We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Wednesday, December 2. 2015
I understand the historical reasons that Christmas is on the winter solstice/Saturnalia in western Christianity, but I'd like it later. That's just one thing. Most of my grinchiness has to do with the feeling of pressure to pack everything in. I hate pressure and hassle, love serenity.
- Mid-winter gets dreary in New England unless you ski a lot, or go away. A later Christmastime would brighten it all up. They say Jesus was probably born in April anyway.
- We are not too big on giving presents at Christmastime at the Maggie's HQ now that the kids are older - and my extended family has banned them. How about if we all agree to quit with the gift-giving or just limit it to home-made jam, cookies, and pies or a bottle of something, and honor the season by getting together, singing carols, and with gifts to charities and churches? As a compromise, keep kids' stockings for chocolates and candy canes and things like that. Maybe some cash for the older ones.
- Last year, Mrs. BD's present to me was Torture: A trainer 3 days/wk and a 6 day/wk exercise program. Some gift! I have stuck with it, though. She likes to feel the bulging muscle and appreciates the lack of fatigue climbing mountains. A year of squats with presses? At 5 am? Lovely gift!
- Which is worse? Putting the decorations all around the house, or taking them down in a few weeks and packing them away?
- Which is worse? Dragging in and putting up a live dead pagan tree with all of the family mementos on it, or getting rid of it before it burns the house down? (I simplified some of this chore years ago by keeping all tree stuff in drawers in the parlor.)
- Outdoor Christmas lights. They all seem to commit suicide while being stored in the attic, but not before they writhe around in the dark to create annoying tangles. Yes, they are cheery though. I keep mine lit all through January because of the trouble, and just throw them in the trash after.
- Christmas Cards. OK, they are a good way to stay in touch with people we care about. But there is so little time in which to do it, and you have to find a decent photo. Plus updating one's address book is a major pain. We've missed a year or two, and I hope nobody took it personally...
- Parties. Too many, too jammed together. A normal fellow wants just so much social festivities, like one per week - and not more. Party-hopping to fulfill obligations is not really fun, but more like a duty. It is not misanthropy - if I were willing to drink more, it might be jollier. Must admit, though, I do like to touch base with all of my pals, fellow-church people, colleagues, and acquaintances at Christmastime. It might not happen much, otherwise.
- Charity events. Why do so many of them now? Well, having run a large conservation charity for about 12 years (as a semi-involuntary volunteer), I know why: people feel more generous and more festive now - and drink more. So it's about $.
- Mrs. BD has, and goes to, all of these festive Christmas teas and luncheons. I think that's great because guys are not invited. I believe she is in charge of a big fancy luncheon today with dressed-up ladies and carols and, if I heard her right, Santa hats or reindeer horns required to make it less stuffy. You can get them at CVS. Sorry to inform the loony campus feministas, but normal ladies still like to get dolled up for Christmas luncheons and teas, and to enjoy a cocktail or two with their buddies.
- Just one black-tie event per Christmas season is plenty. I will resist two.
- Wife says "Hey, BD, let's throw a casual party here on the Saturday before Christmas. We can invite 70 or 80 of our best friends, and get a pianist." Sheesh. Great idea, in theory. Do I have to vacuum and move furniture?
Does the idea of baby Jesus mean a lot to me? You betcha. To me, it means the promise of a birth, or re-birth, of the spirit of Christ in my heart. There is great power, great significance, in that. I really do come from Yankee Puritan stock, and I guess some of that sticks.
The Puritan War on Christmas
Posted by Bird Dog in The Culture, "Culture," Pop Culture and Recreation at 12:10 | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
Your Grinch is showing...My Puritan ancestors ruined Christmas for all kinds of happy roisterers by banning feasting, merriment, and fun vices at Christmastime. It has little to do w sweet Baby Jesus except: light and life in a dark and wicked world. Except celebration despite harsh reality and winter depression. Except abundance in the midst of scarcity. Except joy. Sometimes reconciliation, tho not of the Disney variety despite years of grudges and hatred.
We were so broke when our kids were young that they used to say "I know the answer is no, Mom" before even waiting for me after they expressed a wish for something all year. If it killed me working 2 jobs I wd shower them w excess one time a year.
