#58 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet
Ho Ho Ho!
To celebrate the season, here’s an old fashioned Christmas abecedarian by American poet Carolyn Wells. This verse was first published as a picture book by McLoughlin Brothers in 1900, and describes how many of us still define Christmas more than a century later.
A CHRISTMAS ALPHABET
by Carolyn Wells
A is for Angel who graces the tree.
B is for Bells that chime out in glee.
C is for Candle to light Christmas Eve.
D is for Dreams which we truly believe.
E is for Evergreens cut for the room.
F is for Flowers of exquisite perfume.
G is for Gifts that bring us delight.
H is for Holly with red berries bright.
I is for Ice, so shining and clear.
J is the Jingle of bells far and near.
K is Kriss Kringle with fur cap and coat.
L is for Letters the children all wrote.
M is for Mother, who’s trimming the bough.
N is for Night, see the stars sparkling now.
O is for Ornaments, dazzling with light.
P for Plum Pudding that tasted just right.
Q the Quadrille, in which each one must dance.
R is for Reindeer that gallop and prance.
S is for Snow that falls silently down.
T is for Turkey, so tender and brown.
U is for Uproar that goes on all day.
V is for Voices that carol a lay.
W is for Wreaths hung up on the wall.
X is for Xmas, with pleasures for all.
Y is for Yule log that burns clear and bright.
Z is for Zest shown from morning till night.
Quadrille, anyone? I suspect Mr Firth would make an excellent dance partner. 🙂
I love all the longstanding traditions surrounding the holiday, but as time passes, I find myself believing less in an idealized Christmas, and more in an idiosyncratic one, shaped by personal memories, adopted customs, and more realistic expectations.
When materialism and madness overwhelm, I like to think about Christmases from my favorite childhood books.
Remember in Little House on the Prairie when Mr. Edwards risks his life crossing a perilous creek to deliver Santa’s Christmas presents to Laura and Mary? How they loved the shiny tin cups, peppermint sticks, heart-shaped cakes, and pennies in their stockings! Mr. Edwards saved Christmas for those two little girls, and his courage and selflessness made a lasting impression on the entire Ingalls family.
Then there’s the second chapter of Little Women, when the March sisters deliver their Christmas breakfast to a freezing, starving family with seven children. The very definition of charity and kindness.
I also enjoy immersing myself in the London of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. How I’d love to sit with Tiny Tim and the rest of the Cratchits as they feast on that big turkey Scrooge has sent them and anticipate the flaming plum pudding!
In Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, which I faithfully reread every year, Buddy and his older cousin bake fruitcakes for people they’ve only met once or twice or not at all, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Somehow this story resonates with me the most. What is made by hand and with love, as well as time spent together, are priceless.
All these stories celebrate the spirit of giving, the essence of Christmas. The greatest gifts are often intangible, the irony being that the giver sometimes gets more in return.
This was certainly the case with my Dad’s Christmas gift this year. What do you give someone who just turned 104 and certainly doesn’t need any more “things”?
When he stopped using his computer a couple of months ago, we knew he’d entered the slow decline of his final journey. What sustains you when your body is physically failing? What is the most precious thing you possess at this stage? Memories of a life well lived.
When he was on his computer, Dad spent a lot of time looking at old family photos. So I thought of making a photobook — memories of favorite times Len and I spent with him. As the daughter who lived “away,” these times were actually trips we made to Hawai’i and trips Dad and Mom made to England and Virginia to visit us.
They visited England for the first time in the late 70’s to attend our wedding. They experienced snow for the first time when they spent Christmas with us in Virginia (1983). They came here again in 1997 for the Women in Military Service to America Memorial Dedication in Arlington. There were pumpkin farms in the Fall, family reunions and weddings in Hawai’i, good times in Cape Cod, on and on.
And some of the photos I’ve had of these events Dad has yet to see. So I spent days and days digging in boxes, culling the best pictures and scanning for hours like a crazy person.
I first tried to make my photobook on Shutterfly. They had good templates and customizing options, but I found the software a little frustrating, so I switched to Mixbook. So much easier! It took me another couple of days to upload and lay everything out. Mixbook promised the finished book in two weeks, but it arrived on my doorstep in four days!!
To be honest, I had lowered my expectations somewhat because I was using low resolution scanned photos, some from decades ago. No sharp and crisp digital photos. Some of the photos were taken on an Instamatic camera (remember those?)! BUT. The overall quality of the book was better than I expected (lay-flat pages are the way to go). Hope he likes it!
