Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Songs:Bridging Two Continents by E. Alana James

© 2011

As I sit down to write this, I have just downloaded Christmas music, updated with such new names to me as Michael Buble', Harry Connick and Diana Krall.  Heaven only knows where our standard Christmas CD collection is, buried, I am sure, in the piles of boxes that inhabit the small cubbie holes around our house, some so small we have to squeeze to get into them.  My partner has already made her way to the States, it being the in-between year where we go back to spend time with our family on the coast of California.

The holidays in our house span two continents and six decades of memories.  And, just like with the music, some traditions seem old and are tucked away in the closets yet still available, while it is the new in both technology and relationships that have become the mainstay of  our Christmas Holiday Season.  For those who are new to our story, we moved from the United States to Ireland five and a half years ago.  At 50+, what seemed at times like a courageous act, has given us a new lease on life and no where is this more obvious than at the holidays.

As an example, before I walked into our Cork NonFiction Writers Group Christmas meeting in downtown Cork this morning I sauntered up the street to Brown Thomas where, for a small donation, I added a ribbon to the Rememberance Tree.  While no longer a Cork Bishopstown Rotarian, I worked the booth at this tree for too many years not to always want to add our parents names to the many others whose yellow ribbons cover the tree from base to its top three stories above.  The streets were packed with people and I was delighted to look at the variety of decorations in shop windows.  The rain was light, but my mind was on snowflakes.

Christmas is time to mark the changes and to remember the sheer joys that come to us through this blessed life.  For some it is a religious centering as well, as is appropriate for the darkest part of the year, or at least seems apropos for any in the Northern hemisphere.  Yule logs bring light to dark times and our adopted land makes this tradition resonate with our souls as we see the sun come up at around 8am and our world goes dark well before 5pm.  Our dogs remind us that the requisite two walks a day just need to be closer together. As I walked this morning past the graves of the three furry friends who moved with us five years ago "Joie de Vivre,"  especially as it has to do with playing ball, cut through the rain showers.

Life on two continents, virtual communications, daily work relationships with people all over the world, these have become commonplace.  Perhaps it is the strangeness of these new things, or maybe the time of year that makes me nostalgic – not for the perennial white Christmas, as that often was accompanied by cars stuck in drifts and rotten weather – and not for deeper relationships long past as the new people in my life mean as much to me as any others I have enjoyed – but rather nostalgic just because of the joy of memory.  It's fun to recall where we were, and indeed who we were, as we pull out the decorations each year.  Equally wonderful are the old songs done new ways, and old traditions carried out in new places.

And so I take a line from the lyrics that are playing, and "fall asleep counting my blessings."  Old friends and new, golden memories to be brought out, dusted off and appreciated and silver ones to be created.  These are the joys of the holiday season and I know they are joys shared by all who take the time to reflect no matter what this time of year means to them.  As we move from darkness to the light may 2012 bring all the joy and fulfillment you can imagine to all who read this.

SANTA IN DISTRESS: How flattery ensnared Father Christmas by Victor Sullivan

SANTA IN DISTRESS: How flattery ensnared Father Christmas

by Victor Sullivan © 2010

The village community was determined not to be out-done by the near-by town where Father Christmas annually arrived by some flamboyant conveyance at the large illuminated Christmas Tree in the Town Square. Something would have to be done about the matter. The topic was raised on the village street and in bars, in the hairdressing salon and barbershop. A committee was formed and the committee appointed sub-committees. Brain-storming sessions spawned conflicting brilliant ideas that were voted on and the results were ignored or adopted with multiple modifications. Delegation of responsibilities followed. Every child would expect a gift so a financial sub-committee was established to raise funds. A tree was selected and felled. It arrived by tractor and was erected prominently at the point in the village where four roads meet.
A shortlisted potential Father Christmas was approached, was asked, requested, begged, cajoled, implored, blackmailed, threatened, beseeched and flattered to play this essential role in the proceedings. The flattery did the trick. How could I could refuse such an honour.

I received a delegation from the Santa Transport Sub-Committee (the STSC).
It was explained that a member of the STSC had a sister who knew a garage owner thirty miles away who had a genuine Model-T Ford that could be hired for weddings and carnivals. It was to be Santa's mode of transport. At a strictly-to-be-adhered-to hour, in my own car, I was to arrive at a large farm shed about 3 kilometers outside the village. There, hidden in the shed, the Model-T would be waiting with its owner at the wheel. On the passenger seat would be a large cardboard box containing a Santa suit, gloves, beard, hat, boots, sack and even a pair of glasses to which had been added bushy white eyebrows. Departure time had been determined with meticulous military accuracy. The word 'synchronicity' kept popping up. It being decades before the mobile phone era, lookouts had been posted along the arrival route to signal the progress of the Model-T by raising a Santa flag to ensure the synchronicity of the piper starting his mournful droning welcome.

On the appointed day, at the appointed minute, the piper preceded the ancient vehicle bearing Father Christmas into the village main street to where the local dignitaries were waiting at the foot of the Christmas Tree. Clergy of three denominations graced the occasion together with a creamery manager, a policeman, the doctor, a couple of school-teachers, the undertaker and several others.

