Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy Eighth Day of Christmas!!!

Aside from being New Year's Day, January 1st is, of course, the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Feast of the Circumcision, and the Octave of Christmas, its eighth day.

Fourth Day of the Epiphany Novena

Fourth Day January 1st

O holy Magi, who when deserted by the starin the city of Jerusalem, sought humbly, and without human respect, from the rulers of the Church, the place where you might discover the object of your journey, obtain for us the grace to have recourse, in faith and humility, in all our doubts and perplexities to the counsel of our superiors, who hold the place of God on earth.
Glory Be.

New Year's Nonsense

Here are some superstitions of the New Year. This includes a brief discussion of First Footing.

By the way, since the lucky first footer must have dark hair, and I do, my services can be purchased rather cheaply. Just have the champers ready.

A New Year's custom in England is wassailing the apple trees, so that they will be fruitful in the new year (though sometimes this happens at Epiphany).

Here is a song traditionally sung while wassailing the trees:
" Here's to thee, old Apple tree !
Whence thou mayst bud, and whence thou mayst blow,
And whence thou mayst bear Apples enow!
Hats full! caps full,Bushel — Bushel — sacks full,
And my pockets full too."

And then, of course, there is Christmas/New Year's mumming.

Mumming plays typically revolved around death and rebirth (like the seasons) and involved a Saint George, a Devil, a Dragon, a Princess, a Doctor, and other stock characters. G.K. Chesterton wrote a mummer's play, and I'm looking for the text on line, as I don't want to re-type it.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Plenary Indulgence Today

I almost forgot to mention the plenary indulgence (under the usual conditions: state of grace, Communion and Confession, and prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father) for public recitation of the Te Deum today, the last day of the year.

Make it a part of your New Year's Eve, and end the old year right.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

Chorus.-For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint stowp!
And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll tak a cup o'kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

For auld, &c.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd mony a weary fit,
Sin' auld lang syne.

For auld, &c.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin' auld lang syne.

For auld, &c.

And there's a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

For auld, &c.

It Wasn't Much of a Bowl

But at least BC won, though their injury-prone quarterback was injured again in the process, this time with a broken leg.

A Fifteenth Anniversary

Fifteen years ago today, my father died suddenly while chipping ice from an elderly neighbor's porch. It was the sort of thing he shouldn't have been doing since he had a heart condition for the previous 17 years (and that I am determined to avoid if humanly possible) but stubborness runs in the family.

He had just been to 9:30 Mass with my mother, stopped the car on the way back because he was light-headed, and told Mom, "I don't think I'm going to be around much in the new year." A half hour later, he was dead.

Since then, I haven't had much interest in partying on New Year's Eve, opting instead for quiet, private, at-home celebrations. I still miss my dad, and don't feel much like partying on the anniversary of his death.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Happy Seventh Day of Christmas!!!

Today's image is from a holy card.

Third Day of the Epiphany Novena

Third Day December 31st

O holy Magi, who regarded neither the severity of the season, nor the inconveniences of the journey, that you might find the new-born Messiah; obtain for us the grace not to allow ourselves to be discouraged by any of the difficulties which may meet us in the way of salvation.
Glory Be...

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Another Year, Another Hundred Or So Books

GTF's Books Read In 2004
There is some carry-over from 2003 because of my habit of annual re-reading of some books, especially "seasonal" books. They are in no particular order, not even the order I read them in: just the order I remembered them in. The 2003 list is here.

My current reading is the compendium of Flannery O'Connor's spiritual writings.

