Saturday, November 30, 2013

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas, way too soon in my book

Today I drove to Baltimore and spent the day visiting some friends, going to a "Farewell/Open House" and buying my Christmas cards from the All Saints Monastery in Catonsville.  Actually , I drove all over... off the Beltway into Catonsville and out the the Monastery, then up Ingleside Avenue and Forest Park Avenue, over to our house in Windsor Hills, then out Garrison Boulevard and Belvedere and Northern Parkway, over to York Road to Ryan's Daughter ( a pub and restaurant), then home, via Lake Avenue, Falls Road,  up through the Green Spring Valley, to Glyndon, then back via Westminster.
Why the detail?  Because I was amazed at the number of cars I saw with Christmas trees trussed up and tied to their roofs, like large moose.  I was glad to see so many people still using real trees... but so early! Tomorrow is the first of December!  Not only that, the yards of so many are already decked out with Christmas lights and those terrible inflated snowmen and reindeer.

It hit me that in this country, Christmas begins immediately after Thanksgiving, and certainly by the first of December.  I guess this has been going on for some time, and I've only just noticed.

What an old codger I am getting to be.  I don't expect to see all this until at least the fifteenth of the month.  In my childhood, my parents ( my mother, really - my dad was not into Christmas decorating at all) put the tree up and decorated it with me about the 17th of December.

But really, tomorrow is the First Sunday of Advent.  If we were really purists, we wouldn't decorate until the 24th, and then keep celebrating until at least the sixth of January... even until the second of February.    But we don't.

I confess that I am now listening to my favorite Christmas music, for I love this music and will listen to it every day until about the sixth of January, glad to have a month or more to listen to it. 

Apparently this commercialization has been a concern for quite some time.I found this poem by the British poet John Betjeman, from 1955:

Advent 1955
John Betjeman

The Advent wind begins to stir
With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,
It's dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
And in between we only see
Clouds hurrying across the sky
And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry
And branches bending to the gale
Against great skies all silver pale
The world seems travelling into space,
And travelling at a faster pace
Than in the leisured summer weather
When we and it sit out together,
For now we feel the world spin round
On some momentous journey bound -
Journey to what? to whom? to where?
The Advent bells call out 'Prepare,
Your world is journeying to the birth
Of God made Man for us on earth.'

And how, in fact, do we prepare
The great day that waits us there -
For the twenty-fifth day of December,
The birth of Christ? For some it means
An interchange of hunting scenes
On coloured cards, And I remember
Last year I sent out twenty yards,
Laid end to end, of Christmas cards
To people that I scarcely know -
They'd sent a card to me, and so
I had to send one back. Oh dear!
Is this a form of Christmas cheer?
Or is it, which is less surprising,
My pride gone in for advertising?
The only cards that really count
Are that extremely small amount
From real friends who keep in touch
And are not rich but love us much
Some ways indeed are very odd
By which we hail the birth of God.

We raise the price of things in shops,
We give plain boxes fancy tops
And lines which traders cannot sell
Thus parcell'd go extremely well
We dole out bribes we call a present
To those to whom we must be pleasant
For business reasons. Our defence is
These bribes are charged against expenses
And bring relief in Income Tax
Enough of these unworthy cracks!
'The time draws near the birth of Christ'.
A present that cannot be priced
Given two thousand years ago
Yet if God had not given so
He still would be a distant stranger
And not the Baby in the manger.

So it was happening in England , too.  And here's a photo of a mall in Berlin, Germany:

The Betjeman poem I really love is this one, which was also probably written in the mid-fifties:

Christmas by John Betjeman
The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine. 

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