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ODE TO T.E.P. Every Christmas, the Winterhaven neighborhood sets our world ablaze with a light display equaled only by the Goldwater bombing range. This mega-wattage brings to life everything from twinkling stars, reindeer and jolly ol' Saint Nick to huge suns and assorted cacti. It's an extravagant treat of pure Americana.
Enjoy the full holiday regalia at the Winterhaven Festival of Lights, continuing from 6 to 10:15 p.m. daily through Sunday. Winterhaven is located between Tucson Boulevard and Fort Lowell Road, and Country Club and Prince roads. The lights may be seen on foot, or by calling Winterhaven Hayrides at 825-0208.
FELIZ HWEOL. So this is X-Mas, and what have you done? It's the biggest, most expensive and highly charged holiday of the year. But beyond the dreadful shopping malls and plastic trees and shameless commercialization, there may be a few things about this ancient seasonal rite you don't know.
While Christmas specifically celebrates the birth of Jesus, the midwinter months spread their roots far and wide, from the Druids to the Romans to the Jewish Festival of Lights.
Actually, the date of Christmas itself has been contested over time; the festival was originally held on January 6 in the Roman Empire's eastern reaches. But by the fourth century, December 25 was generally accepted as the big day, despite a few stubborn hold-outs like the Armenian Church, which continued celebrating Christ's birth in early January.
Ironically, there's not a single, undisputed reason why the holiday lands on December 25 at all. But there are hints: It's been suggested that early Christians wanted the date to coincide with Roman pagan festivals marking the "birthday of the unconquered sun," better known as the winter solstice--a time when the days begin to lengthen and the sun starts climbing higher in the sky. During this period, some ancient myths hold that the winter sun actually pauses for 40 days. Meanwhile, northern peoples considered the sun a fiery wheel alternately throwing its glow upon the earth and away from it. This sun wheel was called hweol, which may be the roots of the word "yule."
For Jews, the period is marked as the Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah, commemorating the defeat of the Syrian army and reclamation of Jerusalem in 165 B.C. Recovering the ruins of their sacred temple, the triumphant Jews were subsequently dismayed to find all the sacred oil vaporized, save for one jar which was expected to burn only for a day. Miraculously, it lasted for eight, hence the eight-day celebration leading to December 25.
In Scandinavian countries, huge fires were ignited annually to defy the Frost King. It was during these long winter nights that men were most apt to find themselves transformed into savage werewolves or tempted by soul-stealing Valkerie maidens, who regularly hustled their spiritual captives to an eerie netherworld called Valhalla.
Early Egyptians enjoyed a midwinter festival, claiming that Horus, son of Isis, was born at the end of December. December 25 is also regarded as the birthday of the Iranian mystery god Mithra, the Sun celebration of the deity Saturnus, whose wisdom guided the crafts of agriculture. It was a period marked by singing processions, men dressing like animals, slaves mocking their masters, and plenty of downright orneriness.
By 742, Pope Zacharius had put the skids on such revelry, proclaiming it "heathenish."
Of course, for modern Western culture, the reason behind selecting December 25 as the big day is refreshingly obvious: It allows the shopping season to dovetail nicely with Thanksgiving.
KWANZAA ON STAGE. The Barbea Williams Performing Company dishes up a rich holiday celebration with Kwanzaa: Mask Folklore with Dance, Song and Story.
Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday, conceived in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of black studies at Long Beach State University in California, to honor African culture and inspire unity among African-American communities.
Based on traditional African harvest festivals, some 20 million people in the United States, Africa, Europe and Canada celebrate Kwanzaa from today through January 1. Among them is Williams. "For me, Kwanzaa's about bringing family values and energy back into the fold," she says. "It's about spending time with your children and teaching them about who they are so that they have a positive self-identity as an African person born in America."
Each day of the festival is marked by a principle, ranging from unity to collective work and responsibility. And each is noted by lighting a single candle, or mishumaa, representing the days' principle. Traditional African dishes are served each evening, followed by passing the cup of unity, or kikombe cha umoja.
"We choose to celebrate Kwanzaa because we're choosing to celebrate ourselves," Williams says. "And it's an opportunity to share something about who you are to the people in your community."
In recognition of the holiday, Williams and her troupe will present a performance using Kwanzaa songs, symbols, rituals and principles intertwined with traditional folk tales. The production will include masks designed by Roosevelt Smith, and will feature Eno Washington, Tariq Rasool, and Barbea's children, Beah and Beyah Williams-Rasool.
Show times are 3 and 8 p.m. today, and 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, in the Tucson Center for Performing Arts, 408 S. Sixth Ave. Performances continue at 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, January 1 through 3. Advance tickets are $10, $8 for students and seniors, $5 for children under age 12, and are available at Al's Barber Shop, Antigone Books, Hair on Wheels, Rainbow Accessories, or by calling 298-4772. Tickets are $2 more at the door.
COTTON TO THIS. Gone are the days of the Embers, The Jazz Showcase, and the other local clubs specifically catering to the improv crowd.
