Tag Archive: Christmas

It’s the last Monday of the year, and the first after the solstice. The days are getting longer! Today was almost a minute and a half longer than yesterday. The sun will rise at 10:59 this morning and set at 2:44 this afternoon for 3 hrs 45 minutes of theoretical sunlight, and the sun will reach 2.1° above the horizon. The coldest part of the year is still before us, but at least we’re getting some light back. By this time next week, the days will be more than four hours long.

This morning about noon. Photo to right was yesterday.

We’ve had some snow over the last week, and the snowstake has finally come unstuck. It has some snow frozen on the near side which makes it difficult to read, but I think from the base of the triangle of stuck snow it read about 13” depth when it got too dark to see last night. We had snow (as well as fog) Christmas day, but only about a tenth of an inch was expected. From the way it was snowing around 6 pm, I suspect we got more than that. (8:30 am: we had more than a tenth of an inch, but it’s still too dark to tell how much more. Roads were very slippery and visibility terrible last night. 11:30: Left photo suggests we had about an inch last night.) Temperatures? Below zero even at the warmest, and around 20 to 30 below at night. We don’t really have much warming in daytime, though.

I think I see the first, faint beginnings of buds on the Christmas cactus, after only a little over two weeks of a twelve on-twelve off light cycle. And there is no question about the sunquat, a citrus hybrid. Hope its blossoms smell better than the worm tea I treated all the plants to yesterday!

North Pole Christmas Eve

Well, not the North Pole.

I live in North Pole, Alaska, which is a suburb of Fairbanks. It’s a little colder than Fairbanks (lower-lying) and needless to say, given its name, tends to be busy around Christmas. Especially Santa Claus House, a tourist emporium which also features letters from Santa, and a mini-ice carnival. Local businesses here, as in Fairbanks, often have ice sculptures in front during the winter.

Since it’s Christmas Eve, I thought I’d let you see some pictures taken in both Fairbanks and North Pole during the last few days.

Looking across the Chena River toward Fairbanks

Display at the Fairbanks North Star Borough building.

The light poles in North Pole are candy canes year round.

Santa Claus is a recurring theme. I'm afraid the sky is typical for warm winter weather.

Ice sculpture at the ice park entrance. These will last most of the winter up here.

Rapumzel and her rescuer in front of a local dentist's office.

Most of the Twitter quotes for the past week have been from Hogfather, a Terry Pratchett book that satirizes (among other things) the commercialization of Christmas.

Actually the Hogfather, like a good many of the things we connect with Christmas, is associated with the winter solstice, which is today. Here in Alaska, it’s 8:30 this evening; if you live on the East Coast it’s 12:30 tomorrow morning. The book has been made into a DVD, which I reviewed yesterday. Happy southern Solstice!

“Three million dollars could buy a lot of no questions.” Thoughts of Downey, the head of the Assassins’ Guild, when the auditors offer that amount to get rid of the Hogfather (the Discworld’s equivalent of Santa Claus.)

“Everything starts somewhere, though many physicists disagree.” The opening sentence of Hogfather, though unless this is a reference to the old steady-state universe theory, now pretty well debunked, I’m not sure why the physicists would disagree.

“Real children don’t go hoppity-skip unless they are on drugs.” Susan Sto Helit, rebuking Gawain for stepping on the cracks to bring the bears so she can go after them with the nursery poker.

“Education had been easy. Learning things had been harder.” Susan, considering her past life and education.

“Wizards wouldn’t be wizards if they couldn’t see a little way into the future.” In this particular case, the wizards of Unseen University are apprehensive, with good reason, about the hangover cure being mixed by Mustrum Ridcully in hopes of curing the oh god of hangovers.

“Clever isn’t the same as sensible.” Susan to the oh god of hangovers, after she has said that the wizards of some of the cleverest men in the world.

“Idiocy is not a communicable disease.” Ridcully’s comment on the idea that Hex (the Unseen University computer) might have caught something from the burser (who is more than usually unusual mentally.) In fact Hex is confused by something done by Death, who is filling in for the Hogfather.

“Freedom came even before survival.” Bowling, Tourist Trap. Roi is commenting on Timi’s mindset, and how it differs from his own.

