Oikan ayns Bethlehem (The Babe in Bethlehem)

Pen and Ink drawing of The Nativity with the Dream of Joseph
The Nativity with the Dream of Joseph c. 1527/30? Parmigianino (Italian, 1503-1540), Cleveland Museum of Art

Nish lhisagh shin yn feailley shoh
Y reayll lesh creeaghyn glen
Ayns cooinaghtyn jeh Yeesey Chreest
Oikan ayns Bethlehem

Daag Eh cooyrtn sollys E Ayr
Goaill er yn dooghys ain
Ruggit jeh Moidyn ghlen gyn chron
Oikan ayns Bethlehem

Eisht ainleyn Niau ren boggey ghoaill
Haink lesh ny naightyn hooin
Ginsh jeh Saualtagh ruggiy jiu
Oikan ayns Bethlehem

Nagh mooar yn insblid as y ghraih
V’ayns Yeesey Chreest yn Eayn
Tra ghow Eh er cummey Harvaant
Oikan ayns Bethlehem

Now keep we this festival,
With purest hearts,
In honor of Christ:
The Babe in Bethlehem

He left his Father’s palace,
Taking on our human form,
Born of the pure Virgin,
The Babe in Bethlehem.

Then the angels rejoiced
And brought us tidings –
A savoir born today,
The Babe in Bethlehem.

How great the humility and love,
Which was in Jesus Christ the Lamb,
When He took the form of his Servant,
The Babe in Bethlehem.

Wishing a Merry Christmas to You and Yours!


Sacrum Mysterium: A Celtic Christmas Vespers

Should magic actually exist, I am convinced that it comes in the form of music. Its ability to heal, to transport, to move the listener in unexpected and meaningful ways. How else to explain how, for an oh-so-brief hour and a half, I could have been so totally removed from any cares or concerns and half expect to walk out the door into the 18th century British Isles?

CD Cover - Sacrum Mysterium: A Celtic Christmas Vespers

The program was Sacrum Mysterium: A Celtic Christmas Vespers. The performers, the renowned Apollo’s Fire, The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Jeanette Sorrell, with Meredith Hall (soprano), Steven Player (dancer/guitar), Jeffrey Strauss & Amanda Powell (cantors) and Ensemble La Nef (artistic director Sylvain Bergeron). I still can’t quite believe I got to hear them, in a crowded church sancturay, on a mid-December’s night, and only five minutes from home! How were we so lucky? Ohio sometimes gets a bad rap from out-of-staters (good place to be from), but we are blessed with opportunites for rich artistic experiences.*

It is a truly lovely program, of music ranging from the 12th to 18th centuries, both sacred and secular, sung and instrumental, in English and Latin and Celtic tongues. As Sorrell says in her program notes, the Celtic Christmas traditions “straddle the crossroads–not only the crossroad of art music and traditional music, but also the crossroads of paganism and Christianity.” The balance played out with one tune flowing seemlessly into the next–often not even pausing for applause, a lack of which seemed appropriate for the most sacred selections, such as from the Vespers of St. Kentigern. At other times, the music was more lively, with one or more of the artists dancing a jig, percussion of feet rather than hands.

But the overall impression I was left with in the end–even more so than the quality and richness of what I had just witnessed–was the idea of Joy. From the solemn vesperts to the uplifting “Allelujah,” composed by Sorrell to unify and link the solumn vesters and the playful dance tunes to the gleeful jigs and reels themselves, a sense of joy pervades and colors the program.  Joy should be central to Christmas, yet we let stress or sorrow or fear or anger or pain or busyness or ambivalence predominate and distract us from our ability to know joy, to feel joy, to share joy. The blessing of the conert for me was the opportunity to reflect upon Joy and to remember that it is there for the taking, if only we so choose.

I salute you! There is nothing I can give you which you have not; but there is much, that, while I cannot give, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take Heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take Peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet, within our reach, is joy. Take Joy.

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.

