Getting Seasonal - The holiday season: can’t get enough of it, or can’t wait for it all to be over already? Has your attitude toward the end-of-year holidays changed over the years?
My feelings about the season have evolved and devolved a lot over the decades. I came late to Christmas. Had to marry into it. Being Jewish left me with a permanent sense of Christmas-deprivation. I felt left out of the annual orgy of good cheer, caroling, gift-exchanges, and general consumerism that is An American Christmas. I couldn’t entirely miss it. I sang in the chorus and the glee club from elementary school onward and am one of the last people who can sing “Adeste Fidelis” all the way through in Latin. Not to mention the contralto part of Hallelujah chorus.
But it wasn’t really my holiday. I could enjoy it tangentially, the way a guest can enjoy someone else’s family reunion. Even if everyone is very nice about it, you still know it’s not your party.
When I married my first husband, I discovered his family had no religion. They were sure they’d once been some form of Christian, but no one knew what. No church (ever) except for the occasional wedding or funeral. Neither my husband or his sister had attended Sunday School. I doubt either of them were baptized.
But, they celebrated Christmas with verve and passion. No creches with wise men or baby Jesus. No religious symbolism at all — but there were stars and reindeer and glittering glass decorations from Austria. The tree stood a solid 10 feet tall, so big and heavily laden, Jeff’s dad had to wire it to a wall to keep it from toppling over.
Then there was the eggnog. So alcoholic, I’m surprised its crystal bowl didn’t dissolve under the chemical assault. Accompanied by a huge array of Christmas cookies, it was sufficient to leave you hung over right through the glad New Year.
Oh, I almost forgot the wrapping. Jeff’s sister could wrap a chair (she did, really) so it looked like a Rudolph. Everything was perfect. Beyond perfect. Amazing!
Jeff’s dad died in 1968, when I was still pregnant with Owen. Jeff died in 1993. Grandma Kraus passed last year, just before her 104th birth day. Garry’s parents passed as did associated aunts, uncles and cousins. My family is almost entirely gone. With their loss, Christmas faded.
It hasn’t gone away completely, though. We decorate … but less. We hang lights, have a tree. This year, we have mini-trees which will be planted, if I can keep them alive till spring. A challenge.
Christmas was always kid-centric and our last “kid” is 18 this year. This year, Owen asked if we really need a tree? I gave it serious thought, evoking the “little tree” compromise. I’m pleased. It’s enough Christmas, but not so much the work overwhelms the fun.
In a way, the holidays have looped back on themselves. I feel like I did all those years ago … that really, it’s not my holiday. Yet I love the season. Lights, gifts, and (mostly) happy people wishing each other good tidings. It’s not a Cecil B. DeMille production, but it isn’t nothing, either. It’s pretty, and bright. And friendly, and still leads to deficit spending.
And most important, we still say “I love you” at least twice as often to twice as many people as we do at any other time of the year. I think that’s the point of it.
Every year, we sing the song … or somebody does. Usually more than one somebody. The 12 Days of Christmas. It’s been done with humor, with dread seriousness, as a short, funny film. As a picture book. The Boston Pops does a brilliant and hilariously raucous version that bears little resemblance to the original song.
In all these years, hearing the song, playing the song on the piano and the organ, singing the song, humming it, pondering why or how anyone could give anyone a partridge in a pear tree and live to tell the tale … I mean, okay, five gold rings … but seven swans a-swimming? Did he include the pond? Did he have to do major construction to get those swans a-swimming for his lady-love?
And where on earth do you find leaping lords? You certainly can’t just go to Walmart and put them in your basket for checkout. At the very least, you’d have to get them to go along with your act and lords, especially around these parts, are hard to find. Maybe guys with the last name “Lord” would do? Hofstra had a President named “Lord” at the same time as Nassau County had a Parks Commissioner named “Moses.” It led to the unforgettable headline on the Hofstra Chronicle:
LORD AND MOSES CONFER OVER PROMISED LAND
At issue was a small parcel on the north side of Hempstead Turnpike which the university wanted to incorporate as part of its development of a new dormitory and library complex on the former Mitchell field, north of the Main Campus. This really happened and though I saved the copy of the paper, it has disappeared with the passing years. Pity about that. NOTE: For you history buffs, this is the airfield from which Lindbergh began his historic trans-Atlantic flight.