Speeches were minimal, conspicuously monitored by a stopwatch-wielding committee member. Soon it was time for Father Christmas to deliver my own carefully prepared and well rehearsed speech to the children and their parents. The concluding words were met with rapturous applause and the children pressed forwards squealing and shrieking in their excitement as I gestured to Fairy Godmother to start the distribution of presents with the help of her three Elves. Everything went without a hitch. Everyone was happy, the children were pleased with their gifts, the parents were delighted with the professionalism of the entire event and the organising committees were justifiably proud of their achievement. It was to this merry background that Father Christmas took the microphone to make my farewell speech that ended with advice to the children to .."hurry home now, continue to be very good boys and girls and remember to hang up your stocking on Christmas Night."

As the applause died down I expected to hear the harsh growl of the returning Model-T. My prolonged farewell hand-waving session was becoming both absurd and tiring when I detected an air of consternation among the committee members. Frequent furtive glances in my direction increased my anxiety. Had something been forgotten? Had I omitted to perform some important function? While the parish priest was thanking Santa for visiting the village and wishing everyone a safe journey home, the undertaker approached me and muttered "The Model-T took another Father Christmas to children in a couple of hospitals. He won't be coming back for you."
"Then how..?" I began.
The undertaker shrugged and said as he left me, "You'll have to think of something."

Something tugged at my trouser leg. I glanced down and met the innocent blue eyes of a blonde four-year-old girl gazing up at me, utterly awe-struck. She held my red trouser-leg in a white-knuckle grip that proclaimed unquestionable permanence. I scanned the waiting throng for a possible parent, grandparent, aunt, brother, sister or anything else that might remove my latest charming but unwanted attachment. She tugged again and spoke clearly and distinctly:
"Steve says you're not the real one but Mummy said don't listen to him. I want a yellow teddy."
(Where's my Model-T? That undertaker was just trying to be funny... wasn't he? How should a Father Christmas talk to a kid like this one?).
"I said I want a yellow teddy, like the one Anne's got."
"Er.. A yellow teddy is it. How big is Anne's yellow teddy?"
"He's huge, he's huger than Anne. I want mine to be bigger."
To my horror I realised that my blonde attachment's desire for a yellow teddy had become a matter of communal interest. People gathered closer to enjoy the yellow teddy specification debate.
(Where's my Model-T? Where's that incompetent Santa Transport Sub-Committee? How the hell am I to get out of this situation with the reputation of both Santa and myself intact?).
"Will you bring me a yellow teddy bigger than Anne's?" This time the tone was more demanding.
(STOP! Pause... Think... Don't tell her to say 'please' nicely. What would the real Santa say? ...And don't use that sort of language either!).
My trouser leg was shaken violently. My charming blonde attachment was becoming decidedly less charming.
"Will you bring me a yellow teddy?"
"Er... I'll have to er check ... er..."
"Well? Will you?" challenged a male voice from the crowd. That did it!
"Go on! Tell the child you won't bring her a yellow teddy, you old fraud."
"Say you will!" – "Oh no he won't!" – "Oh yes he will!" – "Boooo!" – "Boooo!"
Charming blonde attachment started to bawl.
"Now look what you've done! Call yourself a Father Christmas, do ya?!" "Boooo!"
From then on it got so worse that my traumatised memory fails to recall any further painful details that led rapidly to my state of terminal despair.

Never doubt the powers of Fairy Godmothers, especially the one who assisted Santa on that fateful day. Assessing the grim situation from which there appeared to be no escape for Santa, she grabbed the microphone and declared that Santa was clearly tired after his journey and would appreciate a quiet cup of tea in a private room in the Hotel down the street. She successfully appealed to the parents of 'This angelic child' to come and detach their daughter from Santa. She declared that a Police escort would clear the way to the hotel for herself and Santa. The man in uniform responded instantly to his unexpected new duty and uttered dire warnings of eternal incarceration to anyone contemplating impeding Santa's progress. He then led the bemused and expectant mob towards the Hotel, where, having successfully delivered both Santa and Fairy Godmother inside the door, he stood stoically barring any further entry.

That obnoxious red outfit was quickly removed and I made a rapid, unobserved exit via the hotel kitchen to the service yard at the rear. Then I legged it, covering the three kilometers back to my car in what seemed to be mere seconds. Adopting a puzzled facial expression, I drove slowly through the village, past the denuded Christmas tree towards the hotel where people were still crowding around the entrance. I stopped the car, lowered the window and asked an elderly onlooker what the excitement was about.
"It's Father Christmas." came the reply, "He's in the hotel. We're waiting for him to come out again."
"I'm afraid he's gone. I met him in his Model-T. He's miles away by now." I informed him.
A familiar piercing wail rent the evening air: "I want a YELLOW TEDDY!"
I closed the car window and drove home.

Don't bother to ask me again. Flattery no longer works.