“The Midwinter Fires”
Sir James George Frazer
from The Golden Bough
If the heathen of ancient Europe celebrated, as we have good reason to believe, the season of Midsummer with a great festival of fire, of which the traces have survived in many places down to our own time, it is natural to suppose that they should have observed with similar rites the corresponding season of Midwinter; for Midsummer and Midwinter, or, in more technical language, the summer solstice and the winter solstice, are the two great turningpoints in the sun’s apparent course through the sky, and from the standpoint of primitive man nothing might seem more appropriate than to kindle fires on earth at the two moments when the fire and heat of the great luminary in heaven begin to wane or to wax.
In modern Christendom the ancient fire-festival of the winter solstice appears to survive, or to have survived down to recent years, in the old custom of the Yule log, clog, or block, as it was variously called in England. The custom was widespread in Europe, but seems to have flourished especially in England, France, and among the South Slavs; at least the fullest accounts of the custom come from these quarters. That the Yule log was only the winter counterpart of the midsummer bonfire, kindled within doors instead of in the open air on account of the cold and inclement weather of the season, was pointed out long ago by our English antiquary John Brand; and the view is supported by the many quaint superstitions attaching to the Yule log, superstitions which have no apparent connexion with Christianity but carry their heathen origin plainly stamped upon them. But while the two solstitial celebrations were both festivals of fire, the necessity or desirability of holding the winter celebration within doors lent it the character of a private or domestic festivity, which contrasts strongly with the publicity of the summer celebration, at which the people gathered on some open space or conspicuous height, kindled a huge bonfire in common, and danced and made merry round it together. Read More
He lived on the bank of a mighty river, broad and deep, which was always silently rolling on to a vast undiscovered ocean. It had rolled on, ever since the world began. It had changed its course sometimes, and turned into new channels, leaving its old ways dry and barren; but it had ever been upon the flow, and ever was to flow until Time should be no more. Against its strong, unfathomable stream, nothing made head. No living creature, no flower, no leaf, no particle of animate or inanimate existence, ever strayed back from the undiscovered ocean. The tide of the river set resistlessly towards it; and the tide never stopped, any more than the earth stops in its circling round the sun.
He lived in a busy place, and he worked very hard to live. He had no hope of ever being rich enough to live a month without hard work, but he was quite content, GOD knows, to labour with a cheerful will. He was one of an immense family, all of whose sons and daughters gained their daily bread by daily work, prolonged from their rising up betimes until their lying down at night. Beyond this destiny he had no prospect, and he sought none.
There was over-much drumming, trumpeting, and speech-making, in the neighbourhood where he dwelt; but he had nothing to do with that. Such clash and uproar came from the Bigwig family, at the unaccountable proceedings of which race, he marvelled much. They set up the strangest statues, in iron, marble, bronze, and brass, before his door; and darkened his house with the legs and tails of uncouth images of horses. He wondered what it all meant, smiled in a rough good-humoured way he had, and kept at his hard work. Read More
“Christmas Night with Satan” by John Fox, Jr.
No night was this in Hades with solemn-eyed Dante, for Satan was only a woolly little black dog, and surely no dog was ever more absurdly misnamed. When Uncle Carey first heard that name, he asked gravely:
“Why, Dinnie, where in h—-,” Uncle Carey gulped slightly, “did you get him?” And Dinnie laughed merrily, for she saw the fun of the question, and shook her black curls. “He didn’t come f’um THAT PLACE.”
Distinctly Satan had not come from that place. On the contrary, he might by a miracle have dropped straight from some Happy Hunting- Ground, for all the signs he gave of having touched pitch in this or another sphere. Nothing human was ever born that was gentler, merrier, more trusting or more lovable than Satan. That was why Uncle Carey said again gravely that he could hardly tell Satan and his little mistress apart. He rarely saw them apart, and as both had black tangled hair and bright black eyes; as one awoke every morning with a happy smile and the other with a jolly bark; as they played all day like wind-shaken shadows and each won every heart at first sight—the likeness was really rather curious. I have always believed that Satan made the spirit of Dinnie’s house, orthodox and severe though it was, almost kindly toward his great namesake. I know I have never been able, since I knew little Satan, to think old Satan as bad as I once painted him, though I am sure the little dog had many pretty tricks that the “old boy” doubtless has never used in order to amuse his friends.
“Shut the door, Saty, please,” Dinnie would say, precisely as she would say it to Uncle Billy, the butler, and straightway Satan would launch himself at it—bang! He never would learn to close it softly, for Satan liked that—bang!
If you kept tossing a coin or marble in the air, Satan would keep catching it and putting it back in your hand for another throw, till you got tired. Then he would drop it on a piece of rag carpet, snatch the carpet with his teeth, throw the coin across the room, and rush for it like mad, until he got tired. If you put a penny on his nose, he would wait until you counted, one—two— THREE! Then he would toss it up himself and catch it. Thus, perhaps, Satan grew to love Mammon right well, but for another and better reason than that he liked simply to throw it around—as shall now be made plain. Read More
Hopefully everyone is happy and with loved ones and friends during these holidays–and what better way to show love and fellowship than sharing a draught of delicious eggnog (alternately, the sad and solitary can drown their lonely sorrows in this high-alcohol, high-calorie treat). This is an old recipe; I remember my cousin and I stealing sips of this nog during my grandparents’ Christmas parties.
You will need:
A bottle of fine bourbon
A bottle of fine rum
A liqueur of your choice (this is optional; coffee, cream, or amaretto all add a nice touch)
A gallon of vanilla ice cream (substitute frozen yoghurt if you’re concerned about calories)
A carton of store-bought eggnog (alternately, you can make your own eggnog from eggs, milk, and sugar, although it’s a genuine pain in the ass and no one will ever know the difference, unless you go around pointing it out to them, which will make you look like an asshole, and you don’t want to look like an asshole, do you?)
Nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, clove (Use whole spices! Any of your favorite holiday spices will do, but I consider these four essential)
To make a one gallon pitcher of eggnog:
Put about 6 cups of ice cream in the pitcher.
Add some cinnamon sticks and cloves; grate some nutmeg and mace into the pitcher.
Add 4 cups of the store-bought eggnog; stir mixture.
Add about 3 and 1/2 cups of bourbon, 1 1/2 cups of rum, and liqueur (about 1/2 a cup will do) to taste; add more spices.
Stir vigorously; cover and allow to set in the freezer for at least 12 hours before serving. Stir vigorously before serving.
To make your guests happy, I suggest serving the nog with both liquor and ice cream at hand; this way those inclined may add either as their taste dictates. (Note for heavy drinkers: if your intention is to get smashed, stop drinking the eggnog after two cups and begin drinking the bourbon straight! The high levels of cream and sugar in this nog will guarantee a hangover–don’t overdo it!).
“A Luckless Santa Claus” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Miss Harmon was responsible for the whole thing. If it had not been for her foolish whim, Talbot would not have made a fool of himself, and–but I am getting ahead of my story.
It was Christmas Eve. Salvation Army Santa Clauses with highly colored noses proclaimed it as they beat upon rickety paper chimneys with tin spoons. Package laden old bachelors forgot to worry about how many slippers and dressing gowns they would have to thank people for next day, and joined in the general air of excitement that pervaded busy Manhattan.
In the parlor of a house situated on a dimly lighted residence street somewhere east of Broadway, sat the lady who, as I have said before, started the whole business. She was holding a conversation half frivolous, half sentimental, with a faultlessly dressed young man who sat with her on the sofa. All of this was quite right and proper, however, for they were engaged to be married in June.
“Harry Talbot,” said Dorothy Harmon, as she rose and stood laughing at the merry young gentleman beside her, “if you aren’t the most ridiculous boy I ever met, I’ll eat that terrible box of candy you brought me last week!”
“Dorothy,” reproved the young man, “you should receive gifts in the spirit in which they are given. That box of candy cost me much of my hard earned money.”
“Your hard earned money, indeed!” scoffed Dorothy. “You know very well that you never earned a cent in your life. Golf and dancing–that is the sum total of your occupations. Why, you can’t even spend money, much less earn it!”
“My dear Dorothy, I succeeded in running up some very choice bills last month, as you will find if you consult my father.”
“That’s not spending your money. That’s wasting it. Why, I don’t think you could give away twenty-five dollars in the right way to save your life.”
“But why on earth,” remonstrated Harry, “should I want to give away twenty-five dollars?”
“Because,” explained Dorothy, “that would be real charity. It’s nothing to charge a desk to your father and have it sent to me, but to give money to people you don’t know is something.”
“Why, any old fellow can give away money,” protested Harry.
“Then,” exclaimed Dorothy, “we’ll see if you can. I don’t believe that you could give twenty-five dollars in the course of an evening if you tried.”
“Indeed, I could.”
“Then try it!” And Dorothy, dashing into the hall, took down his coat and hat and placed them in his reluctant hands. “It is now half-past eight. You be here by ten o’clock.”
“But, but,” gasped Harry.
Dorothy was edging him towards the door.
“How much money have you?” she demanded.
Harry gloomily put his hand in his pocket and counted out a handful of bills.
“Exactly twenty-five dollars and five cents.”
“Very well! Now listen! These are the conditions. You go out and give this money to anybody you care to whom you have never seen before. Don’t give more than two dollars to any one person. And be back here by ten o’clock with no more than five cents in your pocket.”
“But,” declared Harry, still backing towards the door, “I want my twenty-five dollars.”
“Harry,” said Dorothy sweetly, “I am surprised!” and with that, she slammed the door in his face.
“I insist,” muttered Harry, “that this is a most unusual pro- ceeding.”
He walked down the steps and hesitated.
“Now,” he thought, “Where shall I go?”
He considered a moment and finally started off towards Broad- way. He had gone about half a block when he saw a gentleman in a top hat approaching. Harry hesitated. Then he made up his mind, and, stepping towards the man, emitted what he intended for a pleasant laugh but what sounded more like a gurgle, and loudly vociferated, “Merry Christmas, friend!” Read More
“A Christmas Number” — A.A. Milne
The common joke against the Christmas number is that it is planned in July and made up in September. This enables it to be published in the middle of November and circulated in New Zealand by Christmas. If it were published in England at Christmas, New Zealand wouldn’t get it till February. Apparently it is more important that the colonies should have it punctually than that we should.
Anyway, whenever it is made up, all journalists hate the Christmas number. But they only hate it for one reason—this being that the ordinary weekly number has to be made up at the same time. As a journalist I should like to devote the autumn exclusively to the Christmas number, and as a member of the public I should adore it when it came out. Not having been asked to produce such a number on my own I can amuse myself here by sketching out a plan for it. I follow the fine old tradition. First let us get the stories settled. Story No. 1 deals with the escaped convict. The heroine is driving back from the country- house ball, where she has had two or three proposals, when suddenly, in the most lonely part of the snow-swept moor, a figure springs out of the ditch and covers the coachman with a pistol. Alarms and confusions. “Oh, sir,” says the heroine, “spare my aunt and I will give you all my jewels.” The convict, for such it is, staggers back. “Lucy!” he cries. “Harold!” she gasps. The aunt says nothing, for she has swooned. At this point the story stops to explain how Harold came to be in knickerbockers. He had either been falsely accused or else he had been a solicitor. Anyhow, he had by this time more than paid for his folly, and Lucy still loved him. “Get in,” she says, and drives him home. Next day he leaves for New Zealand in an ordinary lounge suit. Need I say that Lucy joins him later? No; that shall be left for your imagination. The End.
So much for the first story. The second is an “i’-faith-and-stap- me” story of the good old days. It is not seasonable, for most of the action takes place in my lord’s garden amid the scent of roses; but it brings back to us the old romantic days when fighting and swearing were more picturesque than they are now, and when women loved and worked samplers. This sort of story can be read best in front of the Christmas log; it is of the past, and comes naturally into a Christmas number. I shall not describe its plot, for that is unimportant; it is the “stap me’s” and the “la, sirs,” which matter. But I may say that she marries him all right in the end, and he goes off happily to the wars.
We want another story. What shall this one be about? It might be about the amateur burglar, or the little child who reconciled old Sir John to his daughter’s marriage, or the ghost at Enderby Grange, or the millionaire’s Christmas dinner, or the accident to the Scotch express. Personally, I do not care for any of these; my vote goes for the desert-island story. Proud Lady Julia has fallen off the deck of the liner, and Ronald, refused by her that morning, dives off the hurricane deck—or the bowsprit or wherever he happens to be—and seizes her as she is sinking for the third time. It is a foggy night and their absence is unnoticed. Dawn finds them together on a little coral reef. They are in no danger, for several liners are due to pass in a day or two and Ronald’s pockets are full of biscuits and chocolate, but it is awkward for Lady Julia, who had hoped that they would never meet again. So they sit on the beach back to back (drawn by Dana Gibson) and throw sarcastic remarks over their shoulders at each other. In the end he tames her proud spirit—I think by hiding the turtles’ eggs from her—and the next liner but one takes the happy couple back to civilization.
But it is time we had some poetry. I propose to give you one serious poem about robins, and one double-page humorous piece, well illustrated in colours. I think the humorous verses must deal with hunting. Hunting does not lend itself to humour, for there are only two hunting jokes —the joke of the horse which came down at the brook and the joke of the Cockney who overrode hounds; but there are traditions to keep up, and the artist always loves it. So far we have not considered the artist sufficiently. Let us give him four full pages. One of pretty girls hanging up mistletoe, one of the squire and his family going to church in the snow, one of a brokendown coach with highwaymen coming over the hill, and one of the postman bringing loads and loads of parcels. You have all Christmas in those four pictures. But there is room for another page—let it be a coloured page, of half a dozen sketches, the period and the lettering very early English. “Ye Baron de Marchebankes calleth for hys varlet.” “Ye varlet cometh righte hastilie—-” You know the delightful kind of thing.
I confess that this is the sort of Christmas number which I love. You may say that you have seen it all before; I say that that is why I love it. The best of Christmas is that it reminds us of other Christmases; it should be the boast of Christmas numbers that they remind us of other Christmas numbers.
But though I doubt if I shall get quite what I want from any one number this year, yet there will surely be enough in all the numbers to bring Christmas very pleasantly before the eyes. In a dull November one likes to be reminded that Christmas is coming. It is perhaps as well that the demands of the colonies give us our Christmas numbers so early. At the same time it is difficult to see why New Zealand wants a Christmas number at all. As I glance above at the plan of my model paper I feel more than ever how adorable it would be—but not, oh not with the thermometer at a hundred in the shade.
My aunts told wonderful stories. Not to me, but to each other. We had a very strong family. My mother’s sisters loved each other intensely. The uncles loved each other intensely. Those were the days when it meant something to travel, when people were still grinning because you could drive a car over a hundred miles. So when they got together they really narrated. Children were supposed to be quiet, so we’d all go to bed, but I’d still hear these stories going into the night and people’s laughter. It was a delightful way to go to sleep on Christmas or Thanksgiving. They had huge senses of humor. Humor meant everything to them because they had all been through the war and the depression, and now they had decent work and jobs. I think there’s no kind of happiness and laughter as after you’ve made something after a tough grade.
I was born in Clinton, Mississippi, which had 1,500–2,500 people when I was growing up—a village. Now it’s impossible to go back to these places because they’re not there anymore. My generation, we were the war children, and so there’s just hurt all over the continent because there’s no place to go home to.
Today, there’s no present to people. Nobody wants to listen for very long to anybody talking, except in certain places—in a bar, in a confessional, or maybe a shrink’s office. All they say is, Yeah, yeah, yeah. Men don’t even tell dirty jokes much anymore.
Nobody stops to talk except the instructors at college who’re paid for it. So it was a much more primitive time back then. More heartfelt. A more patient time, and I was the beneficiary of that.
I reviewed the first full trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby back in early summer of last year. The film, originally slated for a Christmas 2012 release, was delayed supposedly to finish effects, add new music (featured in this trailer), and give the film a higher-profile summer release.
It was Christmas night and the proper things had been done. The whole village had come to dinner in hall. There had been boar’s head and venison and pork and beef and mutton and caponsbut no turkey, because this bird had not yet been invented. There had been plum pudding and snap-dragon, with blue fire on the tips of one’s fingers, and as much mead as anybody could drink. Sir Ector’s health had been drunk with “Best respects, Measter,” or “Best compliments of the Season, my lords and ladies, and many of them.” There had been mummers to play an exciting dramatic presentation of a story in which St. George and a Saracen and a funny Doctor did surprising things, also carol-singers who rendered “Adeste Fideles” and “I Sing of a Maiden,” in high, clear, tenor voices. After that, those children who had not been sick from their dinner played Hoodman Blind and other appropriate games, while the young men and maidens danced morris dances in the middle, the tables having been cleared away. The old folks sat round the walls holding glasses of mead in their hands and feeling thankful that they were past such capers, hoppings and skippings, while those children who had not been sick sat with them, and soon went to sleep, the small heads leaning against their shoulders. At the high table Sir Ector sat with his knightly guests, who had come for the morrow’s hunting, smiling and nodding and drinking burgundy or sherries sack or malmsey wine.
After a bit, silence was prayed for Sir Grummore. He stood up and sang his old school song, amid great applausebut forgot most of it and had to make a humming noise in his moustache. Then King Pellinore was nudged to his feet and sang bashfully:
“Oh, I was born a Pellinore in famous Lincolnshire. Full well I chased the Questing Beast for more than seventeen year. Till I took up with Sir Grummore here In the season of the year. (Since when) ’tis my delight On a feather-bed night To sleep at home, my dear.
“You see,” explained King Pellinore blushing, as he sat down with everybody whacking him on the back, “old Grummore invited me home, what, after we had been having a pleasant joust together, and since then I’ve been letting my beastly Beast go and hang itself on the wall, what?”
“Well done,” they told him. “You live your own life while you’ve got it.”
William Twyti was called for, who had arrived on the previous evening, and the famous huntsman stood up with a perfectly straight face, and his crooked eye fixed upon Sir Ector, to sing:
“D’ye ken William Twyti
With his Jerkin so dagged? D’ye ken William Twyti
Who never yet lagged? Yes, I ken William Twyti,
And he ought to be gagged With his hounds and his horn in the morning.”
“Bravo!” cried Sir Ector. “Did you hear that, eh? Said he ought to be gagged, my dear feller. Blest if I didn’t think he was going to boast when he began. Splendid chaps, these huntsmen, eh? Pass Master Twyti the malmsey, with my compliments.”
The boys lay curled up under the benches near the fire, Wart with Cavall in his arms. Cavall did not like the heat and the shouting and the smell of mead, and wanted to go away, but Wart held him tightly because he needed something to hug, and Cavall had to stay with him perforce, panting over a long pink tongue.
“Now Ralph Passelewe.”
“Good wold Ralph.”
“Who killed the cow, Ralph?”
“Pray silence for Master Passelewe that couldn’t help it.”