People who are comfortable and who have as much stuff as I do now, forget the magic and wonder of receiving something one has longed for and had no hopes of. We are not disembodied spirits. Kids of all ages love toys and ( if not terminally self- indulgent) usually do without them because there are sensible needs or charities to support.
But abundance once a year reminds us of the extravagant undeserved love and mercy of God. By contrast, Easter is a stark and adult season (I remember comforting sobbing four year old daughter "They nailed his hands and he BLEEDED!"
But Christmas? A sweet baby, like a puppy reminding us of the tender heart of God. And presents...
We never did the partying or boozing at Xmas. But reunions w relatives and friends and packages in the linen cupboard, the tool shed, the shoe rack. Happy secrets. Unlike some, we couldn't afford grand family "experience" presents like trips or dude ranches etc.
Also, Christmas giving and feasting is an excuse to reach out to the sad and lonely without embarrassing them. I remember being invited to Christmas dinner w church friends two weeks after our house was flooded. Warmth and festivity before we went back to the muddy ruin of half our home.
It's easy to be ascetic at Christmas when you are happy and have enough.
I am NOT advocating charging on plastic to impress others. But the rich like the ideaof a God who simplifies and declutters their world. Those poor in things or spirit enjoy the idea of a God who fills it, a God who came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. And sometimes a soft sweater or toy truck or stupid piece of jewelry is part of that...
I say this because now that I have everything I need materially (as I did not when a young mommy) I say BAH humbug to the whole season. But I remember when I did not, and why.
Winter in New England is depressing if you can't afford to ski or go away. so Saturnalia, retreaded, is a good thing...Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time and season for everything.
So if excess bothers you, help a refugee who has nothing. Or give a job to someone in need of one. Or babysit for the harried parents of a disabled child. Visit a lonely old person in a nursing home. Become a mentor to a fatherless boy who has no positive male models. Go overseas with our modern day saints, Doctors Without Borders. Write a big check to the Salvation Army if you are lame and can't physically do acts of mercy in the world. Give to someone you aren't related to, anonymously , and imagine Jesus beaming in delight at the happiness you have given. The season isn't about our feelings but Jesus ' call to share love w others. And sometimes that includes sharing our material thing (tho my dragonish heart lusts after camera gear and resists generosity too often).
No one ever died from an excess of acts of kindness. And most of these require at least some of the money we wd have otherwise spent on mathoms...
The things that make other people happy don't necessarily float our boat. But they, not we, are the reason for the season.
Once Christmas and New Year's is over, winter is a long, dark haul for a few months. My parents immediately head to Florida for a few months. The wife and I just keep going to work and plan summer trips to the mountains or beach.
Count me heavily in the Puritan camp. My wife and I have as little to do with Christmas as possible. We went through it with our kids but now they are grown and out of the house. Ninety-nine percent of it is purely secular (and excessive) now. The radio stations which are playing "24 hour a day Christmas carols" are the most depressing, because of course they can only play secular songs, not anything with meaning. When you've heard "Frosty the Snowman" or "Jingle Bell Rock" for the 200th time it gets a bit grating; or with a drunk Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra or others singing "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" it is hard not to gag. (Thank the Lord, though, that there was apparently some clandestine revolt to ban "Those Christmas Shoes" from the airwaves--that was the worst of all time.)
And all it is is stress, stress, stress. Clients behaving nastily because it is the end of the year. Having to make your hours and receipts for the year. Fighting with your fellow partners about year-end distributions. Going to phony Christmas parties to show face, where you know most of the people are doing the same thing and would rather be somewhere else. Watching people get drunk and in arguments and fights.
Some people are "Christmas and Easter" Christians. We are the opposite. We go to church every Sunday but generally don't go to our church's Christmas Eve service because it is just too much of a production and it's out of control. (They get about 5,000 people at 5 services; many of whom you won't see again until the following Christmas.) I knew they had lost it when they first had the standard pre-recorded announcement go on ahead of time about "no photography during the concert."
I really hate Christmas. Bah, humbug. I'm fine with Jesus but away with the rest of it.
You have problems with the winter holiday because you treat it as the secular festival it has become. It takes 700 words into the essay before you obliquely acknowledge what the Christian holy day is actually about.
