Every year, we sing the song … or somebody does. Usually more than one somebody. The 12 Days of Christmas. It’s been done with humor, with dread seriousness, as a short, funny film. As a picture book. The Boston Pops does a brilliant and hilariously raucous version that bears little resemblance to the original song.
In all these years, hearing the song, playing the song on the piano and the organ, singing the song, humming it, pondering why or how anyone could give anyone a partridge in a pear tree and live to tell the tale … I mean, okay, five gold rings … but seven swans a-swimming? Did he include the pond? Did he have to do major construction to get those swans a-swimming for his lady-love?
And where on earth do you find leaping lords? You certainly can’t just go to Walmart and put them in your basket for checkout. At the very least, you’d have to get them to go along with your act and lords, especially around these parts, are hard to find. Maybe guys with the last name “Lord” would do? Hofstra had a President named “Lord” at the same time as Nassau County had a Parks Commissioner named “Moses.” It led to the unforgettable headline on the Hofstra Chronicle:
LORD AND MOSES CONFER OVER PROMISED LAND
At issue was a small parcel on the north side of Hempstead Turnpike which the university wanted to incorporate as part of its development of a new dormitory and library complex on the former Mitchell field, north of the Main Campus. This really happened and though I saved the copy of the paper, it has disappeared with the passing years. Pity about that. NOTE: For you history buffs, this is the airfield from which Lindbergh began his historic trans-Atlantic flight.
But I digress.
TAKE NOTES. THERE WILL BE SHORT QUIZ AT THE END OF THE LECTURE
This morning I woke up fully engulfed in a mental itch.
When are the twelve days of Christmas? It can’t be the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day because that’s always one week and will never change. Even if you add in Christmas Eve, that’s still only 8 days. What’s with the other four days and why doesn’t Google put them on the calendar? It puts on the birthdays of even the most obscure of my “Google +” connections. Surely (I know, don’t call me Shirley) this has got to be at least as important as some acquaintance I’ve never met having a birthday. You think, Probie?
But all was not lost. The calendar might not offer much help, but Google, the ubiquitous source of all miscellaneous information combined with — let’s not always see the same hands … you, there, in the back — right! Wikipedia! They had the answer and it only took me 0.77 seconds to get about 515,000,000 results. I only needed one result and don’t have time or enough interest in the subject to check out the other 514,999,999 answers.
Twelve Days of Christmas 2014 begin on
Thursday, December 25
and end on Monday, January 5
From Wikipedia. It’s the religious response, or at least a general overview thereof. Feel free to check out any of the other hundreds of thousands of available answers to this question:
The Twelve Days of Christmas is the festive Christian season, beginning on Christmas Day (25 December), that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God. This period is also known as Christmastide. This is different from the Octave of Christmas, which is the liturgical time from Christmas Day until the Solemnity of Mary on 1 January. The Twelfth Day of Christmas falls on 5 or 6 January depending which tradition is followed. There is similar confusion about the date of Twelfth Night which is commonly held to be 5 January but some hold that it is 6 January. The Feast of the Epiphany is on 6 January which celebrates the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) and their bringing of gifts to the child Jesus. In some traditions, the feast of Epiphany and Twelfth Day overlap.
In Medieval England, this period was continuous feasting and merrymaking, climaxing on Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season. In Tudor England, Twelfth Night was permanently embedded in popular culture when William Shakespeare used it as the title of one of his most famous comedies.
Some traditions were adapted from the older pagan customs, including the Roman Saturnalia and the Germanic Yuletide. Christianity was, as all religions have been, opportunistic. If everyone was going to celebrate anyway, why not give the celebration Christian meaning? It’s no coincidence that every religion celebrates the solstices and equinoxes … or that the pagan Omer (celebrating the first cutting of the wheat) coincides with Passover on which Easter is overlaid. Nor should these overlays of later religions on earlier ones diminish the importance of the holidays. It’s hard enough to get a new religion going, to convert an entire population to a new way of thinking. Why not use whatever tools (and holidays) are handy?
