Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In the bleak midwinter

Quiet day. More often now the relative quietness of Christmas is noted, as it's the sole remaining 24 hours on the calendar with that quality. A remarkably "Silent Night" outside that carries well into the day. Probably due less to the message & meaning of Christmas than to the seasonal hysteria spending itself like a wave crashing on the shore. At some point, the presents must be given & the appetitites satiated. The madness is the antithesis of The Nativity. Too much of everything. Even too much religion.

The Christmas story itself sounds like almost complete fiction, cobbled together from preexisting god-man birth legends, historical inaccuracies, a wildly fanciful first century oral tradition, all arranged to fit Isaiah's well-known prophecies. No virgin birth. No tax census. No Bethlehem. No star. No angels. No magi. No flight to Egypt. No massacre of the innocents. When the story is taken apart like a puzzle & scrutinized, it cannot be fit back together. It's impossible & unbelievable. But this doesn't matter to me. The story is wonderful. The proof is in the perfection, & the perfection isn't in the truth of the individual parts. It's a masterpiece.

Watched most of the Midnight Mass from St. Patrick's Cathedral In NYC, live TV beautifully produced by local station WPIX. Cardinal Egan's homily was a lengthy recounting of one he'd heard in a small London parish 25 years ago. Less pageantry & fewer players than one might expect in such a huge, ornate space, a wise choice. Heard a snippet of Holst's "In the Bleak Midwinter" on the organ as the mass transitioned from one part to another. The poem, by Christina Rossetti, begins:
In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.
This describes miserable weather in Northern England, not Bethlehem, as her metaphor for the harshness of the world. Yet, we hear it as if it were factual. So with all the other carols & hymns, the embellishments & inventions.


Having eaten my fill and spending the entire morning in my pajamas, I went outside at 1 p.m. and raked leaves in the fresh air. I immediately noticed the silence. The steady flow of traffic wasn't very steady. Amtrak and NJ Transit were running trains on a spartan schedule. Even the birds were quiet. Few people were out walking around and making that general din of rushing cars and machinery that defines civilization.
Christmas is the quietest holiday of the year and is a sharp contrast to the 6+ weeks leading up to it, eh?
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