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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

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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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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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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Nearly a hundred years ago the practitioners of a trade that had traditionally been regarded as barely a step above prostitution formed a union.

The growing resentment of the men and women of the legitimate stage towards the conditions under which they were employed eventually found institutional expression in the founding of the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) in 1913. But it was not until 1919—by which time it had become abundantly clear that the producing managers had no intention of yielding any of their control over the terms under which actors were employed—that its members voted to affiliate with the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

~ “All Work or No Play: Key Themes in the History of the American Stage Actor as Worker”

I have never been a member of Actors’ Equity, but I was for a time a non-union actor with paying gigs. And in the early 1980s I went on strike. Twice.

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[From 2009.]

Pioneer Day was originally, in Mormon culture, a commemoration of the first pioneers’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, and was celebrated from the very beginning, starting in 1848. Over the years, the day gradually became an annual festival honoring all pioneers and early inhabitants in Utah, where it is an official state holiday. It’s also celebrated by LDS folks across a wide swath of the western United States, Canada, and northern Mexico, and in other parts of the world.

In the spirit of wider inclusiveness that has come to mark this holiday, I wish today to honor the memory of two other pioneers — separated by a century and a continent — who selflessly championed the right of others to live as they saw fit.

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