December 25, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 PM


The Shale Revolution's Shifting Geopolitics (ALAN RILEY, 12/25/12, NY Times)

The shale energy revolution is likely to shift the tectonic plates of global power in ways that are largely beneficial to the West and reinforce U.S. power and influence during the first half of this century. [...]

[M]any supporters of energy independence miss a key point: The major geopolitical impact of shale extraction technology lies less in the fact that America will be more energy self-sufficient than in the consequent displacement of world oil markets by a sharp reduction in U.S. imports. This is likely to be reinforced by the development of shale oil resources in China, Argentina, Ukraine and other places, which will put additional pressure on global oil prices.

The second factor is the potential to use natural gas for transportation. Some analysts suggest that this will only be a realistic prospect for fleet and long-haul road transportation. But they are overlooking the immense advantage that natural gas has as a transportation fuel in America and Europe, which have both developed a natural gas infrastructure in urban areas that takes piped natural gas into homes, offices and supermarkets. Once gas is cheap and widely available, it is possible to consider dealing with the "last mile" problem of providing home refueling kits so consumers can fill up natural-gas powered cars in their own garages.

The incentives to develop shale oil and natural gas are very great. But so far, the United States has only experienced the first stage of low natural-gas prices and the reimportation of energy intensive industries such as chemicals and steel because of low gas prices. The next stage of the shale revolution's impact is going to be felt as major stimulus gets under way from lower oil prices. More broadly, the shale revolution will grant the United States a greater range of options in dealing with foreign states.

Posted by orrinj at 2:35 PM


The Polyphonic Spree On World Cafe (World Cafe, December 25, 2012, WXPN)
Formed in Texas by bandleader Tim DeLaughter in 2000, this massive group -- the number of members often nudges toward 20 or more -- is well-suited to re-imagine popular Christmas music, combining the instrumentation of a rock band with the layered harmonies of a choir.

This Christmas season, the band has hit the road with its "Holiday Extravaganza," turning each of its shows into a sort of traveling holiday music carnival. Here, The Polyphonic Spree brings its dense, exuberant songs to the World Cafe studios to perform spirited renditions of Christmas classics.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


It's a Wonderful Life: The Little Story That Did : Part Dante, part film noir, part Bible story, Capra's classic survives its unhappy debut. (Patrick Coffin, National Review)

While shaving on the morning of February 28, 1938, a man named Philip got an idea for a short story. The whole thing came to him at once, from beginning to end. It was about the averted suicide of a desperate man named George, who, with a little help from a heavenly friend, finds out what would have happened had he not been born. Excited, Phil hocked his little fable to editors everywhere.

No one wanted it.

But Philip Van Doren Stern never gave up. He printed 200 copies of his 24-page mini-epic and gave them as Christmas gifts to friends, including his Hollywood agent, in 1943. In the parlance of Facebook, this is when it got "liked." Big-time.

A producer at RKO Studios thought Cary Grant might be a good fit for the role of the suicide wannabe. Mr. Grant begged to differ. Three different scripts were churned out, but none captured the charming spirit of Stern's original. On September 1, 1945, RKO head Charles Koerner off-loaded all three scripts, plus Stern's original pamphlet, for the lowly sum of $10,000 to a successful director who had recently returned from a four-year stint serving in World War II, when he had made pro-American documentaries to boost morale for the U.S. war effort.

His name was Frank Capra.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


What I Like About Scrooge : In praise of misers. (Steven E. Landsburg, Dec. 9, 2004, Slate)
Here's what I like about Ebenezer Scrooge: His meager lodgings were dark because darkness is cheap, and barely heated because coal is not free. His dinner was gruel, which he prepared himself. Scrooge paid no man to wait on him.

Scrooge has been called ungenerous. I say that's a bum rap. What could be more generous than keeping your lamps unlit and your plate unfilled, leaving more fuel for others to burn and more food for others to eat? Who is a more benevolent neighbor than the man who employs no servants, freeing them to wait on someone else?

Oh, it might be slightly more complicated than that. Maybe when Scrooge demands less coal for his fire, less coal ends up being mined. But that's fine, too. Instead of digging coal for Scrooge, some would-be miner is now free to perform some other service for himself or someone else.

Dickens tells us that the Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his 50 cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor's household should--presumably for a houseful of guests who lavishly praised his generosity. The bricks, mortar, and labor that built the Mansion House might otherwise have built housing for hundreds; Scrooge, by living in three sparse rooms, deprived no man of a home. By employing no cooks or butlers, he ensured that cooks and butlers were available to some other household where guests reveled in ignorance of their debt to Ebenezer Scrooge.

In this whole world, there is nobody more generous than the miser--the man who could deplete the world's resources but chooses not to.

What makes the miser so anti-human is precisely that he buys into the notion of scarcity and of life as a zero-sum game.
Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Images of first Christmas owe more to artists than historians (Tim Townsend, 12/25/12,

Historians and theologians say it is that sense of family intimacy, coupled with the humbling circumstances of Christ's birth as told in the Gospel of Luke, that has resonated with Christians for centuries.

Many Christians hang a crucifix or cross -- a symbol of the resurrection -- in their homes, "but the other pillar of Christianity is the incarnation," said St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson. "When the savior of the world was born, he wasn't born in a palace, he was not born as a king. He came as a defenseless child."

And, of course, Luke made Christ's vulnerability even more stark by placing Mary and Joseph in a stable. When the time came for Mary to deliver the child, she "gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn," wrote the author of Luke's Gospel.

Public Christian art didn't exist before the Roman emperor Constantine lifted restrictions on Christians in the fourth century. As soon as Christ's followers were allowed to practice their faith out in the open, Christian artists began to depict the Nativity, which comes from the Latin word "nativus," or "born."

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Mark's Yuletide Movie Vault (Mark Steyn, 23 Dec 2012)


Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937) is difficult to beat. Two French PoWs have escaped from their camp and found sanctuary on the farm of a German widow. On Christmas Eve they surprise her by building a manger from wood and cardboard and sculpting Jesus, Mary and Joseph from potatoes. One of the escapees is a gruff Jew. 'Baby Jesus, my blood brother, ' he observes.

...there is no bad time of year for a conservative to watch Grand Illusion again.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Corporate tax rate overhaul may be part of a 'fiscal cliff' deal (Jim Puzzanghera, 12/25/12, Los Angeles Times)

The White House wants to put a corporate tax overhaul, along with changes to the individual income tax system, on a fast track as part of any deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff."

The centerpiece of an overhaul would be slashing the 35% corporate tax rate, a goal long sought by corporate executives and lobbyists.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


What Ever Happened To The Classical Christmas Album? (TOM HUIZENGA, December 24, 2012, NPR)

[A]t a time of year when nostalgia is not only condoned but encouraged (with cookies and eggnog on the side), I find myself longing for my old classical Christmas favorites. Here are a few, thanks to the interwebs. And ... if you've run across a great classical Christmas release we missed this year, tell us all about it in the comments section.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Mark Steyn on 'White Christmas,' the original Christmas no1 (Mark Steyn, 24 December 2012, Spectator)

When something's that big, you take it for granted. If you've heard 'White Christmas' in a shopping mall or elevator or while stuck in touch-tone hell trying to make a telephone booking, you don't usually think, 'Gee, "White Christmas" again. That must be the 50th version this month.' But, if you did, you'd want to know how it got that way. What particular combination of circumstances blessed 'White Christmas' out of all the other songs written that month? Berlin, wrote Jody Rosen in his book about the anthem, 'had tried to kick-start the Tin Pan Alley Christmas song some years before.' In 1912, the year after his first big hit with 'Alexander's Ragtime Band', he'd published 'Christmas Time Seems Years and Years Away', which, from his point of view, it was. Before radio, before a real record industry, the sheet-music business couldn't see the point of working a song that would be dead on 26 December. The notion that it might be a seasonal insurance policy, returning year after year for decade after decade, never occurred to them.

But it occurred to Irving Berlin.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM

DUEL IN THE SNOW (Jean Shepherd, 12/24/1974, WOR Radio):

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Ongoing Incarnation: Would Christmas have come even if we had not sinned? (Philip Yancey, 1/10/2008, Christianity Today)

More than two centuries before the Reformation, a theological debate broke out that pitted theologian Thomas Aquinas against an upstart from Britain, John Duns Scotus. In essence, the debate circled around the question, "Would Christmas have occurred if humanity had not sinned?"

Whereas Aquinas viewed the Incarnation as God's remedy for a fallen planet, his contemporary saw much more at stake. For Duns Scotus, the Word becoming flesh as described in the prologue to John's Gospel must surely represent the Creator's primary design, not some kind of afterthought or Plan B. Aquinas pointed to passages emphasizing the Cross as God's redemptive response to a broken relationship. Duns Scotus cited passages from Ephesians and Colossians on the cosmic Christ, in whom all things have their origin, hold together, and move toward consummation.

Did Jesus visit this planet as an accommodation to human failure or as the center point of all creation?

Had He anticipated our sinfulness, God would have had no need to become Man in order to comprehend our plight, nor have despaired Himself when mortal.

[originally posted 1/10/08]

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Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Who is Saint Nicholas? : Writer Adam C. English explores the life of the man behind the myth in his book 'The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus.' (Randy Dotinga / December 25, 2012, CS Monitor)
Q: Who was Saint Nicholas in real life?
A: The historical Saint Nicholas was born around the late third century or early fourth century. He lived his life in what is now the southwest shores of Turkey. He served as a bishop, a Christian pastor of the church in Myra, doing good works of gift-giving and generosity, serving the people as a true civil servant. There are stories of him bartering with grain ships to get grain to save the starving people of Myra, going to the capitol to appeal for lower taxes, interfering in court cases and saving three men from beheading.

As a young man, he inherits gold from his parents, and he hears of a man in town who's become desperately poor and is thinking about selling off his own daughters. Nicholas bags up some of that gold and throws it through his window. It's used as a dowry for one of the daughters. He returns two times so the other daughters might be able to marry.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


This video contains such a patent lie it can only have been produced by al Qaeda (or The Other Brother) and we pity anyone who falls for it.

[originally posted: 12/11/07]

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


I'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS by Walter Kent, Kim Gannon and Buck Ram: Song of the Week #205 (Mark Steyn, 12 Dec 2011)

If you had to pin a precise date to the dawn of the Golden Age of American Christmas Songs, it would probably be December 1942. Irving Berlin had written "White Christmas" a couple of years earlier, and was reasonably confident about it. But, as canny as he was, he didn't foresee how the song would be transformed by a single event: Pearl Harbor. Twelve months after the attack, American servicemen were far away in the south Pacific and contemplating their first Christmas at war, under glorious tropical skies that only made home seem even more distant:

I'm dreaming of a White Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know...

"White Christmas" isn't a song about snow, it's a song about home. And Berlin wasn't the only songwriter to understand there was a huge audience for that at a time when most families had at least one empty chair round the Christmas table. For example:

I'll Be Home For Christmas
You can plan on me
Please have snow
And mistletoe
And presents on the tree...

