Monday, December 31, 2007

First Night Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg has been holding a First Night celebration since 1994. The city closes off Caroline Street, and offers a variety of performances in downtown spaces that are designed to be family friendly. The evening starts at 6:30 with kid-friendly music, activities, puppet shows and magic acts. Throughout the evening, there are big bands and jazz bands, rock, folk, bluegrass, and even some classical music, plus comics and clowns and food and dancing in over a dozen venues. It really is a great place for families to go to enjoy the evening together, and we used to go when our kids were young. I never liked getting babysitters on New Year's Eve (as if I could even if I wanted to), and always preferred having the family together at the stroke of midnight. So if you are in the position of looking for a place to go that would appeal to both kids and adults, I highly recommend First Night. Check out all the info here.

This year, it looks like they have replaced the traditional dropping of the pear on Caroline Street with some sort of “Midnight Celebration” that might include lanterns or pineapples, or some combination. I suspect the city was looking for a pear alternative when they became embroiled in an acrimonious controversy about artistic copyright with Ken Crampton, the originator of the first Fredericksburg pear. Now it looks like we will be represented by the pineapple, the traditional colonial symbol of hospitality. The dropping of Ken’s homegrown pear was a highlight of the celebration for us. After years of seeing the televised ball-drop at Times Square, it was such a treat to get almost within touching distance of the pear at midnight (unfortunately, the demise of Ken’s pear occurred when some kids actually did get within touching, and squashing, distance). I don’t know what tonight’s celebration will be like, and I won’t be attending, so I guess I’ll have to read about it in the paper. Once our kids were old enough to want to spend New Year’s Eve with their own friends, we only attended First Night when we didn’t have a better offer. Tonight we’ll be ringing in the New Year at a big house party with a group of good friends. But if you end up downtown for the “Midnight Celebration” (and I highly recommend it, unless you’re at the party with me), I want to hear all the details.

And now, if you need something to do while waiting for the New Year, and you love gaudy Christmas displays as much as I do, you've got to check out this website. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Canal Path

We took advantage of the 60-degree weather today, and decided to check out Fredericksburg’s canal trail, which was created by paving the old towpath that runs along the Rappahannock canal. We’ve walked parts of it before, but had never done the full 2+ miles. It’s not a circuit trail, so starting on one end and walking to the other end, and then returning (with a side trip down to the river), took us over 90 minutes, but the path is a wide asphalt strip, so it was just right for a not-too-strenuous stroll. It’s a pretty peaceful place—not too many walkers or bikers in the winter, but rimmed with enough trees to occasionally make you forget you’re walking right through town.

Along with the Rappahannock River, the canal system played a big part in the early industrial history of Fredericksburg (check it out here, and get some info about more recent history here). Displays along the way describe aspects of the canal’s history, ecology, and wildlife. There are wetlands and ponds, including one that was ringed with people fishing (a big sign indicated that the pond was part of the “Urban Fishing Program,” and is stocked with trout and channel catfish). The path has recently been upgraded, and the footbridges that connect the path to the city’s residential streets have been renovated. Oh, it’s not all idyllic nature trail—there’s plenty of trash, and the muddy-looking canal isn’t exactly picturesque. Still, it was a pleasant alternative to our usual downtown walks. Here are a few photos:

One of the footbridges that cross the canal.

The path passes the backyard of the new high school.

Signage along the way highlights the canal path's features.

A boardwalk leads through wetlands to a small pond where if you're lucky, you'll see some waterfowl. We saw a few ducks and an unidentified long-legged water bird of some sort (that white speck on a big rock). Birdwatchers we are not.

Fredericksburg's finest, no doubt keeping the path safe from unsavory characters.

The trail ends on the river, down by the old (now demolished) Embrey Dam. It wasn't Sunday, so rather than take our lives in our hands, we decided to wait until the end of hunting season before exploring the river trail we found down here. Just don't get me started on why the hunters get to monopolize public property for three solid months with their disturbing habit. I think the city ought to at least keep things sporting, and for the duration of hunting season, stock the area with bears.

