Saint Stephen’s Day

Saint Stephen’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Stephen, is a day to commemorate Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, celebrated on December 26 in the Latin Church and December 27 in Eastern Christianity. In the Christian calendar, it is the second day of Christmas. Although it is seldom remembered anymore, the season of forty days before Christmas is Advent, and Christmas is celebrated through January 6 or Epiphany. For many outside the countries where this day is celebrated, it may be best recognized as part of the carol “Good King Wenceslas” who looked out on the Feast of Stephen.

Saint Stephen’s story is found in the book of Acts in the New Testament. He was a Greek Jew, converted to Christianity, who was chosen as one of the deacons of the early church to help make sure the poor of the faith were properly cared for. He was stoned to death for blasphemy by the Jews. Due to the fact that he was the first martyr, his feast day is the closest to Christmas.

Saint Stephen’s Day is a public holiday in several countries in Europe, including Ireland. Other countries, particularly those in the British Commonwealth call this Boxing Day, and it is a day to give to the poor. In Ireland, December 26 is also Wren Day. Folklore says that a chattering wren gave Stephen away as he was hiding, and thereafter, the wren was to be hunted down on his day, although actually, the custom predates Christianity. In modern times, the practice of “hunting the wren” involves musicians roaming from gathering to gathering, where they raise money.

But despite all the folklore and customs, the day after Christmas is mostly one to spend with family and friends, a more relaxed day after the Christmas rush is over. I hope it is so with you.

Quotes for rest and relaxation

All relaxation does is allow the truth to be felt. The mind is cleared, like a dirty window wiped clean, and the magnitude of what we might ordinarily take for granted inspires tears.–Jay Michaelson

Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will no withdraw from us.–Maya Angelou

For fast-acting relief try slowing down.–Lily Tomlin

He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.–Benjamin Franklin

Like water which can clearly mirror the sky and the trees only so long as its surface is undisturbed, the mind can only reflect the true image of the Self when it is tranquil and wholly relaxed.–Indra Devi

Our minds need relaxation and give way
Unless we mix with work a little play.–Molier

There is no mortal truly wise and restless at once; wisdom is the repose of minds.–Johann Caspar Lavater

When everyone is too busy, don’t expect a more productive society. Expect a frantic society.–Jeff Davidson

Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected.–George Macdonald

You are like a jar of river water all shaken up. What you need is to sit still long enough that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.–Ruth Haley Barton

Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is relax.–Mark Black

Relaxation means releasing all concern and tension and letting the natural order of life flow through one’s being.–Donald Curtis

Learn to relax. Your body is precious, as it houses your mind and spirit. Inner peace begins with a relaxed body.–Norman Vincent Peale

When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing – just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park?–Ralph Marston

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Go Caroling Day

December 20 is the day to go out caroling. The practice seems to have fallen out of favor in more recent years, and is more likely to happen in nursing homes and malls, than just in neighborhoods. One way to enjoy caroling now is in old movies such as A Christmas Carol, where there are almost always singers, perhaps just so Ebenezer Scrooge can knock them out of the way as he storms past.

Songs are often associated with religious celebrations, and so it is not surprising that the oldest Christmas carols are religious in nature. For a long time, the songs of Christmas were sung in Latin, but St Francis of Assisi changed that with his Nativity Plays, where songs were sung in the native language of the listeners. The earliest carol like this was written in 1410. Only a small fragment of it still exists. The carol was about Mary and Jesus meeting different people in Bethlehem.

However, carols we still sing today began in the eighteenth century. One of them is “Good King Wenceslas.” You can find a delightful edition of it by the Irish Rovers here. Some other carols written during or before that time include “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” (1749), “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” (1739), “Angels We Have Heard on High,” (1852), and “The First Noel,”(1823).

Today, one of the most popular ways of singing carols is at a Christmas Eve service by candlelight. There is also the “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” which has nine Bible readings (or lessons), that tell the Christmas story, with one or two carols between each lesson. It has been broadcast from King’s College, Cambridge every year since 1931, and to my mind, it wouldn’t be Christmas without it. So sing yourself a carol or two or more today.

Some lyrics from Christmas Carols. Usually, the name of the carol is part of the first line.

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

The first Nowell the Angel did say
Was to three poor Shepherds in fields as they lay.
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
In a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell,
Born is the King of Israel.

