Spoiler: (Yule be miffed unless your surname’s Scrooge) In my defense, this was written while reading and drinking stuff like Gin Eyre with olives, a rum of one’s own, Pink Iguanas, Brandy blizzards of Oz egg nog, and One Flew Over the Cosmos Nest…
Virtual Jo exists in an imagined metaverse (yet to be simulated/assimilated?). Real Jo lives in a world that adulates and exploits the holidays, aka Solstice, Christmas, Festivus…. Real Jo celebrates Solstice, and enjoys a curated collection of holiday movies and mega-brandied eggnog 365+ days of the year. She also likes bright, shiny things; packages tied with silk bows (not string); sappy and hilarious holiday lyrics; the heady scents of balsam and pine, and food extravaganzas. She’s made/eaten her fair share of gingerbread houses/men. Don’t ask her to go caroling—her voice is why earmuffs were invented and people inbibe.
Those of us firmly in the Scrooge camp (plus Jehovah Witnesses & folks with other cultural traditions) suffer through this time of year. Revelers and believers don’t seem to care. As Tom Lehrer intoned, ‘it’s here by golly; disapproval would be folly…this holiday you can’t get sore—fellow humans you must adore. Sky gazing on dark, silent nights in December leaves me disappointed. I’ve never seen red nosed reindeer on reconnoiter (but do watch out for falling reindeer poop). Bells on my bobtail have never rung. Alas, Christmas as most know it, is a glam sham. When Bing sang ‘what a pleasant place the world be if we had that holiday feeling all year,’ he hit on one of my femur sized bones of contention. Why don’t folks have the feeling much past 12/25? Even Dickens’ Scrooge promised to ‘honor Christmas in my heart,’ and keep it all the year.
My other beanstalk giant sized toothpick bone is about plagiarism—so many pagan and cultural traditions have been kidnapped and repurposed to build this faux excuse for a poignant, practical celebration. Point this fact out and someone might plunge a ‘stake of holly’ through your heart. But just as a mother’s soothing toned lullaby was originally a warning about menacing fears, breaking boughs, and tumbling babies—yearend holidays lore is scary as well. The occasion is part carnival, part fantasy and wish fulfillment, part nostalgia, and part nonsense. Buying into Christmas myths is another way to divide people. You must comply, recite the rhetoric, repeat the lies.
Year end festivals and theories about their purpose have existed for thousands of years. The Babylonian’s had gift giving rituals. Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a Vegas choreographed week long fête to honor an old god, a secure harvest, motherhood, and hard work. It’s a bit like Mardi Gras on steroids plus Ecstasy, half an LSD soaked sugar cube, and buckets of rich, red sacrificial blood. It was also called Festival of the Larvae, honoring those who died a violent death. Imagine an event of heightened solidarity combined with aggressive antagonism (picture a San Fran hippies & Norse Berserkers meet up). A king is crowned and treated royally, then sacrificed. It’s followed by the final feast of Ops.
Luciadagen, Lucia’s Day, celebrated December 13 in Sweden, honors Saint Lucia of Sicily (no one knows why Swedish folks honor an Italian woman). On this day, the eldest girl in the family wears a white robe tied with a red sash, and dons a crown of greenery with lighted candles. She brings coffee and saffron buns to grownups. Boys wear pointy hats and gifts are distributed. This tradition might be for me—never fond of decorating a dead pine tree.
In medieval times, families gathered in groups and went door to door singing and well-wishing in return for refreshment. They also repeated gruesome, deathly reminders …’the time will come when you’ll be dead, and neither want for meal nor bread’ (18thc Scots ballad riff). Until the 20thc, ghosts were about from Hallow’s eve to solstice. Many thought it was the dead that delivered gifts, and in Europe Reveillon was a meal offered to the dead. Dickens got it right when he called Christmas ‘a time of potent ghosts.’
I’m a tree hugger, not a chop it down mugger, a rebel without a Claus; I never get Santa-mental. Santa, aka Mr. Kringle, St. Nick, Le Pere Noel…is a somewhat vengeful (ya better watch out), somewhat jolly, overweight incarnate deity of winter, a bit like the Irish Cailleach, the hag of winter. Children (and a surprising number of adults) pay him worshipful homage after undergoing a curious initiation ritual.
Andy Rooney (60 Minutes curmudgeon) reminded us, via No Virginia, There is no Santa of the many flaws in the editor’s 1897 response to eight year old Virginia’s letter, including calling minds that didn’t believe in Claus small. The sentimental editor meant well; he’d been initiated into the Santa cult as a child. As an adult, he still gave the secret eye blink on cue. Rooney said ‘the sooner you give up the idea you can get something for nothing and learn to make it on your own, the better off … it might even prevent you from buying 10M to 1 lottery tickets…’
I was never indoctrinated, though my parents tried, even punished me for refusing to lie. At age three, I spied presents and toys on a closet shelf. They said the gifts were for someone else. They weren’t. After much cajoling, my granny told me the truth and shared stories about pagan celebrations and traditions. I share Rooney’s observation that false hopes and child-life faith is a detriment. Even dimpled Shirley Temple said she stopped believing in Santa when she was six. Her mother took her to a department store and Santa asked for her autograph and told her she could afford to buy her own presents.