Lower Caroline Street

In an effort to snap ourselves out of our post-holiday stupor, my husband and I actually left the house yesterday. After a few errands, including stopping for bread at Eileen’s and coffee at The Java Connection, we took a walk in one of our favorite Fredericksburg neighborhoods, lower Caroline Street. Many of the houses here are historically and architecturally significant, and almost all of them are quaint and charming. Quite a few are riverfront properties, with historic facades facing the street, but huge, intricately landscaped backyards that slope down to the Rappahannock River in the back. You can pick up a walking tour brochure of the neighborhood at the Visitor Center, just a couple of blocks away, and learn a few things while you get a little exercise. I’ll spare you the historical descriptions, and just show you some of the houses.

In the photo above, you can see the hitching posts and the stone carriage step at the front of the property.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Lights

Each year at this time, I look forward to the Free Lance-Star edition that lists the best Christmas light displays in the area, compiled by Rob Hedelt. Readers nominate the best decorated houses, and then Rob checks them all out, covering the city of Fredericksburg and the surrounding counties, and names a winner. Years ago, he called this the “Glitzy and Gaudy Tour,” but I guess some of the participants found that a bit insulting, so now he calls them “Grand Holiday Displays.” Some years, we’ve driven to see many on the list, other years just a few, but the season really isn’t complete until we’ve done our own review of at least a couple of houses.

So tonight, after all of the Christmas festivities were winding down, and when everyone was just starting to drift into unconsciousness from overeating, I suggested we go see a few of the homes. Husband and son agreed to go, so we checked out the five that were closest to us, including this year’s winner, which turned out to be the least impressive (although maybe the most original) of the lot. The winner was a large brick farmhouse with 8 vintage tractors out front, decorated with lights, and linked together with strings of lights to look like Santa’s sleigh.

But for us, the best ones aren’t high concept—they are the houses that simply give us the greatest number of lights per square foot. And don’t waste my time with plastic blow up Santas, or this year’s favorite, the giant snowglobe. Icicle lights might be pretty, but you get extra points if you can give me an impressive display without using too many of them (they’re just too easy). My husband loves strings of all-blue lights, and music and animatronic figures are also a plus (the lighted, motorized reindeer with the bobbing heads were out in force).

And this year was a big year for LED lights, which you can spot right away because they have more blue in them than most. They take less energy and last longer, and if that means that I won’t get my tree strung or the outdoor lights set up, only to discover that half the lights have died a day later, I’m all for it. I’m definitely going to see if I can get a set or two during the post-Christmas sales. I think it may be time to step up my game when it comes to my own not-very-grand holiday display.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Eve

Tonight we went to our church’s traditional Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. It’s a Unitarian Universalist church, so that means the service is more lighthearted than most. Tonight’s service was a mixed holiday bag: part Nativity story, part carol sing, part special performances, and finishing up with a dimmed church and the passing of the flame from candle to candle while we sing Silent Night in the dark. The service yesterday morning was solstice-themed, because we UUs like to cover all of our spiritual bases, but tonight’s brought out all of us who don't consider our Christmas complete without singing the traditional hymns of our youth. Now it’s 10:30, my big kids will be clowning around and playing video games and watching TV till who knows when, and it’s time for me to call it a night. Here’s wishing you all a wonderful Christmas, and a New Year filled with health and happiness. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Winter Chorus Concert

Last week was Part II of our support-your- local- music-director initiative. We went to see the holiday choir concert of a not-so- close-by high school, where this year, a friend started a new position as the choral director. I used to think that choral singing was easier than playing an instrument, but after seeing the work that went into this concert, I’m not so sure. Our friend has a variety of talent levels to work with: the kids who are truly talented, or at the very least love music and singing, and are serious about the work of putting together a successful performance. Then as at every high school, there are always the kids who don't have any particular singing talent, but are just taking chorus because they think it will be an easy grade. So our friend divided the kids up into groups: the general chorus sang first, then the intermediate chorus, and the select chorus finished up, with the quality of the performance improving as the night went on.

The concert was more ambitious than most high school choir concerts I’ve been to. The groups sang a total of 19 songs...and the choral director position is part-time. Amazing. I also applaud her song selection. My daughter’s choir director was also the music director of a Baptist church, and 100% of the holiday concert songs he chose year after year were Christian. Yes, I know it’s a Christmas concert, but couldn’t he have thrown in just one or two numbers that were more secular, or that acknowledged the celebrations of other religious groups during this time of year? Our friend chose plenty of traditional Christian Christmas songs, but added several seasonal, non-denominational songs, and even a few popular tunes. So kudos to her for that.

