Saturday, December 22, 2007

The first blossoms on this year's Paper Whites, which just two weeks ago were little brown bulbs living in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator, almost forgotten. Every year it is a gamble - will they be in bloom for Christmas. Have I planted them too early? Too late? They are one of our cherished Christmas traditions (along with my mother's recipe for shortbread and Oyster Stew on Christmas Eve) You will notice the cunning support that Husband devised for the Paper Whites from tomato cages, - as they mature and the blossoms grow heavy they are inclined to fall into one another, and spread themselves in disarray, This year they are neatly contained , growing straight and true, and filling the room with their beautiful scent.

After many years of trial and error I have a pretty good idea when I should go out and gather gravel, fill the bulb pots half way up, and then place the paper whites in the bowl. However, there is always the possibility they will be overlooked, and not planted on time, - but usually the little dinger goes off in my head and sings "paper whites, paper whites", so they are fragrant and pure at Christmas time. And available for gifts.

About the other traditions? Everybody loves the shortbread. My mother's recipe calls for rice flour and castor sugar, which makes a fine, rich biscuit, and they truly do melt in your mouth. I do remember the care she took in adding just two tablespoons of flour at a time, mixing it carefuly, then adding two more tablespoonsful, until it was a lovely golden mass, ready for kneading.

While Husband was overseas she sent him these delectable shortbreads in Care packages, so he was well initiated into their delights.

As for Oyster Stew, - I brought this custom to our marriage from my own childhood home. Our children grew up with the tradition, and love the Christmas Eve oysters. The in-laws? Well, it is a touch and go situation with some of them. A few will have a little broth, and some will revel in the richness of the oysters, - we always have an alternative for those who would go home hungry, or overstuff themselves with shortbread and other goodies.
It is a magic time, - each year as the grandchildren grow older and their worlds' expand, I think that perhaps it is time to stop having Christmas Eve and Oyster Stew at Grandpa and Grandma's, but each year brings the same old holy sorcery..... The alternatives to the main dish may grow smaller, - the goodies may not be as varied, but the love and the warmth and the traditions remain the same.

And all who are absent from the party are here in our hearts......loved and cherished wherever they are.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

More and more these days as I pass the piano I slip sideways on to the bench, consult the sticky notes containing the hymns for Christmas services, and lose myself in the lovely music of Christmas.

Some of my new favourites are not the ones that are old and precious to the congregation, and so it is not easy to introduce them into the Christmas services. I love the old familiar carols too, but I find much beauty in some of the new tunes.

"Silent Night" invariably brings unshed tears as I remember Christmases past, but "Still, Still, Still" arouses feelings of tenderness right down to my fingertips as I play the music.

We sing the John Rutter translation of this old Austrian carol, and I find the words more appropriate and stirring for Christmas Eve than some of the other lullaby oriented versions.

There are other carols in our hymn book that I find particularly beautiful, but which are, alas, not familiar to the congregation. As we don't have a choir to introduce them the organist must bear the brunt of winges from parishioners who "don't know that tune, - can't sing it, - why can't we have Jesus loves Me - everyone knows that!!!"

"In the Bleak Midwinter",
and the Divinum Mysterium setting of "Of the Father's Love Begotten" would be wonderful interspersed with "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "O Come all ye Faithful". On the other hand, I am thankful that previous organists and popular renditions have introduced our lovers of Christmas music to "The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy" and "Twas in the Moon of Wintertime" - I love the suggestion of drums in the bass in the Moon of Wintertime.

I look forward to these Christmas Services but am bemused by the small attendance at the beautiful Christmas Eve Communion (which has always been the essence of Christmas to me). I guess it is a sign of the times that the Service of Lessons and Carols draws triple the number of participants.......both pathways to the holiness of Christmas.

And how about Boney M"s "Daughters of Zion", and "A Child is Born".....

Ah bliss, pure bliss....

Sunday, December 16, 2007

As we celebrate the Third Sunday in Advent, the tone of the season turns from one of waiting, to one of approach; and the closer we get to Bethlehem the sweeter the preparation for Christmas.

Today the Handbell Ringers with whom I associate every Monday evening, played in both churches that make up the Charge of our Parish. Last Sunday we played in the Roman Catholic Church. We plan our offering so that it is part of the Service, rather than a performance, and today I thought our offering was quite acceptable.

At one time our group consisted of twelve or thirteen experienced ringers, and we tackled fairly sophisticated music, but over the years we have lost ringers and then gained more wannabees (whom we welcome with open arms) Our present membership includes four new ringers, and as they learn so we simplify our repertoire to accommodate them. Nevertheless, bell music can be delicate and simple and still be pleasant and heart warming.

We are NOT the Raleigh Ringers. whose music and athletic dexterity we greatly admire. The music they are playing in the YouTube video below is Wizards of Winter, which seems to be very popular with Handbell Choirs of extreme musical virtuosity and also Christmas Light Shows - (some amazing visuals if you go googling). I hear the sleigh bells ringing and the sound of the horses hooves as they canter down a snowy lane.....

We are just a small group of ringers of all denominations who start to practice in the fall for Christmas performances in Churches and Care Facilities - good friends and lovers of music. And Christmas isn't Christmas until we've spread a little joy around and done our thing.....