Attributed to Fra Giovanni
A.D. 1513

*And as if one such experience in a week weren’t enough, Saturday was a trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art for a special exhibt, Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, heading to London next month. Although perhaps the layout could have been better (i.e., more spacious – it was so crowded, you could rarely really stand far enough away to get a proper view of some of the paintings), the combination for paintings from all over the world was truely special. I discovered two Spanish painters I’d not previously heard of, Joaquín Sorolla and Santiago Rusiñol. And the big “wow” moment was seeing all three panels of the Agapanthus triptych reunited into one panel.

In Progress: Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories (1)

ChristmasAnneChristmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories
L.M. Montgomery
Rea Wilmshurst, editor (1995)

“Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves” from Anne of Green Gables (1908)
“Christmas at Red Butte” (1909)
“The End of the Young Family Feud” (1907)
“Aunt Cyrilla’s Christmas Basket” (c. 1903)
“The Osbornes’ Christmas” (1903)

As December marched quickly on this year, I didn’t expect that I would have time to read anything seasonal this year, but on Christmas day I found myself with some spare time and my copy of Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories at hand. The volume is one of several collections  of L.M. Montgomery’s short stories edited by Rea Wilmshurst in the late 80s to early 90s. Most of the stories had been originally published in various newsletters or magazines, although in this collection, given the “Anne” theme, several episodes are chapters selected from the Anne books. I only read the first five this year, which allows me to save the rest for future Christmases.

There is something about Montgomery’s work that I always find delightful. A lightness, I suppose, or a feeling at the end of each tale that everything will be alright—a marked contrast to her own difficult adult life. However, unlike the Louisa May Alcott Christmas stories I wrote about last year,  I didn’t feel that they contained the saccharine quality that I had difficulty swallowing—a story may travel from despair to hope, but always as the result of making-do or of a benefactor already in play, not an unexpected and sudden reward for the mere virtue of doing good. That is, the stories felt realistic rather than mere fairy-tale. None of them were the same either—”The Osbornes’ Christmas” was not a tale of a family wishing they could receive Christmas despite the odds, but rather of a family that was so well-off they could no longer appreciate what they did have, and “Aunt Cyrilla’s Christmas Basket” was a story of making a Christmas while snowed in on a train.

The first story, “Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves,” is not actually a free-standing short story, but is pulled from Anne of Green Gables. As such, it works best in context of the book, but as a fan of Anne, I could read it over and over again with or without the remainder of the novel. It is such a lovely chapter depicting gentle Matthew and his determination to do something special for Anne, even though this means an attempt to overcome his overwhelming shyness.

“Christmas at Red Butte” is perhaps the most similar to the Alcott stories: a mother is in despair because she cannot afford to give her children Christmas. But where in Alcott a surprise benefactor might arrive, here the niece who makes a great sacrifice to let her cousins have some Christmas joy. Where Alcott speaks of Christmas miracles, Montgomery champions sacrificial giving, a message that sits more easily with me. Finally,  “The End of the Young Family Feud” tells what I find seems to be a typical Montgomery story: an old family argument and stubborn pride overcome by a mistake and/or a plucky young woman, and the discovery that the prickly old man is rather nice after all.

One realization as I read these: while I may have decided a few months back while reading Year of Wonders that I am not as much of a fan of historical fiction as I thought, I truly love reading old fiction where the time-frame is from within the author’s memory. Throughout these stories there are little details included that readers of the time would have thought nothing of, but which help provide a fuller—and more accurate—image of the past for the reader one hundred years later. In “The Osbornes’ Christmas,” Montgomery tells us “…Frank and Darby had stoned all the raisins…”, an activity that would never had occurred to me as necessary in this day of convenient store-bought, seed-free raisins, but doubtless Montgomery’s original readers would have known this chore themselves, or have observed others complete it. A writer from today would likely need to complete extensive research to discover this tidbit, and likely would have not inserted it so naturally into the narrative in the concern of ensuring the reader’s complete understanding. I can’t even imagine anyone using that phrasing! And this is only one small instance, one little detail. I’m sure if I paid better attention to my reading of old fiction, I could find many such instances of detail or description that would better illustrate the world of the past for me. A challenge for my future reads! And how lovely to know that I have more of these stories to look forward to next year.