Getting In the Holiday Spirit

December is only three days away! Stores are decorated, trees are coming out of storage, decorations are being unwrapped and arranged, cookies are being mixed, stockings are being hung, and hopefully…children are being good as gold, in anticipation of what will be under the tree the morning of December 25th. And all this is done, of course, to music.  A question, for those of you who read my blog each week- What is your favorite Christmas carol? (Please do post comments and let me know!)  Are you a fan of religious carols or the more secular ones? Do you turn up the volume when you hear Jingle Bell Rock or change the station when Springsteen sings Santa Claus is Coming To Town. ( I must admit, that is NOT my favorite carol!)  How many of you, singing in your cars on the way to and from work, strain to hit that high note in O Holy Night?

Christmas carols are a key element of the season; we each have our favorite and perhaps our favorite song is linked to a treasured memory of a Christmas long ago. Time Magazine did a study of the most popular Christmas carols, based on how often each song has been recorded since 1978. The result? “Silent Night,” it turns out, is not merely the most popular carol; with 733 copyrighted recordings since 1978, it is nearly twice as dominant as “Joy to the World,” a distant second with 391 records to its name. I thought it was wonderful to see a traditional, religious carol take that top spot; I much prefer Silent Night to All I Want For Christmas Is You, which seems to be on the radio every time I turn it on lately.

Christmas carols of a religious nature are an important part of our holiday spirit, as they serve to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas. Without What Child Is This?,  Angels We Have Heard On High, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and We Three Kings, to  name a few, some of the real magic of Christmas would be lost. We need to hear these songs to remind us of our primary reason for Christmas; the celebration of the birth of the Savior. Of course, we need to hear some childhood favorites too; Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Up on the Rooftop, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, because they help us remember the Christmas memories of our own childhood and of how Santa made our dreams come true. White Christmas, Have Yourself a Merry  Little Christmas, Holly Jolly Christmas all play a part as well; they can encourage us, when we have been standing in lines; to pay for gifts, to mail packages, to see Santa, to keep our spirits up and to really appreciate all of the merriment that goes along with The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  Music is a big part of the magic of Christmas.

Nobody knows that better than Mr. Joseph Napoli and the Saint Dominic Academy Glee Club. For 38 years, our now iconic Christmas concert has been setting the mood of the season. I remember going to see the concert when I was in high school; I had friends performing. I remember seeing it in college, when my cousin sang with Mr. Napoli, and my first Christmas as a member of the SDA administration, my daughter was lucky enough to be invited to sing with the Glee club as they performed a medley from “Frozen” at their concert. For those of us connected to Saint Dominic Academy, we know that Christmas would not be Christmas without this musical event.

This year, the Glee Club and the Dominoes will be spreading Christmas cheer throughout Hudson County, as they perform at the Tree Lighting at City Hall, the Cusack Care Center Christmas party, at pre-schools and at other holiday events. However, their showcase Christmas performance will be at our very own Christmas Concert, on December 11th at 4:00pm at Saint Aloysius Church. Combining religious, classical and contemporary pieces, this event is not to be missed. Mr. Napoli stated “ Great music never gets old…from the brooding atmosphere of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” to…the Latin American rhythms of “Carol of the Star”…the Glee Club will…fill with joy this Christmas season.” If you believe, as I do, that music is the key to the season, then please join Mr. Napoli, the Glee Club and the Dominoes on December 11th and have all of the magic of Christmas unlocked for you! I hope to see you there!

Thanksgiving Traditions

In a few short days, we each will gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. Perhaps some of us will be doing the cooking; others the table setting and clearing, and one specially selected person at each Thanksgiving table will be saying grace before the meal begins, I am sure.  The days leading up to the Thanksgiving feast are hectic ones for many of us. Trips to the grocery store, trips BACK to the grocery store to pick up a forgotten item or two, and then yet another “final” trip back for extra milk, butter, eggs, etc that have been eaten  by a family member, even though you purchased them specifically for Thanksgiving! I wonder how many people, as they are frantically stuffing birds, mixing pie filling, and mashing potatoes the morning of November 24th are thankful that Thanksgiving only comes once a year? It is a tiring holiday, especially for those who host and prepare the meal.  However, to put things in perspective, let me share this interesting tidbit…

