Archive for December, 2008
27 Dec 2008

Joel Stein Sneers at Patriotism

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Joel Stein happily admits that conservatives are right: lefties like himself don’t love America

Conservatives feel personally blessed to have been born in the only country worth living in. I, on the other hand, just feel lucky to have grown up in a wealthy democracy. If it had been Australia, Britain, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Spain, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, Israel or one of those Scandinavian countries with more relaxed attitudes toward sex, that would have been fine with me too.

Read the whole thing.

Reading this makes it even more depressing to remember that these kind of people won the last election.

27 Dec 2008

Not Albino Alligator

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He merely needs a thorough scrubbing

TCPalm:

It looks like a rare albino alligator.

In early December, residents of Vista Plantation began seeing an unusually large white-colored alligator in the community’s lakes west of the Indian River Mall, said subdivision manager Charles Smith.

“It was pure white,” he said.

The 300-pound, 10-foot-long adult alligator is seen resting on the shores of one of the man-made retention lakes along the golf course fairways winding through the subdivision’s condominiums. That lake is north of State Road 60 and west of 66th Avenue.

But when park officials called in a wildlife official to verify the alligator is albino, they learned the coloring is instead a coating of white minerals from untreated water pouring out of an artesian well emptying into the lake.

Bruce Dangerfield, Vero Beach Police animal control officer, humorously offered to pull the animal out to prove his point.

“I offered to catch it and use a scrub brush,” Dangerfield said to prove it, to which subdivision officials declined.

Yet, the alligator could continue to get fresh coats of white minerals as long as it stays around the artesian well. The coating is on the animal’s thick skin and isn’t a threat to its health, officials said.

26 Dec 2008

Feast of St. Stephen and Boxing Day

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Rembrandt. The Martyrdom of St. Stephen. 1625. Oil on panel. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons

From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

Feast Day: St. Stephen, the first martyr.

St. Stephen’s Day

To St. Stephen, the Proto-martyr, as he is generally styled, the honour has been accorded by the church of being placed in her calendar immediately after Christmas-day, in recognition of his having been the first to seal with his blood the testimony of fidelity to his Lord and Master. The year in which he was stoned to death, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, is supposed to have been 33 A.D. The festival commemorative of him has been retained in the Anglican calendar.

A curious superstition was formerly prevalent regarding St. Stephen’s Day—that horses should then, after being first well galloped, be copiously let blood, to insure them against disease in the course of the following year. In Barnaby Googe’s translation of Naogeorgus, the following lines occur relative to this popular notion:

    Then followeth Saint Stephen’s Day, whereon doth every man
    His horses jaunt and course abrode, as swiftly as he can,
    Until they doe extremely sweate, and then they let them blood,
    For this being done upon this day, they say doth do them good,
    And keepes them from all maladies and sicknesse through the yeare,
    As if that Steven any time tooke charge of horses heare.’

rest, and if it be upon St. Stephen’s Day it is not the worse, seeing there are with it three days of rest, or at least two.’

In the parish of Drayton Beauchamp, Bucks, there existed long an ancient custom, called Stephening, from the day on which it took place. On St. Stephen’s Day, all the inhabitants used to pay a visit to the rectory, and practically assert their right to partake of as much bread and cheese and ale as they chose at the rector’s expense. On one of these occasions, according to local tradition, the then rector, being a penurious old bachelor, determined to put a stop, if possible, to this rather expensive and unceremonious visit from his parishioners. Accordingly, when St. Stephen’s Day arrived, he ordered his housekeeper not to open the window-shutters, or unlock the doors of the house, and to remain perfectly silent and motionless whenever any person was heard approaching. At the usual time the parishioners began to cluster about the house. They knocked first at one door, then at the other, then tried to open them, and on finding them fastened, they called aloud for admittance. No voice replied. No movement was heard within. ‘Surely the rector and his house-keeper must both be dead!’ exclaimed several voices at once, and a general awe pervaded the whole group. Eyes were then applied to the key-holes, and to every crevice in the window-shutters, when the rector was seen beckoning his old terrified housekeeper to sit still and silent. A simultaneous shout convinced him that his design was understood. Still he consoled himself with the hope that his larder and his cellar were secure, as the house could not be entered. But his hope was speedily dissipated. Ladders were reared against the roof, tiles were hastily thrown off, half-a-dozen sturdy young men entered, rushed down the stairs, and threw open both the outer-doors. In a trice, a hundred or more unwelcome visitors rushed into the house, and began unceremoniously to help themselves to such fare as the larder and cellar afforded; for no special stores having been provided for the occasion, there was not half enough bread and cheese for such a multitude. To the rector and his housekeeper, that festival was converted into the most rigid fast-day they had ever observed.

After this signal triumph, the parishioners of Drayton regularly exercised their ‘privilege of Stephening’ till the incumbency of the Rev. Basil Wood, who was presented to the living in 1808. Finding that the custom gave rise to much rioting and drunkenness, he discontinued it, and distributed instead an annual sum of money in proportion to the number of claimants. But as the population of the parish greatly increased, and as he did not consider himself bound to continue the practice, he was induced, about the year 1827, to withhold his annual payments; and so the custom became finally abolished. For some years, however, after its discontinuance, the people used to go to the rectory for the accustomed bounty, but were always refused.

