Wednesday, December 24, 2014

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

          "The true meaning of Christmas" is a phrase that has been used since the middle of the 19th century. It's often given vaguely religious overtones suggesting that the "true meaning of Christmas" is a celebration of the Nativity of Christ but, in pop culture, usage of overt religious references are mostly avoided and the "true meaning" is taken to be a sort of introspective and benevolent attitude as opposed to the commercialization of Christmas.
            The tradition of modern gift exchanging was popularized after the publication of the poem "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" in 1822 by American Clement C. Moore and is considered to be largely responsible for some of the conceptions of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today. Prior to the poem, Christian ideas about St. Nicholas and other  Christmastide visitors varied considerably.
            It wasn't long after the poem's publication that people started to question the "true meaning of Christmas" as in Charles Dicken's classic tale," A Christmas Carol" (1843) and Harriet Beecher Stowe's story "Christmas; or, the Good Fairy".
            The topic hit its stride through film and television with shows like "A Charlie Brown Christmas", which first aired in 1965 and the 1966 animated TV special "How the Grinch Stole Christmas".  The phrase and the associated morale became used as the theme in numerous Christmas films since the 1960s.
            This Christmas season we've sat down and watched a number of these "True Meaning” classics and enjoyed them all over again. "It's A Wonderful Life", "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" (the Jim Carrey film version, of course), "Scrooged" with Bill Murray and many more. It also helps to have grandchildren to share these stories with while we revisit the shows that we have been watching for years.
            We even got to watch a live version played out for us by the elementary school children of Dr. Isman Elementary School in Wolseley. Our five-year-old grandson, Treyton, is in the kindergarten class and he, his classmates and the entire K-to-grade-6 student body performed songs and acted out a musical skit with the "True Meaning" theme. It was great! The performance ended with the play's Santa Claus character stating that gift giving isn't always Commercialism and can be very rewarding in itself and only lusting after gifts for one's self is not in keeping with the "True Meaning" of Christmas.
            Our family is excited to share another Christmas season together and celebrate the birth of Christ with all of our traditions in place whether it be the gift opening on Christmas morning or the turkey dinner or the games or the odd eggnog or two but we won't be debating the "True Meaning" of Christmas around our house as we will be living it.
            From our family to yours have a very, very Merry Christmas!!


"to give up one's very self — to think only of others — how to bring the greatest happiness to others — that is the true meaning of Christmas"  The American magazine, vol. 28 (1889):

Saturday, December 20, 2014

LOVE THAT CHRISTMAS MUSIC!


            I'm not sure if it was because of the Baby Boomer radio/television era that I grew up in or Dad, Mom and their children's involvement in the United Church or just the way things generally were back in the day while I was growing up but around this time of year we listened to Christmas music. A lot of Christmas music. I loved it. Still do. It wells up a magical time of  the year for me.

            Apparently, not everybody feels this way as I have heard, more than once, that some folks would just prefer a few songs on Christmas day or none at all. Maybe if they didn't start playing Christmas music on November 1st we wouldn't be sick of it by the 1st of December. Just a thought.

            I'm a very nostalgic person anyway so I cannot understand how people can say that they just don't like Christmas music. Do they not like any of it? Or just some of it? Were they not exposed to it while they were growing up or were they overexposed perhaps? Maybe they just don't like the Irish Rovers' "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer"? I've got mixed feelings on that one, too, but how can you not like "Silent Night"? Or "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."? Depending on the rendition, of course.

            Music was an early feature of the Christmas season and its celebrations. The earliest chants, litanies and hymns were Latin works intended for use during church liturgy, rather than popular songs. The 13th century saw the rise of the "carol" written in the vernacular.

            In the Middle Ages, the English combined circle dances with singing and called them carols. Later, the word carol came to mean a song in which a religious topic is treated in a style that is familiar or festive.

            Many of these carols hearken from centuries ago, the oldest (Wexford Carol) originating in the 12th century. The newest came together in the mid-to-late-19th century. Many began in non-English speaking countries, often with non-Christmas themes and were later converted into English carols with English lyrics added. Christmas carols in English first appeared in 1426 and music itself soon became one of the greatest tributes to Christmas.

            Many of the traditional Christmas carols such as "Away in a Manger", "O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night", "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "O Holy Night", to name just a few, were written and popularized in the 19th Century. Secular tunes such as "Jingle Bells", "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" and "Up on the House Top" were also popularized in the 19th Century.

            More recently popular Christmas songs, often Christmas songs introduced in theater, television, film, or other entertainment media, tend to be specifically about Christmas or have a wintertime theme. They are typically not overtly religious. The most popular set of these titles—heard over airwaves, on the Internet, in shopping centres, elevators and even on the street during the Christmas season—have been composed and performed from the 1930s onward. Name a pop star from Frank Sinatra in the 40's to Bono in the 2000's and they've recorded a Christmas song. Some to great success...some...not so much.

            According to a recent survey there are a lot more people who like to listen to Christmas music than those who don't so whether you are a big, big fan, like me, or an old pooh-poohing bah-humbugger, music and Christmas will indelibly be linked.

"One thing I love about Christmas music is that it has a tradition of warmth."- Zooey Deschanel (1980-).

Monday, December 15, 2014

CHRISTMAS LIGHTS?


            I’m pretty sure that my brother Gord and I were in grade 10 and 11 or 11 and 12, somewhere in there, when we were first assigned the Christmas lights duty on the United Church Manse house in Kipling back in the 70’s when our family was living there. The task was kind of sprung on us one day when we got home from our regular post-schoolday hang out at the old Hub Cafe.

