Saturday 20 December 2008
Carolina Cannonball has tagged me for an interesting meme. Unfortunately, I am unable to comply with this one. I'm usually busy at Christmas, and, apart from one year when I was terribly antisocial and stayed at home to read a good book (I'd had a lot of work-related problems, and just couldn't face the idea of people asking me how the job was going!) I generally go elsewhere for Christmas day, once I've finished with church-related activities.
Coupled with the fact that I also go away for the Faith Winter Conference, and also the fact that Sylvester, my cat, has rather a penchant for eating any plant material left unattended, this means that Christmas trees are not my thing. I am, however, happy to make admiring noises (or disparaging remarks) about the trees of others... Being half-German makes me an expert on Christmas tree decorations, tree decorating being a national pastime (according to my mother!)
So, instead of recalling my favourite ornament, I shall describe Christmas trees of my youth.
The most important thing was that it was always a real tree. Imitation trees were pretty ghastly objects when I was a child, and my mother despised them. If you weren't finding pine needles in the carpet (and your socks) until April, it wasn't a proper tree.
Because it was a real tree, and the varieties available in England didn't seem to last very long, the tree didn't go up until Christmas Eve. It might be bought a week before that, but it stayed in its net wrapping on the balcony outside until the big day. Once inside, it had to be put in water. Several "recipes" to prolong the life of the tree were tried, varying from sugar in the water to soluble aspirin, but they never seemed to have any noticeable effect: any attempt to swipe a chocolate sweet from a branch was rewarded by a tell-tale shower of pine needles.
I wasn't a very practically-minded child: it took me ages to discover that using scissors to snip the string holding the chocolate to the tree was far quicker and left much less in the way of evidence...
My mother had very beautiful Christmas decorations from Germany, and these were carefully unpacked each year. First thing on the tree was tinsel, and it had to be silver and fluffy, not rough, scraggy, scrawny tinsel. Occasionally silver angel-hair was added to the branches, just in small amounts. Then the baubles were hung up, and these were always silver, gold or red, or combinations of those colours.
My grandmother sent a parcel each Christmas, with a real Advent calendar, (Swiss chocolate shapes behind each window, not in a little box below) at a time when they were actually very rare in England (religious Advent calendars with chocolates in are still very rare here!) home-made biscuits, German sausage and salami, coffee and a few more decorations for the tree, as well as a supply of candles.
These candles are what I remember best. They were larger than cake candles, but much smaller than any candles sold here... I think they must have been about 1cm in diameter at a time when everything in England was measured in inches. I do remember that my mother tried to buy them from several places, and they weren't available anywhere, hence the need for the parcel. And the reason these candles were so important is that they had to fit into the little silver candle-holders which clipped onto the branches of the tree. My mother put the candles in the holders and then positioned them carefully so that they wouldn't set fire to any other decorations. It was quite time-consuming, because the weight of the candles would cause the branches to settle, and then the candle holders would have to be adjusted.
The candles would be lit for a short time once darkness fell, and a stray branch would be removed and burnt to release the pine-smell. This last practice very nearly resulted in a major catastrophe one year... as we sat down to Christmas dinner, my mother remarked on how lovely the smell of burnt pine was, and how it had lingered from the night before, so it was obviously a very superior pine tree... and then we noticed that a candle on the pine welsh dresser was actually burning a hole in the shelf...!
The final piece to be added was the "fairy" which was actually an angel. At one point, my mother switched to a star, but I can't remember when, or why. Personally, I prefer a star, simply because no-one can mistake it for a fairy (or anything else)
Ok, that's enough of my Christmas tree reminiscences for one year. I now have to tag a few poor souls...
Fr. Tim: he hasn't been tagged for a while, and his presbytery Christmas tree generally looks rather sorry for itself (the one in the church is gorgeous, but then, he doesn't have to decorate that one!)
Fr. Z, as I'm sure he has some stylish Christmas ornaments, and I want to know what they are in Latin!
The Pastor in Valle: I haven't nagged him for quite some time...
Fr. Owl: for much the same reason as the Pastor in Valle.
Fr. Longenecker: out of curiosity, as I want to know if there is anything in a British Christmas which he misses...
And, in fact, I tag anyone else who wants to play: just put a note in the combox!
