Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Should auld acquaintance be forgot...

...we will take a moment to remember the year, if only in select highlights.

Professor Randy Pausch (Oct 23, 1960 - Jul 25, 2008) of Carnegie Mellon University, gave his last lecture at CMU on September 18, 2007, before a packed McConomy Auditorium. He had already been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, with no hope of recovery. His series of lectures became a sensation all over the internet in the past year. In his moving presentation, "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," Pausch talked about his lessons learned and gave advice to students on how to achieve their own career and personal goals. The clip featured here runs for one hour and sixteen minutes. For more information, visit

On a lighter note, our "Impertinent Question of the Year" Award goes to the Honorable Sarah Heath Palin, Governor of Alaska, and 2008 Republican Nominee for Vice-President. The incident occurred at a campaign rally in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on October 8, in response to someone in the crowd referring to her as a "hottie." Indeed, her response would have been applicable to any number of incidents during the campaign, especially with regard to the press. As to this particular incident, I don't think she minded it at all. She's just sayin'...

Here at mwbh, we have remembered a number of passings over the past year, and life goes on for those who remain behind in this "vale of tears." And tonight, millions around the world will greet the New Year, from wherever they are. It is a year that brings more challenges, but not without the virtue of Hope.

On that promising note, we leave you until the next year. Stay tuned, and stay in touch.

Christmas: 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 -- for what it's worth.

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 left), 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.)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Childermas Revisited

Last Sunday, at about seven in the morning, I turned fifty-four.

My birthday has always been easy to ignore. Located midway between Christmas and the New Year, I was convinced that my parents sent me a card, if only out of guilt. Some families, indeed some cultures, make a big do-to out of birthdays. My family never really did, except for maybe the big ones -- you know, turning, forty, or fifty, and so on.

But this time, a few choristers greeted me outside of Mass, after the procession came out and sang Happy Birthday. One of the priests was singing along in Latin. That evening, Sal and her brothers and sister-in-law took me to the best steak house in Arlington, where I ordered the biggest one on the menu. That's right, the 23-ounce "Cowboy Cut." I hardly ate a thing all day Monday.

I also got a lot of e-mail greetings. The internet makes it easy to be reminded of people's birthdays. But the internet has been around for awhile, and this year, enough people got around to putting me on their lists. Especially the folks at Team Sarah. I also got a shout from Dom Bettinelli, who thinks people might mistake me for the Welsh actor John Rhys-Davies (pictured at right). That's a new one.

All in all, it's been a pretty good year. Next year I have a birthday with a five on the end of it. Somebody told me I'd start qualifying for senior discounts. I could learn to live with that. I'm also carrying over at least four weeks of annual leave into next year, and I'm thinking of doing some traveling. I keep hearing Seattle calling me back. I certainly did that night, literally, when my aunt called from there.

Maybe, just maybe...

Christmas: 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. She is completing her Master of Fine Arts degree in writing, with an emphasis on fiction. She has published one of her academic essays, and has had the opportunity to speak at two undergraduate research conferences. Sirls has a weakness for great literature of varying genre. Apparently, the twelve days of Christmas is one of them:

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.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas: Day 5 (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 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:

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas: Day 4 (Childermas Day)

"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, 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 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.

This day is often 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 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 1922, Stan Lee, the great American comic book writer, was born.

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 actor Denzel Washington, as well as professional wrestler Lanny Poffo, were born. So was I.

(IMAGE: The Massacre of the Innocents at Bethlehem, 1488, by Matteo di Giovanni.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas: 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" 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.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas: Day 2 (Boxing Day)

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

Many fellow-travelers in the Catholic blogosphere have seen the video of the á cappella group Straight No Chaser singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Well, it's not available now, due to a copyright claim by a third party. One cannot imagine who is still alive to claim the rights to a several-hundred-year-old folk carol. But no matter, since here at mwbh, we have the next best thing. Hurray for Bollywood!

Today is "Boxing Day" in Canada, the UK, and other nations of the Commonwealth. 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 Canadian garage band (well, it kinda looks like they're in a garage, or maybe their parents' basement, whatever...) known as the "Holiday Hipsters," singing "Carol of the Boxing Day."

This could double as this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy, eh?

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

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas: 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. Already, you will stop hearing Christmas music on some radio stations, but 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.

[THIS JUST IN: 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 by our correspondent Jeff Miller, who sent us this article from]

Now then...

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.

The original 1984 cost was $12,623.10. The total costs of all goods and services for the 2008 "Christmas Price Index" is $21,080.10. The full report is given here in the accompanying video clip.

Christmas Vespers

...from Praetorius.

This video clip festures musical excerpts from a CD recording by The Toronto Consort of the "Praetorius Christmas Vespers," with a selection of images of related paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries. The CD is based on a performance by the Toronto Consort, which reconstructs a possible vespers service for Christmas as it might have sounded in a large north German church. The music was composed by Michael Praetorius in the early 17th century. Visit the Toronto Consort website at

Gaudete! Christus est natus ex Maria Virginae!