And now a word about what had to be the worst audience experience I’ve ever had. This high school is more rural than the ones we usually visit for events, and the people sitting behind me were a bunch of boorish rednecks. Sorry, there’s just no polite way to say it. The guy who sat directly behind me cracked his knuckles literally throughout the entire performance. Now, my family is filled with knuckle-crackers, and I’ve learned to put up with it. But how many times can you crack the same knuckle? And why would you do it during a performance? And why would you SING ALONG BADLY just because you happened to know some of the songs? Sadly, we were trapped in the center of a long row, and to move in the middle of the concert would have been disruptive. And I didn’t turn around and smack the guy, because frankly, I’m not sure that rednecks don’t carry weapons. And the entire family seemed to be equally rude, chatting loudly throughout the concert, so I imagine they could have all taken me on easily. So I just sat through it. Don’t get me wrong...high school audiences are the worst no matter where you go. I think it’s because most of the people HAVE TO be there for their kids, but many have no real interest in the music. But this particular group of people just seemed worse than most. Or maybe I just have a knack for attracting the most miserably-behaving people to my section. Word to the wise: choose an aisle seat, and you’ll always be able to make a graceful escape.

Friday, December 21, 2007

O Christmas Tree

For me, the most important part of the Christmas preparation hoopla is the Christmas tree. I take my tree very seriously. I’ve been collecting ornaments for decades, usually just a couple of new ones each year, but they all have a lot of meaning to me, and I love carefully unwrapping them in mid-December, seeing the old familiar ones again, or being surprised by a new one bought just this year. It’s almost as good as Christmas morning. So to properly showcase my little Christmas treasures takes just the right tree, and I have always made a pretty big deal about finding it. We cut our own at a Christmas tree farm once or twice, but around here, most of the cut-your-own places grow Virginia white pines, and they don’t work for me. Bushy pine trees are great for the traditional round, shiny ornaments, but I like to hang my ornaments on a Fraser fir, which has very distinct branches, with openings in the branches that allow the ornaments to dangle nicely.

For the past few years, we’ve headed to Meadows Farms nursery, which always has a good selection of Fraser firs. When the kids were teenagers, my son would patiently hold up tree after tree for my inspection. Now that he's away at college during tree-picking time, the helpful teenage boys who work at the nursery have to suffice, and they indulge my indecision with good humor.

At some point, the expense of the tree, coupled with the effort it takes to muscle the tree into our old stand, may make me switch to an artificial tree. I give it serious thought every year. I would love to be able to put the tree up on December 1, and not worry about it drying out. It would be the perfect shape, without any bare spots. And I could manipulate the branches in just the right way to make every ornament sit perfectly. But would it be the same without that fresh evergreen smell, the slight tilt to the left, the bare spot that I turn towards the wall, those needles under the rug until March? And while I had always assumed that the artificial tree was the more environmentally friendly choice, it turns out that’s not really true, either (check out this article for a discussion of the pros and cons of each). So for now, I’m sticking with the real tree.

And here’s a bit of tree trivia: The Fraser fir was named for John Fraser (1750-1811), a Scot botanist who explored the southern Appalachian Mountains in the late 18th century. And did you know that North Carolina produces the majority of Fraser fir Christmas trees? It requires from 7 to 10 years in the field to produce a 6-7 feet tree. And I’ll enjoy mine for about 4 weeks.

The Chosen One.

The Christmas tree baler (bet you didn't know it was called that) is an incredible invention--although I imagine encasing your tree in plastic for the short ride home is not exactly the most environmentally friendly way to go.

The fire pit at the nursery makes everything seem more wintry.

A few of the ornaments.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cookie Party

On Saturday, I went to my first-ever cookie exchange party. I’m not sure how I got to be 51 without ever having gone to one of these. I really don’t like to bake very much, and the task of baking 5 dozen cookies was pretty daunting, but the party was thrown by my favorite party-throwing women, so I couldn’t pass it up. Now, it would not be an exaggeration to say I baked for days. I tried 3 recipes before I found one that I thought was special enough for this event. The ones I ended up with are very average tasting, but they are decorative and colorful and dipped in chocolate, so I thought that would be enough of a distraction. My plan worked. They’re called acorns, and they really do look like acorns, especially if you dip them in nuts, like the recipe called for, instead of rainbow sprinkles, which is what I used just to make them flashier looking. Check out the recipe on this blog, and you can see the author’s nutty version.

