Christmas Traditions, Part 7

I was pondering writing about Christmas music, some of which we’ve been listening to over the last week. But today, as expected, has been somewhat busy.

So, instead of writing about Christmas music, I’m going to write about Christmas music.

The Troparion for the Nativity:
Your Nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom!
For by it, those who worshipped the stars,
Were taught by a Star to adore You,
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know You, the Orient from on High.
O Lord, glory to You!

And the Kontakion:
Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels with shepherds glorify Him!
The wise men journey with a star!
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!

Have a great Christmas, everybody!

Christmas Traditions, Part 6

I had a busy day today, sweeping and mopping upstairs, and tidying and sweeping in the basement. Youngest tried helping with the mopping, wiping a soaking mop around the floor, creating a sizable puddle, then later dumping the mop bucket on the floor, creating a giant mess. Thankfully we managed to contain the spill enough to keep it from getting anywhere important (like the nearby stack of presents, the one stack that is actually on the floor).

I write these at the end of the day, so talking about “tomorrow”, I mean Thursday, but in local time it has already turned into Thursday. So tomorrow, then, in the last full day of getting ready for the Brunch, we take a pause and go out for lunch. This lunch, pizza, is also a celebration of the birthday of a member of the household, one whom I am particularly fond of. I think we’ve done this every Christmas Eve since we moved back here.

So there you go, that’s a pretty cool Christmas tradition :)

Christmas Traditions, Part 5

A big part of Christmas, and certainly the most exciting part for the children, is presents. Middlest has been attempting to wrap mundane objects into any papery material she can find, because she wants to give presents to people. Youngest understands that some of the presents, that are currently decorating the living room, are for him, but so far neither he, nor his siblings, have tried prematurely opening anything.

Which leads me to talking about rituals for opening presents. In Part 1 of this series, I mentioned that when I was a child, my family opened their stockings in my parents’ bed. Now, stockings are available for opening in a less organised manner, which we tend to do before the final final Brunch preparations.

The main presents have always been saved til later. These days, after some initial Brunch cleanup. In times past, a church service would take a chunk of the morning, then presents would probably be after lunch. I’ve got a feeling that sometimes even after it got dark. For many years, we lived close to at least one set of grandparents, so I remember gift-giving times at their houses.

So there has always been an aspect of waiting for presents. I’m sure there are a variety of inspirational messages that can be drawn out: “good things come to those who wait”, “save the best til last” or some such. As a kid, I didn’t like the waiting. Now, I do better. I think my kids do better than I did.

Getting to church on Christmas morning, other kids asking “what did you get for Christmas?” Well, I don’t know yet. Wonder how many of those also had to wait. I heard of the “one main present before church” thing, but I don’t remember if we ever tried it.

I’m not sure when it started, but I have come to really enjoy choosing and buying presents for people. Making people happy is fun. Hope I managed to, this year. Guess I’ll find out soon.

Christmas Traditions, Part 4

In the old/new pattern that has sufficed so far in this series (and which may fall apart tomorrow), today is a New day. Today’s tradition is still relatively new to me, but my family-in-law have been doing this for rather a lot of years.

Today I write about the Christmas Brunch.

A whole load of food is made, by my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Biscuits and gravy (a dish which sounds really weird to a Brit, because it’s not how it sounds to us), quiche, cinnamon rolls, cracker toffee, and more.

I’m hungry already.

We invite a bunch of people to come over on Christmas Day, to help eat it (and hang out with us, of course). And come they do.

Being more used to getting together with close family for Christmas festivities, it seems like this ought not to work. The roads aren’t always nice, and it seems like people might just want to congregate with their families. But that assumption does not seem to be borne out by the facts: people come, they even sometimes bring their families and out-of-town guests. And perhaps it ought not to work on our part: it’s already a fairly substantial day, and adding a lot more people to that adds a lot of work, social interaction and so on. But the people who come over are people we like, so we have fun hanging out, and hosting. The kids enjoy hosting, too (even when they wish they could get into their presents).

