Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve 2015


The National Weather Service predicted light snow for this morning, with less than an inch of accumulation. What we call a "dusting" in these parts. Turns out they were just
a little bit off...

View from my patio, 8:10 AM

It is now an hour since I took that picture, and the snow is still falling. There is virtually no wind, which suggests that the clouds dropping this on us may stick around for awhile. The flakes are those big, fluffy kind that everyone likes to see.

I don't know how much accumulation we'll get, or whether it will still be around come Friday morning, but for the romantics who long for a "White Christmas" this is as good as it gets...

"Does this mean the Christmas Eve snowball fight is back on?"

If there is still any snow left when I get home from Mass tonight, we'll see...

Last-Minute Hall Decking

Just the right size.
The last items I wanted to add to my all-traditional Christmas decorations this year were a live poinsettia plant (my mom's favorite), a sprig of real holly, and some real mistletoe. As things worked out during my shopping yesterday, I was able to find two of those three items.

I looked at poinsettia plants at several stores, but it wasn't until I stopped at my local No Frills grocery store that I found the perfect choice, a relatively small plant with no fancy ribbons or other ornamentation sitting off by himself on the display cart.

He fits perfectly on the opposite side of my TV set from my Christmas tree.

Not pictured: Angie Harmon

While the floral department at my local Hy-Vee didn't have any poinsettia plants that weren't too big for the space I had available, I was able to find some actual mistletoe, which I have hung above my bedroom door.

Now the waiting game begins...

"If I had fingers, I'd have them crossed for you."

I appreciate that, old friend...

Christmas Movies & TV Shows

Original 1968 "one sheet" poster

Of the relatively small number of movies that I never tire of watching, only one qualifies as a Christmas movie, and that only by virtue of its taking place on Christmas Eve, 1183.

1968's The Lion in Winter, with a screenplay by James Goldman based on his stage play, and directed by Anthony Harvey, is an acting tour de force for Peter O'Toole (Henry II) and Katherine Hepburn (Eleanor of Aquitaine). Their scenes together bristle with the sort of acerbic dialogue which I absolutely love.

The film tells the story of a Christmas court held at Chinon, France for the purpose of determining the heir to Henry's throne and avoiding a war with France. To say that the political maneuverings are complex would be a gross understatement. Of course, everything is made more complicated by the fact that it involves family. In that sense the goings on have much in common with most family Christmas gatherings.

O'Toole was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance (becoming the first actor nominated for playing the same character in two different films; he had also played Henry II in 1964's Becket), and Hepburn won the Best Actress Oscar. The movie also received a Best Picture nomination, and was the film debut of Anthony Hopkins (Richard the Lionhearted).

Dear Santa

Seeing my beloved Kansas City Royals win the 2015 World Series was an awesome Christmas present, Santa, but if you think I've been good enough this year to deserve a little stocking-stuffer as well...

All-Star and Gold Glove LF Alex Gordon still hasn't signed with anyone for 2016.

How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth

From the classic Jeff MacNelly-created comic strip Shoe, now being produced by Gary Brookins and Jeff's widow Suzie.

Until Next Time...

All of my favorite Christmas hymns and carols evoke an emotional response in me,
and several of them consistently move me to tears, but easily the most powerful of them all is "Silent Night," which is approaching its 200th anniversary.

The original German lyrics were a poem ("Stille Nacht") written in 1816 by Joseph Mohr, a Catholic priest in a small town in Austria. In 1818, he asked organist Franz Xaver Gruber to compose a melody to pair with his poem. The glorious result of their collaboration was first performed at Mass on Christmas Eve that year.

John Freeman Young translated the carol into English in 1859, and his translation is considered the standard version in English.

In those annual Catholic school Christmas choir concerts I took part in growing up,
"Silent Night" always closed the show. And I invariably got so overcome with emotion that I could only mouth the words instead of singing, and hope that no one noticed
my tears...

I have an iTunes playlist that consists of nothing but renditions of "Silent Night." As of now it takes more than two hours to listen to them all, and part of the fun I have each Christmas season is finding new versions to add to the collection. Not just any recordings will do, of course. To make it into my playlist, there needs to be Something Special. Unlike most of my other favorite Christmas hymns and carols, I tend to prefer individual vocalists rather than choirs for this song. This year I happened across a particularly moving version I hadn't heard before (and in a nice bit of Christmas serendipity, I was looking for something else altogether when I found it).

Kelly Clarkson's Cautionary Christmas Music Tale was a musical comedy TV special based very loosely on Dickens's A Christmas Carol which featured the original American Idol winner performing songs from her Christmas album Wrapped in Red with a variety of guest stars. Originally broadcast on December 11, 2013, it was re-broadcast on December 23 last year and on December 17 this year.

Part One of today's send-off double-header is the official video of Clarkson's performance of "Silent Night" from the special. Kelly's beautiful voice is deeply affecting, but when she is joined first by Trisha Yearwood and then Reba McEntire, you've got something uniquely wonderful. I start tearing up early on, but when the trio goes a capella to conclude the song...

Because it was originally included as part of the Matins of the Christmas Eve vigil, modern adaptations of the Gregorian chant "O Magnum Mysterium" are frequently included in Christmas performances by choral groups. My favorite of the many adaptations I have heard was the setting composed by Tomás Luis de Victoria in the late 16th century.

The sublime choral ensemble Chanticleer included a pristine yet soulful rendition of the Victoria setting on their 1995 album Sing We Christmas.

That performance is Part Two of today's send-off doubleheader. It isn't quite the same as attending a Christmas Eve Midnight Mass in Latin, of course, but it evokes those memories, and that is enough. Enjoy...

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