Make it about Family

Holy FamilyToday was the Feast of the Holy Family.  Well, if you are a regular mass-attending Roman Catholic this wasn’t news to you.  The Sunday between Christmas and Epiphany is designated as a celebration of the Holy Family and all families.  The readings and the lessons today at mass all focused on the family.  The role of father and mother and the relationship to children.  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were a special and different family for sure.  You might say the original blended family.  The gospel today was about when Mary and Joseph were unable to find the young boy Jesus, who went missing for three days.  They found him, of course, and he had been at his Father’s house.  In his homily Father Kevin talked a great deal about what it means to be a family.  There is no such thing as a perfect family.  Even the Holy Family wasn’t perfect (think about it- a child born out of the wedded relationship, a step-father, an independent child who listened to his own voice).  As families we disagree and argue, find fault with one another, and are most harsh with those we love.  Why?  Because we can be.  We know that family will always be there, they have to.  They are always there, and sometimes we need to take some time apart to be sure we can always love one another fully.

This idea of time apart might seem real appealing to many families right now.  Following the holiday season and a week likely full of meals, visits, and parties with close and extended family you might be thinking of a little solitude.  That’s fine.  Hopefully your holiday was enriched and made better by the time together.  But after a little solitude when will you see your family next?  Will it not be until the holidays in 2013.  Maybe there’s a special anniversary or wedding planned this year.  Perhaps there will be an unexpected illness or funeral to bring family together.  Beyond these types of instances will you be with family this year?  Do you have plans to share, gather, and enjoy one another’s company?  Over and over, the time spent with family and friends is named as the best part of the holiday season.  Why do we not have that same joy throughout the year?  As we wrap up 2012 and lay out our plans and goals for 2013 let’s all try to make family a greater part of what we do for the new year.  Challenge yourself and your family to find ways to connect more regularly.  Think of ways to bring people together, just to be together.  Reach out to family who may have grown distant in recent, or not so recent, years.  Share the stories, traditions, and history of the family with younger members.  Really try to be a holy family all your own!  J, M, J.

National Christmas Tree Railroad–Worth the visit

National Tree DaytimeThe weather outside was frightful, especially in Meyersdale, Pennsylvania where Roger and I had planned to spend our Christmas week.  Road trip postponed, Roger surprised me with a visit to Washington, D.C. to see the Birds of Paradise exhibit at the National Geographic Museum.  Knowing we would be just blocks from the White House, I orchestrated a quick side trip to see the National Christmas Tree.

Jeremy and I talked about the National Tree several times on The Yule Log last year, including this update about the replacement tree that Jeremy wrote last May. That tree did not survive, and another (the fifth in the National Tree history) was planted in late October. The last time I saw the tree was in the late 1960’s.

By day, the tree was underwhelming, but that didn’t stop crowds of visitors.  I was distracted by a study of the Christmas Pathway of Peace, where I examined, with my crafter’s eye, each of the state ornament offerings.  New York is hands-down my favorite, and I am including a link to all of the ornaments of the state trees so you can see them yourself.  On the website they’re much prettier.  In person, they were a little worse for wear from all the holiday wind, rain and snow. (The photos here are of New York’s tree and Maine’s tree–for our friend Denise in Maine.)New YorkMaine

Roger was attracted to the enormous train garden, which did not exist during my childhood visit.  This is the 19th anniversary of the Christmas Tree Railroad, lovingly created and maintained by a local group of train enthusiasts, has nine train loops, three trolleys, three villages, and over a thousand feet of track.  Children especially were glued to the railing, watching the trains, and we noticed that quite a few visitors had thrown change, mostly pennies, into the open cars of the train.  The brainchild of a local man, Bill Bucshmeier, the organization how has major sponsors and is now incorporated as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt corporation. The group works with the National Park Service,  coordinating the display each year. They also hold off-season meetings and work groups where new ideas are discussed and goals are established for the upcoming year.

If you would like to make a donation to the National Christmas Tree Railroad, LLC or would like to become a member, send an email to  The website has great photos and a detailed history of the train garden and the tree.

Meanwhile, I’m including another photo, also taken today, of Kaitlin Fleagle and Logan Pomeroy, two Linganore alums.  They were at the tree just a few hours after I was, and, clearly, the tree is meant to be seen at night (which you can do until January 1, 2013).  Thank you for the photo, Kaitlin!


