush.
In the midst of parties and planning, I want to feel Your hush.
This Christmas, Jesus, come to the manger of my heart.
Invade my soul like Bethlehem, bringing peace to every part.
Dwell within and around me, as I unwrap Your presence each day.
Keep me close to You, Lord. It's in Your wonderful Name I pray.

~~~~~~~Renee Swope, “The Manger of My Heart” (under "Advent" at Christianity.com)