Remembering Coventry’s Carol

Lisa Brunetti, an artist and friend who blogs from her home in Ecuador, stopped by The Task at Hand recently to share some Christmas memories. While visiting friends who live next to the Catholic church in her town, she noticed many people on their way to Christmas Eve Mass who were carrying the Christ-child from their families’ nativity scenes. The babies were placed on the altar and then, at midnight, each was carried back home and returned to its manger. Her friends’ manger, in front of their shop, was surrounded by chairs. Through the course of the evening, people took turns stopping by, sitting and singing songs until the Baby Jesus was safely home.

It’s a lovely tradition, echoed here in the United States by families and congregations who leave the manger empty until Christmas Day.  Still, it’s worth considering that different contexts can help to transform one culture’s sincere expression of faith into something quite different.  In the United States, we’re clearly tempted toward sentimentality. With Baby Jesus tucked away in his manger, we sigh over the loveliness of his mother, admire the steadfastness of his father, give a nod to his humble surroundings and go our way. What comes next isn’t our concern. (more…)

Published in: on December 27, 2012 at 3:03 pm  Comments (84)  
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Even Cats Crave Christmas!

Laugh at the antlers if you will, but laugh at your peril. That business-like look in the eyes of my beautiful calico is very real. Dixie Rose (short for Dixie-Rose-Center-of-the-Universe-and-Queen-of-all-She-Surveys) loves Christmas, and she intends to be ready when it arrives. Do not stand in her way.

Dixie arrived at my door as an unloved, four-month-old stray who became my first real pet. As a child I did receive a small painted turtle, but the poor thing met a most unfortunate end. My birthday puppy lasted only hours. A tiny but exceedingly enthusiastic black Cocker Spaniel, the pup terrified me and was sent packing by disconsolate adults.

Later, I raised a fox squirrel and laughed my way through four years with a prairie dog, but my relationship with Dixie Rose is of a different order entirely. I believe her to be the most beautiful and most clever creature on four paws. I don’t think she’s the most spoiled creature in the world, but we’re working on it – diligently. (more…)

Published in: on December 14, 2012 at 8:05 am  Comments (84)  
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Looking East

Christmas comes differently to the country.

Twisted and threaded around and through twin pieces of rusted rebar that serve as mailbox supports, the plastic pine garland is older than several of the children who tumble from the school bus. Still, its shabbiness is apparent only to the mail carrier, or to the slippered woman trudging down the lane from her house, hoping against hope to find greetings in her box.  From the road, the garland appears perfect, full and fresh.  From a distance, even plastic communicates the determination and joy pulsing in the woman’s heart.  In this house, she thinks, we will celebrate. We will mark the season. We will share our joy with you, the passer-by.

Farther down the road,  a wreath made of vines adorns a gate propped against a fence. Its ribbon flutters in the wind, attracting attention, drawing the eye over the gate and into a pasture.  There’s a brush pile, and some uncleared mesquite. A few trees, pushed over and left to die, wait to be added to the pile.  No cattle roam, no stock tank or pond offers refreshment – not even a piece of rusted, broken-down machinery resists the despondent wind sighing across the field. (more…)

Published in: on November 30, 2012 at 8:06 pm  Comments (90)  
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When Nature Joins the Song ~ Cat Carols

 

Everyone knows there are “cat people” and “dog people”.  I qualify as a cat person. Mine is a beautiful calico named Dixie Rose (short for Dixie-Rose-Center-of-the-Universe-and-Queen-of-all-She-Surveys). I already was “old” when I brought her into my life as an unloved, four month old stray. Apart from a painted turtle and a small black birthday puppy who lasted only hours (tiny and overly enthusiastic, the pup terrified me and was sent packing), she’s my first pet. Like a favored first child or grandchild, I believe her to be the most beautiful and most clever creature on four paws. I don’t think she’s the most spoiled creature in the world, but we’re working on it – diligently.

The first Christmas season I shared with Dixie, it became apparent some things would have to change. The entire process of tree-trimming, gift wrapping, and holiday decorating simply was more than she could bear. A swath of shredded ribbon, broken ornaments and pulled-down swags marked her passage through the pre-holiday festivities. When the tree went over for a second time and then a third, I surrendered. My first Christmas with Dixie, we celebrated with a bare tree that had been weighted down around the base with a length of 3/8″ galvanized chain. No candles burned that year.  Presents were hidden in the closet until time for humans to unwrap them, and all sparkly things were banned because of my furry darling’s quite literal appetite for all things that glittered, whether gold or not.

Christmas came, and Christmas went, and sometimes Dixie and I disagreed strongly on the nature of true celebration. Things weren’t always good that year, and the phrase “This hurts me more than it does you” came to mind more than once.

As a matter of fact, things were so bad for a week or so I began to amuse myself by creating the first of what would become a series of little ditties I called Cat Carols. You know the tune, and can add the “Fa-la-las” as needed.