So preparations have been slowly building, but this week it really kicks in. Cleaning, tidying, rearranging, temporarily removing things from the living area. Temporarily adding more tables and seating. Already the construction of chocolate-related treats.

So, if you happen to know us in real life, and happen to be in the area, you’re invited (but you probably already knew that). And if you just happened to stumble onto this blog, it sounds crazy, but if you like cooking for that many people, give it a try!

Christmas Traditions, Part 3

It’s funny how certain things just become associated with Christmas. Some perhaps more intentionally than others. Today I delve into some movies and TV shows that have been a part of Christmas for me and my families, and perhaps some things might be surprising.

For example, every Star Wars movie except The Force Awakens has been released in May. But Return Of The Jedi was shown on TV around Christmas for several years in a row when I was a child, so that was the one I saw most, and I still kind of associate with Christmas. The Force Awakens was released just a few days ago, around a week before Christmas, is that a movie that will keep a Christmas association for people?

Contrast that with Star Trek movies. I only saw the Next Generation and reboot movies in the cinema. First Contact and Insurrection were released in December in the UK, Generations in February (3 months after the USA, and the one with Trek’s only mention of Christmas), and Nemesis was Mid-December in the US, and really early January in the UK. I don’t think any of these are widely thought of as Christmas movies.

In addition to Return Of The Jedi, the 1982 animated short film The Snowman was another thing that seemed to be on every year. Not that we minded…

A few years later, and other things became Christmas staples on TV. The first three Wallace And Gromit movies.

And repeats were the order of the day, for a while: Morcambe and Wise. Then all manner of shows started doing Christmas specials. Watched Only Fools And Horses, of course. More recently, the Doctor Who specials, though nowadays we get those a bit later.

Here, we don’t have TV in the traditional way, it’s all streaming or discs these days. So we don’t have the same sort of habits of TV watching anyway, let alone similar traditions. Watching Love Actually has been a Christmastime tradition here (not necessarily on the Big Day). I think that’s been less of a thing the last couple of years because of the kids (though possibly general busyness contributes, too).

As I continue this series, casual reader, I ask you to contribute: what Christmas-related household traditions do you have/have you had? Please comment below.

Christmas Traditions, Part 2

After kicking off the series yesterday with a long-ago tradition, how about today I write about a more recent one.

My sister-in-law has, for the past few years, organised a gift-wrapping party. The one for this year just happened to be today, other years has been a bit earlier in the month.

I think I usually have most of my presents wrapped before the party, this time I had some from my sister, for people-not-me, that I needed to wrap. I also had one for my wife, which I need to say not-too-much about at this stage, in order to preserve a surprise.

I know of one more thing that’s still-to-come which I’ll need to do, and another thing I’ve been working on which needs finished up.

Timing the wrapping party can be tricky: too early, and people won’t have got the presents yet; too late, and they’ll already have wrapped them. Notification time could also affect turnout. We had some friends come round to join in the wrapping today, so we could officially call it a party :)

So I wrapped the things, and also took kids for a show downstairs so other things could be wrapped (I think mostly for me: the kids had watched Elf with their Grampa for the beginning of the party, so their stuff was mostly done). We watched “The Snowman” – I was surprised that Youngest, at no point during the show, said “Summer”. Most times, when he sees a snowman, he says “it’s Summer!”, because of Olaf the snowman in Frozen, singing “In Summer”.

Now our living room is really decorated with presents. It’s getting close…

Christmas Traditions, Part 1

As a particular annual holiday approaches, I thought I’d write a little series on Christmas traditions from my past and my present.

I say “I thought I’d write”, it was actually a suggestion from my wife, as I was not having any ideas congeal into a suitable post topic this evening. So, many thanks to my wonderful wife.

When we were kids, my sister and I would get up early on Christmas Day, and on birthdays, and climb into my parents’ bed. I’ve got a feeling that sometimes we opened our stockings there, but my memory is vaguer on that point. I also think that sometimes the radio would be on, I seem to recall listening to the 25th Anniversary episode of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again (which was broadcast on Christmas Day).