ARCHAEOLOGY AND RELIGION
For a long time, whenever I drove down the old road from Jerusalem to Lachish, I noticed a piece of an arch pushing out of the ground. I could see there was a ruin there. I hoped the archaeologists would get to it so I could find out what it was.
One day, the diggers arrived.
It was a 5th century synagogue, complete with mosaic floor showing a mandala of 12 astrological symbols, the same ones we use today. The floor was taken, intact, to a museum in Tel Aviv. Digging recommenced and beneath the synagogue, pillar on pillar, stood a Roman temple. After rescuing whatever artifacts they could, the group began to dig again and found — pillar on pillar — a Greek temple.
Finally, below the Greek temple, on the base rock, was a Canaanite temple.
During each stage of the dig, we were allowed to go poke around the ruins. Israelis love archaeology. It’s was as much the national pastime in Israel as baseball is here. Everyone has a few artifacts … pottery shards, tiny oil lamps, Roman glass, old coins from vanished empires.
Human history and religion has never been the monolithic, simplistic structure many people — on both sides of the religious equation — would like it to be. If there is an omnipotent deity, it is not an old guy with a long beard counting your sins and weighing them against your good deeds. Or his son, nephew, or third cousin twice removed.
Whatever there is, it is unlikely to be something we can neatly classify. It is, as “they” say, complicated.
Of all the things we do in December, our trip to the Boston Pops for their Christmas concert is my favorite. First of all, what’s not to like?
It’s a great concert, fine orchestra, perfect symphony venue. Boston’s Symphony Hall was built in 1900. It’s a classic, both architecturally and acoustically.
According to the BSO’s website, Symphony Hall opened on October 15, 1900 with an inaugural gala led by music director Wilhelm Gericke. The architects, McKim, Mead & White of New York, engaged Wallace Clement Sabine, a young assistant professor of physics at Harvard, as their acoustical consultant.
Symphony Hall is widely regarded as one of the top concert halls in the world. The walls of the stage slope inward to help focus the sound. The side balconies are shallow so as not to trap any of the sound, and the recesses of the ceiling, along with the statue-filled niches along the three sides, help to distribute the sound throughout the hall.
The 16 replicas of Greek and Roman statues are related in some way to music, art, or literature.
They were placed in the niches as part of an appreciation of the frequently quoted words, “Boston, the Athens of America,” written by Bostonian William Tudor in the early 19th century.
The Symphony Hall organ — an Aeolian Skinner designed by G. Donald Harrison and installed in 1949 — is one of the finest concert hall organs in the world.
A couple of interesting points for observant concert-goers: Beethoven is the only composer whose name was inscribed on one of the plaques that trim the stage and balconies; the other plaques were left empty since it was felt that only Beethoven’s popularity would remain unchanged.
The initials “BMH” for “Boston Music Hall”, as the building was originally to have been called, appear on the stairwell banisters at the Huntington Avenue side, originally planned as the main entrance. The old Boston Music Hall was gutted only after the new building, Symphony Hall, was opened.
This year’s program was a bit different than previous year’s. Instead of the usual reading of “The Night Before Christmas,” there was a reading and music dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I (November 1914) and the spontaneous “Christmas Truce” of 24 December 1914.
There was less use of projected images, more orchestral music. But Santa Claus made his traditional appearance and “The 12 Days of Christmas” was as joyful and raucous as ever. The program was intentionally more inclusive. It was great hearing some songs I remember my mother singing in Yiddish played by this wonderful orchestra.
Sometimes the question comes up whether it’s worth supporting orchestras and concert halls like this … and I think of how much we would lose without them. The shine in the eyes of my granddaughter the first time she saw Symphony Hall. For that matter, the shine in my eyes the first time I heard a concert in Carnegie Hall. These places are national treasures. We have so little of our past preserved. I am so grateful we have held onto these precious, beautiful places.
