This book is lovely! It contains words and music for many traditional favorites, as well as for some songs that maybe aren't quite as well known. The...moreThis book is lovely! It contains words and music for many traditional favorites, as well as for some songs that maybe aren't quite as well known. The arrangements are not difficult, and the colorful illustrations add to the book's charm.(less)
I found this book to be distasteful and disrespectful. In order to explain why, I am going to draw from a TV show that deals with a similar concept.
In...moreI found this book to be distasteful and disrespectful. In order to explain why, I am going to draw from a TV show that deals with a similar concept.
In one episode of M*A*S*H, Col. Potter says that he had chosen to get married on Groundhog's day so that he would never forget his anniversary. This is a sort of cute idea, and two special days -- one a holiday and the other a day of personal significance -- would coincide. Potter and his wife would celebrate both things on the same day, and it is possible that the festivities might blend together in his mind and in the minds of his friends and close family. For example, the phrase "six more weeks of winter" might remind him to buy a gift; "anniversary" might call to mind furry little rodents.
However, these two different occasions are not, could not possibly be, one and the same. His daughter is married, for instance, and it would be ridiculous to suggest that she checked the whether, glanced at a rat, and called it a wedding. Just because two events coincide does not mean that they are interchangeable, and that is the central flaw of this book.
Most people today recognize that the day we celebrate as Christmas coincides with (or, at least, comes within a few days of) many ancient pagan festivals. This does not mean that Christmas IS a pagan festival, although book claims that it is; specifically, it claims that Christmas is a version of Saturnalia [an ancient Roman festival]. Count writes, "The habit of Saturnalia was too strong to be left behind. At first the Church forbade it, but in vain. When a river meets a boulder which will not be moved, the river flows around it. If the Saturnalia would not be forbidden, let it be tamed. The Church Fathers now sought to point the festival toward the Christian Sun of Righteousness." Ouch.
He also claims that Christmas celebrations today are a watered-down version of the Babylonian and Persian annual tradition of human sacrifice, called Sacaea. I am not kidding. He writes, "One and the same basic idea . . . has . . . caught up with itself wearing another guise." Yes, this tradition occurred close to the same time of year. And sure, when different events happen at the same time, some ways of celebrating may be shared. This might be what happened with Saturnalia, with some minor traditions such as lighting candles being shared. On the other hand, this was before electricity -- didn't everyone use candles anyway? And Sacaea? Human sacrifice?!?
Count's evidence for these brash claims are sketchy at best. He says that the inspiration for "Santa Claus" is only partly St. Nicholas, and that Santa is really a blend between the Christian saint and the Norse god Odin. He supports this claim, in part, by saying that Odin's symbol was a boar. Then he quotes the Christmas tune known as "The Boar's Head Carol." Okay, so Christians ate boar. Among other things. Big deal! I eat bacon--does that mean that I worship Odin's great-aunt Edna? No! And this carol was one of many that focuses on festivities rather than religious doctrine. There are Christmas songs about decorating, building snowmen, shopping for gifts, and eating figgy pudding. Wait! Maybe I should write a book revealing how snowmen are actually a testament to the marble statues of ancient Greece, and we're all really just honoring Athena and Aphrodite without realizing it! Or maybe it's just a snowman . . . .
I feel really bad for slamming this book, as the author clearly has done a great deal of research, and there are several chapters that are nice to read. He also includes the words to some early Christmas carols, and they were a pleasure to read. However, he could have tracked some Christmas traditions without pushing his own agenda so forcefully and tactlessly. And he did, in places. For example, some people believed that evergreen plants brought the life of summer into the winter. Count writes, "Box, bay, ivy, holly, yew, larch, juniper, pine, spruce, fir--all are shields against the witches and demons [of winter]." That's interesting. That's history. Why couldn't the rest of the book be like that.(less)
If it were possible, I would probably give this about three and a half stars, which is a bit on the low side considering the high esteem in which I ho...moreIf it were possible, I would probably give this about three and a half stars, which is a bit on the low side considering the high esteem in which I hold Keillor. The fact of the matter is that the individual tracks on this CD collection vary quite a bit in terms of content and style, and while some were hilarious, such as the humorous anecdotes and literary parodies, other parts were baffling or just plain depressing.
