Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sixth Day of Christmas Nativity Image

Late 15th century Use of Paris Book of Hours

Friday, December 29, 2006

Fifth Day of Christmas Nativity Image

Mid-16th century Italian Book of Hours belinging to the daughter of Francis I.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Holy Innocents

The Golden Legend on 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.

It has always struck me as odd that the Holy Innocents are remembered so early in the season of Christmas. The slaughter did not take place until some days after the Adoration of the Magi, so a date between the 10th and 15th of January would seem more appropriate. And such a move would have the added effect of moving this emotionally charged feast, marking the massacre of little children by government authority, closer to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade (January 22nd or so), the decision that found a "constitutional right" to murder unborn babies. That connection might help bring the point of the unacceptably horrendous nature of abortion home to all Catholics.

Fourth Day of Christmas Nativity Image

Nativity, from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Saint John the Evangelist

From The Golden Legend

Third Day of Christmas Nativity Image

"Collins Hours", Rome Use
Belgium, possibly Bruges, c. 1445-50

Requiescat In Pace

I wasn't caught entirely by surprise this morning by the news of President Gerald Ford's death at 93. In fact, just yesterday morning, I had been scrolling through the celebrity deaths in 2006, and wondered if additional famous people would be added before I publish the list on December 31st.

President Ford's longevity allowed him to surpass first John Adams, then Ronald Reagan, as our longest-living president. He was a decent man, and coming after Watergate and Vietnam, that was probably the most important thing. His integrity ended the long national nightmare of scandal and division, which historian Paul Johnson dubbed "America's Suicide Attempt."

Ford seems an antediluvian figure now, as one cannot conceive a Republican not cut out of the mold of Ronald Reagan. Ford was, hopefully, the last non-Reaganite conservative Republican to be nominated for the presidency, the last "moderate" Republican to hold that office. We are all conservative Reaganites now. Significantly, Ford could not win re-election after holding the White House for more than 2 years, because faced with a mushy moderate Republican, and a genuine Democrat, the voters choose to go with the real thing (with disasterous results, as we all know).

The ex-presidents' club has dwindled now, and is no longer dominated by Republicans. In fact, it is down to three, and two of them, Carter and Clinton, are Democrats.

Requiescat in pace.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Fruitcake Society

Finally! An organization of fruitcake lovers.

Second Day of Christmas Nativity Image

Beginning of the Office of the Virgin, from a Florentine Book of Hours, c. 1480.

What On Earth Is Boxing Day All About

Today, aside from being St. Stephen's Day and the Second Day of Christmas, is also Boxing Day. And no, it has nothing to do with the sport of boxing. So this is not a day to watch re-runs of old Mohammed Ali bouts.

Gifts to those who serve you during the year, whether employees, or people employed by others with whom you come into regular contact have been a staple of Christmas celebration for centuries. There are feudal precedents for vassals being feasted by their liege on St. Stephen's Day. The modern equivalent is the paperboy, the mailman, the clerk at the drug store, the dustmen. Gifts to them once took the form of foods, a fine loaf of bread, or a wheel of cheese, or a Christmas Pie. Or some ale or wine (mead might be the choice in some places).

In more recent times, the gift took the form of cash. In the 1770s, Boston-born Phillip Vickers Fithian was tutor on a Virginia plantation, and described the slaves coming up to him on Christmas morning, or on Boxing Day morning, one after the other, all looking for a penny or two, and calling, "Christmas Gift, Christmas Gift." After a few such visits, the impecunious Yankee had to resort to IOUs.

The coins (Paper money only became standard in the 19th century) often were kept in little painted porcelin boxes, called Christmas boxes. Think of little piggy banks with a slot in the top. Sometimes, these boxes had to be shattered to get to the coins within. This is where the "Box" comes in. Here is a modern version of the concept (without the slit to put in coins):

The idea derives from the Poor Box in church. Often, the proceeds of the Poor Box were distributed on St. Stephen's Day.

So, sadly for boxing fans, today has nothing to do with pugilism. Instead, it has everything to do with Christian love and gift-giving on this Second Day of Christmas.

Counting 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? What about Christmas Eve? If you count both, you get 13 days. If you count neither, you get eleven. If you throw in Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Epiphany, you get 14.

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.