But I digress.
TAKE NOTES. THERE WILL BE SHORT QUIZ AT THE END OF THE LECTURE
This morning I woke up fully engulfed in a mental itch.
When are the twelve days of Christmas? It can’t be the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day because that’s always one week and will never change. Even if you add in Christmas Eve, that’s still only 8 days. What’s with the other four days and why doesn’t Google put them on the calendar? It puts on the birthdays of even the most obscure of my “Google +” connections. Surely (I know, don’t call me Shirley) this has got to be at least as important as some acquaintance I’ve never met having a birthday. You think, Probie?
But all was not lost. The calendar might not offer much help, but Google, the ubiquitous source of all miscellaneous information combined with — let’s not always see the same hands … you, there, in the back — right! Wikipedia! They had the answer and it only took me 0.77 seconds to get about 515,000,000 results. I only needed one result and don’t have time or enough interest in the subject to check out the other 514,999,999 answers.
Twelve Days of Christmas 2014 begin on
Thursday, December 25
and end on Monday, January 5
From Wikipedia. It’s the religious response, or at least a general overview thereof. Feel free to check out any of the other hundreds of thousands of available answers to this question:
The Twelve Days of Christmas is the festive Christian season, beginning on Christmas Day (25 December), that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God. This period is also known as Christmastide. This is different from the Octave of Christmas, which is the liturgical time from Christmas Day until the Solemnity of Mary on 1 January. The Twelfth Day of Christmas falls on 5 or 6 January depending which tradition is followed. There is similar confusion about the date of Twelfth Night which is commonly held to be 5 January but some hold that it is 6 January. The Feast of the Epiphany is on 6 January which celebrates the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) and their bringing of gifts to the child Jesus. In some traditions, the feast of Epiphany and Twelfth Day overlap.
In Medieval England, this period was continuous feasting and merrymaking, climaxing on Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season. In Tudor England, Twelfth Night was permanently embedded in popular culture when William Shakespeare used it as the title of one of his most famous comedies.
Some traditions were adapted from the older pagan customs, including the Roman Saturnalia and the Germanic Yuletide. Christianity was, as all religions have been, opportunistic. If everyone was going to celebrate anyway, why not give the celebration Christian meaning? It’s no coincidence that every religion celebrates the solstices and equinoxes … or that the pagan Omer (celebrating the first cutting of the wheat) coincides with Passover on which Easter is overlaid. Nor should these overlays of later religions on earlier ones diminish the importance of the holidays. It’s hard enough to get a new religion going, to convert an entire population to a new way of thinking. Why not use whatever tools (and holidays) are handy?
ARCHAEOLOGY AND RELIGION
For a long time, whenever I drove down the old road from Jerusalem to Lachish, I noticed a piece of an arch pushing out of the ground. I could see there was a ruin there. I hoped the archaeologists would get to it so I could find out what it was.
One day, the diggers arrived.
It was a 5th century synagogue, complete with mosaic floor showing a mandala of 12 astrological symbols, the same ones we use today. The floor was taken, intact, to a museum in Tel Aviv. Digging recommenced and beneath the synagogue, pillar on pillar, stood a Roman temple. After rescuing whatever artifacts they could, the group began to dig again and found — pillar on pillar — a Greek temple.
Finally, below the Greek temple, on the base rock, was a Canaanite temple.
During each stage of the dig, we were allowed to go poke around the ruins. Israelis love archaeology. It’s was as much the national pastime in Israel as baseball is here. Everyone has a few artifacts … pottery shards, tiny oil lamps, Roman glass, old coins from vanished empires.
