By Neil Armstrong
PRIDE Contributing Writer
Christmas Carols seem to be everywhere — on radio, television, online, and in shopping centres – and apart from the usual Christmas concerts and church services, there is a lot more that Toronto has to offer during the holiday season.
Although the St. Michael’s Choir School has already held its 50th annual Christmas concert at Massey Hall, there is more music to enjoy when the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra performs Handel’s Messiah, Dec. 17-20.
Messiah is an uplifting and profoundly moving performance of a baroque masterpiece at the stunning TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, Koerner Hall.
Tafelmusik will also hold a Sing-Along Messiah at Massey Hall, an event for the entire family on December 20.
Over at the Young People’s Theatre is the play, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang.
It is written by the late Mordecai Richler with new music and lyrics by Britta and Anika Johnson, and co-directed by Allen MacInnis and Jen Shuber.
The production, which opened on November 16 runs until January 3, 2016 and is recommended for kids from senior kindergarten to grade 8, ages 5 and up.
The 70-minute theatrical Jacob Two-Two returned in time for the 40th anniversary of the book by renowned Canadian author.
It’s an action-packed musical filled with suspense, comedy and adventure, featuring new music and lyrics by talented young song-writing duo, Britta and Anika Johnson.
Jacob is certain no one ever listens to him, especially his two older brothers, his two older sisters, and even his two distracted parents, so he develops the habit of saying everything twice.
Jacob’s trademark repetitiveness eventually lands him afoul of the law and into the fantastical children’s court of Mr. Justice Rough.
Sentenced to hard time on foggy, snake-infested Slimer’s Island, Jacob falls under the menacing eye of dreaded warden The Hooded Fang and must plot his escape with the help of a heroic squad of older children known as Child Power.
Meanwhile at the Harbourfront Centre, there are activities at Miss Lou’s Room Family that end on December 20.
“The Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley O.M., M.B.E., Dip R.A.D.A., D. Lit (Hon) or simply “Miss Lou,” wore many hats throughout her life: story teller, writer, poet, broadcaster and cultural icon. She was a major force in the preservation of Jamaican folklore and culture. She helped to introduce and celebrate the descriptive and expressive language of “the people” to a broader audience, bringing Patois to the world,” reads the information on the Harbourfront Centre’s website about Miss Lou.
It noted that over the years, Harbourfront Centre has been proud to have had the opportunity to work closely with numerous Caribbean communities.
“To celebrate this work, we were given the great honour to have a permanent exhibition space created and dedicated to Miss Louise Bennett, Jamaica’s Folklore and Cultural Ambassador.”
The theme for this month is “Looking Back, Looking Forward,” with participants being encouraged to take the time to reflect and remember as the year comes to an end.
“Think of how your actions now may benefit the year to come,” is what they are urged to reflect on.
On December 19 and 20 there will be Memory Bunting where kids get to craft their own festive decoration and personalize their panels with favourite moments of this year.
Set against the shoreline of Lake Ontario, the cultural hub is also the site of the city’s most scenic rink.
“The Natrel Rink has been an unparalleled skating destination in Toronto for 30 years,” boasts the Harbourfront.
The rink, which is popular during winter, has a heated indoor change room with lockers and washrooms. The skating is free and there are food and drinks available at the rink-side restaurant.
Not far from there, in the heart of the city, is the skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square, outside City Hall, which is a beehive of activity as soon as the temperatures drop and the season changes.
The Distillery Historic District, an internationally acclaimed pedestrian-only village, features more than 70 ground-floor cultural and retail establishments in the restored red brick, Victorian-era buildings of the renowned Gooderham & Worts whiskey distillery.
Its Toronto Christmas Market, which began on November 20 and runs until December 20, is free from Tuesday to Friday but there is a $5 fee on Saturdays and Sundays.
Meanwhile, the Jamaican Canadian Association will hold a Christmas Grand Market on December 23 & 23, 12pm-12am at the Jamaican Canadian Centre on Arrow Road, where there will be baked goods, toys, plants and more for sale, and entertainment too.
The organization is celebrating 53 years of being an integral part of the Canadian society and so is soliciting donations of $53 to assist its Saturday Morning Tutorial Program for children by providing them with reading materials, snacks, supplies and other necessities. Donations will also help the Caribbean Seniors program.
There are also a couple books to consider as gifts during the season – “de book of Mary: a performance poem” by Pamela Mordecai and “The Bee Leaf” written and illustrated by Karee Shea Walker.
Published by Mawenzi House, ‘de book of Mary,” which was launched in Toronto in November, is an epic poem in Jamaican Creole based on the Biblical story of Mary, covering her life from her early years through the arrival of the Archangel Gabriel and the birth of Jesus to her death.
A chorus of male and female voices provides an accompanying commentary.
“This exciting Canadian Jamaican retelling, profound and tragic, yet told with humour and gusto, is a major event, continuing Mordecai’s project of hybridizing one of the most significant cultural-religious phenomena in world history. Mordecai is currently working on de book of Joseph, the second book of the trilogy,” notes the description on the back cover of the book.
Mordecai, an author of several books of poetry, fiction and drama, who lives in Kitchener, Ontario wrote “de man: a performance poem,” the last installment of the trilogy, which was published in 1995 by the now defunct Sister Vision Press.
Having written de book of Mary, the first book in the trilogy, she is now poised to write second book, de book of Joseph to complete her trilogy series.
While living in Jamaica, Mordecai was asked to write something for Good Friday by a Jesuit priest who had come there and was soon moving to the rhythms of Jamaican music at the altar of her church.
“And a line came to me and this is the line, ‘Unnuh see mi dying trial.’ And I knew as soon as I had that line. I keep saying that Jamaican language, patois, gives me stories, it gives me poems; it gives me things. So, a lot of the time I don’t take credit at all. I say the credit is to this language that I was utterly privileged to inherit from the ancestors,” says Mordecai about her writing of “de Man” in 1990.
“de Man” is the story of Jesus’ crucifixion as reported by two people who were standing there looking at it, all done in patois.
Having written “de Man,” she knew from quite early on after it was published that she wanted to write something about Mary’s life, also in patois.
Karee Shea Walker’s book, The Bee Leaf” tells the story of Marikeyta, a girl who lives in the city with her mother.
She enters her rites of passage as she transitions from a girl into a young woman.
“Her mother falls ill and Marikeyta is challenged to seek what she must find. Through the help and support of the wise old couple on the top of the hill, Marikeyta enters the quest to find the Bee Leaf,” notes a description of the book.
Walker, who was born in Toronto and lives here, is also a visual artist and creator. The Bee Leaf is her first release of children’s literature from Kreative Interlude.
“This creative work has been very spiritual, empowering and cleansing for me all at the same time,” says Walker about her book, which “speaks to the ascending of one’s womanhood.”
Through Marikeyta’s determination and the help of the archetypal folk wisdom, in the form of an old wise couple, she is able to complete her journey and discover much about herself.
WISHING YOU ALL THE BEST FOR CHRISTMAS AND 2016.