Well, almost gone. Luckily--perhaps even remarkably--this Old Pueblo seems to have welcomed a newcomer wholeheartedly into the time-honored jazz spot-tradition, and by all reports the place seems to be drawing ever bigger crowds.
We're talking about the Cottonwood Café, where cats can grab dinner and tunes in the same spot. And the café welcomes in the new year and rings out the old when it plays host to the Tucson Jazz Society's Holiday Bash. The festivities include a jam headlined by the Jeff Haskell Band.
The party runs from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. in the Cottonwood Café, 60 N. Alvernon Way. Cover charge is $3. Call 326-6000 for information.
PICTURE THIS. Imagine a place only a hop, skip and jump from Tucson where exotic creatures go whizzing past--a spacious, grassy place where the towering saguaro has been replaced by a stunning sea of grass stretching to the horizon, in the shadows of towering hills.
Hint: We're not talking about Green Valley.
This wondrous place is the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, located southwest of Tucson. Purchased by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 1985, the refuge contains drastic elevation changes and the powerful collision of desert, mountain range, grassland. It's also the northern limits of many Mexican species, and remains one of the most ecologically rich regions in the world.
To reach the refuge, take Ajo Way west to Highway 286. Drive south to the refuge headquarters, located at Milepost 7. Drive time is approximately one hour. The refuge is always open, and Visitors' Center hours are 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. There is no charge. For more information, call (520) 823-4251.
LIVING TREASURE. Throughout his career, Native American artist Urshel Taylor has tried to imbue his work with a sense of creative play conveying a joy in the creative process. The result of that effort is now on display in the Native Goods Gallery inside the Arizona State Museum.
Recently named an "Arizona Living Treasure" by the Governor's office, Taylor's career spans 45 years and at least two cultures. While most of his work reflects his father's Ute heritage, Taylor has recently begun exploring his mother's Pima Indian roots. That current exploration forms the meat of this display.
His canvases resonate with bright colors, but are not heavy on narrative. "Most of my work doesn't have a story," Taylor says. "I just do it because I like to. I like to break all the rules of art."
Paintings by Urshel Taylor continues through January in the Arizona State Museum, UA campus just inside the main gate, east of Park Avenue. Regular museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Call 621-6302 for details and holiday schedules.
TWIRLING DERVISHES. Swing dancing is a high-energy, twirling affair emanating from the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Charleston, and other timeless steps. Better yet, it works with a musical melange ranging from jazz and R&B to country and bop. Slowly evolving across the United States--Texas had its Houston Push and Dallas Whip; St. Louis contributed the Imperial Swing; Washington was the birthplace for D.C. Hand Dancing; and southerners came up with the Carolina Shag--various styles eventually formed the hybrid known as modern swing.
Tucsonans can enjoy their own style of stepping-out at regular Monday swing lessons, taught by Billy and Lucinda Perez. Classes are offered at 8 p.m. in the Boondocks Lounge, 3306 N. First Ave. Cost is a paltry $3, and lessons are followed at 9 p.m. by live music with the Swing All-Stars, featuring Don Scott. For more information, call 690-0991.
WELCOME BACK. Lisa Larrabee is a '93 graduate of Utterback Middle School. Currently, she's an illustration and design major at the Kansas City Art Institute, where she hopes "to capture a sense of fulfillment and individual creativity through freelance illustration."
Now she's back at Utterback, this time to display her work in the school's G.A.S.P. (Great Art by Students and Professionals) Gallery, where she served as a docent not too long ago.
You can view the fruit of Larrabee's artistic metamorphosis during regular school hours, through January 30, at Utterback Middle School, 3233 S. Pinal Vista. Call 617-6100 for information.
CELESTIAL SEASONINGS. The UA Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium rings in the season with a smorgasbord of spatially spectacular laser shows. The Copper State's evening palette is the topic in Under Arizona Skies, while the mind-boggling scale of the cosmos is brought to earth in Light-Years from Andromeda.
Seeing the Invisible Universe offers a peek at the intergalactic, non-visual spectrum, with animated sequences uncovering the mysteries of supernovae, black holes, quasars and our own Milky Way. Discovering Lasers likewise explores how laser light is made.
Shows run daily, and times vary. Admission ranges from $2 to $6. For details, call 621-7827.
TEEN SCENE. Pima County Parks and Recreation fires up its annual under-age extravaganza known as the Midnight Jam. This pre-New Year's Eve party for teens lets everyone have a good, safe time, and it's been a great success: Last year more than 2,500 kids showed up. The bash will feature a DJ spinning dance tunes to the almost-wee hours. There will also be a breakdance contest, basketball courts, video games and a concession stand. Finally, the days of Guy Lombardo will be revisited with a balloon drop at midnight.
The party runs from 8 p.m. to
City Week includes events selected by Calendar Editor Tim Vanderpool. Event information is accurate as of press time. The Weekly recommends calling event organizers to check for last-minute changes in location, time, price, etc. To have material considered, please send complete information at least 11 days prior to the Thursday issue date to: Tucson Weekly, P.O. Box 2429, Tucson, Arizona 85702, or fax information to 792-2096, or email us at email@example.com.
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