I glanced upon an article about the importance of a conservative party in governing a country, that it keeps a nation from spiraling into chaos, and I realized that’s the problem today.
For too long, America has had no conservative party.
Rather than upholding the institutions and values of the past, what we’ve instead had in recent decades is a growing assault akin to Huns and Visagoths.
Conservatives, by definition preserve. Barbarians, anarchists, and bullies destroy.
Before I go off on a long rant, I’ll just leave you with the question of just what, precisely, today’s so-called conservatives are saving for all of us, not just the privileged few. Racism? Inequality? Injustice?
My novel, What’s Left, springs from the ending of my first published novel, where our hippie-boy’s troubled journey finally brings him to true love and an embracing community.
Part of his epiphany is brought about by his colleague and guardian angel, Nita, when she hangs two portraits of her younger sister on her wall. Even as a professional photographer, he’s riveted. You could say it was infatuation at first sight. Or something more primordial.
And then, when he visits their family, the romance blossoms.
During its first 200 years, Boston Puritanically refused to acknowledge Christmas as a special day of the year. The legislature actually banned observances in 1659, and December 25 was a school day for long afterward. As many Yankees stalwartly and proudly noted in their journals, the 25th was simply “an ordinary day.” You could be fined for any outward show of holiday festivities, though there seems to be no evidence that actually happened. Still, nowhere in the Bible is the date set, and, frankly, the faithful did note that so many of its customs had blatantly pagan origins. Christmas in Massachusetts didn’t become a public holiday until 1856.
Slowly, though, things have changed, and Christmas in New England has become something of an ideal setting. And so, with its many fine live cultural performances, Boston is now considered a prime destination at this time of year, especially when snow heightens the effect.
Here are ten events to take in.
- Boston Pops. Launched by Arthur Fiedler in 1973, the orchestra’s holiday shows now get 45 performances in Symphony Hall in less than four weeks. It’s a joyous blend of Santa and sacred.
- Boston Ballet. While nearly every dance company in America does something with Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” – it is, after all, a prime source of income – the Boston Ballet company delivers one of the nation’s most sumptuous productions, with 34 performances at the Opera House beginning at the end of November.
- Handel and Haydn Society. The American premiere of Messiah was given by this organization in 1818, and over the years the piece has become an annual staple. Even though the work was intended as an Easter observance, it has universally shifted to Advent season. The H&H has evolved into a leading early music ensemble, but it’s by no means the only one in town. This highly acclaimed annual performances of the masterpiece has some sterling competition.
- Speaking of early music. Vocal groups like Boston Camerata and Blue Heron come up with holiday rarities. And the city is rife with fine choral ensembles digging into the musical archives to add to the listener’s discoveries.
- The Revels. Across the Charles River in Cambridge, the Boston Revels’ colorful Christmas production fills the Shakespearean Globe-inspired Sanders Theater at Harvard with 18 family-oriented performances. Founded in 1970, each year now features a special focus – this year, it’s Depression-era America, including blues and bluegrass; last year was Norway; the year before, Renaissance Venice. The celebratory event blends storytelling, acting, dancing, musical soloists, children’s and adult choruses that move as families across the set, plus traditional fare including singalongs, Morris dancers, sword dancers, a mummer’s play, and the intermission line dance that takes the audience from their seats into the marble lobby. It’s more of a secular solstice celebration, but when you’re dealing with folkways like this, Christmas is inescapable.
- Theater. It’s not all Charles Dickens, though there’s plenty of that around. The professional Huntington and American Repertory Theater companies, especially, can be counted on for original fare.
- Lessons and Carols. Beantown is an Episcopal stronghold, and Vaughan Williams’ setting of scripture and carols has earned its following. Could anywhere be more spectacular for this touch of Edwardian Yuletide than, say, Trinity Church on Copley Square or the Church of the Nativity just down the street?
- Boston Baroque. A more recent tradition is this orchestra’s two New Year’s concerts – one the evening of the 31st, the other on the following afternoon – both in Harvard’s Sanders Theater. A wonderful blend of formal and informal to welcome the annual transition.
- Pontine Theater. To the north, closer to where I live, a two-person team can be counted to put on an original show based on Victorian-era New England stories. They create and make their own sets, puppets, and costumes in addition to writing the script. It’s unique to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but still in the Boston orb.
