Tag Archives: Christmas

Following Egeria

A few days ago, I finished a book that I got for Christmas but had only recently gotten around to reading, “Following Egeria” by Lawrence Farley.

The gist is, there was a 4th-century nun who went and visited the Holy Land, and she wrote to the folks back home the things she saw and experienced.

Her writings were known about, then lost for a time, then reappeared in the 18th Century… but missing the beginning and the end. Still, the extant part is quite informative, about Christianity that had recently emerged from the shadows of persecution, of an Israel that has been somewhat buried over the centuries.

Father Lawrence (Orthodox priest) is treated to a trip to Israel by his deacon, and is familiar with Egeria’s writings, and also familiar with the scholarly research as to the authenticity of sites.

Fr Lawrence quotes Egeria where their travels overlap, and comments on which sites have the better claim as to Where Something Actually Happened, and why, and also expresses how he was impacted by each site.

This book made my wish list about as soon as I heard about it, so it was obviously a book I was expecting to enjoy, and enjoy it I did.

Egeria herself isn’t really quoted at length, so I was definitely left wanting to hear more from her.

Also, the scholarly research into the sites, mentioned fairly frequently, is only lightly touched upon, and I was left wanting more of that, too.

Also, after reading the book, I really wanted to go back and visit the places again (there were quite a few “been there!” moments). The thing is, I knew rather a lot less then than I do now. Was completely ignorant about Orthodoxy, and nearly-completely ignorant about Catholicism (as a Protestant, oftentimes one just has an unsympathetic view that Catholics Are Wrong, with perhaps a few specifics). Unfortunately, this ignorance doesn’t really help when the majority of sites are Roman Catholic or Orthodox. And then, one of the places I’d been to, that Fr Lawrence talks about, he’s not interested in what’s obviously there, he’s interested in looking at the remains of something that was there before. And for some reason I can’t jump back into myself-of-10-ish-years-ago.

That said, the book is partly aimed at people who haven’t been over there, so they might perhaps experience it second-hand, so I won’t moan too much (or dwell on being jealous of myself-from-around-a-decade-ago).

So, thumbs up, but definitely wanting more (not that that’s a bad thing).

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.

Start Of Christmas Decorating

We started Christmas decorating this evening. I think it’s later than we have done it in the past, but a bunch of things needed worked out, some hardware for the room needed to arrive and be put up, and everybody’s had plenty on their plates.

The sideboard we had the tree and presents on last year, this year has the CD players and record player sprawled out over it. This got a little reorganised and condensed a few days ago, then Oldest did dusting round there. Today I brought the tree and decorations up, and we managed to put it in the space it occupied last year. My wife put the lights on it, and helped the kids pick out decorations that wouldn’t smash if they fell off.

For some reason, the tree that was, for the most part, decorated by an 8-year old, a 6-year-old and a 2-year old, looks like it was decorated by an 8-year old, a 6-year-old and a 2-year old. Hopefully, Youngest can be convinced to not keep playing with the decorations, or to try and redecorate the tree.

Need to find some creative new space for presents. Big family, and the sideboard was full of them last year. Think they’ll be all over a bunch of surfaces this year. Which will have the benefit of not leaving space for all the clutter that tends to find its way onto those surfaces.

We recently got some curtain rods for the living room, with the aim of replacing the blinds. The blinds don’t seem to clean very well, and Youngest destroyed a small section of one set, a few months ago. We put the rods up a night or two ago, and while I’m not sure any final decision has been made, I hear that curtains could be arriving this week. Anyway, I heard that decoration could happen once the curtain rods were up, and they are, and one window now has lights in. And we should be able to get the curtains on, the lights being tucked behind.

The piano and the mantelpiece usually get decorated, and probably still will, more of a gradual cleaning-and-decorating process this year.

Now I have more of an urge to get the presents wrapped.

Thoughts On British Candy #1: Some Favourites

Sometimes the differences between similar cultures, can be observed in the different foodstuffs that one country has, that the other doesn’t. I thought I’d write a little about that in this entry, and my mind turned, as it is rather fond of doing, to chocolate. And then on to other sweets/candy. I haven’t bought a lot since I moved to America, but I have observed some that have bridged the gap. Milky Way, Snickers.

Some have similar equivalents: Almond Joy is suspiciously like Bounty, but with an almond stuck to the top. Whoppers are similar to Maltesers, but Maltesers are obviously far superior.

Here are some sweets/candy I like, that are less accessible in the USA.

I don’t recall seeing any tins of Roses or Quality Street around here. Around Christmas time, if you see a big tin wrapped, or a smaller box of a certain shape, you knew it would be one or the other. I think that Quality Street had the edge, because they had the toffees, and Roses had Strawberry Cremes and Orange Cremes, that tended to be a lot less popular than other varieties in the pack.

Smarties. Something similar to Refreshers has the name Smarties in the US. Smarties are like M&Ms, only bigger. Often come in a cardboard tube, the lid of which is plastic, and has a molded letter on it. Collect enough, and you can spell out words. I’m not sure anyone I know ever had enough collected at one time to spell much, but there you go.

After Eights. Dark chocolate flat squares, with soft mint in the middle. Each one comes in a kind of open envelope, and a box has a bunch of them in a line. Also yummy is the white chocolate version. I couldn’t quite eat a whole box in one go…

Wine Gums. No alcohol used in the making of them. Stick with Maynard’s variety (tried store-brand, didn’t like them so much), one of my favourites. Flavourful, and can last a long time and retain their flavour if you can manage not to chew them.