And here’s the box I came home with--this, plus the blinking red nose I got for winning a party game. And by my math, cookies + red nose = festive holiday.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Middle School Strings

Both of my kids were involved in school music groups since they were in middle school, and my husband and I have gone to dozens of their school concerts. I’ve found that when your own child is performing, somehow the end result always sounds quite good (as opposed to all of those dreadful concerts by kids you don’t know). If you fill an auditorium with parents, it doesn’t matter how badly the kids play—the parents will be thrilled.

The worst concert I ever sat through, (featuring none of my own children, of course), was the first ever performance of the 6th grade strings at my kids' middle school. The strings program was brand new, and there were about a dozen kids sawing painfully through Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Mary Had a Little Lamb. Excruciating, really (although their parents thought it was marvelous!) Why would I ever want to repeat that experience?

Well, it turns out that two of my friends (whose nests have emptied and after years of teaching private lessons) have become music teachers in public schools in the area, one as the director of the middle school strings program, and the other as a high school chorus teacher. And now is the season for their holiday concerts, so we decided to show our support for their new careers by attending these concerts, and maybe indulge in a little nostalgia for the many years we watched our own kids.

First up was the sixth, seventh and eighth grade strings concert, and I have to say, my expectations were pretty low. The concert was held in the middle school’s cafetorium, which is a cross between a cafeteria and a crematorium. There was a pretty basic stage, no stage lighting (yes, the big fluorescent ceiling lights stayed on the whole time), and plastic chairs arranged in rows. But the place was packed with parents and grandparents and siblings, and you could tell they loved every minute. And it turns out that knowing the conductor is nearly as good as having a child on the stage. The seventh and eighth graders were surprisingly good, and it was fun watching our friend conduct. The sixth graders were shakier--the piano and conductor set the tempo, and then the kids played every song at half that speed. But they were a big step up from that infamous concert by the first year strings at our middle school, they managed to play a bit of harmony, they looked cute in their band outfits (God, sixth graders are tiny!), and there was punch and cookies after the concert as a reward.

Next up: the high school chorus concert this week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

One More Church

An astute reader noted the lack of a historic Catholic Church in my recent post about the downtown churches. Well, it turns out that there was one, after all. St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception (I never even knew that was its official name) originally built the church you see here on Princess Anne St., right next to the Methodist church, in 1858. It was a mission church for many years, with visiting ministers from the cathedral in Richmond coming up to say Mass on Sundays, finally getting its own priest in 1871. Like the other churches, it fell to other uses during the Civil War: a hospital, a storehouse, and at times even a stable for cavalry horses.

In 1970, St. Mary’s moved into their new home, the large modern facility on William Street near the college, where next year, they will celebrate their sesquicentennial (yes, I had to look that’s 150 years). The historic downtown building was sold to the Church of the Nazarene in 1970, and then later turned into law offices and apartments.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Holiday Pops

Friday night’s Holiday Pops concert by the college-community orchestra at Mary Washington was an ambitious undertaking, and I have to give Kevin Bartram, the orchestra director, an A for effort. He mixed traditional holiday music (Silent Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, etc.) with theatrical vignettes featuring historic figures in a program called "Ghosts of Christmas Past." The premise is that a young runaway finds herself in the attic of the Fredericksburg Area Museum on Christmas Eve, and is visited by the ghosts of local historic figures such as Mary Washington, James Monroe (that's him above), and James Farmer, who each perform a dramatic monologue in the form of actual letters they had written. On paper, it sounds pretty good. In reality...not so much. Some of the letters were pretty dry documents, hard to follow, and with little relevance to the music or the story. The vignettes didn’t seem to have much of a point, and as far as I’m concerned, they needlessly distracted from what should have been the focus of the evening, the music. The overall effect just didn’t work. Still, from the director’s standpoint, dragging out the same old holiday warhorses year after year must get old, and I can commend him for trying something different. And it did seem like I was in the minority; the crowd seemed to like the presentation just fine. Probably because it had Costumes! and Acting! and Spotlights! and Old Photos projected on the Walls! A veritable multi-media extravaganza.

But there was one saving grace: the performance of the final “ghost,” Fredericksburg’s own operatic tenor, Kevin Perry, singing “O Holy Night.” That one song was worth the price of admission (okay, it was free, but you get the idea). Now if instead of dramatic readings, Kevin had sung the contents of the letters, I would have been very happy. Maybe next year, huh, Kev?

