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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Holiday Almanac: Christmas dawns, celebrating Jesus’ birth

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Nativity scene in stained glass at Our Lady Queen of the Apostles Church, Royal Palm Beach, Fla.

Nativity scene in stained glass at Our Lady Queen of the Apostles Church, Royal Palm Beach, Fla.

Christians worldwide celebrate today as Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, whom they worship as the Son of God. The founding events are set in Israel of 20 centuries ago.

As told in the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke, a Jewish couple named Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a Roman census. Rebuffed from every inn in the crowded village, they settled in a stable, where Jesus was born.

In nearby fields, angels announced the birth to shepherds, who rushed to the stable to worship the child. And from the East, magi or wise men followed a special star to Jesus’ home and offered gifts of gold, incense and rare spice.
Roman Catholic churches began Christmas with Midnight Mass; Eastern Orthodox churches hold Divine Liturgy. Protestant Churches often celebrate with carols and special cantatas.

Church youths like to stage “Living Nativity” scenes, recreating the first Christmas — a custom said to have been founded by St. Francis of Assisi. A few churches unpack high-tech gear or rent civic auditoriums for elaborately staged pageants.

Christmas traditionally was from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6 — the “Twelve Days of Christmas” in the carol of the same name. That tradition still thrives among Latin Americans, who will celebrate Jan. 6 as Three Kings Day, when they believe the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem.

— James Davis

Written by Jim Davis

December 25, 2014 at 9:00 am

Holiday Almanac: Advent, looking toward Christmas

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Advent candle and wreath, by jruppit on sxc.hu.

Today starts Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas. Advent, which is marked by the four Sundays before that day, is celebrated mainly in traditional churches, especially Episcopal, Lutheran and Roman Catholic.

The season’s central symbol, the Advent wreath, is a leafy horizontal circle with four candles, a new one lighted each Sunday. Each church lights a large wreath, and many homes of the faithful often have smaller versions. Although the custom originated in western Europe, Hispanic Catholic parishes have adopted the wreath as well.

Another Advent custom is the Jesse tree, often decorated by children in church schools. The tree, which doesn’t have to be a pine, is draped with homemade representations of biblical prophecies — scrolls, the Lion of Judah, seraphim, David’s harp and other symbols — believed by Christians to have foretold Jesus’ life.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

November 30, 2014 at 9:00 am

Holiday Almanac: Good Friday mourns death of Jesus

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Bas-relief in Angelina's sanctuary, Santa Catarina, Brazil, By Ezequiel Gruber on SXC

Bas-relief in Angelina’s sanctuary, Santa Catarina, Brazil, By Ezequiel Gruber on SXC

Christians today mourn the death of Jesus Christ as Good Friday. Despite his agonizing death on a cross, the holiday is called “Good” because Christians believe Jesus’ death was a sacrifice for all humanity’s sins. ‘‘The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” the New Testament calls him.

In Catholic churches, the traditional Good Friday service includes the Stations of the Cross, a series of meditations based on the 14 recorded events between Jesus’ condemnation in a Roman court and his burial. The Stations are represented with plaques or bas-reliefs around the church auditorium.

Catholics also hold a ‘‘veneration of the cross” ceremony, during which churchgoers approach the altar to kiss the feet of a statue of the crucified Jesus.

Sometimes observed by ecumenical Protestants is Tre Ore, a three-hour service examining each of the ‘‘Seven Last Words” Jesus uttered from the cross. The service is useful for having seven or more ministers take part.

Another type of service is Tenebrae, in which a church is slowly darkened to illustrate Jesus’ death, then relighted to show his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

— James D. Davis

 

Written by Jim Davis

April 18, 2014 at 8:30 am

Holiday Almanac: Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birth

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Believers worldwide celebrate Dec. 25 as Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, whom they worship as the unique Son of God. The founding events are set in Israel of 20 centuries ago.

aDSC_0023, reducedAs told in the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke, a Jewish couple named Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a Roman census. Rebuffed from every inn in the crowded village, they settled in a stable, where Jesus was born.

In nearby fields, angels announced the birth to shepherds, who rushed to the stable to worship the child. And from the East, magi or wise men followed a special star to Jesus’ home and offered gifts of gold, incense and rare spice.

Roman Catholic churches begin Christmas the previous night with Midnight Mass; Eastern Orthodox churches hold Divine Liturgy. Protestant Churches often celebrate the holiday with special cantatas and carols.

Church youths like to stage “Living Nativity” scenes, recreating the first Christmas — a custom said to have been founded by St. Francis of Assisi. A few churches unpack high-tech gear or rent civic auditoriums for elaborately staged pageants.

Christmas traditionally was from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6 — the “Twelve Days of Christmas” in the carol of the same name. That tradition still thrives among Latin Americans, who will celebrate Jan. 6 as Three Kings Day, when they believe the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

December 25, 2013 at 4:15 am

‘Christmas Near the Beach’: Living room festival — for several thousand people

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Deena McDaniel buddies up with daughters Abby, left, and Rosey. All three will be in Christmas Near the Beach. (Photo: James D. Davis)

Santa is invited. So are some hip-hoppers, gospel singers and ballet dancers. Oh, and you are, too.