Verses 3&4 of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth, I said,
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold!
Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From heaven’s all gracious King!
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him,
Born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O Come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

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Poinsettia Day

December 12, we celebrate a flower almost as iconic to Christmas as the tree. Roberts Poinsett, an American botanist, physician, and Minister to Mexico in 1828 sent cuttings of the plant he’d discovered in Southern Mexico to his home in South Carolina. The flower was named after him, and we celebrate it on the anniversary of his death. In Mexico, the plant is known as La Flor de la Nochebuena or, Flower of the Holy Night. Long before that, however, the Aztecs knew it as Cuitlaxochitl, or the Star Flower. They used it for red dye, and the curing of fevers. The red reminded them of purity, or sacrifice.

The poinsettia plant’s connection to the Christmas season dates back to 16th-century Mexico. Legend tells of a girl who worried she had no gift to celebrate Jesus’s birthday because she was too poor. An angel tells her to give any gift with love. The young girl gathered weeds from alongside the road and placed them in the manger. Miraculously the weeds bloomed into beautiful red stars.

In the 1920s, Paul Ecke discovered a way to make the seedlings of the plant branch, and created the poinsettia industry. In July 2002, the House of Representatives passed a resolution creating the holiday in honor of him. Since then they have become big business. Poinsettias contribute upwards of $250,000,000 a year to the U.S. economy and they account for about one-quarter of flowering potted plant sales

Today, poinsettias are no longer just red. New hues from horticulture supplier C. Raker & Sons include Gold Rush and Christmas Beauty Marble. Did you know – the flowers on poinsettias are very small and yellow. The most decorative part of the poinsettia, which we think of as the flower, is actually its colorful bracts, that is, modified leaves.

Quotes about Christmas

Conversely, the red plant itself burns a brighter red when set off by the green than when it grows among its peers. In the bed I always reserved for poinsettia seedlings, there was little to distinguish one plant from its neighbours. My poinsettia did not turn scarlet until I planted it in new surroundings. Colour is not something one has, colour is bestowed on one by others.–Arthur Japin

When Christmas bells are swinging above the fields of snow, We hear sweet voices ringing from lands of long ago, And etched on vacant places Are half-forgotten faces Of friends we used to cherish, and loves we used to know.–Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Let us remember that the Christmas heart is a giving heart, a wide open heart that thinks of others first.–George Mathhew Adams

Let Christmas not become a thing Merely of merchant’s trafficking, Of tinsel, bell and holly wreath And surface pleasure, but beneath The childish glamour, let us find Nourishment for heart and mind. Let us follow kinder ways Through our teeming human maze, And help the age of peace to come.–Madeline Morse

Whatever else be lost among the years, Let us keep Christmas still a shining thing: Whatever doubts assail us, or what fears, Let us hold close one day, remembering Its poignant meaning for the hearts of men. Let us get back our childlike faith again.–Grace Noll Crowell

Christmas is more than a time of music, merriment and mirth; it is a season of meditation, managers and miracles. Christmas is more than a time of gaiety, greenery and gifts; it is a season of wonder, worship and wisemen.–William Arthur Ward

Time was with most of us, when Christmas Day, encircling all our limited world like a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our home enjoyments, affections, and hopes; grouped everything and everyone round the Christmas fire, and make the little picture shining in our bright young eyes, complete.–Charles Dickens

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National Christmas Tree Day

On December 8, we celebrate the Christmas tree. We think of the decorated tree as the symbol of Christmas, but the use of evergreens around the time of the winter solstice goes back as far as the history of humankind. In very earliest times, when most peoples worshipped the sun, the solstice marked both the time of the sun’s weakness and the time when it began to grow strong again. People brought living greens into their homes to celebrate the strengthening of the sun, and the promise of spring and planting time to come. Evergreens have long been considered special because they are green when other things are dead.

According to WhyChristmas.com, “Nobody is really sure when Fir trees were first used as Christmas trees. It probably began about 1000 years ago in Northern Europe. Many early Christmas Trees seem to have been hung upside down from the ceiling using chains (hung from chandeliers/lighting hooks).”

Some say the first to light a candle atop a Christmas tree was Martin Luther. Legend has it, late one evening around Christmas time, Luther was walking home through the woods when he was struck by the innocent beauty of starlight shining through fir trees. Wanting to share this experience with his family, Martin Luther cut down a fir tree and took it home. He placed a small candle on the branches to symbolize the Christmas sky.