Gaudete, gaudete!
Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, Gaudete!

    Rejoice, rejoice!
    Christ is born
    Of the Virgin Mary, Rejoice!

Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.

    The time of grace has come
    That we have desired;
    Let us devoutly return
    Joyful verses.

Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.

    The closed gate of Ezechiel
    Has been passed through;
    Whence the light is born,
    Salvation is found.

Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.

    God has become man,
    And nature marvels;
    The world has been renewed
    By Christ who is King.

Ergo nostra cantio,
Psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.

    Therefore let our song
    Now be sung in brightness
    Let it give praise to the Lord:
    Greeting to our King.

(From the Piae Cantiones, 1582)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

I went to the office today at the usual time, rather than take the whole day off -- not because I had much to do there, so much as someone had to be there to open the place up. I left work around noon. This afternoon, I finished decorating the tree, and putting on the last row of lights. 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. As this is posted, I am heading 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 Night Before Christmas” in Legaleze

And now, for something completely different...

Whereas, on or about the night prior to Christmas, there did occur at a certain improved piece of real property (hereinafter "the House") a general lack of stirring by all creatures therein, including, but not limited to a mouse.

A variety of foot apparel, e.g., stocking, socks, etc., had been affixed by and around the chimney in said House in the hope and/or belief that St. Nick a/k/a/ St. Nicholas a/k/a/ Santa Claus (hereinafter "Claus") would arrive at sometime thereafter. The minor residents, i.e. the children, of the aforementioned House were located in their individual beds and were engaged in nocturnal hallucinations, i.e. dreams...

A Tip of the Black Hat to "scoutingthegreatnorthwest" of the Scouts-L listserv, and to all, a good night.

“When the whole world was at peace...”

As this is posted, we are decorating the tree at Chez Alexandre. This would be a suitable occasion to remind our loving public about the true meaning of this night, and the power of the Christ Child over the destiny of humanity. To wit, we present this excerpt from Joyeux Noël, a dramatization of the famous "Christmas Truce" of 1914, in the trenches of the First World War.

I would defy any multi-cultural, politically-correct, pseudo-intellectual twit to portray a holiday celebration, that has ever had this effect on the hearts of men. Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat!


Matthew 2:18 Revisited
(or, A Contingency Plan for Christmas)

[The following is another in a series of reprints in anticipation of the Christmas season. This entry originally appeared at mwbh in December of 2006. Just remember: "Antipasto is your friend."]

So, you've just spent the last week making holiday preparations, on top of finishing up the homeschool lessons for your ten kids, and you're about to head to the supermarket. Oh, and you're stressed out. Well, here's one Rachel who won't be "wailing in bitter lamentation for her children." For all you Keepers of the Hearth, our own Ms Ray comes to the rescue with how to whip up a class act in a hurry, in this Five Minute Party Starter.

Your in-laws won't be the wiser.

My Slavonic Moment

In what I call "my former life," I was married to a Byzantine Rite Catholic, whose family came from Slovakia. We baptized and chrismated our son, Paul, in the little church outside the Beltway. It was basically an "ethnic parish" back then, with most families originating from either Slovakia or Ruthenia (a region in the Carpathian Mountains now covered by eastern Slovakia and western Ukrainia). The day before Christmas was devoted to fasting and abstinance.

We waited to decorate the tree until the evening. Then would follow the "Holy Supper." It consisted of mushroom soup, handmade pirohi from the Ladies Guild, and unleavened wafers known as "oplatky" dipped in honey. We placed straw underneath the dinner table to resemble the stable where Christ was born, and set an extra place for "the unseen guest." The father of the household would anoint those at the table with blessed oil. We then drank a toast to the season: "Christos Razdajetsja! (Christ is Born!)" "Slavite Jeho! (Glorify Him!)"

To this day, I wait until Christmas Eve to decorate the tree, which drives Sal crazy. If Paul is in town, we exchange gifts at that time. I used to go to that little church for years after things fell apart, for the Matins and Divine Liturgy. It came to an end last year, when I began my duties as master of ceremonies for the Traditional Latin Mass. But there are moments in the evening, where a little part of me is elsewhere.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Problem With The GOP Is...

Mark McKinnon of The Daily Beast thinks it's him too.

Republicans working in leadership and the trenches are largely old, white, male, out-of-touch, out of ideas, technology averse, and living in the past...

I was struck recently thinking about most of the people I know working in the Republican Party. I realized almost everyone is 50- or 60-something. And then there seems to be a huge generational gulf. There just isn’t much of a farm team people in their 30s and 40s toiling in the GOP consulting trenches. That’s the bad news. The good news is...

...somewhere in the article. Probably. Starting on page two.

