From my Christmas notebook

Christmas Stories
One of the best Christmas stories I’ve ever read is No Holly for Miss Quinn, by Miss Read. She wrote two series of novels about English village life, and three novels about life in a small English market town from the turn of the 20th century through the post-WWII period.

I love this book especially for a particular moment during Christmas dinner, when the young boy has a sudden realization about the nature of Father Christmas and in that realization passes from childhood into the world of grown-up secrets.

No Holly for Miss Quinn speaks especially for women who are happily single and enjoy their lives to the full. But it also speaks for the child on the verge of growing up; and for the person who has lonely Christmases; and the person who has too much family at Christmas.

Another Christmas book by Miss Read is The Christmas Mouse, about a young boy who runs away from home on Christmas Eve, and the canny and wise old woman who gets him home for Christmas. Miss Read, whose real name was Dora Saint, wrote beautifully, especially in her descriptions of nature –the changes of seasons, the activities of birds and animals– and the way children interact with the natural world. She also had great insight into the urge to simplify our lives, to leave some of the unnecessary impedimenta behind.
.An Oxford Book of Christmas Stories includes both traditional and modern tales, and the illustrations are evocative and lush. These are stories for grown ups to enjoy and to read with children. Some of the titles will give you an idea: “Burper and the Magic Lamp,” by Robert Leeson. “Ghost Alarm,” by Nicholas Fisk. “The Anarchist’s Pudding,” by Geraldine McCaughrean. Mr. Pickwick’s adventure sliding on the ice is included as well. Several of the stories have sinister or macabre twists, and the Christmas ghost story is a classic form, thanks to Charles Dickens.
How about an opening to whet the appetite: “Jeremy James first met Father Christmas one Saturday morning in a big shop. He was a little surprised to see him there, because it was soon going to be Christmas, and Jeremy James thought Santa Claus really ought to be somewhere in the North Pole filling sacks with presents and feeding his reindeer.” — from “Father Christmas and Father Christmas,” by David Henry Wilson.

Stories by Paul Auster, Ann Beattie, Ray Bradbury, Italo Calvino, Annie Dillard, Patricia Highsmith, Jane Smiley and others are included in A Literary Christmas, Great Contemporary Christmas Stories, a collection from the Atlantic Monthly Press. These are stories for avid readers and for those who want to sample the work of some of the most interesting writers of our time. Some entries are excerpts from previous works, and some are topical short stories. A great read for the Christmas season.

For stories in song, The Penguin Book of Christmas Carols is very handy. It includes all the verses of fifty Christmas carols as well as the music, and it’s small enough to slip into a handbag on the way to Midnight Mass or Christmas service. The carols are from throughout Europe, some dating as early as the Middle Ages. The book includes a brief history of each carol and an introduction with a short history of Christmas caroling, as well as notes on the carols in performance. Like all Penguin Books, it’s a fantastic bargain.

And don’t forget, there are many editions of A Christmas Carol available, from economy paperbacks to lushly illustrated coffee table versions. The movies are fun, especially the musical, Scrooge, with Albert Finney in the title role; but reading the story with your family or friends is a wonderful way to spend Christmas Eve.

Speaking of the movies, let me put in a vote for the oldie with Alistair Simm as Scrooge. Yes, it’s in black and white. But Simm is such a wonderful Scrooge, and he looks like such a jovial granddad, this is a perfect version for children. The Ghost of Christmas Future is really scary, too, which the kids really like!
©2007 RK Silipo. All rights reserved.

Christmas Skies

The word, leaden, to describe the skies, must have been coined by an Englishman. The very definition of the term defines the winter skies in England. It’s a pefect word, too, because it gives not only the colour, a dark, dull grey; it also gives a sense of suppression, a  sense of the  heavy weight on our emotions, here under those skies. When, rarely, the sun breaks through for an hour or so, our elation is dashed by the inevitable return of the leaden skies, often with rain.

This greyness of days is coupled with the long, dark nights that begin to close over us in September, and reach their longest on December 2st. Sunset is earlier and sunrise later each day. Here, it is dark by 3:30 or so, and in a week it will be dark by 3:00.

All of this, for many of us, saps our energy and even deadens enthusiasm for our usual everyday enjoyment of life’s good moments.

No wonder ancient peoples needed to have a festival, a celebration day, in the middle of this season. And no wonder the ancient Christian church picked December 25th, when the days are just starting to get longer again, to be Jesus’s birthday. Who cares when it really was? We need the celebration now; we need to say, yes, the clouds will lift and we will see more light . . . maybe not soon, but eventually.

Quaker Concepts: Unity

Unity, in Quaker terms, is a staggering concept. It is reached not through voting or debating, but through silent discernment during a Meeting for Worship on the Occasion of Doing Business– short form “Meeting for Business.” During the business meeting an action is proposed, or a draft minute is presented. There is some discussion. If the item is of major importance, it is set aside to “season” for a time; that is, the decision will be made after a month or two (or ten), after everyone has had a chance to think about it and to practice discernment on his/her own. If it is a simple, practical matter, the decision might be made at the same meeting during which it is presented.