Hogfather: DVD Review


Thus Death says to his granddaughter, Susan Sto Helit, and thus Sir Terence David John Pratchett says in the interview on this DVD. You have to start believing in the little lies, like the Hogfather (Santa Claus) and the Tooth Fairy, in order to believe the big lies, like truth and justice.

The Auditors don’t believe in this. Humans are untidy. Life is untidy. So they plan to get rid of the untidiness, first by getting rid of the Hogfather. To manage this, they engage the Guild of Assassins, who assign the task to one Teatime (Teh-ah-tim-eh, as he keeps correcting people’s pronunciation) who is a little strange, even for an assassin.

The DVD is remarkably close to the book, probably because Terry Pratchett was closely involved with making it. Since the plot involves not only the Hogfather and Teatime, but Death, his granddaughter Susan (especially Susan), the Tooth Fairy and the franchise she runs, the wizards of Unseen University, and an assortment of unlikely creatures such as the oh god of hangovers and the sock-eater, there tends to be a good deal of jumping between scenes.

There are complications, many (and much of the satire on the commercialization of Christmas) coming from Death’s taking over the Hogfather’s job. I particularly enjoy his filling in for the hired Hogfather at the Discworld equivalent of a department store. Then there is the idea that there has to be a certain amount of belief in the world, leading to any personification thought of coming into being once the children’s belief in the Hogfather wavers. But there are serious scenes, too, like the Hogfather, in boar shape, being chased by the Auditors as dogs. (Why not boarhounds, instead of Malinois? And how did the filmmakers manage the boars, either fleeing from the dogs or pulling the sleigh? Are they animated?)

If you like satire and like Pratchett, it’s definitely worth watching. It’s on my watch-every-Christmas list. And, as a challenge to the reader, Pratchett himself is in the movie. I had to check the cast list to find out whom he portrayed. Can you do better?

A Christmas Carol: DVD Review

If the Grinch and the Nutcracker are old Christmas favorites, I got a DVD last year that is going to be a new one. Not new, really, as I’ve read the Dickens classic dozens of times. In fact, I just added “The Complete Charles Dickens Collection” to my Nook to replace the books lost in the fire, so I could compare “A Christmas Carol” in print with the DVD—though I knew already that the Disney movie was very close to the Dickens original, just from the familiarity of the dialog.

The dialog was indeed taken almost entirely from the book, and the Christmas past sequence, aside from the transitional bits such as the flight with the ghost and the candle snuffer becoming a rocket, also closely followed the book. The Christmas present sequence also followed the book reasonably well, though the vision through the floor of flights through the air over London were new.

The main place the film diverged from the book was in the Christmas future sequence, which was nightmarish far beyond the original. True, the hearse was mentioned in the book, but only as a comparison for the width of the steps to Scrooge’s rooms.

Although the characters are computer-generated, they all move and use their faces so naturally it doesn’t feel at all like a cartoon. I always enjoy the “Making of” shorts on these discs, and this one was a fascinating introduction to motion capture, including the capture of facial expressions.

So is it worth watching? I think so. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is an old favorite, and I think I’ll add this DVD in future years.

The Nutcracker (DVD review)

“It wasn’t much of a success, and nobody performs it nowadays …” Deems Taylor said that about Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet in Fantasia, released in 1940. He couldn’t say it today!

Even here in Fairbanks we have a live performance every Christmas, though regrettably I’ve never been able to attend it, as I no longer see well enough to drive in the dark. But I do watch the DVDs every year, and it is DVDs, plural, as I now have three versions of the ballet, in addition to the Disney version of the suite.

The oldest, as far as when it was filmed, is the Bolshoi Ballet version, with Yekaterina Maximova, Vladimir Vasiliev, Nadia Pavlova and Vyasheslav Gordeyev in the lead roles. The DVD has no copyright date, but since Yekaterina died at 70 two years ago, and performed with the Bolshoi only until 1980, it is reasonable to infer that the actual performance took place in the ‘60s or ‘70s. This is the one I watch least frequently, as there is something seriously wrong with the color – the red of the Nutcracker and the violet of the mouse king’s cape seem to have bled in the original film print before they were digitized, leading to an unpleasant blurring in the DVD.

