O Holy Night- Another Christmas Music Post!

Snowy Holy NightHappy 2014!  I am excited to be writing my first post in the new year.  I’ve been trying to come up with an organizational plan for my weekly posts.  I work much better if I have a plan, or perhaps theme, to guide my actions.  So for my first Thursday post each month I am going to focus on music!  No better place to start than with my absolute favorite Christmas song of all time- O Holy Night.  This song has been at the top of all my lists for years.  It is musically sound and even the worst versions can still prove somewhat enjoyable.  But when it’s good, O yeah!

The song originates in France.  It was written by Adolphe Adam in 1847  for the poem Minuit, Chretiens (Midnight, Christians).  The first performance was in a small french church to celebrate the repair of the organ.  The first singer was a well-known opera singer of the day.  The topic of the poem, and thus the song, is the birth of the savior and our redemption as man.  Check out the opening verse and chorus:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

St P crecheThe song has always had great success over the last 150+ years.  It has been recorded by world renown singers, bands, choirs, and orchestras.  It is part of many small church repertoire for the holidays.  Notably it is part of history as well.  In 1906 it was the first live performance on the new AM radio program.  That first broadcast version featured voice and violin.  It is truly timeless.  A recording made in 1916 is still being sold today!

One of the things I resolve to do with Christmas music this year is to find new versions of songs I love.  For O Holy Night I discovered a great version through a post on a friend’s Facebook page with a recording of Auld Lang Syne.  It featured three singers from the Broadway show Spider-man singing acapella.  I went a little further with some Youtube searching and discovered the had a recording of O Holy Night.  Not just their version, a great version.  Give it a listen-

This is my new go to favorite for this tune.  (Bonus is that one of the three guys is a JMU alum- Go Dukes!)   As I sit here watching the snow fall on a cold winter night it definitely fills me with the spirit of Christmas!

Countdown begins for Christmas 2014!

COuntdown CalToday the Yule Log begins our countdown to Christmas 2014.  With Christmas 2013 fresh in everyone’s memory, we begin our look forward to next Christmas.  We enter our next cycle of countdown ready to better the experience for all our loyal readers.  We are award-winning tree designers now, so the stakes are high!  We have made plans for this next year and are excited to share with all of you.  There is so much exciting Christmas news and adventures to share.

To help keep you up to date we have set a regular schedule for our blog posts and podcasts.  We will share a new post every Monday and Thursday as we countdown for 2014.  New podcasts will be uploaded on the 12th and the 24th of each month.  Stay tuned as we try to capture more Christmas spirit, attempt to start an app, plan a Christmas in July adventure, and return to the Festival of Trees.  Merry Christmas to all!!

Preparations for the Festival of Trees

Today, Jeremy and I made a mad dash about Frederick to pick up final items for our tree designing on Sunday, November 24.

For the Ever-Green tree, just about everything is ready, except for the crowning touch–the tree topper.  I’ve been thinking about this for some time, but the brilliant plan did not come to me until Roger remembered angels that his mother used to make out of Reader’s Digest magazine.  A quick search of the internet yielded a photo of something similar to his description.

gold angel

The blogger included great descriptions of how to make a Christmas tree and an angel.  They were easy to follow.  The angel is made of approximately 125 folded pages: the majority form her skirt, and the last 25, folded the opposite way, make up her wings.  It took me about an hour to fold all of the pages.  Right now, her body and wooden head ($1.29 at Michael’s Craft store) are spray-painted silver and drying.  I’ll post a photo of my finished product tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I’m working on recycled toilet paper roll ornaments.  Sounds kind of gross, but the final product is shaping up much nicer than I imagined.

Sunday decorating–here we come!