Ellis Peters
The Hermit of Eyton Forest
The Heretic's Apprentice
Brother Cadfael's Advent
The Holy Thief
The Summer of the Danes
Brother Cadfael's Penance

Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Havoc
Sharpe's Escape

Dudley Pope
The Black Ship
Ramage: Drumbeat

Patrick O'Brian
Thomas Merton, OCSO
Praying the Psalms
Some Sayings of the Desert Fathers
The Waters of Siloe

Bruce Alexander
Murder In Grub Street
Peter Mayle
A Good Year
Stephen Ambrose
Band of Brothers
James Charles Roy
Islands of Storm
Thomas Cahill
How the Irish Saved Civilization
Kevin D. Danaher
The Year In Ireland
Frank Bianco
Voices of Silence: Lives of the Trappists Today
Father Thomas Keating, OCSO
The Better Part
Journey To The Center

Father M. Basil Pennington, OCSO
Praying By Hand
The Monastic Way

Michael Downey
Trappist Living In the Land of Desire
Jim McManus C.S.S.R.
All Generations Will Call Me Blessed
Bl. Anna Catherine Emmerich
The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Ian Wilson
The Shroud of Turin
Kathleen Norris
Meditations On Mary
Scott Hahn
The Lamb's Supper
George Weigel
The Courage To Be Catholic
Letters To A Young Catholic

Father Alfred O'Rehilly
The Crucified
Father Ralph Gorman
The Last Hours of Jesus
Helen Waddell
The Desert Fathers
Lt. John Barker
The British In Boston
Lt. Frederick Mackenzie
A British Fusileer In Revolutionary Boston
Ens. Jeremy Lister
Concord Fight
David Hackett Fisher
Paul Revere's Ride
Evelyn Waugh
Brideshead Revisited
St. John of the Cross
The Dark Night of the Soul
St. Francis De Sales
An Introduction To the Devout Life
St. Thomas a Kempis
The Imitation of Christ
Consolations For My Soul

Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-LaTourette
Twelve Months of Monastery Soups
Roger S. Wieck
Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours In Medieval Art and Life
The Hours of Henry VIII

Janet Backhouse
Books of Hours
The Lindisfarne Gospels

Millard Meiss (ed)
Les Tres Riches Heures: The Medieval Seasons
Webster Smith (ed)
The Farnese Hours
The Redemptorists
The Essential Catholic Prayer Book
Ann Ball
The Catholic Book of the Dead
Robert Ellsberg (ed)
Flannery O'Connor: Spiritual Writings
G.K. Chesterton
The Thing
Anthony F. Chiffolo (ed)
At Prayer With the Saints
Father John A. O'Brien
The Catholic Way of Life
Elizabeth McNulty
Boston Then and Now
Raymond Jonas
France and the Cult of the Sacred Heart
St. Thomas More
The Prayerbook of St. Thomas More
Frederick Wheelock
Wheelock's Latin Grammar & Workbook
Ambrose St. John (ed)
The Raccolta (10th ed)
Peter Kreeft
Fundementals of Faith
George Forty
The M4 Sherman
German Tanks of World War II

Stephen E. Maughn
The Napoleonic Soldier
Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott (eds)
The New Oxford Book of Carols
Maria Robbins and Jim Charlton
A Christmas Companion
Nancy Skarmeas (ed)
Traditions of Christmas
Alice Taylor
An Irish Country Christmas
Karen Cure
An Old Fashioned Christmas
G. K.Chesterton
The Spirit of Christmas
Peter Haining (ed)
Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories
John Canning (ed)
50 Great Ghost Stories
Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol
Dylan Thomas
A Child's Christmas In Wales
Washington Irving
The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Esq.
Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales
Dorothy Hartley
Lost Country Life
David Lyon
Sea Battles In Close-Up: The Age of Nelson
Alain Erlande-Brandenburg
Notre Dames de Paris
Stephen Murray
Beauvais Cathedral: Architecture of Transcendence
Victor Davis Hanson
Carnage and Culture
Bonfire of the Humanities
Between War and Peace: Lessons From Afghanistan To Iraq
Dinesh D'Souza
Letters To A Young Conservative
Elizabeth C. Teviotdale
The Stammheim Missal
Ann Coulter
How To Talk To A Liberal If You Absolutely Must