The man who wrote that music is about as obscure as Irving Berlin is famous. His name was Walter Kent, and he was born Walter Kaufmann in New York one hundred years ago - November 29th 1911.

[originally posted : 12/24/11
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


The Creche By The Side of the Road (Gerard Van der Leun, 12/30/03, American Digest)

It was long past sunset when our yearly Christmas pilgrimage to our families around Sacramento sent us climbing up the Grapevine. My wife
was driving because my eyes don’t adjust quickly to oncoming headlights and because she is, by far, the better driver. My stepson was wedged
within a small mountain of bags and presents in the back seat, his cherubic face illuminated by the gray-blue glow of his Gameboy.

I gazed out the window at the churning wall of trucks and the slate black slopes. Heavy cloud cover made everything more obscure. Only the streams of headlights coming on and the endless red flares of brake lights in front of us broke the darkness. It was the nadir of the year, two days before Christmas, climbing between dark mountains with millions of others, most aiming at some destination filled with the rituals of the season; rituals that seemed, as they often do, mere experiences bereft of any meaning.

It came up fast and passed faster as things often do up on the Grapevine. It was vague at first. A dim smudge of light in the middle of a looming dark hillside. Then it resolved itself as we sped up on it at around 70 miles per hour. We came abreast and I saw it clearly for only a few brief seconds. It was that rarest of all this season’s sights, a roadside nativity scene.

[originally posted: 2003-12-30]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


The Littlest Angel (Charles Tazewell)

And the voice of God spoke, saying: Of all the gifts of all the angels, I find that this small box pleases me the most. Its contents are of the earth and of men, and my Son is born to be king of both. These are the things my Son, too, will know and love and cherish and then, regretfully, will leave behind him when his task is done. I accept this gift in the name of the child, Jesus, born of Mary this night in Bethlehem.

(Originally posted: 12/25/04)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


The Coming of Jesus in Our Midst (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

When early Christianity spoke of the return of the Lord Jesus, they thought of a great day of judgment. Even though this thought may appear to us to be so unlike Christmas, it is original Christianity and to be taken extremely seriously. When we hear Jesus knocking, our conscience first of all pricks us: Are we rightly prepared? Is our heart capable of becoming God�s dwelling place? Thus Advent becomes a time of self-examination. �Put the desires of your heart in order, O human beings!� (Valentin Thilo), as the old song sings.

It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God, whereas the world fell into trembling when Jesus Christ walked over the earth. That is why we find it so strange when we see the marks of God in the world so often together with the marks of human suffering, with the marks of the cross on Golgotha.

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God�s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God�s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.

[originally posted: 2004-12-24]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


The Other Wise Man (Henry Van Dyke, 1896)

You know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they travelled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger-cradle in Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star in its rising, and set out to follow it, yet did not arrive with his brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus? Of the great desire of this fourth pilgrim, and how it was denied, yet accomplished in the denial; of his many wanderings and the probations of his soul; of the long way of his seeking and the strange way of his finding the One whom he sought--I would tell the tale as I have heard fragments of it in the Hall of Dreams, in the palace of the Heart of Man.

The magi who lived the mandatum novum

(Originally posted: 12/24/04)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 AM


JINGLE BELLS by James Pierpont (Mark Steyn, 11/22/10, excerpted from Mark's book A Song For The Season)

Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go
Laughing all the way...

As well they might. Just in time for Thanksgiving, here comes, er, "Jingle Bells" - which was written not for the Yuletide season but, allegedly, for Thanksgiving. In Boston, in the fall of 1857, the city's leading music publisher, Oliver Ditson, introduced the world to a new song called "The One-Horse Open Sleigh". Before "White Christmas" and "Rudolph" came along in the Forties, before "Winter Wonderland" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" in the Thirties, the most popular secular seasonal song in the American catalogue was "Jingle Bells", written before the Civil War but such a potent brand a century later that it was still spawning bizarre mutated progeny with every new musical trend - "Jingle Bell Boogie", "Jingle Bell Mambo" and, of course, "Jingle Bell Rock".

I notice a lot of album sleeves credit the writing of "Jingle Bells" to "Anon." And you can see why they'd think that. It doesn't seem the kind of song you'd need a professional to write, and it's hard to imagine, say, Rodgers and Hammerstein, sitting down to rattle it off:

"Okay, we'll start off with 'Jingle Bells'."


"And then for the second line, how about 'Jingle Bells'?"

"Same words, but different notes maybe?"

"Nah, why knock yourself out? And then for the third line we'll go with..."

"Let me guess. 'Jingle...'?"

"Right, but this time we pull the old switcheroo and go with 'Jingle all the way'."

"Great. By the way, when we say 'Jingle Bells', is that a type of bell? Or is it an injunction - 'Jingle', comma, 'Bells'?"

Yet the song is not the work of "Anon". Unlikely as it sounds, a real live songwriter did sit down one day and write "Jingle Bells". His name was James Lord Pierpont and he wrote and published many other songs in his lifetime, among them "The Colored Coquette" and others lost to posterity, but a few that have survived, such as "Our Battle Flag", a paean not to Old Glory but to the banner of the Confederacy. Every song but "Jingle Bells" was a flop.

But, if you're going to be a one-hit wonder, "Jingle Bells" is the one hit to have.

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[originally posted: 12/24/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 AM


Washington's Gift (THOMAS FLEMING, December 24, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

[W]ashington drew a speech from his coat pocket and unfolded it with trembling hands. "Mr. President," he began in a low, strained voice. "The great events on which my resignation depended having at length taken place; I now have the honor of offering my sincere congratulations to Congress and of presenting myself before them to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country."

Washington went on to express his gratitude for the support of "my countrymen" and the "army in general." This reference to his soldiers ignited feelings so intense, he had to grip the speech with both hands to keep it steady. He continued: "I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God and those who have the superintendence of them [Congress] to his holy keeping."

For a long moment, Washington could not say another word. Tears streamed down his cheeks. The words touched a vein of religious faith in his inmost soul, born of battlefield experiences that had convinced him of the existence of a caring God who had protected him and his country again and again during the war. Without this faith he might never have been able to endure the frustrations and rage he had experienced in the previous eight months.

Washington then drew from his coat a parchment copy of his appointment as commander in chief. "Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater of action and bidding farewell to this august body under whom I have long acted, I here offer my commission and take leave of all the employments of public life." Stepping forward, he handed the document to Mifflin.

This was -- is -- the most important moment in American history.

The man who could have dispersed this feckless Congress and obtained for himself and his soldiers rewards worthy of their courage was renouncing absolute power. By this visible, incontrovertible act, Washington did more to affirm America's government of the people than a thousand declarations by legislatures and treatises by philosophers.

[originally posted: 12/24/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 AM


"The God In The Cave" | From The Everlasting Man (G.K. Chesterton)

Christ was not only born on the level of the world, but even lower than the world. The first act of the divine drama was enacted, not only on no stage set up above the sightseer, but on a dark and curtained stage sunken out of sight; and that is an idea very difficult to express in most modes of artistic expression. It is the idea of simultaneous happenings on different levels of life. Something like it might have been attempted in the more archaic and decorative medieval art. But the more the artists learned of realism and perspective, the less they could depict at once the angels in the heavens and the shepherds on the hills, and the glory in the darkness that was under the hills. Perhaps it could have been best conveyed by the characteristic expedient of some of the medieval guilds, when they wheeled about the streets a theater with three stages one above the other, with heaven above the earth and hell under the earth. But in the riddle of Bethlehem it was heaven that was under the earth.

There is in that alone the touch of a revolution, as of the world turned upside down. It would be vain to attempt to say anything adequate, or anything new, about the change which this conception of a deity born like an outcast or even an outlaw had upon the whole conception of law and its duties to the poor and outcast. It is profoundly true to say that after that moment there could be no slaves. There could be and were people bearing that legal title, until the Church was strong enough to weed them out, but there could be no more of the pagan repose in the mere advantage to the state of keeping it a servile state. Individuals became important, in a sense in which no instruments can be important. A man could not be a means to an end, at any rate to any other man's end. All this popular and fraternal element in the story has been rightly attached by tradition to the episode of the Shepherds; the hinds who found themselves talking face to face with the princes of heaven. But there is another aspect of the popular element as represented by the shepherds which has not perhaps been so fully developed; and which is more directly relevant here.

Men of the people, like the shepherds, men of the popular tradition, had everywhere been the makers of the mythologies. It was they who had felt most directly, with least check or chill from philosophy or the corrupt cults of civilization, the need we have already considered; the images that were adventures of the imagination; the mythology that was a sort of search the tempting and tantalizing hints of something half human in nature; the dumb significance of seasons and special places. They had best understood that the soul of a landscape is a story and the soul of a story is a personality. But rationalism had already begun to rot away these really irrational though imaginative treasures of the peasant; even as systematic slavery had eaten the peasant out of house and home. Upon all such peasantries everywhere there was descending a dusk and twilight of disappointment, in the hour when these few men discovered what they sought. Everywhere else Arcadia was fading from the forest. Pan was dead and the shepherds were scattered like sheep. And though no man knew it, the hour was near which was to end and to fulfill all things; and though no man heard it, there was one far-off cry in an unknown tongue upon the heaving wilderness of the mountains. The shepherds had found their Shepherd.

And the thing they found was of a kind with the things they sought. The populace had been wrong in many things; but they had not been wrong in believing that holy things could have a habitation and that divinity need not disdain the limits of time and space. And the barbarian who conceived the crudest fancy about the sun being stolen and hidden in a box, or the wildest myth about the god being rescued and his enemy deceived with a stone, was nearer to the secret of the cave and knew more about the crisis of the world, than all those in the circle of cities round the Mediterranean who had become content with cold abstractions or cosmopolitan generalizations; than all those who were spinning thinner and thinner threads of thought out of the transcendentalism of Plato or the orientalism of Pythagoras. The place that the shepherds found was not an academy or an abstract republic; it was not a place of myths allegorized or dissected or explained or explained away. It was a place of dreams come true. Since that hour no mythologies have been made in the world. Mythology is a search.

[originally posted: 12/24/08]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:57 AM


The Maid-Servant at the Inn (Dorothy Parker)

"It's queer," she said; "I see the light
As plain as I beheld it then,
All silver-like and calm and bright-
We've not had stars like that again!

"And she was such a gentle thing
To birth a baby in the cold.
The barn was dark and frightening-
This new one's better than the old.

"I mind my eyes were full of tears,
For I was young, and quick distressed,
But she was less than me in years
That held a son against her breast.

"I never saw a sweeter child-
The little one, the darling one!-
I mind I told her, when he smiled
You'd know he was his mother's son.

"It's queer that I should see them so-
The time they came to Bethlehem
Was more than thirty years ago;
I've prayed that all is well with them."