I think that this may be why I tolerate the older kids in bed better than my wife does. They don’t join us often, and it can be tricky to keep them quiet enough and not-wriggly enough to not disturb everyone.

The Force Awakens (Spoiler Free)

The newest Star Wars movie allegedly comes out tomorrow, but my local cinema had both screens open this evening for a 7pm and a 9-something showing. Oldest and I got our tickets for the 7pm earlier in the week. Oldest rocked a fancy Luke Skywalker costume, copied from what Mr Skywalker was wearing at the beginning of Return Of The Jedi. I had my “Hello Jawa” t-shirt, and had a red lightsaber, just in case.

The screen we were in was pretty full. Not every seat was taken, but most were.

Seemed there were more trailers than usual: Now You See me 2, Allegiant, Batman vs Superman, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, and Captain America: Civil War. A friend predicted Finding Nemo 2, and I predicted Independence Day: Resurgence and Star Trek: Beyond. We were both wrong. In hindsight, Captain America should have been obvious for the same reasons as the ones we predicted: Nemo because of the Disney connection, Independence Day and Trek for the sci-fi action.

This review of the movie will be spoiler-free, though I suspect the best way of not being spoiled will be to see the movie soon.

Overall impression was that The Force Awakens was a good, enjoyable movie. Not blown-out-of-the-water fantastic you-must-see-it-now super-wonderful, but still good, and I’m glad I saw it.

It opened with the Lucasfilm logo, then the traditional “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”. It was weird for the main Star Wars theme to be without the Fox fanfare.

It seemed that most of the trailer footage, promotional stills, and so on, were taken from the very beginning of the movie. Not all, but rather a lot.

I didn’t go out of my way looking for speculation about the movie, based on those trailers and images, but I did see some. And it was interesting how not-right it all turned out to be.

There were a bunch of impressive visuals. I mean, it would be pretty bad if there weren’t, but I can picture getting screen grabs of several things, for the screensaver.

Characters: I liked Maz. I wanted to know more about Snoke. It seemed they were setting up for us to learn more about Rey, in further installments of the series.

Some returning characters were used surprisingly sparingly. Even some new characters seemed less significant than some promotional material seemed to suggest.

There were some nice continuity nods to earlier films. Including a throwaway line explaining why Finn isn’t Temuera Morrison.

The Force Awakens seemed a solid Part 1. A New Hope seemed more standalone than this one, though this contained its story pretty well. It does leave you wanting to know What Happens Next.

I’m looking forward to seeing it again on DVD.

After Mockingjay Part 2’s MPAA number came tantalisingly close to 50000, I was waiting to see if The Force Awakens’s would beat it. It seems that though the number generally corresponds with release date, that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Well, it turned out to be 50155. Wow, where did those 159 other movies go?

Anyway, those are my first-viewing spoiler-free impressions of Episode VII. Might so a more spoilery one after the DVD comes out.

Spoiler: Wash dies.

Waltz For The Moon

Yesterday’s post was intended to be a quick one, but fact-checking led me to a far more detailed analysis, which took far longer. After finishing the half-season of Agents Of Shield this evening, I was getting very close to falling asleep during Deep Space Nine.

The Alternate, the episode wasn’t bad, I was just exhausted. The effects were, erm, primitive.

So now I think about something quick to write about this evening (as the internet goes down, hopefully temporarily for maintenance).

One of the things I talk about on here fairly regularly, is Final Fantasy. Most games in the series are self-contained, but it can get confusing to a casual observer when there are direct sequels. For example, Final Fantasy XI is not a sequel to Final Fantasy X, but Final Fantasy X-2 is.

Final Fantasy VIII is one of those games that attracts mixed reviews. The lead character, Squall, is a bit of a self-imposed social exile, so his unwillingness to engage other characters more than he has to, makes it difficult for some to connect with him. And some people didn’t like the timey-wimey ending.

