Tag: Holiday traditions

Holiday Traditions: Entering the New Year with a Bang


In my early youth, New Year’s Eve and Independence Day were fairly quiet occasions at home. My father had a pathologist’s view of the downside of firecrackers and other home fireworks. He supervised our early training in firearms at ranges and in the woods, but small explosives and incendiaries were another matter.

Then we were stationed at Fort Knox, KY in 1976. As part of the Bicentennial Year, the Bellmore Johnson Tool Company re-released the Winchester Model 98 signal cannon, a 10-gauge blank-firing miniature cannon. They were all-metal, painted black, and fired by pulling a 10-foot lanyard. My father saw one at the post exchange (PX) and it brought back childhood memories of Boy Scout camp. They had morning flag-raising and evening flag-lowering ceremonies with bugle calls. One of the adult leaders would pull the lanyard firing just such a miniature cannon at the proper moment.

Chaconne à Son Goût – Christmas Treats and Traditions


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.

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I was thinking back to holiday time years ago – when everything was simpler…well, maybe not. Christmas in our neighborhood existed of big red, green, blue and yellow colored lights strung around the porch – everyone had them. My dad, who worked on the B & O Railroad in Maryland, trucked home over the snowy […]

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Holiday Tradition: A Spirited Party without Spirits


I grew up in a military family, although my father’s friends always said “You’re not in the real Army.” You see, he was a doctor in the Army, a colonel by virtue of his expertise and experience. So, we had one of those great colonel’s quarters, built in the Great Depression under the WPA. The exposed I-beams in the basement read “Carnegie Steel.” And the first floor was built for the entertainment that colonels and colonels’ wives were expected to host. Which brings us to the Christmas and New Year’s season.

All around the loop and throughout the housing area (think neighborhood), commanders hosted holiday parties for their officers and wives/girlfriends. This was before the deglamorization of alcohol, so they were spirited affairs with the usual social hazards of office parties. My folks had no such obligations and could impose no obligation on anyone to show up at a party ( see “Army doctor,” “not real Army”). Yet they wanted to have their friends and neighbors over. Dad suggested a “Beethoven’s Birthday Party” loosely based on the date of the composer’s birthday and carried invitations around the loop.

Christmas, All Year Long


My maternal grandmother Eathel loved Christmas with all her heart and soul. I have often wondered what Christmas must have been like with her eight kids in the big old farmhouse near Vevay, IN, especially during the days of the Depression. Often a Christmas stocking would contain a precious orange and a small gift or toy, or some practical item like socks or a scarf. Christmas Day certainly would have included a special service at Long Run Baptist Church a few miles away. How did they all get to church stuffed into the “machine” — as my grandparents always called the family car?

I know my grandmother thought of Christmas all year round, for if she saw something any of us cousins would like at the Five-and-Dime during the year, she would get it and carefully hide it away to be wrapped up and delivered at Christmas.

She passed away in the summer of 1964, when I was 16, and it was a sad day for me to attend her modest funeral. No more chats about the doings of soap opera characters, no more huge family get-togethers at which my Uncle Dee would pass the bowl of pickled beets around once to be polite, and then proceed to eat the rest by himself. No more orange cakes baked in an ancient and curious stovetop oven and distributed among all the eager grandkids. No more warnings to us kids when staying over not to flush the toilet if we got up to pee in the middle of the night because it would start the pump running and wake everybody up.

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I love “Donovan’s Reef,” the 1963 John Ford classic movie starring John Wayne, Lee Marvin and Elizabeth Allen. One of my favorite holiday traditions is to watch “Donovan’s Reef” on the Saturday closest to December 7th. Some years we have a full-blown luau, other years we just make tiki-moko and serve mai-tais, but it’s always […]

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Holiday Tradition … Chili Party


Ray Kujawa and I have been married 14 years. Every year except one (when he was recovering from surgery), we have had a holiday open house on the first Saturday in December. We invite friends and neighbors to drop by and share food, drink, and Ray’s Famous Chili.

But this tradition was started by me, back in 1997, when I lived alone in a small condo, which I was lucky to have kept through some years of unemployment and under-employment (I signed a mortgage, and two weeks later was laid off from my job, and it took me over a year to find a new full-time job). I had just started a new job and wanted to get to know my new co-workers. So I decided to throw a party, and invite co-workers and friends to come over and share cheer. I have another tradition, where each year I buy a new CD of unusual Christmas music, so I had accumulated a goodly stash of interesting music to play. I cleaned up the place, bought and prepared finger-food, wine, and hot cider (which made the house smell wonderful), and awaited my guests.