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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mark My Footsteps!

Isn't it the best thing in the world to wake up today! Advent! The first day of the best time of year, even if the thermometer is dropping and the sleet and snow is falling, even if your finances look like a left over birthday balloon, even if you're still too full from Thanksgiving and can't even look at the work "turkey".

We're already digging around in the garage loft for our Christmas decoration and lights, such as they are. We don't light the lights until Christmas Day, but they get dusty up there. Advent is about preparation.

What songs shall the grade school kids sing for the Christmas recital? What projects with construction paper and paste shall we make with the kindergartners and first graders?

I am besides myself with glee, as usual.

I think I'm going to teach them Handel's Hallelujah Chorus and have everyone sing along. They do that out here at the Hollywood Bowl every year. I've never gone. I suppose I should try to go and sit in the nose bleed seats (which are fantastically inexpensive) and take notes.

And I think this year we'll make a study of Christmas songs.  They have such an influence over the  season. Rudolph was invented in a Christmas song.  We love the Little Drummer Boy, but he certainly is not found in the New Testament.  Silent Night was written by a priest.

What's your favorite Christmas song? I have ten or twenty favorites. I have a few that don't exactly float my boat, either.  Not a big fan of "We Three Kings", love "O Come All Ye Faithful".

I truly love "Good King Wenceslaus".  What a great story! What great imagery! "When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even."  Beautiful! Can't you just see it? Wencelaus and his aide go trudging out on a freezing ("the frost was cruel") night  because the King has spotted a poor man feebly gathering sticks to burn. Wencelaus orders up meat and wine and logs for fuel to take to the poor man. Out they go. Wenceslaus barrels ahead while the aide struggles to keep up. Finally he informs his master that he is freezing and can't go another step. The King tells his aide to "mark my footsteps my dear page, tread thou in them boldly, you will find the winter's rage, freeze the blood less coldly."

Clumsy, I know.  But the aide does as the King says and finds that the footsteps of Wenceslaus are indeed heated.

What a great story! Such a happy tune!

Good King Wenceslaus was a real person who became known as the the champion of the wretched because of his kindness to the poor. He was really the Duke of Bohemia who was raised by his dear old grandma. He brought his country to Christianity.

Unfortunately, he came to a bad end in 929 AD or so, when he was murdered by his brother and a band of pagans. Oh, well.

Welcome to Advent everyone! Prepare ye the way!


Claudia's Genealogy Blog said...

The first time my daughter played (viola) in the orchestra rendition of Handel's Messiah we were in attendance.

When the part of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus began we were startled when everyone in the audience stood up.

We learned later that it is tradition because King George II (England) stood up and so did everyone else because the King had risen. They do it all the time now. I must admit I was sort of surprised at my first performance.

Anonymous said...

I love Christmas songs! I guess my favorite is O Holy Night but I also love The Holly and the Ivy, especially when it's sung by Bing Crosby.
Great Blog Sister!
From one who grew up in Catholic School and was always terrified of the Nuns. Especially my 7th grade teacher Sister Delores who whacked you on the back of the head with the erasers.

e.d. said...

I'm quite fond of the Polish carol "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IA0Xk0AQTKU

My church brings in string instruments for midnight Mass; hearing this sung with the violins and cello is one of my favorite parts of Christmas.

Also I like the French tune "Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant," because rounds are fun and I'm of French extraction! My friend from college and I used to sing it as a round together.


Sue said...

I loved reading the story of St. Wenseslaus with my kids. His evil brother, Boleslaus, won the funniest name award with us. We always refer to him as "bowl o' sauce." (Which is why I had to look up the actual spelling of his name!) :o)

Donna said...

I love "Silent Night" and "Oh, Holy Night".

Katherine said...

'We Three Kings' is an Epiphany song!

Personnent hodie is an old favourite for me, The Angel Gabriel (Basque carol) for Advent, Sleepers, Wake (esp. Zion hears the watchman shouting); for Christmas, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and Once in Royal David's City (largely because my sister and I have a tradition of poking each other during mass at the line 'Christian children all must be / mild, obedient, good as He' even though we are now adults and clearly too old to be doing that!)

Speaking of which, despite her having been a Protestant, all of those Mrs. Alexander hymns are quite good ones for children, having been written with specific pedagogical purpose.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous - so sorry you were terrified of nuns. Wonder what you were doing that DESERVED being whacked on the head with erasers. ??? SOOOOO tired of people saying that nuns were terrifying. Get over yourself, already! Maybe you were sent to Catholic school by your parents to get straightened out. Maybe your classmates have not-so-fond memories of you (spoiling their recess, distracting them from their studies with your eraser-earning antics). And gee - would an eraser really hurt? REALLY???? Shame on YOU, not on the nuns. I never had the priviledge of attending Catholic schools because my parents were too poor to afford it, and probably too ashamed to beg. But I have been teaching at schools with anywhere from one to five sisters, and they were all as nice as could be. They were from different teaching orders, too, so you can't say I just happened to run into an exceptional community. I'm not saying all sisters are perfect - I've seen a couple of slip ups - but it rarely involves the discipline of a student. So please, knock it off, people! The joke isn't funny any more.