In the year 1834, the commissioners appointed to inquire concerning charities, made an investigation into this custom, and several of the inhabitants of Drayton gave evidence on the occasion, but nothing was elicited to shew its origin or duration, nor was any legal proof advanced skewing that the rector was bound to comply with such a demand. Many of the present inhabitants of the parish remember the custom, and some of them have heard their parents say, that it had been observed:


    ‘As long as the sun had shone,
    And the waters had run.’

In London and other places, St. Stephen’s Day, or the 26th of December, is familiarly known as Boxing-day, from its being the occasion on which those annual guerdons known as Christmas-boxes are solicited and collected. For a notice of them, the reader is referred to the ensuing article.

CHRISTMAS-BOXES

The institution of Christmas-boxes is evidently akin to that of New-year’s gifts, and, like it, has descended to us from the times of the ancient Romans, who, at the season of the Saturnalia, practiced universally the custom of giving and receiving presents. The fathers of the church denounced, on the ground of its pagan origin, the observance of such a usage by the Christians; but their anathemas had little practical effect, and in process of time, the custom of Christmas-boxes and New-year’s gifts, like others adopted from the heathen, attained the position of a universally recognised institution. The church herself has even got the credit of originating the practice of Christmas-boxes, as will appear from the following curious extract from The Athenian Oracle of John Dunton; a sort of primitive Notes and Queries, as it is styled by a contributor to the periodical of that name.

Q. From whence comes the custom of gathering of Christmas-box money? And how long since?

A. It is as ancient as the word mass, which the Romish priests invented from the Latin word mitto, to send, by putting the people in mind to send gifts, offerings, oblations; to have masses said for everything almost, that no ship goes out to the Indies, but the priests have a box in that ship, under the protection of some saint. And for masses, as they cant, to be said for them to that saint, &c., the poor people must put in something into the priest’s box, which is not to be opened till the ship return. Thus the mass at that time was Christ’s-mass, and the box Christ’s-mass-box, or money gathered against that time, that masses might be made by the priests to the saints, to forgive the people the debaucheries of that time; and from this, servants had liberty to get box-money, because they might be enabled to pay the priest for masses—because, No penny, no paternoster—for though the rich pay ten times more than they can expect, yet a priest will not say a mass or anything to the poor for nothing; so charitable they generally are.’

The charity thus ironically ascribed by Dunton to the Roman Catholic clergy, can scarcely, so far as the above extract is concerned, be warrantably claimed by the whimsical author himself. His statement regarding the origin of the custom under notice may be regarded as an ingenious conjecture, but cannot be deemed a satisfactory explanation of the question. As we have already seen, a much greater antiquity and diversity of origin must be asserted.

This custom of Christmas-boxes, or the bestowing of certain expected gratuities at the Christmas season, was formerly, and even yet to a certain extent continues to be, a great nuisance. The journeymen and apprentices of trades-people were wont to levy regular contributions from their masters’ customers, who, in addition, were mulcted by the trades-people in the form of augmented charges in the bills, to recompense the latter for gratuities expected from them by the customers’ servants. This most objectionable usage is now greatly diminished, but certainly cannot yet be said to be extinct. Christmas-boxes are still regularly expected by the postman, the lamplighter, the dustman, and generally by all those functionaries who render services to the public at large, without receiving payment therefore from any particular individual. There is also a very general custom at the Christmas season, of masters presenting their clerks, apprentices, and other employees, with little gifts, either in money or kind.

St. Stephen’s Day, or the 26th of December, being the customary day for the claimants of Christmas-boxes going their rounds, it has received popularly the designation of Boxing-day. In the evening, the new Christmas pantomime for the season is generally produced for the first time; and as the pockets of the working-classes, from the causes which we have above stated, have commonly received an extra supply of funds, the theatres are almost universally crowded to the ceiling on Boxing-night; whilst the ‘gods,’ or upper gallery, exercise even more than their usual authority. Those interested in theatrical matters await with consider-able eagerness the arrival, on the following morning, of the daily papers, which have on this occasion a large space devoted to a chronicle of the pantomimes and spectacles produced at the various London theatres on the previous evening.

In conclusion, we must not be too hard on the system of Christmas-boxes or handsets, as they are termed in Scotland, where, however, they are scarcely ever claimed till after the commencement of the New Year. That many abuses did and still do cling to them, we readily admit; but there is also intermingled with them a spirit of kindliness and benevolence, which it would be very undesirable to extirpate. It seems almost instinctive for the generous side of human nature to bestow some reward for civility and attention, and an additional incentive to such liberality is not infrequently furnished by the belief that its recipient is but inadequately remunerated otherwise for the duties which he performs. Thousands, too, of the commonalty look eagerly forward to the forth-coming guerdon on Boxing-day, as a means of procuring some little unwonted treat or relaxation, either in the way of sight-seeing, or some other mode of enjoyment. Who would desire to abridge the happiness of so many?