Wreck the Halls

Wreck the halls all decked with holly,
Fa-la-la-la-la, la la-la-la.
Sheer destruction is so jolly,
Fa-la…
Tip the tree with all its treasures,
Fa-la…
Shred the presents for good measure!
Fa-la…
Fast away the fur-ball passes,
Fa-la…
To wreak havoc on the masses,
Fa-la…
Swinging through the punch and cookies,
Fa-la…
You can tell she is no rookie,
Fa-la…

It was the start of something wonderfully fun. When I included the lyrics in Dixie’s Christmas card to her vet, he suggested she keep writing. So, she did. Again, you know the tune:

Stalking in a Winter Wonderland

Collars ring, are you listening?
In the lane, eyes are glistening…
The moon is so bright, we’re happy tonight,
Stalking in a winter wonderland.
Gone away are the bluebirds,
Here to stay are the new birds.
They sing their same songs as we skulk along,
Stalking in a winter wonderland.
In the meadow we can build a snow mouse,
And pretend that he is fat and brown.
He’ll say “Are you hungry?” We’ll say, “No, mouse”,
But we’ll have you for dinner on the town.
Later on, we’ll retire
For a snooze by the fire,
And dream of the prey we’ll catch the next day,
Stalking in a winter wonderland.

Of course, not everyone loves the kitty-cats, and there is a song for them, too. While I don’t advocate the shooting of cats (or dogs, or people for that matter) I certainly can understand the emotions which might lead to a Christmas song like this.

Jingle Bells, Shotgun Shells

Jingle bells, shotgun shells, there’s that danged old cat!
Get my gun, let’s have some fun, I know just where he’s at!
Jingle bells, oh, Hell’s bells, now he’s on the run!
If I find my glasses that cat’s hunting days are done.
A day or two ago, I thought I’d feed the birds,
I grabbed a bag of seed, a second and a third.
But halfway ‘cross the yard, I saw the bushes shake,
It was my neighbor’s scroungy cat, a big orange tom named Jake.
Oh, jingle bells, shotgun shells, (repeat chorus)…..
I love to feed the birds, it makes me feel so glad.
But Jake, that danged old cat, he makes me so darned mad!
He’s not content to eat a lizard or a mouse,
He wants to eat my pretty birds: that cat’s a stinking louse!
Oh, jingle bells, shotgun shells (repeat chorus)

Finally, there is this cautionary tale. A great-aunt much given to malapropism used to caution me, “Tempus fidgets“. Just like a child, cats (and probably dogs) need to be reminded that tempus does, indeed, fidget, and the magical night is not far off.

Santa Cat is Coming to Town

Oh, you’d better not hiss, you’d better not bite,
You’d better not tempt the dog to a fight;
Santa Cat is coming to town!
He’s making a list, checking it twice,
Gonna find out who chased all those mice,
Santa Cat is coming to town!
He knows when you’ve been scratching,
He knows who you’ve outfoxed,
He knows if you’ve been in a snit
And refused your litter box!
With potted cat grass and catnip-filled balls,
Snuggly warm beds and mice from the malls,
Santa Cat is coming to town.

We haven’t started this year’s song, but things are stirring, and “O, Christmas Bush” seems a likely candidate. It’s pure silliness of course, just another bit of holiday excess. On the other hand, excess isn’t always bad, and sometimes silly excess is a path to truth. Looking at Dixie, singing her little carols to her, I suddenly remember another carol. “Joy to World”, we sing, “The Lord is Come. Let Earth receive her king“.

We don’t sing, “Joy to human beings, joy to those who walk upright and drive cars and open too many credit card accounts and are nasty to their neighbors.”  The joy we sing is meant for the whole world, for stars and dirt, mountains and seas, trees, rocks, valleys and hills and every creature who inhabits them all. While we prepare our hearts, heaven and nature sing out the truth. Gifts of the season are meant for all, and we need to love our world enough to include it in our celebration.

 

In the meantime, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, whether you take the promises of the season seriously or whether you don’t, accept these bits of silliness as a gift from Dixie Rose. Feel free to laugh at them, sing them to yourself, or pass them on to friends. Believe me when I say an entire room filled with pet-lovers singing these songs can be hilarious, and they’ve been known to bring a smile to the face of even the Scroogiest animal “hater”.

As for Dixie, she continues on her best behavior. She’s learned she can avoid kitty-jail by avoiding kitty-misbehavior, and so we trim our tree in peace.  I hang ornaments that stay in place and display cookies and gifts without fear. While I prepare our celebration, she spends a good bit of time sleeping in the low afternoon sunlight, visions of catnip-plums dancing in her head as she waits in perfect peace and joy for whatever might come next.

In this season of Advent, this season of waiting and anticipation, may we all be blessed with such peace and joy!

 
Previously published in 2008, this post has been revised and re-published due to overwhelming demand (one request) and constant nagging by Dixie Rose and her agent.  I didn’t know about the agent until recently, but I should have.  Comments are welcome. To leave a comment or respond, please click below.
Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 5:35 pm  Comments (15)  
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