Wednesday, December 20, 2006

More Christmas Meme

4. Do you hang mistletoe?


To read a tantalizing explanation of how mistletoe has more philosophy in it than all of Forel's "Sexual Ethics", click here.

This nameless northern element in the first landscapes of Christianity has had a certain effect on our own history. As the great creed and philosophy which united our fathers swept westward over the world, it found its different parts peculiarly fitted to different places. The men of the Mediterranean had, perhaps, a more intimate sense of the meaning of its imagery of the vine. But it succeeded in making its own imagery equally out of the northern holly, and even the heathen mistletoe. And while the Latins more especially preserved the legends about the soldiers, we in the north felt a special link with the legend of the shepherds. We concentrated on Christmas, on the element of winter and the wild hills in the old Christian story. Thus Christmas is, in a special sense, at once European and English. It is European because it appeals to the religion of Europe. It is English because it specialises in those religious customs that can make even our own landscape a holy land.
ILN Dec. 25, 1920 CW32:146-7

Take, for instance, our friend Forel and his "Sexual Ethics." Now, what is wrong with Forel's sexual ethics is quite simply this: that they are not tall enough to reach up to the mistletoe. The two first facts which a healthy boy or girl feels about sex are these: first that it is beautiful and then that it is dangerous. While all the philosophical Forels go floundering about in a world of words, saying that this is wrong if it disturbs your digestion, or that that is right if it does not disturb your great-grandchild, all plain, pleasure-loving people have an absolutely clean instinct in the matter. Mankind declares this with one deafening voice: that sex may be ecstatic so long as it is also restricted. It is not necessary even that the restriction should be reasonable; it is necessary that it should restrict. That is the beginning of all purity; and purity is the beginning of all passion. In other words, the creation of conditions for love, or even for flirting, is the first common-sense of Society. In other words, there is more serious philosophy in the sprig of mistletoe than in the whole of "Sexual Ethics."
[ILN Jan. 9, 1909 CW28:251-2]

5. When do you put your decorations up?

We begin with Advent, but see my answer to #9 below.

The musical critic, or student of the stages of harmonic development, may distinguish between the quality of a good ancient carol or a bad modern one. But he knows that, even in this timeless time, it is only somewhere about the beginning of Advent that little boys in the street begin to sing the carols attached to Christmas. Like all little boys, they are in advance of the age; but at least they do not begin to sing Christmas carols on Midsummer Day. In short, wherever anybody observes Christmas forms at all, they are still to some extent limited by the idea of a Christmas ritual, and the recurrence of times and seasons.
[ILN Dec 21, 1935; thanks to Frank Petta and Dr. Thursday's mother]

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?

Turkey. I even put it into a play, which is far too long to quote here. ['The Turkey and the Turk" in CW11]

I do not know whether an animal killed at Christmas has had a better or a worse time than it would have had if there had been no Christmas or no Christmas dinners. But I do know that the fighting and suffering brotherhood to which I belong and owe everything, Mankind, would have a much worse time if there were no such thing as Christmas or Christmas dinners. Whether the turkey which Scrooge gave to Bob Cratchit had experienced a lovelier or more melancholy career than that of less attractive turkeys is a subject upon which I cannot even conjecture. But that Scrooge was better for giving the turkey and Cratchit happier for getting it I know as two facts, as I know that I have two feet. What life and death may be to a turkey is not my business; but the soul of Scrooge and the body of Cratchit are my business. Nothing shall induce me to darken human homes, to destroy human festivities, to insult human gifts and human benefactions for the sake of some hypothetical knowledge which Nature curtained from our eyes. We men and women are all in the same boat, upon a stormy sea. We owe to each other a terrible and tragic loyalty. If we catch sharks for food, let them be killed most mercifully; let anyone who likes love the sharks, and pet the sharks, and tie ribbons round their necks and give them sugar and teach them to dance. But if once a man suggests that a shark is to be valued against a sailor, or that the poor shark might be permitted to bite off a nigger's leg occasionally; then I would court-martial the man - he is a traitor to the ship. ... A turkey is more occult and awful than all the angels and archangels. In so far as God has partly revealed to us an angelic world, he has partly told us what an angel means. But God has never told us what a turkey means. And if you go and stare at a live turkey for an hour or two, you will find by the end of it that the enigma has rather increased than diminished.
[ILN Jan 4 1908 CW28:17-18,21]

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:

I will mention two: crackers and the toy-theatre.