26 Dec 2008

Good King Wenceslaus

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Performed at York Minster in 1995, 2:51 video.

26 Dec 2008

The State Is Our Shepherd

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Hugo Rifkind survived Xmas without the advice of Britain’s Labour Government. It was obviously a Xmas miracle.

For all I know, this column is coming to you from beyond the grave. As I write, it is Christmas Eve. As you read, it is Boxing Day. I can’t really see myself making it through. You see, despite my best efforts, I have utterly failed to get hold of a copy of the Government’s festive safety leaflet, Tis the Season to be Careful.

Tis, tis it? Oh dear. I wonder what will get me? Will I sever an artery with scissors while excitedly opening a present? Take a lethal elbow to the nose, thanks to somebody else’s overenthusiastic tug on a Christmas cracker? Maybe I’ll get drunk and sit in the fireplace, or blow up the house by putting a gravy boat in the microwave. Maybe, who knows, I’ll fit the whole turkey over my head and, as the complete antithesis of that “Blind man sees” story that was in the newspapers the other day, run around excitedly until I fall off the landing. You know, like Joey would have done, if they’d had stairs in that apartment in Friends.

Alas, there is just no knowing. For the Government handed out 150,000 leaflets advising people on how not to kill themselves at Christmas, and my household didn’t end up with one. I’m feeling terribly exposed. And there must be plenty of other families in the same boat.

Maybe you read this now as the only survivor of your own little festive apocalypse. Under the dining room table, naked except for a party hat, beating off the advances of your snarling, brandy-butter-crazed family dog with the charred remains of grandma’s thighbone. “Nooooo!” you will be wailing. “If only I had been appraised of the stark and leafleted warnings of Baroness Morgan of Drefelin, the Minister for Children, in conjunction with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents! Woe! Woe!” Sob, growl, thunk. ..

Once you stop resenting nanny, you start to rely on her. If nanny tells you to stop smoking in pubs, you probably stop smoking in pubs. But, in time, you also stop thinking about whether you ought to smoke in pubs or not. And worse, if somebody else lights up next to you, you expect nanny to do something about it. It’s not your business or even really his. It’s just nanny’s business. You’ve both become morons.

Now nanny is telling you not to hurt yourself over Christmas. Chances are, you weren’t really planning to, anyway. Chances are, moreover, that you probably thought you were quite well equipped to avoid hurting yourself at Christmas all by yourself.

But nanny disagrees. Nanny doesn’t think that you are up to it. And, in time, you’ll probably start to believe her. In time, as a result, you will grow to consider your wellbeing at Christmas not to be your own problem at all, but to be nanny’s problem entirely. And that’s nuts.

In other words, you used to have a duty not to burn down your house and slaughter your entire family. Now, because nanny has taken on that duty, you have a right not to burn down your house and slaughter your entire family. Needless to say, this makes no sense at all.

Still, don’t come crying to me. It’s nanny’s fault, not mine. And anyway, as discussed, I’m probably dead.

Read the whole thing.

25 Dec 2008

Christmas Day

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From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

Born: Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world; Sir Isaac Newton, natural philosopher, 1642, Woolsthorpe, near Grantham; Johann Jacob Reiske, oriental scholar, 1716, Zorbig, Saxony; William Collins, poet, 1720, Chichester; Richard Person, Greek scholar, 1759, East Ruston, Norfolk.

and my wife, Karen.

Died: Persius, satiric poet, 62 A.D.; Pope Adrian I, 795; Emperor Leo V, the Armenian, slain at Constantinople, 820; Sir Matthew Hale, eminent judge, 1676; Rev. James Hervey, author of the Meditations, 1758, Weston Favell, Northamptonshire; Mrs. Chapone, moral writer, 1801, Hadley, Middlesex; Colonel John Gurwood, editor of Wellington’s Dispatches, 1854, Brighton.

Feast Day: St. Eugenia, virgin and martyr, about 257. St. Anastasia, martyr, 304. Another St. Anastasia.

Christmas Day

The festival of Christmas is regarded as the greatest celebration throughout the ecclesiastical year, and so important and joyous a solemnity is it deemed, that a special exception is made in its favour, whereby, in the event of the anniversary falling on a Friday, that day of the week, under all other circumstances a fast, is transformed to a festival.

That the birth of Jesus Christ, the deliverer of the human race, and the mysterious link connecting the transcendent and incomprehensible attributes of Deity with human sympathies and affections, should be considered as the most glorious event that ever happened, and the most worthy of being reverently and joyously commemorated, is a pro-position which must commend itself to the heart and reason of every one of His followers, who aspires to walk in His footsteps, and share in the ineffable benefits which His death has secured to mankind. And so though at one period denounced by the Puritans as superstitious, and to the present day disregarded by Calvinistic Protestants, as unwarranted by Scripture, there are few who will seriously dispute the propriety of observing the anniversary of Christ’s birth by a religious service.

