Hilltop Diary, December 26, 2022

I hope you had a good Christmas Day! It may seem odd to some people, but for us “Christmastide” season does not begin until sunset on Christmas Eve, and in much of Europe Christmas trees still do not go up until then. Ours went up just a few days before that. The trade-off is that we get to celebrate the feast longer into January.

The famous Twelve Days of Christmas, as the song goes, begins on Christmas Day and includes the 26th, St. Stephen’s Day (when “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen”) – a day of charity; the 27th — St. John – celebrating Wassail or mulled wine; the 28th — the Holy Innocents, remembering the children Herod ordered to be killed; the 31st — New Year’s Eve, a day for playing games; New Year’s Day– in Tudor England the day for giving of gifts – instead of on Christmas Day; January 5th (called “Twelfth Night”) – for plays, including Shakespeare’s play with that title, banquets, and fruit cake; Jan. 6 — Epiphany – celebrating the visit of the Wise Men to the Christ Child, and feasting on lamb, so I’ll make shepherd’s pie.

Older traditions even leave the tree up until the feast of the Presentation of the Christ child at the Temple on Feb. 2, by which time our tree finally will come down, if it hasn’t burst into flames and killed us in our beds by then. One of our personal Christmas customs is to read old books about Christmas together aloud, like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. But this year it has been Old Christmas, by American author Washington Irving, famous for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” – this slim volume being a collection of five charming stories about old Christmas traditions that he garnered on a visit to an English countryside manor in the early 19th century.

Since I last wrote, I have not yet completed a new ballet piece to share here (still working on it) but will post one that I previously composed but have not yet posted, which has a wintry feel for this wintry clime we are in. This piece is for a scene that takes place in the snow, and so you will even hear some sleigh bells in the music. Just click the play button below. (Length: 05:36)


glass slipper necklace

Among our exchange of Christmas gifts this year, I was able to find for Crystal this necklace with a small diamond “glass slipper” commemorating her two shows this fall in the role of Cinderella, roles she will always remember and cherish. Her parents came up on Christmas, and we tried to keep the food simple in a one-pan meal, so Crystal made a nice Italian Bolognese pasta, for a change from the usual turkey or ham. She just added a simple salad and fabulous homemade tiramisu for dessert, all of these recipes from one of the two cookbooks we got from our beloved Patsy’s Italian Restaurant on 56th St., just below Central Park in Manhattan, famous for being Frank Sinatra’s favorite place to eat, and one of mine when we are there. 

Due to Crystal’s show running all the way to the week before Christmas, we had a bit of a scramble to get our cards prepared and mailed, the last batch of them being posted just a few days just before the 25th. We honestly might not even have tried, had I not already done a time-saving thing a few years ago to put our whole mailing list on stick-on labels, so our (up to two hundred) cards can be addressed in a few minutes.. There are always a lot of updates to enter into the computer, though, as people move around a surprising amount. We printed our usual little annual poem of twelve lines with silly rhymes in them, which people can read quickly and get our essential information for the past year, along with a few laughs.

Most years we have shopped and packed up boxes of gifts, then stood in long lines at the post office to mail them to distant family. However, the postal fees have gone up to a small fortune, in some cases more than the gift itself. That is for the birds!  So this year we just ordered everyone a honey-baked ham online for not much more money, and, presto, we’re done, and it’s probably more appreciated by the recipients. I think mail order will be the way we are going to go from now on. I don’t hear anyone complaining.

Nash Scene

I mentioned a Nashville Scene article about my work last time. Click on the link just below to the full article as a pdf file.

Nash Scene Year in Music. Kurek Enjoys a Fairy-Tale Year


On Wednesday, Dec. 21, I did another radio interview with journalist and radio host Kevin Turley in London, this one about my listening recommendations for classical music for Christmas. Among other pieces, I recommended his own British composer, Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, which Britten wrote aboard a ship during a voyage from the U.S. back to England in 1942, in the midst of WWII. On the same voyage he composed his choral-orchestral work, Hymn to Saint Cecilia, or rather re-composed the whole score from memory. He had written it in America, but the U.S. Customs agents had confiscated that score. They didn’t read music and feared it might contain some coded intelligence for the enemy! What a great story, and what a mind he must have had to be able to do that. Now for me it will be back to composing, and for Crystal there is an audition coming up for which to prepare, not to mention the way-too-soon resumption of school.

Finally, I’ve chopped a bunch of firewood for the fireplace in our “li-bry,” so we can settle cozily into this bleak midwinter. How frigid many of us have been! We got hit a lot less by the big blizzard than many did, with only a couple of brief power outages. May your bleak midwinter be safe and cozy, and we wish you a good New Year and year 2023, too!

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