(PHOTO: Six aging upper-middle-class white guys in power ties and wing-tipped shoes without an original thought between them. One of them forgot his tie. Another one tried to run for President. Stephan Savola/Associated Press. Used without permission or shame.)

Clearing the Ayers

In today's Pajamas Media blog, Bob Owens tells of "The Op-Ed the New York Times Wouldn’t Run" which was a response to William Ayers' fabrication of the heinous nature of his crimes. He also prints the response itself. Assuming that neither Mr Owens nor Pajamas Media has any objection, and with full acknowledgment of his/their intellectual property (and willingness to make adjustments upon request), mwbh is reprinting the same op-ed response in its entirety.

+ + +

Response to ‘The Real Bill Ayers’

By Larry Grathwohl

My name is Larry Grathwohl and I infiltrated the Weather Underground for the FBI. I had no idea when my journey began in August 1969 that I would see and experience the degree of violence and hatred of our democracy that existed in the Weather Underground. Bernardine Dorhn, Bill Ayers, and the other people I would meet had as their sole purpose the destruction of the United States. The fact that I ultimately became the only source of information regarding the activities of the Weather Underground and the fact that Bill Ayers now claims their goal was only to bring about the end of the war in Vietnam requires me to respond.

At least Bill admits the Weather Underground “crossed” the line of legality but mitigates this admission by stating that the effectiveness of the “symbolic acts of extreme vandalism” is still being debated. He further states that the selected targets were “property, never people” and that their only purpose was to end the war in Vietnam. Bill is simply not being truthful and is rewriting history to reflect a completely different role for himself and the Weather Underground from what actually took place. “Bring the war home, kill your parents” was the mantra being chanted when the group decided to go underground in December 1969 and there certainly isn’t anything anti-war in that statement. I’m also curious as to who is debating their status. When I think about the Weather Underground my immediate thought is “terrorism and death.”

Billy goes on about how the Weather Underground came into existence because “peaceful protests had failed” and “after an accidental explosion killed three comrades.” The explosion of the townhouse in Greenwich Village was the result of a bomb factory which was preparing bombs containing roofing nails for use at a Fort Dix enlisted club. The inclusion of roofing nails can have but one purpose and that’s to injure or kill people. Prior to this event Bill’s wife, Bernardine Dorhn, placed a bomb of the same design at the Park Police Station in San Francisco and killed Officer McDonnell. Additionally, I was still inside the Weather Underground when the townhouse blew up and the commitment to sabotage and terrorism had already been established and the purpose was the overthrow of the United States government.

Bill implies that the questioning of his activities is dishonest and that at worst he may have made some mistakes in judgment but his motivations were just. Personally, I can think of nothing that would justify the activities of the Weather Underground and am astonished by Bill Ayers’ attempts to corrupt the historical facts by making himself a misunderstood leader of the anti-war movement. Robert Kennedy, possibly the most notable anti-Vietnam war leader of the late 60s, was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in 1968. The Weather Underground published Prairie Fire in 1974 and dedicated it to Sirhan Sirhan. Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dorhn, and others signed this dedication but now they would ask us to accept their explanation that all they wanted to accomplish was an end to the war in Vietnam.

I could go on with many other contradictions in the new history Billy is attempting to impose on us. Today we are supposed to believe that Bill is merely an educator with no interests in the political aspects of our society. If this is true then why the picture of him standing on our flag? Why the statement that his only regret is that they (the Weather Underground) hadn’t done enough? What is the meaning of “I now consider myself an anarchist”? I can only conclude that Billy is a confluence of contradictions and revised history meant to confuse us as to what he is really about. Consider “guilty as hell, free as a bird, America is a great country.” Do you think he really means that?

I must conclude by acknowledging that in one respect Bill is probably being absolutely truthful. When he says that “I never killed or injured anyone,” he is most likely being totally honest. Bill, like Charles Manson, never exposed himself to any kind of danger. He always gave orders and then left it to his then-girlfriend, Diane Oughton, and others to implement his plan. If you listen closely you can even hear the similarities in the arguments Manson and Billy use today to justify what they did: the 60s made me do it.

+ + +

We have dealt with this subject previously in a piece entitled "The Warning" (11/17/2008). This has been a year of aberrant public behavior by influential people in high places, whom history will one day dismiss for the fools that they are. That said, it begs the question. "Who is the greater fool - the fool or the fool who follows him?" (Obi-Wan Kenobi)

[Owens is a regular contributor to Confederate Yankee, one of the finest political blogs in either the North or South.]

O Emmanuel (O God With Us)

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

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.”

Monday, December 22, 2008

Festival of Lights Revisited

Last night, I put up a row of lights around the front window. I have two rows encircling it. One of the rows flashes. It took less than an hour to do the job. As I stood outside for a few minutes to watch the results, I was insufferably pleased with myself. Then I saw this.