A question, however, which has been long and eagerly agitated, is here brought forward. Is the 25th of December really the day on which our Saviour first shewed himself in human form in the manger at Bethlehem? The evidence which we possess regarding the date is not only traditional, but likewise conflicting and confused. In the earliest periods at which we have any record of the observance of Christmas, we find that some communities of Christians celebrated the festival on the 1st or 6th of January; others on the 29th of March, the time of the Jewish Passover; while others, it is said, observed it on the 29th of September, or Feast of Tabernacles. There can be no doubt, however, that long before the reign of Constantine, in the fourth century, the season of the New Year had been adopted as the period for celebrating the Nativity, though a difference in this respect existed in the practice of the Eastern and Western Churches, the former observing the 6th of January, and the latter the 25th of December. The custom of the Western Church at last prevailed, and both of the ecclesiastical bodies agreed to hold the anniversary on the same day. The fixing of the date appears to have been the act of Julius I, who presided as pope or bishop of Rome, from 337 to 352 A.D. The circumstance is doubted by Mosheim, but is confirmed by St. Chrysostom, who died in the beginning of the fifth century.

This celebrated father of the church informs us, in one of his epistles, that Julius, on the solicitation of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, caused strict inquiries to be made on the subject, and thereafter, following what seemed to be the best authenticated tradition, settled authoritatively the 25th of December as the anniversary of Christ’s birth, the ‘Festorum omnium metropolis,’ as it is styled by Chrysostom. It is true, indeed, that some have represented this fixing of the day to have been accomplished by St. Telesphorus, who was bishop of Rome 128—139 A. D., but the authority for the assertion is very doubtful. Towards the close of the second century, we find a notice of the observance of Christmas in the reign of the Emperor Commodus; and about a hundred years afterwards, in the time of Dioclesiaun an atrocious act of cruelty is recorded of the last named emperor, who caused a church in Nicomedia, where the Christians were celebrating the Nativity, to be set on fire, and by barring every means of egress from the building, made all the worshippers perish in the flames. Since the, end of the fourth century at least, the 25th of December has been uniformly observed as the anniversary of the Nativity by all the nations of Christendom.

Thus far for ancient usage, but it will be. readily comprehended that insurmountable difficulties yet exist with respect to the real date of the momentous event under notice. Sir Isaac Newton, indeed, remarks in his Commentary on the Prophecies of Daniel, that the feast of the Nativity, and most of the other ecclesiastical anniversaries, were originally fixed at cardinal points of the year, without any reference to the dates of the incidents which they commemorated, dates which, by the lapse of time, had become impossible to be ascertained. Thus the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary was placed on the 25th of March, or about the time of the vernal equinox; the feast of St. Michael on the 29th of September, or near the autumnal equinox; and the birth of Christ and other festivals at the time of the winter-solstice. Many of the apostles ‘days—such as St. Paul, St. Matthias, and others—were determined by the days when the sun entered the respective signs of the ecliptic, and the pagan festivals had also a considerable share in the adjustment of the Christian year.

To this last we shall shortly have occasion to advert more particularly, but at present we shall content ourselves by remarking that the views of the great astronomer just indicated, present at least a specious explanation of the original construction of the ecclesiastical calendar. As regards the observance of Easter indeed, and its accessory celebrations, there is good ground for maintaining that they mark tolerably accurately the anniversaries of the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, seeing that we know that the events themselves took place at the period of the Jewish Passover. But no such precision of date can be adduced as regards Christmas, respecting which the generally received view now is, that it does not correspond with the actual date of the nativity of our Saviour. One objection, in particular, has been made, that the incident recorded in Scripture, of shepherds keeping watch by night on the plains of Bethlehem, could not have taken place in the month of December, a period generally of great inclemency in the region of Judea.

Though Christian nations have thus, from an early period in the history of the church, celebrated Christmas about the period of the winter-solstice or the shortest day, it is well known that many, and, indeed, the greater number of the popular festive observances by which it is characterized, are referable to a much more ancient origin. Amid all the pagan nations of antiquity, there seems to have been a universal tendency to worship the sun as the giver of life and light, and the visible manifestation of the Deity. Various as were the names bestowed by different peoples on this object of their worship, he was still the same divinity. Thus, at Rome, he appears to have been worshipped under one of the characters attributed to Saturn, the father of the gods; among the Scandinavian nations he was known under the epithet of Odin or Woden, the father of Thor, who seems after-wards to have shared with his parent the adoration bestowed on the latter, as the divinity of which the ‘sun was the visible manifestation; whilst with the ancient Persians, the appellation for the god of lights was Mithras, apparently the same as the Irish Mithr, and with the Phoenicians or Carthaginians it was Baal or Bel, an epithet familiar to all students of the Bible.

Concurring thus as regards the object of worship, there was a no less remarkable uniformity in the period of the year at which these different nations celebrated a grand festival in his honour. The time chosen appears to have been universally the season of the New Year, or, rather, the winter-solstice, from which the new year was frequently reckoned. This unanimity in the celebration of the festival in question, is to be ascribed to the general feeling of joy which all of us experience when the gradual shortening of the day reaches its utmost limit on the 21st of December, and the sun, recommencing his upward course, announces that mid-winter is past, and spring and summer are approaching. On similar grounds, and with similar demonstrations, the ancient pagan nations observed a festival at mid-summer, or the summer-solstice, when the sun arrives at the culminating point of his ascent on the 21st of June, or longest day.