- The Nubble Light. A bit further up the road, the iconic lighthouse at Cape Neddick in York, Maine, is outlined in strings of light. Since the lighthouse sits on a small island just offshore, it’s already widely photographed – one of the top two or three I see in published pictures. But this time of year, the effect from sunset on is breathtaking. At Long Sands around the corner, surfers in wetsuits are likely riding the waves. It’s hardly befitting the season, but I thought I’d mention it anyway … just in case you’re driving up.
And that’s before we getting to ice skating or hockey, for those looking for something more active.
Nobody knows how many gods and goddesses there are in Hinduism. Some say more than 100,000. They’re likely to pop up in places like the ashram in my novel Yoga Bootcamp.
Here are ten of the most popular.
- Shiva. The destroyer, especially of evil.
- Parvati. His wife. Goddess of fertility, love, and devotion. Also known as Uma.
- Vishnu. The preserver or protector.
- Lakshmi. His consort and shakti (source of energy). Goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity.
- Brahma. The creator or self-born.
- Saraswati. His consort. Goddess of knowledge, art, music, learning, and wisdom.
- Ram or Rama. The seventh avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu.
- Krishna. The eighth avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu.
- Ganesh or Ganesha. A popular, comical son of Shiva who gained his elephant head as the result of one of his father’s wild rampages with a sword. A kid can’t go headless, can he? Let’s see what we can find as a substitute.
- Hanuman. He’s monkey-faced and an ardent devotee of Lord Rama. Some versions have him as a son of Shiva. He’s popular for all kinds of reasons.
In my novel What’s Left, Cassia is a member of a Greek-American family that lives at a distance for their Greek Orthodox church. While that faith shares practices and teachings with a number of other Eastern Orthodox denominations, some of its customs that she takes for granted do puzzle her classmates.
Here’s some perspective.
- Number of Greek Orthodox adherents in the United States: Between 440,000 to two million in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, depending on the counting method being used. They are spread among more than 500 parishes and served by roughly 800 priests. The Antiochian archdiocese has 83,700 adherents and 206 parishes.
- Number of followers in the Orthodox Church in America (evolving mainly from the Russian Orthodox): 115,000 estimated, with 456 parishes.
- Other Orthodox representation includes two Serbian archdioceses, plus Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Macedonian, Assyrian, Coptic, and two Armenian organizations.
- Date of Christmas: January 7, concluding the 12 days of Christmas.
- Date of Easter: Based on the Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar used in the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, the Orthodox date can fall anywhere between April 4 and May 8 on the Western calendar. (The Greeks call it Pascha, for Passover.)
- The highest level of leadership: The Metropolitan, or archbishop. The Roman Catholic Pope was once one of them.
- Icons: The interior of the churches, especially, are replete in stylized depictions of Jesus, the Holy Mother, and many saints. Many of these are murals on the ceiling.
- The iconostasis: An icon-covered wall runs in front of the altar and has a large central door as well as two smaller doors at the far end of either side. During the service, the priest often passes through these.
- The priests are typically married.
- Fasting: It’s not a total avoidance of food but rather constrained by intricate limitations. The longest periods of fasting are Advent, before Christmas, and Great Lent.
Orthodox Advent began November 15.
Bella brings a love of reading to the family. She comes to campus to become a teacher, but other events intervene and she instead becomes the anchor of the family and its restaurant, where she runs the front of the store while her husband, Stavros, manages the kitchen. It doesn’t take long before she seems to know everybody in town. She’s that kind of person.
But that doesn’t prevent her from usually having an open book close at hand. She always manages to find time to read.
I’d credit both her daughter Nita’s success as a newspaper columnist and daughter Manoula’s founding of an influential small publishing house to her inspiration. The family does buy a bookstore, for one thing, before sending it on its own anew.
Bella also has enough Greek heritage to pass along some of the tradition. Here’s a bit of interaction between Cassia and her aunt Nita I cut from the final version:
They always called me Koukla, by the way, the same thing I sometimes call you.
What’s it mean, exactly? I know it’s a term of endearment, but I’ve just never followed up.
Thea Nita laughs. Oh, something like beautiful doll or baby doll, but it’s always full of affection. Koukla!
For many of us, daily life includes a lot of juggling, one activity or interest in contrast to another. Are you a multi-tasker? Or do you look at the term with derision? Tell us two or more things that frequently compete for your time. Do you have any tips for pulling it off?