At this the most lovely old man got up at the furthest and humblest end of the hail, as he had got up on all similar occasions for the past half-century. He was no less than eighty-five years of age, almost blind, almost deaf, but still able and willing and happy to quaver out the same song which he had sung for the pleasure of the Forest Sauvage since before Sir Ector was bound up in a kind of tight linen puttee in his cradle. They could not hear him at the high tablehe was too far away in Time to be able to reach across the roombut everybody knew what the cracked voice was singing and everybody loved it. This is what he sang:
“Whe-an/Wold King-Cole/was a /wakkin doon-t’street, H-e /saw a-lovely laid-y a /steppin-in-a-puddle. / She-a /lifted hup-er-skeat/ For to / Hop acrorst ter middle, / An ee /saw her /an-kel. Wasn’t that a fuddle? / Ee could’ernt elp it, /ee Ad to.”
There were about twenty verses of this song, in which Wold King Cole helplessly saw more and more things that he ought not to have seen, and everybody cheered at the end of each verse until, at the conclusion, old Ralph was overwhelmed with congratulations and sat down smiling dimly to a replenished mug of mead.
It was now Sir Ector’s turn to wind up the proceedings. He stood up importantly and delivered the following speech:
“Friends, tenants and otherwise. Unaccustomed as I am to public speakin’”
There was a faint cheer at this, for everybody recognized the speech which Sir Ector had made for the last twenty years, and welcomed it like a brother.
“Unaccustomed as I am to public speakin'” it is my pleasant dutyI might say my very pleasant dutyto welcome all and sundry to this our homely feast. It has been a good year, and I say it without fear of contradiction, in pasture and plow. We all know how Crumbocke of Forest Sauvage won the first prize at Cardoyle Cattle Show for the second time, and one more year will win the cup outright. More power to the Forest Sauvage. As we sit down tonight, I notice some faces now gone from among us and some which have added to the family circle. Such matters are in the hands of an almighty Providence, to which we all feel thankful. We ourselves have been first created and then spared to enjoy the rejoicin’s of this pleasant evening. I think we are all grateful for the blessin’s which have been showered upon us. Tonight we welcome in our midst the famous King Pellinore, whose labours in riddin’ our forest of the redoubtable Questin’ Beast are known to all. God bless King Pellinore. (Hear, hear!) Also Sir Grummore Grummursum, a sportsman, though I say it to his face, who will stick to his mount as long as his Quest will stand up in front of him. (Hooray!) Finally, last but not least, we are honoured by a visit from His Majesty’s most famous huntsman, Master William Twyti, who will, I feel sure, show us such sport tomorrow that we will rub our eyes and wish that a royal pack of hounds could always be huntin’ in the Forest which we all love so well. (Viewhalloo and several recheats blown in imitation.) Thank you, my dear friends, for your spontaneous welcome to these gentlemen. They will, I know, accept it in the true and warmhearted spirit in which it is offered. And now it is time that I should bring my brief remarks to a close. Another year has almost sped and it is time that we should be lookin’ forward to the challengin’ future. What about the Cattle Show next year? Friends, I can only wish you a very Merry Christmas, and, after Father Sidebottom has said our Grace for us, we shall conclude with a singin’ of the National Anthem.”
The cheers which broke out at the end of Sir Ector’s speech were only just prevented, by several hush-es, from drowning the last part of the vicar’s Grace in Latin, and then everybody stood up loyally in the firelight and sang:
“God save King Pendragon,
May his reign long drag on,
God save the King.
Send him most gorious,
Great and uproarious,
Horrible and Hoarious,
God save our King.”
The last notes died away, the hall emptied of its rejoicing humanity. Lanterns flickered outside, in the village street, as everybody went home in bands for fear of the moonlit wolves, and The Castle of the Forest Sauvage slept peacefully and lightless, in the strange silence of the holy snow.
—From T.H. White’s The Once and Future King.