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Kala Kristouyina

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It is very early on Christmas Day morning, so early I’m still thinking of it as Christmas Eve night.  I’m awake and wandering around for reasons both banal and too complicated to go into.  Let’s just say that I’m the kind of person who finds it impossible to go back to sleep once I have been woken up, so I expect to be up and around for quite a few hours today. 

And by the time I’m ready to sleep again, there will be people in the house and things to do.  I’ll jut have to make it to the end of the day and then fall over like a tree.

At any rate, I’ve made myself my tea and  I thought I’d do a Christmas shopping list of things I like for this season.   I’m not the kind of atheist who refuses to celebrate Christmas in any  form, so there are a tree and presents in my house, and I read and listen to things that are not part of the post-modern project.

So–a few recommendations.

For a nonfiction book, I’d suggest a Christian book for a Christian holiday,  Ricard John Neuhaus’s American Babylon.

In spite of the title, it’s not a polemic about how awful and corrupt America is, or how we must get back to God right this minute of suffer destruction.

Neuhaus was a Catholic priest by the time he died–he was a Lutheran minister for most of his early adult life–and he certainly would have been pleased if we’d all gotten back to God, but the book is a short meditation on “what it means to be Christian and American.” 

And Neuhaus really liked being an American.

This is one of the books I recommend to people who froth at the mouth about how there are two kinds of people, “stupid and superstitious” believers and “intelligent” atheists.   In a chapter called “The Age of Irony,” Neuhaus takes on the work of Richard Rorty and the whole postmodern “there is truth for me and truth for you, but no Truth” thing in a way I’ve rarely seen it done elsewhere. 

His chapter on “Can Atheists Be Good  Citizens”  is as interesting for its definition of what makes a good citizen as for its inevitable answer to the question at hand. 

In short, Neuhaus has thought longer and harder about faith and reason than most of the atheists I know, including most of the New Atheists now in print, and he doesn’t get his intellectual history wrong.

For a work of fiction, I’d give you Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, or maybe a really funny cozy by Charlotte MacLeod called Rest Ye Merry. MacLeod is much cozier than I usually like mysteries, but it was a book of hers (The Family Vault) that got me back to reading mysteries after a couple of decades of having abandoning them, and got me back to thinking about someday writing them. 

You could say that my first novel, Sweet Savage Death, was inspired by the two of her books I’ve mentioned above, and Gregor would never have existed without her.

For music, I’d give you Anonymous Four’s Wylcomen Yul. 

At least, I think that’s how it’s spelled.  I’ve been frantically looking for it all morning, without luck, which means one of my children–who aren’t children any more, and should know better–has been moving my stuff around.   Again.

Anonymous Four is a four-woman a capella group, disbanded now, who sang Medieval music of various kinds, from masses and chants to secular love songs and, yes, Christmas carols.  They did at least three Christmas albums.  I like this one both because it is carol-based (rather than a collection of religious ritual music), and because it is upbeat in a way a lot of Medieval music isn’t.

If you want to know what people in the Middle Ages sang at Christmas–ordinary people, not necessarily the nobility, although there wasn’t as much of a break between the classes as there would be later–here it is, and there are even a couple you’ll recognize (“The Holly and the Ivy,” “I Saw Three Ships”).

Besides, they have really gorgeous voices. 

For movies, I’m back to A Christmas Carol–and really, the Muppet one is spectacularly good, one of the best out there.  I don’t know.  Maybe you have to have a rather peculiar mind to take Muppets seriously, but I do. 

Just not too seriously.

Of the other available versions of this story:  George C. Scott does the best Scrooge, but the Mr. and Mrs. Cratchitt in that version are played by David Warren and Susannah York, and York, especially, comes off as the Queen of England temporarily misplaced in a small house in Camden Town.  The best Cratchitss are definitely the pair in the Patrick Stewart version. 

The Stewart version, by the way, is the only one I own that has Scrooge going to church on Christmas morning–interesting, when you consider Stewart’s very public atheism.  On the other hand, Stewart seems to be something of a Christmas Carol fanatic, so much so that he once did a one-man show of it off-Broadway, where he played all the parts.

