Every family, I believe, has their Advent and Christmas rituals and traditions. Here are a few of the Hudsons (Theresa, Hannah, Chip, and me).
1. My family and friends read aloud Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” We’ve done this for so many years, we should have it memorized, but the sheer inventiveness and verbal elasticity of Thomas’s prose is difficult to retain in one’s memory except in bits and scrapes: “One year so so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now….” For a special treat, listen to Thomas read it himself. His recording was so popular it launched the recorded books industry in the US.
2. Listen to Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony and Chorus sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” on an ancient Vox recording — if you like this hymn there is nothing like this recording. It start out with bells, the chorus comes in with a hush, and….well, you just have to hear it. You can find it in some budget reincarnations on CD.
3. Read aloud “The Oxen” by Thomas Hardy. I once criticized a graduate school professor of mine for his reading of this poem, a big mistake! I was given a B instead of the A I clearly deserved….
4. Listen the late actor Robert Donat recite the “Prayer of St. Francis” from the old Argo LP. He was slowly dying of a chest condition when he made this recording, and you can hear him struggle for breath. Few men have ever had a voice so affecting as Donat. You can tell he believes what he is reading.
5. Have my family line up from youngest to oldest before they open Christmas packages, the way my father made me and my sister. My father was more successful at making that happen–He was a tough Texas Aggie and cowboy turned Army Air Corps pilot.
6. On Christmas Eve, read aloud with my family, each member taking a turn, the Christmas narrative from St. Luke’s Gospel in the Revised Standard Version. You could also watch and listen to it read by the actress Claire Bloom backed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
7. Watching one of John Huston’s last films, ‘The Dead,’ based upon one of James Joyce’s stories from The Dubliners. It takes place at a family Christmas gathering where everyone is expected to sing or recite or dance. The scene where the Irish tenor (Frank Patterson) takes his turn is especially touching–it reminds us all of what a gift music can be. The film has extraordinary power at certain moments with Joyce’s lyricism (which he lost) set against the backdrop of the snow falling over Ireland. Here is the scene, but I warn you its total impact can only felt it you watch all that went before it.
8. Setting out the presents late on Christmas Eve without the kids spying, and successfully setting out something for my wife that she is not expecting. And maybe hope one more is slipped under the tree for me too.
9. Trying to extend the opening of presents as long as possible by enforcing the rules of one package opening at time, of immediately putting torn paper and discarded ribbons in a plastic bag, of requiring each present to be shown to everyone in attendance, especially the grandmothers. Of course, the dog, especially a Westie, has to be kept out of the wrapping paper pile. Here Hannah holds Dudley from a few years ago.
10. Doing my Nat King Cole imitation of “The Christmas Song” until somebody tells me to shut-up. (The best song on his Christmas collection is really “A Cradle in Bethlehem’–does anyone agree with me?). Click to hear it on YouTube.
111. Finally, nothing in the Church year surpasses kneeling in a dark church with the expectation that Christ will be born and then singing ‘Silent Night.’ ‘Silent Night’ starts at 1.55.