The Legend of Wooley Swamp

What ever happened to nuance? Jabberwocky is being spewed up by the left and right as they try to drag us into their Wonderlands. This blog charts a path out of this swamp of simple truths and false certainties. And from time to time, it'll be a place for more light-hearted musings.

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Location: Palms - L.A, California

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Tale of Two Holiday Pageants (and Happiness)

Some days leave you with so many impressions, which in turn touch all manner of tangents, that you just don’t know where to begin (or end.)

So why not begin here: ‘Twas a couple of days before Christmas and my two youngest brothers had their school holiday pageants on the same day. Since I happen to be visiting them in Stockholm, Sweden I had the great privilege of attending both, not knowing at all what to expect.

First up was the end of term ceremony of the youngest brother. He attends an English language school, Engelska Skolan Norra (the Northern English School), since his parents wanted to make sure that his bilingualism stuck after the move from London.

The pageant was held in a so-called ‘free church’, i.e. it is not part of the Church of Sweden. The Immanuel Church is a modern building that is neither here nor there, has international ties, is multi-confessional and hosts services in Swedish, English and Korean. As far as I can tell, it has no specific ties to the school itself.

From our seats high up in the rafters, we were treated to a veritable potpourri of music and a message of happiness. The first grade kicked things off by hoping that those of us who celebrate it, “Have Ourselves a Merry Little Christmas.” It was more than adorable. And so was the third grade’s “Christmas Rap”, especially the two tough dudes in the front row, who showed the rest of us where it's at!

Dionne Warwick's version of this wonderful song ranks right up there with Aretha's.

We then got to hear a Christmas Poem, a piano allegro, and school band renditions of “Wonderwall” and “I Say a Little Prayer (For You)”. For the sentimental among us, like yours truly, seeing young kids singing some of your own favorite songs can help but touch your heart. The school choir then wrapped things up with “From All of Us To All of You” and “One Smile”. Here’s the chorus of the latter, written for the occasion, which we were asked to sing along to:

One smile makes you go on living.
One smile, one pair of eyes,
can make you see it through paradise

Well, I certainly left the hall with a smile across my face, and went off for some coffee ahead of the older little (though this 14 year-old is soon taller than I am) brother’s pageant.

This one was held at one of the grander churches in Stockholm, the Engelbrekt Church. As it happens, it is located on a hilltop just a block from where my own mother grew up, where we would visit my grandfather up until mid 1980s. This church belongs to the Church of Sweden (which was the official state church until 2000) and this is fitting considering the school whose ceremony it hosted that afternoon.

Engelbrekt Church,
Michael Meissner

Enskilda Gymanasiet (EG, Enskilda High School) is a former private school that is now a beneficiary of the school voucher system. For those of you not familiar with this concept – certainly a major issue in the U.S. – this is hardly the time and place to start, but feel free to do so. It is certainly odd that this idea has been realized in Sweden of all places, but that’s a tale for another time.

Anyway, EG is a school with some tradition; dating back to 1913 it is definitely a very Swedish institution. The pageant was not an ‘end of term’ but a ‘Christmas’ ceremony and had a distinctly religious tone to it. Following a psalm, a priest welcomed the crowd before a Christmas prayer was offered by a student.

The centerpiece of the pageant was a Christmas show on the religious origins of the holiday. It was interesting and different from my own experience, which was much more akin to the vibe of the morning pageant.

More psalms followed, including “Silent Night” and then the ceremony concluded with a welcome? nod to modernity. A George Michael-heavy Christmas medley featuring “White Christmas” but also “Last Christmas” (click at your own risk) and “Do They Know It’s Christmas Time” (Bob was knighted for this?) But even this somewhat dodgy touch brought a grand old smile to my face. The 1980s always do…

Instead of going off on the aforementioned tangents – getting caught up in my own vagaries regarding educational policy, religion or identity – I’ll end here. The swamp is a tad dry, and just like its guardian angel, it needs regenerating. So I am signing off for a week or two, wishing everyone the happiest of holidays with friends and family.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Agreeing to Disagree

A comment was published on today that hints at my own approach to friendship. And by extending its message to the blogosphere, it helps explain what I am inclined to post on and why I may appear to ignore certain ‘worthy’ items.

Robert Toth writes:

Just before Thanksgiving 2002, I wrote an essay on this Web site about how to get along with buddies whose politics were the opposite of yours. My advice, which seemed simple at the time, was to remember that friendships aren't wars. You're allowed to cut people some ideological slack if you love and trust them.

Even as the arguments get uglier, I'm sticking to my original course. In fact, I think it's more important than ever for friends to see beyond partisan bickering and remember the bonds they share. But I've learned that my approach carries an enormous drawback: You can't do it alone. It's easy to decide that you're going to put ideology to one side for the sake of a relationship. But you're out of luck if the other person doesn't agree to do the same.”

(Please read the entire piece, featuring examples of how his friendships have suffered and benefited from this advice.)

It really is all about picking your battles. And as the holiday season approaches, I hope that we all continue to embrace this truism. Once in a while, even as we debate and disagree, we can afford to cut each other some slack. I’ll do my part.


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