Kage Baker loved the winter holiday season. She didn’t especially love winter – those beer commercials that show beach side huts and palm trees festooned with Christmas lights were actually pretty much her heart’s desire.
But she loved the holiday season. With a true ecumenical spirit, Kage loved any and all winter celebrations; someone who, like Kage, had a real and intimate conversation with God on a daily basis was not disposed to scorn anyone’s festivities. Besides, she loved parties. She considered herself a Catholic (and would be very happy with the present Pope) but she was pretty … generalized … in her own observations.
She left the front door unlocked during our Christmas Eve dinners, for the beloved dead to come in; and always set a place for them, too. She amiably watched me pour out whiskey, grain and salt on the doorstep on the Solstice night, and raised her own glass in tribute. She attended tree-trimming parties, Novenas, Kwanza feasts, midnight Masses and Handel’s Messiah sing-alongs. And, of course, she and I went to every last dance at Fezziwig’s at Dickens Fair, and sang the Hallelujah Chorus with our whole hearts.
(At New Year’s, we used to go down to the sea at Pismo. Kage would wade into the winter waves, declaring her fealty to whatever deity heard her prayer and took up her petition to succeed at her writing. I’ve no idea Who answered, but obviously Someone always did. Kage graciously did not insist on last names from any of her divine Partners. She was a true lady …)
She loved coloured lights, tinsel swags and wreathes and feral branches flung helter-skelter over everything; the scent of conifers and wood smoke and burning sugar and chocolate. The Parlour at Dickens was thick with green garlands and red bows, candles everywhere, scarlet glass bowls full of nuts and apples, plates of gingerbread and Turkish Delight on the tables with white lace over red and green and gold table cloths.
Our houses were always richly bedecked with lights – the big ones, the C-9s, preferably ones that blinked. For outside lights, Kage would not countenance LEDs or even faerie lights; and monochrome displays evoked her scorn. Our Christmas tree (Real! Green! Smelling like summer!) was always on display in front of the living room window, glittering and gleaming. Kage favoured old-fashioned blown glass ornaments, and no two of ours were the same – we bought them singly, years after year, whatever exotica appealed to each of us: flowers, fruit, Madonnas, Red Queens, dancing hares, hot air balloons and lighthouses and blown-glass antique cars. Her favourite was a tiny squirrel. Mine was a white glass crane.
Sacred music playing – Kage disliked most secular carols, but loved Church music and medieval melodies. And she identified British Music Hall songs with Christmas, in a connection I never fathomed; but we listened to lots of hilarious comic songs translated from wax cylinders and lacquer disks as we drove to and from Dickens. What a Mouth and Don’t Have Any More, Mrs. Moore and When Father Papered the Parlour and Burlington Bertie from Bow.
Mysterious packages sneaked into the house in featureless bags, under lumpy coats, and snatched from the hands of UPS and FedEx drivers – the mere fact of being a Christmas package rendered a parcel invisible, in Kage’s eyes; she’d enter the house yelling, “Don’t look! Don’t look!” and proceed to her room to hide the swag, confident that even if someone peeked, they somehow couldn’t see the packages in her arms. Her shielding must have worked – she put some astonishing things under the tree over our many, many years and people were frequently amazed at what she had contrived to get them.
The Yuletide was an extremely complicated and highly detailed season, with Kage. Doing Dickens Fair in the middle of it actually restored some order to the melee: no matter what else was going on, those doors were going to open at 10 AM every Saturday and Sunday, and something had better be ready to dazzle the crowds when they poured in. And it always was.
And it it still is. Though I missed last week due to alien flu from Hades (or something), I am restored now and eager to head North. I have new stockings, and a new blouse, and fresh sweeties, and my stalwart nephew Mike for a co-pilot, and Harry the parrot who whistles Rule, Britannia from the great iron cage in the Parlour. (My amazing bird has actual fans …) The road should be diverting, especially if it’s still raining between LA and San Francisco, and we shall head out early Friday for the adventure.
Winter is here. The holidays are crystallizing out of the frozen air. Something is coming.
And it’s probably us.
Scratch the Corona and make that a rum, spiced rum if you please! Ah, what great memories! Make sure you drag a few folks down to Fezziwig’s and tell them they have to do at least one dance.
Yes, indeed. Gotta dance!
Rum or Glugg… from Lyn Combs of Madam Louise’s. That glugg is dangerous stuff. Hope you have safe travels.
Burlington Bertie! Whatta song! (Vesta Tilley is one of my faves.) And you made it snow! How clever!
Burlington Bertie was one of Kage’s favourites, as well – partly because it is traditionally a “breeches song” as it were, actually intended to be sung by a strong alto. So it was pitched for her. And here at Dickens, it is occasionaly sung by a remarkable lady named Paula Christianson, who is usually a resplendently common costermonger – but for Bertie, she dresses up like a toff and does a fantastic version!
Me, I like “Don’t Have Any More, Mrs. Moore”.
And yes, it snows on my blog all December!
My favorite of those songs you mentioned is Don’t Have Any More, Mrs. Moore. So sad, so funny.
I completely understand the connection between Music Hall and Christmas; think of all those years we listened to Oak, Ash and Thorn or the delicate musicians in Mad Sal’s sing those songs to us – and in my memory, it is always Winter when I hear them.
We’ve been a person short at the end of the day in the shop this year, but I hope to sing at least one Hallelujuah Chorus this weekend. Last year I stood next to the basses and it was a Whole different song. I recommend standing next to someone you don’t usually sing near and listen to their version. I’ll look for you this weekend.
I will be there, Lynn – standing on the cusp between the seconds and the sopranoes, and next to Neassa – who has a beautifully trained and elastic soprano, and keeps my aging pipes on track. But you’re right about the fun of standing near someone who sings what you do not; my nephew Mike has a very sweet baritone, and standing next to him is a treat.