[First posted: 2004-12-24]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:45 AM


THE MARK STEYN CHRISTMAS SHOW (Mark Steyn, 12/09/09, Steyn Online)

For many years, starting back when I was a teenage disc-jockey, I hosted Christmas shows on radio or TV. And, for some reason, back in late summer I started thinking about reviving the tradition. Initially, I planned just to raid the archives and produce a Best-of-Steyn Christmas Compilation. But one thing led to another and we wound up producing two hours of new audio entertainment, including good conversation with guests from at least three countries and live music in at least four languages - plus a couple of highlights from the vaults. We hope you enjoy the results.

I stuck mainly to old friends and neighbors for this first tentative fur-trimmed boot toe back on the Santa sleigh. Rob Long, writer of everything from "Cheers" to Al Gore's e-mails, joins me to talk Christmas comedy. From across the Connecticut River in Vermont, Elisabeth von Trapp fills us in on what happened to her famous family after The Sound Of Music. There are a brace of British lyricists - Don Black, writer of "Born Free", "Ben", "To Sir With Love", and "Diamonds Are Forever"; and Tim Rice, writer of Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, The Lion King and, of course, "One Night In Bangkok". There are a couple of Québecois cuties - Dorothée Berryman*, star of the Oscar-winning film Barbarian Invasions, and Monique Fauteux, from the province's legendary progressive rock band Harmonium. Hugh Martin, composer of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", performs his classic song his way; and Martha Stewart, America's homemaker, mocks my pie dishes. And I couldn't celebrate Christmas without my Sweet Gingerbread Gal Jessica Martin, but, if you've ever wondered what she sounds like de-Steyned, she gets a shot at a couple of solos.

Along the way we consider a range of topics from Ron Paul's artificial Christmas tree and Perry Como's cocaine classic to the dearth of New Hampshire songs and the alleged sexiness of my French. And there's lots of live music from my guests, including performances of "White Christmas", "Silent Night", "My Favorite Things", a bilingual "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" not to mention North America's oldest Christmas carol, and a song that nobody's sung in over a century, plus a couple of great medleys.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 AM


THE MAGI (W. B. Yeats, 1865-1939)

OW as at all times I can see in the mind's eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary's turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

[originally posted: 12/24/08]

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Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM



For the first of our Christmas audio specials this holiday season, we're presenting an encore of Mark's two-part audio tribute to the composer of our Song of the Week #107 and one of the most popular of all seasonal standards, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"

Hugh Martin died on Friday March 11th this year at the age of 96. As longtime listeners will recall, he was a guest on The Mark Steyn Christmas Show on a couple of occasions. In this special podcast, Mark draws on those archive interviews to celebrate a talented composer, lyricist, vocal arranger, pianist, singer and actor. In this two-part program, we'll hear "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" sung by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Twisted Sister, and from the Steyn archives we'll hear Hugh Martin's own live performance of his seasonal standard - followed by Mark and Jessica's very different take on the song.

[originally posted: 12/24/11]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 AM


What the Dickens are population controllers up to?: The flint-hearted, prune-faced, carbon-obsessed bean-counters who want fewer people, especially fewer poor people, should reread A Christmas Carol. (Michael Cook, 24 December 2009, MercatorNet)

After 2000 celebrations of how precious a single life is, we still haven't learned the lesson of A Christmas Carol. Had I thought of it earlier, I would have sent a copy to Sir David Attenborough, the famed documentary director who is an enthusiastic patron of the OPT. The OPT's fanatical determination to eliminate CO2 by eliminating people is basically the "odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling" Malthusian policy of eliminating poverty by eliminating the poor. Scrooge was a Malthusian, you will remember. Here he is refusing a few pence for the poor:

"'I wish to be left alone,' said Scrooge. '... I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned [prisons and workhouses] - they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.'

"'Many can't go there; and many would rather die.'

"'If they would rather die,' said Scrooge, 'they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.'"

It sounds familiar doesn't it? The rich, isolated, beggar-my-neighbour individual. The mean, narrow-minded bean-counting. The fear of the population bomb. The scoffing at the possibility of happiness. "'If I could work my will,' said Scrooge indignantly, 'every idiot who goes about with "Merry Christmas" on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!'"

How do the Spirits of Christmas teach Scrooge that "quality of life" isn't everything? Basically by showing him visions of family life. It's the simple, affectionate family life of the impoverished Cratchits and their six children. "They were not a handsome family; they were not well-dressed... but they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time," says Dickens. Of all of them, it is Tiny Tim, the "useless" cripple, with his crutch and iron frame, who strikes the spark of human sympathy into Scrooge's withered heart.

[originally posted: 12/24/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 AM


THE FOOLISH FIR-TREE Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933)

A tale that the poet Rückert told
To German children, in days of old;
Disguised in a random, rollicking rhyme
Like a merry mummer of ancient time,
And sent, in its English dress, to please
The little folk of the Christmas trees.

A LITTLE fir grew in the midst of the wood
Contented and happy, as young trees should.
His body was straight and his boughs were clean;
And summer and winter the bountiful sheen
Of his needles bedecked him, from top to root,
In a beautiful, all-the-year, evergreen suit.

But a trouble came into his heart one day,
When he saw that the other trees were gay
In the wonderful raiment that summer weaves
Of manifold shapes and kinds of leaves:
He looked at his needles so stiff and small,
And thought that his dress was the poorest of all.
Then jealousy clouded the little tree's mind,
And he said to himself, "It was not very kind
"To give such an ugly old dress to a tree!
"If the fays of the forest would only ask me,
"I'd tell them how I should like to be dressed,--
"In a garment of gold, to bedazzle the rest!"
So he fell asleep, but his dreams were bad.
When he woke in the morning, his heart was glad;
For every leaf that his boughs could hold
Was made of the brightest beaten gold.
I tell you, children, the tree was proud;
He was something above the common crowd;
And he tinkled his leaves, as if he would say
To a pedlar who happened to pass that way,
"Just look at me! don't you think I am fine?
"And wouldn't you like such a dress as mine?"
"Oh, yes!" said the man, "and I really guess
I must fill my pack with your beautiful dress."
So he picked the golden leaves with care,
And left the little tree shivering there.

"Oh, why did I wish for golden leaves?"
The fir-tree said, "I forgot that thieves
"Would be sure to rob me in passing by.
"If the fairies would give me another try,
"I'd wish for something that cost much less,
"And be satisfied with glass for my dress!"
Then he fell asleep; and, just as before,
The fairies granted his wish once more.
When the night was gone, and the sun rose clear,
The tree was a crystal chandelier;
And it seemed, as he stood in the morning light,
That his branches were covered with jewels bright.
"Aha!" said the tree. "This is something great!"
And he held himself up, very proud and straight;
But a rude young wind through the forest dashed,
In a reckless temper, and quickly smashed
The delicate leaves. With a clashing sound
They broke into pieces and fell on the ground,
Like a silvery, shimmering shower of hail,
And the tree stood naked and bare to the gale.

Then his heart was sad; and he cried, "Alas
"For my beautiful leaves of shining glass!
"Perhaps I have made another mistake
"In choosing a dress so easy to break.
"If the fairies only would hear me again
"I'd ask them for something both pretty and plain:
"It wouldn't cost much to grant my request,--
"In leaves of green lettuce I'd like to be dressed!"
By this time the fairies were laughing, I know;
But they gave him his wish in a second; and so
With leaves of green lettuce, all tender and sweet,
The tree was arrayed, from his head to his feet.
"I knew it!" he cried, "I was sure I could find
"The sort of a suit that would be to my mind.
"There's none of the trees has a prettier dress,
"And none as attractive as I am, I guess."
But a goat, who was taking an afternoon walk,
By chance overheard the fir-tree's talk.
So he came up close for a nearer view;--
"My salad!" he bleated, "I think so too!
"You're the most attractive kind of a tree,
"And I want your leaves for my five-o'clock tea."
So he ate them all without saying grace,
And walked away with a grin on his face;
While the little tree stood in the twilight dim,
With never a leaf on a single limb.

Then he sighed and groaned; but his voice was weak--
He was so ashamed that he could not speak.
He knew at last that he had been a fool,
To think of breaking the forest rule,
And choosing a dress himself to please,
Because he envied the other trees.
But it couldn't be helped, it was now too late,
He must make up his mind to a leafless fate!
So he let himself sink in a slumber deep,
But he moaned and he tossed in his troubled sleep,
Till the morning touched him with joyful beam,
And he woke to find it was all a dream.
For there in his evergreen dress he stood,
A pointed fir in the midst of the wood!
His branches were sweet with the balsam smell,
His needles were green when the white snow fell.
And always contented and happy was he,--
The very best kind of a Christmas tree.

[originally posted: 12/24/09]

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Posted by Stephen Judd at 4:00 AM


Forever ember: 'Yule Log' story (MARISA GUTHRIE, 11/29/2006, NY Daily News)

Except for a 10-year interruption from 1990-2000, when bean-counting scrooges decided it was too expensive to run the marathon log session without commercials, "The Yule Log" has run every year in New York on a three-hour loop accompanied by holiday music.

It was our fights over whether the Yule log really burned for three hours or was a loop that first convinced me that Orrin doesn't (and never has) believed in the conservation of energy and matter.

[originally posted: 12/24/06]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 AM


Is There a Santa Claus? (The New York Sun, 1897)


I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so."
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O'Hanlon
115 West Ninety-Fifth St.

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except (what) they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

[originally posted: 12/24/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 AM


[originally posted: 12/24/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:41 AM


Bing and Bowie: An Odd Story of Holiday Harmony (Paul Farhi, 12/19/06, Washington Post)

Bowie, who was 30 at the time, and Crosby, then 73, recorded the duet Sept. 11, 1977, for Crosby's "Merrie Olde Christmas" TV special. A month later, Crosby was dead of a heart attack. The special was broadcast on CBS about a month after his death.

The notion of pairing the resolutely white-bread Crosby with the exquisitely offbeat Bowie apparently was the brainchild of the TV special's producers, Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion, according to Ian Fraser, who co-wrote (with Larry Grossman) the song's music and arranged it.

Crosby was in Great Britain on a concert tour, and the theme of the TV special was Christmas in England. Bowie was one of several British guest stars (the model Twiggy and "Oliver!" star Ron Moody also appeared). Booking Bowie made logistical sense, since the special was taped near his home in London, at the Elstree Studios. As perhaps an added inducement, the producers agreed to air the arty video of Bowie's then-current single, "Heroes" (Crosby introduced it).