Mick Hales
Monastic Gardens
Robert Carrier
The Feasts of Provence
Jane Griggson
Jane Griggson's British Cookery
Michael Barry
Michael Barry's Old English Recipes
Odile Redon, etc...
The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes From France & Italy
Claire Joyes
Monet's Table
Michael Green
German Tanks of World War II In Color
Phillip Haythornthwaite
Napoleonic Infantry
Rosie Tinne
Irish Countryhouse Cooking
Heinz Guderian
Achtung Panzer!
Samuel Pepys
Diary 1664 & 1665
Cleveland Amory
The Proper Bostonians
Father Marc Oraison
Love, Sin, and Suffering
Father David Steindl-Rast, OSB
A Listening Heart: The Art of Contemplative Living
M.R. James
A Warning To the Curious

Second Day of the Epiphany Novena

Second Day December 30th

O holy Magi, who at the first appearance of the wondrous star left your native country to go and seek the newborn king of the Jews, obtain for us the grace of corresponding with alacrity to every divine inspiration.
Glory Be...

Happy Sixth Day of Christmas!!!

Today's image is Adoration of the Child by Correggio

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

When I Saw the Headline, I Knew It Was Ramsey Clark

Something told me Ed Meese or Dick Thornburgh or John Ashcroft would not be volunteering to help defend Saddam.

And, really, what other former Attorney General is so reflexively anti-American that he would even consider something like this?

Requiescat In Pace

Law and Order's Jerry Orbach died last night of prostate cancer at 69. Back in the days when my mother was still alive, and had not yet gone into a nursing home with her dementia, at least an hour a day of Law and Order was on tap. That was before I gave up network programming in 1998. I don't know much about Orbach's life or other work beyond Law and Order, but may he rest in peace.

Curious how mortality has a way of creeping up on us, despite our best efforts to delay it. The other noteworthy death this week was Susan Sontag at 71. Some years ago, I was incredulous to learn that Malcom Forbes had died at age 69.

Now my father was a poor man with good health coverage, but only went to the doctor when it was a matter of life or death. He died at age 69 as well. I was always amazed that someone who could afford the very best health care, like Malcolm Forbes, should peg out at the same age as my Dad did.

It just goes to show that all the money in the world, following the latest health care trends, eating everything you should and shunning what should be shunned will not necessarily buy you another moment of life. God decides when we are to die. There is nothing we can do to alter that assigned span.

The Death Toll In the Asian Tsunami Grows

It is over 67,000 now, and counting. There is speculation that disease engendered by the flooding conditions could double the death toll.

Pray for all of the poor people who where caught in this disaster.

Update: Reports indicate that the death toll now is over 100,000 and may grow much higher (and we are still just talking about those killed outright). God help these poor people.

First Day of the Epiphany Novena

O holy Magi, you were living in continual expectation of the rising of the Star of Jacob, which would announce the birth of the true Sun of justice, obtain for us an increase of faith and charity, and the grace to live in continual hope of beholding one day the light of heavenly glory and eternal joy.
Glory Be...

Happy Fifth Day of Christmas!!!

Can you believe that 2004 is almost over.

Maybe later today I'll post my annual books read list.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

What To Do With Leftover Cookies?

Give some away, including some to shelters and food pantries, as well as friends, relatives, and neighbors. Then, break out the milk (or dairy eggnog) and start mowing, of course.

Now that is what I call a real Christmas cookie baker!

Light Blogging Today

A stomach virus has been dominating my life since yesterday, and making things very unpleasant. So no leftover cookies for me for a couple of days.

Hopefully, this, too, will pass.

The Holy Innocents

The Coventry Carol
1. Lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lullay, Thou little tiny Child.
By, by, lully, lullay.

2. O sisters, too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day;
This poor Youngling for whom we sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

3. Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay.

4. Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For Thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Happy Fourth Day of Christmas!!!

The Epiphany Novena begins tomorrow.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Sounds Like A Great Young Priest

Who really tried, but fell victim to his own fears.

God rest him.

