Saturday, November 15, 2003

Right then, before I forget, here is my all time favourite FFC for Webbo...No.3.

Forgive me if my prose is a trifle jaded today but I was up all night. Not through choice, unfortunately, but with an incredible pain where my skull joins the spine and which intensifies to an excruciating degree whenever I assume a horizontal position. Imagine the worst hangover you've ever had, multiply it by the number you first thought of and you will still have no idea. I'm stuffed to the gills with muscle relaxants and prescription painkillers whose mg count is into 4 figures and the biggest decision I will be faced with today is whether or not to ensure all my affairs are in order and add alcohol to the mix.

Anyway, it did give me an opportunity of catching up with posts on the various SUFC message boards and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the spirit of "Bah! Humbug!" is as alive and well on Viewpoints as it ever was. Images of London Blades taking out neon illuminations with a wide selection of firearms sit rather easily with my own idea of what the christmas spirit should be about. Anarchy and bacchanalia run rampant. "Squeezing Sponges over Policemen's Heads" would be an appropriate soundtrack to this but I digress.

If you think you've got it bad over there in the Old Country, and you undoubtedly have, spare a thought for us poor buggers over here in Central (German influenced) Europe who, at this time of year get hit with a double whammy. Okay, I might be one of the few Englishmen who can get through an entire Yuletide without having their senses assaulted by Slade upon entering any High Street Emporium or hostelry, and I seem to recall some appalling and interminable Woolworths ads as well, but I will have to go through the whole shang-a-lang on two separate occasions. Two times. Twice.

It's this whole Father Winter bit you see. Now, without wanting to bore your bottoms off with too much detail, what we call christmas was originally, like easter, a pagan shebang at which our pre-christian forebears would shuck off their skins and engage in a bacchanalian bonk-fest to celebrate (get that...CELEBRATE!) mid-winter. You know, a from here on in it's a downhill ride to spring kinda thing.

There now follows the only bit of Kan conjecture in this entire narrative. Now, if we accept that the tradition of the May Queen is also a hangover from the pagan rites of celebrating fertility and renewal round about easter time, it doesn't take too great a leap of faith to imagine a Father Winter type character figuring in their winter whoop-de-do.

And then what? Back on solid ground now. Along come the first christian missionaries and did what christian missionaries have always done. Seen what fun the natives were having getting down to the serious business of celebrating the cycles of life and started figuring out how to put a stop to it. Running parallel to this abhorrence of all things involving heat (notice that christ imagery is always warmth) was an intense and scheming desire to implant their own religion, a dry, arid, eastern, desert religion amongst the fertile forests and rampant greenery of Europe.

And what better way to do this than to suborn the pagan festivals into christian ones? Now, I'm sure the Romans obviously just stumbled across an empire stretching all the way up to Hadrian's wall without a bureaucracy capable of the intellectual leap required to realise that the middle of winter might not be the best time to hold their census, and seeing as all archaeological evidence points to it being in the summer months, hey...what the hell? Christ's birthday...job's a good 'un.

And, the worst cut of all. One of the old pagan deities was a nature god who lives on in the English language as Robin Goodfellow, the Old Man of the Woods and even in pub names such as the Green Man. Thing was, he traditionally was a kind of Pan type figure, part human and part horny old goat and what did the bastards do to him? Only turn him into the horned, tailed and cloven hooved popular image of the devil is all.

And just in case you are still harbouring doubts as to the verity of all this, just consider easter. If you can show me the christian connection to any of the following, I might just listen to your arguments. Painted eggs, rabbits, phallic maypoles and the central European practice of the men and boys of a community sprinkling perfumed water on the women and girls whilst reciting such obviously pious rhymes as...

Red eggs, blue eggs
I've also got two eggs
Up with your skirt
Down with your pants
I'd like to sprinkle your rabbit

and receiving brightly coloured eggs and a shot of palinka in return.

And to judge just how successful they were in all this, just try popping down to your local library and try researching your pre-christian heritage and see how far you get. Druids? Don't make me laugh. Bit o' pansy dancing and new age mumbo jumbo around stone circles at summer solstice does not an unbroken pagan tradition make.

Anyway, to return to the Father Winter character. Well, he was transformed into St Niclaus amongst the germanic tribes and was probably imported into England by that fount of our present genetically challenged royal family, Prince Albert, as St Nicholas, Santa Claus or Father Christmas.

