Friday, December 31, 2010

... and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot ...

“What a long strange trip it’s been ...”

And in case it wasn't strange enough, we present this sufficiently bleeped-out puppet theatre production. Just relax and enjoy the show.

This is also the occasion for us to look back upon a year that has passed. This time last year, we looked upon a decade that had passed. For this entry, we look back at two significant events this past year, the stories of which have yet to be told.

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This year, the Boy Scouts of America celebrated their centennial. The National Jamboree which would have fallen the previous year was moved to this year. I wanted to be on the Staff this year, but it costs well over a thousand dollars, which is a lot to be spending a week or more helping to park cars. And let's face it, parking cars for free is beneath me. So I settled for visitor status. I spent the day at Fort A P Hill, Virginia, visiting people I knew from around the country, and Scouts I had met at the Centennial Parade a few days before. In this clip, David Morgan and Andrew Bell interviewed Eagle Scout and host of the television hit Dirty Jobs, Mike Rowe. From favorite campfire songs to a new Dirty Jobs Merit Badge, Rowe talked Scouting with these two young reporters.

Whether at the national or world level, jamborees are not the occasion to "rough it" too much. There are places to go, things to do, and people to see. The outdoorsmanship activities, especially rappelling, are always a big favorite, and the most skilled adults in the country help these kids have the time of their lives, as they do here at the rappelling tower. There was also a lot of patch trading going on, and designated sections along the roads were filled with one blanket after another of multi-colored patches laid out, and guys ready to do business. The cardinal rule, of course, is that youth only trade with youth, and adults only with adults. I left my rather modest collection at home.

There was one memorable event in which I was able to take part, I'm pleased to say. There was a nationwide webcast, as the jamboree arena stage was hooked up with contingents from various parts of the country, other Scouts and Scouters who couldn't make the trip. As is always the Scouting tradition, every effort was made to make this event as "boy-led" as possible, with youth members acting as emcees and announcers. The high point of the evening was a concert by San Diego-based quintet known as Switchfoot. Ostensibly a "Christian rock" band (but not the kind that gets in your face about it), they put on quite a show.

The climax was the “Shining Light” event, as singer Jonathan Foreman left the stage to mingle with Scouts leading them in a group photo that lit up the sky. It actually happens at 0:53, but the whole thing is worth watching. He made the boys the stars of the evening, and that they were. How I envied them, the ones I met at the parade, and the ones I saw at the Jamboree. This extravaganza will stay with them for years. They will tell their children, their grandchildren, how for one single night in history, they could not have been more proud to wear the uniform, and be a part of the movement, that is Scouting.

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I stayed in Cincinnati for a few extra days after I took Sal to the airport, to attend an event at my alma mater, the University of Cincinnati; in particular the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. Three of the professors from the Graphic Design Department were retiring -- Gordon Salchow, the man who built the department into one of the world's finest; Heinz Schenker, the man who taught me everything I know about typography; Joseph Bottoni, my mentor and a pal o' mine, who more than anyone on the faculty helped me to put college life into a certain perspective.

The main event was on a Friday evening, with a dinner. I sat with designers whom I had not seen since I left in 1978, including those who had gone on to critical and international acclaim. And to think I only knew them as fellow-students, as colleagues. This was followed by Professor Salchow's "final lecture." The three retirees -- left to right, Bottoni, Salchow, and Schenker -- appear in the photo below.

I was pleased to be able to speak briefly with Professor Salchow, and encourage him to finish the book he intended to write, a comprehensive text of instruction on visual aesthetics. It was a rare delight to speak with an esteemed colleague on matters of professional import. We actually hugged, sort of, as I believe this was truly an emotional night for him, which is a side of him that few get to see.

I told Heinz that, because of all I had learned from him, I was able to talk the web design department at the Art Institute out of making me fulfill the Typography requirement, and had summoned the resolve to claim that I could do a better job of teaching the class than anyone there. He reacted kindly, if only as a man who, after forty years, still hadn't quite gotten used to English as a first language -- God love him.

I got a kick out of giving Joe a hard time, just like the old days. We were both a couple of Catholic school boys from Cincinnati, and shared that common vernacular that is often unspoken. I'm going back to visit him next summer, and I'm going to try to bring Paul. (Oh, yeah, I also loved bragging about how my son was doing at another equally prestigious school.)

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This year has been a very challenging one, with highs and lows of a certain magnitude, and a realization of how, given a natural course of events, how short my time is left in this world. Can I know, love, and serve my Maker just well enough, to call on his Divine Mercy when I face Him, that I may remain with Him forever in the next world?

As one may ponder this notion, this writer will leave the finale to Gordon himself, in one of his uncharacteristic moments. It only goes to show you, that anything that can happen, just might after all.

FAMW: The Final Whimsy of 2010

Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) was afraid that if Guam became too over-populated, it might tip over. The one thing this guy has going for him, is that he is an improvement over his predecessor, Cynthia McKinney. That's how we're gonna end the year, and this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

A Petition Against Blasphemy

Pepsi and Doritos will be offering five million dollars to the person who submits the winning commercial for the 2011 Super Bowl. All submissions are reviewed and ten finalists will be selected on January 3. Then the voting is open to the public on USA Today Ad Meter. (mwbh reviews the most popular Super Bowl commercials every year, including those noted by USA Today).

A terribly blasphemous commercial was submitted. It is called “Feed the Flock,” and shows a parish where attendance is dropping. The priest decides to distribute Doritos and Pepsi as Holy Communion to bring in the people. Then weird looking people show up to receive the Holy Eucharist, which is really Pepsi and Doritos!

This mockery of the Body and Blood of Christ is outrageous and unacceptable! Sign this petition to stop this blasphemous commercial to Pepsi and Doritos. It is important to send it today because Pepsi will approve the winners on January 3.

The commercial is on Facebook as "Feed your flock." (CONTENT ADVISORY: Potentially offensive to any Catholic with a pulse.) To sign a petition to stop it, click here. You could remind them that they wouldn't dare treat Muslims this way, but that might be a little over the top. Then again ...

Catholics are 24 percent of the American population. For this to go by unchallenged would be equally outrageous. Please offer prayers and sacrifices in reparation for this horrific blasphemy.

And sign the damn petition already!

Christ-Mass: Day 7 (St Sylvester)

“On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven swans a-swimming ...”

Allowing for corruptions evolving the text as described earlier, the "seven swans a-swimming" completes the first seven days being represented by birds, in honor of the seven sacraments. The song is just more than half over, and we can already see that someone obviously put a great deal of thought into it.