Why TPOTC Is Worthy of An Oscar Nomination

Patrick Hynes blasts away Hollywood's excuses.

And Now...

With Advent over, the Advent Novena ended as well.

I must confess that this has left my private devotions at something of a loss. It feels funny, after 25 days of reciting that novena, to not be doing it any longer.

But there is an Epiphany Novena, which starts December 29th, to end on traditional Epiphany: January 6th. So, in two more days...

Happy Third Day of Christmas!

Plenty of time to celebrate the Messiah's birth.

Past Ten O'Clock, And All's Well

Boston came through the mini-snowstorm with about 4-5 inches, though because the storm struck on a holiday weekend digging out has been very slow. Brewster, down on the Cape, got 18 inches.

The Patriots handily beat the Jets on their home turf, securing the second-best record in the league for the playoffs.

The Red Sox now are facing a New York Yankees team with Carl Pavano and Randy Johnson in the rotation, and doing so with a 42-year old David Wells, but without Pedro. Spring training is 7 weeks away.

Saint John the Evangelist

Today is the feast of Saint John, perhaps the author of the fourth Gospel and the Book of Revelation, and the apostle, "whom Jesus loved," if they are all the same person (and there is debate on that point).

What we know about John comes mostly from the Gospels. He was a fisherman by trade. He was the brother of James the Greater, son of Zebedee and Salome. He may have been the youngest of the apostles.

John's name comes up frequently in the Gospel, much more so than that of some other apostles. He was a disciple of John the Baptist, who was told by John to follow Jesus. John was leaning on Christ's shoulder during the Last Supper. It was to him that Jesus entrusted the care of the Blessed Mother. He raced to the empty tomb with Peter on Easter morning. He was the first to recognize the risen Lord on the shore of Lake Tiberias.

But he was also, along with James, the one who asked to be seated at the Lord's right hand in Heaven, much to the consternation of the other apostles. He reported that another man was seen casting out demons in Christ's name, though not part of the apostolic college or even, apparently, a disciple, and that they had ordered him not to do so. He earned a rebuke on that occasion.

John and Peter were imprisoned together, and later went to Samaria to preach together. He may have spent time in exile on Patmos. He was reportedly bishop of Ephesus at the turn of the second century and died an old man.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

While We Have Been Worrying Over A Little Snow Here In Boston

Folks along the Ring of Fire have had more to worry about.

The biggest earthquake on earth in 40 years has hit Asia, an 8.9. Many reported casualties, many missing, many injured. Check with Matt Drudge for all the details.

Pray for everyone on those plates around the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Boston Did Not Have A White Christmas Day

But we are having a white St. Stephen's Day.

It has been snowing here lightly all day, and will snow tonight more heavily, with a total accumulation of 4-8 inches.

Looks like Winter checked the calendar and put in its appearance on time.

We have 2+ months of winter weather, with all the pleasures that brings, like the winter cold I've been struggling with these last few weeks (and that really wants to get into my lungs and turn into pneumonia).

Oh to be in Florida starting after Epiphany!

The Twelve Days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Four colley birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Five golden rings.
Four colley birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings.
Four colley birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings.
Four colley birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the eighth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings.
Four colley birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings.
Four colley birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Ten drummers drumming,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings.
Four colley birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Eleven lords a'leaping,
Ten drummers drumming,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings.
Four colley birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Twelve pipers piping,
Eleven lords a'leaping,
Ten drummers drumming,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings.
Four colley birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle-doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

This carol was allegedly a secretly coded 17th century English Catholic catechism in song, though what the proper sequence is after 8 is hotly debated, as is what each of the symbolic items in the list represents.

But this is not debated, I think: Frank Kelly's Christmas Countdown is a real hoot. It has it all over Bob Rivers and Doctor Demento.

