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Photo: Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe
Dana Mendes held his niece, Izariel Brown, 5, as he walked around Boston’s annual Christmas in the City, a happy event for homeless children.

The other day, I was talking to a woman about her idyllic-sounding childhood on the island of Dominica in the West Indies. One thing that she mentioned really struck me. No one was homeless. People looked after each other, she said.

That is how it should be, I thought. In a country like the US, where there is enough wealth to house and care for everyone if we have the will, I’m naturally grateful that homeless children get a joyful day in December but can’t help wishing that their happiness didn’t get rolled up and put away afterward.

In this update on the giant Boston Christmas party that started small in 1989, we learn about the illness of event founder and lead organizer Jack Kennedy, who wouldn’t miss this party for the world.

Naomi Martin writes at the Boston Globe, “The children and parents awoke Sunday in homeless shelters around Greater Boston and boarded school buses, some with no idea where they were going other than to a Christmas event.

“As they entered the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, solemn faces broke into wide smiles and dropped jaws as they stepped onto a red carpet toward people waving and applauding them, along with extravagantly costumed characters — Disney princesses and Superman, Star Wars storm troopers and the Incredibles — all there to welcome them. Snowflake confetti fluttered. Lights sparkled. Parents dance-walked to the upbeat Christmas tunes, filming their children’s faces on phones, some with tears in their eyes.

“ ‘Wow, it’s beautiful!’ said Aylajoy Dufresne, 5, who wore a pink tutu, as she ran to princess Elena of Avalor and hugged her. ‘Elena!’ …

“Thousands of volunteers rallied this year to serve more than 6,000 people from dozens of shelters at the 31st annual Christmas in the City, which has grown from a small gathering at City Hall in 1989 to a massive party thrown for families struggling with homelessness.

“The event featured performances by the Blue Man Group, a gospel choir, and an Afro-Caribbean band, as well as a petting zoo, amusement rides, Santa Claus photo booths, face paint, manicures, haircuts, dental screenings, flu shots, and white-clothed tables holding pizza, chicken tenders, and gingerbread cookies.

“This year took on particular poignancy because the founder and lead organizer, Jake Kennedy, 64, has been diagnosed with ALS, which took the lives of his father and brother. Kennedy’s son, Zack, a neuroscientist at University of Massachusetts Medical School, has dedicated himself to researching a cure for the lethal disease. …

“Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston stood onstage beside Kennedy and his wife, Sparky, and expressed his gratitude and admiration of Jake Kennedy.

“ ‘Many of you in this room might not know him personally, but he does this because he loves you,’ Walsh said. ,,,

“Offstage, Kennedy struggled to speak, though he made a point to say one thing.

“ ‘When you ask people what they like best — the winter wonderland, Santa, the food, the Blue Man Group — they all reply,

‘ “This is the first time in our lives we’ve been treated with dignity and compassion,” ‘ Kennedy said. ‘That’s because of the volunteers.’ …

“Many parents said they were thrilled to see their children laughing and having fun with activities they can rarely access.

“ ‘I don’t want to miss anything; this is beautiful,’ said Anthony Raye, as he and his son, Antonio, 10, plotted their next moves: face-painting and visiting animals. …

“By a ‘salon’ sign, hairstylists buzzed, cut, and blow-dried the hair of parents and kids. Aaron Lauderdale, 7, received a mohawk, his face painted like a green Grinch.

“ ‘This is the one and only time I’ll let him have a mohawk,’ said his mother, Natashia Lauderdale. ‘This is his day. I’m just along for the ride. I feel like a big little kid all over again.’

“A parade led by men playing bagpipes filed through the room, followed by Santa Claus on a raised platform. The Kennedys led a countdown, prompting a red curtain to rise on one wall, leading to a winter wonderland of amusement rides and a petting zoo. Children clamored for a carousel, flying chair swings, bouncy castles, super slides, trampolines, and a rock-climbing wall. …

“Amelia McCauley pushed her 2-year-old, Lauryal, in a stroller. ‘I feel special,’ she said. ‘I don’t know when something like this is going to come by again, so I just want to enjoy it.’ ” More here.

 

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Photo: Thomas Jones
Hafod Hardware in Rhayader, Powys, Wales, has a story to tell about generations working in a family business. Its low-budget, Christmas advertising video has gone viral.

The Holy Grail of many small businesses is a video ad that touches people in such a meaningful way that it goes viral. I am not sure if going viral necessarily generates a lot of business, but it definitely generates attention.

Consider, for example, this hardware store in Wales. Unless you lived nearby, you would not actually be able to shop there regularly. But I think that after seeing this video, you might go out of your way to buy something one day and take a selfie.