In the middle ages, many clergy condemned the Christmas tree as distracting from the birth of Jesus, the true reason for celebrating the season. Puritans, in particular, disliked this tradition (among many others). However, by the time of Queen Victoria, it had become an accepted custom, and it is a rare home today, especially one with children, which doesn’t have its decorated tree with presents beneath.

Quotes about Christmas trees

The best Christmas trees come very close to exceeding nature. If some of our great decorated trees had been grown in a remote forest area with lights that came on every evening as it grew dark, the whole world would come to look at them and marvel at the mystery of their great beauty.–Andy Rooney

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.–Burton Hillis

The Christmas spirit that goes out with the dried-up Christmas tree is just as worthless.—Unknown

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the treetops glisten,
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.
–Irving Berlin

Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.–Larry Wilde

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Of all the trees most lovely!
Each year you bring renewed delight,
A-gleaming in the Christmas night.–German Carol

The perfect Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect!–Charles N. Barnard

Stop, sit, light a quiet flame. Stare into the glittering green of the tree for a while. Bundle up, breathe, and be together. Let it all come to rest. And just remember how it ought to be.–Mike Connelly

For it isn’t the holly, it isn’t the snow.
It isn’t the tree not the firelight’s glow.
It’s the warmth that comes to the hearts of men
When the Christmas spirit returns again.
–Anonymous

Everyone wants a Christmas tree. If you had a Christmas tree Santa would bring you stuff! Like hair curlers and slut shoes.–Janet Evanovich

The Christmas tree is a symbol of love, not money. There’s a kind of glory to them when they’re all lit up that exceeds anything all the money in the world could buy.–Andy Rooney

…freshly cut Christmas trees smelling of stars and snow and pine resin – inhale deeply and fill your soul with wintry night…–John Gedde

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St. Nicholas Day

More widely commemorated in Europe than the States, we celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6. Nicholas was born sometime in the late third century C.E in the village of Patar, which was located on the southeastern coast of modern-day Turkey. He lost his parents at an early age to an epidemic. Taking seriously the command in the Bible to “sell all you have and give to the poor,” he spent the wealth left him in good deeds to the less fortunate. While still a young man, Nicholas became Bishop of Myrna. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

Many stories and legends have grown up around Nicholas and his generosity. Many know the story about how he put dowry money in a shoe so poor girls could marry. If the story is unfamiliar to you, you can read it here.  It is thought that this story, at least, is likely true.

Another story tells that after his death, he appeared to a slave boy and brought him home.

The Saint Nicholas center tells us: “Other stories tell of Nicholas saving his people from famine, sparing the lives of those innocently accused, and much more. He did many kind and generous deeds in secret, expecting nothing in return. Within a century of his death he was celebrated as a saint. … [He is ] patron of a great variety of persons-children, mariners, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travelers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, students, children, sailors, victims of judicial mistakes, captives, perfumers, even thieves and murderers! He is known as the friend and protector of all in trouble or need”

Nicholas died on December 6, providing us the background legend that became Santa Claus.

Quotes about Christmas

While winter is white and cold and human hearts are warm, Christmas must continue to be the universal festival of peace and good will, the sacred season of love, the holiday of kindness.—Unknown

Which Christmas is the most vivid to me? It’s always the next Christmas.–Joanne Woodward

When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.–Bob Hope

When the song of the angel is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost–
To heal the broken–
To feed the hungry–
To release the prisoner–
To rebuild the nations–
To bring peace among brothers and sisters–
To make music in the heart.–Howard Thurman

We worry about finding just the right gift, hanging just the right decorations, sending the right card. So many times I say I wish I could slow down, scale back, and reclaim the true meaning of Advent. The reality, though, is that I am the only one preventing that from happening.–Susan Hines-Brigger

We should try to hold on to the Christmas spirit, not just one day a year, but all 365.–Mary Martin

Until one feels the spirit of Christmas, there is no Christmas. All else is outward display–so much tinsel and decorations. For it isn’t the holly, it isn’t the snow. It isn’t the tree not the firelight’s glow. It’s the warmth that comes to the hearts of men when the Christmas spirit returns again.—Anonymous

Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won’t make it “white”.–Bing Crosby

Three phrases that sum up Christmas are: Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men, and Batteries not Included.—Unknown

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National Leon Day

June 25 is National Leon Day, which marks the halfway point between Christmas and Christmas, that is, the day when next Christmas is closer than last Christmas. Leon is noel spelled backward, and theoretically, on this day craters begin planning and making their handmade gifts and decorations for next Christmas. On the other hand, for those who prefer to buy Christmas presents, it is a time to start saving towards December, so you don’t have to finance those gifts all at once.