Today is the Feast of Saint Sylvester, who was Pope from January 31, 314, until his death on this day in 335. He was the first bishop of Rome to refer to himself as "Pope," or "Father (Papa)." His reign would have occurred during that of Emperor Constantine (see image above right), as well as the First Council of Nicea in 325, which composed the Nicene Creed proclaimed at Mass on Sunday. (Sylvester did not attend this council, but sent a legation.) He is also one of the ten longest-reigning popes in history.

In present-day Germany, this day of New Year's Eve is known as "Silvester." Other countries know the day better by the saints name as well (such as "la Saint-Sylvestre" in France.)

Now. if we could just figure out what birds and sacraments have in common.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pleading the Fourth

When I first moved to Washington, I worked for a man who grew up in Vienna in the 1930s. This wouldn't sound so bad, except that he was Jewish, and one day toward the end of that decade, the Nazis next door decided to take over.

Contrary to what you might believe, all the Jews didn't just get up and walk out of Austria right away. Not to worry, they told themselves. They were certainly aware that Hitler didn't like them. They just didn't believe he would take take things too far. Even after he started, the exodus wasn't as great as it could have been. Too many of them were convinced that they were safe, that if only they behaved, they would be okay. They simply could not believe they were in any real trouble, until it was too late.

We tend to forget that Hitler didn't rise to power by force. He was elected by the majority of the German population. (Interestingly, this was one promoter of a holocaust who didn't win "the Catholic vote," but that's another story.) He promised prosperity and security to a desperate nation, and he made good on his promise. But not without a cost.

Today, roughly two-thirds of Americans agree with the current security measures at the Nation's airports, including radioactive scans that require every passenger to be seen naked by an unknown person, and random "enhanced pat-downs" that require the handling of the private parts of one's anatomy (which most of us have been referring to as "junk," already a bad sign). No known expert on airport security has gone on record to state that these measures are either effective or necessary, and none of the would-be terrorists foiled since 9/11 have been caught through the use of these aggressive methods. But it did inspire to put together this really great chart.

Not to worry, we tell ourselves. We certainly don't like repeated exposure to radiation that even makes our dentist go into the next room. Nor do we enjoy being fondled by a complete stranger. (Well, not usually.) We just don't believe anyone will take things too far. Even after the start of it, the resistance is not as great as it could be. Too many of us are convinced that we will be safe, that if only we behave, we will be okay. We simply cannot believe we are in any real trouble, until ...

The founders of these United States vested the powers of government in a Constitution. But they knew from the reading of human history, where too much power in the hands of too few would lead. So they amended that Constitution with a Bill of Rights, to acknowledge the rights already ensured to man through the natural law, and to keep those powers in check. They include protection from unreasonable search and seizure. To wit, the Fourth of those amendments reads thus:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Now, thirty years ago this month, I took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. It's the same oath taken by those goose-steppers of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). But unlike some of them, I don't have a choice between degrading my fellow man and pulling security guard duty at the mall. (And let's not forget that great retirement plan the Feds have, while they still have it.) That's why, the next time I go through the scanner, I'll feel the security and comfort of a pair of high-quality boxer briefs, with the text of the Fourth Amendment printed in magnetic ink, in a place where certain people are sure not to miss it.

I don't want trouble any more than the next guy. I just love my country that much.

Christ-Mass: Day 6 (Day Within Octave)

“On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six geese a-laying ...”

Geese were among the first birds to be domesticated. As our ancestors made the transformation from hunting and gathering to settling and farming, they found they could keep a supply of them penned up, and with sufficient breeding, to supply eggs and meat for a period of time. Thus did geese emerge as a common barnyard fowl in England.

Katy Sirls is an English professor at Dixie College in St George, Utah, where she teaches English classes at Dixie College. After completing her Master of Fine Arts degree in writing, with an emphasis on fiction, she published one of her academic essays.

After several months overseas, Stacia is ecstatic to return home for Christmas. It’s been too long since she’s seen her boyfriend, Luke and she longs to be in his arms again. She even has a seductive and sexy “present” planned for their first night together.

With arrangements to celebrate the holidays with Luke’s family, Stacia soon discovers her plans are going to be quite difficult to carry out. Her first night back is spent getting to know his beloved pet geese. It seems as though their night of passion will have to wait—until, that is, she discovers Luke has plans of his own.

Stacia soon finds herself following the mysterious trail of presents Luke has left her: Christmas-wrapped goose eggs, each one with a clue that will lead her to the next... and, ultimately, to a night she’ll never forget!

Inasmuch as this is an ordinary octave day of Christmastide, with no saints to be commemorated, this is the best we could do.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

“And you can tell everybody, this is your son ... ”

Elton John has announced that he and his partner have adopted a baby boy.

Bel Mooney, writing for the Mail, was certainly not pleased. In Accessory children and the question: Who is my mummy? she argued that she had nothing against gay couples raising children, but objected to "the ­modern phenomenon of babies as a celebrity accessory."


And John Buckeridge argued: "It is cringemaking for the Times to refer to Elton John's husband. Is this the wording of the press release? Is this how they wish to be known? Other than that good luck to them."

Yeah, that's what I want to know. If this other guy is Elton John's "husband," that would make "Sir" Elton John his "wife." How can you tell which is which? Is the wife the more effeminate one? Is the husband the more "butch" of the two? And what if the difference is not so obvious? Will gay couples who have "married" be offended if some straight guy at a party who didn't get the memo refers to one or the other as his or her "partner"? And even if they don't, what is the point of the distinction if there is no ... well, distinction?

Throughout history, there have been those who chose to (or who couldn't help but) march to a different drummer. With that has come a consequence. Often one is persecuted. But if nothing else, one is simply not understood. This should come as no surprise, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Five Second Theatre: Countdown

Time once again for our midday Wednesday feature. As the year comes to a close, it's time to look at the ones around you, cherish that your friendships have lasted so long, and seriously question them for buying that copy of "Elephunk."

Then again, weren't the Black Eyed Peas really awesome with that flash mob on Oprah? In any case, this may be our last installment of Five Second Theatre, as the new year inspires us towards a refocus of our midday Wednesday feature.

Or maybe not. Whatever.

Christ-Mass: Day 5 (St Thomas of Canterbury)

“On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five gold rings ...”

The fifth day's gift of gold rings (or "golden rings" in some versions) refers not to gold jewelry, but to a characteristic of the ring-necked pheasant. This becomes significant later. Day after tomorrow. You'll have to wait for that.

But you don't have to wait for today's feast, which in the western Church is that of St Thomas à Becket, also known as Thomas of Canterbury, where he was Archbishop at the time of his death. Born around 1162, he became the confidant and High Chancellor of King Henry II of England. Then the King got the idea for Thomas, already an archdeacon, to be consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England. This did not have the effect for which the King had hoped. Eventually, Thomas was embroiled in conflict with Henry over the rights and privileges of the Church, and was assassinated by the King's followers in Canterbury Cathedral, on this day in 1170. He was canonized less than four years later by Pope Alexander III.

