Category Archives: christmas
The modern image is benign: a fat jolly supernatural fellow, and the implausible giver of gifts to children. And his mortal doppelgangers in innumerable shops and seasonal events.
But is there a historical original? And would he be welcomed in today’s society?
The answers are a qualified Yes, and a pretty unqualified No. The Yes comes from tracing “Santa Claus” back to “St Nicholas”, the 4th century Bishop of Myra. It’s a somewhat-tenuous derivation that works very differently in different modern languages, and is not the only origin story: hence only a qualified Yes to the man we call St Nicholas as the original Santa.
So who was this man?
Well, for one thing, he was quite the opposite of the modern image of jollity. He appears to have been a killjoy who saw fun as a sin and prayed earnestly while others let their hair down. There are possible hints that he might even have prayed for divine retribution on the sinners, though that remains speculation. Not, in character, a role model for the modern Santa.
But in one thing – the story that lends credibility to his being the origin of Santa – he was very much the role model. He gave gifts to children. Gifts of gold, that might be thought to sit uneasily with Christian ideas of disdain for worldly wealth.
It’s in the recipients of his generosity that the true nature of the story becomes clear. These are girls. They’re at the age where they rebel a bit against parental discipline, but their father keeps them on a tight reign to protect them from the Big Bad World. In other words, young teens. Nicholas’s gift of gold helps liberate them to have some … erm … fun. So not an early case of “bishop and choirboys”, but rather one like the girls in this more modern story (albeit without the racial element).
Was he in fact a pimp? I know of no strong evidence, but circumstantially it seems entirely likely. It would account for his repeating the gift for several girls, and might’ve helped with being able to afford them! But at the very least, he was not a man modern parents would want near their children!
Who can I rape today, to make the angels rejoice?
This month I have, as one does, found myself singing a few carols. Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re a seasonal fixture for any singer. On the whole it’s not a bad thing: some pretty tunes, a lot of nostalgia, and occasionally something with musical interest. Though of course it becomes really nasty when muzaked through a sound system into a public place.
One of these was a new setting of the words of “the angel gabriel”. Unfortunately the setting is about as dreary as they come, and being slower than the well-known tune, I couldn’t help noticing those words. Glad tidings of …. well, of the Droit du Seigneur. The right of the feudal lord to first claim on a new bride’s virginity. I can’t claim to know the history of such rights, beyond the fact that Enlightenment artists like Mozart and da Ponte took the p*** out of it wickedly, and their 18th century audiences would presumably have known what they were talking about – just as a modern audience understands about slavery or Harper Lee’s Mockingbird.
Is the Droit du Seigneur in fact a form of rape? By modern standards, there can be little doubt. Rape no longer implies violence or even coercion: rather the definition centres on a notion of consent. A notion fraught with such difficulties as to raise questions over whether consent can exist if a woman is too drunk to know what she’s doing, or is mentally disturbed. But I think the Droit du Seigneur looks much more clear-cut: where there is compulsion, there cannot be valid consent. So when the carol says:
Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
To Him be as it pleaseth God she said
she is – in modern terms – merely paying her taxes with good grace. The alternative of struggling vainly against the inevitable would be akin to mounting a legal challenge to your tax bill: futile and self-destructive.
OK, the Christmas story is a Droit du Seigneur, which is in turn a pretty clear case of rape in today’s terms. And we celebrate it unthinkingly. One silly carol may be negligible, but the whole culture surrounding it is not. We all know this story. We teach it to our children from infancy, so by the time they grow old enough to understand or question it, it’s become second nature to them: so deeply rooted that they wouldn’t think to examine it, regardless of whether they believe in christianity, or in any part of the christmas story as historical.
Much of the world is celebrating rape today, and the angels are rejoicing.
 Bear in mind that Virgin Birth was perfectly common in biblical times. It was only much later that the word Virgin took on its modern meaning precluding the sexual act.
 Could a man being similarly drunk or disturbed work as a defence?
You don’t have to be my most devoted follower to know my general attitude to the season of humbuggery. In summary, I don’t hold with it. I don’t send cards, I don’t give presents (except to children), and I try hard to discourage anyone giving me such things. If I should happen to get you a present, it’ll be a random time of year, and probably opportunistic.
This year for the first time in many, I’ve had a genuinely pleasant surprise with a present. A coffee-table book entitled simply “Beer” amused me when I first opened it, and I think it’s going to be a delight to have around. Thank you F. !
Also for the first time for a while, I’ve overeaten in company on this day. I know my host is a regular reader (and would probably have been eating meat if I hadn’t been there), so thank you again for a truly delicious lunch and entertaining company.
 Any normal book I’d rather have in electronic form than on paper, as I lack space to store the latter. Music is an exception. The coffee-table book is another, that hadn’t even occurred to me before!
Is this the world’s most odious hypocrite?
The pope is reported as condemning the commercialisation of christmas in his midnight mass.
Erm, right, Your Holiness. So what is the purpose of the fabulously wealthy organisation over which you preside? Aha, yes. Amongst the catholic church’s responsibilities, you maintain the communion of saints: individuals you bless as exemplary role models. There’s a saint particularly associated with Christmas: St.Nicholas brings gifts to children. Isn’t that the very commercialisation you condemn?
