A century ago: Christmas in Ann Arbor

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On Christmas, 1909, the staff of Fred Hoelzle's butcher shop worked all night cutting fresh meat for their customers' holiday celebrations. (Click on the photo for a larger view.) Read more about the shop and Metzger's restaurant in our digital collection of Then and Now columns from the Ann Arbor Observer.

The Darkest Night of the Year

As we approach what one of my favorite bands refers to as "The Darkest Night of the Year," it feels right to consider how often we must wait and endure, how both the dark and light are required to give the other meaning, and (maybe) how we can bond over the end to this shared suffering that is bitter coldness.

Wendell Berry's recent Whitefoot is a "gifty offering" that is formatted and appropriate for youngsters, but finely-crafted enough to warrant wider attention. The mouse at the center of the story finds itself swept away from home by the elements, in constant danger, and with simple needs that are at odds with the tendency to want to stay out of said danger. Despite the urgency of this situation, "Berry finds a heroic dimension to Whitefoot, and his gift is to make readers feel it, too," according to Publishers Weekly.

Minor White: The Eye that Shapes has been called "a landmark book" of photography and notes in a Library Journal review. While it might seem that White can find inclusion in this note simply because a vast amount of his work is in black and white, he uses contrast to its most effective. Of "Snow on Garage Door, Rochester, New York 1960," I feel alternately frigid and resentful of the shoveling I'm about to have to do, or cozy and thankful for early weekend evenings around the fireplace. Not that I have a fireplace. This book is full of silent nights, patient waiting, and frozen potential.

For some lighter fare (and to make sure this modern classic gets all the attention it deserves), check out Elf. I was amazed to meet someone the other night who hadn't seen this sweet Will Ferrell tale. If anyone in your family is the Christmasy-type, this one's required viewing for all. With a buoyant outlook on even the most emotionally challenging moments in the film, Buddy the Elf finds true happiness in the light at the end of the long, dark (Lincoln) Tunnel.

Finally, if you (and your kin) would like to know a little more about why, when, and how the sun will come back, check out The Return Of The Light : Twelve Tales From Around The World For The Winter Solstice. That this transition is such a universal cause for celebration and reverence makes me feel like it's warming up already.

Christmas Carol'd at Performance Network through Dec. 27

For holiday entertainment, consider Christmas Carol'd at Performance Network Theatre. In this adaptation by Joseph Zettelmaier, five actors play all the parts. Sounds fun. To get into the spirit, you could read the classic story, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, on which the play is based -- or just some words spoken in the original story by Scrooge's nephew, calling Christmas "a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time, the only time ... when men and women seem by common consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow travellers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."

Carols in the rough

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This weekend, December 18 and 19, Kerrytown Concert House presents the Black House Ceilidh, a group that performs traditional Christmas music in its raw and raucous form as it was played in ceilidhs, a Gaelic word meaning a social gathering of music and dance, often in someone's living room. Members of this Detroit based group play bagpipes, Norweigan fiddle, viola de gamba, guitar and percussion. For a rollicking good time, check them out. Shows each night start at 8 p.m.

And for listening at home, find a great variety of holiday music at the Library.

White Christmas

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas..."There are so many Christmas movies to choose from but Irving Berlin's White Christmas is withough a doubt one of my favorites. After WWII ended the two male lead characters (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) become a successful song and dance team. They end up meeting a song and dance team of sisters (Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen) and staying at an inn located in Vermont that they later find out is owned by their old army general. The four of them end up putting on a Christmas show to help out the general. With the voices of Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby the music is as good as the dancing. Watching this movie might actually make you want it to snow!

“A book is a gift you can open again and again.” ~ Garrison Keillor

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I always look forward to NPR's holiday guide to book-giving. In the Best Books of 2009 there is certain to be something marvelous for almost everyone on my list (and yours too).

There are the "lush and elaborately illustrated titles" on the Big And Beautiful: Best Gift Books that a kindle just won't do.

For the adventurous literati, there are the Best Foreign Fiction picks. Or, like Susan Stamberg, you place your trust in Indie Booksellers' top picks. Alan Cheuse and Glen Weldon also share their season's favorites.

For families young and old, Sally and Stephen Kern have a simple and inexpensive way to bring families together in A Holiday Reading Tradition For The Whole Family, where they keep a box of special books about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and the winter solstice just for this time of year. (Available as a podcast).

For the music lovers on your list, you can rely on Best Music Of 2009.; or David Dye's (of World Cafe) The Top 10 Albums Of 2009; as well as the 2009 Best Music For Kids.

For the younger readers on your list, I like the New York Times' Notable Children’s Books and graphic novels.

Alright, if only toys will do (Oh, I do understand!) - at least make it eco-friendly. The Parents' Choice Foundation's annual holiday gift guide is indispensable for parents and grandparents alike. Buy if you must, but first check out the parents' guide in making sound media choices for the family.

Happy Holidays and please, make it a safe one.

Holiday events at Kerrytown!

Midnight Madness and Kerryfest have come and gone, but there are still events happening in the Kerrytown market area during weekends in December if you’re looking for more than just usual Sparrow Market and Farmer’s Market happenings.

Every Saturday in December Santa will be visiting at the Kerrytown Market and Shops. There will also be Festive music every Saturday in December from 11am -2pm.

Plenty of food events will be going on as well, some involve free tasting at Spice Merchants. Check out the full calendar for times, days and information!

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Live from Ann Arbor, It's . . . Santa Claus!

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That's right, Santa himself will be taking questions and wishes LIVE from the North Pole on CTN Channel 17 on Thursday, Dec. 10, 6 - 8 p.m. He'll be ready for your questions and your wish lists, so set you speed dial to 734.794.6155 and talk directly to Mr. Claus. Ho! Ho! Ho!

Winter Adventures -- Youth Magazine Update

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There's no denying it, winter has definitely arrived -- and with snow predicted for some time this week, it's time to plan how to keep yourself entertained when the weather turns icy.

If you're an outdoorsy type, Boy's Life Magazine has all the information you will ever need, with articles on ice fishing, making emergency shelters out of snow, and ice climbing -- on frozen grain silos. (Strange, but true.)

For those of us who prefer to stay indoors with a hot cup of cocoa, Nintendo Power Magazine provides the latest information on the best new games -- like Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks, the first Legend of Zelda game where Zelda gets to go adventuring herself! My personal favorite, for the name alone, is Zombie Panic in Wonderland in which your favorite fairy tale characters fight...you guessed it ...zombies.

Bridging the gap between outdoor adventure and vegging out is National Geographic Kids, with an article on the return of the lynx to Colorado, and a review of upcoming Disney original The Princess and the Frog.Owl Magazine and its sister publication ChickaDee get in on the act with articles on arctic animals, gifts you can make yourself, and, in ChickaDee, an up-close look at Quebec's Hotel de Glace, a hotel made entirely of ice.

Christmas in Vienna at The Hill

Christmas carols have arrived, whether we want them to or not. A different way to experience Christmas music, and perhaps more moving, is live with the famous Vienna Boys’ Choir. The choir will be performing Christmas in Vienna at the Hill Auditorium on Sunday, November 29 at 4 pm. (See here for ticket information.) To get yourself ready, check out some of their CDs.

The Vienna Boys’ choir, one of the best known boys’ choirs in the world, has been around since the 13th century but was officially founded in 1924. For touring purposes the choir is divided into four sub-groups, each named after a famous Austrian composer, and all with equal standing.

Prior to the concert will be Caroling on the Steps of Hill, from 3-4 pm, where local choral groups will perform on the steps of the Hill Auditorium and then invite the public to join them. Joy!

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