By the Romans, this anniversary was celebrated under the title of Saturnalia, or the festival of Saturn, and was marked by the prevalence of a universal license and merry-making. The slaves were permitted to enjoy for a time a thorough freedom in speech and behavior, and it is even said that their masters waited on them as servants. Every one feasted and rejoiced, work and business were for a season entirely suspended, the houses were decked with laurels and evergreens, presents were made by parents and friends, and all sorts of games and amusements were indulged. in by the citizens. In the bleak north, the same rejoicings had place, but in a ruder and more barbarous form. Fires were extensively kindled, both in and out of doors, blocks of wood blazed in honour of Odin and Thor, the sacred mistletoe was gathered by the Druids, and sacrifices, both of men and cattle, were made to the savage divinities. Fires are said, also, to have been kindled at this period of the year by the ancient Persians, between whom and the Druids of Western Europe a relationship is supposed to have existed.

In the early ages of Christianity, its ministers frequently experienced the utmost difficulty in inducing the converts to refrain from indulging in the popular amusements which were so largely participated in by their pagan countrymen. Among others, the revelry and license which characterized the Saturnalia called for special animadversion. But at last, convinced partly of the inefficacy of such denunciations, and partly influenced by the idea that the spread of Christianity might thereby be advanced, the church endeavored to amalgamate, as it were, the old and new religious, and sought, by transferring the heathen ceremonies to the solemnities of the Christian festivals, to make them subservient to the cause of religion and piety. A compromise was thus effected between clergy and laity, though it must be admitted that it proved anything but a harmonious one, as we find a constant, though ineffectual, proscription by the ecclesiastical authorities of the favorite amusements of the people, including among others the sports and revelries at Christmas.

Ingrafted thus on the Romani Saturnalia, the Christmas festivities received in Britain further changes and modifications, by having superadded to them, first, the Druidical rites and superstitions, and then, after the arrival of the Saxons, the various ceremonies practiced by the ancient Germans and Scandinavians. The result has been the strange medley of Christian and pagan rites which contribute to make up the festivities of the modern Christmas. Of these, the burning of the Yule log, and the superstitions connected with the mistletoe have already been described under Christmas Eve, and further accounts are given under separate heads, both under the 24th and 25th of December.

The name given by the ancient Goths and. Saxons to the festival of the winter-solstice was Jul or Yule, the latter term forming, to the present day, the designation in the Scottish dialect of Christmas, and preserved also in the phrase of the ‘Yule log.’ Perhaps the etymology of no term has excited greater discussion among antiquaries. Some maintain it to be derived from the Greek, Ïu0192Ïu2026λÏu0192ι, or, ιÏu0192Ïu2026λÏu0192Ïu201a, the name of a hymn in honor of Ceres; others say it comes from the Latin jubilum, signifying a time of rejoicing, or from its being a festival in honour of Julius Caesar; whilst some also explain its meaning as synonymous with ol or oel, which in the ancient Gothic language denotes a feast, and also the favorite liquor used on such occasion, whence our word ale. But a much more probable derivation of the term in question is from the Gothic giul or hiul, the origin of the modem word wheel, and bearing the same signification. According to this very probable explanation, the Yule festival received its name from its being the turning-point of the year, or the period at which the fiery orb of day made a revolution in his annual circuit, and entered on his northern journey. A confirmation of this view is afforded by the circumstance that in the old clog almanacs, a wheel is the device employed for marking the season of Yule-tide.

Throughout the middle ages, and down to the period of the Reformation, the festival of Christmas, ingrafted on the pagan rites of Yule, continued throughout Christendom to be universally celebrated with every mark of rejoicing. On the adoption of a new system of faith by most of the northern nations of Europe in the sixteenth century, the Lutheran and Anglican churches retained the celebration of Christmas and other festivals, which Calvinists rejected absolutely, denouncing the observance of all such days, except Sunday, as superstitious and unscriptural. In reference to the superstition anciently prevalent in Scotland against spinning on Christmas or Yule day, and the determination of the Calvinistic clergy to put down all such notions, the following amusing passage is quoted by Dr. Jamieson from Jhone Hamilton’s Facile Traictise:

‘The ministers of Scotland—in contempt of the vther halie dayes obseruit be England—cause their wyfis and seruants spin in oppin sicht of the people upon Yeul day; and their affectionnate auditeurs constraines their tennants to yok thair pleuchs on Yeul day in contempt of Christ’s Natiuitie, whilk our Lord has not left vnpunisit: for thair oxin ran wod [mad], and brak their nekis, and leamit [lamed] sum pleugh men, as is notoriously knawin in sindrie partes of Scotland.’