Of the modern adaptations, I’d give you Scrooged, with Bill Murray, where Carol Kane plays the Ghost of  Christmas Past like some psychotic version of the Tooth Fairy.  The Vanessa Williams A Diva’s Christmas Carol isn’t bad.  The Henry Winkler An American Christmas Carol is just odd, and Cicely Tyson’s Ms. Scrooge is sort of uncomfortable.  In most ways it’s very well done, and it’s the only majority-black cast version I can think of, but Tyson seems to have just had a mild but not insignificant stroke, and it’s hard to watch sometimes.

There is also another one out there, whose exact title I never caught the one time I found it on television.  It takes place in a modern suburban neighborhood, the Ghosts go to the wrong house, and Jacob Marley is supposed to have been one of the ancestors of Bob Marley. 

I wish I could find that one.

Right now, I’m going to go back to seeing if I can locate Wylcome Yul.

For those of you out there who celebrate Christmas–kala Kristouyina.

For everybody else–I hope it’s a good day. 

With cats.

Written by janeh

December 25th, 2009 at 4:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Kala Kristouyina'

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  1. Couldn’t quarrel with the list. I also am up early and on hold. The kids are visiting, but I rented them a motel suite two blocks away so we wouldn’t trip over one another in a one-bedroom apartment.
    For myself: for music, another female a capella group–The Roches’ We Three Kings, Carpenters’ Christmas Collection and Arthur Fiedler’s Christmas at the Pops. A little trickier to get is “Great Songs of Christmas” the old Goodyear albums. After them, the Culture Wars broke out.
    For film, I persist in thinking All I Want for Christmas (1991) is underrated–not a story of moral redemption, but a cute comedy set in the season of the sort Disney did 30 years earlier before they lost their touch. And–if you can find it–Fitzwilly, with Dick Van Dyke and Barbara Feldon.

    Which leads to a book: Poyntz Tyler’s A Garden of Cucumbers, which was also published as “Take It Easy–But Take It” and “Fitzwilly.” If you have seen teh movie you have NOT read the book, but the book is only recomended for those 55 and up. It’s a delightful comedy with a serious point now and then, but it has a wealth of specific cultural referents, from the Taxicab Army to New York subway tokens and Mayor LaGuardia’s hats which makes it unsuitable for a younger audience.

    It’s one of the reasons I always hesitate about longevity as a way of sorting books for quality. A book can be very good–maybe even great–but still pass away when the readers no longer have the necessary background information to make sense of the text.

    To live long enough is to live in another world, and it doesn’t take as much time as it used to.


    25 Dec 09 at 9:11 am

  2. Merry Christmas, Jane. We had Christmas Eve dinner at my brother’s house with him and my sister and brother in law. Today it’s just Ron and me and five cats.


    25 Dec 09 at 1:20 pm

  3. Merry Christmas from me too, Jane, and everybody. We’re also spending it at home this year as Jan came down with some fierce Lurgy or other so our plans to spend Christmas with the family in Sydney came to nothing.


    25 Dec 09 at 6:06 pm

  4. Boxing Day here – and this is the only place I know of where Boxing Day is a public holiday, not having been eliminated in the big sweep some years back when the provincial government decided we might be in a better competitive situation if our number of public holidays was closer to the national norm. I can’t imagine why they missed Boxing Day – national store chains have to indicate ‘Or December 27, where applicable’ on their sales fliers, and one immigrant I know of thought ‘Boxing Day Sale’ literally meant ‘Boxing Day’ and was waiting outside the store advertising cheap washers at 6 or 7 AM wondering where the crowds were.

    I like Boxing. All the busyness of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are over, and no one can expect you to do anything more energetic than to make a trip to one of the few drugstores or convenience stores (which aren’t covered by the shops closing act, but they won’t all find it worth their while to open).

    I get a nice long holiday, and I intend to have a good rest.

    Happy holidays to everyone – don’t give them up too early; you should get the full 12 days!


    26 Dec 09 at 8:18 am

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