Finally, it is also a time for those who miss the winter to have Christmas in July and remember the cooler weather of Christmas and New Year. So if this describes you, get out the Christmas music and remember those cozy days when the house is decorated, and all those warm holiday smells are coming from the kitchen.

Apparently, some retailers go in for this in a big way, playing Christmas music in the stores all day. But more than retailing, nonprofit organizations, and charities may hold fundraisers to remind people that they need donations all year round, and not exclusively during the Christmas season. It can be a good time to go through your closets and find things to donate or to open your wallet to help the less fortunate.

Others can remember their own December holidays, such as Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or Yule.

As someone who loves Christmas, I am delighted to realize it is now getting closer to happening again. So celebrate today with Christmas music or Christmas movies or wearing an ugly sweater. Open up that fruitcake. Make Christmas cookies. And rejoice – Christmas is coming!

Quotes about Christmas that are good all year aound

Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you … to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old … Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world … stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death… Then you can keep Christmas! But you can never keep it alone.–Henry van Dyke

The … challenge of Christmas is this: justice is what happens when all receive a fair share of God’s world and only such distributive justice can establish peace on earth.–John Dominic Crossan

Christmas gift suggestions from Oren Arnold: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.

Christmas is a time to expand our giving encompassing the friendless and needy … near and far. Christmas is sharing.–Patricia Clafford

Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.–Charles Schulz

Christmas is most truly Christmas when we celebrate it by giving the light of love to those who need it most.–Ruth Carter Stapleton

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.–Calvin Coolidge

Christmas is not just a day, an event to be observed and speedily forgotten. It is a spirit which should permeate every part of our lives.–William Parks

God grant you the light in Christmas which is faith;
the warmth of Christmas, which is love;
the radiance of Christmas, which is purity;
the righteousness of Christmas, which is justice;
the belief in Christmas, which is truth…–Wilda English

I like the Christmas that fulfills my needs … to be forgiven from greed and selfishness, to fill my empty soul with peace and compassion, for hope and faith and charity, for myself renewed and hope restored in an erring world.–Robert D. Wigert

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Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone! After two entries with information, but no quotes, today’s post will be all quotes. I’ve chosen some of my favorites from the QuoteLady.com Website. You can find these and many more on the Christmas quotes page. You can also find the two weeks’ worth I did for this season at Yahoo Groups.

So, without further ado, here are some of my favorite Christmas quotes.

Christmas Fireplace

As long as we know in our hearts what Christmas ought to be, Christmas is.–Eric Sevareid

Christmas gift suggestions from Oren Arnold: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.–Calvin Coolidge

During the holiday season, the entire world seems in harmony: Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, Buddhists remember the enlightenment of Siddhartha, Jews recall the miraculous temple lamp that burned for eight days, Muslims welcome the new year…–Ellen Michaud

Every time we love, every time we give, it’s Christmas.–Dale Evans

The Grinch and [the gospel of] Luke have a message for you. No one can steal Christmas. No matter how powerful you are, you can’t take it away; and no matter how poor and weak you are, no one can take it from you. … Christmas can’t be stolen and it can’t be stopped.–Anne Robertson

I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars and open a jar of it every month.–Harlan Miller

It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.–W. T. Ellis

Advent’s familiar themes of waiting and hopeful expectation have a different ring this year. … [H]ow do these admonitions sound — “wait!” “be patient!” — in a context of violence and despair, of deprivation and gross inequality? What does “hopeful expectation” sound like, look like in places where justice has long been delayed, meaning, of course, that justice has been denied?–Debra Dean Murphy

It’s “Merry Christmas” at our house. Whatever it is at yours, have a happy one. And be good to somebody.–Stephen King

My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?–Bob Hope

Nothing that I can do will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice I can help the greatest of all causes – goodwill among men and peace on earth.–Albert Einstein

“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”–J. K. Rowling

One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.–Andy Rooney

Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year.–Victor Borge

Then Bob proposed: “A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!” Which all his family re-echoed. “God bless us every one!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.–Charles Dickens

Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won’t make it “white”.–Bing Crosby

When the song of the angel is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost–To heal the broken–To feed the hungry–
To release the prisoner–To rebuild the nations–
To bring peace among brothers and sisters–
To make music in the heart.–Howard Thurman

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A Christmas Carol, Part 3

In previous posts, I talked about the story itself and touched on some of the older film versions of the story. Today I’ll round out the media overview with a few of the newer versions.