It's unclear, however, whether Crosby had any idea who Bowie was. Buz Kohan, who wrote the special and worked with Fraser and Grossman on the music, says he was never sure Crosby knew anything about Bowie's work. Fraser has a slightly different memory: "I'm pretty sure he did [know]. Bing was no idiot. If he didn't, his kids sure did."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:37 AM


Whose Christmas Is It? (MICHAEL FEINSTEIN, 12/18/09, NY Times)

If you look at a list of the most popular Christmas songs, you'll find that the writers are disproportionately Jewish: Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," "The Christmas Song" (yes, Mel Tormé was Jewish), "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "Silver Bells," "Santa Baby," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Winter Wonderland" -- perennial, beloved and, mostly, written for the sheet music publishers of Tin Pan Alley, not for a show or film. (Two notable exceptions: "White Christmas," introduced in "Holiday Inn," and "Silver Bells," written for "The Lemon Drop Kid.")

You'll notice that certain famous Jewish songwriters are conspicuously absent from this list. Why? Unlike the Tin Pan Alley songwriters, who churned out songs to order on every conceivable subject for their publishers, writers like Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Richard Rodgers and Harold Arlen mainly created songs for musical plays and films, and unless a story line required a holiday song they had no need to write one. When they did try one outside the framework of a show, it rarely had the same spark. Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Happy Christmas, Little Friend," recorded by Rosemary Clooney in the '50s, is sadly lethargic. Even Clooney couldn't recall it when asked to sing it 30 years later. Or so she claimed.

In my holiday shows, I'm always looking for novel expressions of the season, and when I introduce a new song I don't usually think about the religion of its creator. That said, I'm always pleased to discover a surprising juxtaposition. It doesn't take Freud to figure out that the sugarplums, holly and mistletoe all tap into a sense of comfort, longing, security and peace that so many fervently desire; that we all wish the clichés were true. As Jews, Christians, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists and everything in between, we are all more alike than we are different. That's something to celebrate.

[originally posted: 12/18/10]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 AM


[originally posted: 12/24/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:04 AM


A Christmas Trilogy: Berlioz's intimate, inventive 'L'Enfance du Christ' (BARRYMORE LAURENCE SCHERER, 12/26/09, WSJ)

From Handel's "Messiah" to Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," most everyone has his favorite seasonal music. Mine is Hector Berlioz's trilogy, "L'Enfance du Christ" (The Infancy of Christ), a surprisingly intimate score from a composer best known for such blockbusters as the "Symphonie Fantastique" and the towering Requiem. "L'Enfance du Christ" is probably the composer's most gentle choral work, characterized by numerous dynamic markings instructing that passages be played piano (soft), pianissimo (very soft), and even pianississimo (extremely soft).

It originated in a surprisingly offhanded gesture. In 1850, while a bored guest at a Parisian party, Berlioz was asked to write in a friend's autograph album. On the spur of the moment he began to jot down a few bars of music. "It seemed to have a rustic style," Berlioz later recalled, "and also to suggest a naïve mystical feeling, so I immediately invented some appropriate words for it. It became a chorus of shepherds in Bethlehem, bidding farewell to the infant Jesus as the Holy Family departs for Egypt."

Scholars have suggested that Berlioz may have previously visited the Louvre, viewing its many paintings of the Flight into Egypt. Whatever his inspiration, he soon followed this musical autograph with a movement called "The Repose of the Holy Family," and then with an overture. In November of that year, needing a choral piece to fill out a concert program, he decided to link the overture and two movements together and present them as the work of a fictitious 17th-century French composer he called Pierre Ducré.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:02 AM


A Visit from Saint Nicholas (Clement Clarke Moore?)

T'was the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, --not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

There Arose Such a Clatter: Who Really Wrote "The Night before Christmas"? (And Why Does It Matter?) (Stephen Nissenbaum, January 2001, Common-Place)
In a chapter of his just-published book, Author Unknown, Don Foster tries to prove an old claim that had never before been taken seriously: that Clement Clarke Moore did not write the poem commonly known as "The Night before Christmas" but that it was written instead by a man named Henry Livingston Jr. Livingston (1748-1828) never took credit for the poem himself, and there is, as Foster is quick to acknowledge, no actual historical evidence to back up this extraordinary claim. (Moore, on the other hand, did claim authorship of the poem, although not for two decades after its initial--and anonymous--publication in the Troy [N.Y.] Sentinel in 1823.) Meanwhile, the claim for Livingston's authorship was first made in the late 1840s at the earliest (and possibly as late as the 1860s), by one of his daughters, who believed that her father had written the poem back in 1808.

Why revisit it now? In the summer of 1999, Foster reports, one of Livingston's descendants pressed him to take up the case (the family has long been prominent in New York's history). Foster had made a splash in recent years as a "literary detective" who could find in a piece of writing certain unique and telltale clues to its authorship, clues nearly as distinctive as a fingerprint or a sample of DNA. (He has even been called on to bring his skills to courts of law.) Foster also happens to live in Poughkeepsie, New York, where Henry Livingston himself had resided. Several members of the Livingston family eagerly provided the local detective with a plethora of unpublished and published material written by Livingston, including a number of poems written in the same meter as "The Night before Christmas" (known as anapestic tetrameter: two short syllables followed by an accented one, repeated four times per line--"da-da-DUM, da-da-DUM, da-da-DUM, da-da-DUM," in Foster's plain rendering). These anapestic poems struck Foster as quite similar to "The Night before Christmas" in both language and spirit, and, upon further investigation, he was also struck by telling bits of word usage and spelling in that poem, all of which pointed to Henry Livingston. On the other hand, Foster found no evidence of such word usage, language, or spirit in anything written by Clement Clarke Moore--except, of course, for "The Night before Christmas" itself. Foster therefore concluded that Livingston and not Moore was the real author. The literary gumshoe had tackled and solved another hard case.

Foster's textual evidence is ingenious, and his essay is as entertaining as a lively lawyer's argument to the jury. If he had limited himself to offering textual evidence about similarities between "The Night before Christmas" and poems known to have been written by Livingston, he might have made a provocative case for reconsidering the authorship of America's most beloved poem--a poem that helped create the modern American Christmas. But Foster does not stop there; he goes on to argue that textual analysis, in tandem with biographical data, proves that Clement Clarke Moore could not have written "The Night before Christmas." In the words of an article on Foster's theory that appeared in the New York Times, "He marshals a battery of circumstantial evidence to conclude that the poem's spirit and style are starkly at odds with the body of Moore's other writings." With that evidence and that conclusion I take strenuous exception.

[originally posted: 2004-12-24]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:36 AM


[originally posted: 12/24/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 AM


Life is sacred: that's what Christmas really means (Archbishop Peter Smith, 19/12/2004, Daily Telegraph)

The essential message of Christmas is that in the birth of Jesus "we see our God made visible and so are caught up in the God we cannot see". He didn't come to condemn us, or to manipulate and control us. He didn't come with any worldly ambition to be successful or powerful. He came speaking the language of vulnerable, self-giving love which respects the dignity and worth of every person. It is a proclamation of the Good News that every human life is sacred because it reflects the image and likeness of the living God.

For all the doubts and difficulties many may have with the Church today, there is something deeply compelling about this core belief of Christians, namely that God became man out of unconditional love and compassion for wounded humanity. I think it is the instinctive acceptance of that truth which helps explain the remarkable statistic that more than 70 per cent of the population of this country still regards itself as Christian. So perhaps we are not yet - in fact we may be very far from - the secular utopia that is so often trumpeted.

But Christian faith in God and the sanctity of human life is more than an intellectual assent to the truth expressed in dogma. It must be fully lived and lead to an engagement of the whole person in love, service, prayer and witness. Only then can such witness to the extraordinary life-giving power of Christian love be truly influential in sustaining and transforming the lives of individuals, their families and the communities in which they live.

Unfortunately many have become "light users" of the Christian religion and have only a residual faith. In an age where the media too often dismiss a balanced public witness to the value of Christian faith and moral teaching as old-fashioned and irrelevant, our society is, I believe, becoming more vulnerable than ever to losing its moral bearings.

France will pass without anyone shedding a tear, but England is worth saving.

[originally posted: 2004-12-19]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 AM


How Jewish Family Values Shaped Christianity: The world into which Jesus was born and raised has shaped morals for two millennia. How Jewish mores became Christianity's customs. (Lisa Miller, Dec. 18, 2006, Newsweek)

[W]hatever one's personal beliefs, no student of religion or culture should overlook the significance of the world of the Nativity, for the milieu into which Jesus was bornâ€"and in which he was raisedâ€"has fundamentally shaped the manners and morals of the ensuing two millennia. The Jewish family values that were prevalent in first-century Judeaâ€"the values of Mary and Joseph and of the young Jesusâ€"became the values of Christianity, and of the regions of the world in which Christianity has long been a critical force.

It all began with the habits and culture of Judaism. The emphasis on family, on sexual morality, on caring for one's kith and kinâ€"all were (and are) sacred Jewish traditions, and the transmission of those mores from a relative backwater of the Roman Empire in the first years of the Common Era to our own time is the unlikely result of Mary and Joseph's parenting, the disciples' failed apocalyptic hopes and, ultimately, the early Christians' search for a way to survive once they realized the Second Coming was not as imminent as they first believed.

The story of Jesusâ€"and thus the story of Christianityâ€"begins with a common Jewish family. Mary is an innocent; Joseph is generous and protective, even of a child who is not his own. The baby is a baby, miraculous enough; like all happy births, his is cause for gossip, celebration and gift giving. On close inspection, the details of the Nativity don't add up particularly well: the birth narrative appears in just two of the four Gospels, Matthew and Luke, and they differ a great deal. Matthew starts with a genealogy, Luke with the story of the miraculous pregnancy of Mary's cousin Elizabeth. The Christmas story most people know from church pageants and television specials is a conflation of the two Gospels, putting Matthew's Magi together with the shepherds of Luke.

As the Nativity story makes clear, though, Mary and Joseph's era was one rich in moral standards designed to offer stability in an uncertain world, and they would have transmitted those standards to their son as he grew up. A woman's virginity, for example, was a sacred possession, to be given away or stolen at great cost. According to Deuteronomy, a man who violated a virgin had to pay a fine of 50 silver shekels and marry the woman in question; an unmarried woman who willfully had sex with a man other than her fiancé could be put to death. In ancient Israel, this value was probably a matter of pragmatism more than theology; it assured men who lived in a culture that prized family above all that their children were their own. "Because it was encoded in Biblical texts and the texts became sacred, [virginity] took on a moral dimension," says Carol Meyers, editor of "Women in Scripture" and a professor of religion at Duke. "By the time of Christianity ... any violation was seen as going against God's word."

The values of Jewish families were unique given the circumstances of the time. It is true that Romans of the first century had some regard for family, too (in his book "Jewish Marriage in Antiquity," Brown University professor Michael Satlow points out that Roman law esteemed married men with children above married men without children and unmarried men as part of the social order).

