Impossible - is it that
time of year already???? Why, just days ago the Dodgers
were starting their season, we were putting out the flag for
its once a year stint during Independence Day (well, thrice
if you throw in Memorial and Labor Days), the sun was hot
and the days were long.
Just days ago . . .
And yet, here we are - the
Holiday season! As you all must know by now, these final two
months of the year are especially dear to me, and always have
been. From the precursory hauntings of All Hallow's Eve, through
the shortening days as we try to get the jump on the holiday
shopping season, to the glorious warmth of the plentiful feast
and plentiful gathering of Family that is Thanksgiving, and finally
to that merriest old month of months, December, this mini-season
that ends the year does something to me.
Unfortunately for you, I usually
end up writing about that "something", and you, my
poor, long suffering readers, must endure the chore of reading
all about it.
And yet, I have not been run
out of town on a rail. Therefore, I continue to take advantage
of your better natures and assail you with all sorts of overly-sentimental
remembrances, teary eyed platitudes, and so on and so forth.
And you allow it.
Hence the title of this column.
I hereby say "Thanks!" to each and every one of you
for allowing me to exist, for certainly without folk to read
these words, it would not take very long for said words to vanish
into thin air, never to be recalled. I am grateful more than
you can know to have this little soap box month after month to
jot down - well, to jot down just about whatever strange little
thoughts leap out of my head unbidden, scampering away from me
and around and around the desk, and finally landing right here,
right on this screen, or printed page. Knowing there are actual,
living people out there who really read this stuff is edifying
beyond my ability to describe.
And thus, of course, I am grateful
beyond words to Uncle Mike, who tirelessly maintains this website,
getting this column online at the speed of light, even when the
column on more occasions than I would care to admit gets to him
at the speed of tortoise. I always enjoy checking out the
online version immediately, as he invariably finds some perfectly
appropriately graphics and links to augment what I've written.
And so of course a big old
"Thanks!" to She who you call Sheryl, and I call Mom
(we've called each other other names but I don't think we need
go there). Mom started the store in the first place, envisioned
the Newsletter, and enabled me to create my little soap box that
has now been in place for a little over fifteen years.
So, to all . . .
Now, at this festive time of
year, we are initially burrowing out of our respective Halloween
cobwebs, realizing to our chagrin that the Holiday Shopping Season
is upon us. We have undoubtedly learned by now that waiting
till after Thanksgiving to shop for presents is somewhat futile,
as the sales begin to disappear and the stock becomes non-existent
far quicker than we would ever have imagined, and we therefore
begin to shop, to buy, to search for things for those hard-to-shop-for
loved ones, cursing said loved ones all the while, and then .
Well, and then perhaps something
happens. At some point, perhaps, a small random act of kindness
surprises us out of our worries. A driver letting you into the
lane (trust me, it does happen once in awhile), a particularly
friendly store clerk, who knows . . . perhaps on some magical
day the weather turns, unexpectedly, a bit of unlooked for mist
descends, or a wind from nowhere sends autumn leaves dancing
about your feet . . . maybe something no more than a certain
scent that brings back memories of an ancient day, a loved one
now departed, a special time you'd somehow lost track of in your
day to day flurry of hurry . . .
It could be anything, but at
some point, somewhere, somehow, the magic of the Season will
get you, when you least expect it, if you let it.
And hopefully it gets you before
Ah, wonderful Thanksgiving!
No gifts, yet, no ulterior motives for the gathering - outside
of a presumably sumptuous feast, that is - and yet the clan gathers,
the family discards old rivalries to embrace new revelries, to
delight in each other, to happily overlook those shortcomings
we each possess that somehow endear us to each other all the
more, and to remember how much we have to be thankful for.
I, as folklorist, am always
thankful for those traditions from our ancient past that seem
to yet endure.
Currently, I am thankful for
Now, you will recall from past
Thanksgiving columns that the Puritans were not the original
settlers who came over on the Mayflower. The original pilgrims,
though a somewhat disliked religious minority in England, were
not nearly so austere, and in fact wore brightly colored clothing
and were by comparison at least a bit more tolerant.