And just a mention for my favorite local singing group, Fourte, who performed their holiday repertoire on Sunday afternoon at the Griffin Bookshop. They did their usual fine job, and I managed to get a little shopping done, too.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Hayride with Santa

Here’s how the description for this event appeared in the special holiday listing in the Weekender section of the Free Lance-Star: “Hay Ride, Inn at Kelly’s Ford. Join Santa for a winter hay ride and sing your favorite carols. Warm up with cider and cookies. Noon-2 p.m., free. Runs every Saturday through Dec. 29.” Of course, I couldn’t resist the prospect of finally getting in the hayride I was longing for in October. And I admit I had a pretty clear picture in my head of what this was going to be like. I pictured an innkeeper serving homemade cookies and cider while a piano accompanied us as we sang carols around the fireplace of the historic inn. Then we’d head out to the vintage hay wagon for a ride around the grounds, accompanied by a Thomas Nast-style St. Nicholas. It would have a very old-timey, Victorian feel. Not quite. The place is more horse farm than anything else. The inn is dwarfed by the huge equestrian center on the grounds, and the place is geared to horse boarding, horseback riding and horse shows. So our outing began in the tack room, where we were served cheap store-bought cookies and hot cider while we waited for our turn on the wagon. Now, it would be an understatement for me to describe myself as “not a horse person.” Don’t want to ride one, don’t want to pet one, don’t want to smell one. So our time in the rather smelly, unattractive tack room wasn’t the highlight of my day. But before long, the wagon showed up, and we were off on our hayride.

Santa joined us, looking like he was about 18 years old, and he brought along his portable CD player to provide the “carols,” a CD which sounded like something called “A Nashville Christmas.” But you know what? I consider myself a pretty flexible person. I put aside my dashed dreams of a Victorian hayride, and went with what I got: a funny Santa who worked the “crowd” (me, my husband, and a few teenage girls) like a pro, keeping up such a steady stream of completely unconvincing ho-ho-hos that I couldn’t help laughing. The weather was mild, the scene pastoral, the ride bumpy, the teenage girls silly, the Santa among the goofiest I’ve ever seen, and I even got in the spirit enough to sing along to the country versions of Christmas songs. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was offbeat and fun. I’d recommend it for anyone who enjoys a scenic drive in the country, or loves horses, or has a kid in tow who would find a baby-faced Santa and store-bought cookies special enough. Like me.

The setting:

Goodbye, Santa!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Historic Holiday Open House

Last night was a holiday double-header for us. We started at the Rising Sun Tavern’s holiday open house, and then moved on to the college-community orchestra Pops concert at Mary Washington (more about the concert later).

The event at the Rising Sun Tavern was lovely. Just a smidgeon of history stolen from the website: Built by George Washington’s brother Charles in 1760 as his home, this building was later operated as a tavern, the only "proper" tavern in the bustling port city of Fredericksburg. Today, the "tavern wenches" entertain visitors as though they have just stepped off a stagecoach in a lively interpretation of 18th-century tavern life. We were greeted on the porch and in each room by these tavern wenches, all cheery and animated guides who gave lively presentations, answered questions happily, and made everyone feel welcome. We were treated to music by an a capella chorus who sang from the staircase in the foyer, and ended our tour with colonial cookies and hot spiced cider in the kitchen. And although this free open house tour was an abbreviated version of the regular tour for which admission is charged, it never felt rushed.

This was in stark contrast to our visit last weekend to a similar event at the Mary Washington House. I hate to give bad reviews to historic attractions that operate on shoestrings and need all the business they can get, but this event was a disappointment. In the first room, a dour docent gave us a perfunctory overview of the room as if it were the last place on earth she wanted to be. And as for the poor visitor who absentmindedly set her purse on a chair, well, she was given an old-fashioned schoolmarm scolding. I half expected the guide to fish a ruler out of her petticoat and whack the hapless visitor across the knuckles. In the second room, a cheerful guide made us feel more welcome, but made it clear we were not getting the full treatment given to paying customers. There were colonial carolers on hand to serenade us, but as soon as they opened their mouths to sing, another guide came along to direct us out the back door. What, were they paying the carolers by the note? The entire tour took less than ten minutes. This was an opportunity to give visitors a good feeling about the place, but instead we got the bum’s rush. Hopefully they treat the tourists better. Note to the Mary Washington House folks: talk to the people at the Rising Sun Tavern about hospitality.

