To date, I have written five 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.
Here is a link to my previous posts on the subject:
During my entire adult life, I have been of two minds about Christmas. On the plus side, it is a pious celebration of God becoming Man in order to save the human race from the shame of Adam and Eve. Though I can’t help wondering that God, being God, could have accomplished the same result any number of ways.
On the negative side, Christmas time has become a two-months-long stress fest in which families immolate their finances and valuable time buying gifts that the recipients do not necessarily want or need. I am happy that the holiday is now over, because I will be able to drive without encountering quite so many highway kamikazes out on endless errands.
It was nice to see the two classical movie versions of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1938 with Reginald Owen and 1951 with Alastair Sim, pictured above). In his story, Dickens doesn’t even mention the Deity, but he makes a case for generosity and good will toward men.
I also saw Bob Clark’s marvelous recreation of a 1950 Christmas in his 1983 A Christmas Story. In a way, the quest of Ralphie (Peter Billingley) for a BB gun is not nearly as acceptable a journey as Scrooge’s, but it was a reminder of my own Christmases in Cleveland. The picture showed such old Cleveland landmarks as the Terminal Tower, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, and Higbee’s Department Store. I never got much in the way of presents except clothing that I didn’t like—except that my uncle gave me a $20 bill every Christmas, which was like a rare treasure for me, even though I couldn’t spend it on what I wanted.
At least I didn’t have an Aunt Clara who would make me a pink rabbit suit that made me look like a deranged Easter Bunny.
I am no Ebenezer Scrooge (post the three spirits), dancing with joy, dispensing gifts, and in general comporting myself around Christmas time with uncomely glee. Today, going to lunch with Martine, I encountered scores of stressed-out drivers in the process of driving in such a way that easily merited a serious car crash. (Also, I encountered far fewer drivers who drove with courtesy and watchfulness.)
Christmas as a religious holiday gets my respect. I myself am unaffiliated with any official religion, but I can understand the significance of the Incarnation for Christians.
It’s Christmas as a secular holiday which is out of whack. You should see the frenzied shoppers trying to fit into the Culver City Costco parking lot around noon. I imagine many had to roam the lot for upwards of an hour before they found a spot. For many, this weekend is the optimal time to get those last-minute gifts.
Well, I’m not shopping for gifts this Christmas, though Martine and I did send out a number of cards—both religious and secular—to our friends and relatives.
What’s wrong about the holiday is the whole secular mythology: Santa, the Xmas tree, stockings by the fireplace, the f—ing “Elf on the Shelf,” Christmas parties, yearly attending the Nutcracker, reindeer antlers on car windows, those stupid Santa hats…. Need I go on? What we have year is a recipe for distress. It’s damn near impossible to have a perfect Christmas with all the trimmings and cancer-like accumulated practices
My Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa wish for all my readers is simple: Enjoy, but when you begin to stress, PULL BACK! It’s not worth making a nightmare out of the whole thing. Above all, survive in good spirits!
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.