Some birthday musings I shared yesterday with an online interfaith community.

Tomorrow is my birthday. I mention the fact not because I seek attention — or sympathy (well, not exactly!) — but for another reason: tomorrow I’ll be 57, and that has led me to reflect, for the fifty-seventieth time, on the various flavors that infuse my personal creed. Heinz-sight is 20/20, right?

What follows is a very small portion of those reflections. Continue Reading »

How I like to imagine…

…the jumble sale that is my “beautiful mind”:

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A little ‘Messiah’ theatre

Okay, so I am a Messiah dork. A scratchy LP recording of Handel’s oratorio with Eugene Ormandy, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was played over and over again in our house every December. That was the beginning of my dorkdom, but it wasn’t the end of it. Not by a long shot.

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My favorite Christmas Eve

Christmas Wreath

This is an amplified and expanded version of something I wrote a couple of years ago.

On Christmas Eve of 1984, my first in San Francisco, I found myself at the home of a close friend’s new boyfriend (I’ll call him “Daniel”), enjoying a little “pre-party,” prelude to a celebratory night of clubbing. While we sipped his elegantly crafted cocktails Daniel began to spin a web of enchantment, sharing with us some of his favorite memories of the season. Bittersweet to heartwarming to hilarious, Daniel’s stories of Christmases past tumbled out one on top of another, creating an almost palpable atmosphere which was nearly visible and wholly hypnotic. I was transfixed. What a magical Christmas Eve this is turning out to be, I remember thinking.

I had no idea.

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An American Carol

My family connection to this story is gossamer thin, so this is really more “history” than “family history.” But since it’s a nice story for the season, and largely unknown, I offer it here.

Several years ago, when Rockefeller Center began what has since become a traditional part of Christmas in New York City they paid tribute to what they called “the only two true Christmas carols composed in America,” O Little Town of Bethlehem by the Rev. Phillip Brooks, and Far, Far Away on Judea‘s Plains by John M. Macfarlane. Probably no one in the audience had heard of John M. Macfarlane…

John Menzies Macfarlane emigrated from Scotland in the 1850s and settled in a small village in the red rock desert of the American Southwest. Here’s the story of his Christmas carol.

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Cranberry sauce from a can

Mom’s cranberry sauce was a thing of beauty, concocted of fresh berries, sugar, spices and orange zest; slow-simmered on a back burner while she attended to the rest of the feast, and brought to the table in a pressed-glass bowl handed down from her x-great-grandmother. Made with love and pride, it was to me emblematic of her skill as a cook and, writ larger, of a kind of happiness and warmth which, in youthful innocence, I thought unique to my family’s holiday celebrations. Cranberry sauce from a can was for people who just didn’t care enough.

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While mining 19th-century journals and memoirs in pursuit of family history I dug up the following nugget; it has no direct* connection to my ancestors, but I found it entertaining enough to share.

The writer (other portions of whose diary mention various members of my family tree) was at the time employed in the building of the Lion House, one of Brigham Young’s homes in Salt Lake City.

I commenced the work with two men to help me I went into the carpenters shop according to directions from Brigham I soon found that thare was a feeling of jealousy creeping in for Miles Romney the foreman of the shop came in. He had been having some whiskey and he came up to me and said who sent you here to be a boss I told him I was not his boss nor it was not my duty to interfere with his business, he said you need not say that for it was a plan laid to work him out of the shop. I assured him it was not the case but he did not seem inclined to believe it. He said if I would bring on the liquor and treat he then might think I was telling the truth this was not the first time I had felt his spirit.

~ Phineas W. Cook’s diary, 1854

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