Monday, January 05, 2009
As I’ve mentioned here before, MY WIFE and I celebrate Little Christmas. That is, while we have our allotment of the standard Christmas merriment, seeing relatives and giving gifts during the traditional December holidays, we wait until January 6th to exchange presents with each other.
Some of you may wonder why we do this. That’s certainly understandable, given that January 6th receives little play from the merchants and media. As far as they’re concerned, come midnight on December 25th, the Christmas holiday is over. It’s time to push Valentine’s candy and President’s Day car sales down people’s throats.
(Someday, in the not-too-distant future, you can expect to hear an announcer saying something like the following:
“Free at last! Thank God almighty, free at last! Well, OK, we’re not giving away our cars, but it’s as close as we can get! Come on down to our Martin Luther King Day sale! Our sales staff has a dream – of putting YOU in the driver’s seat of a brand new Toyota! You won’t have to march from Selma to Montgomery for Crazy Ed to notice you! Just come on down between now and January 15th, and he’ll ensure your civil right to a deal based on the color of your cash and not the content of your credit report!”
Financial experts might even take into account the failure of some merchants to break even over the Christmas season and start calling it Black Monday.
You might not think that anyone would have the balls, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Give it a hundred years. The folks back in 1905 would never have foreseen Abraham Lincoln as co-star with a talking beaver in an ad for sleeping pills.)
January 6th is, on the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, The Feast of the Epiphany. In secular terms, it is sometimes known as The Feast of the Magi, the “Three Kings” of Christmas carol fame. It is the date some suppose as that when the wise men visited the infant Jesus and bestowed upon him the gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.
The day is also remembered, although obliquely, in the song “The Twelve Days Of Christmas”. Are you one of those people who wondered why there were twelve days of over-the-top gift giving in that song? Well, the actual Christmas season, at least in some Western European civilizations, runs from December 25th until January 6th.
In any case, it can reasonably be argued that the 6th of January is a more correct time to exchange gifts in honor of The Lord’s nativity.
MY WIFE and I decided years ago that it made eminent sense to delay our own exchange of presents until the 12th day of Christmas. In that way, we would eliminate much of the stress associated with what should be a joy-filled celebration with friends and family. We would concentrate on others, during the more traditional Thanksgiving through December 25th time period, and then devote our efforts to each other during the 11 days following.
(This is, of course, another one of the reasons why I get so amazingly pissed off at the folks who want to start the Christmas season some time in October. Not only does it do a disservice to the wonderful American holiday of Thanksgiving [which occurs on the fourth Thursday of November]; it also utterly ignores the rightful 12 days of celebration that occur in December and January. My Christmas runs through January 6th, so if I acquiesce to their greedy mercantile demands, I’ll be singing a stretched out and thinned-to-absurdity Hallelujah over perhaps a 75 day period. That’s far too much water in anybody’s holiday soup.)
Since we celebrate on the 6th, I won’t be at work then, or on the 7th. And, since my only internet connection is at work, there will be nothing new in this space. I won't be spending any of my time during the holiday writing. I'd consider it slightly sacrilegious to do so, thus nothing new here on the 8th, either. You might get something on the 9th, but only if I've got something inside of me itching to burst through my fingers much as the alien burst through John Hurt's stomach. In other words, this may be the last new entry you'll see until the 12th.
I know, I know. I see the river of tears coursing down your collective faces. Just so you truly know that I do care about you, here’s a story that is not about Little Christmas specifically, but IS about Christmas and is also little.
UNCLE JIM’S STOCKING
First things first: This is a story about an Irish family. While my name is Jim, and I’m an uncle, I also have an Uncle Jim of my own. There is an Uncle Jim mentioned in this story, but he’s not that Uncle Jim. He is Uncle Jim’s Uncle Jim, making him my granduncle (although some folks prefer the title "great uncle", but let’s not open that can of worms.) It’s all very confusing to the uninitiated. If it will keep you from getting a headache, feel free to think of him as Uncle Aloysius.
When my father was very young – let’s say six - his Uncle Jim taught him a very valuable lesson.
My father had hung his stocking on Christmas Eve, as did all of the family. This included the older relatives, too. And that group included Uncle Jim. Come Christmas morning, everybody took down their stockings and looked inside to see what Santa Claus had brought them.
The usual things were found inside the stockings - little toys, tasty candies, and so forth. Nice, but nothing unusual. That is, until Uncle Jim inspected the contents of his stocking. He turned it upside down, and out rolled a lump of coal and an onion.
While good little boys and girls receive the toys and candies, a lump of coal and an onion are, by tradition, what bad boys and girls receive. Seeing those things come from Uncle Jim’s stocking, my father laughed and laughed. Uncle Jim was a bad boy! He got a lump of coal and an onion!
While my father was laughing, Uncle Jim said, "Oh! This is wonderful! A lump of coal and an onion? These are just what I needed!"
My father thought his Uncle Jim had gone round the bend. How could someone be happy to have received a lump of coal and an onion in his Christmas stocking?
Uncle Jim took the lump of coal, took my father’s hand, and led him to the basement. They stopped at the furnace. Uncle Jim said, "It’s so cold today! This lump of coal is the perfect gift! I can put it in the furnace and we’ll be nice and warm all day!"
Uncle Jim then led my amazed father back upstairs. Uncle Jim took the onion, and my father, into the kitchen. He then chopped the onion, mixed it with celery and some bread and spices, and went on rapturously about how his stuffing for the turkey would have been no good without the onion.
Later on, as my father sat in a warm house eating delicious stuffing with his Christmas dinner, the lesson became permanently burned in his memory. The lesson was this: It doesn’t matter what you’re given. What matters is what you do with it.
Before I leave you, I’d like to share another little story about Christmas. No title on this one; it’s just a general update about someone some of you care about.
My cousin, Dorothy, a.k.a. The Mad Cat Lady Of Franklin (self-described) is doing OK. She still has her many maladies to deal with, but she’s taking care of the homeless cats and the homeless cats are taking care of her.
On Christmas Eve, she found a package on her doorstep. It contained, among other things, a nice book about feral cats. There was also a handwritten note. Well, not "HANDwritten". Perhaps "PAWwritten" would be more appropriate.
The note was in white ink on blue paper, very pretty. I got the story from Dorothy over the telephone, so I’m paraphrasing, but here, in general, is what the note said:
For many years, you have cared about us when nobody else has.
When we were hungry, you fed us. When we thirsted, you gave us something to drink. When others considered us only a nuisance, you fought for us.
In the cold weather, you try to keep us warm, and in the hot weather, you give us someplace cool to lie down. You gave us names when others just called us names.
Whatever else happens to us, we know that there’s one human being we can always count on to be loving and caring. And, in return, we love you, too.
The Feral Cats
Now, as much as Dorothy and I might like to believe that the cats somehow developed opposable thumbs and penmanship skills, we think someone went out of his/her way to be really, really nice. Dorothy has a suspicion about who it might have been, but I just wanted to put the story out here and say, "Thank You!" to whoever it was, and let you know that it was appreciated.
Let’s see... What’s the best blessing I could proffer upon you? Maybe this.
May God bless your life with at least as much love and kindness as that which Dorothy shows to her cats.
Yeah, that’ll do it.
Soon, with more better stuff.