In consequence of the Presbyterian form of church-government, as constituted by John Knox and his coadjutors on the model of the ecclesiastical polity of Calvin, having taken such firm root in Scotland, the festival of Christmas, with other commemorative celebrations retained from the Romish calendar by the Anglicans and Lutherans, is comparatively unknown in that country, at least in the Lowlands. The tendency to mirth and jollity at the close of the year, which seems almost inherent in human nature, has, in North Britain, been, for the most part, transferred from Christmas and Christmas Eve to New-year’s Day and the preceding evening, known by the appellation of Hogmenay. In many parts of the Highlands of Scotland, however, and also in the county of Forfar, and one or two other districts, the day for the great annual merry-making is Christmas.

From a curious old song preserved in the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum, we learn that it was considered peculiarly lucky when Christmas-day fell on a Sunday, and the reverse when it occurred on a Saturday. The intermediate days are, for the most part, characterized by a happy uniformity of propitious augury. The versification is of the rudest and most rugged description, but as an interesting specimen of medieval folk-lore, we subjoin the stanzas relating to Sunday and Saturday:

Lordinges, I warne you al beforne,
Yef that day that Cryste was borne,
Falle uppon a Sunday;
That wynter shall be good par fay,
But grete wyndes alofte shalbe,
The somer shall be fayre and drye;
By kynde skylle, wythowtyn lesse,
Throw all londes shalbe peas,
And good tyme all thyngs to don,
But he that stelyth he shalbe fownde sone;
Whate chylde that day borne be,
A great lord he shalbe.

If Crystmas on the Saterday falle,
That wynter ys to be dredden alle,
Hyt shalbe so fulle of grete tempeste
That hyt shall sle bothe man and beste,
Frute and corn shal fayle grete won,
And olde folke dyen many on;

Whate woman that day of chylde travayle
They shalbe borne in grete perelle
And chyldren that be borne that day,
Within half a yere they shall dye par fay,
The summer then shall wete ryghte ylle:
If thou awght stele, hyt shel the spylle;
Thou dyest, yf sekenes take the.’

Somewhat akin to the notions above inculcated, is the belief in Devonshire that if the sun shines bright at noon on Christmas-day, a plentiful crop of apples may be expected in the following year.

From the Diary of that rare old gossip, Mr. Pepys, we extract the following entries relative to three Christmas-days of two hundred years ago:

‘Christmas-day (1662).—Had a pleasant walk to Whitehall, where I intended to have received the communion with the family, but I came a little too late. So I walked up into the house, and spent my time looking over pictures, particularly the ships in King Henry the Eighth’s Voyage to Bullaen; marking the great difference between those built then and now. By and by, down to the chapel again, where Bishop Morley preached on the song of the angels, “Glory to God on high, on earth peace and good-will towards men.” Bethought he made but a poor sermon, but long, and reprehending the common jollity of the court for the true joy that shall and ought to be on those days. Particularised concerning their excess in plays and gaming, saying that he whose device it is to keep the gamesters in order and within bounds, serves but for a second rather in a duel, meaning the groomer porter. Upon which it was worth observing how far they are come from taking the reprehensions of a bishop seriously, that they all laugh in the chapel when he reflected on their ill actions and courses. He did much press us to joy in these public days of joy, and to hospitality. But one that stood by whispered in my eare, that the bishop do not spend one groat to the poor himself. The sermon done, a good anthem followed with vials, and the king came down to receive the sacrament.

‘Christmas-day (1668).—To church in the morning, and there saw a wedding in the church, which I have not seen many a day; and the young people so merry one with another, and strange to see what delight we married people have to see these poor fools decoyed into our condition, every man and woman gazing and smiling at them.

‘Christmas-day (1668).—To dinner alone with any wife, who, poor wretch ! sat undressed all day till ten at night, altering and lacing of a noble petticoat; while I by her making the boy read to me the Life of Julius Ceasar, and Des Cartes’s book of Music.’

The geniality and joyousness of the Christmas season in England, has long been a national characteristic. The following poem or carol, by George Wither, who belongs to the first-half of the seventeenth century, describes with hilarious animation the mode of keeping Christmas in the poet’s day:

‘So now is come our joyful feast;
Let every man be jolly;
Each room with ivy leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
Though some churls at our mirth repine,
Round your foreheads garlands twine;
Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
And let us all be merry.

Now all our neighbours’ chimneys smoke,
And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with baked meat choke,
And all their spits are turning.
Without the door let sorrow lye;
And if for cold it hap to die,
We’ll bury’t in a Christmas-pie,
And evermore be merry.

Now every lad is wond’rous trim,
And no man minds his labour;
Our lasses have provided them
A bagpipe and a tabor;
Young men and maids, and girls and boys,
Give life to one another’s joys;
And you anon shall by their noise
Perceive that they are merry.

Rank misers now do sparing shun;
Their hall of music soundeth;
And dogs thence with whole shoulders run,
So all things then aboundeth.
The country-folks, themselves advance,
With crowdy-muttons out of France;
And Jack shall pipe and Jyll shall dance,
And all the town be merry.