The first Thanksgiving, which was held in 1621 in Plymouth, MA had 143 guests and lasted for 3 days.  90 of those guests were Native Americans and 53 were Pilgrims.  Well, when I realized that, I became instantly more thankful; my family Thanksgiving will consist of 11 guests and though 4 of them are under the age of 8, I would prefer 11 over 143 any day.  And it gets more interesting…those 143 guests were served dinner that was prepared by 4 women and a handful of female children.  Yes, I typed the correct number. 4 women and their daughters cooked, served and cleared a 3 day Thanksgiving dinner for 143 men.  And now, I am instantly thankful that I was not born a Pilgrim woman! That statistic kind of put my mother’s request to prepare dessert for 11 in a new light; what was looming largely as a hassle suddenly became a very reasonable request.

My point this week is not how those women were taken advantage of, or how tired they must have been, or even how that specific statistic is left out of most history lessons centered around Thanksgiving; I never see those numbers on a Thanksgiving themed worksheet!  It’s the idea of thankfulness and how, at different times, each of us are thankful for different things. And, to an extent, what each of us is thankful for can at times be unique only to us and may not make much sense to those around us.   It is important, on Thanksgiving and on every other day to take a moment and reflect on the fact that it may not always matter what we are thankful for, as long as we pause for a moment to be thankful.

Thanksgiving is, for many of us, the true start of the Christmas season.  If you have small children, the Elf on the Shelf may arrive on Thanksgiving morning…to be hidden in a different spot every day until Christmas Eve. ( A tip from an Elf pro: once the Christmas tree is up, you can hide him / her behind a different ornament each day!)  Perhaps you head to bed early on Thanksgiving and rise before the sun to take advantage of Black Friday sales with a family member or a friend.  Maybe you and your loved ones spend Thanksgiving relaxing with Christmas carols on the radio and a muted football game on TV.  Maybe your children begin to write their letters to Santa, if they are young enough to believe and their Christmas Wish Lists for Mom and Dad if they are older.  For me personally, I know I will have the Macy’s Parade, a Thanksgiving tradition since 1924, on all morning. I also know I will drop whatever I am doing, scoop my daughter onto my lap and tune in for Santa’s ride down 5th avenue; for me that Miracle on 34th Street moment is the start of the most wonderful time of the year.

Regardless of how you spend your Thanksgiving Day or the long weekend that follows; look around you, at the shining eyes of your friends and family, laughing, smiling, and just pause for a moment. Be thankful, for all you have been given.  Be thankful, for all the love that surrounds you.  And, take one tiny more pause and pray for all of us who are part of the SDA family. I will pause and give thanks for you: SDA parents, alumnae, and the wonderful young ladies who I see here each day.

From our school to your home, happiest of Thanksgiving blessings!

Warmly,

Ms. Degnan

The Curtain Rises: Annie

In a fictional New York City in 1933, a cheerful, red-headed orphan remains wistfully optimistic that her parents, who left her at an orphanage in 1922, will return to claim her.  This spunky young heroine, who is living during the Great Depression, refuses to look on the downside and instead, insists that, to borrow the words from another fictional work “ tomorrow is another day.” ( Thank you,  Margaret Mitchell).  Does this tale sound familiar? It should; almost everyone is well versed in how to “hang on till tomorrow, come what may!”  Little Orphan Annie, who made her first literary debut in a poem by James Whitcomb Riley in 1885, and then became a long standing newsprint cartoon character and radio show, was developed into a now iconic Broadway musical, which debuted on the Great White Way in 1977.  And later this week on November 18th and 19th of 2016, Saint Dominic Academy will present Annie for students, parents and alumnae.

Our young orphan has seen some changes from her origins in 1885. In the poem, Annie is an orphan who has come to the home of a wealthy family; she cooks and cleans and also tells the younger children stories about how “the goblins will get you if you don’t watch out.”  Not as winsome as our ideal red-headed moppet, this Annie carried a message of warning to small children; be good for your parents or else!  In newsprint and on the radio, Annie was a spirited child, battling robbers and pirates, together with her dog Sandy and several other characters familiar to us.  When she arrived on Broadway in 1977, she was a tap dancing, red-headed darling; a Shirley Temple of sorts for a new generation. In 1982, she hit the big screen in the movie version and there have been two other movie productions of the story, as well as numerous revivals.