Early on, realism and fact checking became items on my TO DO list. Garlands adorning doors and windows used to represent the wheel of life—eternal cycles of Goddesses and sacred snakes. Lights bestow a reminder and give energy to the Sun to encourage its return. Glass balls (precursor of breakable ornaments) deflected evil vibes, protecting against the evil eye and magnifying the glow of tree lights. Red & white candy canes are symbolic of the maypole, and the life blood and the milk of the Goddess. Tinsel and icicles represent water needed to fertilize earth. Bells repelled evil and helped purify the air. Some folks also thought tinkling bells summoned friendly sprites and spirits. Pentagram stars top trees and serve as a reminder of the five elements. Holly and ivy represented male/female dichotomy and fertility. Mistletoe, the golden bough, allegedly a gift from ancient deities, granted good luck, health, and reconciliation. And before there was Donner, Comet, and Rudolph, there was Herne’s Wild Hunt.
If you read enough lore, you may begin to feel good about avoiding the holidays. I know, never sleigh never, still…How about the purses and pockets this holiday empties, the requirement to sharpen your sweet tooth and expand the waistline, offer up time you often don’t have to spare, and sacrifice things (elegantly portrayed via O’Henry’s story Gift of the Magi) dear to you?
Travel to Iceland & you might receive a visit from the Meat Hooker Door Slammer, or Spoon Licker. Meat Hooker inserts a hook down the chimney and tries to make off with the holiday roast. Perhaps that’s where Seusses’ Grinch got his idea. He’s one of 13 ‘Christmas Ghouls’ descended from an Icelandic character named Gryla the Ogre. Jólaköttur, a giant yule cat, absconds with anyone who doesn’t receive or wear new clothes during the holidays. Retail therapy anyone? From December 12-24, these mischief-making fellows visit homes of good Icelandic children and leave presents, or get… That reminds me of Krampus, son of Hel, a horned and razor clawed Bavarian demon that figured in pagan celebrations. Prepare to be beaten with branches (or worse) if you misbehaved. In Italy, Befana, a witch on a broomstick, delivers toys to well behaved tots on January 6th. On that same day in Mexico, three bejeweled kings deliver presents.
Reread Dickens A Christmas Carol to be reminded of themes of greed, disability, giving, sharing, and conspicuous consumption. If that’s not enough to cure one of holiday sentimentality, the donning of ugly sweaters, imbibing blazingly hot brandy plum pudding (meat fruitcake), or singing a stanza of Bob River’s The Twelve Pains of Christmas or Wreck the Halls should do it. No? Perhaps you still want to thank Clement C. Moore and illustrator Thomas Nast for creating a jolly, rotund, pipe smoking version of Santa. Be aware that only sugar plums, not toys danced in his children’s head and there was no tree, just old socks hanging from the mantle. Christmas didn’t become a holiday in America until 1890. Rhymster Ogden Nash captures the wishes of many when he wrote: ‘Time; you old ghoul, make me a child again for just one Yule. Reverse (please) the flow of the river, make me (just this year) a receiver, not a giver.’
Wait, there’s myrrh…Isn’t the gender splicing regarding what gifts are for girls, boys, and other folks annoying? My daughter adored mini cars and built roadways from paper scraps and knickknacks (she married a civil engineer—a roadbuilding expert). My brother and I cooked treats in an easy bake oven, then examined crumbs and bugs with his chemistry set (one of my ex’s was a Chemist). Then there’s the less than truthful, I want everything letters to Santa by kids with no concept of costs, logistics, or practicality. When I’ve wanted something badly—a trip abroad, more books, a place of my own, I’ve found a way to earn it. I’m never disappointed and always know what size, color, and shape to buy. It’s difficult to explain the illogicalness of Santa’s omnipresent and omnificent abilities. Ask anyone in retail how much they like the Merry Cursemis holidays.
There’s a logical explanation how we’ve birthed this manufactured festive failure of a season with its own soundtrack, logos, color scheme…18th century industrial productivity had developed to the point where it needed mass consumption, ergo the commercialism of Christmas, aided by Victorian sentiment and a burgeoning rise of media and advertising. With apologies to Seuss & Dickens it comes from a store, a can, in a box; it arrives in the Bahamas & planet Zox—spreads like skittle pox; it appears in what was once Siam—plays carols and calypso jams. Neither Scrooge nor the Grinch stops it from coming—it’s the bills and past due notices that silence holiday hummings.