Luminaria in the backyard garden of the Rising Sun Tavern (I'm not so sure how colonial these are, but I thought they were cute):

Friday, December 7, 2007

Community Foundation Holiday Reception

Tonight the Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region (CFRRR) hosted the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce’s “After Hours” reception. CFRRR goes all out with this, sponsoring a big holiday bash, with catered food and an open bar. The idea is that you will get swept up in the holiday spirit and make a generous donation to the organization.

Since CFRRR is a client of the ad agency I work for, I get invited, and last year, I had such a good time that I volunteered to work the event this year. So I got there early to help set up, and spent the beginning of the evening working the bar—in my case, just handing out beer and soda, because I have no idea how to mix a drink.

Before long, they were overrun with volunteers, and I was demoted to guest. I spent much of the evening cruising the hors d'oeuvre tables (sushi and crabcakes and roast beef, oh my!) and trying to find a familiar face among a group that is decidedly not my crowd—the business community of Fredericksburg, including quite a few high powered movers and shakers. Luckily, my boss's partner showed up, took me under her wing, and introduced me around, since she is quite a mover and shaker herself, and knows everyone. It was an interesting evening, but I have to admit, the most fun I had was pouring beer and soda for the merrymakers. I think that’s a job I would actually like--tending bar or serving food at catered affairs...something where I get to schmooze drunk people all night.

And now a word from your sponsor: The Community Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded to promote philanthropy in the Fredericksburg region by managing charitable funds for organizations and individuals. So for example, if you wanted to establish a fund that would provide financial support annually for a specific cause, CFRRR would set up and manage the fund for you, and distribute the money in accordance with your wishes. A member of my church died a few years ago, and having very little family, he left a significant part of his estate to the Community Foundation, to establish a fund that would provide yearly support to Habitat for Humanity in his name. CFRRR also manages quite a few scholarship funds, set up in memory of a loved one, and earmarked for deserving students. You can also donate money to any of their existing funds. And if you are really stumped for a Christmas present for the person who has everything, you can purchase a CFRRR gift card for $50 in their honor. No, they don’t actually get anything other than a donation made in their honor, but the card does come in a lovely gift bag. To learn more about CFRRR, click here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Handel's Messiah

The holiday events are coming fast and furiously now, and my husband and I are trying to hit as many as we can. One of our favorites is the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah by the Fredericksburg Community Chorus. Held in the Fredericksburg Baptist Church on the first weekend in December, the 80-member chorus (give or take a few from year to year) performs only this one concert all year (two performances), but they do a masterful job. I’m always so impressed and moved by this performance, which comes together after only five rehearsals. I’ve heard it so many times, I know whole sections by heart. My daughter sang with the group for two years when she was a high schooler, and hearing her sing this amazing oratorio was one of my proudest moments as a mom. Now I’d love to get my husband to try it, but so far, he’s been immune to my “encouragement” (I’m not musical, and yes, it’s true, I have to live vicariously through family members.) If you’ve never been to this concert, plan to go next year. A beautiful church with great acoustics, a talented chorus with strong soloists, a terrific chamber ensemble, and my favorite trumpeter (Andy Schuller from the Marine Band). Plus the singers represent over 20 area churches, so you just might see someone you know singing in the choir.

Just an aside: there’s a lot of praying at this performance. You pray before the concert (Lord, help us make beautiful music to honor you), you pray at intermission when they pass the plate (Lord, guide us to make a generous contribution in your name, except make the checks payable to FCC), and you pray at the end of the concert (Lord, thank you for this wonderful night of music, now get us all home safely). Frankly, doesn’t this seem like a few too many demands on the Lord? How about, “Lord, these musicians have worked really hard, and they’ve got it under control. So we’re good to go. Catch you later.”