To say that our little orphan, Annie, is iconic is putting it mildly. For generations, she has been encouraging us to look on the bright side, to hope for the best, to never stop believing. She has existed through the ages; her character survived the Depression and went on to experience Roosevelt’s New Deal. Likewise, the story has brought hope and inspiration since its music and lyrics were composed in 1977.  Is there any one of us who can listen to the lyrics to “Maybe”, without welling up?  Anyone out there who cannot belt out “Tomorrow”, with gusto?

And for as long as there has been the character of Annie, Saint Dominic Academy has been around.  SDA was here when Whitcomb penned his poem; perhaps it was taught then, as I plan to teach it now!  While young ladies were attending SDA in the 1920’s perhaps they read the debut comic strip and those SDA girls from the 1930’s may have put homework aside to listen to the radio program.  The comic continued for generations and in 1977, I would imagine that there were some lucky SDA students headed to NYC to see the musical in its debut performance. I know I myself was in a movie theatre in 1982, barely five years old, seeing the film on the big screen.  I am sure many of you remember going to see it as well.  I loved it then, and I love it now, as I hear the music being played in ELAN, as I watch the orphans bang their pots and brooms during their dance routines, as I listen to our very own Annie ( played by Amity Arejo, class of 2018) sing the timeless songs from this show.

Annie is the perfect musical for SDA; for several reasons. It is, at its heart, the tale of an empowered young woman, one who does not let the world stand in the way of her dreams.  Its focus is a timeless character, one who has existed for 131 years, only 7 years fewer than Saint Dominic Academy itself.  You might say that SDA and Annie have grown together, changed together, and both are a snapshot of the changing times in our country and world. Both have endured, and will endure for ages to come.  I am so very happy that the first musical under my tenure of Head of School is Annie and I hope many of you will join us at our show this weekend!

Gala: A Celebration of SDA

Merriam – Webster dictionary offers the following definition of Gala:  A festive celebration, especially a public entertainment marking a special occasion. That definition, as broad as it is, does not do full justice to the event planned for Saint Dominic Academy this coming Thursday evening. Our annual leadership Gala, held in a new venue this year: Il Villaggio, is of course going to be a festive celebration. How could it not be, as it will feature a Live and Silent Auction, a cocktail hour and full dinner, a performance by the Saint Dominic Academy Dominoes, and dancing to conclude the evening.  It is also going to be a highly special occasion, celebrating two of our wonderful alumnae as well as a generous corporate sponsor and friend of the SDA community.  Bayonne Community Bank will be recognized for its support of Saint Dominic Academy. Stephanie Barbi’ 64, will be honored for her loyal dedication to Saint Dominic Academy; her years of devoted service to the Alumnae Association speak for themselves. Maria Pompeo-Maffia ’79, will also be commemorated for her ongoing role at Saint Dominic Academy, as the coach of our internationally record breaking dance team. Indeed, just by this description alone, the 18th Annual Leadership Gala does fit the dictionary definition of Gala.

However, the night will be so much more than those brief words can encompass.  Alumnae will come together to reminisce about their time at Saint Dominic Academy and to raise their voices along with the Dominoes when the alma mater is performed. Friends and family will see these three honorees publicly recognized for their good works; works that at times have kept them away from the evening dinner table or Sunday brunch. Parents will celebrate the continued success of the school community.   Our Board of Trustees, school administration, and Department Chairpersons will be on hand to discuss the multi layered facets that compose the SDA of today for the students. And our students themselves, from our student speaker to our performers, to our Student Council executive board will be present to talk first -hand about how a Saint Dominic Academy education has shaped their lives for the better.

This is a night where Saint Dominic Academy truly shines; a night to cherish and remember for always. As this is my first Gala in my position as Head of School, I am very much looking forward to celebrating SDA’s vibrant past and exciting future. If you have not attended or supported the Gala in the past, after hearing all the wonderful stories that will sure to be told in the weeks following this event, I am hopeful that you will consider joining us in 2017 for our next Gala! To the many of you that I will see on Thursday night, I thank you for your continued support of Saint Dominic Academy and to those who support from afar, please lift your voices wherever you are and join us in the alma mater on November 10th.