Saturday, December 23, 2006

I fell at the last fence

Oh well, I tried. I nearly made it too!

I said I would try to stay happy through the Christmas frenzy, make no snide comments, etc.

I didn’t make it. I have a friend with a bad back, a friend who separated from his wife and gets a crappy Christmas handed to him as his gift, even a friend who tries to escape the frenzy, who breaks her arm and can't get on the plane to Borneo. The S.A.D kicked in, and I came home to collapse into five days of rest, only to mess it up and spoil any possible fun going. Sigh. I'm told I do it every year. Spoil the turkey festival. I really must ask Pete Brown (if I can find him) where he goes for his Buddhist retreat, and next year just disappear to meditate on my 'true nature' as a terrible spoilsport.

The news stays full of murder and mayhem, the local priest gets busted for child abuse, the rich (anyone with credit, these days) get stuck in airports instead of making their way to sunny beaches, the Brits carry on photocopying their bums on the office copier, getting too drunk and having sex with office colleagues, before drunk-driving home to randomly kill innocents and spoil Christmas for dozens of other families. The shops can’t give stuff away, as people slightly cut back on their extravagance (4 million in the UK haven’t paid for last Christmas yet, apparently) – so bring the Spring Sale forward to before Christmas has even happened (heh).

When people get upset at my anti-religious rants, and claim it as a 'national holiday for families' I ask why all the stress at seeing the parts of the family they spend the year avoiding, and the sense of pressure and obligation. I don’t think of a holiday as a few days that end with a ‘thank God that’s all over for another year!” I think of it as a time to catch up on my sleep. That may just reflect hitting sixty, of course (grandpa dozing in front of the fire).

I quite like the idea of potlatch. In some tribal communities the richest people re-distribute their accumulated surplus of wealth. They get the prestige, kudos, respect and gratitude of the rest of the tribe – and demonstrate their total confidence that they can generate more wealth (and don’t feel the need to stockpile – always paranoid of thieves) – they disarm any resentment from those poorer than themselves – and the game starts even for next season. This went on within, and between different tribes – and although it generated a reciprocal bond (if you did better next year) it doesn’t really resemble the guilt we often seem to build up (even over a card sent or not sent, let alone the relative value of presents exchanged). The Christian missionaries (surprise!) banned the practice.

What a great model, though! Give your belongings away, take no heed for the morrow, consider the lilies of the fields – Wait a minute! That sounds like Jesus! He’d feel disappointed by a lot of the stuff done in his name these days, I suspect.

Thank goodness we actually manifest a Mithraic festival at this time of year that has little to do with Jesus, so he might not notice when he eventually comes back… [follow link, and scroll down to 'Similarities to Christianity'. The parallels remain disputed by Christian theologians, but 'they would say that' to paraphrase Mandy-Rice Davies on Establishment figures in denial. ]

I feel amused everytime someone does “Bah Humbug” at me – given that the phrase comes from the rich miser, Scrooge, who doesn’t want to share. To me I obviously belong in Bob Cratchit’s family. (underpaid clerk, or library worker). The only real reason I can’t quote that tale, of course, arises from my lifelong vegetarianism. I survived quite well (my mum did her best, most of the year, to keep me well-fed) but I still think of Christmas as the festival where people stick a dead animal in the middle of the table. My cat loved it!

Meat-eaters simply don’t see how off-putting that appears and smells to me (puts me right off my food!) so I can only try to appal them by asking how they would feel at a festival with (say) a dead dog as the main attraction. And then, of course, I get told to stop spoiling 'the fun'.

It got worse since I gave up sugar (no mince-pies, chocolates or Christmas pudding for me, thanks) and simply don’t like (have a lacto intolerance for) cream. So the big meal for me consists of roast potatoes, sprouts and carrots (mmm, delicious, and quite enough to satisfy me).
At least I took up drinking again, after I stopped working as a juggler, so I can share in that.

Hey ho. If you want the rest of the rant (it goes on for hours) just check out the Archives for the blog, in December months of previous years.

Phew I feel better for that. Might even go treat myself to a glass of red wine, before settling down to listen to Bob Dylan as DJ, finally reaching British ears on BBC Radio 2 at 7pm this evening. Cheers Bob! (sometimes he sounds like a fellow curmudgeon, but even he celebrates Christmas tomorrow with a two-hour special).

Stave 5: The End of It from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

"A merry Christmas, Bob," said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. "A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year. I'll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob. Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!"

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

And just to explain the reference (from a page offering Dicken's own recipe for punch):

A final note, if you feel tempted to imbibe somewhat too freely of these splendid beverages: while he did not hold with "the Total Abstinence Principle" (A Christmas Carol, Stave Five), Dickens was a great believer in moderation (he should have followed his own dictum when it came to a certain young actress named Ellen Ternan). "The widespread assertion that drunkenness was the cause of many evils rather than a result of already existing ones angered him, as if eradicating a symptom in any way dealt with the disease" (Fred Kaplan, Dickens [1988], 198). Although Dickens respected the Temperance movement's goals, in "A Plea for Total Abstinence" (1860) he expresses little patience with those who sought eradicate the consumption of alcohol. His many references to liquor often prompted letters denouncing what appeared to be his advocacy of inebriation. In a letter of 25 March 1847 he answered one such complaint thus:
I have no doubt whatever that the warm stuff in the jug at Bob Cratchit's Christmas dinner, had a very pleasant effect on the simple party. I am certain that if I had been at Mr. Fezziwig's ball, I should have taken a little negus -- and possibly not a little beer -- and been none the worse for it, in heart or head. I am very sure that the working people of this country have not too many household enjoyments, and I could not, in my fancy or in actual deed, deprive them of this one when it is so innocently shared. (Letter , Nonesuch Press, II: 20-21)

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