Thursday, December 17, 2015

Professor Carol on Advent

Music, Arts, History, and Western Culture
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Reclaiming Christmas

By Professor Carol on Dec 25, 2015 04:00 am
By the time you read this post, it may be December 26 or 27. Christmas, they say, is over.
They’re wrong. We’re still at the beginning of Christmas, despite what the commercial world says. Our modern culture has forgotten the actual parameters of the Christmas Season, namely the eve of December 24 to January 6.
Ordinarily, our December 25th post features one of my favorite choral pieces: J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.It’s a compendium of six half-hour long works designed for six specific services within the twelve-day Christmas season. The premise, of course, was that members of Bach’s congregation would be attending those services. And they looked forward to a new, topically appropriate composition at each.
If Bach were writing today, he’d have to squeeze hisChristmas Oratorio into sound bites. Perhaps two arias and a chorus for Christmas Eve and something shorter for Christmas Day. After that, well, maybe Bach could just stream the music to our iPhones.
Because the “post-Christmas” season has begun. Gotta get to bed early and up before dawn for those fabulous sales.
batteryHey, why wait until the 26th? Why not start the sales on Christmas Day? Our local Family Dollar Store out here in Bowie TX has a banner flapping in the wind: “Open on Christmas Day.” I couldn’t believe it.
But Christmas Day is the new catch for retailers. After all, retailers snagged Thanksgiving Day pretty easily, didn’t they? I asked inside the store: “Why are you opening on Christmas?” One employee sadly said, “Some people forget to buy batteries.”
Destroy the only haven left—the quietude of Christmas Day—so that a few people can buy batteries? Worse, employees have no choice, church services or families events not withstanding.
Didn’t we go through this with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? We cluck our tongues, thinking of how cruel that Mr. Scrooge was to force poor Bob Cratchit to slave on Christmas Eve. But we are returning to precisely that system.
Bob and Tim Cratchit
You can argue that people in the medical field and hotel/restaurant industry have always worked on Christmas Day. But that is a far cry from forcing the cash register lady to pre-cook her dinner, forego church, and race off to work by 10 a.m. All because people need batteries.
Let’s talk about those batteries. One of the greatest lessons of my life came in December 1981. I was studying in Leningrad, but had flown to Germany on the 23rd to celebrate Christmas. We went to the square the next morning about 11 a.m, ready to elbow ourselves into the crowd. To our astonishment, the stores were virtually empty. Most were closing at noon or hadn’t opened at all. There were no lines, no frantic pushes or pulls. People had . . . (ready for this?) . . . planned ahead and bought what they needed already.
Is that possible? Yes. And here’s why. Germans, and many Europeans, keep a traditional approach to Christmas. Bargains and “stuff” aren’t the focus. Plus, if a goose traditionally is prepared for First Christmas Day dinner and a venison roast for Second Christmas Day, one can think ahead and buy whatever traditional trimmings are needed, whether red cabbage or potato dumplings. It’s the same menu each year. The modest stash of presents within the family was wrapped long ago. People already have stocked up on milk and batteries. So what is left to worry over? Nothing.
I never forgot that lesson. It spurred a personal goal to change how I “do” Christmas. I pledged to decelerate it and try to reclaim the time frame known as The Twelve Days of Christmas. One part of this effort has been learning to celebrate Advent. An outgrowth of that has been our Advent Calendar. Thank you for letting me share these daily posts with you.
A second part is trying, at least, to stretch the joy of Christmas across its proper liturgical season: December 25 to January 6—the actual Twelve Days sung about in Carols. Give it a try. Don’t apologize for sending cards and gifts to arrive during the Twelve Days. Invite people for Christmas parties after the 25th: schedules will be less hectic and people will be able to enjoy themselves.
Most of all, find small things to treasure during those twelve days. Bake and give more cookies. Enjoy a leisurely game of Scrabble. Find Christmas displays that stay up until New Year’s (arboretums, zoos, fair grounds, even NASCAR race tracks). Do leave the tree up.
And for those of you who attend services, seek out extra ones. It could be Morning Prayer or Evensong. Maybe there’s a weekly service at the Salvation Army that you otherwise wouldn’t know about. Attend daily Mass, or listen at home to the topical readings that unfold the complete cycle of the Nativity story. Do whatever you can to remember that Christmas is aseason of rejoicing.
Aim for modest goals, and don’t be surprised if you find far more opportunities than you expect. Give yourself and your family the gift of a leisurely, lovely Christmas Season. No matter what the commercial world says. Merry Christmas (a long one), and Happy New Year!
The post Reclaiming Christmas appeared first onProfessor Carol.

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Advent Day 26: Christmas Pageants
Advent Day 25: Shepherds
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Advent Day 26: Christmas Pageants

