What’s New for the 20th of December: Winter Holiday food and drink, a dreydl tale, Debussy’s ‘War Carol’, Kage Baker and Christmas, an egg nog recipe, a Solstice story, an offbeat Christmas film, Steeleye Span & Pratchett, Christmas Revels, music by Loreena McKennitt and much more!

Let me turn down Hambo in the Barn , the excellent recording by Andrea Hoag and friends, that I’ve been listening to on this, the last morning of Fall as counted on the calendar. But really we’re into Winter proper as the weather goes on this Scottish Estate, and that means it’s time for the annual Greening.

The Winter Solstice arrives tomorrow, so let’s start you off with our annual story about that sacred event, Jennifer Stevenson’s ‘Solstice’ about a small-time rocker — well, listen to it as told by the author to find out what happens to her on that night, or if you prefer to read it, you can do so here.

One of our Winter Queens, the late Josepha Sherman, ponders in Her Speech upon the meaning of Winter: ‘What is Winter? A time to fear? A time for darkness and death? No. Winter is merely part of the endless cycle of sleep and awakening, dying and rebirth. The trees know it: they don’t die each year.’

Let us not forget about two other stellar works about this turning of the year, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, a series that would make a most excellent Winter reading endeavour, and a shorter work, Jane Yolen’s The Wild Hunt.

One of our longtime staff, Kathleen, has an online journal where she talks about her late sister Kage Baker, author of the acclaimed SF series The Company. Her latest entry which you can read here has her reminiscing about Kage during the Christmas season.

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Cat loved an offbeat Christmas film: ‘I don’t do movie theatres for various reasons, including audiences that chatter too much and the smell of that weird stuff that’s not really butter. And so it is that I’m watching an animated film released several Christmas seasons past called Rise of The Guardians which features a Russian Father Christmas, an Australian Easter Bunny (complete with boomerang), The Sandman, and a really cute (in a fey way) female Tooth Fairy. All Guardians of the hopes, wishes and dreams of children everywhere.’

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I’ve been looking for an article I remember being in The Sleeping Hedgehog on eggnog on how it came to be a tradition here maybe forty years back but I can’t find it. What  I do have is Jennifer Stevenson’s recipe for eggnog for Stay Home Egg Nog Fluff as she calls it so you can try it out in your drink making.

And it won’t surprise you that everyone has food traditions. Our Editor asked a number of folks about what Winter Holiday food and drink traditions they had. By the way Ellen Kushner,  a Winter Queen for us a few years back, answered concisely with ‘latkes and candle-lighting’.

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Kathleen looks at a work by another well-regarded composer: ‘Indeed Claude Debussy is one of my favorite composers, but I hadn’t heard ‘“Noel des Enfants Qui N’ont Plus De Maisons” (“Christmas Carol for Homeless Children”)’ until recently. It’s on soprano Carmen Balthrop’s lovely CD The Art of Christmas, Vol. 1. Strange, disturbing (and possibly disturbed) thing – Debussy wrote it in 1915 during World War I as a plea for vengeance, a prayer from the French children that the Germans should have no Christmas.’

Let’s have Michael say a few words about the next recording: ‘It would be easy to say that a collaboration between Steeleye Span and Terry Pratchett was always inevitable, given their respective histories and their proclaimed admiration of each other’s work. It may be an example of retrospective inevitability now that it has actually happened in the form of the Wintersmith CD, however. In any case, the end result is one that is overwhelmingly a credit to all concerned; worthy of the names involved and their reputations.’

Gary says Woven, American Jenna Moynihan’s debut solo release of Scottish-style fiddle tunes ‘is bursting with contained energy and an obvious love for the music.’ Moynihan, who plays a five-string fiddle, is joined by many other musicians, including iconoclastic Scottish harpist Mairi Chaimbeul, guitarists Courtney Hartman and Owen Marshall, and fiddlers Darol Anger, Duncan Wickel, and Alex Hargreaves.

Judith was very fond of a Klezmer tinged story: ‘The Golden Dreydl is subtitled “A Klezmer Nutcracker for Chanukah.” It combines a children’s story by writer and radio host Ellen Kushner with a klezmer adaptation of tunes from the Nutcracker, originally released by the Shirim Orkestar in 1998 as The Klezmer Nutcracker.’

Lars liked Jul i Folkton quite a bit: ‘Whoever came up with the idea behind Jul i Folkton (Christmas in a Folk Style) must be praised. It seems so simple, yet it works so well. Gather a number of Sweden’s best singers and musicians within the folk and roots field and let them tackle, in small groups, some of our best loved Christmas hymns and songs.’

Robert took a look at a slightly different take on “traditional,” this time an album from Norway: ‘Julevariasjoner translates as “Christmas Variations,” and that is just what this disc by Norwegian pianist Wolfgange Plagge is: a set of variations on Christmas carols, some Norwegian, but many that will be recognized anywhere that Christmas is celebrated.’

Another from Robert, this time of Christmas carols performed by Grex Vocalis, Magnum Mysterium: ‘Although Grex Vocalis is a Norwegian group, the disc also offers carols from France and England and includes a “Norwegian” hymn, “The Infant King,” that originated in the Basque country. The songs themselves range all the way from traditional Norwegian carols and hymns to works by Michael Praetorius (1571-1624) to contemporaries Morten Lauridsen and Javier Busto. With these resources to draw on, it would seem that there is potential for a joyful and compelling offering.’

I’m going to finish our music reviews off with Christmas Revels at Sanders Theater which was written by Vonnie, a longtime writer who died recently of cancer at much too young an age. A diehard fan of the Oysterband of which she provided several recording reviews for us, she also loved the Revels. She’ll be much missed here.

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So let’s leave you with some seasonally apt music. Or at least what I consider such which in this case would a steller performance by Loreena McKennitt of her “Dickens’ Dublin”. It’s from ‘A Loreena McKennitt Christmas’ on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic program from December 1994.

Oh and I should note we make our own Christmas music as well, which you can see in this letter to Ekaterina by Gus on “Carols and Other Matters”.

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About Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I’m the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library.

I’m a violinist too, so you’ll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.

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