Friday, December 25, 2009
December the Twenty-Fifth
My son wrote me from NYC, from where 'Happy Holidays' appears de rigueur. When I was a child, this kind of remark was passed by waving neighbours as the car, loaded with luggage, set off, wheezing precariously, on it's annual pilgrimage to Bournemouth. I used to wonder whether we'd ever get there and frequently demanded to know how much further it was, usually within five minutes of leaving.
So, a short Christmas tutorial. It's perfectly true to assert that we've lost sight of 'the true meaning' of Christmas - whatever that is. The date is subjective and convenient, roughly coinciding as it does with the Roman Saturnalia, when slaves and free exchanged roles, briefly, and rioting broke out after successive emperors tried to shorten celebrations from a week to five or even three days. Evergreens and mistletoe are remnants of pagan fertility rites, as is the concept of bringing trees as symbols of everlasting life into the sitting room - always a problem in centrally heated homes. The reverse is also cited, unlike the one pictured, the tree is brought inside out of the pagan cold. The practice appears to have originated in Germany where trees were decorated with ornaments for a Druid festival, legend having it that Albert of Saxe-Coburg introduced the idea to Queen Victoria, who rather liked it. Martin Luther gets the credit for allegedly being the first to decorate evergreen trees with candles representing the light of Christ, fire hazards notwithstanding. The tree itself symbolises everlasting life, its form points like an arrow to the heavens, and circular evergreen wreaths represent eternity and brings to mind the crown of thorns. And so on and so forth.
Now to Santa Claus. St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra. Born around 280 CE into a wealthy family, he became the patron saint of children because of stories that revolved around his generosity toward them. One story appears to have led to the practice of hanging stockings for Christmas. Nicholas knew of a man with three daughters nearing marriageable age. Knowing they would be forced into poor marriages by their lack of dowry, Nicholas sneaked by their house at night and threw a bag of gold through the window for each girl. The gold is said to have landed in the girls’ stockings where they were hanging to dry. We assume the weather to have been sufficiently mild for the shutters to have been left open and Nick had been practising with a basketball.
As for the picture, imagine Owen Wilson after a few years...
Oh, well. Believe in it or don't bother, but you can't make Christmas what it is not. 'Bah!' or even..'humbug.' Alternatively, a little Victorian nostalgia. No tears, please...