An Evening with the Famous Apparitions of the Advent

A decade of teaching middle school left me with a curious set of skills.  I can decipher both teenage boy chicken scratch, as well as teenage girl fluffy, curlicue handwriting. I can read a two-page essay composed of a single paragraph, lacking in both a thesis and organization and still decode the gist of the paper. I can recommend young adult books based solely on the question, “What was the last good book you read?” with probably a 90% accuracy rate. Ten years of teaching eighth grade also gave me a unique ability to quote passages from classics such as The Outsiders (I’m not just talking the easy ones, like Johnny’s dying words, “Stay gold Ponyboy; stay gold.”) and “The Cask of Amontialldo” (“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.”). You don’t even want to get me started on why Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is the perfect choice for a novel about orphaned teenage hoodlums. Not only can I do an entire ninety minute class on the topic, but I can do it in a way that gets thirteen year olds to enthusiastically agree that American poetry written about rural New England naturally fits with stabbing Socs and late night rumbles.

A Christmas Carol was always one of my favorite novels to teach. I meticulously planned and plotted my limited number of days between the Thanksgiving break and the Christmas one so that each stave was thoroughly read and enjoyed by all. Having taught the Ghost Story of Christmas for eight years to three different classes each year, plus adding in my own personal readings, I’ve probably read it cover to cover thirty times in the last ten years.  That many readings of anything is bound to give any bookworm a keen sense for every line in the text.

Even without a class to regale with the wonders of Dickens’ prose, I didn’t want to let my holiday season be deprived of a little Victorian British cheer.  Thad, during one of his excursions as sightseeing coordinator for visiting Idaho friends, saw that Ford’s Theater was putting on the play this winter.  There couldn’t be a better marriage of our favorite things!  A classic Advent season play for me and a historical site visit for him.

Last week, we, along with two great friends, braved the elements to attend the Wednesday night showing. While “…External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge,” I was rather drenched after tiptoeing, in heels, along three blocks of puddles, even with an umbrella hovering over my head.

Though the audience was damp and chilled, the play was amazing!

The Ghost of Christmas Past had a personality like I had never envisioned. As she floated above the stage in her all white, sparkling ballerina get-up, she cheerfully gave Scrooge the what-what about having forgotten the true meaning of the holiday spirit. During Fezziwig’s Christmas Eve dance party, I felt like I was at a tennis match as my eyes jumped from the lively action on stage to the crazily dancing ghost floating above and back again.

I’ve attended a handful (possibly inching towards two handfuls) of adaptations of Charles Dickens’ novel over the years, many of them with sixty middle school students in tow, but I have to say that Ford’s Theater’s retelling ranks right at the top when it comes to the creepy factor. While Marley’s haggard old face never surfaces on a doorknocker, it does mystically appear and disappear from a painting hanging in the center of Scrooge’s room.  Between this and the eerie floating Ghost of Christmas Future, I am quite certain that the towheaded little boy sitting in the row in front of us has experienced some rather haunting nightmares.

Dressed in our finery, accompanied by fantastic friends, the evening was a resounding success for both the literary and history buffs residing in this little mo-partment. This Christmas time just got a little bit Christmas-ier.  “And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas!

An array of international Santa Clauses, a giant, glowing evergreen tree, hoards of ice skaters bundled in puffy jackets, colorful scarves and a rainbow of beanies, and a cup of steaming, smooth hot chocolate all mean just one thing- Christmas is in the air!

The Christmas season, in my little world, has a definite period of time in which it fits. (Thad calls it arbitrary, but it makes perfect sense to me.) Christmastime starts the day after Thanksgiving, although I did not partake in any pre-dawn shopping madness, and continues through the end of the year. Once the turkey is devoured, the mashed potatoes have been ingested and the yams have been lovingly crammed down the kitchen sink disposal, Christmas can officially commence.

I love seeing the houses decorated in lights (although I can do without blow-up Snoopy and his cohorts in yard after yard), the malls and stores with wreaths hung and the familiar ringing of the Salvation Army bells. The all-Christmas-music-all-the-time station is officially the go-to radio station for the next four weeks.

