A Christmas Wish

Family Stone

The Family Stone: A tale of Christmas Dysfunctionality

Everybody thinks they are right.  If you asked Hitler, Stalin, Ivan the Terrible or Robert Mugabe about their records they would explain to you why they were right and what they did was right and there is a good chance that after an hour with any of them you would begin to accept that they had a valid position.

Everybody thinks they are right.

Christmas is time for families.  If anyone knows how to push all your emotional trigger buttons it is your close family.  This makes Christmas a time of stress and tension for many.  Old arguments bubble to the surface.  Kind words and gestures are over-analysed and misinterpreted and rejected.

If you have stress in your relationships here is some sage advice from John Greenleaf Whittier.  Just forgive. Whittier is one of the “Fireside Poets” and born this day in 1807.  I like to think of the Fireside poets in terms of life before TV, when you might spend a cold winters evening by the fire sharing poetry and stories.  Time spent with family and friends, like Christmas.

Forgiveness is hard, because if you mean it then it must be unconditional.  You are not offering an olive branch to begin peace talks.  You are giving it away, opening your own heart with no expectation of any reciprocal action on the other side.  That is real forgiveness.

 

Forgiveness; by John Greenleaf Whittier

My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;
so, turning gloomily from my fellow-men,
one summer Sabbath day I strolled among
the green mounds of the village burial-place;
where, pondering how all human love and hate
find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face,
and cold hands folded over a still heart,
pass the green threshold of our common grave,
whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,
awed for myself, and pitying my race,
our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!

Cyber Monday Pawns

Howeswho: Doctor Who - The Rise of the Cybermen

Happy Cyber Monday.  There, if ever there was one, is an oxymoron.  Happy nothing!  Cyber Monday is an out and out marketing scam designed to wrest any remaining contents from the wallets of Black Friday shoppers.

Marketing people fight for what they call “Share of Wallet”.  Not their wallet of course, they are dipping into yours.  They know that because of the twinkly lights and the happy songs that you are feeling all warm and fuzzy and Christmassy right now.  You are full of the joys of the consumerist season, ready to enrich the lives of all about you with the wonderful presents you will give.

Come January all that warm fuzzyness will have descended into a cold, hard, grey reality when you see what you have done to your wallet.  January is a long month, and because the December paycheque usually arrives early the gap between the December and January paycheques is a chasm.

Blue Monday, the saddest day of the year, is the Monday of the final week in January before that new year paycheque arrives in your torn and battered bank account.

The Cybermen were a race of cybernetically augmented humanoids from the Dr. Who series.  They are the equivalent of the Borg Collective from the Star Trek series.  They want everyone to become like them.  They are devoid of emotion, like the Borg they are a collective and see themselves as an upgrade to normal humanity.

The Marketing Industry want to to become an upgraded human.  Enhanced by your PC, Laptop, Tablet or Smartphone and granted instant access to the Global Marketplace you are their pawn.  They lure you into making poor decisions with incomplete information in the very opposite of what the Internet was supposed to provide.

They harvest your search information and use that knowledge to gouge you on the prices for the items of most interest to you.

Instead of becoming a Cyber Monday Pawn today why not defy marketing manipulation.  Be Human, be a Mensch.  Save the planet from consumerism.  Refuse to purchase.  If you need to give gifts why not give gifts that save the planet?  Plant a tree!  Plant a dozen.  One dollar plants one tree.

Spending your money well now will make you feel so much better come the January Blues.

Celtic Tiger Relic

Vernacular

On a quiet lane in Rural Tipperary stands a tiny two story cottage of a vernacular very common in the Golden Vale.  It harks back to an older age when people lived simple lives, subsisting envionmentally on the land.  It was a live devoid of any excess in materialism.  Consumer culture was a distant dream, something you might hear hints of from distant American relatives in the Christmas letter they sent home with cast off clothes that became brand new again for poor Irish kids.

