Another column that just sort of wrote itself. I had no idea where I was going, originally thinking to simply take a moment and thank all and sundry for various things - and then suddenly I was going on about Puritans and such (do you even remember the uproar that surrounded the release of the first Harry Potter film?), and before I knew it my little Thanksgiving column had become a Christmas column as well!



("ghost written" by Bartholemew)


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 Thanksgiving.

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 the Puritans.

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 followed.

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 Hawthorne.

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, long gone.

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 Potter.

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 Special Gift.

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: Of Course!

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 problems.

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 similar.

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.