That’ll be Christmas Near the Beach, a flamboyant blend of music, dance, comedy and worship. The free festival is planned for 4-9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at ArtsPark in the heart of Hollywood, Fla.

“Everyone wants to have people for Christmas in their living room, but they can’t,” says Deena McDaniel, producer of the seventh annual Yuletide festival. She then grins and waves at the 2,400-square-foot stage at ArtsPark. “So let’s have it in my living room!”

Holding forth at the circular park at U.S. 1 and Hollywood Boulevard, Christmas Near the Beach will include a sampling of music and performance styles from around South Florida. Among them will be hip-hoppers Justin Phillips and Mr. E; the Overflow Band, a Spanish praise and worship group; St. Nick and the Florida Sunshine Band, a marching band; the Pursell Family Band, bluegrass gospel; and Sensere, a 1950s-style gospel group with horns and singers.

Also there will be Expressions of Joy, a dance studio for which McDaniel an instructor. They’ll perform excerpts of their Christmas ballet A Star Shall Come Forth. And they’ll do an excerpt from their original ballet based on The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis.

The biggest performance will be a flash mob of 200-300 dancers, choreographed by McDaniel, who shared the moves via YouTube.

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Deena McDaniel shows the “Grinchy” mask she’ll wear in a play at Christmas Near the Beach. (Photo: James D. Davis)

McDaniel herself will reprise her Grinchy Got Saved performance, in which she dresses and masks as a parody of Dr. Seuss’ sneering green character. She’ll also perform an athletic, gospel-oriented dance called Only One Roadway, wearing mime makeup that, she confesses, some children have found scary.

Christmas Near the Beach will offer other trappings of South Florida festivals as well: hot dogs, fried Oreo cookies, a Tacky Sweater Contest, arts and crafts for kids, and a classic car show (St. Nick will even arrive in one of them). You’ll also have a chance to win a Christmas tree in a free raffle.

The festival moved last December from its original home on Hollywood Beach, where it got about 1,000 people each year. Last year the crowd tripled, McDaniel said, and this year she gleefully expects 10,000.

But Christmas Near the Beach will ignore the reason for the season. After his big entrance, St. Nick will kneel before the Baby Jesus at a live Nativity scene. Also featured will be a message by Pastor Al Pino of McDaniel’s home church, Palm Vista Community Church in Miami Lakes.

The variety of the acts reflects the variety of the dozen participating churches, McDaniel says: Haitian, Hispanic and African American as well as Anglo. She says the audience itself will include about 50 congregations.

If Christmas is the right time for such a festival, Deena McDaniel is the right person to produce it. Besides her work with Expressions of Joy, she leads a fitness class at Memorial Hospital in Hollywood and has worked as an adjunct professor of cardio and Pilates at Barry University in Miami Shores. She also holds a degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma and worked for 10 years as a DJ in her former hometown of Camden, Mo.

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Two samples of the glass starfish ornaments for sale, to benefit Christmas Near the Beach. (Photo: James D. Davis)

Her two youngest daughters seem to be following in her nimble footsteps. Rosey, 12, has a speaking part as a “Who” in the Grinch play. She’ll also dance in the flash mob, as will sister Abby, 10.

Abby has her own vocabulary in talking about Christmas Near the Beach. “Super-extra-awesome-amazing,” she says with a smile.

Although the festival is free, McDaniel plans to pass the plate for the first time this year to defray the $11,000 price. Most of the cost is carried by sponsorship and donations, she says.

This year, the program will get help from another source: Hollywood Hot Glass, a glass-blowing workshop based at ArtsPark. Director Brenna Baker will sell glass starfish-shaped Christmas ornaments for $20 each, with proceeds to benefit Christmas Near the Beach.

Christmas Near the Beach is also getting coverage from Christian media, including radio stations WAY-FM, Reach-FM, and the GraceNet Internet broadcast. At least two secular newspapers, the Hollywood Gazette and the South Florida Sun Sentinel, have also shown interest.

How to know if Christmas Near the Beach is a success? Here, McDaniel tears up. “Whenever the gospel is preached, it’s a success. Being big doesn’t mean you’re faithful. God says to share the gospel and let him do the work.”

Then her bright smile returns. “But big is OK, too. I’ll take big.”

For more info, check out the Christmas Near the Beach website.

James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

December 13, 2013 at 3:21 am

Holiday Almanac: Advent, a season of preparation for Christmas

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Photo: István Benedek via sxc.hu

Photo: István Benedek via sxc.hu

Today (Dec. 1) starts Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas. Advent, which is marked by the four Sundays before that day, is celebrated mainly in traditional churches, especially Episcopal, Lutheran and Roman Catholic.