More Thoughts On Making Christmas Last

I don't know about you, but I find it depressing when the Christmas music stops and folks start tossing the Christmas trees on the curb on December 26th. Agreed, some of these people are about to take off for Florida for the rest of the winter, and so have to get rid of the tree before they do. But we as Catholics ought to make more of the Twelve Days, and make our joy at the Nativity and the related events of the very early life of the Lord last through Epiphany, at least.

Here are some practical suggestions for keeping the spirit of Christmas active in your home throughout the season.

Make every evening meal during the Christmas period special, even if it is leftovers. The leftovers from Christmas Dinner can be served in some style, and with a little more than the ordinary degree of pomp. Continue to use the Christmas china, if you have a set (pick a pattern with holly and ivy and red bows, rather than a Santa Claus pattern, which is useless on December 26th). Christmas foods are special foods, and there is always more than can be consumed in a single meal. Turkey, ham, roast beef, pork roast (whatever you have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) can be refrigerated or frozen, and served again during the festival. Mince pie, plum pudding, and fruitcake keep well. Eggnog will keep for up to a week.

More red wine than you needed for dinner?Mull the leftovers and drink it over the days of Christmas. Christmas punch can last much longer. Plan more special meals for the special days: Christmas Eve and Day, St. Stephen's Day, St. John's Day, the Holy s, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, Twelfth Night, and Epiphany.

Stay home on the more important evenings of Christmas and make the days family time. Reigning in the teenagers can be hard. But if you give them a reason, they might stay home and invite their friends. Play games. There are plenty of board and card games that are great fun, depending on the size of the family. Phase Ten and Uno are great games for small groups. Then there are parlor games, like "Yes and No" and the "Minister's Cat," which are great for small children or tolerant s. Charades, Musical Chairs, and many other pastimes can make the evening fun.

If you must watch something, try comedies. The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan is a lot of fun, and a version with Eric Idle is out on VHS and DVD.

Get the family out to something like a magic show, or a family-friendly farce on at least one of the nights of Christmas. Maybe a local company is doing a production of The Tempest or Twelfth Night, or A Man For All Seasons.

This year, there is precious little for good movies, nothing that appeals to me at all this Christmas.

Light candles every night during Christmas. The Advent Wreath can be tucked away, but other candles help to give the house a homey feeling. What are really great are the scented candles in jars. Sometimes, the most expensive brand does not give the best scent. Shop around.

Use Christmas potpourri in the house throughout the holidays. Even if it is just cinnamon sticks and whole cloves in water simmering on the stove, such scents can really make the house feel like the holidays. Then there are the bags of potpourri to be left in bowls about the house. Some of these are really nice, some less so. Generally, you get what you pay for. I bought some at the Williamsburg shop in Salem two years ago for $12, and it was terrific, much better than what you pay $5 for at Christmas Tree Shops.

Attend Mass frequently during Christmas. If the kids are home, troop them along for daily Mass if you can. Even if you can't make Mass, just stop by a Church that is open and make a Eucharistic visit. Certainly make sure the family attends together on the Sundays and important feast days. Visit other churches nearby when they are open, so that the family can look over the different Nativity displays. I always make a point of visiting St. John the Baptist (Polish) parish in Salem at this time of year for it's elaborate, and comforting and homey, Christmas display.

Put some money aside to spend during the Twelve Days. This is an idea I have advanced before, the Twelve Hundred Dollars of Christmas. On each of the 12 days after Christmas, allot $100 (or $10 if you are strapped) to spend on some category of product. On Saint Stephen's Day, you can pick up nativity sets, wrapping paper, cards, tags, bows, candles, hard candies that will keep, lights, ornaments, etc. on deep discounts (50% off is common). A hundred dollars spent on December 26th for next year is often a good investment. Then spend $100 on books on another day. Some other day, spend $100 at the local Catholic goods store. Another day, give $100 to the local food pantry. You get the idea. It is a little materialistic, or can be, depending on how you spend it. But it does keep off the post-Christmas Blues.