In these days of McMansions it is hard to believe that a tiny cottage like this might be home to a Catholic family in an era before family planning.  Granny slept in a settle near the range for the warmth.  A half dozen boys and girls topped and tailed in an old double bed in what should be the parlour.  Mother and Father slept in the attic with the babies nearby.  As children became teenagers they were farmed out, the boys to labour on farms, the girls to service in big houses.

The cottage is a lovely design, proportiate, sitting gracefully in its environment, built well, built to last.  No longer fit for the lives we lead.

The original single glaze wooden sash windows were torn out and replaced with double glaze uPVC.  Less environmentally friendly, less pretty,  less drafty, more energy efficient, a balancing act of confusing priorities.

And so, in the era of the Celtic Tiger when property madness struck the nation, the owner attempted to extend the old girl.  He slapped on a blockhouse to the back.  The first floor sills speak of an ambition to go up to the level of that elegant apex roof.

Extension

The floorplan will be doubled at the expense of any attempt to preserve the original design.  But the work stopped a long time ago.  I would love to know why.  Was it the market crash and the 2008 recession?  Did the funds dry up?  Did confidence in the ability to secure a sale wane?  Did the bank choke it off stillborn?  Or did some diligent planner leap in just in time to preserve the existing building?

Back at the front the door is secured by a pink girls bicycle lock, a head nod to the most crass aspects of the consumer madness that struck this country.  The pink aisle at Smyths Toy Superstore in the run up to Christmas.  A temple to cheap Chinese manufacturing and dodgy work practices.

This building should be preserved, in its current state, to serve as a symbol of that madness, and a warning to future generations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Saturnalia

Io.jpg

Beginning on Dec 17th, the Roman Festival of Saturnalia was a time to upend conventions.  Things that were illegal at other times of the year were permitted during the festival of Saturn.  Sumptuary laws were broken to permit feasting and public drunkenness.  It was time to party, party, party.  Gambling was permitted.

It was also a great time for people who were normally constrained by their place.  Women could let loose.  Slaves and servants were given pride of place and were served at table by their masters.  There was liberty for wives to tell the truth to husbands and for slaves to berate their masters.

Role reversal and guising were commonly practiced and these elements have become key components in our modern Christmas Panto.  In pantomime the lead boy is often played by a woman, the dame is played by a man.  Mistaken identity and upending of norms, where the pauper marries the princess are common themes.

Saturnalia was a festival of light centred around the week of the winter solstice.   It involved bringing evergreen foliage into the house and using it to decorate the walls, symbolic of protecting the kindling.  From this tradition we get the modern fashion for bedecking our halls with the holly and the ivy.

Candles were burned through Saturnalia as symbols of knowledge and learning, and translated into the current practice of lighting up homes for Christmas with coloured lights.

During Saturnalia work stopped and schools closed, to give people a holiday period, just as today.

Citizens put aside their togas and dressed instead in colourful greek outfits that were bright and garish.  A bit like we do today by wearing gaudy cheesy Christmas jumpers.

Citizens, who normally walked bare headed, would doff a pilleus, a pointy felt cap usually worn by freedmen.  Next time you are at the office christmas party and find a pointy cap on your dinner place setting you will know it is designed to reduce your status, and make all of you equal for the party.

Romans also had a tradition of gift giving for Saturnalia that we have translated to the notion of Santa Claus.

Ever wonder where the tradition of sending Christmas cards came from?  You got it!  It’s another Saturnalia custom.  As with the verse below from Catullus Romans would send each other verses of poetry for the holiday.  This year I revived something of the Roman tradition by sending framed poems to my family and to SOME friends.

 

Saturnalia Gift ; by Catullus

If I didn’t love you, sweet teasing Calvus,
far more than my own eyes, then for today’s gift
I’d hate you with the hate of Vatinius;
for what have I said or done to deserve it
that you’re killing me now with all these poets?
May the gods frown down on whichever client
settled accounts with this roll of miscreants
(unless, as I suspect, it’s that school-master
Sulla, writing off debts by setting these texts,
then I bear no hate, have no complaint to make:
at least your hard work receives due recompense).
God, here’s as cursed a verse as one might expect –
a book, I know, you sent to your Catullus
to finish him off, to floor and to bore us
on Saturnalia, our day for pleasure.
No, not so fast, you can’t escape, my false friend,
for if this long night of torment ever ends
I’m off to the bookshops to buy Caesius,
Aquinus and Suffenus, all poison pens,
to pay you back in full for your own torture.
Until then, goodbye, farewell, it’s time to quit:
let those bad feet limp away, lines and couplets,
disease of the age, unreadable poets.