The display featured in this video, was the work of Carson Williams, an electrical engineer from Mason, Ohio (north of Cincinnati). Williams spent about three hours sequencing the 88 Light-O-Rama channels that controlled the 16,000 Christmas lights in his annual holiday lighting spectacular (from Christmas 2004). His 2005 display shown here included over 25,000 lights that he spent nearly two months and $10,000 to hook up. So that the Williams' neighbors aren't disturbed by constant noise, viewers driving by the house are informed by signs to tune in to a signal broadcast over a low-power FM radio station to hear the musical accompaniment. The soundtrack is "Wizards in Winter" by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Williams' display was popular enough to be featured in a Miller Lite beer commercial in December 2005. Now I ask you, what can manifest the true spirit of Christmas better than that?

Keeping the “Ch” in “Chanukkah”

Last night began the Jewish Festival of Lights, known as Chanukkah (Hanukkah), which commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, following the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BC. It is observed for eight nights, as a reminder of the miracle of one night's supply of oil for the lamps lasting for eight, until a fresh supply could be obtained. (Jordanes writes: "Kind of, sort of...")

Years ago, our director of communications was a devout Jewish woman, who invited all the staff to her house in the country for a holiday celebration. A highlight of the affair was her presentation with her grandchildren, as she told them of the story of Chanukkah. As the rest of us Gentiles watched, she would lead the children in the Hebrew chant for the occasion: "Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us by his commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Chanukkah..." While others stood around watching in varying degrees of perplexity, I found myself singing with the children. After all, where do you idiots think Gregorian chant came from anyway?

A comedian named Adam Sandler first introduced this holiday classic on NBC's Saturday Night Live. The song gives a list of famous celebrities from various walks of life who are Jewish: "Put on your yarmulke, here comes Hanukkah / It's so much funukkah, to celebrate Hanukkah / Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights / Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights!"

There's more where that came from. They Might Be Giants appears in this video as a four-peice band, performing their Chanukkah song live for the first time ever. Shot during Juidth Owen & Harry Shearer's Holiday Sing-A-Long at The Canal Room in New York City on December 15, 2006. Of course, it should be noted here that Chanukkah is not a major Jewish feast in the strict sense. It only became popular with the demand for a Jewish occasion for gift-giving, especially to children, at the same time of year as Christmas. Nothing wrong with that, from what I can see.

Another SNL comedy veteran, Jon Lovitz, took the concept one step farther, with the introduction of "Hanukkah Harry" character. "On Moische! On Herschel! On Schlomo!"

Hey, after Sal and I spent yesterday afternoon with Christmas shopping, I finally got the decorations up, and also found a way to hang the big-@$$ wreath on the screen door. I've just gotta find a way to lighten up here.

"It's beginning to look a lot like..." whatever.

O Rex Gentium (O King of Nations)

“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.”

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)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Welcome Yule!

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.

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 Chesterton and Belloc 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.

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. There is also a resource page for mummer's plays compiled by the Sussex Mummers, which includes a script from the Chithurst Mummers, similar to that used by Dichtling.

It's not too late for Twelfth Night.

So it'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...


O Oriens (O Radiant Dawn)

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

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).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

O Clavis David (O Key of David)

“O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.”

Isaiah had prophesied, “I will place the Key of the House of David on His shoulder; when he opens, no one will shut, when he shuts, no one will open.” (22:22), and “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over His kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.” (9:6).

Friday, December 19, 2008

This one is for the Suzy Homemaker in all of us. With this edition of the Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy, we feature outtakes of commercials for, featuring everybody's favorite Suzy Homemaker.

The great Feast is coming upon us, and in the next week, we here at mwbh are going to help you get in touch with your inner Martha Stewart. Because if you're going to look like you've spent the entire month preparing for a single day of watching football and arguing with in-laws and relatives you avoid all year for a perfectly good reason, the least you can do is save face.

“Internal Solidification”

His Eminence Avery Cardinal Dulles, a Jesuit theologian who was made a cardinal in 2001, died one week ago today, at the Jesuit infirmary in New York, Murray-Weigel Hall. A cause of death was not released but he had been in poor health. He was 90 years old.

John L Allen Jr, the only columnist for the National Catholic Reporter worth reading on a regular basis, has just released a heretofore unpublished interview with the Jesuit prelate, who explains what he means by the initiative of the current and previous pope, toward the "internal solidification of Catholicism":

"Restoring clarity where there had been confusion in the period following the Second Vatican Council," Dulles said. "Rebuilding a strong sense of Catholic identity, including a clear repudiation of the notion that church history can be divided into a 'before' and 'after' Vatican II. You can see this working itself out today in theology, in liturgy, in religious life … both popes have emphasized the organic connection between the 'now' of the church and what came before."

