Tag: Tradition

A Little Night, Christmas Music

“I should be sorry if I only entertained them, I wish to make them better.”
– attr. George Frederic Handel, on being complimented for Messiah

Holidays for me are entirely bound up in my family’s traditions. What we eat, when we decorate, even how the decor looks is deeply meaningful to me. It’s also an at-home holiday for us, we hang out together (friends are very welcome if not required!) but we’d rather stay in eating our sugar cookies, rib roast (Christmas Eve meal) or special baked french toast breakfast (Christmas morning). One year we varied it up and went skiing in the Tirol of Austria, which was a great holiday, but the consensus of all the family afterwards that even though it was amazing, it hadn’t felt at all like Christmas.

Jeff’s family has their own traditions as well, and it’s been really fun getting learn and incorporate a new set of them – particularly breakfast at a particularly wonderful diner and getting to enjoy the excitement of nieces and nephews of Christmas morning.

For the four years we’ve been married we’ve been able to alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas with either family and it’s been a great compromise but this year…well, Thanksgiving turned out a bit unexpected. And as for Christmas, the Atlantic Ocean is not small and plane fare beyond us currently, plus we really like being in London! So Jeff and I have had a few discussions about the new phase we’re finding ourselves in about having to rely on ourselves to either perpetuate the traditions we want to keep and forge new ones for ourselves. We’re going to have to tweak this a bit over the next few years. I have to admit, it always feels slightly less Christmas-y without my parents, siblings, and friends around to spend hours playing games with, dinner at the big table, and lots of time and good conversation.

But as for building new traditions for just the two of us, I wouldn’t mind an annual repeat of Saturday night! Feeling just a bit detached from Christmas this year, in spite of the gorgeousness of London in full holiday splendor, I booked us a couple of tickets for a performance of Handel’s Messiah at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church, which makes up a part of Trafalgar Square.

Handel. By candlelight. No way we were passing it up.
Handel. By candlelight. No way we were passing it up.

St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields is an old church, it’s been around for nearly a thousand years, even though the present incarnation has only been around since the early 18th century when the building was discovered to be in desperation need of renovation. Plenty of significant people are buried there, and it actually serves as the parish church for the Royal Family, and Downing Street.

Supreme Head and all that.
Supreme Head and all that.

It’s still very much in operation as a church, but in recent years it has cultivated a role for itself as a major hub of classical music support as well. It puts on regular concerts and performances throughout the year, including some free ones meant to be taken in during a lunch break or afternoon out and about.

The justifiably famous organ.
The justifiably famous organ.

Jeff and I got dressed up and bundled against the wet and cold and took in an evening of the entire Messiah by candlelight.

We had a beautiful view of the organ, lectern, and even the conductor and soloists from a side box pew.
We had a beautiful view of the organ, lectern, and even the conductor and soloists from a side box pew.

The setting was lovely (garlands and candles everywhere), the music was beautiful, and I for one came away feeling much more seasonal. Sometimes you just need to hear something unabashedly Baroque! It was a lovely way to gear myself up for this week – when we shall be attempting the formidable Rodgers family feast with just two people in the kitchen instead of the typical six minimum. Because new traditions are important, but some old ones are vital.

St. Nicholas Day

– Fiddler on the Roof

I have utterly failed!  I completely spaced buy goodies to put in J. and my shoes this morning…

What sort of pathetic excuse for an international am I?!

Anyone else out there celebrate St. Nicholas Day?  Or have any fun traditions for Advent?  Growing up we always put up the family tree on the first Monday in December and left it up until Epiphany.  J.’s family always goes to the zoo on Christmas Eve, this will be my first year tagging along.  Your turn, my little French hens, share!

Try not to imagine this guy dropping down your chimney, eh?

Top. Hat.

“Wearing a hat is like having a baby or a puppy; everyone stops to coo and talk about it.”
– Louise Green

And if I could, I'd be there right now, wearing this. Eliza Doolittle in the 21st century! A bit tame, but oh so pretty!