Copied more or less from the style of a department store giant with a huge ad budget, the ad has managed, on a shoestring, to draw a large following. According to the Guardian, that’s because the small family business has a real story to tell.

Stuart Heritage’s report starts with the department store. “This year’s John Lewis Christmas advert, in which a dragon tries to kill several people then holds up a pudding, reportedly cost £7m [$9,190,300] to make. And that’s fine. It’s a good advert, and John Lewis has a reputation to uphold, and you can’t really put a price on the half a morning of vaguely duty-bound Twitter buzz it generated.

“However, by no means is it the best Christmas ad this year. That plaudit now goes to Hafod Hardware, a tiny independent family-run hardware store in Rhayader, Powys, whose ad cost just £100 [$131.35] to make. …

“A little boy wakes up. He brushes his teeth, eats his breakfast and goes to work. He opens the shop, fixes a broom; he cleans the counter and restocks the shelves. He serves a customer, does a bit of accounting, serves another customer. At the end of the day he switches off the light, bends down to pick up a Christmas tree and – PLOT TWIST! – he’s actually a 30-year-old man. The strapline comes up: ‘Be a kid this Christmas’. …

“The advert is being hailed as a celebration of traditional Christmas spirit, the strength of the independent, and the importance of community. … [But] while it’s impressive that the shop has only spent £100 on the ad – and that was to pay for an engineer to record the song on the soundtrack – it still manages to crib pretty heavily from the John Lewis playbook. There’s a kid. There’s a tree. There’s a slowed-down cover version of a well-loved song. …

“But let’s not be too mean-spirited. The fact is that the Hafod Hardware advert packs an almighty punch, because of the history of the shop itself. It has been open since 1895, fending off competition from bigger companies with every step; and it’s a true family shop, passed down through the generations.

“The grandfather in the advert is the nephew of the founder, the man at the end (his son) runs the shop with him and the little boy could feasibly grow up to run the shop after him. Any old idiot can get a kid to sweep up a shop, but the magic of the ad is that it shows the real flesh and blood lineage of Hafod Hardware. It’s the beating heart of the community, and has been for years. No amount of money can buy that.”

If you were making a video for your business that you hoped would click with a large audience, what would you put in it?

More at the Guardian, here.

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No Christmas Snow

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A handful of snowflakes came down on Christmas Eve Day, but not enough for me to shoot a snowy picture. Although I was mighty tired of snow last March, I would have liked to see some this week.

A fresh snowfall is pretty, but I guess I’m glad the roads are dry. Our plan for Christmas is to watch John’s children open presents early, then come home and get ready for our Christmas dinner, which shouldn’t be hard as two of the world’s best cooks are bringing more than half the meal.

Suzanne, meanwhile, is in the Caribbean with the Swedish side of the family. Note the photo of her kids learning a traditional song from their Swedish-Danish cousins while dancing around the tree (actually, it’s a lamp this year) on an island that probably never sees snow.

In other December photos: John’s children getting creative with an erector set (who needs to know what the Ukrainian directions say?), an Amaryllis on Erik’s piano as well as his Santa Lucia and Swedish creche, early Christmas gift-opening before the trip to the Caribbean, and family members enjoying 80-degree weather. Finally, the Swedish tomtens that my husband and I received in time for Christmas.

I hope that those who celebrate this holiday have a merry one, and I send warm wishes to everyone. See you tomorrow.

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Photo: Henrik Montgomery / TT
The history of the Christmas market at Gamla Stan in Stockholm is described in a newspaper’s Swedish Advent calendar series.

This year I started following on twitter a newspaper called The Local. It covers Sweden, which is nice for me because my son-in-law is Swedish. Today’s post is on a series the paper has featured this month.

“Every day until Christmas Eve, The Local explains the unique history behind Swedish Christmas traditions in our own Advent calendar. …

“For centuries, Swedish Christmas markets have brought warmth and light to the darkest time of the year. Visiting a Swedish Christmas market (julmarknad) isn’t just a great way of becoming truly immersed in Sweden’s Christmas traditions, it may also be one of the best ways, short of a time machine, to experience what life was like in the past.

“The history of the festive markets goes back to 14th century Germany, and Sweden appears to have adopted the Christmas market not long afterward. Much like today, the earliest Christmas markets were typically held in town squares throughout the month of December, and featured small stalls where merchants and craftspeople could sell their wares.

“At Stortorget, Stockholm’s oldest square located in what is now known as Gamla Stan, markets were held at different times throughout the year as early as the 1300s, and there is evidence that one of these was held in connection with the feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle on December 21st.