Good King Wenceslas and the Feast of St. Stephen

Happy St. Stephen’s Day!  St. Stephen was one of the Catholic Church’s earliest martyrs, and his day is mentioned in one of my least favorite Christmas carols, “Good King Wenceslas.” ( Jeremy described one of the St. Stephen’s Day traditions, the hunting of the wren, in his March 13, 2012 post. Check it out here.)

weneslas1Last night, I listened to the Stuff You Missed in History Class episode that describes the historical figures of “Good” King Wenceslas and St. Stephen. After listening, I have renewed respect for the figure in the carol, and, after reading all of the lyrics (as opposed to the first verse that we all have memorized), it’s a lovely story of good deeds–whether true or not.   Seems that the pictures we see of King Wenceslas are more imagination than reality. (The illustration to the right is the typical depiction–more like St. Nick.) The 10th century Bohemian prince, who wasn’t a king at all, was a young man when he was murdered by his brother, Boleslav the Cruel.

I’m a big fan of the podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class.  In this podcast, co-hosts Deblina Chakraborty and Sarah Dowdey discuss both historical figures and give insight into their good deeds.    They reference of the stanzas of the carol,

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed

As Wenceslas and his page walk forth to take a meal and firewood to a peasant, the king’s very goodness melts the snow beneath his feet.

In the podcast, Chakraborty mentions that she edited another How Stuff Works blog post, “10 Myths About Christmas.”  It gave me the idea for a future blog post to research the history of the glass pickle.  Jeremy gave me one for Christmas, and now I want to know more!

Podcast #48- Only Hours to Go!

merrychristmasPodcast #48- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- It’s Here!

Today we wrap-up our countdown to Christmas 2012.  It has been 364 days since we set out on our journey to spend every day of the year sharing or learning something about Christmas.  What a great and wonderful journey it has been!  Listen this week as we reflect on our favorites and regrets; the things we still didn’t get to do, and the best parts of the whole experience.  You’ll need to listen carefully to the end to hear about our plans for Christmas 2013 and the Yule Log 365.  While we won’t be doing a full 365 days of posts we will still be bringing a year of Christmas to all our readers.  Thank you to all those who listened in or read a little and to our closest followers for all the support in 2012.  We will be giving it our all for 2013!  MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Just Believe!

Believe1Today was the fourth Sunday of Advent!  Christmas is imminent now.  It is time for the culmination of all that preparation, longing, anxiety, and hope.  Having spent the entire year counting down and preparing for Christmas, this final Sunday of advent found me still readying myself for the arrival of the blessed day.  The readings at mass this morning were full of promise and hope.  Promise of the arrival of the messiah and the hope that he would come.  From the earliest days much of the promise and reality of Christmas centered on the importance of believing.  For thousands of years the Israelites had to believe that God’s promise to send a messiah would be realized.  Believe.  For each of us to believe is such an important part of all that is Christmas, no matter your perspective on the big day.

Believe2The gospel reading today was from Luke and concluded with a quote from Elizabeth, Mary’s sister.  Elizabeth says to her sister that “blessed are you who believed”.  She is talking about the unborn child Mary was carrying and how the belief that he was the son of God was great!  To believe in the birth of Christ is THE reason for the holiday.  Faith in his arrival and how it changed the world are what we celebrate.  We must focus our faith and truly believe in all that the “greatest story ever told” teaches us about ourselves.  But the idea of believing at Christmas goes far beyond that spiritual belief to many other aspects of Christmas celebration.

believe3Many years ago a little girl named Virginia was reassured that “Yes, there is a Santa Claus”.  Virginia was directed that as long as there was belief in all that Santa represented then he would be there.  Santa is often the focus of believing at this time of year.  You can easily hear the phrase “Do you believe in Santa?” almost anywhere.  Children ask one another, their parents, and even the parents sometimes question their belief in St. Nick.  In 2004 the movie The Polar Express introduced the song Believe.  The song was written by Alan Silvestri and performed by Josh Groban.  The song received a Grammy Award, an Academy Award nomination, and Golden Globe nominations.  Listen carefully to the lyrics.  Two lines jump out:  “You have everything you need, if you just believe” and “We find ourselves again on Christmas Day”.  The song is uplifting and a great modern-day addition to the timeless classics.

