Skip to main content

'Tis the season to be merry!

A wise friend just wrote:
"I know I'm in the minority here but every year around this time of year I dread the onslaught of posts about Christmas trees "being up too early" or Christmas carols being "played too early." Then too about Christmas trees being "down too early" or carols "stopped too early."
It seems to me that in reacting to one extreme people have created another."

Yes, Scrooge lives on, despite all the ghosts who came to visit him ...

The liturgy is saner on the question : we sing the same Marian antiphon, focused on the Christmas message, through Advent right up until Candlemas. And Advent moves steadily foward to anticipation of the Nativity, like a mad hand-to-hand dance, with no-one sure when it starts or stops.

From the 17th December, the O antiphons ask the Saviour to come, but the 8th December also lays the ground for the mystery of the Incarnation .. and of course St Nicholas, in medieval tradition, marks the start of the season of jollity ... boy bishops (who reigned from 6th to 28th December), holly and ivy, and the rest. In much of medieval Europe, the season of goodwill began on 6th December; as it does in Chavagnes .... with the Vespers of the Boy Bishop.

In Spain the 6th January is the real Christmas, but in post-Reformation England that was considered the end of Christmas. Indeed Christmas decorations still up after 6th January were thought to bring bad luck ...

Continental Europeans celebrate the big Christmas meal before Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Traditionally it was a day of abstinence but not of fasting, so they ate fish but plenty of it, and delicacies like almonds and oranges ...  In England the big meal is on the 25th. There is an Octave of Christmas, but in England, at least, there were "Twelve Days of Christmas", with Twelfth Night on 5th December, and then Epiphany itself, which was lavishly celebrated on the day of the 6th and not just on the Vigil.

There is an Octave of Christmas, sure, but until 1955 there was also an Octave of the Epiphany, which took us up to 13th January ... 

The simple truth is that in an agricultural society in northern Europe, there is very little useful outdoor work to be done between mid December and early February. Over this period the cows and goats would go down to one milking a day, and then to none; most pigs were slaughtered in early December or earlier, and the other animals would be inside, in preparation for their giving birth in spring. 

There was no outdoor work as the fields were now empty of crops, except for the kitchen garden. It was a natural time in which to consume all the fruits of the October harvest before the lean time of Lent. The apples, even when carefully stored, would not last  past Candlemas. Most of them, for that very reason, would have been made into cider.  Before the advent of sugar plantations, the way to store autumn fruits was in alcoholic form, not as jams and preserves. So the time between early December and Lent was a time when medieval man drank a lot alcohol, not just to be merry but also for nutrition. All the traditional English Christlas delicacies (plum pudding and mince pies, hams, goose, capons, jelied fruits, cheeses, beers, wines and spirits ...) are all rich, preserved food, or birds that were too expensive to keep feeding over the winter. Typically, the seasonal fayre was rich in animal fat, salt, honey (or, later, sugar) and alcohol. These are the tastes that people now associate with Christmas.  It is natural that people should stay indoors by the fire, and if there is food and drink, then it is natural that they should consume it while it is still fresh enough to enjoy. It is all of a piece ...  The liturgical year and the year of nature, like all good things,  both belong to God and come from Him.

And in the Incarnation, we celebrate the fact that God Himself entered into His own creation, with all its times and seasons, in order to redeem us.

From tonight, and every day of Advent, we sing our joy at the miracle of the Incarnation at the close of day:

Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
should doom to death a universe,
hast found the medicine, full of grace,
to save and heal a ruined race. 

Thou camest, the Bridegroom of the bride,
as drew the world to evening tide,
proceeding from a virgin shrine,
the spotless Victim all divine.

At whose dread Name, majestic now,
all knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
and things celestial Thee shall own,
and things terrestrial Lord alone.

It is indeed a 'res miranda', a great and mighty wonder!


Popular posts from this blog

Does the state destroy true education?

Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990) was one of the leading conservative intellectuals in the English-speaking world during the post-war period. Born into a Fabian socialist milieu, his own conservatism seems to have arisen from the political crucible of the 1930s, in reaction to the dual horrors of Nazism and communism. According to Oakeshott `modern governments are not interested in education, they are concerned to impose `socialization' of one kind or another upon the surviving fragments of a once considerable educational engagement."

He saw the job of the state as simply to stay afloat, rather than heading off in some idealistic and utopian direction; and of education, to engage the young, and not so young, in a conversation with our heritage, and a conversation between certain different modes of thinking and being that would give them a life of freedom and even of adventure:

"men sail a boundless and bottomless sea, there is neither
harbor for shelter nor floor for anchorage,…

In the spirit of my old friend, Joseph Pearce, I am trying to shed new light on a lady poet from 100 years ago

Under my pen-name, Edwin King, I am trying to shed new light on the work of Olive Custance, the wife of Lord Alfred Douglas. For more information, visit my special website

Government-bashing ...

I feel a bit sorry for Mrs May. Here's why:

Government borrowing is going down (ie. although the UK is still getting deeper into debt, the process has slowed).

Unemployment levels in the UK look set to reach a 44-year low.

500,000 people have come out of poverty since 2010.

Net immigration is falling (although people are still pouring in, they're pouring in more slowly).

All of these facts correspond to old promises made by the government.

So instead of congratulating the government, the left-wing press finds other things to gripe about : Rises in "relative poverty" or complaints about the wage levels of all the new jobs that are being created, or longer waiting lists for psychological services in the NHS (the example quoted by Radio 4 the other day was the long waiting lists for gender reassignment counselling ...).

Of course these gripes are certainly areas that highlight hardships for certain groups. But it does not help the cause of democracy to keep moving the g…