Dec. 24/25 The First Day of Christmas, Christmas Day
Dec. 25/26 The Second Day of Christmas, St. Stephen's Day (Boxing Day)
Dec. 26/27 The Third Day of Christmas, Saint John's Day
Dec. 27/28 The Fourth Day of Christmas, Holy Innocents
Dec. 28/29 The Fifth Day of Christmas
Dec. 29/30 The Sixth Day of Christmas
Dec. 30/31 The Seventh Day of Christmas
Dec. 31/Jan. 1 The Eighth Day of Christmas, New Year, Octave, Circumcision
Jan. 1/2 The Ninth Day of Christmas
Jan. 2/3 The Tenth Day of Christmas
Jan. 3/4 The Eleventh Day of Christmas
Jan. 4/5 The Twelfth Day of Christmas, Twelfth Night
Jan. 5/6 Epiphany

Continue to enjoy Christmas. Even if one or both adults in the family 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 received. 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, tin whistles, 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!

"The Wren, the Wren, the King of All Birds"

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. Beating the poor little bird with sticks. They tie the bird to a holly bush, 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. For the funeral.

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, "a penny for the Guy," the Plough Monday play, 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 adults 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 (though in the 1970s movie The Gathering, one of my holiday favorites, carollers do come to the door, and are given cups of eggnog), because most people on either side of the ritual don't understand its origins.

Carolling 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. While live carollers have diminished, many people collect fake carollers, from Byers and other manufacturers.

Some years ago, I was 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. Or hunts the wren.

Here today, if boys went about killing 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. In Ireland now, with the revival of wrenning in the last 30 years, the proceeds go to charity, and wrens are not actually killed. But perhaps a little stuffed wren could be placed in a nest in a holly bush and paraded about without deeply offending.

Saint Stephen's Day

The Golden Legend on St. Stephen the Protomartyr

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day Nativity Image

No promises, but I will try to post an illustration of the Nativity from a different Book of Hours on each of the Twelve Days of Christmas

This one is from a French Book of Hours, c. 1520. The artist is not known.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Verbum Caro Factum Est

Midnight Mass at Holy Trinity, Boston, 2000
Hodie Christus natus est:
Hodie Salvator apparuit:
Hodie in terra canunt Angeli,
laetantur Archangeli
Hodie exsultant justi, dicentes:
Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Adoration of the Magi, from altar by Pacher, St. Wolfgang

A Merry and Blessed Christmas To All

"Now capons and hens, beside turkeys, geese, and ducks, with beef and mutton- must all die- for in twelve days a multitude of people will not be fed with a little. Now plums and spice, sugar and honey, square it among pies and broth. Now or never must music be in tune, for the youth must dance and sing to get them a heat, while the aged sit by the fire. The country maid leaves half her market, and must be sent again, if she forgets a pack of cards on Christmas eve. Great is the contention of holly and ivy, whether master or dame wears the breeches. Dice and cards benefit the butler; and if the cook do not lack wit, he will sweetly lick his fingers."

Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes,
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed, and so gracious is the time.

Good husband and huswife now cheefly be glad,

things handsome to have, as they ought to be had;

They both doo provide against Christmas doo come,

To welcome good neighbor, good cheere to have some.

Good bread and good drinke, a goof fier in the hall,

brawne, pudding and souse, and good mustard withall.

Beefe, mutton, and porke, shred pies of the best,

pig, veale, goose and capon, and turkey well drest,

Cheese, apples and nuts, joly Carols to heare,

and then in the countrie is counted good cheere.

What cost to good husband is any of this?

good houshold provision onely it is.

Of other the like, I doo leave out a menie,

that costeth the husbandman never a penie.
Thomas Tusser, 1573

"For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county."
Massachusetts law banning the celebration of Christmas

Come bring the noise,
My merry, merry boys,
The Christmas log to the firing;
While my good dame, she
Bids ye all be free,
And drink to your heart's desiring.

With the last year's brand
Light the new block, and
For good success in his spending,
On your psalteries play,
That sweet luck may
Come while the log is a teending.

Drink now the strong beer,
Cut the white loaf here,
The while the meat is a shredding
For the rare mince-pie
And the plums standing by,
To fill the paste that's a kneeding.
Christmas Eve, by Robert Herrick

A health to the King and Queene here.
Next crowne the bowle full
With gentle lamb's wool;
Add sugar nutmeg and ginger,
With store of ale, too
and this ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Lay pretty long in bed, and then rose leaving my wife desirous of sleep, having sat up til four this morning seeing her mayds make mince pies. I to church, where our parson Mills made a good sermon. Then home and dined on some good ribs of beef roasted and mince pies; only my wife, brother, and Barker , and plenty of good wine of my own, and my heart full of true joy, and thanks to God Almighty for the goodness of my condiiton at this day.
Samuel Pepys, December 25th, 1666

"Nothing is now to be heard of in conversation, but the Balls, the Fox-hunts, the fine entertainments, and the good fellowship, which are to be exhibited at the approaching Christmas. I almost think myself happy that my Horses lameness will be sufficient Excuse for my keeping at home on these Holidays."
Phillip Vickers Fithian on Christmas in Virginia, 1773

'Tis merry 'neath the mistletoe
When holly berries glisten bright
When Christmas fires gleam and glow,
When wintry winds so wildly blow
And all the meadows round are white
'Tis merry 'neath the mistletoe.