And herein lies the double whammy. In Germany and here in Hungary, Mikulas has his own day, the 6th of December and it is on the evening of the fifth that Father Christmas shins down the chimney to give the children their first lesson in the triumph of hope over experience.

The birth of christ however is celebrated on the evening of the 24th when children are suckered out of the house, one parent mysteriously disappears and the kids return to a decorated tree under which are presents the delivery of which was, and get this, the responsibility of the baby Jesus.

So, take whatever it is you are experiencing at the present time and imagine having to go through it all again three weeks later. You've never 'ad it so good!

Anyway, even if we accept that the christians acted in good faith, then exactly what is left of their festival today? A spiritual reflection on the meaning of the birth of a man in whom the one true god supposedly paid us the ultimate compliment of finding out exactly what it is to be human and suffer the same shit as the rest of us and who taught us to love our neighbour...?

The amount of spirituality we are prepared to dish out is calculated to a nicety bordering on the scientific...20 quids' worth for Uncle Tommy, 16 for Auntie Glad and what can we get ferra fiver for second cousin Edward twice removed? Cant, hypocrisy and more than a whiff of mendacity in the air, wouldn't you agree?

It's all heading towards where the americans have already gone. The family holiday route. values...Victoria...Margaret bloody Thatcher...god save us from family values! Fratricide, matricide, wife-beating and incest have, to my knowledge, never taken place outside a family environment and most cases of children being battered tend to happen within one as well. There is nothing quite like a family for inspiring and nurturing feelings of jealousy, spitefulness, vindictiveness and just plain nastiness. And it all takes place behind closed doors, away from prying eyes and when it does eventually explode we get the "Oooh! And he seemed such a nice man!" and "She brought it all on herself, you know...the little baggage." Family values? I've shat 'em.

"Bah! Humbug!" to christmas. Mind you, if there's any o' that mulled wine or hot toddy goin' spare, I'll join you in raising a glass or few to the memory of the Green Man. I'm sure Bacchus would grant his full approval.

And, as a postscript, I've just dredged this little anecdote out of my archives and feel it would be rather appropriate to include it here in full.

"There is a story that St Augustine persuaded an English king to turn Christian when sitting with him in a great hall having a Christmas feast - it wouldn't have been called a Christmas feast, it would have been called a Yuletide wassail, I expect - it was a big winter do, that's the point. As was common in those days before Magnet and Southern sliding patio doors, the party was going with a swing. A great fire crackled in the log, a great log crackled in the fire, and a log fire crackled in the grate. All was glee and revel. The only ventilation provided took the form of two holes high up on either end of the roof.

Of a sudden, or 'suddenly' as we say in England, a bird flew in through one of the holes in the wall, fluttered about for a bit and flew out through the other. The King, we shall call him Boddlerick, because I have no intention of hauling my great corse up the stairs to look it up, who was accounted something of a philosopher, turned to Augustine, his strangely berobed and behaloed guest, and said unto him these words, in this wise: 'Behold, strangely berobed and behaloed guest! Is not our life like that of this poor bird. From the dark and howling void we came, cast suddenly into a world of colour and warmth and light, of music and mirth and merriment, briefly to flutter our baffled wings in alarm, only to be pitched back into the eternal cold and dark again?'

A good analogy, you'd have thought. Worthy of Jonathan Miller himself. But Augustine was having none of it. 'No, no, sire, majesty, liege,' he countered, 'you have it entirely the wrong way round. Our lives are dark passages in the stream of light that is God's love. To those who know God, through the window is paradise.'

Instead of telling Augustine not to be such a silly old ninny and to get another skinful of rude mead and another eyeful of rude dancer, this fat-headed king liked what he heard and fell bell, book and candle for the whole funky Christian groove thing. This country and its Christmasses have been damned ever since. Because, from that wretched day on, the world and its colour and music and light are things which we have had to write crawling thank-you letters to God for until we die. As little children sprawled before the lap of Father Christmas Almighty we cannot even enjoy the gifts of the world without guilt, shame, terror and gibbering gratitude.

So bog off St Gussie and roll on Boddlerick, say I. It's cold and dark and loveless outside, and this is as good as it ever gets. So let's feed the poor now, because their reward is NOT in heaven, let's drop ash on the carpet, slob around in our dressing gowns, mull wine all day long, watch television lying on our tummies, forget our thank-you letters to granny and God and have a ripping good time.

But let's not do it on Christmas day. Let's do it every damned day, for ever and ever Amen."

Thank-you, Stephen. I couldn't have said it better myself.

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