Christmas Eve

Before we get to our scheduled post, here’s a holiday greeting from Silverbelle Babsje:

Dear Stephen

Wishing you, your wife, loved ones, and everyone in The Jungle a very Happy Holiday Season – Happy Solstice,  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and even Festivus, too.

Your holiday updates on the blog this week have been a delight to read.

May 2023 bring each of you  happiness, joy, health, peace and prosperity. 

Take care, be well, and Happy Holidays!

Warm regards,


Great Blue Heron Fledgling Greetings Nbr 2 – babsjeheron

Where We Are … (Hannah)

Here’s what we see from the hotel balcony. Italians are not big breakfast eaters. Their idea of a breakfast feast is a roll and ten cups of expresso. I recommend going with room service so you take in the view of the Amalfi Coast.

Afterwards most of us decided to take advantage of the hotel spa. It’s a modest little affair by Italian standards;

Since it’s Christmas Eve, we’re taking a quick sleigh ride to Rome where we’ll take in the sights, and eat until we’re about the burst. For the Catholics among us, there are special VIP tickets to the Midnight Vigil with Pope Frances at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis leads the Christmas Eve mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican

What We Eat … (Sandy)


When what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

I am told that Santa especially looks forward to his stop at the Goldrick’s house in Springhill, Florida where he leaves not a crumb on the plate of ginger snaps next to the tree. Making these cookies at Christmastime with their maternal great grandmother’s recipe is a family tradition for my grandchildren Tully and Cassie and their mother Heather.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ¾ cups shortening
  • ¼ cup light molasses
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg

Using an electric mixer, gradually add 1 cup of the sugar to the shortening, creaming well until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and salt.

Blend in the molasses and egg.

At low speed, add the flour mixture, beating until just well mixed.

Refrigerate the dough for one hour.

Pinch off pieces of cookie dough and shape into 1¼-inch balls. Roll in sugar.

Bake at 350’ for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.


What We Listen To … (Jacob)

Run DMC. Christmas in Hollis

Another song that I’m not sick of, maybe because we didn’t hear this song on the radio growing up in Vermont too often.

What Makes us Laugh(Patrick)

There comes a time on Christmas Eve when things just slow down, and the world becomes quiet. All is calm, all is bright. I use this time to think about what I call the true meaning of Christmas. I can’t really express it in words, so I’ll just let this video do it for me:

What Amuses Us (Whitney)

There is no shortage of cheesy holiday rom-coms to choose from, from the cadre of unexceptional Hallmark Channel procedurals to classics like Holiday Inn. For me, the best of the bunch is the mega-ensemble British take, Love Actually. It never fails to make me both laugh and cry. The music throughout is pitch-perfect and clever, the songs as well as the score. And it has Mr. Bean! I watch it every year and it never gets old.

What Makes Us Family (Stephen)

In 2015 Jake and Whitney came to spend Christmas with us in Vermont. I can’t remember why, but Patrick had to stay in Brooklyn by himself. The four of us went to the traditional family homestead in West Brookfield to attend the annual Christmas Eve service at the West Brookfield Meeting House. It’s massive hulk of a structure that has been serving the community since 1839. Lit by kerosene lamps and candles, decorated by evergreens, and

The full story, first published in Vermont Magazine in 2012, appears following the video as do the song lyrics. Two notes of explanation. The reference to having “lived through the end of the world” refers to the end of the Mayan calendar which occurred just days before Christmas Eve, but was widely rumored to be a cataclysmic event. “Bob Small” was the lay minister who presided over the service for many years. He had a lovely tenor voice and took great pride in ending the service with his solo singing of O Holy Night. He passed away a few years before this song was written.

Here Jake, Whitney, and I do an impromptu rendition, while Patrick looks on glumly from Brooklyn.

Sharing West Brookfield’s Cathedral of Wood

Stephen Morris

If there is a sacred moment for the residents of West Bookfield, it is during the singing of Silent Night at the end of the nonsectarian Christmas Eve service in the spare, 1839 wooden church building.