            Dad usually saved these kinds of tasks for himself. Sure, he'd allow us to cut the grass, shovel the snow off of the sidewalks and driveway and distribute the cow caca a couple of times a year on the garden but the finicky stuff he liked to do himself 'cause he was a little anal about it, you know? He could be awful particular about certain things. Just like the car washing...he'd "allow" you to do it but if it didn't cut the mustard...his mustard, that is, you'd be heading right back to the carwash.

            My guess is that it got pretty darn cold pretty early that year and he didn't want to go up on the roof and mess with the lights himself or he was just giving us one of his "character building" lessons like the times when he made us help with the chicken butchering or go with him when he was helping someone castrating calves, or some damn thing...you know, the kind of tasks that would make us real men...blah, blah, blah.

            Anyway, I was none too excited about climbing up on the roof and attaching the Christmas lights to the eaves. I sniveled and I whined and I stomped around while Gordie just went about the task of untangling the lights and cords while telling me, "You know, if you'd stop complaining and get at it we'd be done before you know it. Bitching about it won't make it go away." So then I started complaining about him complaining about my complaining and I huffed and I puffed and I...climbed the ladder. I always hated it when he was right. And he usually was.     We froze our hands and our feet and our faces and we had to redo a few spots but we managed to fit in a bit of fun, too, as we usually did and before you know it we had the lights hung up and a hot chocolate in our hands. Yup, lights were hung and character was built.

            It's funny, Dad pointed out, that you don't say a whole lot about your frozen fingers and your frozen toes and your frozen face after an afternoon of road hockey or tobogganing or shinny at the rink, do you now? Because it's "volunteer" freezing that's why! It's different! It even feels different!

            The next year we came home around the same time from the same place and there was a whack of lights lying on the patio again and a ladder leaning on the eaves. Just like the forks sticking out of the manure pile on the garden in the fall we knew what had to be done and who was going to do it without having to be told. Last year's light hanging had been a learning experience and a character builder but the second time around was just plain torture.

            Fast forward forty odd years later and I'm stomping around our house now and whining about getting up on the ladder and hanging the stupid lights and I'm going, "Why can't we be green this year? You know, save the planet and everything and not spin the power meter off of the wall and go old school and burn a candle or two in the window or something because it's pretty damn cold out there today and I'm going to freeze my fingers and my toes and my face and I think I'm catching a cold already and what if I fall off the ladder...I know, I know...if we just stick to task we'd be done before you know it and we'll have a cup of hot chocolate in our hands...blah, blah, blah."

"My core belief is that if you're complaining about something for more than three minutes, two minutes ago you should have done something about it!" Caitlin Moran (1975-).

Monday, December 8, 2014

MY MAPLE LEAFS EXPERIENCE THE 23 PHENOMENON

          Last week, while preparing for our home office makeover, Deb and I were cleaning and emptying out the room. We were getting the room drywalled and painted so it was as good a time as any to purge the place while we were at it. There were bookshelves and file folders and the usual accumulation of paperwork that we had to go through. We did our best to stick to task and not get carried away looking through all of the family history reminders but it wasn't hard for me to get distracted as I sifted through the family treasures. Some of it junk some of it priceless.
            One of the items I came across was an album that our youngest daughter Emily had given me a few Christmases ago. She had printed a bunch of my old Random Thoughts articles on some fancy printing paper using an old style writing font and placed them in the leather-bound book for me. Such a nice gift.
            Anyway, I flipped the album open and the first article I came across was Random Thoughts-8 from March of 2007. The subject matter of the column was about the 23 Enigma. The 23 Enigma refers to the belief that most incidents and events are directly connected to the number 23. Some examples of this include: there are 23 chromosomes in a child's DNA; blood takes 23 seconds to make a round trip through the human body; the Earth's axis is on a tilt of 23.5 degrees; Psalms, the longest book of the Bible, is the 23rd  book of the Old Testament and the famous Divine Shepherd psalm is the 23rd Psalm. The list goes on and on. Look it up. It is very interesting.
            Wikipedia says that ,"Numerology is any belief in divine, mystical or other special relationship between a number and some coinciding event. Today, numerology is often associated with the paranormal, alongside astrology and similar divinatory arts." Many people fully believe in numerology and the mysticism behind it while others are completely skeptical arguing that numbers have no occult significance and cannot by themselves influence a person's life.
            Now, I don't care whether you fully believe that the number 23 is indeed an enigma or you feel that it's all complete bunk but there were events that occurred at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on the night of Saturday November 30th that thoroughly defy the odds and should make a believer out of the biggest skeptic. And it does involve the number 23. Significantly.
            That evening's event was a National Hockey League game being played between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the visiting Washington Capitals. The game was an important early season tilt between the conference rivals who were a point apart in the standings and will most likely be battling for a playoff spot throughout the season.
            Besides the importance of the game in the standings the Maple Leafs were doing a pre-game tribute to former player and popular coach, Pat Quinn, who had recently passed away from pancreatic cancer. Quinn grew up a Leafs fan and entered the NHL in 1968 as a Maple Leaf and returned to coach them for seven seasons leading them to the playoffs in six of those seven years. Needless to say, it was a very emotional night for anyone attending or watching the game at home.
            Now, here comes the eerie part...John Brian Patrick Quinn passed away on November 23rd 2014, his jersey number as a Maple Leaf player was number 23, the Maple Leafs' current coach, Randy Carlyle, also wore jersey number 23 during his playing days with Toronto in the 70's, it was the Leafs' 23rd game of the season, they scored a goal with 23 seconds remaining in the first period, 23 seconds into the second period and they also scored exactly 23 seconds after Washington scored their first goal and they finished the game with 23 shots on goal in their 6-2 win. Hmmmm...believe it or not!

"Some things are too strange and strong to be coincidences"-Emery Allen.

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