“In 1523, during the first year of his reign, King Gustav Vasa established a permanent Christmas market at Stortorget. Though there have been periods over the centuries when the Stortorget julmarknad has not operated, it is still the oldest such market in Sweden and one of the oldest in Europe.

“When the Stortorget julmarknad was established, the king took care to stipulate that only Swedish goods were sold, a tradition carried on today by Stockholms-Gillet, which has organized the market since 1915. …

“Scents from traditional Swedish favourites like warm glögg, brända mandlar (candied almonds), and julgodis like knäck permeate the air just as they have in the past.

“The traditional foods and handicrafts offered for sale give a glimpse of life in the past, as well as the opportunity to incorporate them into modern life. The sense of stepping back in time is enhanced when attending a julmarknad at a historic location, or at one of Sweden’s fantastic open-air museums, such as Skansen in Stockholm. …

“Each day until Christmas Eve, we’re looking at the story behind one Swedish festive tradition. Find the rest of our #SwedishChristmas series here.”

Other topics covered: How one Swedish woman influenced the candy cane, Sweden’s favourite Christmas film, how a folklore tomte became Sweden’s Santa, and how glögg sends Swedish wine consumption through the roof.

Erik has been known to warm our insides with glögg at Christmas. But not this year: the Swedish side of the family is celebrating in Guadalupe and keeping warm by the swimming pool.

Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
The gingersnap: A humble cookie’s journey from holy medicine to Swedish Christmas favourite.

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Today I’m posting recent photos, including a few gingerbread pictures that really get me into the spirit of the season.

The first is of a gingerbread house that two of my grandchildren decorated. You can see that they also made a garage from some extra pieces of gingerbread.

Next there’s one of my shadow pictures, followed by the random donkey that graces the yard at Boston’s old city hall.

Background for the photo after that: About a week ago all four grandchildren were at a Christmas crafts workshop where grownups in elf hats made everything run smoothly. The next day I found elf hats on parking meters around town.

Next are several gingerbread creations at annual displays in town. The tree house, hobbit house, Victorian advertisement for the Gentleman Handyman, and the Acton Dental house with Santa inside in the dentist chair are all at the Colonial Inn. The last gingerbread house is in the library and is created every year by a local physician who starts to work weeks in advance.

Finally, what’s this? Another shadow picture. A Christmas-y one this time.

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Art: Robert T. Barrett
The “other” wise man, meeting the needs that cross his path, is too late to present gifts to the baby in the manger. But “Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)

I loved this story as a child. Just for you, I present a summary from Wikipedia, slightly edited.

“The Story of the Other Wise Man,” by Henry van Dyke, was initially published in 1895. The story is an expansion of the account of the Biblical Magi. It tells about a “fourth” wise man, a priest of the Magi named Artaban, one of the Medes from Persia. Like the other Magi, he sees signs in the heavens proclaiming that a King had been born among the Jews. Like them, he sets out to see the newborn ruler, carrying treasures to give as gifts to the child — a sapphire, a ruby, and a “pearl of great price.”

However, he stops along the way to help a dying man, which makes him late to meet with the caravan of the other three wise men. Because he missed the caravan, and he can’t cross the desert with only a horse, he is forced to sell one of his treasures in order to buy the camels and supplies necessary for the trip. He then commences his journey but arrives in Bethlehem too late to see the child, whose parents have fled to Egypt. He saves the life of a child at the price of another of his treasures.

He then travels to Egypt and to many other countries, searching for Jesus for many years and performing acts of charity along the way. After 33 years, Artaban arrives in Jerusalem just as Jesus as been condemned to death. He spends his last treasure, the pearl, to ransom a young woman from being sold into slavery. He is then badly injured in an accident and realizes he is dying. He has failed to meet Jesus because he has been busy meeting the needs that appear before him.

Then he hears a voice: “Verily I say unto thee, Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.”(Matthew 25:40) His treasures have been accepted.

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Photo: Teachingtimes.com
Could these faces lifted in song be any sweeter?

I was tired of “Deck the Halls,” “Jingle Bells,” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” before I got through Thanksgiving this year. Maybe you felt the same. Why is it so rare to hear carols like “I Wonder as I Wander,” the haunting “Minuit, Chrétiens,” or authentic Gospel music at this season?

Today I decided to correct that loss a little with YouTube music that should not make anyone feel like running and hiding. I’d love it if you would share your favorite seasonal music with other readers in the Comments.

Above, the Choir of Kings College sings “In the Bleak Midwinter.” Next we have the Cambridge Singers with “I Wonder as I Wander.”

Finally, whatever one’s faith or feelings about religion, who can resist the voice of Harry Belafonte with his honeyed Jamaican diction? (Note where the person typing the lyrics wrote “the” instead of what he really said, which is so much more charming.)

 

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