There’s no glitter, no flashing lights. The space is sparsely decorated with greens, the cold of winter barely fended off by the heat from the Sargent, Roundy & Osgood woodstove made a hundred years ago in nearby Randolph. The only light is from candles and a kerosene chandelier. A child takes a candle and passes the flame. It continues, one by one, until each person is illuminated by a single flame. The space flickers in communal light. Little has changed since 1839.

It’s Christmas in Vermont

West Brookfield is set on a dirt crossroads between towns. It features a dozen homes in a high valley dominated by a family-owned dairy farm.

Most of the structures were built in the 1800s. Of note are the one-room schoolhouse, and the white, clapboard church that is just the right scale for the union of human and spiritual life.

These are tough times for churches in rural Vermont. Aging congregations in combination with scandals, lawsuits, and changing attitudes towards spirituality have resulted in a declin-

ing need for the structures built to serve yesteryear’s needs. Moreover, maintaining these graceful masterpieces can be expensive and challenging.

This challenge was faced, and met, by a coalition of community members who in 2010 purchased (for a nominal sum) the structure from the Congregational Church of Christ with the intention of repurposing it as a community center.

“West Brookfield doesn’t really need this building as a place of worship,” said a church representative, “but it does need it as a community center.”

Forming a viable and sustainable community organization is a challenge anywhere, but especially in a small, rural community with widely diverse economic and social interests. In the case of West Brookfield the community includes white collar professionals, retirees from the Flatlands, elderly Vermonters living on fixed incomes, young families struggling to make ends meet, idealistic organic farmers, and conventional dairy farmers coping with impossibly low milk prices.

To the credit of local residents, differences were cast aside and a non-profit organization was created to keep the building viable. Several times a year residents gather for work parties to tend to maintenance and grounds, and the center hosts a variety of events from concerts to potlucks and the signature event, the Christmas Eve service. Nearly eight years since its reincarnation as a community center, all is calm and all is bright in West Brookfield.

In an email dispatch to members of the community, Tina O’Donnell, who seems to be centrally involved in all-things-West-Brookfield notes that “another Christmas Eve is right around the corner. This year’s celebration will begin a half hour earlier, at 6:30 pm in order to give kids and their parents some extra time to prepare for Santa.”

A glance at the program is filled with recognizable names. Lynn Wakefield will light a fire in that ancient woodstove in the morning and the austere wooden meeting house will be further-warmed with decorative swags on the doors, a Christmas tree, and, of course, the community gathered inside.

Soon school kids will fill the hall with “Jingle Bells” and “Up on the Housetop” followed by performances by carolers and fiddlers and story tellers, all of whom are local, volunteer, and uniquely connected to the community.

The public is invited to what O’Donnell calls “our cathedral of wood,” a reference to a carol written by a former resident, first performed in 2012, just after the supposed “end of the world” that some thought was portended by the termination of the Mayan calendar.

The world did not end, however, and the flame burns brightly in the simple yet elegant structure that at 6:30 pm on Christmas Eve is guaranteed to be filled with soft light, the smell of evergreens, and the spiritual warmth of friends and family.

Cathedral of Wood

It’s late in December, the Solstice has passed, we’ve lived through the end of the world.

The geese have flown South, and we’re praying for snow.

We’re glad that the kids have returned.

We’re done with the stockings, the packages wrapped, we’ve wished all our colleagues good cheer.

So from this perspective the world’s looking good as we share this Cathedral of Wood.

Fa-la-la … Joy to the World

Fa-la-la … Midnight Clear

Fa-la-la … Let’s All Deck the Halls

We gather to celebrate holidays here.

Pond Village to Snowsville, we all heed the call. We may have our different gods.

But for the time being we gather as one, to raise up our voices in song.

The hills of West Brookfield are silent as night. Candles and stoves are aglow.

But from this perspective the world’s looking good as we share this Cathedral of Wood.

Fa-la-la … Joy to the World

Fa-la-la … Midnight Clear

Fa-la-la … Let’s All Deck the Halls

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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