This story became the subject of a stage play, and eventually the great 1964 film, Becket, starring Richard Burton as Thomas Becket and Peter O'Toole as King Henry. It won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay, and received eleven other nominations, including Best Actor (Burton and O'Toole).

Following an extensive restoration process, the original 1964 film was made available in limited theatrical re-release in 2007. It is currently available on DVD. More information is available at the website:

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It is a little-known fact, that today the Western church also celebrates the feast of an Old Testament figure, namely King David himself. In the West, we rarely address Old Testament people as "Saint So-and-so," although it is quite common in the East. ("Saint Elias," for example, is a popular name for Eastern Catholic and Orthodox parishes.) As to "Saint David," both Shawn Tribe and Father Z provide commentary.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Childermas Revisited

I just got back from a matinee. Sal took time out from the eternal quest for the perfect cashmere sweater at Macy's in order to take little old me to see The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader in stupendous 3-D. Here's a look behind the scenes of making the movie, complete with subtitles in ... no, not Spanish. Any ideas?

Here is what happened on this day after 1954 (a "Marian Year" by the way):

* On this day in 1973, Alexander Solzhenitsyn published "Gulag Archipelago," an expose of the Soviet prison system.

* On this day in 1981, Elizabeth Jordan Carr, the first American test-tube baby, was born in Norfolk, Virginia.

* On this day in 1982, Nevell Johnson Jr, a black man, was mortally wounded by a police officer in a Miami video arcade, setting off three days of race-related disturbances that left another man dead.

* On this day in 1989, Alexander Dubcek, the former Czechoslovak Communist leader who was deposed in a Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968, was named president of the country's parliament.

* On this day in 1999, Clayton Moore, television's "Lone Ranger," died in West Hills, Calif., at age 85.

* On this day in 2004, in New York City, activist and author Susan Sontag died at age 71, and actor Jerry Orbach died at age 69.

* On this day in 2005, former top Enron Corporation accountant Richard Causey pleaded guilty to securities fraud, and agreed to help pursue convictions against Enron founder Kenneth Lay and former CEO Jeffrey Skilling.

* On this day in 2008, the Detroit Lions completed an 0-16 season, the NFL's worst ever, with a 31-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

There was a time when having a birthday between Christmas and the New Year was something of a curse. I used to say my parents sent me a card every year out of guilt. Contrast that with this year, when I received over two dozen birthday wishes on Facebook. I thank them all for their salutations. Among them ...

ad multos, plurimosque annos!

Happy Birthday, oh black-hatted one!


Haaaaaaaaaaaapyyyyyyyyyyy biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirthdaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay deeeeeeeeeear Daaaaaaaaaaaaaviiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiid. Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaappyyyyyyyyyyy biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirthdaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay toooooooooooooooooooo yooooooooooouuuuuuuuu! ♫

Paul and I met for dinner tonight. It was an Italian restaurant called Ollie's. Don't ask me why.

(FIRST IMAGE: A rare photo of the Salus Populi Romani, crowned by Pius XII in 1953. The crown inscription reads: "Pius XII PM Deiparae Reginae Kal MCMLIV A Mar." Pope Pius XII to the Queen Mother of God, Marian Year 1954. After the renovation, the crown was deleted and is now in the museum of the sacristy of Saint Peter. The picture today in Rome exists therefore only without the crown.)

Christ-Mass: Day 4 (Childermas)

“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four calling birds ...”

Actually, they would have been referred to as "colly birds," meaning a form of blackbird. This is one of a number of lines that had become corrupted over the centuries. But enough about the song. Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the infant males under the age of two in Bethlehem that King Herod had put to death -- tradition has put the number at 14,000 -- in the hopes of doing away with the newborn King, which he saw as a threat to his power (Matthew 2:16-18).

Obviously he didn't know the half of it.

In Spainish-speaking countries (including, uh, Spain), this is traditionally a day given to playing practical jokes, much like April Fools' Day elsewhere. The pranks are known as "inocentadas" and their victims are called "inocentes," or alternatively, the pranksters are the "inocentes." Don't ask me why.

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This day is significant for a number of other reasons ...

* On this day in 1065, Westminster Abbey was consecrated.

* On this day in 1768, Taksin the Great was crowned king of the newly established Thonburi Kingdom in the new capital at Thonburi, present-day Thailand.

* On this day in 1832, John Calhoun became the first Vice President of the USA to resign.

* On this day in 1836, at the Old Gum Tree near present-day Adelaide, Royal Navy Rear–Admiral John Hindmarsh read a proclamation establishing the British province of South Australia.

* On this day in 1846, Iowa became the 29th of our United States.

* On this day in 1856, Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States (1913-21), was born.

* On this day in 1869, William Semple of Mount Vernon, Ohio, obtained a patent for chewing gum.

* On this day in 1879, the Tay Rail Bridge, spanning the Firth of Tay in Scotland between Dundee and the Wormit, collapsed during a violent storm while a train was passing over it, killing all on board.

* On this day in 1905, Earl "Fatha" Hines, the father of modern jazz piano, was born, as was the forerunner of the NCAA, the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States.

* On this day in 1922, Stan Lee, the great American comic book writer, was born.

* On this day in 1937, Composer Maurice Ravel died in Paris.

* On this day in 1945, Congress officially recognized the Pledge of Allegiance.

* On this day in 1948, The Douglas DC-3 airliner NC16002, en route from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Miami, Florida, disappeared in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle.

* On this day in 1954, both the actor Denzel Washington, and professional wrestler Lanny Poffo, were born.

So was I.

This won't be as big a celebration as last year (so far as I know), but Paul and I will meet for dinner and spend two hours solving the world's problems. Regrettably, the world never listens.

(IMAGE 1: The Massacre of the Innocents at Bethlehem, 1488, by Matteo di Giovanni. IMAGE 2: January 1955, in Cleveland, Ohio, from the Alexander Family Album. H/T to Patricia Alexander Drybala.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christ-Mass: Day 3 (St John’s Day)

“On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three French hens ...”

“The disciple whom Jesus loved” (“ο μαθητης ον ηγαπα ο Ιησους”) was, for a time, banished under Emperor Domition to the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. This was before returning to Ephesus to live to a ripe old age. While John was the only one of the Twelve to die a natural death (living to be nearly one hundred years old, according to tradition), it was not for want of his enemies trying. Upon an attempt to kill John by poisoning his wine, the evil substance miraculously took the form of a serpent, as it dissipated from his cup.