Friday 19 December 2008
The Christmas Spirit has just been cranked up a notch, as I am now on holiday for two whole weeks.
Two weeks without any marking (I carefully made sure to "forget" to bring it home with me... and we've been told that the school is closed for the entire two weeks... ) though I will have to do a little lesson-planning. Two weeks' worth of daily Mass. Two weeks spent trying to catch up with the friends I have neglected since the beginning of September.
I will get to visit family, and I'm going to the Faith Winter Conference in Stonyhurst, Lancashire... Hmmmmn. On reflection, I might need another two weeks in January to recover!
Thursday 18 December 2008
Tomorrow is the last day of term for me, and so I'm starting to feel Christmassy. Not a lot. Just a little bit. The 'O' Antiphons have started, and that is when I start to play Christmassy music, and put out the crib and stuff like that.
Exploring the Blogosphere, I found the following on Creative Minority Report:
In the same post, I was delighted to come across the original Carol of the Bells.
And a re-post of my favourite version of the Carol of the Bells, which I used to announce my first video post...
Tuesday 16 December 2008
Well, ok, maybe not the longest week: I think that's the week before the Summer holidays. This must, therefore, count as the second-longest week, as school breaks up on Friday.
Yes, Leutgeb... I know that you've been off since last Friday. Don't rub it in with posts about having the time to make Christmas cakes!
Anyway, I have three days left... three days of fractious children demanding to watch DVDs instead of working ("But, Miss... it's Christmas!! Why do we have to work?") This year, as my classroom is fitted with a smartboard, I have been cheating: the children have been given homework to devise short PowerPoint presentations on various topics, and then they get to present their work to the rest of the class while I sit back and watch...
It's been quite an education... I'd never heard of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever before, and the effects of smallpox infections have been something to behold when shown on a large screen in full technicolour. I also didn't realise that Walt Disney's Pluto was introduced (and named) just after the discovery of the planetoid in the 1930s. I look forward to discovering what Year 9 have unearthed about selective breeding...
Monday 15 December 2008
The phrase "Children's Liturgy" tends to bring me out in a rash. I have attended such Masses in various parishes (by accident, usually!) where the little kiddies were encouraged to go up onto the sanctuary and stare out at the congregation, or to stand behind "Farver" all holding hands. The Eucharistic Prayer for Children (I have never been able to work out if there is more than one, or whether each priest makes up his own "explanatory" bits) makes me cringe. The children concerned never seem to be particularly keen: they are often fidgetty (not counting the ones who are busy waving back at mum) and bored. Small wonder that many of them disappear shortly after they've made their First Communion...
However, for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we had an example of what a Children's Liturgy could be...
Fr. Charles Briggs came over from Chislehurst to say a Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Meanwhile, Fr. Tim remained in the pews with the children, and encouraged them to pray. For example, as Fr. Charles said the Confiteor, Fr. Tim explained that the priest was saying sorry to God, and then lead the children in praying an Act of Contrition.
It wasn't a blow-by-blow account of the Mass; rather, it was a way to help the children participate fully in the Mass, to get them used to the idea that more than one thing can happen at once, and to realise that they don't have to follow every single word in order to participate.
There were around fifty people present at the Mass. The thing that really struck me was the rapt attention of the children, and their recognition that they were in the presence of something sacred, something great...
Sunday 14 December 2008
Teaching is a very hazardous profession. Children are positive hothouses for incubating all sorts of nasty bacteria and viruses, and schools become akin to something out of The Hot Zone. This isn't just my imagination or an old wives' tale... on starting at teacher training college, we were warned that it took, on average, two years to build up immunity to a new school.
I think that it's getting worse, despite the availability of cold and flu remedies and antibiotics, because so many parents are going out to work: school makes for a convenient baby-sitting service, and so children are often bundled off to school even when they are ill.
I'm not feeling ill. However, I have the sniffles. And the end of term is only five days away. Teachers often find themselves going down with something nasty just in time for the holiday, almost as if the immune system decides to have a bit of a vacation as well...
So, I half expect to get clobbered. Which made the following little snippet, courtesy of Newhousenewjob, even more amusing... Women are, apparently, suddenly becoming susceptible to "Man Flu" !