By Professor Carol on Dec 24, 2015 04:00 am
Die Jakobskirche in Weimar, R. Möhler (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Some people deride Christmas pageants, viewing them as a seasonal entertainment for overly sugared kids and exhausted parents. But the tradition is long and noble, dating arguably back to a live nativity scene staged by St. Francis in 1223.
Still, I never sensed the magnificence of Christmas pageants until my first occasion to see one in the small city of Weimar, Germany. It was Christmas Eve and the place was the Jakobskirche (Jacob Church), a small church near the ring-street that was the “moat” back in the days of knights and castles.
The church has a wonderful history. The cornerstone dates from the 1180s, while the interior is a delicate but simple Baroque wash. The poet Johann von Goethe was married in the Sacristy. J.S. Bach, who worked in Weimar, knew this church well. But to me, the most interesting part of its history came in 1806, when the nave became an infirmary during the bloody Battle of Jena in the Napoleonic Wars.
Scanning the balconies filled with excited families straining to see their costumed children below, I tried to imagine those same balconies more than 200 years earlier when German and French soldiers lay in agony. It was hard to envision. All around me was the magic of Christmas Eve, complete with the hush of snow. Yet, the modern children before me were likely speaking the same pageant lines as children back in Bach’s time. I was transfixed by one boy in a fleecy shepherd’s cloak, standing inches from the wall candles that illuminate the church. “Yikes,” I thought, “how many centuries have nine-year olds stood on this same spot, oblivious of the blaze behind their heads?”
But isn’t that the power of tradition? We repeat the same acts of devotion perfected by our forefathers. We recite the same lines and sew the same costumes. And by passing this long chain of tradition to our children, we knit our families to those who came before us. And we equip our children to take our faith more strongly into the future.

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Recent Articles:

Advent Day 25: Shepherds
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Happy Holidays from the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

Dear Casady Families,
From all of us at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, and on behalf of those we serve, Happy Holidays and best wishes for a wonderful New Year!  Your belief in our mission has providedHOPE to thousands of our neighbors who struggle with hunger. Because you care, together we truly make a lasting impact on the lives of our fellow Oklahomans.
With great thanks and best wishes this season and in 2016!
Laura Lang
Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

One extra way you can fight hunger during the holidays:
When shopping online, sign in to, and designate the Regional Food Bank as your charity of choice. We’ll receive a donation every time you make a purchase!  

Laura Lang, CFRE
Vice President of Development
Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

Stories of Hope:
"We had a student who was very stressed about having to be a breadwinner for the family. She worked a lot of hours while trying to study for semester exams.  By our school pantry being able to provide food to her, she was able to cut back her hours at work some and that, in turn, had more time to study time for classes.  This 16 year old was almost in tears when she was offered help for her large family."

~Harrah High School

Advent Day 19: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

By Professor Carol on Dec 17, 2015 04:00 am
The Poissy Antiphonal – 1335-1345
A friend sent me a card, saying he hoped O Come, O Come Emmanuel would be a topic for one of the remaining days of the Advent Calendar. This song, for him, evoked special memories of childhood.
That set me to thinking. It’s certainly not the first Christmas Carol most children learn. In fact [flash!], it isn’t a Christmas Carol at all. It’s a 100% Advent hymn whose text lays out a complete statement of the Advent narrative in progressive verses. Depending on which hymnal you use, you’ll even find the appropriate dates between December 17 and December 23 tagged to each verse.
As we know, our popular culture isn’t well-tuned to Advent, so in modern times, O Come, O Come Emmanuel is perceived as a Christmas Carol, and one of the most deeply moving!
The hymn is known popularly by its opening words: Veni, veni Emmanuel. Veni, in fact, is the imperative, or command, form of the Latin verb “to come” (venire). Yes, it’s the same verb that stands at the root of “Advent.” The beguiling melody is an old plainsong or chant. That’s what gives it the antique flavor to our modern ears.
But the real story of O Come, O Come Emmanuel lies in the text. The words are old, maybe as old as the 8th century. And they are actually a collection of words – sets of sentences that were read or sung before the reading of something else. This kind of added-in “pre-text” was called an antiphon (anti+phon).
I smile when I remember struggling to understand the word “antiphon” in my first college music history class. I’m sure I got it wrong on the test! But once I attended a service where the entire liturgy was chanted, rather than read, it all made perfect sense. Our understanding changes, doesn’t it, when we realize that an “ancient form” in church tradition was once a brand new way of worshipping God.
Each of the seven verses in O Come, O Come Emmanuelbegins with the exclamation “O,” so they are known as the “O Antiphons.” Even more wonderfully, the antiphons present the prophetic names for Christ taken from the Book of Isaiah.
Dec. 17O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
Dec. 18O Adonai (Hebrew name for God, usually translated “Lord”)
Dec. 19O Radix Jesse (O Wheel of Jesse)      
Dec. 20O Clavis David (O Key of David)
Dec. 21O Oriens (O Light of the East)
Dec. 22O Rex Gentiem (O King of the Gentiles)
Dec. 23O Emmanuel (O Emmanuel)
There’s one more surprise: the first letters of those prophetic names in Latin make an acronym: SARCORE. If you read that SARCORE backwards, you get ero cras. And that, in Latin, means “Tomorrow I come” or “Tomorrow I shall be.” Well, there you have it!
The credit for turning all of this into a hymn goes to John Mason Neale (1818-1866) an English minister and translator who was particularly devoted to traditional texts from Latin, Greek, and German. His scholarly interests mirrored an interest in old church music that blossomed in the 19th century. You might say that “retro” was in!
But it took a lot of work for someone like Neale to dig these things out, make translations, and find an appropriate way to harmonize the ancient tunes. Today, we can click to find ancient manuscripts pop right up on our computers, and click again to hear dozens of beautiful performances of the old tunes right on YouTube. Can you imagine what Neal would say to find O Come O Come Emmanuel spread across the Internet? I think he’d be pleased.
Enjoy these tender and worshipful renditions of O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
Unable to load thumbnail for YouTube Video Id: Yv927QNtz78. Please make sure they exist and try again later. #404

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