And the music. Oh, the music.
“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ”
― Michael Crichton
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
― Mark Twain
“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero
Don’t you just love pithy quotes? They always get me to thinking, either because I agree … or disagree. Today I went mentally wandering down the pathways of history because someone repeated something I’ve heard a million times before, the ubiquitous quote everyone has heard and at which, we automatically nod in agreement. Everyone says it, so it has to be true, doesn’t it?
“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
― Edmund Burke
Everything that is happening or will ever happen, has happened before. That most people don’t remember and have never read any history is sad. Yet I have come to believe that ignorance of history has little bearing on what we (collectively) do.
I love history. I want other people to love it as much as I do, if for no better reason than to give me more people to talk to who share my passion. As a history buff, I want to believe if people knew history, they would not repeat the same bad behavior, make the same errors as we have made in the past.
I suspect I’m indulging in wishful thinking. We are deluded into thinking that lack of knowledge is the root of evil. But … Hitler (for example) wanted to be Charlemagne or Napoleon. He knew history. He was not unaware. He wanted to rewrite history, stand on its shoulders. Laugh at the past.
Lack of awareness or failure to remember is the symptom, not the problem.
It’s human determination to prove history wrong which is so destructive. More to the point, we — people — want to prove we are above or outside history, not subject to its rules. This stubbornness is at the core of the monstrous, terrible things we do. We keep trying to prove we aren’t subject to the same forces that have directed the past.
Not remembering history does not condemn us to repeat it. Refusing to accept the outcome of history because we want what we want — most particularly in combination with greed, and lust for power, and against all logic and reason — that condemns us.
I read a post about how dreadful (yet gripping) romance novels can be. It’s true. They are the potato chips of the literary world. Bet you can’t consume just one! Even if you don’t like them (and mostly, I don’t, much), they grab you and won’t let you go, even though you know in advance exactly what is going to happen, pretty much from the opening page.
That’s not the point of these books. If as a girl, you read the back of cereal boxes, romance novels are the next step up. I’m not sure what the literary equivalent is for guys, but I’m sure there is one.
As the former editor of the Doubleday Romance Library, I can tell you our research showed readers of romance novels to be far better educated than average readers. Many have advanced degrees in the sciences. They read romance novels exactly because they are mindless pulp. They aren’t looking to be informed or improved, to have their world expanded, reading-level or awareness raised. They want a book they can pick up, read, put down. If life gets in the way, they can just forget them without regret.
I read each 3-book volume, one per month. It contained three romances: 2 modern with a Gothic sandwiched between. Every novel had the same plot, the same outcome. They sold gangbusters.
Regardless of what we, as writers, would like, people don’t necessarily read books because they are good. Me? I often avoid “good” books. I don’t want to go where the book would take me. I’m not stupid or lacking in culture. I just don’t want to read it.
Why? Too depressing, too intense, too serious, too ugly, too educational. Too real. I read for the same reasons I watch TV and movies. To be entertained. I am not seeking enlightenment. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I am no longer seeking enlightenment. If I ain’t enlightened by now, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in this lifetime.
The wondrous thing about the world of books is there are so many books. Enough genres, themes, and styles for anyone. Everyone. An infinity of literature so no matter what your taste –low-brow, high-brow, middle-brow, no-brow — there are thousands of books waiting for you. That’s good. I’d rather see someone reading a bad book than no book.
I’m not a culture snob. I think reading crappy novels is fine if you like them. Watching bad TV is fine too. Snobs take the fun out of reading. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, if you are, that’s fine. Since I love reading about vampires and witches, I’d be a hypocrite to act like your taste is somehow inferior to mine.
These days, I’m rarely in the mood for serious literature. Tastes change with the years. Mine has changed more than most. Life has been a very serious business for me. When I read, watch TV, or see a movie, I am happy to escape from reality.
Finally, my favorite professor at university — a man I believe was profound and wise in every way that counted — was a big fan of Mickey Spillane. He said there was a much truth in his books. I believe for him, there was.