The second is a BBC video, which for years was shown every Christmas on PBS. This performance, of the Royal Ballet at Convent Garden, is much more recent, with a copyright date of 2000. The third, the San Francisco Ballet, has a copyright of 2008 and replaced the BBC Nutcracker on PBS a couple of years ago.

Although the three share the same music, they are rather different in staging and in some of the dances. The first act, at home Christmas Eve, is costumed, stage dressed and to some extent choreographed according to the time and place selected. I’m no expert on dress, but the Bolshoi and Royal Ballet versions looked similar to me, with “Victorian” dress and house, though supposedly in Europe. The San Francisco Ballet version was explicitly set in San Francisco during the 1915 World’s Fair, and the clothing was much softer.

The three versions also differ in how Clara and the Nutcracker Prince travel to the land of sweets: a ship that flies through the air in the Bolshoi version, a sleigh piloted by Christmas Angels in the Royal Ballet version, and a sleigh pulled by dancers costumed as horses in the San Francisco Ballet. Not two men making one horse, but four prancing dancers, each wearing a crystal horse head. The effect was surprisingly evocative of real horses.

There are also differences in the story. In the Bolshoi version (where Clara is called Mischa) the Nutcracker Prince and Clara are the lead dancers throughout, though the dancers are different for the two acts. In the Royal Ballet, there are two sets of lead dancers: Clara and the Nutcracker Prince in both acts, and the Sugar Plum Fairy and her prince (who is not the Nutcracker) in the second act. In the San Francisco version, The Nutcracker Prince is apparently the consort of the Sugar Plum Fairy, but Clara is transformed into a ballerina for the Pas de deux with the Prince.

Probably the most popular part of the ballet – and most of the Nutcracker Suite – is what I will call the ethnic dances: the Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian dances, along with the Dance of the Mirlitons (Marzipan dance in the Bolshoi version) and the Waltz of the Flowers. In the Bolshoi version, the first four are danced by pairs of dancers, male and female. In the Royal Ballet version, only the Spanish Dance has a balance of male and female dancers, and Clara and/or the Nutcracker join in these dances. The San Francisco version is the only one with Madame du Cirque and the dancing bear, but the music for that section is in the Bolshoi version, where it accompanies the ethnic dancers who join the marzipan shepherd and shepherdess after their dance. The Chinese dance in the San Francisco version is based on the Chinese New Year parades in Chinatown, with a dragon chasing a single male dancer.

My favorite part? The ballet danced by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince in the Royal Ballet version. Those dancers are incredible athletes, to make such effort look so light and graceful.

The Grinch and Dr. Seuss

Christmas is coming, and it’s time to dig out the DVDs I normally watch this time of year. No, I don’t sit on the sofa or in a recliner and watch them. More often, I watch while on the stationary bicycle, peddling away, or while on the rowing machine. DVDs and an occasional PBS program are how I get my exercise. But there are certain DVDs I usually watch, and books I usually reread, this time of year, and the first this year was How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

I was in high school by the time the Grinch and The Cat in the Hat came out, and I don’t remember reading those books. But I remember sitting in our grade school library, reading And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street, McElligot’s Pool, and The 500 Hats of Bartholemew Cubbins. The last was even made into a song that we sang in one of my early school music lessons, and I still remember about half the tune.

Dr Seuss was the pen name of Theodor Seuss Geisel, and he wrote 46 children’s books, most still popular today. You’re Only Old Once I read in a doctor’s waiting room (an appropriate place for it) while waiting to find out what was wrong with my gall bladder. But the Grinch I met first through the cartoon special.

It’s a wonderful antidote to the Christmas shopping madness, with its message of “Christmas is within our grasp, as long as we have hands to clasp.” And I have to admit that I enjoy the extras on the disc – how it was made, the commentaries from cartoonists and voice actors – as much as the Chuck Jones cartoon itself.

The cartoon represents the combined talents of Chuck Jones and Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) with the wonderful voice of Boris Karloff both as narrator and as the Grinch. This is another DVD I worry about wearing out. (And as a snowflake connoisseur, I love those falling snowflakes.)