A privilege 'tis then you know
To exercise time-honored rite;
When Christmas fires gleam and glow
When loving lips may pout,
Though with other lips they oft unite-
'Tis merry 'neath the mistletoe.
Mistletoe, by J. Ashby Sterry

Heap on more wood! – the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.
Each age has deem’d the new-born year
The fittest time for festal cheer:
Even, heathen yet, the savage Dane
At Iol more deep the mead did drain;
High on the beach his galleys drew,
And feasted all his pirate crew;
Then in his low and pine-built hall
Where shields and axes deck’d the wall
They gorged upon the half-dress’d steer;
Caroused in seas of sable beer;
While round, in brutal jest, were thrown
The half-gnaw’d rib, and marrow-bone:
Or listen’d all, in grim delight,
While Scalds yell’d out the joys of fight.
Then forth, in frenzy, would they hie,
While wildly loose their red locks fly,
And dancing round the blazing pile,
They make such barbarous mirth the while,
As best might to the mind recall
The boisterous joys of Odin’s hall.

And well our Christian sires of old
Loved when the year its course had roll’d,
And brought blithe Christmas back again,
With all his hospitable train.
Domestic and religious rite
Gave honour to the holy night;
On Christmas Eve the bells were rung;
On Christmas Eve the mass was sung:
That only night in all the year,
Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.
The damsel donn’d her kirtle sheen;
The hall was dress’d with holly green;
Forth to the wood did merry-men go,
To gather in the mistletoe.
Then open’d wide the Baron’s hall
To vassal, tenant, serf and all;
Power laid his rod of rule aside
And Ceremony doff’d his pride.
The heir, with roses in his shoes,
That night might village partner choose;
The Lord, underogating, share
The vulgar game of ‘post and pair’.
All hail’d, with uncontroll’d delight,
And general voice, the happy night,
That to the cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down.

The fire, with well-dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide;
The huge hall-table’s oaken face,
Scrubb’d till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
Then was brought in the lusty brawn,
By old blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar’s head frown’d on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garb’d ranger tell,
How, when, and where, the monster fell;
What dogs before his death to tore,
And all the baiting of the boar.
The wassel round, in good brown bowls,
Garnish’d with ribbons, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reek'd; hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pie;
Nor fail’d old Scotland to produce,
At such high tide, her savoury goose.
Then came the merry makers in,
And carols roar’d with blithesome din;
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong.
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery;
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visors made;
But, O! what maskers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!
England was merry England, when
Old Christmas brought his sports again.
‘Twas Christmas broach’d the mightiest ale;
‘Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;
A Christmas gambol oft could cheer
The poor man’s heart through half the year.
Marmion, by Sir Walter Scott

A handsome hostess, a merrie host,
A pot of ale now, and a toast,
Tobacco and a good coal fire,
Are the things the season doth require.

Images Of Christmas In Williamsburg

Christmas In Carrick

From Christmas the the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem

On the road the frost is glistening.
People stream from Midnight Mass.
Friendly candles glow in windows.
Strangers greet you as you pass.
Home then to the laden table;
Ham and goose and pints of beer,
Whisky handed 'round in tumblers,
Christmas comes but once a year!

Puddings made with eggs and treacle,
Seeded raisins and ground suet,
Sated breadcrumbs and mixed spices,
Grated rind and plenty fruit,
Cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg,
Porter, brandy, and old ale.
Don't forget the wine and whisky!
Christmas comes but once a year!

Women fussing in the kitchen,
Lay the food on every plate.
Men impatient in the hallway,
Guinness and porter while we wait.
Who cares if we work tomorrow?
Now's the time to spread good cheer!
Pass the punch around the table!
Christmas comes but once a year!

Fourth Sunday of Advent

In the Tridentine Rite, if the Fourth Sunday of Advent falls on December 24th, it is omitted, and the Office of Christmas Eve is said instead. So no Fourth Sunday excerpt from Dom Gueranger.

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