It’s a rerun from last year, when it was the 50th anniversary of the assassination. I’m sorry to say it is no less relevant a year later. It would be a better sign of political health for this country if it were less relevant.
Today is the day. Fifty-one years. I remember. Do you?
It’s weird watching the documentaries commemorating events I remember. It’s the Kennedy assassination this month. Just about every station, network and cable, are doing specials on John F. Kennedy. For us, it’s a trip down memory lane. Or nightmare alley.
I was 13 when Kennedy was elected. I watched the inauguration on television, the first of many inaugurations I would watch. It was the greatest inaugural speech. I was naïve enough to believe he wrote it himself. And I was impressed by his hair, the best hair of any President before or since. Especially after 8 years of President Dwight D. Eisenhower who was very bald.
In 1963 I turned 16 and started college. Kennedy was shot in November and the world changed. I’m sure every person old enough to know what was going on remembers where they were the day they heard the news. The assassination of John F. Kennedy was a landmark event, a turning point in history, a turning point in our personal histories.
I was in the cafeteria at school. I had a cup of tea in my hand and was about to sit. The public address system in the cafeteria went on. There was a lot of noise, but gradually it grew quiet. A news report. It took a few minutes to recognize what they were saying, to form a context. Someone had shot the President.
A few minutes later, everyone fell silent. Hundreds of undergraduates, sitting, standing. No one moving, no one talking. I stood at the table. Frozen. I never sat. I stood in the same spot for over an hour. Clutching that cup of tea, cooling in my hand. Until the voice on the loudspeaker said “President Kennedy is dead. The President is dead.”
Gradually, everyone drifted away. Subdued or silent. I found my boyfriend and we wandered around for a few hours. We didn’t do anything. Just roamed the campus, dazed. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen, not in the United States. Eventually, when it was dark, I went home. My mother wanted to know where I’d been and I said “Just wandering around.” She didn’t believe me. She should have.
Kennedy was “our” president. He looked good. Young, attractive, different. I hadn’t been old enough to vote for him, but I was old enough to know what was happening. I watched the debates. My friends and I discussed it. It was exciting. My mother kept referring to him as “such a young man.” At thirteen, a 43-year old guy didn’t seem so young. Those were the days, eh?
For the better part of the next week, all the channels on television — there were only seven — 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13 — had wall-to-wall coverage of the funeral. Endless replays of the assassination. The subsequent shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. The beginning of the conspiracy theories that still swirl around this piece of history, though at this point I don’t care whodunnit 50 years ago. There are a many unsolved crimes in history. Just add this to the long list.
I went to hang out with a friend. We took long walks to get away from the endless, morbid reiteration of the life and death of John F. Kennedy.
Gradually, life returned to normal, whatever that is. Lyndon Baines Johnson was in office. It was all about civil rights and Vietnam. I finished college, got married, wound up in the hospital and had my first near-death experience. There would be a lot more assassinations in the near future. Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X. I never got used to them, but I stopped being shocked. Which is shocking.
The 1960s were not about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. This was the decade of war, the draft, anti-war protests and civil rights. When flunking out of college meant you were going to Vietnam and maybe you wouldn’t come back. Strange how quickly we forget, replacing history with mythology.
November 22, 1963 was the end of political innocence for everyone, Democrats, Republicans, everyone. An abrupt turning part. The beginning of the road we find ourselves on today.
A president — our president — had been assassinated. Kennedy wasn’t the only U.S. President to be assassinated, but he was the first in modern times. The first TV president. A young, handsome guy. Especially important to my generation, a symbol that the torch really had passed to a new generation. We took that call to arms seriously.
It’s hard for me to look at politics today, see how petty we’ve become. Kennedy’s assassination was an end and a beginning. He was the last President to get a pass on his personal life. The first president to use electronic media to win an election. It was the beginning of a political divide that keeps getting deeper with each passing year.
Politics isn’t about real issues anymore. It’s insinuation, innuendo, and rumor. How narrow-minded and hateful we’ve become. It will pass I suppose. All things do. But when? For more than half a century, we’ve been marching down this ugly road to which I see no end.
THE INCONVENIENT INDIAN – A Curious Account of Native People in North America
By Thomas King
University of Minnesota Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2013
Before starting it, I was a bit dubious about the book. The title seemed just a bit … I don’t know. Off-center? I wasn’t sure if I was about to read history, anecdotes, opinion, humor or what.
It turned out to be all of the above and more. This is an entertaining book — humorous, elegantly written and witty. It’s also serious, but the seriousness is somewhat cloaked by its style. Unlike so many books written by oppressed minorities that aim — almost exclusively — to make one feel guilty for not being one of the oppressed, this book helps you help see the world through the eyes of Native Americans. What we see is beauty, horror and hilarity … a mad world in which you can’t trust anyone and you have to make your own rules because that’s the only way to survive.
We have slaughtered our Native Americans. Hated them, admired, adulated, tortured, enslaved, jailed and utterly misunderstood them since our first encounters.
The single thing we non-Natives have never done is accept the Native American claim to this country as more legitimate than ours. At the core of the relationship between Native peoples and the white “settlers” was and will always be land. It was theirs. We wanted it. We took it. They objected. We killed them. And we kept the land and tried improve our position by slander and slaughter.
These days, feelings towards Native American runs the gamut from awe, to bigotry and loathing. Despite the passing of centuries, there is little understanding. That the Native community is less than eager to let outsiders into their world should surprise no one. Their experience with us has not been reassuring. To quote Calvera from The Magnificent Seven: “Generosity. That was our first mistake.”
For anyone interested in discovering the meaning of cognitive dissonance, growing up Native in today’s America is a good start. Natives are by no means the only minority to have to hold completely incompatible world views simultaneously, but Natives have a legitimate claim to first place for the most cock-eyed and complex relationship with the larger society in which they must live.
This isn’t exactly history. It isn’t exactly not. It’s stories, history, opinions and anecdotes presented in a non-linear, almost conversational style. It is easy to read, lively and not at all pretentious. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, but probably will. Logic would dictate that our Native population regard us with at the very least, skepticism and possibly deep-rooted hostility.
This isn’t a deep analysis of the history of this relationship, though for some I suppose it would be revelatory. I would call it “Native American History Lite.” It is a good starting place for those who don’t know anything — or know a lot of things, all of which are wrong.
About the author:
Thomas King is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, scriptwriter, and photographer. His many books include the novels Medicine River; Green Grass, Running Water; Truth and Bright Water; two short story collections, One Good Story, That One (Minnesota, 2013) and A Short History of Indians in Canada (Minnesota, 2013); nonfiction, The Truth About Stories (Minnesota, 2005); and the children’s books A Coyote Columbus Story, Coyote Sings to the Moon, Coyote’s New Suit, and A Coyote Solstice Tale. King edited the literary anthology All My Relations and wrote and starred in the popular CBC radio series, The Dead Dog Café. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Western American Literary Association (2004) and an Aboriginal Achievement Award (2003), and was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2004. He has taught Native literature and history and creative writing at the University of Lethbridge, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Guelph and is now retired and lives in Guelph, Ontario.
Worthwhile in any format.
World War I (WWI) officially began on July 28, 1914, though its real beginnings were rooted in events beginning decades, even centuries earlier. An ugly, devastating war consisting of 4 years of slaughter ending on November 11, 1918, they day we celebrate today.
The official number of military casualties is 22,477,500 killed, wounded, or missing in action. The combined number of military and civilian casualties is more than 37 million. If, as I do, you consider World War II as chapter two of the same conflict, the number of dead becomes even more incomprehensible.
