My brain worries that
the publication date of Dec. 24 for the column I am now writing shoves whatever I might want to write about right into the peak of the holiday
Right, my Brooklyn-bred self responds, so what’s the problem? Nobody is going to pay attention anyway.
A fair point, my brain responds. But still I must write something, and whatever I choose will, as you suggest, either be ignored, or if read be seen in jarring juxtaposition to all the holiday noise.
Well, self responds, therein is your answer.
Brain replies, I’m beginning to see.
Self declares, you are almost there.
Right, brain says, the juxtaposition, just some bits and pieces. Start with the most jarring holiday factoids pulled out of our 17th-century expertise concerning the radical Protestants who settled New England.
Good start, self encourages. Go on.
Happy to. Both Pilgrims in Plymouth Plantation and Puritans in Boston had no tolerance for the celebration of Christmas. Plymouth governor Bradford reports an incident when a newly arrived group of settlers in his colony did not want to work doing communal chores on Christmas day, saying it was “a matter of conscience.”
As Bradford describes the incident, he said that if it was a matter of conscience, he would respect that until they “were better informed,” and then went on his way. Returning a while later, he saw this group playing games, as they would have been accustomed to doing back in England, and ordered them to join the workers, saying it was against his conscience to see some playing while others worked for the common good.
The Pilgrim’s Puritan neighbors simply banned any celebration of the holiday. Both Pilgrims and Puritans objected to the raucous celebrations they had witnessed back in England as well as having a couple of substantive reasons. For one, the holiday is not scripturally based, and fundamental to both groups was the Bible as the ultimate source of guidance. They also knew that the holiday had co-opted the pagan celebration of the winter solstice, much as Halloween came out of Celtic Samhain.
OK, self declares, round this off with a bit of Santa.
On it, brain declares. I recall my sister, five years older than I, disabusing me of the Santa story. But I had sort of figured that out, having looked up at the roof of our two-story house where we inhabited the top floor, and above us on that roof rose no chimney down which chubby Santa could have slid. Of course, self intrudes, since our family did not celebrate the holiday, that architectural shortcoming was irrelevant.
Yes, brain replies, but you do remember how we visited our Irish landlord’s family on Christmas morning and seeing their living space awash in presents, unopened under their tree, or spread about the floor those that had been revealed. How did this holiday bounty, with no chimney bypass us upstairs and arrive downstairs to delight our landlord’s kids?
Still, self objects, where did this whole Santa gift-bringer come from?
A complicated story, brain replies. Sadly I have no more space, but can refer curious readers to Google St. Nicholas, a minor 4th-century saint associated with children, who became the Dutch Sinterklas who appeared in Washington Irving’s 19th century “History of New York,” which emphasized New York’s Dutch history, published as the work of Diedrich Knickerbocker and introduced the idea of the sleigh ride arrival, chimney access, and gifts given, then immortalized in Clement Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”
Enough, brain declares.
More than, self agrees. I think the Knicks are playing tonight.
Glad we have our priorities straight, brain responds.
My brain worries that