Santa Claus

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS – OR – A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS

By Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads.

1864

1864

And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

1883

1883

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

1886

1886

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen;
“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

1896

1896

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack.

1898

1898

His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

1901

1901

He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Heroes

Guy Williams as ZorroLife has been singularly bereft of heroes lately. Perhaps I’m just getting older and life is making me more cynical but I think it’s the world that’s getting more cynical. It seems to me there has been a continuing trend on TV and the movies that has accelerated in recent years to create heroes who are not entirely heroic, but rather more human. Less black and white, more gray. Despite how reasonable this approach may be, I prefer my heroes heroic.

I like my superheroes really super, solidly and clearly on the side of justice. There’s plenty of room in literature, film, theater and television for ambivalence and flawed heroes. At least in genres where my heroes fight evil to save the earth or a some piece of it, I want a clear and unambiguous line between good and evil. Life isn’t really like that, but that’s what escapism in the movies and on television is all about.Santa_Claus_1

Give me a masked hero, preferably on a horse, wielding a sword. I can make do with a six-gun if he only shoots them in the hand (the Lone Ranger never actually killed anyone).

Today being Christmas, my first question is whether or not Santa Claus counts as a superhero. I think the answer will depend on the age of the person answering the question. Probably “yes” below age 6. A solid “maybe” through around age 9, followed by a short period of  “I don’t think so.” I remember when my granddaughter was at the “switchover” age. She was reasonably sure there was no Santa Claus, but she figured she ought to hedge her bets, just in case.

She definitely didn’t want to alienate Santa should he turn out to be the bestower of gifts. Thus she “sort of believed,” but sort of didn’t. It was funny watching her work her way through her first major philosophical dilemma.

Personally, I’m a weenie for masked men. I’m a sucker for horses even without a rider, so it can’t be much of a surprise.  Depending on the level of heroism involves, I can compromise on the mask too. But LOTS of extra credit for the horse and if it is a particularly magnificent steed … ah, be still my heart.

I am almost as passionate about superheroes. I favor capes. Although I waited patiently, none of my heroes ever came to take me away. I love my husband and an orange 1970 (1969?) Dodge Challenger convertible, although not a horse, was certainly a better than average ride, but I did long for the mythos and might of my comic book and screen heroes and super heroes. Although I’m significantly more creaky than I used to be (maybe a buckboard rather than a saddle?) I’m still ready and waiting.

Superman was filmed in color, though I was well into my 30s before I saw it for myself. Until then, I never had a color TV so I remember all those early shows as black and white and am frequently surprised to discover they are actually in color. Zorro made my heart flutter and The Lone Ranger made me weak in the knees. Despite the fact that to this day, I cannot fathom how come no one recognized Superman when he wore wire-rimmed eyeglasses, I loved him anyway. Batman too, though Supe was really My Guy.

Jay Silverheels and Clayton Moore

Jay Silverheels and Clayton Moore

I had some small issue with the whole phone booth thing since in New York, where I grew up, they had glass sides, so they were not exactly a private shelter. Why didn’t he just do it at super speed so no one could see? Who needs a phone booth anyhow?

I am glad that movie makers share my love for the super guys who filled the dreams of my girlhood. I was the only girl … hell, the only kid … I knew who had Lone Ranger wallpaper. Not on a computer. There was no such thing. No, I had it on my walls. Lone and Tonto, endlessly riding in a small circle around the same little patch of ground … “Hi yo Silver! The Lone Ranger Rides Again!” I always thought Tonto got rather short shrift and I thought his horse, Scout, was every bit as cool as Silver, but I would have settled for any kind of equine.

He could graze on our lawn, live in the otherwise unused garage, please mom? I’ll take care of him. You won’t have to do a thing.

She was immovable. How could I lead the fight for Justice without a horse? I tried flying, which worked for Superman, but all I got were scabby knees and elbows. No matter how hard, no leap got me over a single tall, or even medium-sized building.

So, return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when Silver and Scout, Trigger and that fabulous black horse that Zorro always rode carried my heroes, with and without masks. I absolutely positively will NOT see the latest remake. Johnny Depp in heavy makeup and way too many feathers as Tonto? Hell, Jay Silverheels was at least a real Native American. Couldn’t we do as well in 2012?