Keep the decorations up. OK the tree looks dorky after mid-January. So you probably don't want to leave it up until Candlemas (February 2). Use Plough Monday, the Monday after the Twelfth Day, as the day for taking down the decorations.

And decorate with a lavish hand. Christmas is no time for restraint. Put interlaced garlands of holly and ivy around every doorway. Use plenty of mistletoe. Use pine garlands. Doesn't matter if they are silk ir PVC. If fact, silk is much better, as it can be kept up longer.

Collect an elaborate Nativity set over several years, like those sold by Fontanini. Even better, have some kind of Nativity set in every room of the house. And leave it all in place until Epiphany (real Epiphany, not liturgical Epiphany, moved to the closest Sunday for convenience) is past.

Play Christmas music throughout. Santa songs are passe after December 24th. But build a collection of Christmas music that is less secular. The Church continues to use carols until Epiphany. Why not us, too? The Boston Camerata has several albums to pick from. Ditto the Revels (links on the side). Then there are albums of Christmas Gregorian chants and motets. And there is Bach's Christmas Oratorio, and Handel's Messiah.

Want to know a secret? Jingle Bells is my least favorite Christmas song, with Frosty the Snowman coming in a close second (though I was just reminded of John Lennon's loathesome So This Is Christmas). I find it refreshing, after December 25th, to listen to albums of Christmas music that do not contain any references to sleighs, Santa, or reindeer.

Hymn/Carols are continued in use by the Church until after Epiphany, so why not continue them in the home? There are many albums of religious carols, including the Harry Simeone Chorale's The Little Drummer Boy, which many of us of roughly my forty years grew up with (on something called a "record," youngsters).

There are many ways that can help make Christmas last. And I think they ought to be tried, as there are few things more depressign than Christmas coming to a screeching halt at midnight, December 26th, as happens all too often in our very secular and materialistic society. Be countercultural and make Christmas last the whole 12 days it is intended to last.

Numbering the Days of Christmas

The numbering of the days of Christmas always seemed problematical to me. Do you count Christmas Day? Do you count Epiphany? If you count both, you get 13 days. If you count neither, you get eleven.

Reverend Ken Collins, a protestant minister, has as good an explanation as you are likely to find:

In the Church, as in the synagogue, the day technically begins at sunset. Therefore, Christmas begins at sundown on 24 December, which we very appropriately call ‘Christmas Eve.’ The Christmas Season, which begins with Christmas Eve, ends on the eve of Epiphany, which is sundown on 5 January. Therefore, Christmas lasts twelve days, and the period from sundown on 24 December to sundown on 5 January is called the Twelve Days of Christmas.

By this reckoning, Epiphany begins on the twelfth night after Christmas, so Epiphany was called Twelfthnight in England.

That makes today the second day of Christmas.

Continue to enjoy Christmas. Even if one or both s have to work outside the home, make all of the days of Christmas different in some way from the rest of the year. Do something to help the less fortunate. Mull the leftover bottle of red wine tonight. Burn some of those candles you recieved. If you are lucky enough to have a working fireplace, burn some wood in it.

Keep the creche, the tree, and the other decorations up (until Plough Monday, which is the Monday after Epiphany, or even until Candlemas--February 2). Make dinner special tonight, even if it is just leftovers. Make family time. Keep the kids (yes, even the teenagers) home (let them invite friends over to share the days of Christmas with your family, rather than hanging out somewhere else, being influenced by Lord knows what). Play some Christmas CDs with songs minus references to Santa Claus, Rudolph, and winter wonderlands.

Maybe even exchange little trinkets (a paperback, a cigar, some coffee, a pass for a matinee, a handful of toy soldiers, dice or cards, a box of tea, a discounted movie in VHS format, some candy, etc.) as gifts on each of the 12 days of Christmas.

I can't help but think that "holiday depression" is, in part, caused by the rush society has to push Christmas out the door. One looks forward to Christmas the whole year. There are women who spend the whole year doing craft work for Christmas. Then, it is gone in 24 hours.

