Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas 2009

I am happy this year. I started Christmas early. In a few sad years, Christmas flew by and in the US, the day after Christmas is a hallow feeling. Christmas was at one time and still is in some places a twelve day celebration. We sing the great song, the Twelve Days of Christmas to remember that. Many churches have preserved the twelve days and celebrate the 12th day, the day of Epiphany (Greek for Appearance), the day that the wise men came to visit the Christ Child. The US does echo the 4 Weeks of Advent (Latin for the Arrival) which the Church has preserved. But I as many was raised apart from the traditions of the church so my experience was the secular version of Christmas in my younger days. We acquired certain rituals which I remember and then molded into my own experience when I was introduced to the traditions of the Church when I was 16.
My childhood ritual was to go to downtown Seattle where one used to shop in the 50s and 60s. Later there were outlet malls, Galleria malls, etc. But in those days downtown was downtown!! We always would go to Fredericks. They would have a display which featured trains that would move when one put their hand on the black outline of a hand on the glass. Inside, there were wonderful Christmas displays. We would always purchase Frango mints, great chocolate mints.
The decorations at my grandparent’s house were more ornate than what I had at my home with my mother. Interestingly at the time I thought nothing of the fact that we had a star on top of the tree. Later, I would have a wife from a European background that had always had angels. (Of course I deferred to the angel!). There was a tiny fireplace, 1 foot square, that was never used for fire but every Christmas, my grandmother would make a manger scene. The baby Jesus on a cradle with hay, surrounded by Mary and Joseph, the Wise men and the Shepherds with an Angel hovering overhead and a light that had the 5 points of a star around it.
The tree was always overflowing with presents.
In those days before video, we relied on the routines of the TV stations. Every year on Christmas Eve they would play a Miracle on 34th Street. This is the old black and white version set in the 1947. I have watched the modern versions but they can’t compare in my mind to this original version especially with Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn as Santa Claus.
Of course I would watch some version of Scrooge (a story I had first been introduced when my grandmother would read stories to me including the Night Before Christmas poem),
I would watch either some old theatrical version of Scrooge or Mr. Magoo’s version.
After that the solemn Mass from Rome. And then I would go to bed. In later years I could hear my grandparents and mother climbing up in the attic to retrieve the special hidden presents. It really wasn’t much of a surprise because I was spoiled because I got about everything I wanted. Things like an egg beater helicopter, mentor, the robot game, baseball bats, footballs, etc.
After I started going to church in High School, I had another layer of ritual to add. I add a renewed enthusiasm for Christmas Carols. My grandparents had a grand piano and I would relearn the Christmas Carols and play them on the piano.
For Christmas we would have the traditional turkey but because turkey wasn’t my favorite, a ham was also cooked. I did love the turkey sandwiches which would last about a week.
In college, I renewed my study of German which I had started in Junior High School. How wonderful to go to a German Church and hear the Christmas Carols in 4 part harmony. There were many German Christmas Carols that I had never heard before such as Susser the Gocken nie klingen. O altissima. Es ist ein Ros entsprungen. These German carols added a level of solemnity and beauty to Christmas that I will always treasure.
Also the German Shortstory by Adalbert Schnitzler has one of the best short descriptions of the Christmas in Germany that I have ever read.
The description can be read here (in English, but of course the original German is great too!)
In the Army at Ft Hood Texas in the early 80s, there was a German Christmas service. Also there, I met a pilot who was married to a Dutch girl. She translated the Dutch dialogue and song in the Miracle on 34th Street. I still sing the song
Sinterklaas kapoentje
Gooi wat in mijn schoentje
Gooi wat mijn laarsje
Dank je Sinterklaasje

St. Nicholas, I beg of you
Drop into my little shoe
Put into my stocking
Thank you, Saint Nicholas
So What rituals are being passed on now to my youngest children? One year I did not see them at all.
This year we are starting right after Thanksgiving. We listen to a radio station that plays nothing but Christmas music. FM 101.9 Baltimore. We bought the tree, adorning it with lights, ornaments, and candy canes. I buy presents to put under the tree. We sing Christmas carols to the accompaniment of the electronic key board. A few weeks ago we saw the new Scrooge Movie. I was totally amazed the other day when my 8 year old daughter knew every word of "Last Christmas." So Christmas goes on!!!

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