[IMAGE: Cardinal Avery Dulles shakes hands with Pope John Paul II during the General Audience with the newly appointed cardinals in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican in 2001. (AP Photo)

O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)

“O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”

Isaiah had prophesied, “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (11:1), and “On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” (11:10). Remember also that Jesse was the father of King David, and Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David and be born in David’s city, Bethlehem (Micah 5:1).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Advent Reflection: The One Who Came Among Us

This third and final in a series of talks on the Advent season, is given by Brother Daniel Mary Jeffries, OP, of the Dominican Blackfriars of St Giles, Oxford, England.

O Adonai (O Lord)

“O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”

Isaiah had prophesied, “But He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” (11:4-5); and “Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic; yes the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us.” (33:22).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

You knew this was going to happen...

...didn't you?

In one of the craziest elections in American history, he overcame a lack of experience, a funny name, two candidates who are political institutions and the racial divide to become the 44th President of the United States...

Did we mention how he benefitted from an historically unprecedented bias on the part of the mainstream media? Well, he's still the President-elect. And since we can't prove anything to make it otherwise, he's getting the job for real now, so the American people will get what they deserve in the next four years.

In a future piece, I'll tell you why I'm looking forward to it. Stay tuned...

O Sapientia (O Wisdom)

“O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

Isaiah had prophesied, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).

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(Commentary for this year's edition of the "O Antiphons" is authored by Father William Saunders, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington. Copyright © 2003 Arlington Catholic Herald. Used without permission or shame.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Is this the reason for the season?

[We here at mwbh wish to extend a special welcome to readers of Creative Minority Report, and invite you to check back with us for the remainder of this month, on how to add new meaning to the celebration of this most blessed holyday. The following is a first in a series of articles in anticipation of the Christmas season. This entry originally appeared at mwbh in December of 2005.]

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I get more sick of it every year. Maybe it's because they start on me a little earlier than before. Maybe it's because I bought a house this year, and I think Santa's treating me just fine as it is.

By "they," I mean the marketing/retailing apparatus in the USA (one that is perhaps duplicated elsewhere). Now, as I understand it, roughly one-fourth of a large-scale retailer's annual sales is made during the period beginning the day after Thanksgiving, and ending the day before Christmas. So they're off to the races not a moment too soon. And like lemmings over a cliff, we'll follow them. I'll get my fill of all the fun I'm supposed to have, all the magic and the wonder, even as the Halloween decorations are marked down at the local drug store.

Then, as if that were not enough, I have to listen to someone's favorite pop or country singers succeed in butchering our all-time favorite "traditional" hymns.

Meanwhile, in our "countercultural" Catholic press, there is the obligatory reminder that the four weeks preceding Christmas is not Christmas, it is Advent. And they're right; we should hold off just a bit and devote ourselves more to preparation than to celebration. But do they spend as much time reminding us that there are twelve days of Christmas, as opposed to only one?

I doubt it.

We are told to go to daily Mass, go to confession, give something up as if it were Lent (which is not out of order, as Advent is a time of penitence, if on a different order than that of Lent). But I have yet to hear a suggestion, for example, that instead of giving all our presents out on one day, we extend the gift-giving on through New Year's Day, and into Twelfth Night. Of course, on that last point, it would help if the Church actually insisted we celebrate Epiphany on January 6, rather than go along with the "nearest-Sunday" approach that is currently popular with some national conferences of bishops.

But, now that they're all hiding behind their lawyers for one damn fool reason or another, I submit we can take some initiative out in the pews. So, here's my suggestion. Are you ready?

Make Christmas last for twelve days. Literally.

If you have to give up sweets during Advent, then make merry all the live long day into the first week of the year. Hold back on the Christmas CD's in your collection until Christmas Eve, then keep the party going after the last ball drops on New Year's Day. Take a few days off; nothing important is getting done at the office anyway.* Go down to the southwestern portion of Louisiana, where in smaller cities and little hamlets, the party doesn't stop from Christmas till New Year's Day. (I'm tellin' ya, them Creole people, they know how to party. Yeah, you right!)

But most important, if you do nothing else, give the kiddies only one present a day, for twelve days!!! If you're not careful, they might get the idea that there is more to "Christ's Mass" than what they see in the shopping malls.

Besides, those after-Christmas specials are going to come in real handy, if little Johnny and Suzy are going to be kept in suspense for that long, eh?

And while you're at it, you can always save the best for last.

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* Unless you're an exec with one of those companies that have you burning the midnight oil for the year-end report. Or, worse, unless you work for one of those big-@$$ retailers. In which case, I'm letting you off easy. For now.

(VIDEO: "O Come O Come Emmanuel." Traditional, arranged by Sufjan Stevens.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

My Year of Living Dangerously

The year of Our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty (1980) may have been the most critical in my life to date. In that year, I made decisions that would, more than any other, determine its direction forever. For a reason that will become apparent later, I am choosing this occasion to elaborate.

