Little Match Girl
We pick on the Grimms a little bit for being dark but let’s not pretend that Hans Christian Anderson couldn’t have used some extra contact time with a puppy when he was little. We’ve talked a lot over these holiday stories about the inordinate amount of darkness in these winter stories whether they were explicitly holiday related or no. Most of them lack The Little Match Girl’s punch. Mostly I skip the Little Match Girl every year because I like my holidays a little brighter… what have I been missing?
Mostly the beauty that The Little Matchgirl experiences as she is slipping away. Explicit criticism of the more fortunate society that ignored her or no, the visions she finds in the flickering flames of her disappearing hope are lovely. It’s almost worth it.
It’s easy sitting here in the center of Texas to lose the feel of what deepest midwinter can feel like. That often means that the focus on holiday beomes all the lighter because The Elements need not be Dealt With. But in another life when I was still living in New Hampshire it was easy to understand some of the melancholy and downright darkness that combines with the festivities creating a stew of Christian redemptive hope, secular ritual at the turn of the year, and pagan celebration of the death of one season and birth of another.
Thinking about all the odd weight of of Christmas tales had me looking back at Anne Sexton and the gravity with which she dealt with her fairy tale heroines. The grimness and lasting consequences in her Briar Rose are the sort of thing to keep you up on a frozen cloudless night staring at the midwinter moon with our dear insomniac. Thanks to Jax for reading and to Julie Zarate for the lovely image.
The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus
I am not overly familiar with Ogden Nash and owe my knowledge of this poem to Nathan Jerkins who suggested it for this year’s holiday additions.
It would be so easy for Nash to give in and make a treacly paens to sweetness and light and instead we get lovely rhythms outlining the power of Ol’ Saint Nick. I hope you enjoy.
The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus
by Ogden Nash
In Baltimore there lived a boy.
He wasn’t anybody’s joy.
Although his name was Jabez Dawes,
His character was full of flaws.
In school he never led his classes,
He hid old ladies’ reading glasses,
His mouth was open when he chewed,
And elbows to the table glued.
He stole the milk of hungry kittens,
And walked through doors marked NO ADMITTANCE.
He said he acted thus because
There wasn’t any Santa Claus.
Another trick that tickled Jabez
Was crying ‘Boo’ at little babies.
He brushed his teeth, they said in town,
Sideways instead of up and down.
Yet people pardoned every sin,
And viewed his antics with a grin,
Till they were told by Jabez Dawes,
‘There isn’t any Santa Claus!’
Deploring how he did behave,
His parents swiftly sought their grave.
They hurried through the portals pearly,
And Jabez left the funeral early.
Like whooping cough, from child to child,
He sped to spread the rumor wild:
‘Sure as my name is Jabez Dawes
There isn’t any Santa Claus!’
Slunk like a weasel of a marten
Through nursery and kindergarten,
Whispering low to every tot,
‘There isn’t any, no there’s not!’
The children wept all Christmas eve
And Jabez chortled up his sleeve.
No infant dared hang up his stocking
For fear of Jabez’ ribald mocking.
He sprawled on his untidy bed,
Fresh malice dancing in his head,
When presently with scalp-a-tingling,
Jabez heard a distant jingling;
He heard the crunch of sleigh and hoof
Crisply alighting on the roof.
What good to rise and bar the door?
A shower of soot was on the floor.
What was beheld by Jabez Dawes?
The fireplace full of Santa Claus!
Then Jabez fell upon his knees
With cries of ‘Don’t,’ and ‘Pretty Please.’
He howled, ‘I don’t know where you read it,
But anyhow, I never said it!’
‘Jabez’ replied the angry saint,
‘It isn’t I, it’s you that ain’t.
Although there is a Santa Claus,
There isn’t any Jabez Dawes!’
Said Jabez then with impudent vim,
‘Oh, yes there is, and I am him!
Your magic don’t scare me, it doesn’t’
And suddenly he found he wasn’t!
From grimy feet to grimy locks,
Jabez became a Jack-in-the-box,
An ugly toy with springs unsprung,
Forever sticking out his tongue.
The neighbors heard his mournful squeal;
They searched for him, but not with zeal.
No trace was found of Jabez Dawes,
Which led to thunderous applause,
And people drank a loving cup
And went and hung their stockings up.
All you who sneer at Santa Claus,
Beware the fate of Jabez Dawes,
The saucy boy who mocked the saint.
Donner and Blitzen licked off his paint.
Holidays are Here – 8: Luke 2
Every Christmas morning I would read to my sisters whatever it was they wanted until my folks got up and then Mom would make coffee and when she sat down I would read Luke 2 before we opened out presents.
