By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. Please note the date: Saturday October 13 for this is
the opening of the Christmas preparation season for 2012. Archeologists and cultural historians will be grateful to me in years hence when they get their government grants and write their learned tomes about the whys and wherefores of Christmas in this our particular era. Yes, I say they will be glad to have each salient fact, observation and deduction gathered by yours truly and herewith shared with the world.
For we are talking about the most joyous event of the Christian year, Christmas, and its preparations, staggering for some, meagre and tardy for others, but all acknowledging that this is and continues to be an event of significance to each of us.
How was October 13 selected as the commencement date for this event? Easy! It was the first day when your observant author was assailed by not one but a series of “the Christmas season has commenced” portents, signs which might easily be dismissed were there but one or even two, but which in their concerted numbers make it clear that the great count-down to Christmas, with its traditions, meanings, songs, poems, foods, displays, sentiments, travels, resolutions, friends, observances has now commenced in earnest and for the next 71 days until the day itself your life will be affected, influenced, shaped and to a greater or lesser extent determined by what our fellow travelers do or don’t do, buy or don’t buy, wear, stand in line, decorate… or don’t wear, stand in line, or decorate.
In other words, because of the birth of a child you may or may not believe was the Son of God your life and all its prosaic concerns and tasks will be hi-jacked; weeks of your life will be less yours, significantly influenced and directed by others you don’t know, will never meet, but who are nonetheless powers over you, determined you should listen to them… or else.
The first portents.
The thing about portents, that is a clue to future occurrences, is that they must for maximum impact take you completely unaware. One moment you’re doing such and such a task; considering such and such a thing; talking about such and such a topic. Then the portent arrives, preferably delivered by one or more appropriate gods of Olympus, all of whom seem to traffic in the dicey business of portents, omens, divinations, and auguries. The portent (often obscure and therefore more amusing to its deity deliverer) having arrived, pushes other quotidian topics to the bottom of your consciousness, pulling out the rug on what you were focused on a moment ago and substituting quite a different agenda.
Yesterday, October 13 mind, these portents arrived thick and fast; itself a sign that a seismic moment had arrived; actung! stop what you’re doing and pay attention. And unless you’re that hapless noodle the bored and therefore capricious gods have determined to make even more hapless and miserable, you do pay attention. Thus does your life cease to be as much yours as it was just a moment before. The gods know this, but they have kept this insightful observation for their own delectation and benefit ere now. They wouldn’t dream of imparting this intelligence to you; “free will” for humans being one of the most potent and popular of their shrewd devices for controlling the not so sapiens homo.
Let me make one thing clear, for sharing this with you I shall be persona non grata at Olympus tonight, for if mankind knew just how little true freedom their gods have allowed us, there would be such a revolution as has never been even imagined before, much less consummated. And the gods would surely have to make concessions, or they would never regain exalted position and control… and what would their excellencies do then to amuse themselves at our expense?
What is your portent saying?
Portents must be clear but capable of complete misunderstanding. In other words, when reviewing an event that could be a portent, two reasonably intelligent people must be capable of drawing two dramatically different conclusions, for a portent is not a directive… not a declaration… if it were the gods would be most unhappy… for if their signs could be so easily read by everyone the muddles beloved of these ancient deities would cease and the gods who already have to wrestle with the matter that is eternity…would fall into even deeper despair; for they already have too little to do and far too much time in which to do it. Remember, their irritation, ennui and pique become the basis for our misery. No wonder
they don’t want us to know.
Christmas portents by the hour.
The gods realize humans are short sighted, careless, capable of massive confusions and misunderstandings. Thus, the game becomes determining the precise formula that will give us clues (but not too many) and insight (but not too much). Even the Olympian gods are not born knowing these things; they must learn. And they do so at our expense, for what are we humans for if not to provide the wherewithal for their education and expertise?
We are just so many lab rats to divinity. Nice work if you can get it.
Store sightings, catalogs, email.
The first shop in my neighborhood to deck the halls was the smoking shop in Harvard Square. Given the fact that teen-age smoking has dropped dramatically; thereby proving that even heedless adolescents can get the message if we adults have the patience and deliberation to beat them about the head with it.
As a result, the revenues at the smoking shop have most probably dropped… whilst their Harvard-charged rent has undoubtedly done the reverse. It is therefore obvious why they want to weigh in with a cheery seasonable greeting and display. “Give the gift of cancer.”
Even the most knowledgeable of advertising executives might think twice before taking on this daunting account. Still, there they are, hoping that the dwindling number of young smokers will purchase their diminished life span from them, especially if they can do so in the name of Jesus, who promised the eternal life the smoking shop is doing so much
to curtail. Cool.
Catalog temptation (and ease) by mail and the ‘net.
Stores like the smoking shop need to lure you into their premises as early as possible before Christmas; their continuing survival depends on it. But catalogs live to remind you how difficult and irksome store shopping is in the age of catalogs and ‘net. Simply mentioning the invading hordes, the unending lines, the harassed staff, the parking difficulties is usually enough to tip the scales to catalog shopping online and off. That persuaded me. As a result the last several years such shopping constitutes all my shopping.
The problem is the proliferation of mail-order Christmas catalogs, especially after you become a proven buyer. Then you may expect to hear from each catalog at least 3-4 times before their last frenzied promotion, hitting about December 15. All prophesy consumer distress if you fail to ACT NOW, visit their website and ORDER!
But here the retail stores re-emerge as they reap the considerable advantages deriving from procrastinators like you. At this point you will most assuredly wish you had heeded their October warning. You will pledge to do better next year. You won’t, of course. And so you’ll keep your name on every list; a portent of things to come, especially purchases you’re
sure to make. They know that, even if you don’t.
Polishing the silver.
In my house there is one certain activity that indicates the coming of Christmas. That is polishing the silver. It is a very time-consuming task, taking a couple of days. Mercedes Joseph, so giving and warm in all her aspects, will take these traits and leave the silver burnished into eye-popping radiance. It’s a significant part of our invitation to the Prince of Peace, an invitation that will see us clambering up step ladders to clean the chandeliers in all the rooms to ensure that all is brilliant and every facet sparkles. So that there is not a single molecule of tracked in dirt or bunched carpet. We work hard to make it perfect; we work early and late to make it perfect… and we do it all because of the advent of this harbinger of our salvation; because we will do it, not because anyone tells us what to do or oversees our efforts, evaluating what we do.
We do it, because this is Christmas and the greatest gift we give is our voluntary adherence and a belief that starts in our hearts and has no ending whatsoever.
That is why October 13, I awoke to the strains of my favorite carol running through my head, “God rest you merry, gentlemen/Let nothing you dismay”, first released in 1760. In an instant I find Bing Crosby’s 1945 version; then in a search engine one other version after another, including a rendition by “Barenaked Ladies” (2004). Only the very young can find the sniggering humor in such sophomoric nomenclature, but today I don’t care.
For you see, every off key note I sing proves that I have become a portent myself of the great event en route “For Jesus Christ our Savior/Was born upon this Day”, and we rejoice in the Good News passed from me and mine, to you and yours, to a burdened world which needs “tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy”, the true meaning of Christmas and why we gentlemen and gentlewomen rest merry and shall remain so long past the day and season itself.