I recently majored in English, and I can certainly relate to most of his English-related humor. For example, this collection parodies classic literature: plays, poetry, and even a song. It also entertains with anecdotes of an English major's career, which includes, in this case, fast food (ha-ha). But there were some portions of the collection that seemed only tangentially related to the topic; that is, while the concept of writing was involved, neither writing nor humor was the focus. For example, there is a really depressing vignette about a pregnant teenager whose parents will disown her if she doesn't marry, but who is acutely aware of the sorrow and pain that such a marriage will bring. As she prepares for the big event, she is surrounded by aged married women telling her that marriage won't be that bad. Ouch. I know that Garrison Keillor doesn't always have happy endings, and I know, of course, that he often uses a measure of angst and a great deal of realism (and I would argue that realism is important and that GK generally uses it skillfully and to great effect) but this was just depressing as all get-out, even for him.
Do you see this? I'm an English major reduced to using phrases like "all get-out"!
Still, what's funny in this collection is very funny indeed. I particularly enjoyed the three(!) Shakespeare parodies.(less)
This is a fantastic way to introduce Gilbert and Sullivan to children. It's a very nice selection--sixteen songs from eight operettas--and the piano a...moreThis is a fantastic way to introduce Gilbert and Sullivan to children. It's a very nice selection--sixteen songs from eight operettas--and the piano arrangements are impressive, neither too complicated for the average player nor too simplistic to convey the splendor of the compositions. The book is filled with beautiful pictures, imaginative and whimsical. This book is gold.(less)
This book has a little of everything: short stories, poems, carols, recipes, crafts, tips, history of Santa, and information about traditions around t...moreThis book has a little of everything: short stories, poems, carols, recipes, crafts, tips, history of Santa, and information about traditions around the world. It includes such religious content the famous passage from the Gospel of Luke, and such traditional fantastic tales as Dickens' A Christmas Carol and Hoffman's The Nutcracker. This book combines several centuries of Christmas writings in one compact, pocket-size volume.
That said, this book just isn't that practical; I think it tries to do so much that it doesn't really do things well. The short stories are severely abridged, but they are not listed as abridged. The carols do not include music, or even the names of the tunes or composers.
The section with traditions around the world is very short -- good for overviews but lacking detail. It and the Santa history are still fun sections to peruse.
The crafts seem very interesting and fun. I cannot comment on the recipes because I don't cook, but they seem very good. They also take up a substantial amount of the book, as it was a particularly large section.
Overall, the book is fun, and it's a nice addition to my collection. I would recommend it to anyone who loves Christmas but who isn't looking for a definitive history or anthology. It's a nice stocking stuffer, it provides good variety, and it's fun.(less)
This book covers a variety of Christmas songs, offering details about each one's origins. I am impressed with the repertoire: a blend of sacred and se...moreThis book covers a variety of Christmas songs, offering details about each one's origins. I am impressed with the repertoire: a blend of sacred and secular, with many old favorites. As an added bonus, this book also includes lyrics. I had never before read all nine stanzas of The First Nowell, and I took great delight in the chance to do so. This book is neither long-winded nor dense. On the contrary, this text, which can be read in half an hour, has been edited so skillfully that each song's story is told in just a few pages. It left me humming Christmas tunes and wishing for more festive anecdotes. Just as opening a jar of familiar perfume can take you instantly back to old memories, this book is like a bottled form of Christmas spirit, to be opened and enjoyed at any time of the year.(less)
Garrison Keillor shows his sense of humor and his musical talent in this brilliant collection. Frederica Von Stade shines, as always, and the writing...moreGarrison Keillor shows his sense of humor and his musical talent in this brilliant collection. Frederica Von Stade shines, as always, and the writing is gold. This collection lacks any Lake Wobegon characters, but that might not be a bad thing since the wall-to-wall music helps keep the tone consistent throughout. This collection parodies music from Rossini to Johnny Cash, and it delivers plenty of laughs. This is a gem.(less)