Today, families can celebrate the Feast of Saint John by drinking to the health of each other, based on a German tradition known as Johannissegen. Fisheaters has a recipe for mulled wine that is customary to the occasion. Before the evening meal begins, the head of the house recites the blessing over the wine, as recorded in the Rituale Romanum:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Thou didst call Thyself the vine and Thy holy Apostles the branches; and out of all those who love Thee, Thou didst desire to make a good vineyard. Bless this wine and pour into it the might of Thy benediction so that every one who drinks or takes of it, may through the intercession of Thy beloved disciple, the holy Apostle and Evangelist John, be freed from every disease or attack of illness and obtain health of body and soul. Who livest and reignest forever. (Amen.)

He then lifts his glass toward the next person (or touches the rim of his glass to theirs), saying, “I drink you the love of Saint John.” The receiver says in response, “I thank you for the love of Saint John.” The second person turns to the third, and the process is repeated all around the table.

That's the long form. The short form is where all present clink their glasses together saying, “Drink the love of Saint John.” This is especially handy for young children who cannot wait to chow down.

To each his own.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Burning Babe

Adoration of the Shepherds, by Gerard van Honthorst

As I in hoary winter's night
    stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat
    which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye
    to view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright
    did in the air appear;
Who, scorchëd with excessive heat,
    such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames
    which with his tears were fed.
Alas, quoth he, but newly born
    in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts
    or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is,
    the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke,
    the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel justice layeth on,
    and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought
    are men's defilëd souls,
For which, as now on fire I am
    to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath
    to wash them in my blood.
With this he vanished out of sight
    and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I callëd unto mind
    that it was Christmas day.

-- Robert Southwell (circa 1561–1595), English Jesuit, poet, and martyr, from St Peter's Complaint, 1595

Christ-Mass: Day 2 (Boxing Day)

“On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two turtle doves ...”

I love to show this video of the á capella group Straight No Chaser singing their own unique version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Today still feels a little like Christmas, only more stores are open, bustling with the rise in consumer spending after two lean years. Those nice ladies I met who were working at Macy's on Christmas Eve are sure to do well this year, and that just warms my heart. I know, some people may think that's a concession to the over-commercialization of the holiday, but hey, we're talking about Macy's here!

Today is "Boxing Day" in Canada, the UK, and other nations of the Commonwealth. Traditionally, on Christmas itself, the master of the house would give presents to his family. On the following day, he would arrange for leftovers from his great feast to be given to his domestic staff in boxes that they could take home. Eventually, it became customary to box other gifts as well. In any case, they get another day off. So, here's a shout to our friendly neighbors to the north, with a very helpful explanation of the feast, courtesy of a garage band from Fairfax, Virginia (well, it kinda looks like they're in a garage, or maybe their parents' basement, whatever...) known as the "Holiday Hipsters" (available on Facebook or MySpace) singing "Carol of the Boxing Day."

Meanwhile, the Irish celebrate this as a national holiday, too, only as Saint Stephen's Day.

Christmas “Down Home” in 1964

I called Mom and Dad yesterday. Christmas was a quiet one this year, with no festivities, and Dad napping most of the day. My siblings are all coming to the house today with the grandkids ...

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It was the Sunday after Christmas, when we would all get into the car, and make the twenty-mile trip down Route 131, to a farm in the next county just south of Fayetteville, where Mom was born and raised. (We called this "down home," while Dad's parents' living upstate was referred to as "up home.")

Most of the extended family lived in and around Cincinnati back then, and we would converge for the holiday. Looking at the photo, I'm in the front, left of center, ignoring the kid making faces. Also in the picture is my cousin "Tommy." He was four years older than me, and definitely older than everyone else. While the rest of us were being ordered here and there by one of our aunts, for one damn fool thing or another, Tommy just went his own way. I used to think, wow, in four years I can go wherever I want, just like Tommy. (You can't tell from the photo, but that's exactly what I'm thinking about at that moment. Really.)

Four years after this was taken, it was 1968. I was fourteen instead of ten, and while the rest of us were being ordered here and there yada yada yada, Tommy just went his own way. I used to think, wow, in four years I can ... hey, something's not right here.

That's when I had an epiphany. Was it a factor in my leaving Ohio for DC twelve years later? We may never know. But as I look back on those days, and the years that followed, it seems to be impossible for more than three generations to get together in one place. As soon as one branch has grandchildren, it all starts to splinter. I wish there was another way.

(Photo courtesy of The Rosselot Family Archives. Used with my own damn permission.)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Scene from “Christmas Holiday”

... a 1944 Universal Pictures film, which stars Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly. In this unusually long Solemn High Mass scene, we are treated to snippets from a real Midnight Mass celebrated at the former Cathedral of Saint Vibiana, built in Los Angeles in 1876. This scene is a vast improvement over the poorly researched cutting-and-pasting of Latin phrases that are common to period pieces of recent years, and dates back to a time when Hollywood showed some respect for the Catholic Church, in the face of Protestant America.

The first part of this segment shows the ending of the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, when the Priest, Deacon, and Subdeacon ascend the altar for the incensation, followed by the priest reciting the Introit. This in turn is followed by the choir singing the Kyrie, as the sacred ministers, accompanied by the Master of Ceremonies, retire to the sedilia. This dissolves into the next scene, which is the Communion of the Priest (we notice that the other two ministers remain close to him, rather than back away, which may have been customary in some places), followed by the Deacon and Subdeacon chanting the "second Confiteor." Until the 1960s, the Confession of Sin was proscribed immediately before the Communion of the Faithful, until it was dropped for the 1962 Missale Romanum, even as it is tolerated still as a venerable practice. Most Catholics, including adherents to the Traditional Roman Mass, never get to see the Confiteor done in this fashion.

In this second clip, Deanna Durbin and the Vienna Boys Choir (Wiener Sängerknaben) perform the Bach - Gounod setting of Ave Maria, from the 1937 film "Mad About Music." Durbin was only fifteen at the time. It has been pointed out that the scene is that of the St Luke's Choristers of Long Beach, California, lip syncing the words already recorded by Durbin and the Vienna Boys Choir.

I came across the first clip some months ago, and found it again only recently. There are other scenes from the movie that are worth watching, especially the dialogue between a lonely Durbin, and the mysterious man she meets in the back of the church during Mass.

Christ-Mass: Day 1 (Nativity)

“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.”

The period known as Christmastide begins with the Feast of the Nativity itself; specifically, with the evening of that first day, through the morning of the Feast of the Epiphany. And so the first day of Christmas is December 25-26, and the season ends with Twelfth Night on January 5-6. By tomorrow, you will stop hearing Christmas music on some radio stations, but at Chez Alexandre, and here at mwbh, the Christmas season is just beginning.

Most of us are familiar with the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas," and the significance of the symbolism therein. But for those who do not...