The Puritans, however, soon
Now, it is somewhat interesting
to me that those groups who were the first to emigrate to America
due to religious persecution at home became by and large more
intolerant of other religious groups than their English
brethren had ever been. It's almost as if, rather than seeking
a place of freedom, they were coming here to create a new religious
State where their own philosophy would reign supreme, at the
expense of all others. In these currently all-too-interesting
times, where we are seeing the evil that results from such Religious
States, I don't want to talk too much about that.
For the Puritans, intolerant
as they might have been, are so indelibly woven into the birth
of this country that to ignore them at Thanksgiving would be
to carve fully one third (at least) of our folkloric and sociological
history away, to consign that same fraction of our past to the
waste lands, to ignore, and, at our peril, to forget.
As a young schoolboy, I used
to love drawing those Puritans, those stern men with huge belt
buckles, the women with their remarkable headgear, the great
geometric perfection of black on white, just so . . .
it was good fun. The Puritans, coming soon after the initial
Plymouth Rock colonists, built New England, and dominated Massachusetts.
They were fairly rigid in their idea of how to worship, and
indeed forbade the celebration of Christmas for a century, and
had been ostracized in England for such intolerance, but they
absolutely define the 1600's in America, and indeed it
cannot be denied that the single-mindedness of soul and spirit
resulting from such severe spiritual demeanor was a boon in the
travails they had to have faced as they created their own civilization
out of a frequently harsh wilderness.
That being said, they were
not so nice to other religious groups who followed, presumably
to find their own niche of space in the new Paradise.
Early on, a hedonistic group
of British pagans set up camp not too far from the Puritans,
and built a society based on delightful revelry and communing
with nature. They would reenact the old druidic rituals, most
specifically the dancing around the May Pole. They called their
settlement Merry Mount. An American author of note once related
how the Puritans finally came to Merry Mount, and destroyed the
town, hauling such denizens allowed to live back to town, to
be jailed, and to repent.
Later, this same author would
produce more than one account of the terrible fates that befell
the Quakers, who were equally disliked by the Puritans.
Now, persecution of other minority
religions only goes so far, but the worst was yet to come. At
the end of the Puritan century, as you must know, we come to
the Witch Hunts, a period where a large number of innocent, though
possibly occasionally deranged people were burned at the stake
due to idle accusations that they had been practicing Witchcraft.
Naturally, later generations
denounced the actions of their forbears, and indeed it was a
direct descendent of one of the judges at the Witch Trials who
gave us the tales of Merry Mount and the Quakers: Nathaniel
Still, though the present may
apologize for the sins of the past, one cannot deny that those
stern, superstitious Puritans, were, from a folkloric point of
view, quite a lot of fun.
Oh, I could fill a year's worth
of columns with their antics! Sadly, they are now, of course,
Or are they?
I am delighted to report, history
buff that I am, that Puritanism seems to have been reborn in
our own days, as if it had never left. For, in the late 1990's,
an entity emerged, one so formidable and presumably evil as to
prompt quickly formed committees throughout America to demand
its removal from libraries, from classrooms, even from discussion.
What terrible thing could this
be, to cause such an uproar? A new Antichrist, perhaps? Some
forgotten heir to Crowley, seeking to revive devil worship?
A serial killer?
It was an eleven year old boy,
folks. In point of fact, it was a fictional eleven year
old boy, who appeared a few years ago in a children's book that
has since captured the imagination of young and old alike as
no book since "Lord of the Rings" (forget that analogy,
we'll be going there soon enough) . . .
I refer, of course, to Harry
Now, if you've not read these
delightful books, I would advise you to stop reading this and
go find the first one ("Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
Stone"), and begin. And then see the film. If you insist
on remaining, in order to bring you up to speed, let me simply
state that the premise of the Potter books is that there is a
secret community that dwells among us, invisible, comprised of
those humans lucky enough to have Magic powers. Some get these
powers by inheritance, but many born to Muggles (i.e. ordinary
humans with no such powers) may have them too. Harry, who is
indeed endowed with more such powers than most, nonetheless spends
his first eleven years not knowing, raised by step-parents who
treat him terribly, so that as he reaches his eleventh birthday
(unmarked, naturally, by said horrible step-parents) he feels
fairly worthless, good for nothing.