I no longer pretend to participate wholeheartedly in holiday hijinks. I do honor the last celebration linking us to natural cycles and seasons, and pause, for this and other events on the wheel—to rekindle our divine spark and pull the thread through. As the dimpled posterior of a new year twerks its way past me, and bubbles rise in my glass, I snatch snippets of 2021, what it brought, what it did not…I wish to all a good night, good season, and a grand new year. Herne reminds life is a hunt—for meaning and sustenance. I see it more as a scavenger hunt . . .
A new decade’s personality evolves—will it roar or will it bore?
We finished another year of death and gore, moments of bliss, seconds adored
Is what hurts us makes us strong? Or makes us weak for ignoring wrongs?
Life whirls faster and we abbreviate—LMAO (laughing my ass off), WGW (world’s going to waste).
Virus I won’t name stuck around—as did DT X presidential clown
Coup d’etat in Myanmar, a landing on Mars, and Suez ships got stuck on a sandbar…
Capitol insurrection propelled by electoral fiction caused much friction
Eco alarm—Japan dumps radioactive stuff—teens like Greta cry ‘enough.’
In Belarus, journalist wrongly detained; in Mali PM distained
A Prince dies in England; Afghanistan falls, as does Pres of Haiti, 1000s more fall into earth hole gnaw
Some movies rhymed, others underwhelmed; there was a redux of Dune and pre-Rent tick, tick, BOOM;
A late release of No Time to Die and good reviews for the Green Knight guy
Chappelle told it like he saw it; Hudson starred in RESPECT and got it.
So what may we conclude from this year on the move—a year that proved it could
Stultify and sooth, a year that percolated and stewed—and at least for me—failed to amuse.
One thing’s for sure, at end year festivus I’m drinking buckets of bubbly and booze
Wishing 2021 on its way with haste and speed—anticipating it being rear view mirror free.
Perhaps, like Epictetus said, it’s not about what happened, more about what we did
So on that note, and in that vein, I pull the thread that ushers in a year—and wish it lends
A bit more thoughtfulness to your life, a soupcon of solace; more leisure time, given or stolen…
Like magpie birds, be easily bedazzled and seldom frazzled, steal moments to ponder
And whether you stay at home or far wander…
Consider linking arms and raising a Whovillian chorus—for all we’ve got going for us
2022 is trending now. Where will it take us? How will it wow?
So glad another human disdains Xmas as much as I do. It’s the artifice that troubles me, and – as you so acutely highlighted – this notion that we must emanate ‘Christmas spirit’ and then discard it with the old tinsel and wrappers. Commercialism is for sure the wellspring of all this nonsense. I said to somebody the other day that I would prefer to build a big bonfire against the darkness on December 21 and then all and sundry could get plastered on finest single malts or other spirits to taost the solstice. And then quietly and joyously observe the lengthening days across the following weeks without breaking the bank or feeling irrepressible contempt.
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Taost being toast…although taost sounds temptingly Buddhist
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I just hope 2022 takes us somewhere, I’m not up for kneeling before Omicorn! There’s a genuine fear that all this may be swept away if the vaccines stop working…but that’s for another day! The origins of Chrimbo, as we call it in the UK, are every bit as peacemeal; I do love all the sinister Eastern European Santas that put the fear into kids! And Christmas as we know if, is a fairly recent invention; one of my cinematic highlights of 2021 was the Green Knight’s big festive blow-out at the start of that film. Let’s embrace the anachornisms within, and make the best of the time we have. I wasn’t a fan of the Bond film, but the final quote was well chosen. ‘The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” Jack London. Let’s say what we mean, and mean what we say when we wish each other health and prosperity in the year to come.
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…and since there’s no space to comment elsewhere, it’s nice to see Jack the Ripper rear his head in your story once again. Visions may well help our survival attempts, and the struggle goes on….incidentally, I heards the ‘how’d you like these apples’ phrase in Altman’s MASH, and traced it back to WWI, there’s nothing new under the sun…
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Great to hear from you; I agree those sinister Santa’s are a hoot! I’d like 2022 to take me, as Darren sings, ‘somewhere beyond the sea…’ miss ship cruising though I’ve visited all the places I wanted to… 2022 should have less disfunction, more gumption; climate calming and no more friends needing embalming; races in space and a bit of 1922 Joie de vie… keep writing critical masterpieces; u have an abundance of cinema passion and love of craft. It’s a real pleasure to read your takes…cheers, Jo
Here, here, delighted what we think matches…and we both like fine single malts straight up in glasses!
Happy Solstice, may 2022 spin and land on an abundance of joy for you and your family
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