Twelve Drummers Drumming refers to the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

Eleven Pipers Piping refers to the eleven faithful apostles

Ten Lords A-leaping refers to the ten commandments

Nine Ladies Dancing refers to the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Eight Maids A-milking refers to the eight beatitudes

Seven Swans A-swimming refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and/or the seven sacraments

Six Geese A-laying refers to the six days of creation

Five Golden Rings refers to the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.

Four Calling Birds refers to the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists.

Three French Hens refers to Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues.

Two Turtle Doves refers to the Old and New Testaments.

One Partridge in a Pear Tree refers to Christ on Earth being crucified upon a tree.

True Love refers to God, who sent his only son to us.

[NOTA BENE: The use of this song was a "secret catechism" for children, employed by Catholics persecuted in post-Reformation England, is a matter of some conjecture, as pointed out in this article from]

Now then (and this should be a treat for those of you new to us), the return of a venerable mwbh tradition ...

Since 1984, the cumulative costs of the aforementioned items have been used as a tongue-in-cheek economic indicator. This custom began with and is maintained by PNC Bank. Two pricing charts are created, referred to as the "Christmas Price Index" and "The True Cost of Christmas." The former is an index of the current costs of one set of each of the gifts given by the True Love to the singer of the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas." The latter is the cumulative cost of all the gifts with the repetitions listed in the song. The people mentioned in the song are hired, not purchased.

Jim Dunigan, managing executive of investments with PNC Wealth Management, is back once again to discuss this year's CPI, including a brief history, the impact of the economy on this years results and how the PNC CPI can be used in the classroom. Visit for more information.

The original 1984 cost was $12,623.10. The total costs of all goods and services for the 2010 Christmas Price Index is $23,439.38 (up 9.2 percent from $21,465.56 last year, the largest increase since 2003). Learn the details in the accompanying video clip.

And now, don't you have anything better to do on a day like this? Your friends are waiting on Facebook. Hop to it!

Gaudete! Christus est natus ex Maria Virginae!

  est natus

    is born

Ex Maria

  Of Mary
    the Virgin — rejoice!

Tempus adest gratiæ
  The time of grace has come
Hoc quod optabamus,
  This that we have desired,
Carmina lætitiæ
  Verses of joy
Devote reddamus.
  Let us devoutly return.

Deus homo factus est
  God has become man,
Natura mirante,
  Nature marveling,
Mundus renovatus est
  The world has been renewed
A Christo regnante.
  By the reigning Christ.

Ezechielis porta
  The closed gate of Ezechiel
Clausa pertransitur,
  Is passed through,
Unde lux est orta
  Whence the light is born,
Salus invenitur.
  Salvation is found.

Ergo nostra contio
  Therefore let our gathering
Psallat iam in lustro;
  Now sing in brightness
Benedicat Domino:
  Let it give praise to the Lord:
Salus Regi nostro.
  Greeting to our King.

“Gaudete” (pronounced gow-DAE-tae, "rejoice" in Latin) is a sacred Christmas carol, composed sometime in the 16th century. The song was published in the Piae Cantiones, a collection of Finnish/Swedish sacred songs published in 1582. No music is given for the verses, but the standard tune comes from older liturgical books.

The text, in Latin, is a typical song of praise, probably stemming from the Middle Ages. It follows the standard pattern for the time - a uniform series of four-line stanzas, each preceded by a two-line refrain (in the early English carol this was known as the "burden"). Carols could be on any subject, but typically they were about the Virgin Mary or the Saints of Christmas.

And tonight, we rejoice, for God is with us.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Novena for Christ-Mass: The Vigil

Today I got the car washed, put excess holiday decorations back into storage, had a decent breakfast at IHOP, picked up the specially-made Christmas ham, and finished wrapping presents. Whew! Now it comes, the quieting time.

As evening falls, there is a stillness in the air, as if the whole world is waiting with bated breath for its Deliverer to come upon them. Either that or the traffic dies down when the stores close early. Whatever.

Tonight, Paul and Sal and I will head to the church, to make preparations, to greet the King.

A Christmas Carol

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.

G K Chesterton (1874–1936)

The reason for the Season is not the season of Reason ... and there’s a reason!

When I was a boy growing up in Ohio, the town where I lived would put up decorations along the main drag, like every other town. They all said "Seasons Greetings." Not "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." It wouldn't have occurred to me that Christmas was being downplayed. Not in a town settled in 1787 by Methodists, who still pretty much ran the place nearly two centuries later, and not in a town where Santa Claus rode a fire truck through the streets of town on the Sunday before Christmas, handing out bags of treats to all the children.

But times have changed, or at least we think they have. In a nation where people are free to worship as they choose, an increasing number come to our shores who choose to worship as non-Christians. It comes as no surprise that Christmas has a different meaning to them, if any at all.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. This year, there's a face-off of holiday billboards on each end of the Lincoln Tunnel into New York City, with an atheist billboard on the New Jersey side and a Catholic billboard on the New York side. Just listen to the clown who claims to speak on behalf of "reason."

"Christians don't own the season."

I don't know what that means, to "own" a time of the year. There is sufficient evidence over two millennia, that this time of year has been associated almost exclusively with the Christian holiday known as Christmas, which certainly didn't get its name from an atheist. Come to think of it, why WOULD an atheist want to own the season? It's a lot of semantic trickery, really, and for all the noise people like this make, I really don't believe anyone has reacted so far, by not giving gifts on or about the 25th of this month.

Which means the atheists threw their money away on something that will change nothing.

You can't tell that to William Donohue of the Catholic League. In his defense, we should not take Christmas, never mind our Christian faith, for granted. He is absolutely right on that point, and deserves credit for putting himself in the face of ridicule to say it. Nevertheless, he comes off in interviews as a chronic whiner. This is not because of a personality defect (a factor upon which his detractors, even those who agree with him, lay entirely too much stress), but because of the modulation of his voice, which is unsuited for broadcasting or public speaking -- unless, of course, a chronic whiner is the kind of voice you are looking for. And if you are, you probably don't work in radio or television. If Donohue ever attempts his own talk radio program, someone with authority will break him the bad news. Until then, he either needs a vocal trainer, or the Catholic League needs a press secretary.

All told, it only adds to the worry that Christmas is being threatened. But the Faith upon which the Incarnation is built has always been under siege, and the blood of Her martyrs has been the seed-bed of an ever-growing harvest. Witness the occurrence on November 13 last, at a shopping mall food court in Ontario, in Excruciatingly-Politically-Correct Canada. This wouldn't happen for Eid-ah-Adha, the Islamic "festival of sacrifice," or for Ras as-Sana al-Hijreya, the Islamic New Year. No one will pull a stunt like this for a fabricated holiday like Kwanzaa. And earlier this month, NORAD wasn't monitoring the skies for Hanukkah Harry.