We could use a few heroes now, could we not?

Maybe they are still out there … we just don’t seem to see much of them anymore.

The Night Before Christmas, or A Visit from St. Nicholas – by Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads.

1864

1864

And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

1883

1883

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

1886

1886

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen;
“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

1896

1896

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack.

1898

1898

His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

1901

1901

He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Holiday Visit to the Boston Pops

We were so lucky to be given the gift of five tickets to the Boston Pops. Garry and I, my daughter-in-law Sandy, Kaity and her friend Steph had our own table in Boston’s gorgeous symphony hall where the ghost of Arthur Fiedler still hovers in the wings.

The Girls

Symphony Hall

Balcony filling

Arthur Fiedler was such a fixture in Boston for so long that it seemed that he would live forever and when he passed on and it was time for the Boston Pops to get a new conductor, it was hard to imagine that Keith Lockhart, who seemed such a kid when he first came to Boston … how could he fill those great big shoes?

Waiting

Filling the balconies

But Keith has done beautifully as conductor of the Pops, taking it in new and delightful directions. He has brought a level of energy and excitement … and a sense of joy and fun … that has kept the Boston Pops the première destination for a holiday musical experience.

The Choir is ready

Sing!

The choir was the same all volunteer Tanglewood Choir from years before, bringing their own passion and joy to the show that is always a delight.

String Section

Strings

I think people under-estimate how difficult some of the music done by the Pops really is. Here’s a taste for you.

Their version of “The 12-days of Christmas” is a tour de force. Constant changes of key, speed, rhythm …. well, it’s amazing and so much fun. You can download a full version of it, or get the entire CD.

Let us not forget the traditional performance of “The Night Before Christmas,” with incredible projected illustrations. Preceded by a visit from … guess who … Santa himself.

Keith and St. Nick

Lead in to 12 Days of Christmas with Santa

I got so many great pictures of the concert … and I did it all with my little point and shoot Canon because it was the only camera I had with a long enough lens. It did an astonishing job. I have a lot of respect for these little Canons. Over the years, they have served me very well indeed.

No way to put all the photos all into a single post, but there will be more to come! Meanwhile, enjoy the season, enjoy the music, and enjoy each other!

Angels and Oxymorons Abounding

I love this time of year. The holidays bring out the pious hypocrite in us. It’s delightful watching people mouth platitudes in which they obviously don’t believe. There we are, deploring the crass commercialism of the holiday season, how they have become nothing but a huge excuse for everyone to spend too much money. Then we jump in the car and race to the mall to buy those last-minute gifts.

Truth is as bright and flashy as the trees we love to decorate: we adore commercialism. Our national sport is shopping. Christmas is one humongous discount bargain bin and everyone accepts credit cards. All that glitters is not gold, but we don’t care.

What we deplore is not commercialism. We just hate not having enough money to dive into the season and pile those gift boxes high. To quote Tom Lehrer, “Angels we have heard on high, tell us to go out and buy.” If you live in the U.S., it’s inescapable.

When I was a kid, I so envied my Christian neighbors. They had Christmas trees and lights and presents to open. They had Santa Claus. I wanted it too.

Which makes this a perfect time for me to annoy you by pointing out what everyone already knows: Christ was not born at Christmas. Current thinking is probably sometime in the spring.  The Yule celebration predates Judaism and Christianity. Our most beloved seasonal  symbols — Christmas trees — have no religious significance for any living religion. It’s a symbol of a faith long since faded to fable. We love the trees, the lights and those stacks of boxes wrapped in pretty paper and bows. Let the games commence. The holidays are upon us. Spend today and figure out how to pay it off tomorrow. Holidays bring out the pagan in us. Just admit it already.

Not being brought up with Christmas has given me a running start on understanding the spirit of the season. I got to celebrate Christmas because my first husband, may he rest in peace, was not Jewish. He wasn’t much of a Christian either. To the best of my knowledge, his family had never attended any church, but identified themselves as vaguely Protestant, though which denomination they could not say. But they were very big on Christmas. It was my introduction to nominal Christianity and non-denominational Christmas. It was years before I realized that there was more to Christianity and Christmas than stringing lights and making killer eggnog. They really did make killer eggnog. Unimaginably lethal.

