I remember reading “Watership Down” in high school. I’m a little surprised that its author, Richard Adams, was still alive. He passed away today at 96.

In his honor I’m going to use a word from his most famous book to describe how we on the liberal side of America have felt since it became clear that Trump had won the election back in November: tharn. It means stupefied, frozen in fear.

R.I.P., Mr. Adams.

Traditions, Part 3

Merry Christmas to All!

Note: This entry was originally published December 24, 2003.


From the Editorial Page, New York Sun, 1897

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus?Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!!

Continue reading ‘Traditions, Part 3’ »

Traditions, Part Two

It is indeed the Night Before Christmas, so let’s listen to Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians perform the song. This rendition was first aired on December 23, 1951 on Waring’s eponymous CBS radio show. Waring became a bandleader at an early age: he started a group called Fred Waring’s Banjo Orchestra while still a teenager. The group became so successful Waring abandoned his plans for a Penn State degree in architectural engineering and became a full-time musician. He made enough money with the band that he had an extra $25,000 to spare to invest with the man who invented the blender; his reward (besides the financial one) was to have his name attached to it: the Waring Blender.

He gathered several nicknames in his time, including “America’s Singing Master” and “The Man Who Taught America How to Sing.” He taught and toured until he died in 1984.

Traditions, Part One

For years the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “As It Happens” program has broadcast Alan Maitland’s reading of Frederick Forsyth’s “The Shepherd” on or about Christmas Eve. Here’s the story behind the tale:

Forsyth created this original work as a Christmas gift to his first wife Carrie after she requested a ghost story be written for her. Written on Christmas Day 1975, and published near that time a year later, the idea came while trying to think of a setting away from the typical haunted homes, and seeing planes flying overhead. Many have speculated references to preexisting RAF folklore. While Forsyth is a former RAF pilot and could have heard and adapted such a story (either with or without the intent to do so) no references or anecdotal evidence have been put forward to support such claims.

If you’ve never heard it and have half-an-hour to spare, give Maitland’s wonderful telling of this ghost story a listen.

Sting Saw Three Ships

Here is Sting playing “I Saw Three Ships” with a whole lot of help, performed live at Durham Cathedral in England in 2009. The entire performance is on a DVD cleverly titled “Sting: A Winter’s Night…Live from Durham Cathedral.” The song itself is very old, first printed in the 17th century. The reference to ships is unclear: some postulate it’s the camels the Three Wise Men rode, some suggest it’s referring to King Wenceslas, whose coat of arms includes three galleys, and a third theory is that they refer to the ships which carried the relics of the Biblical Magi to Cologne Cathedral in the 12th century. We’ll probably never know.

Pops goes Caroling

Airing tonight on PBS is an hour-long program called “Happy Holidays with the Boston Pops” in which Keith Lockhart leads the orchestra in Christmas music. In honor of that, here’s Arthur Fiedler conducting one of their versions of “Sleigh Ride.” There are at least three different albums in which he and the orchestra played it, so I can’t tell you whether this is the 1949, 1959 or 1970 version.

JT sings Winter Wonderland

I’ve admired James for a long time; I remember when “Sweet Baby James” came out back in 1970. One of my fraternity brothers played it over and over again (that happened with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” too, but it was a different fraternity brother). He did something more to justify that admiration today: he canceled a concert he was scheduled to perform in Manila to protest Philippines President Duterte’s drug war and the summary executions by police and vigilantes that are its underpinnings.

“…recent reports from the Philippines of summary executions of suspected offenders without trial or judicial process are deeply concerning and unacceptable to anyone who loves the rule of law.”

Here’s he is singing “Winter Wonderland” from his 2006 album “At Christmas.” He gets help from Chris Botti on trumpet.