Jelly Babies. Not quite a gummy, these soft sweets have a nice gentle fruity flavour. Again, Bassett’s beats store brand. A favourite of the Fourth Doctor in Doctor Who.

Kilogram slabs of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. If they even do them anymore, in our diet-mad society.

Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. They’re not Terry’s, they’re mine. I tended to prefer the milk chocolate ones to the dark chocolate, though I am less fussy nowadays. And the Chocolate Mint variety they did (same shape, different flavour) was really good, too. I mention them even though we have found them over here (don’t think they’re widespread, but we have encountered them), because of something I noticed. When I first encountered them, they said “Tap and unwrap”, which was a traditional British understatement, meaning “hit it with a baseball bat, and the pieces might come apart”. Sport may not be my thing, and American sport even less so, but British schoolchildren are familiar with the concept of a baseball bat. Not necessarily in the context of the sport, but definitely in the context of hitting things. The chocolate orange I had from over here said “Whack and unwrap”.

fisherman’s Friends. Like mint, only so strong you can’t tell if it’s mint, or some other ingredient. Gives you a similar reaction to an extra-strong mint, if you try to drink a cold water afterwards. Serving suggestion: Fill a cup with ice cubes. Fill the rest with water. Have a Fisherman’s Friend or two (no chewing, that’s cheating). Drink some of the water.

Well, those are a few of my favourite things, and I’m sure I can revisit the topic in time. I can still think of some that were more staples than some that were on today’s list, and I can think of some that the recommendation would be to avoid, and some that just fall in the middle.

Let me know if there’s anything you want to hear about, any sweets/candies you think I missed here, that sort of thing. More fuel for future writings.

‘Tis The Season For Some Irreverence

Christmas songs. It’s that time of year, and yule hear them more and more as the rest of the month slips by. And, of course, the more one hears them, the more one starts playing with the lyrics. I think it’s called “coping strategy”. Even when you’re browsing in a store where the music is turned down low, you’re guaranteed to here FIVE GOLD RINGS a bunch of times if that song is on, even if you can’t really hear the rest of it.

My name being Mark (Shh! don’t tell anybody!), “Mark, The Herald-Angels Sing” (and why wouldn’t they? Don’t answer that) has long been a favourite.

Another one that kids often enjoy messing with, is:
“While shepherds washed their socks by night
all seated round the tub
The angel of the Lord came down,
And gave them all a scrub.”

Incidentally, I visited Israel a few years ago, and visited the site called The Shepherds’ Fields. There was kind of a dirty little pool in the ground, looked like it had drainage. I suggested that that was where the shepherds washed their socks.

There was a commercial on Sky one Christmas, for Wrestlemania. Back when it was WWF, not WWE. Had it on VHS when I taped off the TNG 2-parter The Best Of Both Worlds. The voice-over on the advert was singing to the tune of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”. I’m sure the anecdote would be more amusing if I could remember the whole thing, but the “For Jesus Christ our saviour was born upon this day” line was (something) “Wrestlemania, it’s live on Boxing Day”. And then the good tidings of comfort and joy turned into “With good hidings, discomfort and pain, plenty of pain”, with a very gloating tone of voice on the “plenty”.

Anyone else think that line in “Once In Royal David’s City”, where “Christian children all must be / Mild, obedient, good as He.” was a big guilt-trip?

Tomorrow, the last Christmas present I plan on ordering for over here, will arrive. When boxes and packages have arrived from Amazon containing presents, I’ve been singing “Christmastime is here”, from the Charlie Brown Christmas.

I remember Have I Got News For You mocking some politician wanting to rename Christmas as Winterval. Well, actually, I remember Winterval, the circumstances behind it are a lot more vague. But there are definitely songs where “Winterval” fits a lot better timing-wise, than “Christmas”.

“Winterval is here”
“Simply, having, a wonderful Winterval”.

In America, there is this cereal that I haven’t tried, called Grape Nuts. There was an amusing advertising campaign that I was exposed to, that I actually enjoyed (quite a feat given how much I’ve come to not-enjoy advertising). Goes on about how they’re not really grapes, and they’re not really nuts.

I mention them because it’s just fun to sing, “Grape-Nuts roasting on an open fire…”

“O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches”. A song we often mutilate, in so many ways. Singing to Youngest, “O youngest child, O youngest child, it’s time to change your nappy” (only with his name instead of “youngest child”). Sometimes I sing to a kid and change the “how lovely are your branches”, sometimes I retain it, depending on what seems funnier, or most expected, at the time.

So a few months ago, Middlest was shown a Christmas cactus at her great-grandma’s place. She spontaneously came out with,
“O Christmas cactus, o Christmas cactus,
How lovely are your prickles!”

Funny girl.

When I was a kid, I knew a bunch of other kids who had toys in the Manta Force range. There was a big space ship, which could carry rather a lot of other vehicles on the inside, I don’t think many people had many of the smaller pieces. Being rather more familiar with Father Christmas as a term for the popular notion of St Nicholas, a certain Christmas song became “Manta Force is coming to town”.

I like joking that “White Christmas” is racist. There’s nothing on Wikipedia to suggest that it really is.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” so very easily becomes “It’s the most wonderful time for a beer”. Which it is, go have one.

And once you’ve had more than your fair share of alcohol, try singing some of the old classics. Like “Good King what’s-his-face”.

Here, have one of those Christmas songs that I don’t think outstays its welcome on radio at this time of year:

And may all your Wintervals be white.