This morning, there was a Christmas tree already strewn on a sidewalk I passed. That sight always galls me before New Year's Day.

If society learned again to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, modestly but joyfully, I think some of those who suffer depression with the end of Christmas, might not. And if making Christmas last longer helps some of those who suffer, is it not worth it?

You have to be somewhat counter-cultural to try something like this, but as Christians we should be used to that. Who cares if know-nothings say, "Don't you know Christmas is over?" Since we seem to be being driven back to the catacombs by society anyway, why not go with our creches, holly and ivy, trees, candles in the window, precious family times, special foods, and devotional practice for 12 days rather than 1?

Happy Second Day of Christmas!

Wren Boys

Some Christmas customs give offense to modern sensibilities.

PETA would be particularly appalled at the Wren Boys custom of Ireland. Early on Saint Stephen's Day, groups of young boys go out into woodlands and hunt down wrens. They tie the bird to a pole, and decorate the body with ribbons.

Then, after blacking their faces, go from house to house making noise and singing for gifts of food, drink, or money.

The typical song starts like this:

The wren, the wren,
The king of all birds,
On St. Stephen's Day
Got caught in the furze.
So it's up with the kettle
And down with the pan.
Won't you give us a penny
To bury the wren?


The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze,
Although he is little, his family is great,
I pray you, good landlady, give us a treat.
My box would speak, if it had but a tongue,
And two or three shillings, would do it not wrong,

Sing holly, sing ivy--sing ivy, sing holly,
A drop just to drink, it would drown melancholy.
And if you draw it of the best,
I hope in heaven your soul will rest;
But if you draw it of the small,
It won't agree with these wren boys at all.

This was wassailing, visiting from house to house and offering the token of song in exchange for food or drink. At a symbolic level, it is offering good will and wishes for a happy new year (it is a New Year's ritual) in exchange for hospitality. It is also semi-threatening, like the trick or treat Halloween ritual. "it won't agree with these wren boys at all" is like the "trick" option on Halloween.

Stephen Nissenbaum, in The Battle For Christmas, describes an incident in Salem Village in 1679 when three young men entered an older man's house on Christmas Night, and sang, demanding perry (hard pear cider) in return for their song. When refused, they pelted his house with stones for a half hour.

In fact, the last stanza of the second wren boys' song above is almost identical to the penultimate stanza of the Gloucestershire Wassail:
Come butler, come give us
A bowl of the best,
And we hope that your soul
In Heaven may rest.
But if you should give us
A bowl of the small,
Then down will go Butler, bowl and all.

Wassailling, carolling, wren boys, trick or treat, and souling are all variations on the same ritual. Recall that Halloween was New Year's for Celtic peoples, and you see that the custom of "luck visiting" is a New Year's custom. Because Christmas falls so close to New Year's, and is now the more important holiday, there is a blending of customs, so that New Year's luck visits take place mostly around Christmas.

Today, in the US, what one mostly sees is carolling. It has lost wassailling's hard edge. Children or s go from house to house or shop to shop and sing carols. It is no longer common to give food or drink in exchange for the song, because many people on either side of the ritual don't understand its origins. It is not as common as it once was, though commercial carolling is still done in downtown business districts like Salem's and Marblehead's, though it is done Thanksgiving weekend to spur holiday shopping, rather than closer to Christmas.

Three years ago, we were treated to a very good group from one of the local colleges in decent Victorian costume singing traditional carols (but it was a weird 70 degrees that day in early December). But no one wassails here.

And if boys went about wrens and parading the bodies from house to house, the local animal control officer would be sicked on them by some busy-body. One wonders if wrenning could be domesticated and made acceptable to modern sensibilities, while still keeping the essense of the custom.

Boxing Day

In the UK and its former colonies, today is a day off work known as Boxing Day.

No. No. No.