But Jewish devotion to family predates the Romans by thousands of yearsâ€"think of all those begatsâ€"and by the time of Jesus, Jewish family values were noticeably different from those of their neighbors. A Roman father could, for any or no reason, choose to kill his newborn infant either by cutting the umbilical cord too close or by leaving the baby outside, and the Jewish refusal to do so was seen as peculiar. "The Jews see to it that their numbers increase," wrote the historian Tacitus around A.D. 100. "It is a deadly sin to kill a born or unborn child, and they think that eternal life is granted to those who die in battle or executionâ€"hence their eagerness to have children, and their contempt for death." Herod himself executed two of his own sons, leading Augustus Caesar to remark that "I'd rather be Herod's pigs than Herod's sons."

In a culture so devoted to children, married sex was a blessing. "The harmonious coming together of man and woman and their consummation is figuratively a house. And everything which is without a woman is imperfect and homeless," wrote the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (20 B.C.-A.D. 40). Within this context, whether Joseph and Mary, a married Jewish couple, did or did not eventually procreate on their own is a subject of endless scholarly and theological debate. When, in the Gospel of Matthew, the author says that Joseph had no union with Mary "until she gave birth to a son," he implies that a union did occur afterwardâ€"a decent explanation for the appearance in Mark and Matthew of Jesus' brothers James, Joseph, Judas and Simon, as well as unnamed sisters. "Some good historians believe that [these brothers and sisters] were part of Jesus' entourage," says Rodney Stark, of Baylor University.

And so the growing Jesus would have come of age in a world that cherished procreation, family ties and the history and theology of Israel, including immersion in the Scriptures and the ancient stories of God's deliverance of his people. According to Luke, when Jesus was 12, he traveled with his parents to Jerusalem from Galilee to celebrate Passover. The family feasted there and when they were done, Joseph and Mary turned around and headed home. After a day, they noticed that their son was missing from their entourage and rushed back to Jerusalem to find him. There, the story goes, they discovered Jesus in the temple, talking to the priests and astonishing the assembled crowds with his wisdom.

But his parents were parents, and they were worried. "Son, why have you treated us like this?" his mother asks. "Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you."

"Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in my father's house?" But they did not understand what he was saying.

It would not, in all likelihood, be the last time. Their son was growing up in a time of great theological and political turbulence in Judea; in the time of Mary and Joseph, some Jews had begun to believe that the end of the world was coming any day. It would be brought about by a warrior king, a messiah from the house of David, who would destroy the wicked and usher in the kingdom of heaven on earth. The Gospels do not say what Joseph and Mary believed about the apocalypse, but John the Baptist believed in one, and when Jesus says, in Luke, "The Kingdom of God is near," an apocalypse is precisely what he means.

In the temple, Jesus is as rude as a 12-year-old can be. But he's also the kind of Jewish son a mother would be proud of: he takes the family values of his childhood and, in his later years, makes a revolutionary leap. Family, he comes to preach, is not in the blood ties and biology his parents' generation so reveres. To him, the end of the world is coming and what matters now is the community of believers, the followers of the Messiahâ€"on earth and in heaven. What matters is the family, as he put it, of man. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus makes this point again and again. "Let the dead bury the dead," he says in Luke. There's no need for sweet goodbyes. The only thing a believer must do is "follow me" and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

[originally posted: 12/24/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:56 AM


Blaming Christmas (Lee Harris, 12/24/03, Tech Central Station)

To learn that your parents are Santa Claus is the end of one philosophic journey; but it is also the start of another, if you are prepared to continue it. For the skeptic must now ask himself, If my parents don't believe in Santa Claus, why have they tried so hard to get me to believe in him? Indeed, why have they saved money all year long -- or, as so often nowadays, maxed their credit card to the limit -- in order that I would continue to remain under such a costly illusion? Why do my own parents so empathically insist that I go on giving the tribute that is theirs to someone else instead -- especially when that someone else doesn't happen to exist, and with whom it is not even possible to score transcendental brownies points, as with God? Does this -- does any of this -- make sense? If Christmas is just an elaborate hoax, it would appear to be a hoax perpetuated at the expense of the hoaxer.

When the skeptical child becomes a skeptical adult, he may feel that he has hit upon the correct answer: his parents were themselves saps and suckers, hoodwinked by Madison Avenue into believing they were honor-bound to keep up the pretence that all this expensive merchandise was really manna from heaven, in order to bolster the sales of self-serving manufacturers and
retailers. But, here again, the skeptic lacks the will to push his skepticism to its logical conclusion, because he fails to ask the next question: Okay, suppose my parents were just the unwitting tools of capitalism, suppose that they had been brainwashed into buying more stuff
than any child could possibly need, or often want, why did they feel hide-bound to preserve the illusion of Santa Claus for me? What made them look upon Christmas as if it were a sacred duty?

They were hide-bound because they were honor-bound. They felt that they owed their children a happy Christmas, and felt it as a genuine ethical obligation, akin to the military service that a man may feel that he owes to his nation. That is what a sense of honor is all about. And it is the origin
of this sense that we must address, if we are to explain our parents' passion for perpetuating such a bizarre delusion.

Even if they were deluded by Madison Avenue, their susceptibility did not stem from a defective intellect, but from an overfull heart: they would not have been so vulnerable to cynical manipulation if they had not been so desperate to do their duty by their children that the mere idea that they might be depriving their children one of the good things of life drove them to a frenzy of anguished consumption, but at the same time drove them to something that the timid skeptic can never understand.

In their anxiety to do right by their kids, they achieved the supreme self-sacrifice of the human ego -- the doing of good without any expectation of getting credit for it. To question whether this self-sacrifice was worth it may be a legitimate function of the intellect; but it must not tempt you
to overlook the most significant fact about such self-sacrifice, namely, that it happens at all.

This too is a rebuke to neoconservatism.

[originally posted: 2003-12-24]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 AM


Red Ryder's Eternal Home on the Range: Ralphie's hero now has a fitting tribute. (MARK YOST, December 23, 2003, Wall Street Journal)

PAGOSA SPRINGS, Colo.--If the umpteen showings of A Christmas Story and a new 20th-anniversary, two-disc DVD set aren't enough to sate your appetite for Ralphie Parker and his tortured quest for a Red Ryder BB gun, then you need to head to this little town in the southwest corner of Colorado. It's home to the Fred Harman Art Museum.

Who's Fred Harman, you ask? He's the cartoonist who created Ralphie's hero, Red Ryder, and his Indian sidekick, Little Beaver.

As if the connection to A Christmas Story didn't suffice to make one think about violating the Time Zone Rule, The greatest Country and Western tune of all time comes to its thrilling conclusion against "the side of a feed store In downtown Pagosa Springs.

[originally posted: 2003-12-23]

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 AM


The Gospel According to Peanuts: How A Charlie Brown Christmas almost didn't happen (Lee Habeeb, 11/25/11, National Review)

We learned in that American Masters series that Schulz had some ideas of his own for the Christmas special, ideas that didn't make the network suits very happy. First and foremost, there was no laugh track, something unimaginable in that era of television. Schulz thought that the audience should be able to enjoy the show at its own pace, without being cued when to laugh. CBS created a version of the show with a laugh track added, just in case Schulz changed his mind. Luckily, he didn't.

The second big battle was waged over voiceovers. The network executives were not happy that the Schulz's team had chosen to use children to do the voice acting, rather than employing adults. Indeed, in this remarkable world created by Charles Schulz, we never hear the voice of an adult.

The executives also had a problem with the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. They thought the music would not work well for a children's program, and that it distracted from the general tone. They wanted something more . . . well . . . young.

Last but not least, the executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. The network orthodoxy of the time assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Bible.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 AM


On Christmas: Each of Us Is a Salvation History (Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., December 24, 2009, Ignatius Insight)

"There is in every person the desire to be accepted as a person and considered as a sacred reality, for every human history is a sacred history and demands the utmost respect." -- Benedict XVI, Rome, Spanish Steps, December 8, 2009. [...]

"Through the ages, He (God) prepared a way for the Gospel. Finally, God appears. He speaks through His Son. This Son turns out to be "the eternal Word." God from God, Light from Light. He will enlighten men, make known "the innermost things of God." This Word is "Jesus Christ, the word made flesh." He did what the "Father gave him to do." The Evangelist Luke recounts these things. They actually happened.

This Christ completed God's intended revelation. He did this making known what He wanted to make known in all his words and deeds, in the principal events of His life. The dramatic event of His Crucifixion was carried out under the authority of Tiberius Caesar by a Roman Governor by the name Pontius Pilate. But the event seemed to concern the Jews more than the Romans, at least initially. Pilate wanted to "wash his hands" of the whole mess. Many leading Jews just wanted this troublemaker out of the way. Pilate asked the crowd what to do with Him. They shouted "Crucify him."

But no one can crucify a man who does not exist. The message of all these events was "that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to eternal life."

Chesterton tells us that this event of Christ's birth is one of comfort and really of making merry, of rejoicing. The two go together. The metaphysics and the brightness are there. But the birth of Christ into this world is a comfort, something ordinary folks can understand. Such ordinary folk have always suspected their lives mean something. No one has told them why. If Christ is born as a Child and if He is the Son of God, does this not tell us something about ourselves, about each son of man and woman (there are, as Chesterton said, no sons of man and man, though there is a Son of Man, born of woman)?

Revelation tells us first that we are not God. We are men, finite beings. Yet, we are not to have strange gods before us. The only God we want before us is the one who is testified to here, the one born of Mary in Bethlehem. She is evidently there because of a decree of Caesar Augustus. Her husband, Joseph, was of the house of David. The angel has said to her, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord be with you." She said, "Be it done unto me." She said this after she inquired "how."

Is there really any other way? Maybe God will figure out that the way He chose from the beginning was not "working." Maybe He will send a Mohammed or a Nietzsche, or a Grand Inquisitor, to explain things differently? No, it did not and will not happen. Robert Hugh Benson spoke of The Lord of the World. This Lord was present at the Fall.

Dei Verbum says: "The Christian dispensation, because it is the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away, and no new public revelation is any longer to be looked for before the manifestation in glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." I find this rather comforting. It is a reason for making merry. We have already been given all we need to know. The light has shone in the darkness, even if the darkness did not comprehend it.

But I am intrigued by Benedict's phrase "every human being is a salvation history." The pope says "is" a salvation history, not "has" one. That phrase "salvation history" is usually used of the way that God reveals Himself and His purposes in history, the history of the world from Creation to final Judgment. It includes the rise and fall of nations. Yet it is here singular, as if the rise and fall of nations passes through our own souls. Well, of course it does. Plato said this. Solzhenitsyn said this. It is obvious. There is no collective salvation that bypasses what each of us is, destined to eternal life.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 AM


CHRISTMAS DAY [William Drummond (1585-1649)]

Bright portals of the sky,
Emboss'd with sparkling stars,
Doors of eternity,
With diamantine bars,
Your arras rich uphold,
Loose all your bolts and springs,
Ope wide your leaves of gold,
That in your roofs may come the King of Kings.

O well-spring of this All!
Thy Father's image vive;
Word, that from nought did call
What is, doth reason, live;
The soul's eternal food,
Earth's joy, delight of heaven;
All truth, love, beauty, good:
To thee, to thee be praises ever given!