There’s a video from the game, which I think is pretty popular. Squall’s at his graduation, there’s a dance going on, and he’s standing off to the side. A girl, Rinoa, who soon afterwards becomes a main character, convinces him to dance.

It’s interesting to watch the progression from completely inept, through moderately incompetent, to actually pretty good. Our Squall’s a quick learner. And how he tries to give up a couple of times.

I like the music. The track is called “Waltz For The Moon”. This uses the same basic tune as the main song of the game, “Eyes On Me”, but with a completely different flow.

If you watch this, you’ll notice that the song isn’t completely grammatically correct English. It was written by a Japanese guy, for a Japanese-originated game, so I don’t have a problem with giving some slack there. The song is actually about two other characters in the game: Laguna and Julia. Julia was a singer, who Laguna kept going to see, but kept failing to talk to. Then circumstances diverged their paths, and Julia had a hit with that song she wrote about them.

I love the line, “Did you ever know, that I had mine on you”. I also like “I’m more than the dress and the voice”. I almost wanted to hear that line on The Voice, back when I was watching it.

So there you go, two versions of a catchy little tune, connecting two stories in the game.

Controversy, Plague, And A Nursery Rhyme

Some things about England:

In England, Bob The Builder is called Robert The Construction Engineer.

In England, Spongebob Squarepants is translated into the local dialect as “Spongerobert Squaretrousers”.

These facts have two things in common: 1) that they are fun to say, and 2) they are completely untrue.

But there are occasionally cultural differences that I bump into.

Over here, there is this nursery rhyme:

Ring around the rosie,
A pocket full of posey,
Ashes, ashes,
We all fall down.

To someone used to a different version, it doesn’t seem to make much sense, like it came to American English from British English through a third-party language.

Of course, the version I grew up with doesn’t make much sense without the commonly-held explanation (which I also grew up with).

(A) Ring, a ring of roses
A pocket full of posies
Atishoo, atishoo,
We all fall down.

The commonly-held explanation is that it refers to The Black Death, Bubonic Plague, or the Great Plague Of London.
The theory goes that a red circular rash (the “ring of roses”) was a symptom of the disease, as was sneezing. The bunch of flowers was some uneducated attempt to keep the disease away, and the falling down was the afflicted patient falling off the mortal coil. So to speak. The “ashes” from the American version may be associated with cremation, according to Wikipedia, and the “posey” is written as “posies” in the American version, too, so it could just be that the kids are singing it slightly wrong. Though “posie” in the singular is found on Snopes.

Wikipedia says that folklorists now dispute this association, but the short version of the explanation that appears there, isn’t entirely convincing. Not that it’s necessarily wrong, but doesn’t necessarily take everything into account, either.

1. The plague explanation didn’t appear until the mid-20th Century.
Seems to be the best point they make. No mention is made of where the Opies got that association: whether it was received, or whether they connected some dots and reached that conclusion.

2. The symptoms don’t correspond very well to the disease in question.
The footnote says the Opies (the ones who first published the connection between rhyme and disease) “note that neither cure nor symptoms (except for death) feature prominently in contemporary or near contemporary accounts of the plague.”
I find this to be interesting, because if the Opies were coming to this conclusion by dots-joining, wouldn’t this discrepancy lead them to some other conclusion instead?
There are some interesting things to note with this, too:
Another commonly-held belief about the spread of the plague, is that it was spread by rats and their fleas. You’d think that flea bites, while technically not a symptom of the plague itself, might leave itchy red spots.
And while the flowers may not have been an effective cure, or talismanic barrier, the Wikipedia page on the Bubonic plague mentions “There were many ethno-medical beliefs for avoiding the Black Death. One of the most famous was that by walking around with flowers in or around their nose people would be able to “ward off the stench and perhaps the evil that afflicted them”.”
So, that would be the pocket full of posies accounted for in the explanation, and not the detraction.
I didn’t spot sneezing per se as a symptom, but coughing is mentioned (which would also require use of a handkerchief). Also, “The plague is also known to spread to the lungs and become the disease known as the pneumonic plague.” Pneumonic also lists coughing but not sneezing. One could imagine a conflation…

