"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Twelfth Night

The great unintended irony of Shakespeare's comedy is that Malvolio is a Puritan and a prig and the butt of the jokes of the comic characters in the play.  Shakespeare is absolutely merciless towards him.  Why is that ironic?  Well, because it was the Puritans that nearly killed Christmas for us, and left it to our mercantilism (another vestige of Yankee Puritanism) to recover, not with the generosity of spirit exemplified by the reformed Scrooge (Dickens "invented Christmas"?  Then why are there no Christmas trees in "A Christmas Carol," no Santa Claus, no exchange of presents or even expectation of presents in the Cratchit house?  Bob doesn't even apologize for have nothing to give the children; all they expect is a meal and the family together for at least one day.) but with the retail heart of "A Night Before Christmas" where the peddler opens his pack to leave delights for the sleeping children.  As I have mentioned before, modern American Christmas celebrations have nothing to do with the traditions of the holiday, which used to focus solely on giving to others and sharing abundance and putting on a feast for friends (Scrooge's nephew keeps that alive, and it occurred earlier in Dickens in The Pickwick Papers.  None of the Christmas stories Dickens wrote have anything to do with Santa Claus and shopping.)  It was always more like this:

Or this:

Or Good King Wenceslas looking out on the feast of St. Stephen (Dec. 26; a day preserved in Catholic Ireland, but known as "Boxing Day," or the servants one official day off a year, in Protestant England); or the origin story of St. Nicholas, throwing bags of gold in a window so a poor father can provide a dowry for his three daughters.  We never let that take root in this country.  We only let the German paradeisbaum in because of Victorian England, and we made gift giving all about giving to our dependents, not to peers, and Christmas so much an affair of the family that when it falls on a Sunday the mega-churches that catch everyone's religious attention, close to allow family to be put before God, as it was meant to be.

Oh, don't get me started!

It was the Puritans who killed Christmas in this country, outlawing it for as long as they could (it actually survived better in the Anglican South until the spiritual heirs of the Puritans, the Southern Baptists, rose to cultural prominence and hegemony.  Some of my best friends are Southern Baptists, but let's be honest here.).   We lost even the idea of Twelfth Night, and reduced the 12 Days of Christmas to an annoying song nobody likes but everyone has to hear at least once a year.  Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, was the bookend celebration to the Christmas Day feast, and like Christmas before trees and chimneys and Father Christmas, was a time of games and play and pleasure and festivity.

Yeah, we lost all of that.  Our festivities happen frantically in early December, and by the 25th we're exhausted and anticipating only the cleaning up of wrapping paper and dishes.  Which is why I repeat Auden every year about this time:

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."
They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

May it be unto you according to your faith.


Blogger The Thought Criminal said...

If Victoria had married a Russian maybe we'd be celebrating on the 6th.

12:53 PM  

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