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Christmas Parade

The Fredericksburg Jaycees have been putting on a Christmas parade on the first Saturday in December for the past twenty years, and my husband and I have gone to every one. We remember our first few parades, which were heavy on the fire trucks and antique (and not so antique) cars, and light on just about everything else. For us New Yorkers, we’ve always loved the small-town feel of the parade: the homemade floats, the marching bands and baton twirling groups, the Brownies dressed as elves or candy canes or Christmas presents, the pickups stuffed with 20 Cub Scouts and a Christmas tree, the caravan of convertibles chauffeuring the beauty pageant winners (Big Miss, Teen Miss, Young Miss, Little Miss, Baby Miss, Fetal Miss) the horses (with pooper scoopers right behind), and winding up with Santa on his sleigh. Like the Fredericksburg Fair, it seems like a throwback to a bygone era, even though parade attendance, like the community, has been growing every year. Now it’s gotten so that people stake out their viewing spots hours in advance of the parade, and the sidewalks are so crowded by parade time that it’s a struggle just to move down the street. Nonetheless, regardless of the weather (and it has been painfully cold many years), we bundle up and take our place with the crowd to watch the 2-hour parade. In the early years of the parade, we were just spectators, but before long, the kids were involved with scouts or marching band, so there were quite a few years when they marched in the parade while we watched. And there were even a couple of years when we joined the parade with our church group, dressed in costumes, carrying our banner, singing holiday songs.

But this year, in addition to all of the magical cheesiness that is the parade’s tradition, we got an extra special little Christmas bonus. The parade route encompasses all of Caroline Street’s commercial district, and every year, we’ve seen all of the folks who live in apartments above the stores watching the parade go by while perched in their open windows, enjoying a perfect view from the warmth and comfort of their living rooms, sipping their Christmas cheer, munching their holiday snacks, waving to the little people below. And I envied them, those bastards. But this year, you could say (and we did) that a Christmas miracle happened: an email invitation on the morning of the parade from a friend who just recently moved into one of those same upstairs-on-Caroline-Street apartments, to watch the parade from her window. So for the first time, we gave up our cold seat on the stone wall on Amelia Street for the comfort and joy (comfort and joy) of our friend’s apartment. And yes, there were holiday snacks, and Christmas cheer, and waving to the little people below. I couldn’t have been happier if I had been in the reviewing stand in front of Macy’s at the Thanksgiving Day Parade. So thank you to my friend for her lovely offer...may her days be merry and bright.

Staging starts a couple of hours before parade time, when the streets are blocked off and lower Caroline Street is filled with floats in various stages of preparation.

And the people start staking out their places even earlier than that, with families often getting into position hours ahead of time.

The theme this year was an old favorite, "A Colonial Christmas." We give points to groups that actually stick to the theme, like this one. Taking pictures in the dark with my small digital camera can't really do these floats justice, but this one had some sort of colonial holiday scene with costumed villagers.

I'm always disappointed by the groups that disregard the theme. Churches are the worst offenders--they often have Nativity scenes regardless of the theme. Well, there was one church that did a manger scene with live animals, so I have to give a thumbs up for that, theme or no theme. And this one of the giant red and white swirled cow (sponsored by Turkey Hill ice cream), which wasn't colonial, but come on, do you see the size of this thing? It's practically up to the second story windows!

And here is my favorite photo of the night: the golden glow of our little window on the world.

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day, which has been observed on December 1 since 1988 as a way to continue to focus attention on the AIDS pandemic, to raise awareness of the problems facing those with HIV/AIDS, and to memorialize those who have died. As we have done for several years, our church (the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship) has joined with other gay-friendly congregations to offer an interfaith service on this day. Today’s service included short sermons by several ministers on the theme Would Jesus Discriminate?, with the general consensus being that if he could hang out with lepers and adulterers, he would be fine with the HIV-infected, although I bet if I were HIV infected, I might get tired of being lumped together with the lepers and the adulterers. A combined choir of members of several churches (including my husband) sang, and there was a short skit about how churches should be welcoming of everyone, although most discrimination in churches is a lot more subtle than this skit portrayed...well, except for the churches that preach that homosexuality is an abomination against God. I guess that’s pretty blatant. A collection was taken to support the work of FAHASS, which has been providing HIV/AIDS support services in the Fredericksburg area for 15 years. The most moving part of the service was the presentation by a man who spoke very honestly about his life since contracting the virus 20 years ago, from the darkest days following his diagnosis, up to his life today as a husband and father, and the profound changes, ultimately for the better, that dealing with being HIV positive has made in his life. And then, at the end, candles lit in remembrance of those who have died from AIDS, and to honor those living with HIV/AIDS.