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It began a couple decades ago with a misunderstanding. This took place when I was actively online using primarily text-based interfaces most of the time. Unlike my time here … on Ricochet … whatever. Anyway, I was chatting with one of my friends and she pipes up: “Do Canadians really like fighting matches or something?”*
I didn’t know until today that Festivus, celebrated Saturday, Dec. 23, wasn’t just made up for the TV show “Seinfeld,” but was an honest-to-goodness family tradition of one of the show’s writers, a tradition the other writers had to talk him into using in a television script.
According to O’Keefe family legend, the first Festivus occurred in 1966 to commemorate when Daniel Lawrence O’Keefe, the father of the Seinfeld writer (also named Daniel), took Deborah, the woman who would soon be his wife and mother of his children, out on their first date. Rather than busting out a Festivus pole (which was invented for the Seinfeld script), the O’Keefe family’s yearly celebration involved nailing a bagged clock to the wall – a ritual whose purpose, O’Keefe Sr. darkly told his children, was “not for you to know!” – and wearing silly decorated hats, including a Viking hat with Play-Doh horns.
I think I have shared several stories of the Christmases of my youth. In fact, I did several last year when I did a “Christmas Song of the Day” series. There is something youthful about Christmas, I suppose. I can see this now that I have a family of my own. My little girl gushes about each new addition to our Christmas decoration. She excitedly points out Christmas lights to us while we drive. She’s gotten her first taste of Christmas specials this year. In fact, she still randomly shouts, “Happy Birthday!” after watching Frosty the Snowman. It’s pretty infectious, if exhausting.
I can recall having some of that enthusiasm when I was a boy. We played John Denver and the Muppets’ A Christmas Together so many times I wouldn’t be surprised if my parents burned the album after we moved out of the house at last. Decorating the tree was a fun and fractious affair – strong branches were always prime real estate for our personal ornaments we had been collecting over the years. And of course, every year we broke out the nativity set.
Plenty of today’s “Christmas carols” are unabashedly secular songs. So were many of the original Christmas carols, it’s just that their words were adapted to be overtly religious to celebrate Christian festivals. What we now call our sacred carols are typically festive, seasonal, and dancelike. Easter carols exist, but the most well-known sacred carols are for Christmas. The Christmas concert season often features other early music, too. Music that sounds “Christmassy” in part because our sacred carols are also largely early music.
The chaconne or passacaglia is one of these early-music tropes. There isn’t a fixed distinction between chaconne and passacaglia, or between these and other ground-bass forms (this is “ground” as in “foundational,” not as in we’re making sausage of the deep-voiced menfolk). But all describe a short bassline or chord progression repeated over and over … and over … again. The refrain of the carol “What Child Is This” (whose tune is also known as “Greensleeves,” and may or may not have originally been about a woman whose dress is green because she rolls around in the hay rather often), for example, uses a repeated romanesca progression. “What Child Is This” has a wistful, haunting character, and there’s no shortage of chaconnes in a minor key expressing lamentation (often with a bassline explicitly called a lament bass), but the chaconne seems to have descended from an impertinent, even “sexy” dance in 3/4 time.
When my wife was in the 4th grade, her mother spent a weekend baking cinnamon rolls with a twist. She made the sweeten bread, rolled it flat, added a butter/cinnamon sugar layer with raisins, rolled it into a log and pushed the ends together into a ring. Using scissors, cuts (~ ¾ through from the […]
My father was a policeman. By the time I was four years old, he had been promoted to sergeant, and there he stayed for the rest of his career. On a police force with well over 100 men, they must have had at least 10 with the rank of sergeant, but he was “The Sarge.” He was tough. He had an intimidating presence. He could be charming, but he could also eviscerate with only a few words. He was the hyper-competent guy they went to when there was a problem in some division of the police department. He would go in, get things running smoothly, and then move on to the next problem area. He got things done, but if you were an officer on the street, he was your boss, not your buddy.
My mother was a much more welcoming person. Knowing what policemen went through, and knowing that they had to be out working on holidays when most folks were warm at home with their families, she started a tradition of a Christmas open house. She would cook and bake for days getting ready. When Christmas came, the dining room table would be loaded up in buffet form. A policeman could stop by, load up a plate, talk to those who were there while eating and taking in a bit of non-alcoholic Christmas cheer.