First off is the 1984 television movie with George C. Scott. One of the things that makes this version interesting is that Scott doesn’t play Scrooge as the worst miser in the world, but rather as a hard-nosed businessman. You can believe this Scrooge is no worse than a hundred other people for whom the bottom line is paramount. It makes for a different, but believable interpretation. The other thing that makes this stand out for me, is that it’s a virtual who’s who of British actors of the time. Cratchit is played by David Warner, who has been in a plethora of shows and movies. Edward Woodward plays the Ghost of Christmas Past, who takes no guff from Scrooge. Susanna York is Mrs. Cratchit, Roger Rees is Fred, Joanne Walley is Fan, and Mark Strickson who would go on to be Turlough in Doctor Who is young Ebenezer.

patrick-stewart-scrooge

In 1999 Patrick Stewart took on the iconic role. He had been touring the year before, doing a reading of the story on stage, so knew it very well. You can see that in some of the little touches that appear if you know to look for them. His is another fairly laid back interpretation, though he is harder than Scott’s Scrooge. Stewart is for me one of the few actors who are believable both as the earlier miser and the redeemed man. Also in this version are Joel Grey as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Richard E. Grant as Cratchit. Interestingly, it also has Ian McNeice as Fezziwig, and Saskia Reeves as Mrs Cratchit. The two would be together again the next year in Dune playing very different roles.

The 2004 musical version was a television remake of the Broadway play. It starred Kelsey Grammer, who played Scrooge as an angry old man. The play had been rather tongue in cheek, with a lot of humor, some of which bleeds through to this. The plot is a bit thin, as in most musicals, but it’s quite a delightful retelling for all that. Jason Alexander plays Marley, which shouldn’t work, but does somehow, and so does Geraldine Chaplin as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. What I like most about this story is the relationship between Scrooge and Marley. They are depicted as friends, not just business partners. It is also filled with tunes which can get into your head and play over and over again.

Obviously, I haven’t touched all the versions. I’m particularly ignoring the Disney version of 2009. It was when 3-D movies were new, and in my opinion, goes out of its way to showcase that at the expense of the story. Jim Carrey is good, though. Nor have I touched A Muppet Christmas Carol, which is a love it or hate it movie. Personally, I love Michael Caine as Scrooge and enjoy the retelling, even with the silliness. And there’s An American Christmas Carol, with Henry Winkler, set in New England during the Depression. What I like most about this is that when Winkler’s character is redeemed, he is still his gruff self, and doesn’t go all sappy

I did want to mention a few of the audio versions. Jim Dale who narrated the American recordings of the Harry Potter books does an unabridged version which is very good. You can find a lovely rendition online of Neil Gaiman, dressed as Dickens, reading from the actual script that Dickens used when he toured doing his readings on stage. There is an abridged version done by Patrick Stewart from the touring that he did. The most amazing thing about this one is him as Tiny Tim, singing. It has to be heard to be believed. And finally, I have an abridged recording by Tom Baker who was Doctor Who. Not the best version in the world, but he’s always a delight to listen to.

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A Christmas Carol, Part 2

In the previous blog, I talked about the story itself. Today, which is December 21, Bah Humbug Day, I’d like to talk about some of the adaptations of A Christmas Carol. It has obviously spoken to people deeply ever since it was written, and there have been dozens of adaptations for the big screen, for television, for radio, and for audiobooks, as well as other shows doing their own takes on the story, updating it, or adapting it to their own characters. Scrooged with Bill Murray springs immediately to mind and shows as diverse as Quantum Leap, Doctor Who, and even The Real Ghostbusters have used the story in their own ways.