So indulge me for a moment on the subject of faith. I have been accused of being anti-religious, anti-Christian, unGodly and on the fast track to Hell. How ironic when I am boringly obsessed with religion and have been for my entire life.  I’m not unGodly, just anti-dogmatic and not Christian. Jews consider me un-Jewish so I am out of step with everyone and everything. I am very far from atheistic or anti religious. Au contraire, I’m just not your coreligionist. No matter what you are, I’m not that. I’m something. If I had a label, my problems would be over. I could answer that aggravating question: what are you?

So what’s with the whole faith thing? How dare I say you can’t prove God‘s existence?

When I say faith is not proof, I don’t mean to imply that faith is bad or wrong, only that you can’t prove anything by it. It’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it, but it would never hold up in a court of law. Any judge on any episode of Law and Order would throw your case out of court. So my advice is to stay out of the court. Keep government out of religion.

Faith gets us through the day. We  have faith that the world will keep turning on its axis, that the car will start, that our computers will do what computers do. There are people who believe it’s faith that makes our technology work. Because we believe in it, it works. Should our faith in technology flag, it will no longer work. It’s magic. Or God. One way or the other, it’s faith in action.

English: Thomas Nast's most famous drawing, &q...

Thomas Nast’s most famous drawing, “Merry Old Santa Claus”, from the January 1, 1881 edition of Harper’s Weekly. Thomas Nast immortalized Santa Claus’ current look with an initial illustration in an 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly, as part of a large illustration titled “A Christmas Furlough” in which Nast set aside his regular news and political coverage to do a Santa Claus drawing. The popularity of that image prompted him to create this illustration in 1881.

As for religion making us good or bad people, poppycock. We all know right from wrong whether we receive a religious education or are raised by wolves. Education and family values will provide a coherent belief structure, but only sociopaths have no conscience. That’s what makes them sociopaths.

The rest of us know it’s wrong to kill, steal, lie and cheat. You don’t have to be a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or subscribe to any special set of rules. We can argue for eternity about the details and we probably will, but the basics are the same across the centuries, cultures and continents. Don’t kill, don’t steal, tell the truth, take care of the poor, widows and orphans, and be nice to old people, especially your parents. (Unless that group of people over there call God by a different name — them, you can kill.)

But I digress.

That being said what you believe is what you believe. Nothing more. Nothing less.

You can’t prove or disprove anything — which is why scientific “laws” are called theories, like the theory of relativity, for example. When a theory works, it’s a law. If we make a breakthrough and our previous theory no longer fits, we devise a new theory which we’ll hang on to until something else comes along. At which point we’ll revise it again. That’s why I say that all belief is all faith-based. It can’t be proved or disproved. It just is.

Then there’s doubt. Skepticism. Disbelief. Imperfect faith.

Whenever anyone tells me he or she has no doubts, I start to twitch. Doubt is normal; absolute faith with never a trace of doubt? That sounds more like brainwashing than faith. I’ve talked with ministers, pastors, priests, rabbis, Wiccans, wackos, one self-declared reincarnation of Jesus and a Cardinal with strong Jesuit leanings. I’ve talked with born-again Christians and born-again Jews (it isn’t a solely Christian phenomenon). Everyone wrestles with doubt. Life tests faith. I think it’s supposed to. We all have to find our special path through doubt and difficulty to whatever floats our spiritual boat.

I am tired of asking politely for everyone to let me be myself, whatever that is. So I hereby demand the right to do my own thing, make my own decisions, and find my path through the thorny thicket of life. I’m happy to share this freedom with everyone and their Uncle Bob. If perchance I don’t wind up walking down the same road as you, it’s a big world. There’s room for all of us. No one owns the truth.

No one has all the answers.

Except me. I have all the answers. If you want my answers, please enclose a check and a stamped self-addressed envelope. I will send you a key that will unlock the mysteries of the universe. The bigger the check, the better the key.

I need the money to spend on Christmas presents.

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