A Carl Larsson Christmas

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Christmas Eve — Carl Larsson

 

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The Day before Christmas — Carl Larsson

 

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The Yard and Wash-House — Carl Larsson

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The Skier — Carl Larsson

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Saying Thank You Before Opening Gifts

William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_A_Little_Coaxing_(1890)I read a passage from The Approaching Storm in September which has taken up residence in my thoughts. It describes a Czech Christmas in 1937.

This was a feudal Christmas. Castle and estate people joined in its celebration, as has always been the custom here. They were all Czech. They came to the tree gorgeously dressed in silk and satin of lovely colors, finely embroidered. The men and boys were as handsomely garbed as the girls and women. There was no servility in these people. I liked their quiet self-assurance.

The celebrations were opened by the children going up to their parents and thanking them for their love and care since last Christmas. The eldest, a son of fifteen, spoke first. He was followed by his brother and sister. This is an annual custom.  […] Then we had the presents.

My first instinct on reading this was to clap my hands together and plan a new custom in our family. Then I paused. This Czech annual custom was rooted in generations of thankful attitudes. Can we turn that around with a simple prelude to opening gifts? No, I debate myself, that is not the way to change a culture. Just another band aid fix.  It’s hard enough to get some of our kiddos to say “thank you” after they’ve opened gifts!

I’ve mulled this over. Thankfulness has to be inculcated in kids from the get go. I’ve seen parents teach thankful habits in tiny tots using Baby Sign Language. Long before they can talk, they sign “Please” and “Thank you”, the cornerstones of good manners.

I’m still pondering, still admiring this custom. Wanting the heart felt version, not the formulaic one. Thoughts, anyone?

Unexpectedly Amusing

41UwXfZZFJLIt started with a Klutz Pop Bead Critters Activity Book that I got for visiting kids to play with. Seldom is there a toy, game, book or activity that has universal appeal. But every kid that has crossed our threshold has had a blast putting the beads together. They find the different textures, sizes and colors appealing.

When I saw the small success of the beads that came with the book, I got this bucket of B. Pop-Arty Beads. Gracious! I now know what it feels to be a rock star! My husband and I try hard to buy toys without batteries. Especially fun toys without batteries. And this fits the ticket.

Because I am in essence a second-grader whose hand flies up when the teacher asks who wants to be first at show-and-tell, I am compelled to share this with you. I don’t think I’ve ever before written a blog post about a toy.

Two things:

1)  For folks without children in the home, it always helps to have a space for things that interest kids. In my growing up years there it was the bottom drawer of a sideboard in our dining room. It can be a bag, a tote, a box, a basket or a bin. Something for the kids says “You are welcome!” in a language they can understand.

2) Christmas is 12 weeks away. Just sayin’.

Satisfied with Small

 

 

Growing up in a large family with a dad who invited students over, my idea of a holiday meal is a groaning board laden with food, tables jammed up against each other with tablecloths dressing the wound between the two, good plates for company with everyday plates tucked in less conspicuous spots, windows steamed, a procession of mounded bowls, a continuous buzz of conversation, singing Doxology, and hours of clean-up for the poor souls whose names on the calendar rotation indicated dish washer and dish dryer. That was my normal.

Early in our marriage we continued the tradition and gathered friends like you would wildflowers: always room for a few more in the bunch.

As our family grows we have the possibility of expanding to 29, as we did for Thanksgiving, or contracting to a table for four. My preference is for big and boisterous. But—shock!—there are others to consider. 

As silly as it sounds, the first time we had one of our small holiday meals, I had a personal crisis. I was smiling and saying It’ll be great!, but the real me inside was stomping, banging pots, and feeding my misery. All sorts of traitorous thoughts ran through my head, the foremost being “Why go to all this trouble for a meal for five?”

A shaft of light, a tiny thought, was the game-changer. What if Mom could come, if she were your only guest? Would you do all you could to make it a special meal?

Serious? If I could have my mom at my table just once, I would plan for weeks to have the most splendid menu. I get all throat-lumpy just imagining the privilege of serving Mom a meal in my home.

The light shaft widened to a illuminating column: What if the Lord Jesus came to your little dinner? Would you be crabbing about all the work for a small meal? My Lord at my table? I would buy the best ingredients, take pains to make things lovely, be thrilled to my tippie-toes! I’d be nervous choosing the wine, but we’d figure it out.

Oh child, I tell myself, numbers-schnumbers. Cherish each celebration, great or small.

 

What We Remember

Lingering after a meal is an important part of our family’s culture. We love to exhale a contented sigh, pour another cuppa, perhaps clear a few dishes out of the way, talk, laugh, tell stories, and delay—as long as possible—the end of the meal. A friend told me years ago that the German language had a word for lingering at table for which there was no English equivalent.  If anyone knows that German word, please leave a comment. I’d love to have it in my possession.