Ned Squash hath fetcht his bands from pawn,
And all his best apparel
Brisk Nell hath bought a ruff of lawn
With dropping of the barrel.
And those that hardly all the year
Had bread to eat, or rags to wear,
Will have both clothes and dainty fare,
And all the day be merry.

Now poor men to the justices
With capons make their errants;
And if they hap to fail of these,
They plague them with their warrants:
But now they feed them with good cheer,
And what they want, they take in beer,
For Christmas comes but once a year,
And then they shall be merry.

Good farmers in the country nurse
The poor, that else were undone;
Some landlords spend their money worse,
On lust and pride at London.
There the roysters they do play,
Drab and dice their lands away,
Which may be ours another day,
And therefore let’s be merry.

The client now his suit forbears;
The prisoner’s heart is eased;
The debtor drinks away his cares,
And for the time is pleased.
Though others’ purses be more fat,
Why should we pine or grieve at that?
Hang sorrow! care will kill a cat,
And therefore let’s be merry.

Hark! now the wags abroad do call,
Each other forth to rambling;
non you’ll see them in the hall,
For nuts and apples scrambling.
Hark! how the roofs with laughter sound,
Anon they’ll think the house goes round,
For they the cellar’s depth have found,
And there they will be merry.

The wenches with their wassel-bowls
About the streets are singing;
The boys are come to catch the owls,
The wild mare in it bringing,
our kitchen-boy hath broke his box,
And to the dealing of the ox,
Our honest neighbors come by flocks,
And here they will be merry.

Now kings and queens poor sheepcotes have,
And mate with every body;
The honest now may play the knave,
And wise men play the noddy.
Some youths will now a mumming go,
Some others play at Rowland-ho,
And twenty other game boys mo,
Because they will be merry.

Then, wherefore in these merry daies,
Should we, I pray, be duller?
No, let us sing some roundelayes,
To make our mirth the fuller.
And, while thus inspired we sing,
Let all the streets with echoes ring;
Woods and hills and every thing,
Bear witness we are merry.’

At present, Christmas-day, if somewhat shorn of its ancient glories, and unmarked by that boisterous jollity and exuberance of animal spirits which distinguished it in the time of our ancestors, is, nevertheless, still the holiday in which of all others throughout the year, all classes of English society most generally participate. Partaking of a religious character, the forenoon of the day is usually passed in church, and in the evening the re-united members of the family assemble round the joyous Christmas-board. Separated as many of these are during the rest of the year, they all make an effort to meet together round the Christmas-hearth. The hallowed feelings of domestic love and attachment, the pleasing remembrance of the past, and the joyous anticipation of the future, all cluster round these family-gatherings, and in the sacred associations with which they are intertwined, and the active deeds of kindness and benevolence which they tend to call forth, a realization may almost be found of the angelic message to the shepherds of Bethlehem—’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men.’

25 Dec 2008

Es ist ein Ros’ Entsprungen

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25 Dec 2008

A Gun For Christmas

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John Clarke remembers the old days.

I was excited as I headed toward the bus stop. My dad was coming from downtown Denver on the 5:15 and he was bringing home “our” Christmas present. We had been saving our quarters, dimes and nickels so we could get a new .22 rifle. I could see my dad making his way past the other passengers with a Winchester .22 pump in his hand. It was beautiful. We were still saving for a proper case, so he was carrying it openly.

As we walked up the block to our house, we talked to several neighbors as they admired our new rifle. We lived in a densely populated part of east Denver, so we had to wait until the next day to drive to the outskirts of town and shoot, but it was worth the wait. I still own and love that beautiful little gun.

What would happen today if my dad had gotten on an RTD bus in the middle of Denver with a rifle? I can only imagine how many SWAT teams would be involved.

Read the whole thing.

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When I was five or six years old, somebody gave my father an ancient Damascus-barreled 10 gauge double-barrel shotgun. It was intended to be a wall-hanger. Damascus barreled guns were believed back then to be universally unsafe to use with smokeless shotgun shells, and this one was in poor condition. One of the two hammers didn’t cock. The bores were pitted, and the barrels had dents and a certain amount of rust.

My father thought little of the old gun, and he knew perfectly well that I had no possible way of laying hands on any 10 gauge shotgun shells, so before long I had pestered my way into being allowed to appropriate it as a toy. There we were, back in the 1950s, a gang of little kids, playing cowboys and Indians with a motley collection of cap pistols and one enormous antique double-barreled shotgun which any one of us could barely carry.

Can you imagine the adult reaction today to a pack of kids lugging around an enormous old shotgun? Back then, adults just looked on with a smile.

24 Dec 2008

Progressives Peeved With Former Pet

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Obama has been moving at high speed to the center, at least with his appointments so far, and the democrat progressive base is disappointed. Jeff Jacoby is having a Schadefreude moment.

Can you hear the grumbling over in what Howard Dean used to call “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party?” The tolerance-and-diversity crowd is upset with Barack Obama; it seems the president-elect has been bringing people into his circle who don’t agree with them on every single issue.