(translated by Josephine Balmer)

A sudden squall.

squall

For the most part squalls are nasty things.  Winds that dip down from high above, moving quickly and sometimes moving in totally unpredictable directions.  As a sailor you learn to respect them.  The sight of a squall cloud gets your palms itchy to take in a couple of reefs, or just ditch the sails on deck altogether until it passes.

Even on land they are unpleasant.  On the way home this evening on the bicycle I was hit by a squall out of an otherwise sunny sky.  In seconds it had dumped a blast of cold rain, too suddenly to make for shelter or don waterproof gear.  So I sit here writing in my wet trousers.

A squall also takes me back to my youth in Glasnevin of the 1970’s when going to mass was obligatory in Ireland.  We used to seek variety by swapping between churches and priests.  It was always worth a trip up to Sillogue church for a Christmas mass to hear the poem below.  The priest in question was famous for his delivery style, a slow twangy drawl interspersed with sharp orders to the congregation (stand now, sit down, only I say this bit  etc).  The priest was known in the area simply as Fr Tangmalangaloo an onomatopoeic name that reflected his intonation.

Tangmalangaloo: by Father Patrick Joseph Hartigan

The bishop sat in lordly state and purple cap sublime,
And galvanised the old bush church at Confirmation time;
And all the kids were mustered up from fifty miles around,
With Sunday clothes, and staring eyes, and ignorance profound.
Now was it fate, or was it grace, whereby they yarded too
An overgrown two-storey lad from Tangmalangaloo?

A hefty son of virgin soil, where nature has her fling,
And grows the trefoil three foot high and mats it in the spring;
Where mighty hills uplift their heads to pierce the welkin’s rim,
And trees sprout up a hundred feet before they shoot a limb;
There everything is big and grand, and men are giants too–
But Christian Knowledge wilts, alas, at Tangmalangaloo.

The bishop summed the youngsters up, as bishops only can;
He cast a searching glance around, then fixed upon his man.
But glum and dumb and undismayed through every bout he sat;
He seemed to think that he was there, but wasn’t sure of that.
The bishop gave a scornful look, as bishops sometimes do,
And glared right through the pagan in from Tangmalangaloo.

“Come, tell me, boy,” his lordship said in crushing tones severe,
“Come, tell me why is Christmas Day the greatest of the year?
“How is it that around the world we celebrate that day
“And send a name upon a card to those who’re far away?
“Why is it wandering ones return with smiles and greetings, too?”
A squall of knowledge hit the lad from Tangmalangaloo.

He gave a lurch which set a-shake the vases on the shelf,
He knocked the benches all askew, up-ending of himself.
And oh, how pleased his lordship was, and how he smiled to say,
“That’s good, my boy. Come tell me now; and what is Christmas Day?”
The ready answer bared a fact no bishop ever knew–
“It’s the day before the races at Tangmalangaloo.”

bush-race

Christmas Spirit

GodGun

 

I hung up all the outside lights today.  That Christmas feeling is building.  Ah the commerce of it all!

 

 

Goodwill To Men – Give Us Your Money; by Pam Ayres

It was Christmas Eve on a Friday
The shops was full of cheer,
With tinsel in the windows,
And presents twice as dear.
A thousand Father Christmases,
Sat in their little huts,
And folk was buying crackers
And folk was buying nuts.

All up and down the country,
Before the light was snuffed,
Turkeys they get murdered,
And cockerels they got stuffed,
Christmas cakes got marzipanned,
And puddin’s they got steamed
Mothers they got desperate
And tired kiddies screamed.