Unity  is reached by the movement of the Spirit among the gathered Friends. Sometimes this movement is palpable; other times it is not. This is difficult to describe or explain to anyone who has not experienced it, but is instantly recognizable once it is experienced.

William Penn, the English nobleman who left his title and his family to found the city of Philadelphia (city of Brotherly Love) and the state of Pennsylvania, wrote of Unity:

The objective of the Quaker method is to discover Truth which will satisfy everyone more fully than did any position previously held. Each and all can then say, ‘That is what I really wanted, but I did not realise it.’

The attainment of unity within the meeting is not the same as the attainment of uniformity. Unity is spiritual, uniformity is mechanical.

For a more thorough discussion of Quaker Unity, read Beyond Majority Rule, by Micheal J. Sheeran.

The Book of Christmas, by Jane Struthers

Every year, I try to find a new book about Christmas for my collection. This year, I found it at the National Theatre Shop– a surprise, because the shop, for obvious reasons, features theatre related items like scripts, actors’ memoirs and NT tee shirts.

The Book of Christmas is a delight.


Struthers covers everything from the selection of the date for Christmas to the first Nativity scene, Santa/Sinter Klass/Father Christmas in all his many guises, weird and wonderful customs (and some you wouldn’t want to try for anything!) decking the halls, Christmas feasting– and lots of other topics. The chapter on celebrating Christmas during hard times is particularly interesting to me.

I am enjoying it thoroughly.

Christmas in The Society

John L’Heuruex, now emeritus professor of Stanford University and well-known novelist and poet, then a Jesuit seminarian, wrote in his journal, Picnic in Babylon, on Christmas, 1963:

Tom O’Gorman, who says Mass for the workmen here, told me this story. While the priest says the Gospel in Latin, one of the workmen reads it aloud in English to the little congregation. Tom says he distinctly heard the chap say in his Negro velvet voice, “And the wise men brought gifts of gold and mirth and frankenstein.” And no one laughed. Terrific. 

The book is now out of print, and my copy is literally taped together because the binding has long since disintegrated. L’Heureux has a wicked sense of humour. His novels are always both sinister and funny.

HOLY TERROR – Religious Fundamentalists’ hate mongering

The Tea-party movement is simply the ‘religious right’ in disguise. Half of those who identify with the Tea Party consider themselves a part of the old ‘religious right.’ They believe the Bible is the literal word of God and that America is a Christian nation. Sixty-three percent believe that abortion should be illegal. Eighty-two percent oppose same-sex marriage

Think about it. The Tea-party movement represents a clear and present danger NOW not just to the gay community but to all Americans who refuse to support the values of the Christian right or join them in making this a Christian nation.  –Rev.  Mel White

About Holy Terror: the Lies the Christian Right Tells us to Deny Gay Equality:

“Mel White’s Religion Gone Bad reads like a page-turning whodunit. His careful recounting of the rise of fundamentalism in America is both chilling and enormously instructive. While religious progressives have been sitting around hoping that everyone would play fair with other faithful people, the fundamentalists have been planning and implementing a strategy for taking over the Christian church and the government. Religion Gone Bad (now Holy Terror) is a wake-up call to religious progressives to take back the Bible and stop being fearful of telling the story of our own salvation at the hands of an all-loving, all-merciful and inclusive God.The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

I’m reading this now, almost finished, and I tell you, it is frightening. It’s also completely disillusioning for anyone who blithely believes that all self-identified “Christians” truly seek to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. The vitriol, the ignorance, the hatred and the power-seeking that is exhibited by  Fundamentalist preachers and organization founders are direct attacks on the souls and lives of anyone who doesn’t agree with them, and absolutely deny the teachings of peace and love that Jesus gave us.

Gene Robinson is right; the book is a page turner; because not only does Mel White know the history of the Fundamentalist Christians in the USA backwards and forwards, he also knows the MEN (and yes, they are all men) who started the current movement, knows their minds and their plans; and he makes completely logical conclusions about what will happen if they succeed.

Also, Mel’s writing style is completely accessible. He doesn’t write down to the reader, but he deftly writes of complex concepts and, frankly, frightening ideas in clear, almost conversational language. It’s a history book, but it isn’t. It’s theology, but it’s more. It’s a personal political statement, but also a personal spiritual mission statement. You’ve just got to read this book.

The Power of Modern Spirituality










This book was my Christmas gift to many of my friends. Those who have started reading it, have, without exception, commented on the directness, elegance and simplicity of William Bloom’s writing style (and two of these people are published writers themselves). I enjoy his style largely because he is one of the few people I know who actually writes conversationally: he writes like he talks.

William has been one of the leaders of the holistic spirituality movement in the United Kingdom. He has been associated with Findhorn and was one of the founders of the Alternatives program of speakers and workshops at St. James’s, Piccadilly, in London. He has spent the last twenty or so years teaching concepts of holistic spirituality, spiritual companionship and approaches to education and psychology that include, not ignore, the spiritual element in human life.

This book captures the key concepts of holistic spirituality and “how it works” in language that anyone can understand, whether scholar or seeker.  It’s fun to read because of William’s style, but incomparably deep and universal in its wisdom. It’s a great book to read at the beginning of a new year.

William Bloom:

Foundation for Holistic Spirituality: