To date, I have written four posts about the Maya “month” of Uayeb or Wayeb, which consists of the last five days of the Haab Calendar of 365 days. The Haab calendar has twenty months of eighteen days each, which isn’t quite enough to make up the full complement, so the Maya added a short stub of a month containing the five “nameless days.”
There is also a Maya god named Uayeb, who is the god of misfortune. That sounds about right.
Scott Stantis Has an Intuitive Understanding of Uayeb in His Cartoon Strip
Here is a link to my previous posts on the subject:
On Dasher, On Lancer, On Thrasher Or Whatever Your Names Are
On this Christmas Eve, I wish all of you as Happy a Holiday as is consonant with both your safety and desires. As you may know, I am no great believer in Christmas or New Years or Arbor Day or Columbus Day. Nonetheless, I hope for the best for all of you and the people in your lives.
I will take tomorrow off from posting here. In all likelihood, I will be watching movies and reading books. You can be fairly certain that I will not be watching any parades (are there still any?) or Xmas specials on TV.
So, as we Hungarians say: Boldog karácsonyt! (Don’t even try to pronounce it!)
Tiny Tim with Scrooge in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
In honor of Christmas, I will excerpt a brief scene from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, representing the first moment when Ebenezer Scrooge realizes that something is not quite right. He sees, instead of the usual door knocker, the face of his dead partner Jacob Marley. (I know I was a little hard on Dickens in a post I wrote last week, but I think that this particular story is not only one of his best: It has influenced the way that Christmas is celebrated across the West.)
Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large. It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London, even including—which is a bold word—the corporation, aldermen, and livery. Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven years’ dead partner that afternoon. And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change—not a knocker, but Marley’s face.
The Door Knocker Transposed into Marley’s Face
Marley’s face. It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead. The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part of its own expression.
As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.
To say that he was not startled, or that his blood was not conscious of a terrible sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy, would be untrue. But he put his hand upon the key he had relinquished, turned it sturdily, walked in, and lighted his candle.
He did pause, with a moment’s irresolution, before he shut the door; and he did look cautiously behind it first, as if he half expected to be terrified with the sight of Marley’s pigtail sticking out into the hall. But there was nothing on the back of the door, except the screws and nuts that held the knocker on, so he said “Pooh, pooh!” and closed it with a bang.
It is very easy to regard Christmas as both a time of happiness and a major pain in the ass—all at one and the same time. Below are some excerpts from the letters of Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins (1824-1889):
“This awful Christmas time! I am using up my cheque-book – and am in daily expectation of fresh demands on it.” to Charles Ward, December 1860-62 (I 286).
“at this festive season when the Plague of Plum pudding extends its ravages from end to end of the land, and lays the national digestion prostrate at the feet of Christmas…I had planned to give up eating and drinking until the return of Spring …” to Miss Frith, 27 December 1870 (II 226).
“…are the filthy ‘Christmas festivities’ still an insurmountable obstacle to any proceeding that is not directly connected with the filling of fat bellies, and the exchange of vapid good wishes?” to William Tindell, 29 December 1874 (III 60; B&C II 387).
“…there are all sorts of impediments – literary and personal – which keep me in England at the most hateful of all English seasons (to me), the season of Cant and Christmas…But for Christmas-time, I should have read it long ago. I have returned to heaps of unanswered letters, bills, payments to pensioners, stupid and hideous Christmas cards, visits to pay – and every other social nuisance that gets in the way of a rational enjoyment of life…There is no news. Everybody is eating and drinking and exchanging conventional compliments of the season. You are well out of it” to Nina Lehmann, 28 December 1877 (III 180; B&C II 409-410).
“I suppose the dreadful Christmas literature is absorbing Mr Kelly’s printers.” to A P Watt 5 November 1883 (III 434).
“There is every temptation to die. We have not seen the sun for three weeks, in London – the plague of Christmas Cards is on the increase…Oh, what a miserable world to live in!” to Sebastian Schlesinger, 29 December 1883 (III 452; B&C II 463-465).
“Your kind and liberal letter reaches me , at the season devoted to prodigious eating and drinking, universal congratulating and holiday-making, and voluminous appearance of tradesmen’s Christmas bills. ‘Business’ is at a standstill, this year, until Monday next” to Perry Mason & Co, 26 December 1884 (IV 74).
“But there is surely a chance of a change for the better, after the horrors of Christmas are over” To Emily Wynne, 19th December 1885 (IV 139).
“The horrid Christmas Day is over -. Let me forget it – and heartily wish you a happy New Year.” to A P Watt, 28 December 1885 (IV 140).
“It is a relief to hear that you have got over Christmas Day, and that you have energy enough to confront (I don’t say to eat) that dreadful composition called plum pudding.” to Emily Wynne, 28 December 1885 (IV 141).
“I have just discovered a letter of mine dated the 1st of this month – and thanking you for your kind new year’s gifts – huddled away, God knows how, among a mass of Christmas and New years’ cards in my ‘Answered Letters’ basket.” to A P Watt, 5 January 1887 (IV 222).
Despite these feelings Wilkie did keep Christmas. On 18 December 1854 he invited his friend Edward Pigott to his home in Hanover Terrace.
“Don’t talk about having no home to go to – you know you are at home here. Come and eat your Christmas dinner with us – you will find your knife, fork, plate and chair all ready for you. Time six o’clock…Mind you come on Christmas Day.” (I 110; B&C I 129).
I owe the above selections to the Wilkie at Christmas website, which also contains much useful information about this author, whose work I like more the more I read him.