As I said, the giver sometimes receives more in return. The days spent working on this project sparked many forgotten memories. Our times together were indeed special because sometimes we did not see each other in person for years. It was good remembering Mom and me stringing popcorn and cranberry garlands for the tree, the family touring the USS Missouri Memorial at Pearl Harbor, visiting the Mayflower and the Old North Church, and staying at the Colonial Inn in Concord (which is haunted).
As I read on FB today, “Looking back helps us remember what matters most,” and I’m grateful for the unexpected gift this project gave me.
☕️ C IS FOR COFFEE CAKE MOIST AND DELISH 🍴
Every year I like to browse through Susan Branch’s Christmas from the Heart of the Home (Little, Brown, 1990). If you’re a fellow Susan fan, you know all her books are beautifully done, chock full of gorgeous hand lettering, watercolors, quotes, tips, and delicious, doable recipes that are consistently good.
Do you have a go-to recipe for Christmas morning? We usually make Cranberry Muffins, but I thought I’d try Susan’s Christmas Coffee Cake this year. It calls for fresh cranberries, chopped apples, and walnuts. Simple to make and so very moist.
I imagine you could make the batter the night before and then just bake it up first thing Christmas morning. Your kitchen will smell so good — there’s nothing like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to get you into the festive spirit. A piece of this homemade cake warm from the oven with your favorite hot beverage is a lovely way to greet this special day.
Only one teensy problem: this cake has a way of disappearing too quickly. 🙂
Susan Branch's Christmas Coffee Cake
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1-1/2 cups cored, peeled, chopped apple
- 1 cup chopped fresh cranberries
- 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift together flour, soda and salt — set aside. Combine all remaining ingredients and mix well. Stir in flour mixture. Spread in a buttered 8-inch square baking pan. Bake 40-45 minutes, until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Let sit 10 minutes, cut into squares, sift over powdered sugar, and serve.
~ from Christmas from the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch (Little, Brown, 1990), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
🌲L IS FOR LOVE, MY CHRISTMAS WISH🌲
Another December, another Christmas, another year.
I don’t know exactly when or how it happened, but for many people the holidays have become a time of stress rather than joy. Back in 2009, I wrote about the pressure of trying to do it all and how I try to find meaning in the holiday:
I’ve realized that Christmas will come, whether all these things get done or not. It will come to households with fewer gifts under the tree, to people who’ve lost loved ones during the year, to those who can’t be with their families or friends, to soldiers far from home, to the elderly in nursing homes, to the homeless shivering in the cold, to those who are happy and content as well as to those who are sad, displaced, or unemployed.
It all comes to fore at Christmas — what you miss, what you regret, what you should have or could have done, memories of childhood holidays, high expectations of picture perfect celebrations, longstanding feuds, family tension, the inevitable retrospective of personal and professional achievements/failures, the all-encompassing pressure “to be happy,” and a feverish desire to acknowledge anyone or everyone who has ever made the least bit of difference in your life.
Every year, it’s a small, quiet moment that “makes” Christmas for me. Usually, it’s not about a gift received or a cheery long distance phone call. It comes after all the necessary “tasks” are done, and I can reflect on what the day really means.
Love came down at Christmas. The world witnessed a miracle. It’s wondrous and mysterious and often too profound for mere mortals to fully comprehend. Even though I may not like all the materialism that characterizes this holiday, I like that for at least one day of the year, billions of people all over the world are united in observance and celebration. Questions of faith will arise, a search for hope. These are good things. Soul searching, going deep, is good and necessary. No matter our age, we desperately want to believe, to keep believing.
So I wish for you a small quiet moment of reckoning amid the hustle and bustle. Christmas doesn’t have to be a big production number, an impossible competition. Do what you can and feel like doing. It is enough. Remember the inestimable worth of one tin cup, a single penny.
During this tumultuous year, I know we’ve held hope in our hearts that truth, love, and justice will prevail.
And it will. So continue to BELIEVE.
Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, Friends!
We hope you hear the jingling of bells and happy carols being sung. May you devour dozens of cookies and sip many cups of tea while reading your favorite holiday stories by a cozy fire. We hope your Christmas dreams come true. See you in 2019!
♥️ PEACE, LOVE, AND JOY,
Jama, the dapper Mr Cornelius, Le Lapin Rotund, 70-something Paddingtons and all the Alphabet Soup kitchen helpers and bit players
P.S. If you see Colin, please tell him I’m still looking for a Quadrille partner. 🙂
The lovely and talented Laura Shovan is hosting today’s Roundup. Put on your jingle bells and elf shoes and dance on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere. Don’t forget to fa la la!
This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!
Certified authentic alphabetica. Made by hand just for you with love, hope, and unabashed merriment.
Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.