Catholic School Teacher
(Incidentally, we have a couple of students who were sent to us to be straightened out. Newsflash to you parents who do that: Try discipline in your own house. Don't make a mess for others to clean up. It's not fair to the parents who send their students to get a Catholic education.)

JP said...

Aren't we a bit early in discussing Christmas songs? But since we're here...

Katherine, I love Personnent Hodie, but I've only ever heard it as part of Connie Dover's "Cantus" which is definitely Good Friday-ish!

I also rank Angel Gabriel as a favourite, too!

I think my all time favourite is actually Carol of the Bells, which really isn't religious at all. Weird, actually, but I've always liked it. My parents had an LP with some philharmonic orchestra playing it at the HOllywood Bowl. I didn't hear words for it for years.

Nelson said...

I love "Silent Night" song and a dozen of songs in my mother tongue - Tamil...

Marion Teague said...

I love all the traditional Christmas Carols - the words contain some wonderful deep theology in many of them. Even We Three Kings, which I don't like either (I think it's the silly chorus that spoils it). O Little Town of Bethlehem is a favourite, with those wonderful words "Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today". Amen!

mph said...

First anonymous, I was taught by some very sweet nuns but I also was taught by some terrifying nuns. And we were all goody-goodies in those days so didn't need straightening out, yet all terrified. Some were great teachers with wicked senses of humour, just very strict and perfectionists and some were plain horrible. To the second anonymous, that's life, not everyone has had the same experiences as you and that's no reason to get all crotchety. The first anonymous probably feels as if they're back in the Convent again!

~Ana Paula~A Católica said...

Dear Sister Mary Martha,
A Big Salutation from BRASIL!!

You, Sister, may access this Link on Internet to listen not my only one song, BUT ALL MY FAVORITES CHRISTMAS' SONGS!!

You will not regret of doing this. TRUST IN ME, Sister:


A wonderful ADVENTO to You and All the School Kids!!

(Like you, Sister, I am also "besides myself with glee, as usual" in this particular period in the Catholic Calendar!)

Stay in the Peace of God!!
You and All Your Readers!!


abishag said...

It was during Advent several years ago that a cynical agnostic was prompted by the Holy Spirit to get back into church... but because I was so cynical, the Holy Spirit had to take a very specific tack; I'm a musician and music lover so I got it into my (hard) head that I wanted to hear some well-sung Christmas music, and maybe even sing it with a choir again. None of that Santa/Rudolph junk either.

I found a church most likely to have traditional music, was enthusiastically invited to join the choir (it must have been the one church choir on earth that needed altos!) and then told the next weekend that I couldn't sing with them until the vestry made a decision about whether Non-Members were allowed to join the choir. I was disappointed, but stubborn. The priest had the final say and he decided that the "non member" rule had never been enforced before, and the choir director had recommended me, so of course I should be allowed to sing with the choir. Unfortunately, this decision was not handed down until Epiphany, but the "damage" had been done - spending the advent season reacquainting myself with the story of the Nativity and being introduced to absolute fearlessness of Mary was enough to turn my stiff-necked agnostic self around. I was baptised in the Easter of the following year - nearly a year and a half since the Holy Spirit rolled his/her eyes and whispered something about "good, real Christmas music" in my ear. Sorry I made you work so hard, Holy Spirit!

Still love the Christmas music (none of that Santa silliness) as well as Advent music. And my favorite carols have already been mentioned here - Infant Holy, Infant Lowly and The Angel Gabriel. Sadly, I think my favorite version of the latter is the arrangement by Sting on the first Very Special Christmas album.

Anonymous said...

wow second anonymous ~
First of all the comment I left was tongue in cheek.
Lighten up
Sorry if I aggravated you.
Perhaps you have not read Sister's blog profile.
I never said I got whacked in the head with an eraser, I just said it was something she did. I had some wonderful nuns and some not so wonderful nuns. Just like all teachers. And I'm too poor to send my children to Catholic school, I would if I could.

Merry Christmas
to you and yours

Anonymous said...

Sister- If you want to really teach the kids the Hallelujah chorus AND get the audience in the spirit, take a look at this approach: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCFCeJTEzNU

Hilarious but not at all disrespectful and it gets people's attention (more so than little tykes struggling through a piece that takes experienced singers some time to master).

Does not have to be done in monk's robes, either...

Happy Advent!

(FWIW, I had 12 years of Catholic school nuns, and another 6 of Jesuit priests in college... Just as with the lay teachers, there were some wonderful nuns and some... ahem... who might have had a different professional calling than teaching children...) But it was a lay teacher who imposed the most corporal punishment. And as I look back on it now, it is not at all funny -- it was a big person bullying a little person instead of using reason and discipline. Hardly a lesson a Catholic school intends to teach.

Anonymous said...

Sister, thanks for the commentary on Good King Wenceslaus. Just last week I pointed out to my dear spouse that this is one of my favorite songs that just isn't heard enough these days. I've made it my personal goal to spread this song on social media to bring it back.

Paige said...

Good King Wenceslaus is one of my favorites, too. I always hear the Ames Brothers' version, so that one has to be my favorite-- they sing ALL of the verses, too!