OK, the original St.Nicholas’s gift of gold was to the three daughters of a nobleman. I guess if you limit your gifts firmly to a tiny elite, you’re distinct from our modern inclusive commercialisation. I guess his message to the masses is to know your place, keep your grubby hands off our tradition, and don’t expect your worthless children to share the privileges of their betters.
Evidently the Victorians were wrong when they gave us the modern Christmas as a season of goodwill. The true spirit of Christmas is that embodied by the unreformed Ebenezer Scrooge when he denounced as a humbug the commercialisation inherent in an inclusive Christmas.
But hang on! Doesn’t the Christmas story also tell of rich gifts to one particular child? A child who, unlike St.Nicholas’s beneficiaries, was a humble commoner by birth? Well, no: that’s not necessarily inconsistent either: it’s the giving, not the receiving of gifts that’s inclusive in that story. Maybe a narrative root for the church’s own fabulous wealth. And besides, the three magi aren’t saints: their gifts to a commoner may be commendable by Victorian or modern commercialised values, but they’re not actually blessed by the church.
Good. He’s not a hypocrite after all. Just so long as we don’t get distracted by misguided notions of goodwill to all, his position is perfectly consistent. That is (of course) provided his message didn’t include inconsistencies that the headlines omit.
This is unquestionably the worst time of year. It’s dark most of the day, and to make it worse people are burning coal, wood, and other things turning the air foul. This year remains thoroughly mild, in what may be a reversion to normal after two real winters.
And the season of humbug is in full swing. I can cope with a few stupid lights – even flashing ones. And a salvation army band (or whatever it was) in town playing lots of David Willcocks arrangements.
But the shops are a whole nother story. Not just the display of ‘seasonal’ crap, but bigger crowds than at other times. And that’s not gift shops, toyshops, or even clothes shops, it’s bloomin’ supermarkets. Do they all eat twice as much for the whole month of December?
I wonder if I can bunker down and live on tinned/frozen/miscellaneous longlife food for the next three weeks? Ugh 😦
My littlebig brother has just blogged about christmas.
Well, not exactly about christmas. Rather about explaining christmas to his missus, who grew up in a culture that doesn’t have it. And what he explained wasn’t christmas in general, but christmas day in our family. Even more particular than that, the circumstances as he describes them can’t’ve existed in full for more than a couple of years, though much of what he describes is perennial.
As ever, his narrative is superb, and in this instance it’s also very funny: I can’t recollect when I last laughed that much! But a moment’s reflection leads me to wonder: is it objectively that funny, or is it also (or even just) because what he describes is, like an in-joke, something he and I know all about, but the outside world can only infer?
 He’s the youngest of the family, but also the tallest.
Dear Lazyweb, any recommendations for a relaxing break over the so-called festive season? Ideally somewhere local to southwest England, to avoid excessive travel misery. Should be free of humbuggery such as piped muzak, tinsel and lights, cut-down or artificial trees, or fat men in red and white.
I had contemplated taking the ferry from Plymouth to Spain or (second choice) France. But they’re not even running over an extended silly season, so that’s a non-starter. Bah, humbug.
Like all intelligent people, I greatly dislike Christmas. It revolts me to see a whole nation refrain from music for weeks together in order that every man may rifle his neighbour’s pockets under cover of a ghastly general pretence of festivity. It is really an atrocious institution, this Christmas. We must be gluttonous because it is Christmas. We must be drunken because it is Christmas. We must be insincerely generous; we must buy things that nobody wants, and give them to people we don’t like; we must go to absurd entertainments that make even our little children satirical; we must writhe under venal officiousness from legions of freebooters, all because it is Christmas – that is, because the mass of the population, including the all-powerful middle-class tradesman, depends on a week of license and brigandage, waste and intemperance, to clear off its outstanding liabilities at the end of the year.
– George Bernard Shaw
As usual, our rail network is closing down for an extended period. Apparently that’s to facilitate engineering works (OK, fairy nuff), and because there’s very little demand.
Perhaps the reason there’s no demand is that we’ve come to expect a shutdown, and plan around it?
Some years ago I incurred a large and unwelcome taxi fare because the buses (not trains – which I’d taken the trouble to check) were shut down on new years day, so I was stranded when I arrived at Plymouth station. Since then, I’ve avoided any kind of travel beyond where I can comfortably walk or cycle over the silly season.
So there we have it. You won’t get demand from me unless you provide a service. I expect others could say the same.
Anyway, this year the meeja have started to complain about it. So maybe, just possibly, something might change in future years.
Why is it that throughout December, perfectly normal everyday supermarkets and other food shops are crawling with so many more shoppers than at other times of year?
Do people eat three times as much in December (other than one day – and surely they can’t spend several weeks continually shopping for just that)?
Do people shop to store food for the entire year in December? Seems perverse to me, given that it’s not naturally a season of plenty.
Or do they pay a pilgrimmage to the shops, and just wander around crowding the place out?
I mean, I can understand that some shops – headed by toyshops – should do their best trade in December. But plain supermarkets??? I think I may have to bunker down and live out of frozen and long-life food for the next few weeks.