O glory of the heaven!
O sole delight of earth!
To thee all power be given,
God's uncreated birth!
Of mankind lover true,
Indearer of his wrong,
Who doth the world renew,
Still be thou our salvation and our song!

[originally posted: 2003-12-25]

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 AM

FROM THE ARCHIVES: BENT (via Judd Heartsill):

Christmas has come (Bill Murchison, December 23, 2003, Townhall)

In truth, the defect implied by the coming of the Lord in human form was more basic: Our human nature was bent, like an overburdened clothing rod. More than smiles and politeness and observance of duty would be necessary to fix it. And, in earthly terms, it really could not be "fixed," not just yet. Faith in the Little Lord Jesus was a sound step in the short run, but it would take his resurrection and return to dispose once and for all of the "bentness" problem.

In the meantime, Christians would be ... people. Of a certain sort, naturally. But, still, people. Not always "nice" to others, not even nice, all the time, to fellow Christians. This was notwithstanding the commandment of the Babe, grown to manhood, that they should "love one another," as he had loved them. They would try. But -- sigh -- bentness often would block the way.

Over the centuries, the physical achievements of Christianity -- the hospitals, schools, universities and missions -- as well as the deeds of mercy, forbearance and sacrifice would surpass all logical expectation. At their very best, the people of the manger -- Christians -- would speak of themselves as the redeemed, bearing a message of redemption "which shall be to all people."

The stumbles along the way, the falls, the catastrophes, would remind them of the human mess over which the angels hovered on that silent night: not in approval or confirmation, rather, in love of the wayward humans into whose midst a savior had come. To whom, that is, Christmas had come.

The miracle of Christmas is, of course, that God would even care about Man enough to try and comprehend us and would be so determined to do so that He would lower Himself to our level and live a mortal life. (How many scientists, after all, care enough about the rats in their lab that they'd be willing to live and die like one?) But the key moment in the life of Christ is when he pleads: "Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do." What God learned--and, yes, it will seem presumptuous to some to say that God had things left to learn, but the tale is inexplicable otherwise--is that Man is incapable of behaving as He wished us to when He Created us, no matter how hard we try. So the taunt of the unbelievers, that faith is useless because Christians continue to act like men instead of like Christ, is obviously inane. Men are men; such is our tragedy. We struggle, in futility, against our natures; that is our triumph. Give up the struggle and all that's left is the tragedy.

Is there absolute objectivity? (Rabbi Hillel Goldberg , 12/19/03, Jewish World Review)

Essentially, the Heisenberg principle states that the momentum and the position of a subatomic particle cannot both be known precisely. For the only way to measure either is to use some kind of illumination, which changes either the velocity or the position. The participant changes reality.

This is not a technical difficulty that some new technology will eliminate. It is in the nature of subatomic reality.

Under Einstein's special theory of relativity, no two observers moving through space at different speeds � and we are all moving through space � see things the same way. For example, observers moving at different speeds will measure the length of a stick differently. They will also measure the time it takes for the stick to pass by differently. Time is relative to the speed and position of the observer. On earth, we are all moving through space at the same speed, so reality seems objective. It is not this way.

All this is another way of pointing out the contingent nature of the human being as he or she strives to become like, to apprehend and to communicate with the one objective reality, G-d.

[originally posted: 2003-12-25]

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 AM


[originally posted: 12/24/2010]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 AM


"God's sign is that he makes himself small, he becomes a child": "No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness." From Bethlehem erupts the news that changes everything, even the "hearts of stone." The pope's homily for Christmas Eve (Benedict XVI, 12/24/09, Chiesa)

Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off: "Let us see this thing that has happened." Literally the Greek text says: "Let us see this Word that has occurred there." Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. The God of whom no image may be made - because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him - this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image, as Saint Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). In the figure of Jesus Christ, in the whole of his life and ministry, in his dying and rising, we can see the Word of God and hence the mystery of the living God himself.

This is what God is like. The Angel had said to the shepherds: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God's sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God's sign is his humility. God's sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God's power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him.

Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist's sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God's love. Origen says of the pagans: "Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood" (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened. In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: "Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)" (in Lk 22:3).

Yes indeed, that is what we should pray for on this Holy Night. Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.

[originally posted: 12/24/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 AM


The Old Testament and the Messianic Hope (Thomas Storck, November/December 1996, The Catholic Faith)

One persistent, and indeed paramount, Old Testament theme is the connection of the Messiah with Abraham and David. The reason for this connection involves the covenants that God made with each of these men, covenants by which God promised some future benefit. The covenant with Abraham, for example, first mentioned in Genesis 12:2-3, promised a blessing for His descendants and for all people.

I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you
and curse those who curse you.
All the communities of the earth
shall find blessing in you.

This was the covenant, later ratified by the rite of circumcision (Genesis 17:9-27), which made Abraham the father of the chosen people, the Jews. This covenant pledged two important things: that God would bless all the people of the earth, and that this blessing would somehow be accomplished through Abraham. By establishing Abraham's descendants as a chosen people God provided for the fulfillment of both promises, for the chosen people were a kind of seedbed for the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who was a son of Abraham, and in Him all people of the world can indeed find blessing.

[originally posted: 12/20/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:42 AM



This is the month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav'n's eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.
That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherewith he wont at Heav'n's high council-table,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside, and here with us to be,
Forsook the courts of everlasting day,
And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.
Say Heav'nly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein
Afford a present to the Infant God?
Hast thou no verse, no hymn, or solemn strain,
To welcome him to this his new abode,
Now while the heav'n, by the Sun's team untrod,
Hath took no print of the approaching light,
And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?
See how from far upon the eastern road
The star-led wizards haste with odours sweet:
O run, prevent them with thy humble ode,
And lay it lowly at his blessed feet;
Have thou the honour first thy Lord to greet,
And join thy voice unto the angel quire,
From out his secret altar touched with hallowed fire.
The Hymn
It was the winter wild,
While the Heav'n-born child,
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature in awe to him
Had doffed her gaudy trim,
With her great Master so to sympathize:
It was no season then for her
To wanton with the Sun, her lusty paramour.
Only with speeches fair
She woos the gentle air
To hide her guilty front with innocent snow,
And on her naked shame,
Pollute with sinful blame,
The saintly veil of maiden white to throw,
Confounded, that her Maker's eyes
Should look so near upon her foul deformities.
But he, her fears to cease,
Sent down the meek-eyed Peace:
She, crowned with olive green, came softly sliding
Down through the turning sphere,
His ready harbinger,
With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing;
And waving wide her myrtle wand,
She strikes a universal peace through sea and land.
No war or battle's sound
Was heard the world around;
The idle spear and shield were high uphung;
The hooked chariot stood
Unstained with hostile blood;
The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;
And kings sate still with awful eye,
As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by.
But peaceful was the night
Wherein the Prince of Light
His reign of peace upon the earth began:
The winds with wonder whist,
Smoothly the waters kist,
Whispering new joys to the mild Ocean,
Who now hath quite forgot to rave,
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.
The Stars with deep amaze
Stand fixed in steadfast gaze,
Bending one way their precious influence;
And will not take their flight,
For all the morning light,
Or Lucifer that often warned them thence,
But in their glimmering orbs did glow,
Until their Lord himself bespake, and bid them go.
And though the shady gloom
Had given day her room,
The Sun himself withheld his wonted speed,
And hid his head for shame,
As his inferior flame
The new-enlightened world no more should need:
He saw a greater Sun appear
Than his bright throne or burning axle-tree could bear.
The shepherds on the lawn,
Or ere the point of dawn,
Sate simply chatting in a rustic row;
Full little thought they than
That the mighty Pan
Was kindly come to live with them below:
Perhaps their loves, or else their sheep,
Was all that did their silly thoughts so busy keep;
When such music sweet
Their hearts and ears did greet,
As never was by mortal finger strook,
Divinely warbled voice
Answering the stringed noise,
As all their souls in blissful rapture took:
The air such pleasure loth to lose,
With thousand echoes still prolongs each heav'nly close.
Nature, that heard such sound
Beneath the hollow round
Of Cynthia's seat, the Airy region thrilling,
Now was almost won
To think her part was done,
And that her reign had here its last fulfilling:
She knew such harmony alone
Could hold all heav'n and earth in happier union.
At last surrounds their sight
A globe of circular light,
That with long beams the shame-faced Night arrayed;
The helmed Cherubim
And sworded Seraphim
Are seen in glittering ranks with wings displayed,
Harping in loud and solemn quire,
With unexpressive notes to Heav'n's new-born Heir.
Such music (as 'tis said)
Before was never made,
But when of old the sons of morning sung,
While the Creator great
His constellations set,
And the well-balanced world on hinges hung,
And cast the dark foundations deep,
And bid the welt'ring waves their oozy channel keep.
Ring out ye crystal spheres!
Once bless our human ears
(If ye have power to touch our senses so)
And let your silver chime
Move in melodious time,
And let the bass of Heav'n's deep organ blow;
And with your ninefold harmony
Make up full consort to th'angelic symphony.
For if such holy song
Enwrap our fancy long,
Time will run back and fetch the age of gold,
And speckled Vanity
Will sicken soon and die,
And leprous Sin will melt from earthly mould;
And Hell itself will pass away,
And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering Day.
Yea, Truth and Justice then
Will down return to men,
Orbed in a rainbow; and, like glories wearing,
Mercy will sit between,
Throned in celestial sheen,
With radiant feet the tissued clouds down steering;
And Heav'n, as at some festival,
Will open wide the gates of her high palace hall.
But wisest Fate says no:
This must not yet be so;
The Babe lies yet in smiling infancy,
That on the bitter cross
Must redeem our loss,
So both himself and us to glorify:
Yet first to those ychained in sleep,
The wakeful trump of doom must thundcr through the deep,
With such a horrid clang
As on Mount Sinai rang
While the red fire and smould'ring clouds outbrake:
The aged Earth, aghast
With terror of that blast,
Shall from the surface to the centre shake,
When at the world's last session,
The dreadful Judge in middle air shall spread his throne.
And then at last our bliss
Full and perfect is,
But now begins; for from this happy day
Th'old Dragon under ground,
In straiter limits bound,
Not half so far casts his usurped sway,
And, wrath to see his kingdom fail,
Swinges the scaly horror of his folded tail.
The Oracles are dumb;
No voice or hideous hum
Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving.
Apollo from his shrine
Can no more divine,
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
No nightly trance or breathed spell
Inspires the pale-eyed priest from the prophetic cell.
The lonely mountains o'er,
And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;
From haunted spring, and dale
Edged with poplar pale,
The parting Genius is with sighing sent;
With flow'r-inwoven tresses torn
The Nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.
In consecrated earth,
And on the holy hearth,
The Lars and Lemures moan with midnight plaint;
In urns and altars round,
A drear and dying sound
Affrights the flamens at their service quaint;
And the chill marble seems to sweat,
While each peculiar power forgoes his wonted seat.
Peor and Baalim
Forsake their temples dim,
With that twice-battered god of Palestine;
And mooned Ashtaroth,
Heav'n's queen and mother both,
Now sits not girt with tapers' holy shine;
The Libyc Hammon shrinks his horn;
In vain the Tyrian maids their wounded Thammuz mourn.
And sullen Moloch, fled,
Hath left in shadows dread
His burning idol all of blackest hue:
In vain with cymbals' ring
They call the grisly king,
In dismal dance about the furnace blue.
The brutish gods of Nile as fast,
Isis and Orus, and the dog Anubis, haste.
Nor is Osiris seen
In Memphian grove or green,
Trampling the unshower'd grass with lowings loud;
Nor can he be at rest
Within his sacred chest,
Naught but profoundest Hell can be his shroud:
In vain with timbreled anthems dark
The sable-stoled sorcerers bear his worshipped ark.
He feels from Juda's land
The dreaded Infant's hand,
The rays of Bethlehem blind his dusky eyn;
Nor all the gods beside
Longer dare abide,
Not Typhon huge ending in snaky twine:
Our Babe, to show his Godhead true,
Can in his swaddling bands control the damned crew.
So when the Sun in bed,
Curtained with cloudy red,
Pillows his chin upon an orient wave,
The flocking shadows pale
Troop to th'infernal jail,
Each fettered ghost slips to his several grave,
And the yellow-skirted fays
Fly after the night-steeds, leaving their moon-loved maze.
But see, the Virgin blest
Hath laid her Babe to rest:
Time is our tedious song should here have ending.
Heav'n's youngest-teemed star,
Hath fixed her polished car,
Her sleeping Lord with handmaid lamp attending;
And all about the courtly stable,
Bright-harnessed Angels sit in order serviceable.