The threat to Christmas has been greatly exaggerated, O ye of little faith! To be Christian, or more specifically, to be Catholic, is to believe that our Savior, the God-Made-Man, took the form of a slave, triumphed over Death, and sits at the right hand of God the Father. He, and He alone, is King. At the end of the day, at the end of Time itself, every nation shall yield, every knee shall bend down, and every tongue shall proclaim, that Jesus Christ is LORD! All the billboards in the world to the contrary will not change that.

And so ...

On behalf of all of us here at Chez Alexandre, and the entire staff and management of man with black hat, we wish everyone a most blessed Christ-Mass, and a prosperous New Year. “Gaudete! Christus est natus ex Maria Virginae!” “Rejoice! Christ is born of Mary the Virgin.”

Now, quit your damn bellyaching and crack open that eggnog already!

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A special thanks to Alphabet Photography of Niagara Falls, Ontario, for thumbing their noses at the Human Rights Commission and orchestrating a "hate crime" disguised as a flash mob, eh? Special thanks to Robert Cooper and Chorus Niagara, The Welland Seaway Mall, and Fagan Media Group.

Christmas at Stanbrook in 1904

[This story originally appeared here in 2007, courtesy of "Rooster Cogburn." It is presented here again, especially to readers new to us. -- DLA]

A beautiful Christmas story:
taken from the Downside Review, January 1990,
by Mary Hazel Hastings

(Mrs Hastings was born near Battleford in Canada in 1897. Her mother, Mabel Hutchison, had emigrated to Canada a few years earlier. She became a Catholic, and married Charles Daunais, a French Canadian farmer in Saskatchewan. After his death she returned to England with her little daughter, and a few years later asked to be received into the Benedictine community of Stanbrook [transcriber's note: the prototype for Rumer Godden's Brede Abbey]. At that time there was a tiny school within the enclosure and it was agreed that her daughter should also live at Stanbrook as a schoolgirl. She entered the school in the summer of 1904 at the age of six. Her mother joined the community a few months later, receiving the name of Paula. Dame Paula Daunais died in 1961 in her 57th year in the Benedictine habit. Mrs Hastings here recalls her first Christmas at Stanbrook in 1904.)

The tower of Stanbrook Abbey houses a peal of eight bells that are rung from a gallery immediately above Lady Abbess's throne called the Tribune. When my first Christmas at school came round it was decided, as I was only seven, that it would be enough for me to sit through Midnight Mass itself in the church, where my short legs swung uncomfortably from the school bench. But to leave me all alone down in the dormitory while everyone else went to Matins would be unthinkable, so I found myself preparing to do the exciting climb up to the Tribune, where I was to sit in warmth and comfort while the nuns sang the grand and very lengthy Christmas Matins.

Sister Martina lit her 'bougie' from a gas jet in the cloister and guided me through the narrow door and up the twisting stone stairs: her other arm was occupied with a stone hot water bottle, a pillow and a couple of blankets. 'Now be careful, Miss Hazel, keep close to the wall and do not stumble.' They were deep steps and the light from the 'bougie' was dim and flickering, but we reached the narrow landing safely and Sister Martina opened the Tribune door. The bell-ringer was there already and was preparing to ring the first toll. I climbed onto a kneeling-chair and stood on tip-toe looking over the top of the stone balustrade. In the church below all the gas lamps were burning and the flames of the candles in the brass candlesticks above the consecration crosses danced as one by one they were lit by one of the sacristans. Round the crosses there were wreaths of yew and ivy with bright clusters of holly berries and, far away, beyond the great wrought-iron grille the Sanctuary was a mass of flowers and lights. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Suddenly the bells began to ring and I nearly fell off the chair. I had never before been so close to them. When the great bell at the bottom of the scale boomed the whole tribune seemed to shake.

Sister Martina had been preparing my chair and now it was ready for me, a pillow behind me and another chair for my feet. I was tucked in like a caterpillar in its cocoon with the hot water bottle at my feet, but if I turned my head I could watch the bell-ringer as the changes were played on the eight bells. The ropes danced in and out of their places on the wooden frame, clicking like castanets. When Sister Martina opened the tribune door to go down and join the procession the noise was so great that I had to put my fingers in my ears. As she went out an old sister came in and knelt behind me. I was glad that I was not going to be all alone up there. The second toll was low and slow, just the thud of the great bell again and again making the tribune and my chair and me tremble with each boom. Then came the third toll and the bells went up this time from the big booming bell to the small high one--not quickly and gaily like the first toll but slowly and solemnly--and then suddenly the organ began and the bells stopped and as I leant forward I could see, through the holes in the balustrade, the procession coming into the church. First came two nuns and then two of the girls in the school--one carrying Lady Abbess's silver crozier and the other the big book of the Office. Behind them, slowly and with great dignity walked Lady Abbess. They all turned to the altar and genuflected together and then they turned again and I watched them as they walked down the church, till they disappeared under the tribune. The nuns followed, two by two, genuflected to the altar, then up the church and bowed to Lady Abbess before turning apart and going to their stalls, one on each side--and last of all came my mother, now a novice, in her new white veil.

When we went into church I always went in right at the end of the procession, when all the nuns were already in their places, and it looked very different from my tribune chair. When the nuns and the girls and the lay sisters were all assembled, standing facing the altar, Lady Abbess knocked with a little silver ivory knocker and everyone knelt for a moment, she knocked again and Matins began. The sound too was quite different from what it was when I sat in the school bench. It floated up all around me. I sat back and enjoyed it, very warm and cosy in my blankets, with my feet on the stone bottle (that had once been full of ginger beer) and presently my eyes closed. I woke up to see Sister Martina bending down with her finger on her lips. She unfolded the blankets, picked up the water bottle and I followed her on tip-toe through the narrow door and down the steep twisting steps with her 'bougie' twinkling in the darkness ahead. When we got down and out into the cloister she spread a blanket on a stone window-seat and made me sit there. She unpinned my crushed veil and put on a clean one and then, even more quietly on tip-toe, we went together by the side way to the church door. It meant going very close to Lady Abbess's throne. Only a curtain was between her and us, and it felt like a very exciting game of hide-and-seek. I must not let her hear me or see me. I held my breath, and tightly clutching Sister Martina's hand I got 'home' without being caught, right to the bottom of the church inside the great doors, and she slipped me quietly into my place. One of the school benches was in front of the organ and I always sat up at the top end--next to Clare Kenyon who was the biggest girl in the school. She had to lift me up on to the bench. When she got me there she was allowed to leave me perched in the corner of the high-backed bench, while everyone else stood up and bowed down and then sat down again, as they did over and over and over again. On Sundays, when there was a sermon, I slipped out of the bench and round to the back of where the organ blower sat. There were two steps that led up to the back row and she kept a fascinating box of cards for me to look at--old coloured prints of Biblical stories--Judith holding Holofernes's head by the hair; beautiful Ruth with an armful of corn and handsome Booz smiling benignly at her; David creeping into Saul's tent and dozens of others that I can still remember, so that at that period sermons were things to look forward to and enjoy. But at Midnight Mass there was no sermon, just lots of singing and clouds of incense that made me sleepy. It went on for a long time but at last it was over; even Lauds was over and the organ played as we went out at the end of the procession.

