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Wigilia

One Silent Night

First published Dec. 24, 2007.

Christmas Eve is the most wonderful night of the year to a Polish Catholic and when I walked to the local Polish grocery store yesterday morning, the place was packed with people waiting to pick up meat at the butcher’s counter for their Christmas Eve dinner.

Traditionally, Christmas Eve is a meatless meal, with twelve courses – one for each month of the year. But there was plenty of kielbasa, wrapped up in brown butcher’s paper for the trip home.

“I’m new to the neighborhood. Is there a Midnight Mass anywhere?” I asked the woman standing in line ahead of me. (She looked just like my Aunt Agnes, who was my godmother.)

“I don’t know, I don’t live here,” she said apologetically. “I just come here for the kielbasa.”

Watching those Polish faces in the store brought back memories of Christmas Eves past at my grandmother’s house on Terrace Street. The Polish Christmas Eve is called Wigilia (meaning “the vigil”) and it’s aptly named. I remember being such a hungry little kid and waiting and waiting and waiting, because you can’t eat until the first star (Gwiazdka, in honor of the Star of Bethlehem) comes out.

The smell of herring made me gag; the only fish I could stomach were the Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, and I’d load up the plate with those and my grandmother’s mashed potatoes – they had just the right amount of lumps, beaten with sour cream and ground black pepper. I also liked golumpki, a stuffed cabbage roll. We kids would wash it all down with Javies Cream Soda or Black Cherry Wishniak, while our parents drank beer and whiskey in the kitchen.

Later, after we’d all eaten, my Aunt Connie would pass around pieces of oplatek, or blessed bread – literally, “angel bread.” It’s a thin, starchy sheet like communion wafers, about the size of an index card and embossed with Nativity scenes. The tradition is to offer it to each member of the family and as they break off a piece, you wish them good health and happiness: Na szczescie, na zdrowie z Wigilia! (In Polish, if you knew it. My siblings and I didn’t speak Polish, except for useful phrases like “Do you speak Polish?” “You’re such a pig!” and “What do you think I am, a horse?”)

And the person who accepts the bread wishes you the same. It’s a lovely moment.

Anyway, you all have your own traditions, and I hope they bring you joy. And tonight, as the first star rises in the sky, know that I offer you all a piece of oplatek, wishing you good health and happiness this Christmas Eve, and may a bright star shine over your home.

Niech zawsze nad naszym domem swieci zota gwiazda!

Havaalanında Noel Gösterisi

Is there any better use of a public space than singing and dancing? I don’t think so!

Havaalanında Noel Gösterisi from Mehmet GENC on Vimeo.

Happy Holidays to all! I hope all who visit Suburban Guerrilla have a safe and happy holiday.
Hope you all enjoy the holiday jazz finale. This is one of my favorites. I’ll be on the road until January the 4th and will have more of Panhandle Slim’s work and “Happy Hour” jazz. I might even write a screed or two from the point of view of a southern liberal living in a very red state. Peace to all…

Boohunney

Carol of the bells

Flash mob:

Oh dear

Nearly three out of four Americans (believers or not) approve of Pope Frank!

And this is what we mean by the power of the bully pulpit, something our president should take note of. The pope has no army or weapons, just the power of words to inspire people to do the right thing. When he uses words, it’s not to manipulate people or get their votes — it’s to encourage them to see us all as connected, and to take care of each other.

See how well that works?

Remember this?

Enya, in a Christmas episode of “Northern Exposure”:

Goethe’s final words: “More light.” Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that’s been our unifying cry: “More light.” Sunlight. Torchlight. Candlight. Neon. Incandescent. Lights that banish the darkness from our caves, to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators. Big floods for the night games at Soldier’s field. Little tiny flashlight for those books we read under the covers when we’re supposed to be asleep. Light is more than watts and footcandles. Light is metaphor. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom. Lead Thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home- Lead Thou me on! Arise, shine, for thy light has come. Light is knowledge. Light is life. Light is light. — Chris Stevens, DJ

The seven joys of Mary

Silly Sisters (Maddy Prior and June Tabor):

The season of lights

Opposite Stars

Written more than 20 years ago.

CHRISTMAS WAS COMING but I saw only darkness ahead: My husband and I were getting a divorce and we planned to tell the kids after the holidays. With that hanging over me, I wandered through Macy’s, trying in vain to focus on shopping.

But my nerves were too raw. When a tuxedoed pianist stationed by the jewelry counter started to play a gorgeous, jazzy version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” I began to cry. Because I knew I wouldn’t have a merry little Christmas and wasn’t sure I ever would again.

A few days later, I took my sons to see “An American Tail.” I figured talking mice were safe enough, but when Fievel the Mouse began singing “Somewhere Out There,” the tears returned. “It’s such a hokey song. Why are you crying?,” I silently scolded myself. I had so little compassion for my own pain that swallowing was a difficult habit to break. I was breaking up my family; who was I to feel entitled to cry about anything?

I was crying because the song was about someone out there looking at the same bright star and waiting just for you. It was an enormous lie, I knew. I was walking away from the officially-sanctioned structure of family for no other reason than my own crushing loneliness. What made me think that the way to cure my unhappiness was to turn it up several notches and spread it to the people I loved? My punishment, I knew, was that no one would ever love me again. I cried quietly in the dark while the screen light flickered over the still-innocent faces of my boys.

Such a dark time of the soul, that particular season. But while driving home from work, shivering in my old Dodge Dart, I’d find myself lost in wonder at the Christmas displays. Instead of the garish excess I’d so readily ridiculed before, I saw a sign of better times to come. I could take it only on faith because by any logical measure, my world seemed hopeless. “Light in darkness,” I repeated to myself. “Light in darkness.”

I attended Midnight Mass back in the inner-city neighborhood where we lived in the early years of our marriage. St. Francis de Sales evolved from a turn-of-the century working-class Irish parish to its present-day mix of now-elderly Irish parishioners, Vietnamese immigrants, academics and students from the nearby University of Pennsylvania and a growing base of black Catholics.

At Christmas, many cultural Catholics like me were happy to throw the annual $20 bill in the collection basket — we’d turned our backs on the institutional church, but were still drawn to the majesty of this day. It’s hard, after all, for someone who entered so many “Keep Christ in Christmas” poster contests to imagine Christmas without church.

The carol service preceded the Mass. People filed into the enormous church, which was lit only by a few scattered wall sconces and the tiny yellow lights on the altar’s evergreen trees. The organist played quietly while we sang about a tiny baby who was called Light of the World. “Come, oh come, Emmanuel and rescue captive Israel.” We sang about shepherds and a dark, cold night when wise men followed a star.
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All I want for Christmas is you

Jimmy Fallon, Mariah Carey and the Roots:

Do you hear what I hear

Whitney Houston:

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