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The love that dares to speak its name

December 17, 2010

Things are starting to hot up a bit for the holidays. Or should that be cool down? We are in the grip of another blast of Arctic weather, with biting winds and flurries of gritty snow, and plenty more forecast for the weekend. Despite the past week’s thaw (temperatures got above freezing almost every day!) there is still plenty of old snow and ice around, so it is all looking very Christmassy, if your imagination is that way inclined. Mine is. I dare to stand up and admit it: I love Christmas. There.

Of course there is a great deal to do to organise a traditional family Christmas, with presents to buy and cards to write and meals to organise and food to order and decorations to put up and beds to make and guests to look after and and and. So yes, it does get stressful, and I am usually feeling very tired and deeply antisocial by New Year. Our Christmas lasts pretty well the full twelve days, with relatives visiting, a family pheasant shoot to organise between Christmas and New Year and a huge festive football match held in the snow outside the castle on Hogmanay. But we don’t have to do it all. We do it because (a) it is traditional, (b) we like traditions and (c) we even actually like our extended family! At this time of year, we close down the commercial side of the castle and it reverts to being an old-fashioned family seat. For these twelve days or so, my husband can relax a little and remember that the castle is a pleasure and a blessing, not just a massive responsibility. We put up a big tree in the drawing room and light fires, and sing carols around the grand piano (this is a family of singers and piano players) and enjoy using the large, formal rooms that only ‘work’ when they are full of friends and family.

I love the slightly Dickensian feel of a traditional Christmas in the castle. I also love the more ancient undertones of Christmas, as best evoked by the carol ‘The Holly and the Ivy’.

‘The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown, of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.

Oh the rising of the sun, and the running of the deer, the playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.’

Don’t you think that the references to organs and choirs sound like an afterthought? To me they seem like a medieval nod to Christianity, tacked on to much older allusions to the solstice, the rising sun, and the pre-Christian symbolism of the running stag and the greenwood flourishing in the depths of winter.

a reindeer stag from the Cairngorm herd, Britain's only herd of reindeer

This ancient symbolism is very evocative here away from city lights, in the long dark nights and the woods full of deer. It feels as if not much of the essence of winter has changed over the centuries. For that reason, the hearty carols like ‘God rest ye, merry gentlemen’ are equally appealing, with their Falstaffian jolliness to banish the shadows. One that I heard this week and very much enjoyed is ‘Masters in this Hall’. It sounds rather sixteenth-century but was in fact written by William Morris (1834-96), that lover of all things pre-industrial. Despite its title, its lyrics are not about the rich but about the shepherds and poor folk who first recognised the baby Jesus as their Messiah. I heard it beautifully sung by the school choir at our elder son’s end of term carol service.

This is Christ the Lord,

Masters be ye glad!

Christmas is come in

And no folk should be sad.

Whether or not you believe in the Christmas story, that is a good thought for us all in the dark days of winter. Bring in gladness, banish sadness. That is why I love Christmas.



15 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2010 1:57 pm

    Oh I love Christmas too! It all sounds wonderful! I am feeling very festive, really looking forward to spending time with loved ones, wrapping up warm, eating good food. Loving the reindeer pic too!

  2. December 17, 2010 10:20 pm

    Oh, it all sounds so perfect! I’m working in Madrid as an au pair at the moment but I can’t wait until Wednesday, when I head off to my completely traditional, English Christmas full of mince pies, carols, roaring fires and roast goose….and snow perhaps? Well, hopefully! (As long as it means my flights not cancelled!)

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      December 17, 2010 11:08 pm

      Becky, glad you share the sentiments! And isn’t the reindeer great. I’m looking forward to finding an excuse to go and see him and his herd again before long. Some of his friends visited us here recently -more of that anon.