The season’s central symbol, the Advent wreath, is a leafy horizontal circle with four candles, a new one lighted each Sunday. Each church lights a large wreath, and many homes of the faithful often have smaller versions. Although the custom originated in western Europe, Hispanic Catholic parishes in South Florida have adopted the wreath as well.

Another Advent custom is the Jesse tree, often decorated by children in church schools. The tree, which in South Florida is often mahogany or black olive, is draped with homemade representations of biblical prophecies — scrolls, the Lion of Judah, seraphim, David’s harp and other symbols — believed by Christians to have foretold Jesus’ life.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

December 1, 2013 at 5:51 am

Christmas film OK for Oke series

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Ellie gets some attention from deputy Michael in ‘Love’s Christmas Journey.’ (Courtesy, Fox Home Entertainment)

DVD Review: Love’s Christmas Journey. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. 4 hours (two parts).

It’s been a decade since the first of Janette Oke’s “Love Comes Softly” books went onscreen, and they’ve even outlasted her writings. This film, like its two predecessors, is done in her style but not with her authorship.

How successfully? Let’s find out.

We return to Oke’s vision of the West, where big strapping cowboys tip a hat and help the womenfolk off carriages. And where a frontier town looks grubby only after a severe thunderstorm.

Well, it does have the occasional ruffian pulling guns or riding crazy through town. For them, there’s Sheriff Aaron Davis, a ramrod who always seems to get the drop on the bad guys. Well, almost always. More on that later.

Into this (kinda) peaceful setting rides blonde, forlorn Ellie, his pretty sister, come to visit her widowed brother and two children for Christmas. Why forlorn? Well, she’s widowed, too, as we see in frequent nightmare sequences where a tornado destroys a barn, along with her husband and daughter. (Apparently you’re not supposed to remember a similar plot device in the 1996 movie Twister.)

Ellie is befriended by the townspeople, especially matronly Beatrice (JoBeth Williams, almost unrecognizable from her stint in the Poltergeist films in the 1980s). They join others in putting up Christmas decorations and coaching kids in a nativity play. Ellie also gets frequent visits from deputy Michael, in a subplot that takes little guessing to predict.

There’s also a standard Bad Guy Boss — you know, the Land Baron who wears black, sits at a big desk and speaks in polished accents. Alex is eager to learn where a planned railroad will go, so that he can buy up the land in its path. He secretly sends out henchmen to clear the way by beating and evicting some ranchers.

Among those he tries to pressure is Mayor Wayne (Sean Astin, who has worked in projects as varied as TV’s 24 and cinema’s The Lord of the Rings). Mr. Mayor has his own problems: He may have oversold the railroad, forecasting prosperity for the town before even knowing where the track would go.

The mayor is also leery of Erik, who has his eye on his daughter. Erik, you see, is the town’s black sheep because his father was a robber who cleaned out the town some years back. When the mayor’s barn is torched, he’s quick to blame the young man.

All these subplots boil to an improbable crisis at once. Erik is jailed after he’s accused of burning the barn. Aaron is jumped by an outlaw and left for dead. Michael searches for him and goes missing. Christopher tries to find his dad, too, and promptly gets lost in the wild. The storm rips through the Christmas decorations everyone made so painstakingly. Even Ellie falls into danger as she tries to ferret out Alex’s shady dealings.

No worries. All turns out well, including the sheriff’s fate. He’s found and nursed to health by a kindly, jolly, white-haired old man. His name? Nicholas (nudge, wink).

The show is clearly produced as a TV miniseries, with scenes conveniently broken up for commercials. Even so, it often drags. Yes, loving or wistful expressions look nice in lamplight. But how often can you repeat that shot before it gets old?

Not that the film lacks redeeming qualities. Mr. Mayor learns to see Erik for his own qualities, not those of his criminal father. The townspeople learn to place faith in themselves and one another, rather than outside help from a railroad. And Ellie grows close to Aaron’s children and opens up to the warmth from her neighbors. It’s a subtle, graceful lesson that love takes more forms than romance.

Natalie Hall does probably the best performance as Ellie, filling the role with a sad, brave dignity. Her expressive face flashes a bright smile or a playful indulgence, or fights to suppress tears. The script has her often pushing aside her own grief to help her friends or Aaron’s children.

Ernest Borgnine, who died this past July at the age of 95, does an effortless job as Nicholas, chatting and chuckling as he takes care of Aaron. Greg Vaughan as the sheriff seems stiff at first, then shows a gentler side to his children.

If I were to grade Love’s Christmas Journey against the other two Oke films I’ve seen, I’d put it at the top. It has juuuuust a little more of the rawness and random mishaps that must have hit frontier towns. And its spiritual lessons are woven more intricately into the plot.

Yeah, it still has courtesy and cleanliness and downright sweetness clinging to nearly every scene, like corn syrup. But hey, what do you expect for films that are titled Love’s this or that?

If interested, you can find out more about this and the other 10 “Love” films on The Hallmark Channel website.

James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

November 18, 2012 at 2:37 am

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