Let it Snow–Not that kind of snow!

LetitsnowConfession: I might have a possibly real disorder ORD (Obsessive Reading Disorder).  This fall, it was Thomas Hardy.  I found myself talking to the main characters, telling them not to go with Arabella, Bathsheba or Alec. Suddenly, everything Hardy ever wrote was clever and interesting–topic for casual conversation with my non-Hardy reading friends. (Don’t try it–conversation is very one-sided.)

By Christmas, I had turned my attention to more modern and lighter fare, John Green.  I had read Fault in Our Stars and cried over it–who doesn’t? I had watched his YouTube channel. I started following his every Tweet.   I thought I ought to give Looking for Alaska some attention.  Then, I moved through An Abundance of Katherines.  (It may be sacrilege, but I don’t love Green’s novels as much as just about every teenage girl I know.)  Still, I went searching for more.  I found, much to my delight, a JOHN GREEN CHRISTMAS story, Let it Snow: Three Holiday Romances (2008).  Actually, it’s three stories.  The other two are written by Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle (both accomplished authors whose books appear on the the NPR Best Young Adult Novel list).

The first of the three is Maureen Johnson’s story “Jublilee Express.” I loved the voice of the female character and the difficulties she experiences when her parents are arrested in a shopping brawl related to their desire to collect the “limited time only” collector pieces for the Flobie Santa Village, and Jubilee must go to Florida temporarily to stay with her grandparents while the Flobie incident blows over.  The train is stuck in the worst snowstorm in years, so Jubilee leaves the train and seeks shelter at a nearby Waffle House. The adventure and romance that follows is light and funny.

Even though I read all the time, I am one of the most gullible readers–I never see the ending coming.  Imagine my delight and surprise when John Green’s story, “A Cheertastic Christmas,” takes place in the same snowstorm with some of the same characters. (Yes, if I had read the reviews, I would have known these were interwoven stories.) Myracle’s story, “The Patron Saint of Pigs,” finished the trilogy with Jeb and Addie, who dyes her hair pink after the break-up, and searches for a way to bring Christmas cheer to others.   By the time I started the third story, I had made friends with everyone in the Waffle House. I was laughing at and with them–in my Thomas Hardy-esque manner.

This book is perfect for the 12 – 17 year-old reader if you are looking for a unique Christmas gift.  Even better, though, is the idea of finding two other writers and making your own holiday short story trilogy.  I think I’m up for it.  I’d like to add OWD (Obsessive Writing Disorder) to my growing list of personality problems.

A tribute to Shirley Temple’s many Christmases

Shirley Temple-Christmas2Shirley Temple Black died on February 10.  She was 85.  A child star in the Depression era, her movies, merchandise, advertisements and music are the brightest images in an otherwise dark time in America.  Christmas was interwoven into most of her movies and a lot of her merchandise.  Here’s a quick look at Shirley Temple’s Christmas.

One fan uploaded a video of Christmas scenes from several of Shirley Temple’s movies

Here’s another clip of “Silent Night” from Temple’s movie Heidi.

Here’s “That’s What I Want for Christmas” from Stowaway.  How is it that this song isn’t played during the Christmas season?

Although the child singing “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” is often thought to be Temple, that hit was recorded in the 1950’s by Gayla Peevey.  (Is it the lack of a good stage name that kept her form a big career?)

There is a website devoted to Shirley Temple doll collectibles. (I guess there are hundreds of different Temple dolls issued over the years.)  I did not realize that hers was the first celebrity doll ever made.  Like Barbie and American Girl dolls today, owning a Shirley Temple doll was all the rage.

Despite my celebration of Shirley Temple and Christmas, one website asserts she didn’t believe in Santa Claus

Temple stopped believing in Santa Claus when she was six, when her mother took her to a department store to meet Father Christmas and he asked for her autograph. Nevertheless, Temple herself became a symbol of hope for America. During the Great Depression, President Franklin D Roosevelt famously said: “As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right.” Even the young British princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, were said to be avid Temple fans.

Podcast #62- 315 Days to Go!

russian santaPodcast #62- 315 Days to Go!  Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Russian Christmas!

Listen this week as Natalie and Jeremy discuss some of the Russian stories, traditions, and characters related to Christmas.  We’ve got Father Frost, a snow maiden, a snow queen, and Babushka!  Which one turns to a cloud of white smoke?  Guess you’ll have to listen to find out!

Annie and a New Deal for Christmas

hbz-blog-annieRoger and I had the good fortune to see our family friend, Emma, in the Sanford School’s amazing production of Annie.  Although I had heard most of the music at one time or another and had seen the photos of the cartoon Orphan Annie and Daddy Warbucks, I am sad to admit that I did not know the story.  Imagine my surprise when a true Christmas dream-come-true musical unfolded on the Sanford stage!

The final song is “New Deal for Christmas,” both in reference to Roosevelt’s political plan (inspired by orphan Annie!?) and Annie’s adoption party at the 5th Avenue Warbucks mansion.  The entire show is set around the time period  Roosevelt’s first Christmas in office.  Act I of the play features Hoover-ites gathered around fires in barrels and Warbucks (with Annie) advising a depressed Roosevelt on ways to improve the economy.   By the end of the play, Annie, Warbucks, and Roosevelt are singing about their bright future.   Historically, the president and Mrs. Roosevelt received a record 40,000 Christmas cards in 1933.  (More on that in a future post!)

