Saturday, December 26, 2009


I got carried away with my own rhetoric in that last post. I didn't mean to give the impression I don't dig Christmas. The exact opposite is true. I was just referring to the mixed feelings holidays arouse.

But I love Christmas—or the idea of it and the chance to celebrate that idea again each year—so much that I can listen to some Christmas music anytime. My 12-year-old got in the habit of falling asleep to that Vince Giraldi trio recording of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS every night, so I fall asleep to its strains as well, or work at my desk to it, or just have it in my head most nights, and I've yet to grow tired of it. The melodies and artistry still give me pleasure after so many repetitive hearings.

I feel the same way about a lot of other classic Christmas recordings, like Nat King Cole's "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" etc. And I love the lights that people and stores and municipalities put up. And getting a tree (we got ours late this year because of my operation etc. and chose a smaller tree, but my little guy can now carry it and put it up without any help from me!) and decorating it (seeing all the old familiar family heirlooms of family history no matter how broken the families might be or have been, remembering ones now gone, incorporating new ones given as gifts etc.)...

As a matter of fact, it still makes me smile just to think of Christmas and any of its traditions—personal, family, or historical. I know there's other traditions for this time of year that represent the histories of other religions than the Christianity Christmas is based on, and maybe if I wasn't raised an Irish Catholic they would resonate with me similarly.

But maybe not. The giant Channuka candlelabra in the town square where I live just doesn't have the same panache as the fir tree, even this year when the old colored lights have been replaced with a limited set of one-color LED ones to save money and energy. The tree still resonates in ways none of the major religious symbols can because it goes back to an even more ancient tradition or sense of tradition, to a more primitive and basic sense of "holiday" when just the idea of nature represented by these trees was religion enough.

At least that's the way it strikes me. And the other trappings, the music and idea of "peace on earth" and good fellowship and gift giving and taking time off to be with family and friends isn't tied into any specific religious ritual or rite or even belief ultimately, but with a broader concept of what it means to be human in certain seasons and parts of the world, or just in our hearts.

Hopefully that doesn't offend anyone, but even if it does, lighten up. I like the Japanese practical perspective on all this, which basically is—go to the Shinto shrine when a child is born to get the good luck that comes with those rituals and beliefs, get married in a "Christian" ceremony that actually has nothing to do with any Christian beliefs or even traditions but instead with the style and fun of traditional Western weddings with the gowns and feasting and etc., and then when someone dies bring that loss to the Bhuddist temples on the chance that maybe the idea of reincarnation is real...

Our "secular" society, or the supposed secular aspects of it, already has a similarly practical approach to some holidays, including Christmas. Holloween is a strong second, a holiday few realize is related not only to the Catholic tradition of All Souls Day and All Saints Day, but to the even older Celtic New Year. And why should they, since these holidays have become secularized in ways the right deplores but which may just work to "assimilate" all the varying traditions and beliefs into something easy for all the accept.


Anonymous said...

my ancestors on my father's side come from Riga, Latvia

the first Christmas tree was there invented around 1520 or so..

so, it's not so ancient

but a terrific marketing tool then as now.

Lally said...

May be true for the Xmas tree as we know it, but the ancient Celts, Teutons, Africans, and various other pre-classic and pre-historic tribes and peoples had deep rituals and rites and beliefs centered around trees. Most pagan cultures, for instance, that existed anywhere near where trees also existed used them as a means of communication (talking to the trees and expecting them to carry messages long distances etc.), something I did as a child and still do—that is "talk to the trees"—and I've always gotten answers that surprised me and usually enlightened me. So maybe it's personal for me, the whole tree thing.

Elisabeth said...

I welcome ritual and celebrations into our lives when they help us to slow down and reflect on ourselves and what matters To us, as long as they are not forced upon us or anyone else for that matter. To this extent I enjoy your 'practical' approach.

-K- said...

Vince Giraldi's music has become so much a part of my Christmas experience, its really amazing.

And what you had to say about talking to trees is new to me. Myself, its always been water, especially rivers.

leannegrabel said...

Michael Lally, hello from Portland. Perhaps you remember hanging out with a bunch of poets one night after your reading. Gus van Sant was there. WAlt Curtis. And me..Leanne Grabel. Was just wasting time flying around the laptop. Ran into your blog about your operation. Jesus. Hope 2010 brings you health and brilliance and love and all that fabulous stuff one hopes for. And poetry. Good poetry.

Lally said...

Leanne, I remember you very well, though not a lot about that night except that I think Gus took us to to a club to hear the Dandy Warhols (was that their name?) play and how much I dug Portland. Thanks for your great hopes for 2010, I wish the same for you.