      Alice, nice to hear from you at Dancing Beastie. There is plenty of snow around this weekend, so I hope it allows you safely home before really setting in! And you’ve reminded me, I must get baking the mince pies…

  3. December 18, 2010 12:01 am

    I love Christmas for the booze up

  4. Margaret Lambert permalink
    December 18, 2010 4:24 pm

    Yours is a wonderful family Christmas, with some remarkable, unique traditions- visiting reindeer!! The spirit and the devotion, with family and friends joining in, is shared amongst many and all other details are what make the experience individual and personally memorable.

    Thank you for sharing your tradition, and have a very Happy Christmas and New Year of blessings!

  5. Jenni permalink
    December 18, 2010 5:18 pm

    I love Christmas, too, especially since I sat down with DH and we worked out which traditions were important to us instead of trying to replicate my mother’s perfect, picture-perfect Christmases. Happy Christmas!

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      December 18, 2010 5:56 pm

      That’s the secret to a happy Christmas with a partner, isn’t it. Discussing which family traditions you are happy to bin, and which you just have to keep. My husband, for example, ‘has’ to have a sugar mouse in his Christmas stocking – which is a pain for Father Christmas as they are very hard to find these days!

  6. December 19, 2010 12:36 am

    Hi Beastie: What an evocative post today, to be sure; and your title, coming on the same day that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ruling against gays in the US military has been repealed strikes a note.
    I have spent the day researching the “Huron Carol” an early 17th century hymn written in the Huron language by a Jesuit, Jean de Brebeuf in the wilds of mid-central Ontario’s mission field just 6 years before he and 7 other jesuits were martyred in tribal warfare in 1649. I will publish it on a blog I ghost write tomorrow evening – will send you a link to it as soon as it is posted in case you are interested in reading it. It has what it takes as a story – Canadiana, ethnic cleansing, martyrdom, a touch of cannibalism, all made palatable by piety and the distance of 350 years or more, and all carefully reported in the Jesuit Relations which were sent home to France at intervals and are available online for all to read!!
    Most days I admit to being a socialist and an atheist too, but I can never run far enough from my convent school education to completely escape that heritage, and tonight I ask myself – is my socialism rooted in the catholic concept of social justice? – maybe.
    Our weather is cold, there is a skiff of snow on the ground, but it is calm and beautiful tonight. My drafty old house cannot be heated warm enough if the wind blows, but it is toasty tonight with the woodstove purring away!
    Good feasting and a white Christmas to you!
    Janet in Nova Scotia

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      December 19, 2010 6:41 pm

      Hello Janet, thanks for that fascinating snippet about the Huron Carol. It sounds worthy of a film and I would certainly be interested to read more about it.

      I didn’t know about the repealing of that US army law when I titled the post, although I was of course aware that the title evokes far more serious concerns than my light-hearted little observations about Christmas. I hope that I haven’t upset anyone by the mis-placed allusion.

      You could say – whether you believe in him as the son of God or not – that Jesus was a socialist. His belief in the equality of everyone before God was profoundly unsettling to the authorities, enough to have him killed to keep him quiet. (It doesn’t seem to have worked.) There is an irony, isn’t there, in the contrast between Jesus’s ‘Leveller’ tendencies and the rigid hierarchy of the Catholic church. Even the language of the Church, with its ‘Lord’ and ‘King’ and ‘Master’, is rooted in the temporal hierarchies of the ancient and medieval world, from which many of us feel alienated today. And yet this ecclesiastical hierarchy coexists, as you say, with concepts of social justice which are probably true to the essence of Christ’s message.

      We are certainly in for a white Christmas, as it has been snowing heavily today. I’m sitting by the woodstove too, the only warm place in the house! Warm wishes to you too.

  7. December 19, 2010 6:03 pm

    Your Christmas sounds magical! I’m not a “fan” of Christmas though I do enjoy some of the traditions (just had the island nativity play!). Hope the “white christmas” doesn’t deter any of your visitors. Have a great time!

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      December 19, 2010 6:45 pm

      Oh, Sian, do I detect a whiff of humbug?! Christmas is an essential antidote to the dark of midwinter – I couldn’t face December and January without it. I’m glad you enjoyed the nativity play, and hope you enjoy your white Christmas-tide too!


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