12 months of giving

12-dates-of-christmas-gift-free-printablesFor her brother’s wedding, Lacey (Ian’s most magnificent girlfriend) gave her brother and his new bride 12 months of anniversary dates, complete with suggestions, coupons, tickets, and cash (where appropriate).  These were as small as movie nights at home with a dvd she provided and some microwave popcorn, to extravagant, including restaurant gift certificates and admission to some of their local favorites.  It took a lot of planning, love and creativity–and she has all three.  I’m going to transfer some of that creativity into a basket or a box of 12 months of coupons for my Christmas plan.

As I was surveying my green, green grass and the brown spots bare of mulch, I was thinking that I really would have liked to receive  a mulch labor gift certificate from a certain son.  (I know.  Dream on!)  Here’s the point, though.  I’m going to ask C.J. to help me with the mulch anyway, and he will probably help me–with a liberal sprinkling of grumbling.  For no money and no grumbling, he could give me a gift certificate of his labors.

It would be cool to make a list now of once-a-month helpful gestures that I could do for someone that I could combine at the end of the year into something really nice. Jeremy wrote about this idea last year with his nieces and nephews in mind.  I know that our Aunt Susan gave a play date certificate to C.J. one year for Christmas, and he treasured it and thought seriously about when and how to redeem it.  They (Susan, C.J. and Ian) used to go back-to-school supply shopping together, which took a lot of pressure off of me.  That’s a great coupon idea for August.

For example, I know how to do taxes (at least simple ones), and I could give that as my March or April gift.  My elderly neighbor likes to go to Costco with me.  I could make a coupon for that in February when the weather is unpredictable for driving.  My friend Donna used to help me plant my flower pots for summer, and that could be a nice gift certificate for someone.

I’m really on a roll!  I could offer to do something on the computer for my parents, whatever month.

This has my mother’s thoughtful stamp all over it.  At Christmas, she gave Roger and me a box with, among other things, a gift certificate to do some sewing repairs for him–another coupon idea.

I’m including a link to The Dating Divas.  They have a Christmas plan for a His/Hers year of gift giving.  That might spark some ideas for you.

This final link comes from the Tip Junkie, with free printables.  The labels are really cute (pictured above).

Clothespin Soldier Ornaments – and other trash to treasures

photo-37Just finished a platoon (No, wait, that’s 26 – 64. I only made a dozen.)–a squad–of clothespin soldier ornaments. My goal was one dozen ornaments per month until November. I’m two months behind. . .but gaining enthusiasm.

My mother made these cute soldier ornaments when I was little, so I liked the idea of attempting to duplicate her efforts. As usual, my version isn’t as nice as her originals. The fellows were easy, but a little time-consuming.

I started with well-used clothespins. I probably should have sanded or scrubbed them because the paint did not adhere as well as I would have liked. Blue on the bottom and red on top, but I have seen others that are replicas of a particular type of solder, perhaps appropriate to the branch of military or police officers in the crafter’s family?

The gold braid was a little tricky with a glue gun. I always try to take the short cut (hot glue gun) and end up with spider webs of glue and strange lumps. Had I been patient, I could have used a liquid glue and achieved a better result.

Black pom pom hats are my favorite part. I bought the smallest quantity at Michaels, but I have enough pom poms to make two dozen more soldiers. Isn’t that always the way?photo-38

All in all, my total expense was under $10.00. I think this would have been a good craft to do with a child (6+), just not in one sitting.

Next, Jeremy and I are going to tackle some soda can ornaments. Meanwhile, my family is saving all sorts of trash for me–wine corks, light bulbs, coffee bean bags, lemon and orange mesh bags. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!?!

Human Christmas Tree? Let’s get that project started!

Mona Shores High School Singing Christmas TreeOn Saturday, I was in a store that specializes in wrought iron items, wistfully studying the trellises and other garden decorations, when I came across a selection of wine bottle trees.  None of them, though, come close to the wine bottle Christmas tree that I spent a lot of 2012 Yule Log time wishing to find.

Searching for my elusive metal wine bottle tree online, I stumbled across a much greater curiosity, a human Christmas tree.  Since the 1930’s these “trees” are actually a choir of individuals creating a spectacle of sight and sound.

