We wish you a merry one

The familiar carol encourages us to "Have yourself a merry little Christmas." Here in the Rogue Valley, many of us have created our own ways to do just that, borrowing a couple of traditions that come from the old world with more than a hint of an even older world.

Some of us get the holidays started with the candlelight concerts performed by the Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra in local churches. The performances take us back to another era when people gathered in places of worship or in elegant homes to hear the delicate strains of some of the world's richest music.

Some of us kick off the season by heading out to the Craterian to spend "Christmas with the Trail Band." The annual evening of folk music showcases an eclectic array of songs and instrumentals bringing us musical tidings of comfort and joy.

But nothing quite says Christmas like "The Nutcracker" ballet. It's a story full of magic, delight, excitement and transformation told in music and dance. "The Nutcracker" ballet has become something of a holiday tradition in communities all around the world. But it's not that old. Its first performance was in 1892 and it wasn't seen in this country until almost 50 years later.

In keeping with what has become a holiday tradition for our family, my wife and I took our two grandsons to see "The Nutcracker." It was the 6-year-old's fourth time and his 3-year-old brother's second.

In previous years we've seen Ballet Rogue's version at the Craterian, but this year we took the boys to Stillpoint Dance Studio's production in Grants Pass.

It has been said that Christmas, which celebrates the birthday of an infant, belongs to children. If you go to a matinee of "The Nutcracker" you will find yourself surrounded by scores of the little folk to whom this holiday belongs. Many of them are decked out in their best party clothes.

On stage Clara and her handsome Prince are seated in the place of honor and entertained by The Sugar Plum Fairy and the other denizens of her magic world. In just the same way the little Southern Oregon children seated in the audience are entertained by the ballet dancers in their colorful costumes.

It's like being in a living Christmas card.

For still others of us, the holidays wouldn't be the same without Tomáseen Foley's "A Celtic Christmas." Foley invites the audience to become hard-working Irish farmers gathering with their neighbors at one of their homes for a raucous evening of singing, dancing, music making and story telling.

In keeping with its rural origins, the show is staged simply. There is a window upstage suggesting the inside of a farmhouse. Candles are placed downstage at the front of the stage. There are chairs for the musicians who often perform seated, a stool for Foley and plenty of space for the dancers.

Every time I see "A Celtic Christmas" I am moved deeply. When my wife and I saw it on Saturday afternoon, Foley announced at the top of the show that the land where he grew up had been farmed continuously since before the birth of Christ and before the Egyptians built their pyramids.

It's not much of a stretch to imagine these people passing on their seasonal practices and rituals and incorporating them into the cycle of Christmas.

There are solstice celebrations that commemorate our moving from winter darkness during the longest nights of the year to the promise of more daylight in the spring.

It is a time to honor change: death to life, light to darkness, bondage to freedom, the old to the new. It's a time to extol the virtues of love, generosity, gratitude, hope and compassion. It's a time to laugh, sing, dance and even cry.

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

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