I love this time of year as we approach the winter solstice and the longest night of the year. When Louis Armstrong sang about the bright blessed day and the dark sacred night (“What a Wonderful World”) it was always the dark sacred night that I found more magical.
The darkness allows for the quiet serenity of contemplation, it offers the wonders of a starlit sky and of course, the promise of the return of the light which is a part of many holiday traditions at this time of the year.
As I get older, I get more nostalgic for the holiday traditions that I grew up with in a big noisy family in Southern Ontario. We celebrated Christmas and there were many annual markers of that celebration that my six siblings and I couldn’t imagine not doing.
The last Sunday afternoon before Christmas was always the trip to the Smith family farm to cut down our own tree. We tramped through the snow, making angels and pushing each other around, throwing snow balls and giving face washes as my parents looked in earnest for just the right tree — always a blue spruce. There was always lots of baking, and the simple Scottish shortbread recipe that my mom brought over from her mom in England was, and still is my favourite. There was lots of decorating and I loved when I got to put the angel chimes together and light the candles that sent them chasing each other around the metal star.
One of the best traditions was taking in the holiday stories. From the gift of the Magi to “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” reading the stories aloud or listening to them on the radio was a big part of our holiday tradition, and of course the stories told through TV animation were a big hit. Rudolph, Frosty, Kris Kringle and the cherry on the top, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
As we all sang in our local church choir, the Christmas season was filled with music, the preparation of which usually started at the beginning of November. Those who bemoan the practice of playing Christmas carols right after Hallowe’en have probably never sung in a choir where doing Christmas music through November is just part of the deal. It was always the music at Christmas that made the holidays the most magical for me, especially in years where the holidays were tough after losing a loved one or dealing with other struggles.
As I grew up and eventually had kids of my own, I have tried to keep some of those traditions alive. We still tromp through the woods looking for the perfect tree, make lots of shortbread and now my daughter loves to put the angel chimes together.
Of course, music has remained a huge tradition for me both personally and professionally.
When it came time to put together this year’s Okanagan Symphony Orchestra holiday concert, I got nostalgic this year and decided to program the music that brings some of those holiday favourite stories to life with music.
Along with a hundred voices of the Okanagan Symphony Youth Choir and guest narrator and bass, Garry Gable, the OSO will bring three of the timeless classics of holiday stories to musical life in our annual December show.
The whimsy of the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” which described many of Santa’s attributes for the first time, the exuberant joy of a young Dylan Thomas describing his boyhood adventures in “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and the ultimate holiday cartoon “How the Grinch stole Christmas” by that most imaginative voice, Dr. Seuss are the featured pieces on the OSO’s concert “Yuletide Tales.”
I hope that you will come and join us to share in this holiday concert which will be fun for the whole family. Maybe it will become a part of your holiday traditions.
Rosemary Thomson is conductor and music director for the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra.
The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra performs Yuletide Tales with the Okanagan Symphony Youth Chorus and soloist/narrator Garry Gable
Thursday, Dec. 20, 7 p.m., Vernon Performing Arts Centre
Friday, Dec.21, 7:30 p.m., Kelowna Community Theatre
Saturday, Dec. 22, 2 p.m., Cleland Theatre at Penticton Community Centre, tickets available from The Shatford Centre or online.