Human history and religion has never been the monolithic, simplistic structure many people — on both sides of the religious equation — would like it to be. If there is an omnipotent deity, it is not an old guy with a long beard counting your sins and weighing them against your good deeds. Or his son, nephew, or third cousin twice removed.
Whatever there is, it is unlikely to be something we can neatly classify. It is, as “they” say, complicated.
If this doesn’t perfectly sum up the spirit of Christmas, I’m sure I can’t imagine what does. I’m also including the lovely portrait of Lil which Bill sent to me. It arrived — actually ARRIVED — via U.S. Postal Service. A Christmas miracle?
Lil is beautiful and so is Bill and so is Evil Squirrel, his alter-ego. Walt Kelley is smiling down from somewhere.
In Due Time — What’s your next, most pressing deadline? Are you excited, stressed, or ambivalent about it? What’s the first thing you’d like to do once you’re done with it?
Holy Moly! The pingbacks have returned! Can I believe my eyes? It must be Christmas!
I don’t know about you (though I can make an educated guess), but I have a full dance card this time of year. It would be hard to figure which of the many tasks remaining is the most pressing. Discounting everyday chores, the one that looms largest is the same one which every year, I procrastinate doing until later and later … sometimes until Christmas Eve itself! I’m generally not a procrastinator. Really.
Wrapping. The. Presents.
I bought paper. I bought gift bags. I bought ribbon and little sticky labels. I still need bows, but even without them, I’m good to go.
I am a capable, fast, and occasionally artistic gift wrapper. But over the years, watching people pick up their gifts, rip the paper and ribbons off without so much as checking to see whose name is on the label (like who is giving me this gift?) well, it has taken some of the bloom off that particular rose.
I used to put a lot of effort into beautifully wrapping packages. Now, I just wrap them. In whatever paper is the right size. Okay, I try to vary the paper so it make a pretty pile. And coördinate ribbons and bows to complement the colors in the paper. Make sure that I don’t give the fluffy pink kitties to the boys.
However, I don’t go that extra mile. I was probably over the top anyway. I made my own bows using miles of curling ribbon. Nobody can curl ribbon better than I can. But I was young and eager.
In recent years, I get wrapping done quickly, efficiently, neatly. Then I stand, admiring my handiwork for a while, hoping I haven’t left some important gift in the back of a closet where it may never be found.
Every year, I lose at least one expensive, important gift. I have reached an age where I should not be allowed to hide anything unless someone else knows where I’ve put it. Because the odds are high I will not remember where I put it. I may never remember. The next time it will see the light is when I am carried out of here, feet first, and my closets are finally emptied. It will be like archaeology.
When I am done with the wrapping, after I pick up all the little bits of paper, ribbon, and tape? I’m going to sit down in my recliner and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” While having a cup of cocoa. Does anyone have a better idea?
This week, I thought I’d post some of the pictures I’ve taken around the house. Decorations. Lights. Our tiny little Christmas tree from L.L. Bean. I hope you enjoy them.
Tomorrow, it’s time to start the wrapping!
Unsung Heroes — We all have our semi-secret, less-known personal favorites — a great B-side, an early work by an artist that later became famous, an obscure (but delicious) family recipe. Share one of your unsung heroes with us — how did you discover it? Why has it stayed off everyone’s radar?
All Mine to Give (British title: The Day They Gave Babies Away) is a 1957 film starring Glynis Johns and Cameron Mitchell that’s a four hankie special.
I crossed paths with it sometime in the pre-dawn hours during the late spring of 1969 while I was nursing my son and the television was playing late night movies. I was deeply hormonal at the time and though I’d missed the beginning, I watched it to the end.
Robert and Mamie Eunson (Cameron Mitchell and Glynis Johns) are Scots who have just landed in America (the year is 1856). Mamie is heavily pregnant upon their reaching Eureka; she delivers baby Robbie (Rex Thompson) soon after the cabin is completed. Robert eventually starts a successful boat building business and Mamie gives birth to five more children.