The title has nothing to do with getting rid of the empty boxes littering the parlor floor, or with hauling boxes back to the stores for refunds or exchanges. It has even less to do with watching or participating in boxing matches, even though certain family members you have been in too close contact with for the last day or so might be very tempting objects for pummelling by now.

Traditionally, enamel boxes filled with coins or cash, rather like small piggy banks, were given out to those who served people during the year. The paper carrier, the milkman, the dustman, the postman, the cleaning lady, and household servants would receive Christmas gifts of these boxes on Saint Stephen's Day. Also, churches maintained boxes into which parishioners put money, and which were opened on St. Stephen's Day for almsgiving.

As I suggested in the post below, it is a day to remember those below us who serve us. Saint Stephen's Day is an opportunity to put into practice what we profess to believe about Christian charity. Because of the association with gifts to those who wait on our needs and wants, it is naturally a day off work for everyone except public safety and retail workers.

Good King Wenceslaus

This was a great favorite of my Irish grandmather, in no small part because she had a dearly loved brother named Stephen.

Good King Wenceslas looked out,
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even:
Brightly shone the moon that night,
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gathering winter fuel.

"Hither page and stand by me,
If thou know'st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he,
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence,
By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine,
When we bear them thither."
Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together;
Though the rude wind's wild lament,
And the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know now how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page;
Tread thou in them boldly;
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourselves find blessing.

Saint Stephen's Day

Saint Stephen's Day, in its various incarnations throughout Christendom, continues the Christmas holy days.

Traditionally the inhabitants of the British Isles continue the custom of wassailing (which has transformed itself into the modern incarnation known as carolling), and many businesses are closed (it is called a bank holiday, which means that if you don't work in retail or public safety or transportation, you have the day off).

It is a day to be entertained, to match a magic show, a pantomime, or a farce. Many people take the opportunity to tour areas decorated for Christmas.

This is also prime family time, without the excitement of the gift exchange (or with a smaller version of it with relatives unable to join in on Christmas Day). It is a day for games and merriment.

Those who stay home traditionally have a cold table today, in recognition of all the work the family cook put in leading up to Christmas Day. A ham or a cold roast beef is appropriate, along with various pickled vegetables and fruits (onions, cucumbers, and brandied peaches).

And Christmas music continues. You all know that carols proclaiming the birth of Christ remain fully appropriate until after Epiphany. Of course "Santa songs" fall by the wayside after Christmas Day. But even fairly secular songs like the Gloucestershire Wassail ("Wassail, Wassail/ All over the town/ Our toast it is white/ And our ale it is brown.") remain fully appropriate.

It is also a wonderful opportunity for charitable giving. Remember Scrooge springing his surprise on Bob Crachit on St. Stephen's Day. In the carol, Good King Wenceslaus the king and his page brought beef and wine and pine logs to a peasant on St. Stephen's Day. Many charities are having a hard time of it this year. Food pantries are still seeing high demand. And they will have depleted a good deal of their stores in order to provide for Christmas Day's needs. They can use a donation now, either in cash or in kind.

Saint Stephen

Saint Stephen was the first martyr of the Church. Most likely, he was a Hellenized Jew, whose ancestors had not returned to the Holy Land immediately after the Babylonian Captivity. The Acts of the Apostles records that he preached Christ and Him crucified effectively.

Enemies among the Jewish priestly elite accused him of much the same crimes they had accused Christ of. He was brought before the Sanhedrin and questioned. He defended himself in a long speech recorded in Acts, in which he affirmatively declared Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah and that His doctrine ought to be followed. Apparently, while making this speech, he had a vision of the opening of Heaven, and a view of the Lord. He proclaimed as much to the council, which quickly condemned him for blasphemy and took him outside the city to stone him.

Stephen forgave his persecutors and expired while praying for them.

I Hope All Are Having a Merry and Blessed Christmas

I was stunned to look at a 2005 calendar and note that Ash Wednesday is only a little over 6 weeks away. Easter is early this year. What was it the poet wrote about the end of Christmas and the uneasy apprehension of the coming of Lent?

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