Obviously, I can’t do a definitive list of all the movies, shows and adaptations, but I do want to feature a few of those I return to year after year. And please remember that these are my opinions only – I speak for myself.

scrooge

I’m going to take these mostly in date order, but I want to start with my favorite, which is the 1951 version with Alastair Sim. There are a couple reasons why for me this is the best version. First of all, Sim is one of a very few actors who is believable both as the grouchy unredeemed Scrooge of the beginning and the changed better man at the end. Also, the music in this, though sometimes a little intrusive, reflects the mood of the scenes so very well. I love how in the beginning, the credits start with cheerful music which is overwhelmed by Scrooge’s darker theme as he appears, but then at the end, Scrooge adopts his nephew Fred’s theme – the lively polka music. I also like the way they fill in Scrooge’s back story in this version. It is interesting in having Michael Horden as Marley. He is probably best known over here as Gandalf in the BBC’s radio version of Lord of the Rings. It also features a young Patrick Macnee who became John Steed in The Avengers as the younger Marley.

Going back: there are older versions, but the first one I want to feature is the 1935 Seymour Hicks adaptation. Every time I watch this I think a group of actors were bored over a weekend and decided it might be fun to do A Christmas Carol. It was obviously done on a shoestring budget. I find Hicks quite believable as the unredeemed Scrooge, but not really as the changed man. His portrayal makes me cringe. What I like about this version is that it so clearly shows the difference between rich and poor at that time in London, with the luxury of a few, and the real deprivation of the many. Probably the most affecting scene is where both rich and poor sing “God Save the Queen,” and seem to mean it.

Then there is the 1938 version with Reginald Owen. Americans might remember him from Mary Poppins as the old man who set off a cannon each day. With apologies to my friend Shari for whom this is the best version, I find Owen convincing enough as the redeemed Scrooge, but not really as the grouchy miser. It does, however, contain one of my very favorite scenes of all versions when Scrooge calls in the watch (we would say police) to remove Marley’s ghost from his premises. Makes me laugh every time. This version also stars Gene Lockhart as Bob Cratchit. He was the judge in the original version of Miracle on 34th Street. And Marley is played by Leo G. Carroll, best known to American audiences as Mr. Waverly in the U.N.C.L.E. franchises in the 60s.

And last for today, I want to mention the 1970 musical with Albert Finney. This is a lavish version, full of energy and enthusiasm. Besides Finney, this stars Alec Guinness as Marley, who is playing the part for all it’s worth, Edith Evans as a feisty Ghost of Christmas Past, and David Collings as Cratchit. He was in many British shows of the time, including Doctor Who, and anglophiles will remember him as Silver in Sapphire and Steel. This version is probably most memorable for the song “Thank You Very Much,” which will play in your head for days and days afterwards.

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A Christmas Carol, Part 1

The beloved Christmas story by Charles Dickens was published on December 19, 1843. Though it is now so much a part of Christmas that it feels like it has always been here, it’s actually less than a hundred and seventy-five years old.

The story is very familiar, and if you know it as well as I do, you may skip this paragraph. A cold, greedy, heartless man, Ebenezer Scrooge, is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley, who is doing penance after death for his miserly way of life. He promises Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts. These spirits show him his past, his present, and his future. It is when he realizes finally that he will die alone and unmourned that he is shocked into changing his ways and becomes “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew…”

We tend to think of this today as a feel good story of a grouchy old man changing his ways and being redeemed, but I don’t think that is the main thing Dickens hoped to show. The story is about the grinding effects of poverty and loneliness. Scrooge became the man he was because of growing up poor and being unwanted. Tiny Tim dies in Scrooge’s vision because the Cratchits cannot afford to do what it would take to make him well. As Marley leaves Scrooge, we see the ghosts trying to help a poor woman, but they no longer have the power to do so. Dickens, who grew up poor, knew the wretched life led by those in poverty in London. I truly believe Scrooge was redeemed, not for himself, but for Bob Cratchit’s sake.

There’s a lot more to say about this story, and I think I will do another blog on it, but for now, don’t be like the unredeemed Scrooge, but in this season when we give to friends and relatives, remember those less fortunate and be generous like the redeemed Ebeneezer.

christmas-carol

Quotes from A Christmas Carol

Once upon a time–of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve–old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house.

“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. “Bah!” said Scrooge. “Humbug!”

Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer… If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ upon his lips should be boiled with his won pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. … We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.”

But I am sure that I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round…as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.

Then Bob proposed: “A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!” Which all his family re-echoed. “God bless us every one!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

..it was always said of him [Scrooge] that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

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