O. Henry’s ‘The Gift of the Magi’ book.

MINTY: In Surrey, a ‘Gift’ of a musical story telling one Christmas classic from 1905

Surrey’s Young People’s Opera Society of BC gets busy in Newton with O. Henry’s famous tale

By Melanie Minty, arts columnist

SURREY — I hear a lot of complaining about the rain, fog and gloomy days. Sigh. I get it. We’d rather have sunshine. But, because of our location on the earth, and the axis tilt of earth and its rotation around the sun, we are in a position where the daylight hours keep getting shorter, until winter solstice. Then we gradually get more daylight hours. Winter solstice for us is Dec. 21 this year.

So what to do with the ever darkening days? Well, we get festive. Light up the streets, deck the halls, decorate a tree, have parties in celebration of the season. Many of our modern traditions have mythic and ancient origins.

The Druid, Celt, Norse and Romans celebrated winter solstice by decorating with greenery – a symbol of eternal life. Romans called their mid-winter holiday Saturnalia, honoring the Roman god Saturn. Feasts, gift exchanges, garland and candle decorations, and wreaths were part of the festivities. The Christmas tree might have originated in the 8th Century with Winfrid, an English missionary. Or maybe the tree originated with Martin Luther in the 16th Century. Whatever. We have adopted the tradition. Make the season bright. Feast with your families, give gifts to each other. It is part of the tradition.

The Young People’s Opera Society of BC presents “The Gift,” a musical story telling the Christmas classic, The Gift of the Magi, written by O. Henry and first published in a New York newspaper in 1905. This story centres on a young couple who have met hard times. Set in a time when there was no Christmas bureau or food bank to help the poor, this man and woman determine to give each other a wonderful gift for Christmas.

Read by actor Brett O’Reilly, The Gift of the Magi storytelling will have traditional and new Christmas songs inserted, such as “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “We Three Kings,” “Carol of the Bells” and “Deck the Halls,” with YPOSBC artistic director Dolores Scott conducting. Contemporary arrangements of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Still, Still, Still” may inspire us to hope and the promise of peace on Earth – surely the greatest gift, if only we could manage that one.

“The Gift” will be performed from Dec. 8 to 10 at Bethany-Newton United Church, 14853 60th Ave. Tickets are $20/$15 via eventbrite.com.

(COLUMN CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO)

The Young People’s Opera Society of BC is the brainchild of Patricia Dahlquist, who continues to inspire people of all ages to sing. Now under the artistic direction of Scott, YPOS is also working toward its spring production, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, a very magical musical presentation.

But, for now, back to our festivities for this season. A Christmas market is planned before the “Gift” concert, at intermission, and after the concert. YPOSBC members have gone traditional by making crafts, ornaments and CDs. A traditional non-alcoholic wassail punch and Christmas baking will greet guests at the door. Festive is definitely the key word.

YPOS is definitely feeling festive this year with the growth of membership and talent they have experienced over the past couple of seasons. Their calendar is full of rehearsals, coaching sessions, staging, performances, master classes and outreach performances for singers to experience and connect with the community.

The production team has also grown to accommodate the progress. Laura O’Reilly joined last year as stage director, and this season, Grant Wutzke became men’s chorus assistant and Elizabeth Gilchrist is the children’s chorus assistant. Scott, the artistic director, is honing her conducting skills through a mentorship with Jon Washburn, longtime conductor and artistic director of Vancouver Chamber Choir and member of the Order of Canada.

Sounds like opera is catching on in Surrey. For this festive season, YPOSBC brings you “The Gift.” Please open before Christmas.

Christmas carolling is a tradition for this time of year. It is somehow therapeutic to sing while standing in the snow and cold and drawing people away from their fireplace and TV. I have to admit that the cold and snow does not appeal to me (and yes, I was one of those complaining about the rain and fog), so it is good to know that the Friends of the Grove have found a place for indoor carolling. You are invited to sing songs with Music Therapists for Peace on Saturday, Dec. 9 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Newton Recreation Centre, room #4. That’s in the arena building, so there will be some proximity to ice and cold.

This is a free community event, so definitely affordable. There are free door prizes, complementary hot chocolate and cookies, and people can make recycled art. Now, that is the spirit of the season. The Friends of the Grove also encourage you to drop off donations for Surrey Food Bank and Surrey Christmas Bureau at drop-off points across the city.

If you come to the carolling, and want to drop off toys for the Christmas bureau there, my DanceCraft store, located in Newton Crossing, adjacent to the arena, is having a drop-in free workshop on making sugarplum decorations, also on Dec. 9, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

You may not celebrate Christmas as a significant religious occasion, but we can all dispel the dark days with the seasonal spirit and share our gifts with everyone in the community. Helping others, joining festivities, making the season bright. Yep. We can all do that.

melminty@telus.net

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