Given that Christ was likely born sometime in the Spring, I don't think moving it is so outlandish or 'Grinch-like' at all.
We only celebrate it in the winter to acknowledge the incorporation of several pagan religions that celebrated the winter solstice (the New Grange neolithic site, along with many others, has a windowbox that only lets in light on the winter solstice).
It would be odd to have Christmas and Easter within a month of each other, but why not? Having Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's all within 5 weeks is too much celebrating in a short period of time.
I'm with you on the other stuff, too. I'm tired of having to figure out which gifts to get so as to not offend. Well, not offend those who get offended, anyway. Every family has one or two of those.
When I was younger, my gifts mattered to me. When I left for college, I stopped caring. The only gift I really enjoyed was the new Brooks Brothers suit my father would buy me the first 5 years I was out of college. They lasted for quite a long time, and I learned to appreciate a fine suit.
But I don't wear suits too often now. My job is "business casual" attire.
Of the myriad things that don't bother me, when Christmas is is near the top of the list.
I really enjoy Christmas. Nothing but good memories from my childhood regarding Christmas. We would pop popcorn and string it with a needle and thread to string on the Christmas tree. We would make chains of red and green paper to hang in the doorways with pine boughs. My older sister would help us wrap our gifts. My mother would bake pies and other goodies a few days ahead of time. Our many relatives would come by in the days before and on Christmas day to visit. Most of the really good pictures I still have of my cousins and others were taken at Christmas time. My mother would usually cook a Turkey from early morning to be ready for our dinner. I tried to make it the same for our children and now for our grand children. I miss seeing my wonderful uncles and aunts and my many cousins.
As much as I love the Christmas season with its lights and greenery, I have grown to dislike the way the trappings have migrated closer and closer to Thanksgiving. I drove by a house a week or two before Thanksgiving and was dismayed to see a tree lit and decorated, perched in the front window. It's just one more indication of the sad rejection of what Christmas really means in favor of the flashy flippery with no real meaning.
I acknowledge that it's more than possible that the early Church purposefully incorporated pagan rituals into the first observances of Christmas. Hey, why not? You can't expect to sway people to immediately join a new movement, especially one which was so radical in its thinking, without sweetening the pot, as it were. And why shouldn't there be festivities surrounding the birth of Christ? Outside of our modern, cushy Western lifestyle the world is a harsh place. Humanity toils to stay clothed and fed. People need something to look forward to - something to encourage community, charity, and hope.
I wouldn't mind seeing the Christmas observance pushed out to Epiphany. (Traditionally the twelve days of Christmas) January used to be my least favorite month as a kid because it always seemed that you fell to earth again with a hard thunk once the frantic activity of the Christmas season was over and the poor tree was unceremoniously pitched out into a snow bank. School vacation was over and you were staring down the barrel of mid-term exams - February school break seemed so far away. The only hitch I could see to the idea would be the fact that Ash Wednesday can arrive as early as the second week of February, as it will in 2016. That's less than 6 weeks in the liturgical calendar between the formal end to the Season of Christmas and the beginning of Lent. Not much time to catch your breath.
As a kid we didn't put our tree up until the 3rd Sunday in Advent; my mother maintained that Advent meant preparing for Christmas. Christmas hadn't arrived and thus did not warrant the decorating of the house in advance. Over time my sister and I lobbied for the 2nd Sunday, maintaining that the season was so short and we wanted to enjoy it. (She would have preferred Christmas Eve.) I've tried to keep that time frame for the most part, with an extension into January to encompass Epiphany. This year my husband coerced me into putting the tree up and decorating during Thanksgiving weekend. I hated the idea but I gritted my teeth and got on with it. His rationale was that we have so much cookie baking ahead of us there will be no time to put the tree up later on. I'm a big purist when it comes to decorating the tree, to the point where once it's set up and the lights are on, it's my baby. So, I'm willing to concede a couple of weeks in exchange for full creative control.
And this year I am especially pleased because I have the family tree-topper in my possession. It is a kitchy plastic gold star with the revolving color cylinder inside which my parents bought their first year of marriage. That makes it 50 years in the family. My Christmas disco star! Also over the years I've collected individual envelopes of the leaded aluminum icicles for the tree. It's so time consuming to put each strand on one at a time but looks incredible when it's done. Every pre-60s Christmas movie has a tree covered in this stuff.