Yep, it's the Cinderella thing,
the Superman thing, the Ugly Duckling thing, the magic thing
that hits all of us at an early age when we find that special
tale that tells of someone Just Like Us who, seemingly stuck
in a rut of average no-goodness, is suddenly made aware of a
The obvious analogy being,
of course, the unlooked for discovery of the power of our imagination,
the ability for us to express ourselves, to do, to paint, to
write, to be, and as such to become a unique quantity
unlike any other.
Thus magic serves as an all
too obvious allegory for creativity.
No wonder this series has taken
the world by a storm.
However, because the inhabitants
of Harry Potter's world are apprentice witches and wizards, there
are those who decry the books as an apology for devil worship.
Why, it's like we're still
back in the 1690's . . .
And so I am thankful. It is
absolutely amazing that such superstitious, narrow-headed thinking
could have survived over three centuries! I want to seek out
some of these neo-Puritans and study them . . .
The question thus begged, of
course, is: is Harry Potter evil? To that, I would answer:
Harry Potter is every bit as
evil as the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Halloween, almost
every character in the Grimm Fairy Tales and/or the Disney animated
films, and, of course, Santa Claus.
Oh dear, that name. Yes, dear
readers, I must confess: this is not just a Thanksgiving column,
after all. It's Two - Two - Two Columns in One! For this particular
season seems to run together, and it is impossible for me on
this particular year to separate the joys of November from the
Saturnalian delights of December.
And if Harry Potter is evil,
then so is Santa, and so are all elves, fairies, dwarfs, etc.
To say nothing of Hobbits .
For come mid-November the first
Harry Potter movie will be with us, and may well set an all-time
attendance record (deservedly so) - but come mid-December the
first Lord of the Rings movie will hit - and . . .
Let's just say that this is
a really, really good time to be a kid.
What? How can I possibly say
such a thing? With all the terrible troubles and tragedies,
with a War on, with terrorism afoot, how on earth could anyone
put forth such a ludicrous proposition?
Imagine, as if this could be
possibly construed as a great time to be a kid.
Well, give me a month, and
then ask any kid. They'll tell you.
Now, granted, most of my Christmas
columns have dealt with that era during which I myself was a
kid. I loved that time, the early 60's, and still look back
wistfully. But, of course, it was a simpler, safer time.
Let's see . . .
Christmas '62 - one of my faves:
Mr Magoo premiered, the "Show Boat" toy appeared,
oh, what a happy time!
We were at the time just over
the Cuban Missile Crisis, still the closest the world has ever
come to blowing up. I, at the time, was somewhat ignorant, though
I'd noticed there were more "drop drills" than before.
Christmas '63 - I got to play
Tiny Tim! An extraordinary Christmas for me, yet the assassination
of President Kennedy was still fresh on everyone's mind . . .
Christmas '64 - Lots of fun,
plus the premiere of the animated "Rudolph the Red Nosed
Reindeer", and yet as we celebrated President Johnson was
preparing to move an extraordinary number of American soldiers
into some place called Vietnam . . .
You see, when you're a kid,
you're a kid. Things that happen in the Big World are sometimes
noteworthy, sometimes ignored, though occasionally something
touches you (such as Kennedy's assassination, or for many current
kids the Twin Towers tragedy). However, kids are resilient,
and, most importantly, they trust we adults to handle the bigger
Message to all fellow adults:
Let's handle the bigger problems, and let's pray for a future
where the kids of today don't have to deal with anything remotely
And is that not the ever present,
eternal prayer of Christmas? To wish for Peace, Peace to all
of Good Will? Bad things do tend to happen - why else would
we need these yearly rituals to renew our bonds, our love, our
hopes, prayers and joy in what we have? Let us strive to leave
this world better than we found it, and let us have an abundance
of turkey as well . . .
A friend recently remarked,
during a discussion of the upcoming holidays, how she wasn't
sure how festive they were likely to be.
I laughed. Uproariously.
"My God!" I said.
"This year, we need the holidays more than ever!"
And so we do.
And so, Peace on Earth.
To all of you.