The Eunsons are doing well and happy — until little Kirk is diagnosed with diphtheria. Mamie and Kirk are quarantined while Robert takes the other children away. The boy recovers, but the goodbye kiss Kirk gave his Dadda before his departure proves fatal, and Robert succumbs.
Mamie takes to working as a seamstress and Robbie becomes the man of the house. Things stabilize, but only briefly: tired and work-worn, Mamie contracts typhoid. Knowing she will not survive, she charges Robbie, her eldest, with finding good homes for his siblings.
After Mamie’s death, Robbie places his brothers and sisters with townsfolk as Christmas approaches. Baby Jane is the last to be handed over — Robbie stands at the door of a house and asks the woman who answers, “Please, ma’am, I was wondering if you’d care to have my sister.”
The Rest of the Story
It would be 30 years before I found out the name of the movie. When I described it, Garry knew it immediately. Garry always knows. He’s the Movie Maven.
We watched it the other day. He saw it was on and recorded in on our DVR. What would we do without Turner Classic Movies? Surprisingly, it was still good. Still gave me the sniffles. Because now we have Google and all that implies, I looked it up and discovered the story is based on real events. The movie was made from a book written by one of the kids (grandkids?) of the children portrayed in the movie. If you are up for a good cry, this is an excellent choice.
This is definitely a Christmas story. I’m not sure if you would call it inspiring. I’d have to ponder the definition of inspiring. Touching, for sure.
Of all the things we do in December, our trip to the Boston Pops for their Christmas concert is my favorite. First of all, what’s not to like?
It’s a great concert, fine orchestra, perfect symphony venue. Boston’s Symphony Hall was built in 1900. It’s a classic, both architecturally and acoustically.
According to the BSO’s website, Symphony Hall opened on October 15, 1900 with an inaugural gala led by music director Wilhelm Gericke. The architects, McKim, Mead & White of New York, engaged Wallace Clement Sabine, a young assistant professor of physics at Harvard, as their acoustical consultant.
Symphony Hall is widely regarded as one of the top concert halls in the world. The walls of the stage slope inward to help focus the sound. The side balconies are shallow so as not to trap any of the sound, and the recesses of the ceiling, along with the statue-filled niches along the three sides, help to distribute the sound throughout the hall.
The 16 replicas of Greek and Roman statues are related in some way to music, art, or literature.
They were placed in the niches as part of an appreciation of the frequently quoted words, “Boston, the Athens of America,” written by Bostonian William Tudor in the early 19th century.
The Symphony Hall organ — an Aeolian Skinner designed by G. Donald Harrison and installed in 1949 — is one of the finest concert hall organs in the world.
A couple of interesting points for observant concert-goers: Beethoven is the only composer whose name was inscribed on one of the plaques that trim the stage and balconies; the other plaques were left empty since it was felt that only Beethoven’s popularity would remain unchanged.
The initials “BMH” for “Boston Music Hall”, as the building was originally to have been called, appear on the stairwell banisters at the Huntington Avenue side, originally planned as the main entrance. The old Boston Music Hall was gutted only after the new building, Symphony Hall, was opened.
This year’s program was a bit different than previous year’s. Instead of the usual reading of “The Night Before Christmas,” there was a reading and music dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I (November 1914) and the spontaneous “Christmas Truce” of 24 December 1914.
There was less use of projected images, more orchestral music. But Santa Claus made his traditional appearance and “The 12 Days of Christmas” was as joyful and raucous as ever. The program was intentionally more inclusive. It was great hearing some songs I remember my mother singing in Yiddish played by this wonderful orchestra.
Sometimes the question comes up whether it’s worth supporting orchestras and concert halls like this … and I think of how much we would lose without them. The shine in the eyes of my granddaughter the first time she saw Symphony Hall. For that matter, the shine in my eyes the first time I heard a concert in Carnegie Hall. These places are national treasures. We have so little of our past preserved. I am so grateful we have held onto these precious, beautiful places.
And the music. Oh, the music.