Down we went throught the cold 'tin tunnel' and the two long cloisters, through the dark, ghostly chapter-room and into the school. Sister Winifred was there already, preparing a great jug of hot cocoa. Mother Christina had come down with us and together we went into the 'second classroom' and put the Infant Jesus onto his bed of hay. We then sang a carol: 'Dear Little One, how sweet Thou art, Thine eyes how bright they shine'. It was always that one after Midnight Mass. I thought our Infant Jesus the most beautiful one imaginable but his eyes did not shine; they looked as if he had just been crying and I wondered why. After the carol, cocoa and bed. We were up for Mass at dawn, 7 o'clock, and then there was still the solemn Mass at 9 with Terce and Sext. After our Christmas dinner we went up to the dormitory and lay on our beds but I think we never slept. We listened to the nuns who trooped down to look at our Christmas presents spread out on the long table in the second classroom.

The bells had rung out magnificently into the Christmas night, and for Mass and Vespers next day, rung by the best bell-ringers in the monastery, probably the blind Dame Gabriel and Dame Febronia; but two days later, at ten minutes to three, there was a strange and fumbling peal of six to ring in the Feast of Holy Innocents. The School had taken over. I doubt if any Stanbrook girl ever allowed her parents to drag her home for Christmas. It would have meant missing Holy Innocents and no Christmas trees and dinners and parties could come up to that. For one full day we were treated as a Community visiting the monastery. Our elected Abbess, wearing her Pectoral Cross, sat in church on the right of the Stanbrook Abbess; they came into choir together. The Holy Innocent Abbess gave the knock with Lady Abbess's ivory hammer to end the silent prayer. She took the Office, intoning the first Antiphon, singing the prayer of the day and the Venite Exultemus at Matins. At my first Feast of Holy Innocents I was a novice: Phyllis, my companion-novice and I, being much too small to manage a stall, sat on the steps of Lady Abbess's throne. Every girl had a favourite nun and long before the feast you srewed up courage to ask your nun to lend you one of her veils and her second habit, if she was at all your size: you arranged if possible to sit next to her in choir and you got her to come and dress you before the First Vespers. Names had been chosen long before, and every friend and old girl and relative was bullied into writing to us, addressing us by our religious names. I went through a considerable litany during the nine years that I was a Holy Innocent. Inevitably it was Eustochium (my mother's religious name being Paula) for one year or possibly two; then there was the martyr period when I had read "Fabiola" and was Dame Sebastiana and the following year Pancratia. It was in 1910, I think, that having been to Buckfast Abbey during the holidays I was Dame Anscara after its Abbot, Dame Anscar Vonier. We had our allotted offices--portress and printer, cellarer and dispenser and infirmarian and bell-ringer, and we went off with our Stanbrook counterpart to 'help' her with her work. Dame Rosalie was a great favourite and there was always competition for the privilege of assisting her in the messy job of making 'bougies'--string coated with wax that the nuns kept coiled up in their pockets and used for lighting candles and lamps. What made it all so enjoyable was that we were taken seriously--as though we were truly a visiting community. There were always too extra priests for the Christmas week and the Innocents chose one to be their Chaplain. He gave his community a Conference in the large parlour, and the year that I was Abbess my chaplain decided that as the Abbess gave her nuns penances during their 'Chapter' he would give me one, and I was told to put the Vespers hymn of the feast into English verse. The literary gem that was produced has not survived. What has instead are these happy memories of my childhood in a Stanbrook of long ago.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Day For “The Rest Of Us”?

Today is Festivus, a secular holiday of recent and curious origin. It was the brainchild of writer Dan O'Keefe, as a part of his own family's history, and whose son Daniel worked the idea into an episode of the NBC sitcom "Seinfeld." It is ostensibly designed for the benefit of those who were disillusioned by the commercialism of the Christmas season, and the pressures associated with it.

In the excerpt from the December 18, 1997 episode, Frank Costanza explains the tradition ...

Frank: "Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way."

Kramer: "What happened to the doll?"

Frank: "It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born: a Festivus for the rest of us!"

Kramer: "That must have been some kind of doll."

Frank: "She was."

... which includes the unadorned aluminum "Festivus pole," and such rituals as the "Airing of Grievances" and the "Feats of Strength."

There is a holiday "for the rest of us." There has always been an alternative to the commercialism of the season. If you doubt its triumph, you will surely be convinced here tomorrow.

At least that's the idea.

Guitar Workshop: John Fahey Christmas Medley

For this week's installment, we're leaving you on your own to figure things out, based on what was learned last week. Here we have John Fahey performing a medley of two Christmas classics; "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" and "O Come All Ye Faithful." This medley is featured on his album "The New Possibility" as well as the anthology shown here; "The Best of John Fahey Volume 2: 1964-1983."

(Hint: It's in the key of C.)

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Emmanuel

Veni, Veni Emmanuel!
    O come, o come, Emmanuel,
Captivum solve Israel!
    And ransom captive Israel,
Qui gemit in exsilio,
    That mourns in lonely exile here,
Privatus Dei Filio.
    Until the Son of God appear.

Isaiah had prophesied, “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” (7:14). “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.”

“O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.”

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Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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(Won't be long now ...)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day of Reckoning

We couldn't let the year end without at least one more appearance by New Jersey's favorite son, Chris Christie. This is a segment from the broadcast of CBS' "60 Minutes" on October 31, just before this year's elections. The discussion about pensions for state workers is interesting to this writer, who as a Federal worker is expecting changes to his own pension in the next two years. I've worked for two different state-affiliated universities. If you think incompetence at the Federal level is bad ...

2011 Predictions

... are streaming live. Click here. [CONTENT ADVISORY: Occasional holders of Twitter accounts lack any sense of class.]


This little number came from one of my country cousins, a "song" by a duo known as the The Superions, and is dedicated to anybody who gets the idea for baking something like this over the holidays. To think that dozens of contemplative orders manage to support themselves through the production and sale of these is ... well, worth contemplating.

The Notion of a “Christian Nation”

This presentation is the final installment of a series on the Bill Whittle Channel. Bill looks at the relationship between Christianity and freedom, and takes us back to the days of the Sears Catalog and long, loooooong waits until Christmas morning. Not to mention long before that, when these United States were formed as a union. Were we established as a Christian nation? What does that mean? What does that NOT mean?