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has celebrates Veteran’s Day each year, usually by inviting historians and military people to do introductions and closing comments on war films. General Wesley Clark has been doing TCM’s commentaries, most recently for Oh! What a Lovely War.
He referred to the movie as a musical comedy. While it has amusing moments, calling it a musical comedy doesn’t cut it. If comedy can be dark, this is totally black. It’s also surprisingly informative. I can date my interest in World War I and modern American history to having seen this movie when it was released in 1969.
In his closing comments following the movie, General Clark said he hoped we had learned our lesson from this and all the other wars of the past century. I turned to Garry and said, “And what lesson, exactly, might that be?”
“Obviously,” said my husband, making a sour face, “We have learned nothing.”
I agree. Well, we did learn a few things, though nothing good. We learned to build more lethal weapons. We can kill more people faster than we did 100 years ago. Much of our military technology emerged during and post-WWI.
I don’t see this as progress. If you want to know why I’m so cynical, why I have trouble believing in a benign deity, look at the casualty figures from the collective wars of the past century.
I love this movie. Not only because of its historical veracity — it’s accurate — but because the music is wonderful. The cast includes everyone who was anyone in British cinema at the time — Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, Ralph Richardson and more, all having a great time.
I’ve seen this many times and I guess so has Garry since we can both know the words to all the songs. Very catchy.
Directed by Richard Attenborough (his directorial début)
Until I saw this movie, I didn’t get the connection between poppies and World War I.
All I knew was that veterans organizations gave red poppies to people when they donated money, but I had no idea why. After you see this movie, you will never forget why.
I originally saw “Oh! What a Lovely War” when it was released in 1969. It’s World War I — in song, dance and irony. Its catchy score sticks in your brain.
The songs were sung by the troops and the cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen in the 1960s. The credits are a who’s-who of English actors.
World War I is hard to understand. Its causes are rooted in old world grudges that make no sense to Americans. So many ancient hatreds — thousands of years of scores to be settled.
My mother summed it: “Everyone was armed to the teeth. They wanted war. They just needed an excuse. Europe was a giant bomb waiting for someone to light a match.”
Hers may be as good an answer as any other. When the war began, it was the old world. The crowned heads of Europe ruled. When it finally ground to a halt in 1918, the world had changed beyond recognition. The European monarchies were gone. A generation of men had been slaughtered. The death toll was beyond belief. The callous indifference to loss of life by those in command remains incomprehensible.
More than 9 million men were killed in battle. This does not include collateral damage to non-combatants and death by disease or starvation. It paved the way for major political upheaval throughout the world.
Says the movie at the beginning: “The principal statements made by the historical characters in this film are based on documentary evidence, and the words of the songs are those sung by the troops during the First World War.”
The first World War could be called an orchestrated, organized international effort to murder a generation of men. They did a good job.
The statements of the historical characters — all lodged a safe distance from the fighting — are ludicrous. General Haig, looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really said: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? He said it. And meant it.
The arrival of the Americans and their takeover of the endless war — bringing it to a conclusion while there was still something left to save — is a great cinematic moment. I wonder how long it would have gone on without American involvement? Would Europe exist or would it all be a wasteland?
The war is told with music and dancing. Songs mixed with pithy comments from generals, kings, Kaisers and soldiers. It’s a long movie — 144 minutes — and I can promise you that you will have a far better and more visceral understanding of this war and what those little red poppies the Veterans organizations give out (do they still do that?) to commemorate the war to end all wars. Until the next war. And the one after that.
The music is ghastly, funny, catchy. The movie is out of print. It was only in print for a couple of months. I had been looking for it for a long time and was thrilled to snag a copy. A few copies are still available through Amazon. If you are a history buff and love great movies, grab one.
Great directing, biting sarcastic humor, terrific music and informative, this movie is in a category all by itself. It was unavailable for more than 20 years. You won’t be disappointed and you won’t forget it. In the 45 years since I first saw it, I haven’t forgotten it.
If you are willing to pay an exorbitant price, Amazon has a few copies here.