As we spent Thanksgiving weekend in Greensburg, Pennsylvania with Thad’s dad’s side of the family, we had a chance to go in to Pittsburgh on Saturday night to officially kick off Christmas merriment.  After a great meal of hotpot at a rather authentic Chinese restaurant, we headed downtown where the city has an enormous Christmas tree lit and decorated, surrounded by an ice skating rink. The weather was great for a late November evening and we comfortably strolled through the masses awaiting their turn to take to the ice. Nearby, the windows of the office buildings were filled with gingerbread houses that local Girl Scout troops and school kids had created and built.

An attached atrium housed another gigantic tree, surrounded by even more gingerbread creations. I think the rules of the contest allowed for any edible construction materials, as graham crackers seemed to be the foundation of choice, with everything from ice cream cones to Oreos being injected into the creative process.  I do have to question the authenticity of several of the elaborate projects that assert to be from preschool-aged students, but are obviously creations of their helicopter-mothers and overly-involved, Boy Scout Troop leading fathers.

The outside edges of this elegant, glass walled/ceiling-ed area were lined with beautifully carved statues of the various images of Santa from around the world.  While I am not sure how factually accurate the stories accompanying each display were, the statues themselves gorgeously combined the romantic feel of the Christmas spirit and the culturally known aspects of each countries celebrations.   (The Chinese Santa, while correctly being called “Old Man Christmas” told a weird tale of gift giving at the holiday season that had an ancient vibe to it that just would not hold up in a history lecture.)

With the Thanksgiving carb-fest completed, all it took was a little Christmas music, a chill in the air and some twinkling lights to make me giddy for the overdose of red and green, of penguins and reindeer, of elves and Mrs. Claus and of shopping and wrapping that will occupy my free time for the next few weeks.  The Christmas season is here and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

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Hallowmas or Christween?

Seriously Target?  It is a well-known fact that there is no holiday I like less than Halloween, but still…have you no festive soul?

As proud owners of a silver Nissan Sentra for the next twenty-four hours (LASIK transportation), Thad and I decided to use our short-term mobility for such exciting adventures as dinner off the Metro line and a trip to Target that didn’t require crossing our fingers and hoping the bus doesn’t blow right by us.

After a tasty (and quite onion-y on Thad’s part) dinner at Lost Dog Café, we headed out to Potomac Yard to get candy for the costumed critters sure to ring our doorbell on Monday evening.  Heading to the back of the store to where the specialty aisles are usually located, I expected to be confronted with rows of Halloween costumes littering the ground in utter chaos.  (Halloween aisles resurrect nightmares from my teenage job as a clerk at ShopKo. I don’t know what it is about costumes, maybe it is part of the creepiness of the holiday, but the hangers seem to be invisible to the shoppers.  Why hang something back up when it can go in a pile of glittery, sparkly, wig filled refuse?)

Before we reached those ridiculous aisles, we stumbled upon something even more absurd- Christmas! Stockings to hang by the chimney with care, bells to jingle all the way, Dashers and Dancers and Comets and Vixens. It was all there.

The Halloween aisles and the burgeoning Christmas aisles have merged into one large holiday conglomerate. I could easily reach out and grab a pumpkin emblazoned bag of orange and black M&M’s with my left hand and simultaneously choose some adorable sledding penguin wrapping paper with my right.

As I pondered the corporate greed that might be blamed for this holiday insanity,  I realized that the possibility of a conspiracy exists, but it isn’t on the part of big-business.  The immediate jump from Halloween to Christmas really profits one group more than any other- the turkeys!  They are more than ugly (yet yummy), wattle-bearing birds- they might just be the brilliant minds behind the skipping of Thanksgiving. Much like the Chick-Fil-A cows and their campaign for us to eat more chicken, the birds have caught on and figure they’ll pull the same stunt by capitalizing on the consumerism of America. Target seems to be happy to comply with this devious plan, as the orange and black and red and green have mixed into a muddy gray of holiday ludicrousness.

Like it or not, Halloween is Monday night.  Let’s give our slowly sagging jack o’lanterns and spider-web covered bushes their chance to shine in the eerie strobe lights.  Santa and his elves can wait in the wings for just one more week before they make their first magical appearance and parents have to begin to explain how Mr. Claus can be at  both the mall and the parade a at the same time.