(Originally posted: 12/24/04)

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 AM


Kwanzaa is made-up, but useful. (Melonyce McAfee, Dec. 26, 2011,

I don't know where we got a candelabrum. But there we were, lighting the candles in the kinara and reciting Swahili words like umoja, ujima, and kujichagulia while my brother poured water from an earthenware jug onto a half-dead plant. We placed whatever fruit we had (apples, oranges, bruised bananas) onto a table festooned with African objets d'art, the kinara, and a small jug of water. For seven nights, we lit a candle and recited one of the Nguzo Saba principles, like nia for faith. The Swahili didn't roll off our tongues, but we liked how it sounded. We performed a libation, pouring liquid from the kikombe cha umoja, or unity cup, into soil in remembrance of our ancestors.

It was Mom's idea, like the world-beat reggae concerts, Earth Day fairs, and Marcus Garvey coloring books. Kwanzaa was a way to bring our ragtag family together and nudge us away from the false idols and commercial trickery of the holiday season. We only celebrated Kwanzaa for a couple of years. That might sound like a fist-in-the-air dalliance into neo-black-holiday land. But the dismissal wouldn't be fair. Kwanzaa may be made-up, but for my family it was useful.

Kwanzaa was conjured up in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, former chair of the black studies department at California State University, Long Beach, to "reaffirm and restore our rootedness in African culture." For my mother, a black child of the cause-oriented 1960s and '70s raising three black children of the Cosby-fied '80s and '90s, that seemed perfect. Since the untimely departure of my father from the family (oh, he's still alive, mind you), my little brother had been in need of male guidance. He attended a mentorship program in which black men organized camping trips and kumbaya-ing for boys in need of a male role model. The program was Pan-African in its ideology--black role models, institutions, language, and, apparently, holidays for black people. This led us to Kwanzaa.

We also had a toe rooted in the Southern Baptist church. And going to the homes of my extended family on Christmas--with their pinned-up stockings and glinting trees--showed me the importance of the holiday to black Christians.

[originally posted : 12/26/11]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:40 AM


Christmas and Christianity: Why religion remains a mainstay of American culture. (JAMES Q. WILSON, December 24, 2004, Wall Street Journal)

Let me suggest that there is a link between religious freedom and the size and vigor of most American churches. We are more religious than any European state precisely because in this country there has never been a national church against which to rebel.

Matters are very different in Europe. The English were dismayed by the constant struggle between a nationally supported Catholic church and a nationally supported Anglican one, interrupted by a brief period of Puritanical rule.

The Scandinavians, when they came under the rule of Social Democratic parties, were expected to dismantle their state-supported churches, but instead they chose to make them instruments of their new welfare states governed by state-managed bureaucracies. The Swedes eliminated all religious qualifications for serving on church boards, so that, as Professors Rodney Stark and Roger Finke have pointed out, control of the Swedish state church has passed into the hands of atheists.

Since the French Revolution in the 18th century, the government has worked, with some ups and downs, toward state regulation of churches. An appointment to be a Roman Catholic bishop must be approved by the government, and an organization called the Observatory of Cults oversees "dangerous" religious groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and other evangelical movements. Messrs. Stark and Finke argue that state control, however weak, leads to a reduction in church affiliation. [...]

[I]n general, there has been in Europe very little that resembles the First Amendment to the American Constitution. Here, where the free exercise of religion is guaranteed and there is a ban on laws "respecting an establishment of religion," there has never been a national church. Without one, there is no enemy to defeat, and so there has never been a political reason to either rebel or become secular.

In this empty space of religious freedom aspiring ministers compete for adherents. The more skilled the ministers and the more demanding the benefit of becoming an adherent, the more people join them. As a result, mainline Protestant churches, lacking both evangelical zeal and a deeply meaningful religion, have lost the struggle for members to fundamentalist churches that recruit members and expect a lot of them.

This fact worries many people in the Blue States just as it pleases many in the Red ones. Those who are alarmed by the extent of religious belief in this country have roused themselves to make the so-called wall of separation between church and state both higher and firmer. In insisting that we describe our late December holiday as having nothing to do with the birth of Jesus, in fighting to keep every nativity scene away from any government property, by arguing that our freedoms will be compromised by any reference to Christianity, they have succeeded only in intensifying religious beliefs among the great majority of our people who are angered by these assaults.

They would be well advised to let matters alone.

They can't though, because they're trying to establish their religion.

[originally posted: 2004-12-24]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 AM


The Climax of History (Matt Connally, Leadership U)

[T]he Biblical view of history is radically unique as compared to all other views, for Christianity alone accounts for the past based solely upon what the records and the eyewitnesses say happened. For example, when a physician named Luke went to write an account for a friend concerning the news of Jesus, he began by stating his sources:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

Together with the other three gospels--Matthew, Mark, and John--the early church saw these as four different views of the same events, perhaps very comparable to how a director will use several cameras to shoot the same scene for a movie. Although they have variations in style and differ in what details they present and what they emphasize, they weave together into a singular historical record of astonishing depth and complexity (especially when read in light of the Old Testament). And again, they all claim to be first hand accounts of historical events. As the fisherman John put it:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life--the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us--that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us. (1 John 1:1-3)

By contrast, all other views of the past--at least in regard to what God has done--are dictated by man according to presuppositions and/or special revelations. For example, Mohammed dramatically edited 2000 years of Biblical history based upon what he said an angel told him in a cave. So although Muslims claim to descend from Abraham, going through his first son Ishmael rather than his second son Isaac (as the Jews did), their history did not start with Abraham and then gradually develop over the next two millennia; instead, it sprang up all at once in the 7th century A.D. Similar methods of accounting for the past are found in the proclamations of Mormons, all the Gnostic forms of Christianity, and many cults. Even Hinduism, whose history reaches back several thousand years, does not rest upon eyewitness accounts but rather upon mystical revelations. That is why they can exalt Christ as a great spiritual teacher without believing that he is the one and only God.

A slightly different way of doing history is espoused by Naturalism--the worldview which is based upon evolutionary theory. For the most part Naturalists hold to the presupposition that supernatural events simply do not occur. Therefore, the Biblical account must be wrong and should be edited according to an evolutionary view of society. They speculate on what political motives might lay behind particular writings and beliefs and insist, quite ironically, that true religious belief rests upon presuppositions and blind faith.

But at the end of the day we are still confronted with the testimonies about what happened two thousand years ago. The event was so dramatic that Jerusalem, after centuries of being dominated by several empires (the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and then the Romans) without budging a single inch, suddenly transformed by leaps and bounds. The Roman Empire soon followed, and today the news continues to change societies.

[originally posted: 12/25/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 AM


The Oxen--A Poem for Christmas 1915 (Thomas Hardy, Times of London, 24 December 1915)

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel,

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

[originally posted: 2004-12-24]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 AM


Behind the scenes of 'It's a Wonderful Life': The holiday fixture is a film classic, but the production wasn't always angelic. (Stephen Cox, December 23, 2006, LA Times)

It's no mystery why this year the American Film Institute named Capra's postwar classic "It's a Wonderful Life" the most inspiring motion picture ever made.

To most, it's an enriching, sentimental Christmas favorite not to be missed â€" almost sacrilege when viewed during any other season.

It's all the more remarkable that this homespun movie, which was not initially envisioned as a "holiday" film, has become so entrenched in popular culture, such a beloved tradition for families to share.

Oddly enough, the film was unceremoniously released during Christmas week of 1946. Never mind the yuletide flavor, the wintry snowdrifts in Bedford Falls and the holly wreath George Bailey carries slung around his arm â€" this Jimmy Stewart-Donna Reed romance was originally scheduled to open in January 1947. But RKO Studios knew it had something special and rushed it into theaters a few weeks early to meet the deadline for Academy Award consideration that year.

Capra shot much of the film on a specially constructed quaint-town set located at RKO's ranch in the San Fernando Valley â€" a site that has long been overtaken by property development. In media interviews at the time, Capra did not portray it as a holiday film. In fact, he said he saw it as a cinematic remedy to combat what he feared was a growing trend toward atheism and to provide hope to the human spirit. In a moment of possible revisionism decades later, Capra said that he also realized that with the holiday season comes an inherent vulnerability in all humans, and that this uplifting tale might just ride on that sentiment.

Without question, however, is the fact that audiences trusted Capra to deliver such patriotisms, all neatly wrapped with a ribbon and bow. Like "Meet John Doe" (1941), about a lie that sparks a political movement. Some critics accused Capra of presenting a "naive" faith in the common man within a syrupy-slick presentation. So skillful in his flair for filmmaking and eliciting emotion, his titles were once called "Capra-corn."

But the Oscar-winning director has had the last laugh.

"It's a Wonderful Life" keeps popping its way back into homes on television, in commercials, on DVD, routinely broadcast twice each season on NBC. (It's being broadcast Sunday night.)

Capra, an Italian-born filmmaker who gave us such early classics as "It Happened One Night" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," died in 1991, but not before witnessing "It's a Wonderful Life" take on iconic wings of sort when television began airing it regularly in the 1970s.

The movie transcended time and soared well beyond his imagination.