In a way, the coronavirus seems to wreak the most damage on people who are intent on going on with their lives the way they were before. The big danger points come around the major holidays, when people risk everything for the appearance of normalcy.
But what if, like me, you don’t really give a hang about the holidays? No, I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness: I just don’t like the idea of holiday-induced stress. Whenever I think of Christmas and Thanksgiving, in particular, I think of a custom among certain Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest of “an opulent ceremonial feast at which possessions are given away or destroyed to display wealth or enhance prestige.”
Plus I don’t really like turkey. For the most part it is a dry bird that has to be well-greased before imbibing. For my Thanksgiving, Martine and I will have a more simple feast (though, in her heart of hearts, I know Martine would prefer the turkey): A good beef stew accompanied by a bottle of Egri Bikavér, or Bull’s Blood of Eger, a pleasant Hungarian red wine.
Knowing how much I prefer to avoid poultry, Martine can understand that it wouldn’t help to have me cook something I don’t like—and I do all the cooking in the household.
We will probably do something similar for Christmas. Why not? We are not afraid of offending the Yuletide Police.
The Pico-Union District of Los Angeles is a tough neighborhood with heavy concentrations of Central American immigrants. Yet there on Bonnie Brae Street lies the Grier Musser Museum with its huge collection of antiques and seasonally related memorabilia. During the key holidays of Halloween and Christmas, there are fascinating exhibits of decorations, music boxes, pop-up books, greeting cards, postcards, and other popular culture highlighting the present and past.
Although Martine and I have visited only during those periods, there are also special exhibits for Valentines Day, Chinese New Years, and Independence Day.
Susan Tejada with Christmas Elf
On Saturday, we spent several hours viewing the Christmas exhibits and chatting with Susan and Rey Tejada, the owners (and inhabitants) of the museum. Christmas is now safely in the past, but it was nice to see the constantly growing exhibits that Susan has collected. They represent what we all want the holidays to be like, far from the mayhem in the parking lots and department stores in mega-malls which it has become. Visiting the Grier Musser Museum gives you a picture of what we all want Christmas to be like. It’s actually a nice feeling.
I have seen a lot of Christmases. Like birthdays, they don’t seem to as magical when one is older. I celebrated Christmas Eve by spending five hours putting together a tasty beef stew, served with a crusty artisanal baguette and a bottle of Egri Bikavér (“Bull’s Blood of Eger”) Hungarian red wine. It was the best stew I ever made. I remember sometimes cooking myself a stew (accompanied with red wine) back when I was in my twenties and alone for the holidays. So it is a tradition of sorts for me.
Like my brother—though nowhere as good as him at it—I find cooking to be one of my favorite creative outlets. So I will translate this into a Christmas wish for those of you who come across this post:
May you and your loved ones find joy in what you do and with whom you share it, in the coming year and always.
What may or may not have happened in Bethlehem some two thousand plus years ago has cast a long shadow. I take from it some useful lessons, but not the whole package. I am content with that.
And I use the word Xmas advisedly. I like many of the traditions associated with the Christmas holiday, mostly because of happy memories from my own childhood. What to me as a young boy was radiant and hopeful, however, has become for the adult me just another hurdle. For decades now, I have referred to the holiday as “The Dread Xmas”—and I make a point of pronouncing it as Ekksmas. Here is a partial list of my beefs about this time of year:
The Little Drummer Boy
There was no little drummer boy in the manger. The shepherds around Bethlehem would not have countenanced using a sheepskin to beat upon with a pair of sticks. And the song itself is sappy, sirupy, and soggily sentimental. Let us just leave this one out henceforth. To me, it is far worse than the “Baby It’s Cold Outside” song that is so lately controversial.
The Holiday “Spirit”
Let’s face it: This is a time of year when people are driven to perform endless errands—and in the worst possible spirit. In so doing, they clog the highways and especially the shopping center parking lots. Even with Amazon.Com and other Internet alternatives, you are likely to have some sour feelings about the holiday if you venture out of doors and onto the highway.
Charity Is Not Just for the Holidays
And yet, there is a positive onslaught of charitable requests from November until the end of the year. Giving some poor person a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is a nice idea, but people are hungry and needy all year round. Every year at this time, I get at least a hundred requests this time of year. I suppose the timing has more to do with people trying to up their tax exemptions before the New Years, but it does get a bit old.
As a newly retired person, I am now on a fixed income and frequently making raids on my IRA savings. There is no way that I can give Christmas gifts the way I used to, and I feel terrible about it. I have to make a special effort to tell my friends that I can’t be quite so generous as previously.
On the Other Hand
There are also some things about Christmas that I love: The old traditional songs, the classic movies such as the Alastair Sim version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, getting together with friends, and trying to make small things into mini-celebrations. At its best, Christmas is about love; at its worst, about mere driven spiritless compulsion.
The year was 1979. My brother Dan and I were traveling in Southern Mexico, roughly following the route Graham Greene had taken in his book The Lawless Roads (1939), when he was doing research for his novel The Power and the Glory (1940). It was Christmas, and we were in the little town of Palenque, just a few miles from the Mayan ruins of the same name.
Dan liked hanging out in the cafés along the zócalo, because that part of Chiapas was a major coffee-growing area, and Dan is a coffee aficionado the way I am a tea aficionado. You have to understand that Dan was wearing slip-on loafers. While we were munching away, we were approached at our table by a shoeshine boy. Dan slipped his shoe off and handed his foot to the boy, which foot was clad in bright red wool socks. The whole restaurant erupted in laughter, including the shoeshine boy.
Mexico has some wonderful Christmas customs, especially the posadas. Between December 16 and 24, children travel around singing carols. We always donated to them.