Not that anyone cares this side of the Atlantic, but the Royal Ascot is a big deal and it’s going on now en Angleterre.  And the hats are as weird, fabulous, odd, chic, and grotesque as ever.

No one wears hats over here.  And don’t try to sell me on the Kentucky Derby, it’s peanuts compared to the towering plumes, wires, and (apparently this year) legos of Ascot.  When Mum and I were talking about my then-pending nuptials, I briefly entertained the idea of getting married in England, so that we could have our reception at The Swan in Lavenham, and so that the ladies could all wear hats!  Luckily common sense prevailed, J.’s family, which is several times larger than mine, are all here.  And the mass exodus to Suffolk would have cost a fortune.  Almost as much as a hat for Ascot!

Go here or here to check out Tom and Lorenzo’s breakdown of the headgear.  And here’s one to whet your appetite for the goodies to come:

Yes. That is Edward Michael "Bear" Grylls in a pink hat. You may retrieve your collective jaws from the floor.

For more horsey fun, check out the Australians going nuts for racing fashion, T&L may think the Brits are wacky, but they have nothing on the Aussies!

Photo from wireimage.com, care of Tom and Lorenzo.
My dream hat photo from Louise Green Millinery.

8 Puppets Blaspheming

 “Twelve monkey mating,  ‘leven donkeys dancing, ten pygmies farming, nine socks a-swimming…FIVE GOLD RINGS!”
– Eddie Izzard

For some reason, our productions did not receive nearly as much acclaim. Can't imagine why...

As promised, here is one of our favorite and probably most quirky/embarassing family traditions.  Long ago, my mother made some hand puppets for a group Christmas project.  Nothing fancy, just felt oven mitt sorts of things.  We used them for years at Christmastime to act out the Nativity Story, without incident or indiscretion until one year, Dad had the brilliant idea to turn on the video recorder.

The footage of this historic event is long departed into the void of computer-crashing-moving-technical-kablooey, but mutual stored memory among the siblings suggests a potential fist-fight behind the stage (sofa) and much arguing and some sacrilegious name-calling.

In subsequent years our quiet family puppet show devolved from its auspicious starting point.  It didn’t take too long for it to hit the point of parody. 

The next year King Herod breathed like Darth Vadar (complete with asthma inhaler), and the Holy Virgin did lamaze breathing to calm her nerves while Saint Joseph (who was captain of the football team at Nazareth High) stumbled about flexing uselessly.  The cap and crown to our we-will-go-to-Hell-for-this performance was the angel Gabriel as played by Yoda as played by Dad.  “Annunciating I am!  Have a baby you willll…”  His voice cracked on the last word and has become holiday tradition ever since to impersonate Dad (as Yoda as Gabriel) choking.  Somehow, I misremember, the cow featured prominently leading Gio to exclaim, “It’s a holy cow!” which immediately became our production company name.

A subsequent year featured a lampooning of Monty Python: the taunting Frenchman as the inn-keeper, Mika as the Dreaded Black Beast of Augh, an improvised kick-line (performed by the intrepid puppeteers) and, naturally, the falling cow of catapult fame.

You're destroying cultural and literary icons, you barbarians!

Our most memorable foray into the dark, iredeemable depths of nerdiness was a Lord of the Rings spoof.  Our three wisemen (Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli) form the Fellowship of the King.  Galabriel annuciates.  The shepherds of Rohan ride sheep around energetically.  Mary, who looks wearily into the camera and whines and constantly about the terrible burden she is forced to carry alone, is saved when Joseph Gamgee (Gio) declares, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry YOU!” and sweeps the other puppet gallantly off.  Then there is the memorable presentation of the gifts: gold, myrrh, “and my axe!”  There were random interjections of Buddy’s dragon puppet (which does not feature in the usual cast, but he wanted to use it), Gio stole one of Snickers’ lines which nearly brought on an actors’ strike, and most of the outtakes feature us alternatively arguing with one another or dissolving into giggles while Dad vainly demands, “Quiet on the set!”

We are hopless, helpless dorks.