As mentioned before, this is the last of his series, one that is worth a look-see. And so, starting next month, we'll present the previous seven installments from the beginning, one day a week (probably Monday), until we figure out what else we're going to do with that day from here on in. Most of it this writer could live with it, but some of it, well ...

Five Second Theatre: A Christmas Wish

Time once again for our usual midday Wednesday feature.

This episode takes us on a trip to Santa's lap. And a brief foray into the wonderful lies that children tell to make us buy the DS games they actually want.

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Rex Gentium

Veni, Veni, Rex gentium,
    O come, Desire of nations, bind,
veni, Redemptor omnium,
    In one the hearts of all mankind;
Ut salvas tuos famulos
    Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
Peccati sibi conscios.
    And be Thyself our King of peace.

Isaiah had prophesied, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (9:5), and “He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (2:4)

“O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.”

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Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Welcome Yule: The Mummer’s Play

[The following has been presented here twice in the past, but we dusted it off to present to you a third time. -- DLA]

We are inspired by today's day of Winter Solstice (a preview of which our readers visited yesterday evening) to bring you something special. You say you and the rest of the homeschool cooperative have to come up with a presentation for Twelfth Night, and you've been too busy wrapping presents for That Other Night? Need any ideas? Well, WE GOT 'EM!!! You betcha!

But first, a little diversion ...

Conventional wisdom would have it, that the date for Christmas was based upon the ancient Roman feast of Saturnalia, the Feast of the Unconquered Sun, as the 25th of December was the date of the winter solstice (first day of winter) in the old Julian Calendar. We are further led to believe that the early Christians co-opted this celebration for their own, to commemorate the birth of their own Unconquered Son. Recent scholarship tells us that it was actually the other way around, that Saturnalia was inaugurated in response to the growing popularity of Christmas.

(Jordanes provides clarification: "You're conflating Saturnalia... with Natalis Solis Invictus...")

Whatever the history, it is safe to say which one came out on top.

... and now, back to our subject at hand.

The occasion of "Christ-Mass" is long associated with the ending of darkness and the coming of light, which manifests itself in nature with the lengthening of days and shortening of nights (if only above the equator). It is in this manner that ancient folk tales and folk rituals were sanctified by the heralding of the Gospel. The theme of dying and rising to new life was prevalent in the "mummer's play," an ancient performance custom from the British Isles, that over the centuries made its way through much of the English-speaking world.

In this video, we have the Ditchling Mummers (pictured above in a 2000 photo) performing in their 22nd year at the Bull Inn, Ditchling, on Boxing Day of 2007. The play was from the Sussex village of Sompting and raised money for St Patrick's Night Shelter in Brighton. (For all you Chesterbelloc fans out there, Ditchling was once a center of the Distributist movement.) The characters are, in order of appearance, Father Christmas (James Barry), the Noble Captain (John Bacon), the Bold Slasher (Barry Phillips), Saint George (Julian Burton), the Turkish Knight (Roger Vail), the Doctor (Jeremy Wakeham), and Little Johnny Jack (Mick O'Shea). If you've ever wanted to really spice up a Christmas pageant, this little number can be quite entertaining.

“The name of the hero is most commonly Saint George, King George, or Prince George. His principal opponents are the Turkish Knight (in southern England and Turkish Champion in Ireland), or a valiant soldier named Slasher (elsewhere). Other characters include: Old Father Christmas (who introduces some plays), Beelzebub, Little Devil Doubt (who demands money from the audience), Robin Hood (an alternative hero in the Cotswolds), Galoshin (a hero in Scotland), et cetera. Despite the frequent presence of Saint George, the Dragon rarely appears in these plays, though it is often mentioned ...” (from Wikipedia) In some versions of the story, the Dragon survives, only to be cut down by a group of sword dancers, who surround him with their swords and eventually choke him by his neck. (Nice scene for the kiddies, huh?) Well, we don't have that to present here, but it looks something like this recent sword dance performance of a group from the Washington Revels, featured here in the second video.

As you watch the second video, just imagine the Dragon in the middle. You get the idea.

If you and your fellow thespians would like to put on such a performance of St George and the Dragon yourselves, the Comberbach Swilltub Mummers (near Northwich, in Cheshire) have a script available for download, as well as photographs of their own production. The script is similar to that which is used in productions of "The Christmas Revels" which were featured earlier this month.

It's not too late for Twelfth Night, so let's ...

... rise up, Jock, and sing your song
For the summer is short and the winter long.
Let's all join hands and form a chain
Til the leaves of springtime bloom again!


Novena for Christ-Mass: O Oriens

Veni, Veni O Oriens!
    O come, Thou Dayspring,
        come and cheer,
Solare nos adveniens,
    Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Noctis depelle nebulas,
    Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
Dirasque noctis tenebras.
    And death's dark shadows put to flight.

Isaiah had prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” (9:1).

“O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”

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Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Welcome Yule: In Praise of Revelry

Tomorrow is the date of the Winter Solstice; in the northern hemisphere, the day with the least amount of daylight.

There are those of many faiths, who have remembered this time of year from time immemorial, as a sign of “going into that darkest time of the year, and then coming out of it.” This memorial has been made holy by the message of a Savior, a message which the world has forgotten. But not all.

The Revels is the brainchild of John Langstaff (1920-2005), an early music connoisseur, who led the first performance of "The Christmas Revels" in New York City in 1957. A celebration of the winter solstice, both from the pagan tradition, and that which was sanctified by the onset of Christianity, involves both a cast of its locality's most talented performers of all ages, and incorporates the audience as well.

The longest running annual performance dates to 1971 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near where Revels Incorporated has its base. The event is also held in nine other cities, including Boulder (CO), Hanover (NH), Houston (TX), New York City (NY), Oakland (CA), Portland (OR), Santa Barbara (CA), Tacoma (WA), and Washington (DC). The theme of the 2010 Washington production, for example, visited the world of the French Canadians. This writer recalls around the late 1980s when the Washington Revels created a fantasy scene, where a family from the southern mountains of Appalachia magically encountered a counterpart in the Russian frontier. The result was a celebration of dance and song where two disparate traditions came together as one, at a time in human history when the world was bearing witness to the same.

The celebrations held by the Revels are not limited to the Yuletide season, but welcome the spring, as well as the onset of the harvest. Their productions have inspired independent endeavors in many other cities as well. Even with the passing of Langstaff in 2005, the seed continues to bear fruit.

We will let the videos tell the story for themselves, and there is also a program book from last year's performance in Cambridge, available for download. There are other ideas for celebrating the season yet to be featured. One of them is featured tomorrow. Stay tuned ...