This most recent Annie revival (the 35th Anniversary) opened November 2012 and closed  on January 5, 2014. It opened with Jane Lynch (Glee) as Miss Hannigan, and there were a total of 38 previews and 487 regular performances at the Palace Theatre.  I learned that the Miss Hannigan role has been played by many famous actresses, including Nell Carter (20th Anniversary revival)  and Carol Burnett (movie version in 1982).  The original production of Annie in 1977 won many Tony awards and held the record for the longest running show at the Neil Simon Theatre (until Hairspray in 2009).  I remember singing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” as a child, and now I am realizing that I must have been influenced by the first Annie storm in the late 70’s or the movie in the early 80’s.

The newest production of Annie will be the Christmas 2014 movie starring Beasts of the Southern Wild, Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie.  Cameron Diaz will be Miss Hannigan.

I think Roger and I should add seeing this movie with Noah to our Christmas 2014 plan!

Merry Christmas: Sounds of Hawaii

During Christmas season palm trees are decorated with lights in the Normandy Isle neighborhood in Miami Beach, Florida, USAWe checked in this week to find out more about how Christmas happens in Hawaii. One of the topics that came up in our conversation with Siobhan was music.  The same familiar carols, hymns, and holiday songs are heard throughout the islands.  White Christmas drifts out of the speakers right there under the twinkle lit palm trees and Winter Wonderland is heard at the beach side pig roast.  But there are some differences too, like the Hawaiian Twelve Days of Christmas. For most Americans the Hawaiian Christmas song is Mele Kalikimaka.

Hawaiia Santa


This ukulele driven Christmas classic was written in 1949 but Robert Alex Anderson, known for his uniquely Hawaiian sounds.  The song gathered lots of interest and many fans from the start.  The popular 1950 radio recording featured Bing Crosby & the Andrew Sisters.  The song’s name is known as the Hawaiian way to say Merry Christmas.  Not entirely true. It is a translation, of sorts. To get the whole story behind the name we go back to 1778 when Christmas first came to the Islands with the arrival of Captain Cook.  The holiday did not catch on immediately.  It would not become wide-spread until the arrival of New England missionaries in the 1820s.  These missionaries helped to translate the language and to create a written version of the Island tongue.  The words Merry and Christmas were spoken by the Hawaiian natives and due to the differences in language sounded like Mele Kalikimaka.  The terms are a Hawaiian phonetic translation of the English phrase.  Simple.  The lyrics are simple too- basically a repetition of the same two stanzas:
     Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say
     On a bright Hawaiian Christmas day
     That’s the island greeting that we send to you
     From the land where palm trees sway

     Here we know Christmas will be green & bright
     The sun to shine by day & all the stars at night
     Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way 
     To say Merry Christmas to you

It really is a happy, cheery little song.  Listen to it’s carefree lilt and imagine a warm breezy holiday picnic on the beach.  This version by Bette Midler should help set the mood.  Aloha!!

HNY HawaiiI learned the Hawaiian phrase for Happy New Year too- Hau’oli Makahiki Hou.  The phrase grew from the period or resting and fasting with 4 months of no war and no conflicts.  The term Makahiki translates to year.  Han’oli translate to Happy, and Makahiki has a track on year.  I will be looking into more foreign language faves in our area for Christmas.

Pete Seeger’s Christmas Album

Cover of AlbumPete Seeger died on January 27, 2014.  He was 94 years old.  When I listened to and read the eulogies, on NPR and in The Washington Post, and other sources online, the snippets of his music instantly took me to my childhood.  Like a lotion or a perfume that your mother wears, the sound of his voice drew me to memories I had long forgotten.

His voice is familiar in the folk songs we sang in elementary school, “If I Had a Hammer” and “Turn, Turn,Turn.” Both of these were written by Seeger and then made famous by other folk singers in the 1960’s.  Time Entertainment online published an article the day after Seeger’s death, “Songs of Peace and Protest: 6 Essential Cuts From Pete Seeger.”  Each of the descriptions of the six songs is filled with references to major historical events and figures of the 20th Century.

His voice, like a perfume, awakened memories of singing these songs in school, in church, and in the back yard.  I began to wonder if Seeger had recorded any Christmas albums.

I found a description and sample of his 1989 recording, Traditional Christmas Carols, at Smithsonian Folkways Recordings,  the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution.  There, I was able to listen to samples of the 13 tracks.  The voice is familiar, even though many of the tunes are not.  I think I hit the Jeremy jackpot!  I would like him to research all of these songs and tell more about their origin and Seeger’s recordings.

I think the call-and-response style that is so ingrained into my folk song laden, liberal Catholic childhood is a part of why I find his sound so appealing.

There is no question that my favorite track is “Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow,” a song I had not heard before.  I searched for performances of this song and stumbled upon an instructional video for John Jacobson’s hand motions to this song.  This made the song all that much better.