"It's the damnedest thing I've ever seen," Capra told the Wall Street Journal in 1984. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I'm like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I'm proud ... but it's the kid who did the work. I didn't even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea."

In probably his best-loved role, and a dark one at that, Stewart plays selfless everyman George Bailey through a tumultuous timeline that climaxes in near suicide on Christmas Eve. In answer to his desperate prayer at the bar, George is rescued by an unlikely angel with a smiling marshmallow face â€" a little fellow named Clarence â€" who convinces him that life is precious and that each man's life touches another with untold influence.

"I think, as the story unfolds," Stewart explained years ago, "it becomes clear that the movie is about hope, love and friendship."

Perhaps the best programming decision in television history was to buy back the rights to the film and put it on a network one night a year, making it the sort of old-fashioned event broadcast that we all watch at the same time.

[originally posted: December 23, 2006]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 AM


Witches vs. Baby Jesus (12/15/07, Washington Times)

That's when the scandal began. Not that a Baby Jesus on the lawn of the municipal building is against the law or a violation of the Constitution -- it is neither -- but New York is one of those states where political correctness is an art form. Most people believe in Jesus, but the ones who don't are adept at raising a stink. And a stink was raised in Olean.

The regular folks seemed pretty happy with things, finding the Nativity display a nice holiday addition. Unfortunately, in America in 2007, the regular folks don't matter. Majority rule is a thing of the past and special interests are the masters of the society. That is how the pentacle came to be there. Do you know what that is? It's a five-pointed star inside a circle and it's supposedly the symbol of the Wicca witchcraft people.

See, Baby Jesus ticks off witchcraft people. They're all about tolerance for themselves, but are pretty darned intolerant of others. That's how this whole diversity thing goes. Acceptance is demanded for everything -- except the values, opinions, faith and culture of the majority. Multiculturalism is about the sanitizing of culture, about the eradication of the mainstream culture.

So, like I said, the witchcraft people got ticked off. Though there might just have been one of them. At any rate, figuring that actually walking up and urinating on the Baby Jesus would stir up the locals, it looks like folks decided to go for the next best thing. That's how the 10-foot by 10-foot Wicca symbol got built in the shadow of the stable. It was a big square, with a dark blue background and a white circle. Inside the white circle was a white five-pointed star against a light-blue background. That's a pentacle.

Also known as kindling.

[originally posted: 12/26/07]

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Posted by orrinj at 12:34 AM


The Inspiring, Nerdy Toys of A. C. Gilbert: Early toys got kids interested in science and engineering through experimentation (Rose Eveleth  | December 24, 2011, Scientific American)

Before video games and robotics competitions, toys were much simpler: girls got dolls; boys got model trains and bicycles. Toys that promoted learning and experimentation were rare until one inventor, Alfred Carlton ("A. C.") Gilbert, started making toys that taught children about science and engineering. His most famous, the Erector set, became one of the best -selling toys of its day and inspired children across the country to build everything from bridges to robots.

Gilbert was a man of many talents. He financed his medical degree from Yale University by working as a magician, invented the pole-vaulting box and won a gold medal in the sport in 1908, and broke the world record for consecutive chin-ups--39 in a row. In 1918 he became "the man who saved Christmas" by convincing Congress not to ban toy production during the war.

But he is most famous for his toys. Gilbert founded the A. C. Gilbert Company and went on to invent and sell all kinds of classic science toys from chemistry sets to robots to microscopes. Gilbert's real innovation was to provide kids with a way to experiment with real-life tools and parts, says William Brown, director of the Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden, Conn., where a large collection of Gilbert toys is on display. "They had that feel of being not symbolic but part of the real world," he says. "You were working with a motor for your Erector set that could actually move heavy things."


And that real-life appeal did not just apply to kids. In 1949 doctors at the Yale School of Medicine used an Erector set to build a precursor to the modern artificial heart.

[originally posted: 12/25/12]
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Posted by orrinj at 12:34 AM


[originally posted: 11/24/11]
Posted by orrinj at 12:28 AM


I Wonder as I Wander (Peter Lawler, December 24, 2011, Big Think)

A Christmas carol of Appalachian origin captures a lot about what's singularly wonderful about what happened the first Christmas day:

I wonder as I wander out under the sky

How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die

For poor on'ry people like you and like I

I wonder as I wander out under the sky

There's nothing worse than subjecting poetry--especially beautiful songs--to analysis.  But here's a few words on each of the three lines:

1) To be human is to wonder and wander. The being who wonders can't be fully at home in the cosmos the scientists can otherwise, perhaps, perfectly describe. There's nothing more wonderful than he being who wanders (and knows it) "under the sky." So even Jesus was quite literally born "on the road."

2) He was born, for one thing, on the road to death.

[originally posted: 12/24/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 AM


The Journey of the Magi (T. S. Eliot)

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

[originally posted: 12/24/09]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 AM


The Man Who Told A Christmas Story: What I learned from Jean Shepherd. (Donald Fagen, Dec. 21, 2009, Slate)

In the late '50s, while Lenny Bruce was beginning his climb to holy infamy in jazz clubs on the West Coast, Shepherd's all-night monologues on WOR had already gained him an intensely loyal cult of listeners. Unlike Bruce's provocative nightclub act, which had its origins in the "schpritz" of the Catskills comics, Shepherd's improvised routines were more in the tradition of Midwestern storytellers like Mark Twain, but with a contemporary urban twist: say, Mark Twain after he'd been dating Elaine May for a year and a half. Where Bruce's antics made headlines, Shepherd, with his warm, charismatic voice and folksy style, could perform his most subversive routines with the bosses in the WOR front office and the FCC being none the wiser. At least most of the time.

I was introduced to Shep, as his fans called him, by my weird uncle Dave. Dave, who was a bit of a hipster, used to crash on our sofa when he was between jobs. Being a bookish and somewhat imperious 12-year-old, already desperately weary of life in suburban New Jersey and appalled by Hoss and Little Joe and Mitch Miller and the heinous Bachelor Father, I figured Dave was my man. One night, after ruthlessly beating me at rummy, he put down the cards and said, "Now we're gonna listen to Shepherd--this guy's great." The Zenith table model in the kitchen came to life midway through Shepherd's theme music, a kitschy, galloping Eduard Strauss piece called the "Bahn Frei" polka. And then there was that voice, cozy, yet abounding with jest.

He was definitely a grown-up but he was talking to me--I mean straight to me, with my 12-year-old sensibility, as if some version of myself with 25 more years worth of life experience had magically crawled into the radio, sat down, and loosened his tie. I was hooked. From then on, like legions of other sorry-ass misfits throughout the Northeast, I tuned in every weeknight at 11:15 and let Shep put me under his spell.

You can check out the show at The Brass Figalee. We go on the Carousel of Progress at Disney just to hear his narration.

[originally posted: 12/23/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 AM


[originally posted : 12/24/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 AM


Log: The Directors' Cuts (ALESSANDRA STANLEY, 12/24/08, NY Times)

It seems like cheating, or bad karma, but it's possible to have a yule log crackling on the television screen anytime, even several days before Christmas -- or on Halloween or Presidents' Day, for that matter.

With titles like "Ambient Fire" and "The Happy Holiday Hearth," yule log DVDs offer a dizzying array of flaming options, from stately baroque plumes to crispy, woodsy campfires. There is even a soft-core porn Christmas log: on "Yule a Go-Go," dancers like Ms. Tickle and Bunny Love perform tassled, spangled burlesque-style stripteases to Christmas carols in front of a roaring fire. (Actually, those flames are quite subdued, for perhaps obvious reasons.)

There used to just be one yule log on television. Viewers had to wait for it, and it didn't come with naughty features or special effects. The WPIX Christmas yule log was first shown in New York in 1966, in black and white, and for several uninterrupted hours, apartment dwellers could stare at flames flickering in a hearth as Christmas songs played in the background. Later, other stations around the country began offering yule logs, but in New York the WPIX log, a kitschy tribute to television as the family hearth -- not just metaphorically but literally -- became a fiercely cherished local tradition, like the Biltmore clock or egg creams.

Gotta watch the live telecast.

N.B. (12/24/09): If you're lucky enough to have Comcast, they've got the Yule Log live in On Demand. We've been watching all month.

[originally posted: 12/24/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 AM


Handel's 'Messiah' from Philadelphia (NPR, December 18, 2007

From the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, WHYY and NPR present Handel's holiday masterpiece performed by the "Fabulous Philadelphians" -- one of the world's great orchestras, joined by the nationally-renowned Philadelphia Singers Chorale. Acclaimed British choral master Richard Hickox conducts. Hosted by Fred Child and Melinda Whiting.

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[originally posted: 12/24/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 AM


Angels Passing: A Christmas story (Allan Massie, 12/25/10, The Scotsman)

"And what about Helmut?"

I had hesitated before putting the question, but she received it with a smile.

"We found him wandering in the woods. He was in a bad way, very nervous. It was something he had seen. He won't talk about it."

But he did to me, because I was a soldier too, and would understand.

"It was truly horrible," he said, "and so I did the only thing I could do. I ran away. I deserted. I came south because most deserters are stupid and make for home and because this was then the unoccupied zone. I was sick, very sick at heart. Albertine has made me whole again."

We were playing chess and he took my queen and said, "I was never a Nazi. I hate them. In fact I'm a Communist. Like my father. He was a Communist and they put him in a camp and killed him. What about you, Jock?"

"I'm an auld Scots Radical," I said, "and that means I'm agin the government, any government."

"Shake hands, Jock," he said..

"Christmas Eve is the great feast in Provence," Albertine told me, and what a feast it was! We had smoked eel with horse-radish sauce and then the cassoulet. That's a dish of pork and spiced sausage and white beans and other vegetables and the pork is first browned and flamed with marc. It had been cooking in the stove for hours and the smell was a meal in itself. And then we had prunes that had been soaked in brandy and a cheese that Albertine had made herself from the cow's milk. It was her grandmother's recipe, like the cassoulet, she said. Helmut and I drank a litre of the local wine and we all sat back, replete, rubbing our bellies and happy. We had talked throughout the meal, the talk of good fellowship with no mention of the war and its suffering, and had laughed as you should laugh in good company. And then we fell silent, as silent as the night on the hillside, and I looked at my watch and said, "angels passing".

"It's a saying we have," I explained. "When a silence falls at twenty to the hour or twenty past, we say it's because the angels are flying by. I don't know why."

"It's a lovely thought," Albertine said, "and it might be true..."

"Angels?" Helmut said. "Well, I don't know about that."

Nor did I, but I kept quiet and gave myself another glass of wine and a slice of Albertine's cheese.

It was then that we noticed the children had slipped away.

"Pierre likes to look at the stars," Albertine. said. "They often go out at night. There's no cause for anxiety."

Then the door burst open and the children were there with faces alight with joy.

"Come quick," Marie cried, "it's the angels."

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[originally posted : 12/24/11]