The consternation on the left began with the naming of Obama’s national security team – Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Robert Gates to continue as secretary of defense, and retired four-star General James Jones as national security adviser. “Barack Obama’s Kettle of Hawks,” they were promptly dubbed in the Guardian by the left-wing journalist Jeremy Scahill, “with a proven track record of support for the Iraq war [and] militaristic interventionism.” How could Obama possibly keep his campaign promise “to end the mindset that got us into war,” asked the The Nation, when none of his top foreign policy/national security picks had opposed the war?

There was even more distress in progressive precincts after Obama’s economic team was announced. Lawrence Summers, who will chair the National Economic Council, “opposed regulating the newfangled financial instruments that greased the way to the subprime meltdown,” wrote David Corn, the Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones magazine, in a column for the Washington Post. Obama’s choice for Treasury secretary, New York Fed president Timothy Geithner, “helped oversee the financial system as it collapsed.” Both of them, lamented Corn, are close to Robert Rubin, “a director of bailed-out Citigroup and a poster boy for . . . Big Finance.”

Add the passel of former Clinton operatives who have returned to play key roles in the Obama transition, including Rahm Emanuel, John Podesta, and Greg Craig, and Obama Girl herself could be forgiven for feeling disillusioned. Whatever happened to the fresh, progressive candidate who promised an escape from Clinton-era Democratic politics?

As if all that weren’t enough to give a fervent liberal agita, Obama has asked the Rev. Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor of Saddleback Church, to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. From many on the left, where Warren’s staunch opposition to same-sex marriage is reason enough to loathe him, responses have ranged from dismay to fury. Barney Frank labeled the pastor’s views “very offensive” and pronounced himself “very disappointed” that Obama would invite him. The blog Liberal Rapture was more pungent: “Obama throws another middle finger to liberals.

24 Dec 2008

Once in Royal David’s City

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The King’s College Choir in St. Paul’s Cathdral: 3:10 video.

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Hat tip to Bird Dog.

24 Dec 2008

Christmas Eve

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For a picture of Christmas Eve, in the olden time, we can desire none better than that furnished by Sir Walter Scott in Marmion:

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 donned her kirtle sheen;
The hall was dressed with holly green;
Forth to the wood did merry-men go,
To gather in the mistletoe.
Then opened wide the baron’s hall
To vassal, tenant, serf, and all;
Power laid his rod of rule aside,
And Ceremony doffed 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 hailed, with uncontrolled 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,
Scrubbed 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 frowned on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garbed ranger tell,
How, when, and where the monster fell
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar.
The wassail round in good brown bowls,
Garnished with ribbons, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reeked: hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas-eye;
Nor failed old Scotland to produce,
At such high-tide, her savoury goose.
Then came the merry masquers in,
And carols roared 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, oh! what masquers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!
England was merry England, when
Old Christmas brought his sports again.
‘Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale;
‘Twas Christmas told the merriest tale
A Christmas gambol oft could cheer
The poor man’s heart through half the year.

24 Dec 2008

Stand Fast in Liberty

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The Wall Street Journal has a charming tradition, going back to 1949, of publishing the following editorial in the issue nearest preceding Christmas:

(excerpt)

In Hoc Anno Domini
December 23-24, 2006

When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.

Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.

But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression — for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the legions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impressor to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the Emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?

There was the persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?

Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s….

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

This editorial was written in 1949 by the late Vermont Royster and has been published annually since.

23 Dec 2008

Russian Sea-Based Missile Fails Fifth Test

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The current Russian government, emboldened by a tremendous windfall of revenue from recently surging petroleum and other commodity prices, has been flexing its muscles and promising to update Russia’s strategic weapons arsenal. After all there’s nothing like pointing a missile loaded with multiple thermonuclear warheads at the rest of the world’s civilian population centers to give a backward country with a dismal record of self government a major voice in world affairs.

Now with the world economy contracting, production, demand, and commodity prices falling, Russia is going to be experiencing a shortage of cash, so competing with the US on a strategic triad (land, air, and sea-based strategic weapons) is going to be much more difficult. And things haven’t been going all that satisfactorily right now.

SF Chronicle:

Russia’s new sea-based ballistic missile has failed in a test launch for the fifth time, signaling serious trouble with the highly advertised key future component of the nation’s nuclear forces.

The Bulava “self-destructed and exploded in the air” after a launch from the Dmitry Donskoy nuclear submarine beneath surface of the White Sea, said Navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo.

Russia has been making an aggressive effort in recent years to upgrade its missile forces after years of post-Soviet underfunding and a lack of testing.

The Kremlin has hailed the missile as capable of penetrating any prospective missile defenses. …

The Bulava is reportedly designed to have a maximum range of about 6,200 miles (10,000 kilometers) and carry six individually targeted nuclear warheads. It is expected to equip three new Borei-class nuclear submarines that are under construction.

“This is a serious blow to Russia’s military plans to deploy the Borei submarines,” said independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer. “The failure delays (Bulava’s) production and deployment indefinitely.”

Russian news agencies said that Tuesday’s test was the fifth failure out of 10 launches since 2004.

23 Dec 2008

“In the Bleak MidWinter”

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