My So-Called Life

I had graduated a short time earlier, from the University of Cincinnati, with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Graphic Design. Being raised in a "Procter and Gamble family," it only seemed to make sense that I would seek out a company, large or small, to hire me for life. That didn't quite happen. Early in my interviews, I was asked to work for a small advertising agency -- as a free-lancer. The thought of going into business for myself had not occurred to me, until the moment they asked. I said yes, and for two and a half years, it made all the difference.

My academic training was excellent. Unfortunately, their ability to transfer such knowledge to real life left something to be desired. This despite an internship program that essentially allowed me to graduate with eighteen months of real job experience. But there I was, living with my parents and working in Cincinnati. There wasn't much promise there for a young designer in the late 1970s. "Mother Procter" was queen of the industry, and set the pace not only for the big agencies and creative houses, but for the bottom-feeders consisting of cigar-chomping geezers whose creative acumen was reduced to cranking out one piece of overdecorated future landfill after another. They'd look at my work. "Very nice, but can you spec type?" I'd go to agencies for ad work. "This stuff is too creative. Have you tried looking for studio work?" Then I'd interview at studios. "Most of this stuff is straight advertising. Have you gone to the agencies?" Most guys were amicable, some were very instructive, a few were simply jerks with bad suits and even worse comb-overs. Most of them were not as aware of the industry's big picture as they thought they were.

That big picture wasn't looking to good in the late 1970s. The recession of the last "hope and change" guy, Jimmy Carter, was wreaking havoc. They left behind the riff-raff that constituted my interviews, contrasted with the occasional pompadours with Italian suits and the usual pretensions, who thought they were doing a podunk town like Cincinnati a favor by hanging their shingle there. Between clowns to the left of me, and posers to the right, I was stuck in the middle with no place to go. A few of my colleagues were disgusted with the local scene at the offset, and headed to New York or Chicago.

I couldn't blame them. Cincinnati was home to a number of two-year trade schools devoted to "commercial art" or related fields. Without the burden of academic and liberal arts requirements, these storefront diploma mills pumped out graduates equipped to do the low-end production work, without pushing the envelope in terms of design. "Scaling new heights of mediocrity" was what one art director called it. It didn't break new ground, but it was the bread and butter work for smaller and less aggressive markets like ours. A portfolio of purely creative innovation wow them in the Big Apple, but it didn't cut much ice in the Queen City.

And yet, provincial though it was, Cincinnati was about as "big city" as I could handle, or so I thought.

Mama's Boy Is In The House

Early that year, I hooked up with a commercial studio run by one of the city's most respected illustrators. A former agency director of a firm eventually bought out by Young and Rubicam, he presided over a family affair. His wife kept the books, his older son used the studio as his apartment (the cause of occasional awkward moments), and his younger son came in around mid-afternoon. Waiting for Junior was work that I could have been doing, as opposed to sitting around half the time. I was paid by the hour.

The rest of my life wasn't setting the world on fire either. Looking back, it was easy to see why. I was twenty-five and still living with my parents. The older of my two sisters had already married and had a son. My younger brother left home during sophomore year of college, and wasn't coming back. I was also dating this girl whose horizens were even shorter than mine. I'm not sure how we ever connected, really, unless you count either boredom or low expectations as an excuse. Not only that, it took me two months to dump her. After all, I was her ticket out of living with her parents. This alone would have been reason enough to get outa Dodge City.

As dismal as things seemed, my life outside the office was coming on its own. Cincinnati was home to an emerging roots music scene. I was becoming known as a musician, organizer, somebody who was good to have around to get events going. The bluegrass people, the Celtic people, the contra dance and international folk dance crowds, they all knew me.

But when you added it all up, I seemed to be at a standstill. Back in February, my professor who headed my department back at UC convinced me to send a slide portfolio of my work to something the Government called "The Federal Design Registry." I had just started working for the Mom-and-Pop studio, but I figured, what could it hurt, right?

The Other Shoe

Then in September, three things happened within about a week that heralded an impending change of life. First, a cousin of mine suffering from severe depression hung himself on the tree in his yard. Second, I finally got rid of the crazy girlfriend. But the third thing was what did it. A few weeks after the boss said I was doing a great job, his younger son graduated from the rinky-dink trade school, and the place wasn't big enough for both of us. Cincinnati is a small town when it comes to who's doing well or not-so-well. The Big Guy couldn't afford the bad rep to hit the streets, so he told me he was cutting me loose because I was doing a NOT-so-great job. His son's predicament was a mere coincidence. Let's face it, he was a lying jackass.

The worst thing was, the old-timers I knew and spoke to, saw nothing unusual in this. I began to respect my chosen profession a little less. I had heard of guys being "black-balled" so some studio hack could save face, but never thought of myself as much of a threat.

I free-lanced for a couple of months, but hardly enough to live on. Then I got a letter from Washington, an "inquiry of availability," they called it. I had just landed a contract with Procter and Gamble, the kind of work that the aforementioned bottom-feeders (including the one I had just left) would have killed for. In the three or four weeks I was there, I had a blast. The prospect of following my father's footsteps -- well, sort of -- was a great rush. I was sorry I hadn't gotten in there sooner. But it wasn't a sure thing.

Meanwhile, I was being interviewed on the phone, by an art director who was well respected in Washington. He worked for some agency whose name I had never heard. He was impressed with my work, and after listening to his own resume, that was good enough for me -- to tell him I'd think about it over the weekend.

The Epiphany

You know those times when, out of the blue, you suddenly realize your destiny has been hitting you in the backside? I'm not sure how it happened, only that it did. No, I take that back; I'm sure. A few years earlier, I had my palm read. It was just for fun, mind you, at a time when kids try just about anything once. When I remembered the "prophecy" that I would, in a quest for inner peace, move to a city near a large body of water, and meet a man who would change my entire life, it all started to make sense.

Pretty lame pretense for a life-altering decision, but let's face it, it didn't take much.

Mom didn't take it well at all. How would I ever survive without screwing things up royally? This was the conventional wisdom in our house, one that didn't always apply to my younger siblings. I answered it with a question: what the hell else was I going to do? That crazy ex-girlfriend had just visited me, and she wanted me back. Fortunately, I had the perfect excuse. In a sense, she represented everything I had to escape -- a life spent "scaling new heights of mediocrity."

My folks had already suggested I take a job at the post office, and do design work on the side. Had I followed that advice, I'd be a postal worker today. So much for five years of college.

It all added up. I had to either get out, or spend the rest of my life wishing I had.

So, on Thursday, the 12th of December, I loaded everything I could fit into a newly-bought 1980 Honda Civic, and headed up Interstate 71, toward the rest of my life in what was politely known as "the Nation's capital." That life as a Federal Employee began on the 15th of December. It was a Monday, just like today. Twenty-eight years ago, and everything that has happened since -- the good, the bad, the ugly -- can be traced to that one decision.


How has it changed me? Back home I'm always known as "Dave." Here in DC, even my closest friends know me as "David." It took me at least twenty years just to feel at home here in the so-called "Nation's capital." I managed to lose some speech patterns, though. I pronounce "neither" as "NYE-thur" instead of "NEE-thur." Same goes for "either." When someone says something I didn't hear, I say "come again?" instead of "please?" (because the Germans who settled around that part of Ohio would say "Bitte?" in the same situation, or something like that). Then again, the gals my uncles married are still called my "ants" instead of my "ahhnts." I could probably go back to Ohio right now and fit right in. I have yet to decide if I want to. The pontifications of Tom Wolfe notwithstanding, you really CAN go back home again. Just don't expect things to stay where they were when you left.

Oh yeah, I still call them "gals."

(PHOTO: The author, in a May 1978 publicity photo, with his late-1960s vintage Gibson J-160E.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Advent III: Mary

"You're covered in roses, you're covered in ashes..."

(Music: "Mary" by Patty Griffin. Video produced by Bob Carlton.)

(Lame) Duck and Cover

President Bush would have been old enough to have learned civil defense drills by diving under his desk in the event of a nuclear attack. It sounds crazy, but people took those things as seriously back then, as we do global warming today. In any event, here's proof that the exercise came in handy after all.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Comedy Central presents “The Daily Show.” Fair. Balanced. Subtle. And this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

There's my girl.


I am generally not partial to images of the Blessed Mother without her carrying the Christ Child. The absence of Her Son has long struck me as edging toward a sort of Catholic goddess-worship -- Mariolatry, if you will. But I make one exception, and that's the image used to commemorate today's Feast, that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas.

You can read all about her at, or you can stick around...

Contrary to what some dime-store theologian disguised as a pastoral associate is telling your children in Catholic school right about now, the indigenous peoples' customs in Central and South America were not suppressed by their Catholic conquerors. In fact, the natives were all too happy to have been relieved of being victims of human sacrifices, where their hearts were cut out while they were still alive, so much so as to have participated in what may have been the largest single mass conversion in Christendom.

Furthermore, and on a lighter note, when Juan Diego opened his cloak for the bishop, and the venerable image appeared, the roses hidden in the cloak came falling out. But that wasn't the end of the miracle. The bishop recognized the roses as being of a variety only found in his native Spanish province of Castile.

This was in the days before overnight delivery.

A few years ago, an American publisher of liturgical aids featured a tribute to this vision, starting out with some drivel about the Spaniards and their suppression of the venerable Aztec culture.* Several years ago, Father William Saunders gave a fuller account of the real deal in the Arlington Catholic Herald. I don't have the link, or the date of the piece, but I managed to preserve a few extracts:

The Aztec religious practices, which included human sacrifice, play an interesting and integral role in this story. Every major Aztec city had a temple pyramid, about 100 feet high, on top of which was erected an altar. Upon this altar, the Aztec priests offered human sacrifice to their god Huitzilopochtli, called the "Lover of Hearts and Drinker of Blood," by cutting out the beating hearts of their victims, usually adult men but often children. The priests held the beating hearts high for all to see, drank the blood, kicked the lifeless bodies down the pyramid stairs, and later severed the limbs and ate the flesh. Considering that the Aztecs controlled 371 towns and the law required 1,000 human sacrifices for each town with a temple pyramid, over 50,000 human beings were sacrificed each year. Moreover, the early Mexican historian Ixtlilxochitl estimated that one out of every five children fell victim to this bloodthirsty religion.

In 1487, when Juan Diego was just 13 years old, he would have witnessed the most horrible event: Tlacaellel, the 89-year-old Aztec ruler, dedicated the new temple pyramid of the sun, dedicated to the two chief gods of the Aztec pantheon — Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca, (the god of hell and darkness) — in the center of Tenochtitlan (later Mexico City). The temple pyramid was 100 feet high with 114 steps to reach the top. More than 80,000 men were sacrificed over a period of four days and four nights. One can only imagine the flow of blood and the piles of bodies from this dedication...

Nevertheless, in 1520, Hernan Cortes outlawed human sacrifice...

When you look at it that way, giving up meat on Fridays doesn't seem so bad. Even so, the aforementioned process only took about fifteen seconds for each victim -- less time than your average abortion. (If you have to think about the connection, I can't help you.)

And then there are those feminist-theology types who try to see a "goddess" image in the Virgin Mary. They're outa luck there too:

These are also symbols of divine victory over the pagan religion. Sun rays were symbolic of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtle. Therefore, our Blessed Mother, standing before the rays, shows that she proclaims the true God who is greater than Huitzilopochtle and who eclipses his power.

She stands also on the moon. The moon represented night and darkness, and was associated with the god Tezcatlipoca. Here again, the Blessed Mother’s standing on the moon indicates divine triumph over evil.

Note also, that in her dominance over false idols, Our Lady stands in a submissive posture, with head bowed and hands folded, as if to a Higher Power.

More on this feast can be found here.

* That commercial opportunists from Spain might have taken undue advantage of a massive cheap labor pool is not in dispute here. Nor is it unique to human history. What it is, is another story for another day...

(The preceding is a composite of earlier posts in previous years. When it's a busy month at mwbh, we improvise.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advent Reflection: The One Who Is With Us

This second in a series of talks on the Advent season, is given by Brother Robert Verrill, OP, of the Dominican Blackfriars of St Giles, Oxford, England.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Sentimental Journey

People don't send letters like they used to. They do it differently now. The immediacy and convenience of electronic mail and text messaging have seen to that. Even so, a well-crafted mailing piece can add a special touch to an occasional greeting.

If you're looking for truly original gifts during this Christmas season -- and around here, Christmas runs for twelve days, so no excuses, people! -- we've got just the thing for you. Pat Drybala in West Chester, Ohio (north of Cincinnati), is an Independent Demonstrator for Stampin' Up!®. You can explore the creativity of rubber stamping and scrapbooking, and have great homemade crafts to add that special touch to your next coffee klatch. Be sure to check out the full array of craft products, and projects, at her website...

...and you'll wonder why you didn't hear about this sooner. That's because today is my kid sister's birthday, and this was the least I could do. Party on, Sis.

Bailouts Revisited

Jeffrey Tucker is a Sacred Music Correspondent for New Liturgical Movement. As a music director and scholameister, he is also a leading educator and proponent of restoring Gregorian chant to its rightful place in Catholic parish life. But never mind all that. He is also a true renaissance man, and his essays on a variety of subjects never disappoint. Today, he throws the prerequisite bucket of cold water on the prospect of bailing out the American automobile industry.

We couldn't possibly be a real country and a powerful nation without our beloved auto industry, which is so essential to our national well-being... What about the time before the car? Between 1870 and 1930, the biggest ticket item on every household budget besides the house itself was its piano. Everyone had to have one. Those who didn't have one aspired to have one. It was a prize, an essential part of life, and they sold by the millions...

As cogent as his point is, he does not mention one critical difference with respect to the automobile. In the last fifty years, we have succeeded in building a society where it is virtually impossible to get anywhere without a privately-owned vehicle. Lawmakers who think nothing of subsidizing a road project to reach the nearest "big-box" store, would scoff at doing the same for public transportation in a metropolitan area -- something much of Europe takes for granted. When you consider that the price of gasoline has always been much higher there...

Be that as it may, Tucker's historical perspective gives us food for thought, as we prepare to leave our grandchildren with the bill for our stupidity.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Advent Reflection: The One Who Is To Come

This first in a series of talks on the Advent season, is given by Brother Dennis Murphy, OP, of the Dominican Blackfriars of St Giles, Oxford, England.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Advent II: How Long?

"Before this time another year, I may be gone..."

(Music: "I Am Waiting" by Olabelle. Video produced by Bob Carlton.)