BelieveBelieving is a center plot point of another great Christmas movie, Elf.  In the film, Santa needs more people to believe.  The greater the number of people truly believing the more power to the sleigh.  Times have become cynical and Santa needs some boost.  WIll Ferrell is just the one to encourage more believing.  Believe has even become a marketing campaign.  There are thousands of different craft, card, and other Christmas bauble that simply says “Believe”.  Beginning in 2008, Macy’s stores started their annual Believe campaign.  The campaign, inspired by the story of that young girl Virginia, places letter boxes in all Macy’s stores.  Children are encouraged to drop in their letters to mail to Santa.  The store donates $1 for every letter collected.  All that money is then donated to the Make-a-Wish foundation.  They have donated over $5 million since the start of the campaign.

believe4As we get down to the last 24 hours before the arrival of Santa and Christmas Day, take a few moments and ask yourself the question “Do I Believe?”.  Take time to think of all that the question means, and really take Christmas and all its meanings to heart.  I Believe, and hope you all do too!

Sometimes we all need a “Wonderful Life” reminder

Its-A-Wonderful-LifeI started the day in a “this is never going to come together” kind of way.  We hustled and bustled with the rest of the world,  hurrying and scurrying about for last-minute gifts and visits.  I can’t say that I was a model of Christmas joy.

Tonight, though, Roger  and I watched  It’s a Wonderful Life  while I wrapped presents. (Despite my advice to others, most of my squirreled away gifts remained unwrapped until tonight.)  I first posted about the movie on Valentine’s Day last year, and I still say it is a great love story because of the unwavering faith Mary has in George, especially in the face of  ruin.  It takes a miracle, orchestrated by his wife and executed by his friends, to bring him to the realization of how priceless his life is.  All of us are reminded that at the root of that gift is the command that we must strive to bring “Christmas” to others–Christmas in the form of the gift of ourselves.  Scrooge had to learn it.  George Bailey had to be reminded, too.

While this movie is wrapped in Christmas trees, snow, angels, evil Mr. Potter, and bells, plenty of movies convey the same message–one we never tire of hearing and one we need to hear often.

Jeremy has given us a challenge for our final podcast:  describe how The Yule Log will enter its second year.  What will stay the same?  How will we change?  What will be our new goals?

I consulted my mom on this subject, and she said something curious.  She said that The Yule Log for her, has often been a like a love letter, a tour of my life and the people who make it joyful.  As I looked back to my post on Valentine’s Day, I see that I’ve stayed “on message” all year. Then, I read Jeremy’s post from yesterday  and confirmed my mother’s wisdom–he, too, has been writing a year of  “love letters” about his experiences with friends and family.

Less than 48 hours away from the “big day,” I am reminded that The Yule Log is about  the joy of celebrating the miracle of each life through the celebration of birth of Jesus.  No wonder it hasn’t been difficult to write about Christmas  for 365 days!

Winter Solstice = Midwinter Celebration = Christmas!

SolsticeJust before dawn this morning winter officially began!  This happens on the winter solstice, where the sun is at its lowest point on the horizon.  It is also the shortest day in terms of daylight.  Here in Maryland we didn’t need to worry too much today about the daylight.  Winter arrived with gray skies, brisk temperatures, sweeping winds and snow!  Ok, it was just flurries but is was SNOW!!    It traditionally is a day full of festivals and celebrations.  One last hurrah before the long dark winter.  The mid-winter celebrations always included a feast.  In the Northern Hemisphere the midwinter feasts and festivals lined up with the celebration of the birth of Jesus, Christmas.  The Roman Winter Solstice was on December 25th using the new Julian calendar.  Feasts included night-time masses, large meals, public singing, and often lasted 12 days or more!  Sounds like Christmas today, right?  I decided to make today a celebration of my own.

Boehne CookiesNatalie and I have both been feeling a little Christmas funk as of late, and I made the decision that it ended today.  It was the last day of work before the holiday break.  It has been a crazy week, but today I decided to surprise many co-workers with little tins full of home-made candy.  What I love about giving out little surprise gifts today is that people can’t return the favor.  I like giving things without anything in return.  There was music at work today, snow in the wind, and a general glee among almost all who I spoke with today.  After work Natalie had a call from our friend Danielle at the Frederick News Post.  She was looking for some leads on local folks with great family CHristmas traditions.  Natalie immediately thought of our friend Kara and her parents.  Their family annually makes thousands of tiny, miniature Christmas cookies.  Each of these little pieces of artwork is meticulously crafted and decorated.  Everyone who has had the joy of receiving these treats anxiously awaits all year for them to come again.  Needless to say we set Danielle to the Boehne family straight away.  Kara reports that they were on the phone for 30 minutes and that her Dad talked the reporters ear off.  So look to the Frederick News Post soon for some coverage of these special little cookies.