As we lingered, we talked about Christmas memories. And it struck me that the Christmases where everything goes right, where good things abound, must be remembered through gauzy nostalgia instead of distinct memories. Because the stories we heard were the disasters, the years of want, when times were hard.  The Christmases where we got what we needed rather than what we wanted. (Aside: This year a friend’s child exclaimed: Wow, Mommy! New boots just like you needed me to want!) The year everyone was too sick to get out of bed. The year the family had just moved and were completely on their own. Moments of comfort and joy amidst misery and pain.

Does this resonate with you? When you think of Christmases past, what comes to mind?

In the spirit of providing stories for future Christmases, we made some memories this year. It was the year of the Great Yorkshire Pudding Overflow. My daughter-in-law and I thought it would be fun to make Yorkshire Pudding, something I’ve never before tried. We poured the batter into a tray of muffin cups and slid it in the 400° oven. Ten minutes later hot grease covered the bottom of the oven, the smoke alarm was going off (while the babies slept) and the kitchen filled with smoke. When guests arrived, my son Carson was holding a box fan in the window trying to exhaust the smoke.  The Yorkshire Pudding was delicious, but the residue was A Mess. 

While I’m bound to remember the Year of the Smoke—if only through my husband’s groans—, the kids surely won’t. If they remember anything, it will be the fun playing games and running around. It was a minor catastrophe, laughable even while it was happening. And we take pictures of the beautiful parts to keep the myth of perfect Christmases alive!

Don’t Mess With My Carols

(from the archives)

 

I had a hissy fit on Christmas Eve.  In  the candlelight service.  Fortunately, my husband was the only observer and he managed to keep me under control.

We were at our folks’ church, singing from their hymnal, the New and Improved one.  I was already mildly miffed at the alterations in the lyrics when we started singing O Come All Ye Faithful.  When the second verse began “Highest of highest” instead of “God of God” I just stopped singing, now indignant. 

Someone had ruined my favorite verse!  I started jabbing at the hymnal, thumping the spot where in tiny letters were the letters alt.  My husband, who missed my meaning but understood my emotion, shrugged and in a sign of solidarity started poking his finger at the hymnal too, but not in the right places. Which made me snort but didn’t diminish my disgust. 

“Alt!” I hissed. 

“Alt.”  he echoed.  Whatever alt. meant, he was together with me on it. He didn’t ask “Alt?”.  He firmly said Alt. but the required passion was missing; there was no corresponding hiss.

“They ALTERED the text.” I further hissed. “It’s as if Athanasius never lived.”   

“Ahhh.” 

We went back to singing choirs of angels.

At the next carol, he jabbed the alt. before the organ had finished the introduction. Good Christian Men were not rejoicing; Good Christian Friends Rejoice.  In protest, I cheerfully sang “Good Christian men“, all three verses.  I have no patience with gender neutral humankind nonsense.  Please.

With each new carol it became a race between us to see who would thump the alt. first.

We heard the tune of Lo, How a Rose Eer Blooming, without noticing the title was, Lo, How a Rose is Growing

This was no alt.: this was a completely new translation. 

I’m sure that Gracia Grindal’s translation has much to recommend it, but you know–you know!– how hard it is to sing or recite a verse in a different translation than the one you memorized as a child, the one firmly lodged in your brain.  There was a sense of disorientation.

Away in the Manger came through unscathed: evidently the Little Lord Jesus (my nephew–decades ago–said Yittle Yord Yesus) could sleep on his bed.  We ended with lovely unaltered carols Silent Night and Joy to the World

In the Bleak Midwinter

Winner of Carol’s Best Christmas Music – Category: Mellow
The Gift by Liz Story
Windham Hill.
Solo piano.
Sensitive.
Evocative.
Contemplative.
Recommended first by sister Dorothy.
New to me this year.
Exquisite.

(This post is from the archives.)

One of my favorites is In the Bleak Midwinter, a piece that James Taylor also does very well.

I know you are very, very busy.  You should be wrapping gifts instead of reading blogs.

May I tell you a story?  Why this song means so very much to me?

It is a family story that I only know from the telling, because, sadly, I was not present.  Twenty-one years ago, my father received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer from Mayo Clinic on Christmas Eve.  The following weekend, those of my siblings who could, gathered at my dad’s place in Dubuque. That Sunday Dan sang  In The Bleak Midwinter at the chapel.  A Capella.  He’s a professional, my brother.  But when he came to the last verse, (What shall I bring him, poor as I am?) he broke down and wept.  Unable to continue. My father walked up to him, put his arms around him, and held him.  No words.

So this piece, which has a mournful tone already (and that is not a criticism), always  takes me to that Sunday, to a sad family, a very brave brother, and a father who was a father in a most public act of comforting his son; to my Father who gave His Son, to his mother who worshiped him with a kiss, and mostly to the poverty of the writer who offers what she can give–her heart.

In the Bleak Midwinter.

Snippet of James Taylor singing it (scroll down).
30 seconds of Liz Story playing it.
Better yet, Glouster Cathedral Choir singing it: