Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Long Night Moon

Blooming night,
sailing the height
while earth is still,
comfort the heavy heart.

Cold the night,
hardscrabble the ground, despite
all efforts to till
our soil to its best;
perhaps a forgotten art.

Clear, the sight,
on this, the longest night;
watching, be eased, if chill,
awaiting warmth, as test
and testament to sum and part.

O, Maternal Night
and all stars in flight,
watch over valley and hill,
call Dawn to make blessed,
and release all seeds to new start.

Your cool gaze
            will have prepared earth
            for renewal and rebirth;
may it be to a new and more wondrous phase.

© 2013 Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Have a Hollow, Jello Christmas, along with Pavlov’s dogs?

As we approach the final shopping weekend before Christmas, I thought I would jot a few lines about the holiday.

First of all, it is thought of as being a Christian Holy Day, but it really isn’t. It is thought to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus, but it’s not. The winter holidays are pagan. Church Father’s (somewhere in the early 4th Century CE) thought it would be a good thing for Early Church PR to have some sort of Feast Day to balance out the Church year with Easter, and what better way to be welcoming to pagans (you plan to convert) than to syncretize a new holiday onto their own winter festivals?! So, if you wondered about the pine and fir trees, the yule log, and all that… it has nothing to do with Jerusalem, Nazareth or Egypt… it has to do with Saturnalia, Festivus, Yule and Dies Natalis Solis Invicti. Because of the magic of Wikipedia, you can look up all these festivals and find out what they are about, but basically it is about the season of winter and the winter solstice. It is a true fact that New Zealand holds its Yule festival in July… (Think about it.)

So, to all those cry that the spirit of the season has been usurped, and that we must put "Christ back into Christmas," I have to reply, we can't--Christ was never in it!

The traditional giving of gifts is always misconstrued to be the “Gifts from the Magi”, gold, frankincense and myrrh. But, folks, the truth of the matter is that the gift giving tradition comes directly from the Roman holiday of Saturnalia. It was all about conspicuous consumption, drunken debauchery and eating to excess. Even Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) had to retreat to a suite of rooms in his manor, in order that the noise from the festivities might not interrupt his studies. Toys were given to children, and gag gifts exchanged between adults. [You know those ugly Christmas sweaters we all love to hate? Well, the togas at that time had to be either really tacky or were doffed completely, during these Empire mandated celebrations.] The gifts, if you want to know, are about the agricultural god Saturn, who was the embodiment of prosperity. You exchange signs of prosperity with others so that you will be blessed with prosperity—that’s the general idea. There were sacrifices, also… I won’t get into gory details; this is a family blog. All you need to know is that Alexander the Great found a way to eliminate that element from the holiday picture.

We are, therefore, acting in a truly Roman Empire sort of way when we deal with Christmas, which makes the holiday not very Christian, at all (because it isn’t). Add to that the fact that we have all been trained to be good little consumers, and you have a complete mash-up of priorities: giving to the poor means getting for ourselves. We must decorate and cook and wrap and give and get and buy and buy and buy and and and and… and by and by get stuck in traffic jams, everywhere, with grumpy people who fume and yell and text and commit acts of road rage against fellow drivers. How celebratory is that?


In the face of all this craziness, I and my colleagues have been commuting (though certainly not rushing at great speed) on these holiday-frenzied roads and public transit systems in order to offer the simplest, but perhaps the most profoundly intimate gift that can be given or received: sound. Into the sanctuary of churches, concert and social halls, living rooms and other spaces, set aside from the noise and the rushing and the personalities, musicians gather with scores, voices and instruments to soothe the savage breast (of strangers or family and friends) with healing vibrations. In the past few weeks, there have been many concerts, small and large; there are more to come. Give the gift of music to someone you know, with concert tickets or CDs purchased from local groups. There is a lot of great music happening where you are--don't miss it!

Is your ChristeSaturnalimas seeming shallow, hollow, empty of feeling or too full of hassle? Get away from all of that. Hie thee to a concert, now! Settle into a seat. Close your eyes. Let the music help release your spirit, to make it soar. In appropriate concert situations, public dance might figure in. Join in and let your body go; that is singing, too. Listen to beautiful music via electronic media, or go to the shore to hear the waves and the birds. Trust me, you will feel much better for it.

And have yourself as much of a merry something-or-other and as happy a New Year as you can stand.