The Portland Singing Christmas Tree celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.  Their website advertises almost as many performances as the Rockettes, averaging $50 for a ticket.  Community members must audition to perform, and the 2-hour show features guest singers, an orchestra and more.  Their non-profit organization has major corporate sponsors.  It’s an amazing organization with its orgins in a local church in 1962.

The distinction of the oldest outdoor human tree goes to Belhaven University in Mississippi which first performed 80 years ago, but Mona Shores High School seems to be the “darling” of human Christmas Trees, having been featured on the Travel Channel and TLC’s Extreme Christmas as the tallest human tree.  This time-lapsed video shows how it’s put together–that’s really cool!

Once, when my children were little, their grandfather took them to see the human Christmas tree at Arlington Baptist Church in Woodlawn on the outskirts of Baltimore.  I remember it seemed quite spectacular, and the children were mesmerized. I wonder now, by comparison, how spectacular it was?  I found an advertisement from 1995 (which seems about the right time).  The press release detailed a “33-foot-tall singing Christmas tree with 70 singers and 30 actors in five performances. The singers are arranged on a tree-shaped wooden structure fashioned with lights and pine branches.”  I remember that the poinsettias arranged between the choir members were particularly beautiful.

No more recent performances in this area, though.  Jeremy?  Is this a more worthy project than our Bay Bridge Santa Walk?  Let me know–It’s already the end of February, so we need to get started soon!

The Basque Coal Man – The Olentzero

180px-Olentzero_Hendaia_2006I admit to being a follower of author Mark Kurlansky, beginning with his history of salt and then following with his book, Cod.  Innocent bystanders were subjected to my little-known salt facts for days on end,  In fact, I read his book twice.  Now, I have discovered another gem, The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation.9780140298512

According to Kurlansky, just about everything we have that is good in the world originated with the Basque people, a very small region in southern France and northern Spain.  Coincidentally, the Camino de Santiago’s route–another of my recent obsessions– is largely in the Basque region.   He says the Jesuits began with two Basque men; steel was manufactured for all of Europe with raw materials from Basque;  Basque whalers were early explorers of the new world; and the Basques recognized the value of chocolate from the New World.

BasqueThe Basques also have a unique Christmas figure–the coal man.  My ears perked up as I was listening to my audio book.  The figure is called the “Olentzero.”

Here is information from one resource, Buber’s Basque Page:  On Christmas Eve, throughout virtually all the towns in Euskadi, the figure of a shepherd or a coal man is lifted up, sitting in a basket, onto the shoulders of people who take it from house to house throughout the town or village, and at every house that it passes, the young people that accompany the Olentzero stop to sing a Chrismtas carol.

In Navarra, for example, the Olentzero is a coal man who comes down from the mountains to hand out chestnuts and wine, and of course presents for the little ones.

The Olentzero is a mythical Basque character: he is a messenger, a shepherd who cries out that it is Christmas time throughout all the corners of the Basque Country. But he is not only a shepherd; in some parts of Euskadi he is a farm worker and in other parts he is the coalman, but all of them have in common the fact that they bring good news.

But the Olentzero has also always been associated with many other beliefs, such as the deeply rooted Basque cuisine. In Salvatierra in Alava, for example, the Olentzero is a coalman, who after having lived a hard life up in the mountains, comes back to his village to bring good news and at the same time to have a good feast to make up for the hunger which he has suffered.

This mythical character has a big head, a large belly and according to local traditions is capable of drinking ten “arrobas” (one arroba is about twenty-five pounds in weight) of wine. In Hondarribia apart from carrying a pipe, a capon, some eggs and a bottle of wine, he usually has a tail made of cod, and if a permanent Olentzero is erected in a village, a barbecue is usually set up next to him where sardines are handed out free of charge to the onlookers.

Much to Roger’s chagrin, I love sardines.  I would like to adopt this Coal Man–find a figurine to add to our tree or nativity.  By the time I finish the audio book, I’m sure I’ll want to be Basque.