Whether for you it’s the beginning of the story of God’s redemptive grace or simply a beautiful incarnation myth it is well worth hearing again.
Holidays are Here – 7 : The Wise Men
What do men of reason, logic and power do in the face of the mystical?
What do you do, faced with something beyond your experience?
You do what is right,
and let your intention carry through.
Here Jax Steager reads us Madeline L’Engle’s “The Wise Men”.
Men who faced a call obediantly, and have asked nothing in return are left all their lives to wonder what if anything came of their actions.
If we all strive in the waxing year to cast kindness and joy into the darkness,
we create heaven. Whatever that might mean to you.
Holidays are Here 6: Twas the Night Before Christmas
Sometimes we lose track of where our traditions begin. things become so ingrained in our approach to a holiday or beliefs about a season that we stop thinking about them as ever having been new ideas. Revolutions become sealed off from a reality and simply pass into ever having been. Clement Clark Moore was writing about a Santa Claus and this description has become THE Santa Claus. He is here almost fully drawn as he lives in American culture today, and before Mr. Moore there was only really an accumulation of Saint Nicholas myths lightly warped from any other 500 word reliquary stories.
Aside from the the impact of the now iconic imagery, is any other poem so broadly known?
Is any other poem so broadly read and performed?
I encourage you to read it out loud for yourself after the baking and caroling and before the long winter’s nap. It’ll make you smile.
Holidays are here 5 : The Huron Carol
In a polarized American cultural present screaming for homogeniety and comfort for whomever the speaker is… there’s something comforting in a Canadian folk carol written by a Jesuit to a French folk song in the native language of the Huron tribe he was living among.
I’m not so naive as to think that there was not cultural oppression going on, or that there’s some fast and loose cultural appropriation in the lyric itself… but there’s a kindness in it that appeals to me. There’s a gentleness in the way Jean de Brébeuf is extending his belief in the deity of Christ and the hope of salvation in a way he believes the Huron will understand that warms my heart.
Holidays are Here – 4 The Fir Tree
Ends always bring out the melancholy in us, and that’s reflected in the stories of the season. The overwhelming sentiment in holiday or winter solstice themed stories is of darkness with a glimmer of hope , the ol’ candle in the dark. That melancholy and the year end predilection for reflection come together in the Fir Tree by Hans Christian Anderson, read here by Lois Dawson.
As you reflect on where you’ve come from, who you are and where you’re going… do remember to take a breath and be who you are for just a second… and enjoy it. We may never pass this way again…
Holidays are Here: 3 – The Holly King
When Max shared The Happy Man’s Shirt we talked briefly about the joy of having a good reason to discover new thing, new culture, new stories, or old stories told a new way. That joyous exploration is doubly true for me in seeing the parallels in religious celebrations and cultural mythologies. While I’m certain that I had heard of the Holly King and Oak King before Brian brought it to my attention, I just as certainly hadn’t paid attention. The simple outline of death and rebirth paralleling Mithras/Jesus as well as Persephone’s yearly round trip from Hades to Demeter is comfortable as an old shoe. New comfort comes from the certainty in all the many tellings that while the King’s are rivals, they understand their role in the cycle, and they sacrifice to keep the years and the world turning. It can be difficult to “lose” even for a moment, even with full knowledge or your inevitable ascendance.
To those who celebrate, I wish you a blessed Yule, and hope that in your new year your sacrifices may be blessed with grace, and your triumphs blessed with humility in the full knowledge of the fluidity of life.
Holidays are Here – 2 : A Christmas Tale
A crowd inspired blog like this would be remiss in not including content created by our social media circle. In this case a Christmas Tale by David Loehr.
In times of upheaval it seems like a fresh dusting of fear every morning. There’s some bogeyman or another lurking under every glimmer of hope. As we struggle to keep our footing and hold tight to those around us that give us strength it’s important to listen for those little voices that give us hope in the face of our doubt, even at dark midwinter.
Why are you here?
Holidays are here – 1: Yes, Virginia
With the end of the year comes a raft of holiday celebrations as midwinter required something to offset all the darkness and cold. We have several readings for you this week. Many of them are specifically for and about Christmas as that’s where the readers own holiday histories lie, but there will also be some midwinter tales and the Kings Holly and Oak may just appear.
We begin with a reading of the famous editorial from the New York Sun “Yes, Viginia”.
A child asks a question of deep faith, and Francis Pharcellus Church answers with a stirring affirmation of hope for society and that, “Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. ”
With as much fear as exists in the world in this moment it is important to remember that we have in us to the power to cast both heat and light. Maybe you can’t pay for someone else’s Christmas gifts, but there is some light or hope you can bring to the world around you. How can you tell Virginia yes this year?