Hundredweight’s of Christmas cards,
Went flying through the post,
With first class postage stamps on those,
You had to flatter most.
Within a million kitchens,
Mince pies was being made,
On everyone’s radio,
“White Christmas”, it was played.

Out in the frozen countryside
Men crept round on their own,
Hacking off the holly,
What other folks had grown,
Mistletoe on willow trees,
Was by a man wrenched clear,
So he could kiss his neighbour’s wife,
He’d fancied all the year.

And out upon the hillside,
Where the Christmas trees had stood,
All was completely barren,
But for little stumps of wood,
The little trees that flourished
All the year were there no more,
But in a million houses,
Dropped their needles on the floor.

And out of every cranny, cupboard,
Hiding place and nook,
Little bikes and kiddies’ trikes,
Were secretively took,
Yards of wrapping paper,
Was rustled round about,
And bikes were wheeled to bedrooms,
With the pedals sticking out.

Rolled up in Christmas paper
The Action Men were tensed,
All ready for the morning,
When their fighting life commenced,
With tommy guns and daggers,
All clustered round about,
“Peace on Earth – Goodwill to Men”
The figures seemed to shout.

The church was standing empty,
The pub was standing packed,
There came a yell, “Noel, Noel!”
And glasses they got cracked.
From up above the fireplace,
Christmas cards began to fall,
And trodden on the floor, said:
“Merry Christmas, to you all.”

 

Saturnalibus, optimo dierum!

Saturnalia

December 17th is the Roman feast of Saturn, the Saturnalia.  Over the years it expanded to become an entire week of festivities.

During Saturnalia all the conventions of Rome were thrown aside.  It was the Roman Version of the Dionysian Mysteries.  But the Roman festival seems to have been far earthier, and a lot more fun.

Masters became the servants.  Women acted like men.  Rules around what you could eat or drink or how to behave were thrown away.  Chaos and fun were the order of the day.

From Saturnalia we get one of our most enduring Christmas traditions, the Pantomime.  The male hero is played by a woman.  Dames are played by men.  Farce and comedy are feted in place of po-faced theatre.  There are no seats for litterati at the panto.  It is owned by children, small ones and big ones.

It is a tried and true formula.  The good guys always triumph, the guy gets the girl and there are no nasty surprises.  “He’s behind you!”

Audience participation is de-rigeur.

Oh no, it isn’t…..

 

The Pantomime – A Humorous Poem -by Blackangelwings

I’ll boo if I want to
I’ll jump up and down
I’ll hiss at the Stepmother
And laugh at her crown.

I’ll be the first to scream
When a cow is sold for beans
I’ll tremble at the Giant’s voice
When Jack escapes, I will rejoice.

I’ll scramble for sweets
That Seven Dwarfs throw
I won’t push over children
It’s rather naughty I know.

As children to the woods are banished
My inhibitions tend to vanish
As a glass slipper is forced on willing toes
I’ll shout ‘She’s behind you’ wherever the Evil Dame goes.

I won’t give a care
When adults turn to stare
I’ll laugh at the old gags, they’re always the same
I’ll be jolly and excited, so very glad I came.

Maybe I’ll stay in my seat
If the interval provides a fluorescent treat
A glowing wand this year
As previous swords made me reckless, I fear.

I won’t whistle at the Principle Boy
You told me Santa would take back a toy
I’ll cheer as a Prince so brave
Breaks the curse of a glass coffin grave.

When Witches appear I’ll roar out a boo
I promise not to swear or turn the air blue
As Ugly Sisters pull up their chests
I’ll just giggle and won’t be a pest.

I’ll journey on a carpet somewhere nice
I won’t heckle the Genie or give my advice
I may weep a bucket full of tears
As into Snow White’s mouth a poisoned apple disappears.

This Pantomime time
I won’t commit the crime
Of running down the aisle
Two steps at a time.

I won’t even jump on the stage this year
I’ve heard of Health and Safety fears
I must admit though, I’ll miss all the attention
It’s far more fun than collecting my pension!