I enjoy Christmas, music and all. Now that I have children I really enjoy watching them experience the magic of it. I can't stand all of the buying frenzy and decorations coming out even before Thanksgiving, though. Is it just me or has the nation gone crazy with Christmas pomp and circumstance? What do people think when they are shopping on Black Friday? I'm not sure they do. It's more like Pavlov's shoppers.
I keep it moderate with the kids and presents. But, I do have to fight off a manic desire when I enter a toy store. It's so much fun buying toys for kids. Angel Trees are not only a great way to give to charity; they're FUN. The wife and I have never bought each other gifts.
Lights? I live within walking distance of a mega church/bible college that puts up over a million lights each year. Even Clark Griswald's house looks puny compared to that. Google Rhema Christmas lights.
Trees? I don't understand fake trees. What's the point? I put up a real tree three weeks before Christmas and let it ride until New Year's Day. And tinsel works great on a real tree b/c you don't have to remove it. My house doesn't turn into Santa's workshop, but I do like well placed decorations and photos from Christmas past.
I love egg nog, wrapping paper, carolers, santas, ugly sweaters, baby Jesus, Christmas music, religious and secular, and especially the movies. Scrooged and Wonderful Life are the toppers. They all make the hated cold a little more bearable. I don't see how you yankees can stand those long, constant winters.
How about moving Christmas in front of Thanksgiving? Maybe the first Sunday after All Saints' Day? I guess that'd mess up Advent.
Now is the season when I seriously contemplate either going full Puritan or adopting the Orthodox calendar and putting everything off for 12 days. It's just too busy.
We've always celebrated the traditional 12 days: the tree went up just before Christmas Eve and didn't come down until 7th Jan; 12th night was a time for gifts, and the main concern was focusing on the Christian message of the birth of Jesus. Gifts were modest and frequently practical (I still use the canister set eldest daughter "gave" me many years ago). As the children grew older, I took them to the shop to pick out a toy they would like, bought it, then had them wrap it for "White Gift Sunday" at our church. Christmas was always a time for family and friends, but the Christian message was a large part of it.
Christmas cards: now just essentially for family and a few friends. We've figured out the Christmas letter - a good way to give a quick overview of our year, though we always add personal greetings to each recipient.
We perfected the letter after introducing Granny to this: Granny, legally, blind, had a large Christmas list and the annual cards were becoming a chore. So we had her write out what she wanted to say to everyone on the list, took it home, and - after some editing - printed off the letter. A few personal comments in each card, a letter, and Granny was in business. As the years progressed, the general letter got longer and the personal comments became fewer. Savvy grandchildren figured out how to turn Granny's address book into labels which could be popped on envelopes. And so Granny kept up her correspondence every year (need I say that incoming cards were all read to Granny by the grandchildren, some several times?).
Even at the end, youngest grandchild took the family laptop down to the nursing home where Granny was now resident and listened as Granny dictated her last Christmas letter. It took several sessions, some of which were not easy, but the letter was written. Then a printer went down and the letter was produced, along with addressed envelopes (this kid had it all figured out). Granny signed each one - with the occasional short comment - and off they went. To this day, youngest grandchild remembers that last pre-Christmas with her Granny as a very special time.
Now we've grandchildren (though I am inclined to refer to them as the "grandbrats", which title they have earned). So the more civilized Christmas dinners of years past have given way to controlled chaos - and dinner is no longer chez nous but at a venue more childproof and with a greater variety of toys. Sometime in the future, it will be back to "over the meadows and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go". But for now, we hear the Christmas message and rejoice in it, while giving thanks for being able to be together as a family.
We do have a mid-winter holiday.
It's Super Bowl Sunday.
I must say, as a Catholic, I find the Puritan impulse entirely alien (but then I don't doubt many of my Protestant co-religionists find Catholicism pretty odd too).
Which brings up an interesting thought about the cultural nature of religion.
One of the principal drawbacks for me personally about Islam has almost nothing at all to do with its fundamental set of beliefs per se. It's the simple reality that I find its external manifestations just too, well, culturally foreign and removed from my own.