Is this because we are grown up, jaded with years of experiences that induce the bah-humbug response? Probably. I don't much enjoy the holiday shopping ritual. Fighting the crowds, sliding around on slick sidewalks and roads, dodging traffic, getting your credit card hacked at a big box store. . .All of this contributes to a Yuletide malaise. Macy's wants us to "Believe!" In what? The magic of mass marketing?
|"Bah humbug!" Alistair Sim is brilliant as Scrooge in the 1951 film version of "A Christmas Carol."|
The waiting on Christmas Eve was tortuous. Filled with a mixture of joy and dread, I'd wake up at dawn. In the cold house (Dad had to stoke the coal-fired furnace to get the heat going in the morning) I'd creep slowly down to the first floor, step by step, my breath hanging in the chilly air, to peek around the corner into the living room. When I saw that gifts were under the tree and my stocking was filled, I'd tiptoe back upstairs and jump back under the covers. Seeing the gifts and anticipating opening them was the magical moment, not the opening itself.
|Christmas '49. I'm posing with the doll, but what I really liked was the miniature gas station (right).|
|Morwenna in happier days with Santa. No matter that he is in his 20s and has a fake beard.|
|It seemed that half the houses in Pittsburgh in the 'Fifties had these wreaths--They were so cool, daddy-o.|
We had our family food traditions, most notably plum pudding. This was made in huge quantities at St. John's Lutheran Church from my English Uncle Jack's family recipe and sold as a fund raiser. A half dozen church women, aided by my grandfather, who cracked the walnuts, labored all day, mixing the pudding and steaming it in gigantic cauldrons. Served with lemon or hard sauce, it was an exceptional once-a-year treat.
|My plum pudding is done after three hours of steaming. It embodies Christmas with the Busches.|
Neither of my parents were bakers, so we relied on others for holiday treats. My dad's favorite was fruit cake--rich, moist, and succulent. Mine was the so-called hunky cakes, those filled cold dough cookies that melt in your mouth.
|Known in the vernacular as "hunky cakes", these labor-intensive cookies of Slovak derivation were a must at many Pittsburgh holiday celebrations.|
Music in particular evokes special feelings of the holiday. I started to list my favorite Christmas pieces, but had to stop, realizing that I could go on for many pages. We sang carols at school, church, in the car, at the piano, wherever. One December my Grandfather Katilius had a machine brought to the store to make sound recordings. I cut a record of "Hark! the herald angels sing"; it's somewhere in a box in my house.
|Caroling with Ceridwen's family, Christmas Eve 2010.|
There's a video in that box, too, of another Christmas performance: a kinescope recording of my dad's play "A Great Light" which aired live on WQED-TV, Pittsburgh, on Saturday, December 22, 1956. I played the innkeepers' daughter, a blind girl. I remember very little of the story, but vividly recall singing the Coventry Carol (Dad had no problem with anachronisms) in front of the camera, pretending I couldn't see it. I also recall going to church the next day, where some of the young children told me how glad they were I really wasn't blind. I took it as a wonderful compliment.
|With Belva Seitz in "A Great Light" on WQED-TV, Christmas 1956|
|Drum (left) and bell (right)|
Listen to it here:
The lovely 2003 performance of "Away in the Manger" by the King's College Choir.
|Singers in the King's College Choir, 1951|