Winter Festivities

Check In: It’s been a crazy day. I had to go downtown to get computer supplies and my pharmacists hadn’t gotten my meds ready even though I called in advance, and I’ve been off meds due to not having a phone to call them in and not wanting to sit at my pharmacists, because I’m delicate that way. But computer supplies have been acquired. And now I’m at a cafe and not sure I yet want to resume writing about terrorist movies.

PS: I resolved my phone thing. I have a new service provider after a few days of… well… not.

PSS: I’m talking about a different thing than the James Bond thread, but I’ll get back to it.

Jesus Is The Reason For The Season, or so goes the phrase. Once upon a time, it was to remind us that there’s more to the holiday than commercialism. It was something we need to be reminded about. For US business, commerce is totally the reason for the season. Black Friday was once a notable date among large resellers marking the first time in the fiscal year that the accounts were in the black, id est, the company was finally turning a profit. Certainly a thing to celebrate when all your assets are in your commercial enterprise.

Nowadays, Black Friday is a public affair, known for customers skipping Thanksgiving to wait in long lines (or, cleverly, eating Thanksgiving in line) in anticipation of attaining doorbusters, sometimes by way of a grand melee. I imagine Black Friday is soon going to become a Thunderdome type event with arenas with weapons on the walls and merchandise in the center. Someone should really make this movie.

These days, the Reason for the Season campaign has steered away from the grand consumerist aspect of the Christmas season. Instead it’s been repurposed as a divisionist front against secular or non-Christian celebrations of Christmas. In the Aughts I wrote about it because it made me paranoid when cashier clerks would wish me Merry Christmas. Was that sectarian judgment in his voice? Did their boss change policy due to pressure from the Christmas Warriors? Is the company under Christmas Warrior management like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-a? Are they secretly lobbying my representatives to take away my Christmas-celebrating freedoms?

Since then, I’ve become more relaxed about it because, well, the true meaning of Christmas always returns to its roots. And those roots don’t come from a part of the world in which the snow never falls.

Every culture that has words for snow also has a winter holiday right around the solstice* (The shortest day of the year). Not just a winter holiday, but a winter festival. The biggest, grandest, most spectacular, most orgiastic party of the year. Bring all your friends. Eat until you’re stuffed! Drink yourself to space! Gamble your treasures away! Have sex with anyone!** This festival is super-jolly-full of gaiety and mirth and comfort and joy. Is it me or does all the levity of the holiday season actually feel kinda desperate? Forced? We paranoid types start to wonder what the catch is. Because there’s always a point where we start turning into donkeys or the wicked witch wants to eat us, yes?

Let’s take a trip into Christmasland, shall we?

Picture, if you will, a classic, and idyllic (and idealized) middle-ages Christmas scene:

It’s one of the twelve nights of Christmas. In the main hall. There’s a giant decorated tree and a roaring fire in the hearth and the walls are bedecked with boughs of holly. An old bearded man dressed in festive colors sits by the tree to tell stories while fifteen, twenty children are gathered around him intently listening. Some of their cherubic faces are stuffed with candy. Some of the kids are clutching stuffed animals or favorite toys. One tuckered out tot is snoozing away on the house pooch (A fluffy mastiff) Behind them moms and dads look on from comfy sofas in sleepy contentedness. It’s the bestest Christmas moment ever.

About half of those kids aren’t going to see the Spring.

That’s right. Some are going to flat-out starve to death. Others will catch the fever (cold, flu, tuberculosis, whatever) and perish. The adults will fare slightly better. There is always a body count at the thaw. And this serene moment will have been the last happy moment of their lives. Ultimately, one in ten of those children will reach majority, i.e. their fifteenth year.

Christmas just sounds a jot nicer than Winter Is Coming. The true tradition of the winter holidays is We’re All Going To Die.

In 2015, the winter is a bit more proverbial. For some of us, our winter is living paycheck to paycheck, where an unexpected expense from illness or an auto accident or a bad day can leave us homeless. For others, winter comes in resentful police officers of a different color who will get away with murder when they gun us down. For others still, it’s hiding our true nature from a society that would destroy us for being different.

For all of us, winter is in our representatives who have to care more about getting elected than doing their job. Winter is in spys who regard dissent or challenges to their power as a greater threat than terrorists or whoever they’re supposed to be fighting.

And winter is, poetically in the changing climate which will — if we are lucky — propel our civilization to act by a massive disaster. More likely it will manifest as a super-plague or a food crisis in our lifetime. And that winter will look an awful lot like the winters of the middle ages, where dead fall in battalions, disproportionately children.

Christmas is — and has always been — about acknowledging that time is short and life is not safe. It’s about enjoying today, lest tomorrow is a really bad day, and recognizing that the people around you are in it too. And yeah, some of them we don’t like very much. They’re inconsiderate, or ignorant, or irrational, or even bigoted and spiteful… But they’re all facing the same impending frost-storm that we are, which probably contributes to their jackassery.

And a little bit of empathy — in those moments some can be spared — can go a long way.

Winter is coming.

* That’s how Jesus’ birthday ended up December 25th, which was the winter solstice on the Julian Calendar. By the time of the Gregorian Calendar, the Church had cornered the market on Winter Festivities (by ruling all the others blasphemous and executing blasphemers) so Jesus’ birthday was defined less by the shortest day or and more based on custom and papal decree. So Christmas stayed even though the solstice strayed. Scholars imagine that the whole manger thing — if it happened at all — did so sometime in May.

** For realsies. European heathen traditions often allowed for married partners to get a bit on the side during certain holidays, including pairings forbidden for reasons (e.g. incest) which is how Arthur and Morgause got busy with nary a blink. This occasional lifting of prohibitions not only allowed poorly matched spouses the occasional above-board fling, but it also meant that those couples in which one was infertile could still have children. All that ended when the Church was powerful enough to prohibit such traditions. Its stranglehold on culture throughout the middle ages is responsible for most of our sexual hang-ups and a whole bunch of our cultural misogyny. To this day we wonder why.


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