3. There are rather a lot of forms of the song, and only a few could have this meaning applied to them.
How often is there a song, and someone modifies the lyrics to it? There are plenty of examples of popular songs being reworded for advertising purposes. To claim (as both Wikipedia and Snopes do) that for this version of the song to have this meaning, it must be the original version, and other versions must be divergences from it, doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Other printed variants may not see much use today as culture homogenises, but before such things as mass media and standardised education, local variants of things could hold on quite tenaciously. The number of versions of this song that are mentioned rather attest to this.
So I wouldn’t say the articles are necessarily wrong that this version of the song is unlikely to be the original, the trunk from which the others split. That does not necessarily preclude the possibility that it’s a local branch that gained more widespread popularity in later years. And if the interpretation was a received one, rather than formulated, then it’s pretty likely to have come through the same locality.

4. Talks about European variants, and other English 19th Century variants, which end up mattering not a bit if this version and its explanation are a localised branch variant.

Snopes on the subject goes on about mostly about trying to tie the American variant with the plague, which is trickier. “Ashes”, it notes, could either be a corruption of the sound in other variants (atishoo, hush, and several others), or it can mean “ashes” and have an explanation for that. which is a fair point if you’re talking about “Ring Around The Rosie”, and not a version that actually has “atishoo” in it.

Snopes also has a paragraph looking down its snooty nose about the late publication date of the rhyme in any form. I’m just going to copy the lengthy paragraph:

[“Ring Around the Rosie” is sometimes said to have originated with a later outbreak of the plague which occurred in London in 1665, to which all of the following reasoning applies as well.]

Although folklorists have been collecting and setting down in print bits of oral tradition such as nursery rhymes and fairy tales for hundreds of years, the earliest print appearance of “Ring Around the Rosie” did not occur until the publication of Kate Greenaway’s Mother Goose or The Old Nursery Rhymes in 1881. For the “plague” explanation of “Ring Around the Rosie” to be true, we have to believe that children were reciting this nursery rhyme continuously for over five centuries, yet not one person in that five hundred year span found it popular enough to merit writing it down. (How anyone could credibly assert that a rhyme which didn’t appear in print until 1881 actually “began about 1347″ is a mystery. If the rhyme were really this old, then “Ring Around the Rosie” antedates even Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and therefore we would have examples of this rhyme in Middle English as well as Modern English forms.)

With a few earlier exceptions, nursery rhymes weren’t really documented on any scale until the end of the 18th Century, with most of the work done in the 19th. And the geography factor would be an issue. A different version with the same tune is mentioned at the beginning of this period, according to Wikipedia. So while some 17th century plays started noting down nursery rhymes, it wouldn’t be surprising that a large proportion of popular rhymes weren’t recorded there, and were only documented later.

Also, there’s the literacy factor (writing rhymes for the wider population when a lot of them can’t read), the preservation factor (exactly what percentage of writings from 350-ish years ago do you think actually survive, that you can make such a blanket statement about all of them). Could there be a class factor? If the locality of this version of the rhyme being popular, was at the low end of the social scale (anyone doubt there were areas like that in London?) how long would it take, after publishing nursery rhymes became a thing, for such a rhyme (or version of one) to appear on the radar?

That’s the thing about history. It’s messy, and most of it’s missing. I don’t spend a lot of time on Snopes, I don’t like its tone. The heavy-handed “you’d have to be stupid to believe this” tone evidenced above, is far too common. And it didn’t take a lot of research, and wasn’t exactly hard, to find any number of possible reasons for the shortage of documentary evidence. We Westerners love stuff in print, but it’s historically ignorant to expect to see absolutely everything documented down to the smallest degree.

Is there any truth to the association between one particular version of this rhyme, to its commonly-held meaning? Much as some would like to, I don’t think that it can be dismissed out of hand. One way or the other, there’s some extant pieces of the puzzle, but I think we can only speculate about the final picture.