Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Come, Emmanuel! Hail Festivus!

The Season of Light:
The Christmas 'Novena', Day 7

The Word:
Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24 ("I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me")
Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10 & 14 (Your redemption is near at hand)
Luke 1:57-66 (Elizabeth gives birth to a son; "His name is John")

Veni, veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.

Gaude, gaude!!
Emmanuel nascetur pro te, Israel!!!

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice, Rejoice!!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!!!

--O Come, O Come Emmanuel
(verse one)

Isaiah had prophesied:
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel (which means 'God is with us')" (Isaiah 7:14).

Christ climbed down
from his bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candy canes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from his bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powder-blue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from his bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone Cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televisioned Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from his bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody's imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from his bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carolers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jingle bell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass Matinees

Christ climbed down
from his bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous soul
He waits again
an unimaginable and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

--Lawrence Ferlinghetti,
from "A Coney Island of the Mind (1958)

My take on this, you ask? Why did I post it??

There's few who will disagree with me in saying that Christmas is a very important festival. However, it's not the only one observed in the Season of Light - and it and all the others are all interconnected. Consider this while I refresh you with one of the relative newcomers to the season, being celebrated today:

Talk about your "hallmark" holidays - Festivus is an annual holiday created by writer Dan O'Keefe and introduced into popular culture by his son Daniel, a scriptwriter for the TV show Seinfeld. Although the original Festivus took place in February 1966 as a celebration of O'Keefe's first date with his wife, Deborah, many people now celebrate the holiday on December 23, as depicted on the December 18, 1997 Seinfeld episode "The Strike". According to O'Keefe, the name Festivus "just popped into his head." The holiday includes novel practices such as the "Airing of Grievances", in which each person tells everyone else all the ways they have disappointed him or her over the past year. Also, after the Festivus meal, the "Feats of Strength" are performed, involving wrestling the head of the household to the floor, with the holiday ending only if the head of the household is actually pinned. These conventions originated with the TV episode. The original holiday featured far more peculiar practices, as detailed in the younger Daniel O'Keefe's book The Real Festivus, which provides a first-person account of an early version of the Festivus holiday as celebrated by the O'Keefe family, and how O'Keefe amended or replaced details of his father's invention to create the Seinfeld episode.

Some people, influenced or inspired by Seinfeld, now celebrate the holiday in varying degrees of seriousness; the spread of Festivus in the real world is chronicled in the book Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us. (Wikipedia)

Hey, folks, don't get me wrong - but it seems to me that the "Airing of Grievances" is not limited to one day in the calendar. God be praised if it were!

I think a few seriously missed the boat here. If you needed to celebrate "a non-denominational holiday" because you're "frustrated or jaded with the commercialism and pressure surrounding" the Season of Light, there are countless resources available to you. Watch The Grinch or one of the numerous versions of Dickens' Christmas Carol - better yet, read them - and while at it, read some of the ancient writings associated with the holidays we've been preparing for.

And on the other hand...
Consider the etymology of the word (again, from Wikipedia).
Festivus (with long "i", festīvus) is a Latin word, but not the name of a festival: in one reference it is said to mean "festive". A scholarly work on the etymology of the word by Dr. Brian A. Krostenko summarized in Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us, concludes that in ancient Rome the word evolved, referring at times to the way the common folk would misbehave on official religious holidays, and at other times to a certain snooty attitude amongst the higher classes. It is possible that the elder O'Keefe, who was studying ancient rituals, knew this etymology and adapted it for his family's holiday. The English word festive derives from festīvus, which in turn derives from festus "joyous; holiday, feast day".

So maybe Festivus can be a jump start for those still stuck in the rut of preparation. Something bizarre and out of left-field, unexpected, that can divert our focus from the mundane...

..Until you consider that the birth of Jesus, as given in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, is about as bizarre and out of left-field as anything television sitcom writers can think up. A virgin giving birth to a child? The husband is not the father? They're traveling to the city of the foster-father's tribal origin to be counted in a census by an occupying foreign power? The baby's born in a stable because nobody has the compassion to give a woman in labor a decent place (by 1st Century standards) to stay? (Where was the universal health-care program?)

Still, the day has become part of our culture, and - whether or not you celebrate it, you can be identified with it.

Tomorrow, Christmas Eve; Day 8 of the 'novena.' One more 'secret' regarding the 'O Antiphons'...and you thought I exhausted the subject.

One of us is crying
As our hopes and dreams
Are led away in chains
And we're left all alone
And one of us is dying
As are love
Is slowly lowered in the grave
Oh, and we're left on our own

But for all of us who journey
Through the dark abyss of loneliness
There comes a great announcement
"We are never alone"
For the One who made each heart that breaks
The Giver of each breath we take
Has come to earth
And given hope its birth

And our God is with us, Emmanuel
And He's come to save us, Emmanuel
And we will never face life alone
Now that God has made Himself known
As Father and Friend, with us through the end

He spoke with prophets' voices
And He showed Himself in a cloud of fire
But no one had seen His face
Until the One most holy
Revealed to us His perfect heart's desire
And left His rightful place

And in one glorious moment
All eternity was shaken
As God broke through the darkness
That had kept us apart
And with love that conquers loneliness
And hope that fills all emptiness
He came to earth to show our worth

So rejoice!! O, rejoice!!!
Emmanuel has come!!!

--Our God Is With Us
Steven Curtis Chapman

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