my tree 2That wasn’t the end to my own personal mid-winter celebration.  When I got home today I decided it was time to re-decorate my Christmas tree.  That’s right, RE-decorate.  You see, the tree fell over last Friday night during a holiday gathering.  Not once, but twice it toppled to the ground.  The tree was rest, but gravity won the battle again on Monday night.  (there are many theories as to the reasons for this trees perils- all very clever, including a curse!)  It is securely up-right now and fully decorated.  This increased my Christmas mood about 200%.  Next I checked in on Facebook and was happy to see a post from a favorite former student I keep in touch with from time to time.  His band , Twin Radio, has a new holiday recording and he sent me the link- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.  Give a listen and I think you’ll agree, they’re pretty good! I’m going to wrap-up my midwinter feast with some Christmas cookies, hot cocoa, and A Charlie Brown Christmas before bed.  Happy Winter Solstice to All and to All a Good Night!


Rockettes Christmas Spectacular – There’s a hole in my bucket

RockettesBack in July, when Christmas was but a dream, Jeremy and I spelled out our bucket lists.  Curiously, both of us wanted to go to Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes. I have always loved the larger-than-life dancing choruses that were first made popular by the Ziegfeld Follies in the early 1900’s.  The first Rockettes show was in 1933, and it continues to sell out the eight week run.  According to the website, the dancers train six hours a day, six days a week to prepare for 210 Christmas performances. There’s also a national touring show that appears in four major cities, including Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago and Dallas.  I’m missing those, too.

In addition to Radio City’s website, the Rockettes have their own site that gives a lot of detail and history about the lives of the dancers, how to become a Rockette, fashion, and more.  There is a series of videos demonstrating the Rockettes’ timeline from the 1920’s to now, including a video about opening night 2012.

Tradition dictates a toy soldier routine, 12 days of Rockettes Christmas, dancing Santas, and a live nativity. Here’s a video of this year’s “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

This year is their 85th season, and although I won’t be going to see them, there’s no reason why someone can’t purchase the 75th anniversary DVD for me.  Here’s the link on Amazon.

Song of the Week #23- White Christmas

white christmasOur top songs are definitely the cream of the Christmas crop.  This week is the super powerhouse, White Christmas.  This endearing song of reminiscence takes us back to an old-fashioned CHristmas.  Irving Berlin penned the classic in the summer of 1940 (amazing how many Christmas classics were written in the heat of the summer).  There is a little controversy about where the song was written.  It might have been at the Biltmore in Arizona, but more likely in La Quinta, CA at the La Quinta Hotel.  Regardless of where it was written, it is forever linked to the singer who sang it first- Bing Crosby.  Crosby made the first public performance on the radio show, The Kraft Music Hall, on Christmas Day in 1941.  It would then be recorded in May 1942, taking only 18 minutes to get the track finalized!  It was released as part of a collection of 78s for the film Holiday Inn.  The song wasn’t initially popular, more people loved the tune Be Careful, It’s My Heart.  But soon the public started to love White Christmas leading it to become a #1 hit on the charts.  It is the only single to be a #1 hit as part of three separate cycles over three different years.  This isn’t the only record, award or distinction for the song.

White Christmas won the 1942 Academy Award for Best Song.  It was the inspiration for the 1954 film of the same name.  It is on most lists named as the #1 Christmas song of all time.  NPR names it as #2 on the list Songs of the Century, just behind Over the Rainbow.  The Crosby album Merry Christmas, including his version of the song, was released in 1949 and has never been out of print since.  Most remarkably is the status in holds in the Guinness Book of World Records- the Best-selling Single of All Time.  The Crosby version has sold over 50 million copies world-wide.  If you include the more than 500 different recorded versions the sales total reaches over 100 million copies of the song sold world-wide.  100 million!!  The tune also holds a unique place in American History outside of Christmas and songs.  The radio broadcast of the song in April 1975 was the pre-arranged signal to begin the American evacuation from the city of Saigon in Vietnam.

The current Crosby recording is actually a 1947 re-recording due to the wear and tear on the 1942 original.  It still includes the clever lyrics of the opening, “The sun is shining, the grass is green…”.  So many newer versions skip right to the first verse and leave the introduction out completely.  Check out a few versions we found for you:

Bing Crosby– Singing it as part of the film Holiday Inn
Barbra Streisand- Her version includes the great introduction
Bing & Michael Buble– From Buble’s Christmas special on NBC
Mantovani– Orchestral version circa 1952
Supremes– Acapella recording from the girls group
Rockapella– Another acapella version, yes from HSN!
Bob Marley- Even reggae gets in on the action 
Glee– The cast sings and skates with the up-beat take on the song
Canadian Brass–  A clever instrumental version from the group, includes the intro too!