Crackers are, indeed, a singularly perfect symbol of this permanent joviality, this feast that has gone on from the beginning of the world. For crackers, like bonfires, are beautiful because there is about them one touch of the dreadful beauty of fire. They are loved by children and by all people who are simple and unarsenicised (a jolly word) because they combine a promise of pleasure with the very faintest suggestion of catastrophe and fear. The chief glory of crackers is not that they contain mottoes (I am not old enough myself to care for the mottoes yet), the chief glory of crackers is not even that they contain coloured caps and very shrill whistles, priceless as these things are; the chief glory of crackers is that they crack. A cracker combines the virtues of a large treasure-chest and a small pistol. And although it may be said, and said truly enough, that crackers are not eternal things like bonfires, that in the course of time Mr. Tom Smith and his giant collaborators will disappear like old patterns for hats and coats, yet even here we see the main truth to which I have drawn attention. Even here the comedy of mankind is more constant than the tragedy of mankind. For there has been only one type of cracker ever since I was a child. And there has been rather more than one type of quick-firing gun.

[ILN Feb 10 1906 CW27:124-5]

When I was a child, I had a toy-theatre, illuminated in those days by candles (to which perhaps the psychoanalyst will trace my subsequent downfall into ecclesiastical crypts and cloisters) and in the ordinary way I was quite content with this type of illumination, the candles seeming to my barbarous mind to be themselves like a forest of fairy trees, with flames for flowers. There were also yet more rich and rare delights, which were sufficiently rare to those not sufficiently rich. It was sometimes possible to purchase a sort of dark red powder, which when ignited burst into a rich red light. Fire was wonderful enough - but red fire! But then I was only a dull Victorian infant somewhere between five and seven; and I only used red fire rarely; when it was effective. Living under such limitations, my immature brain perceived that it was more suitable to some things than to others; as, for instance, to a goblin coming up through a trap-door out of the cavern of the King of the Copper Mines, or to the final conflagration that made a crimson halo round the dark mill and castle of the execrable Mad Miller. I should not even then have used red fire in a scene showing the shepherd (doubtless a prince in disguise) piping to his lambs in the pale green meadows of spring; or in a scene in which glassy gauzes of green and blue waved in the manner of waves round the cold weeds and fishes at the entrance to Davy Jones's Locker.
[The Well and the Shallows CW3:416-7]

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?

What truth could you possibly mean? The Truth about Christmas?

Santa Claus, of course, is only St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children; but he has, in some ways, become more of a goblin than a saint. There have been many thousands of Christmas cards and Christmas books printed to depict him; and I doubt whether five of them depict him with a halo. We talk of Christmas as a kind of peace that reconciles everybody. Yet the two syllables of which Christmas is made are the two words that tear Europe from end to end more fiercely than any others.
[ILN Jan 7 1911 CW29:18]

The tragedy of the spiritualist simply is that he has to know his gods before he loves them. But a man ought to love his gods before he is sure that there are any. The sublime words of St. John's Gospel permit of a sympathetic parody; if a man love not God whom he has not seen, how shall he love God whom he has seen? [see 1 John 4:20, also John 1:18, 6:46] If we do not delight in Santa Claus even as a fancy, how can we expect to be happy even if we find that he is a fact?
[William Blake 102]

And if you care to know more, please read Manalive (the chapter called "The Burglary Charge") which reveals even greater truths about him. (Another excellent reference is provided in "The Shop of Ghosts" in Tremendous Trifles]

More again on Friday.

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