09 November 2008

Halloween is over, time for Christmas

A couple of riffs on Christmas legend, read today:

"Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world." (from the famous "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" letter, published in The New York Sun in September 1897, and used in a Macy's advert today in The New York Times)

"There's nothing whatsoever to the other legend about Saint Nicholas -- that he comes down the chimney every December 25 with a sackful of stuff he's nicked from the pawnshop. It is however true that the nineteenth-century colloquial expression 'Old Nick' -- meaning the Devil -- is directly connected with Saint Nicholas. There are other clues. Note the red suit in the case of each; note the hairiness, and the association with burning and soot. We get the slang term 'to nick,' meaning 'to steal,' from ... [author's ellipsis] But I digress, pausing simply to add that Saint Nicholas, as well as being the patron saint of young children, those sticky-fingered elfin creatures with scant sense of other people's property rights, is also the patron saint of thieves. Saint Nicholas is always found in the vicinity of a big heap of loot, and when asked where he got it he'll tell an implausible yarn involving some non-human labourers hammering away in a place he euphemistically calls his 'workshop.' A likely story, say I." (Margaret Atwood, Payback: debt and the shadow side of wealth, p. 55-56)

So far, Atwood's Payback has been very interesting, made more so by the financial turmoil. I'm really enjoying her discussion of words that we use to talk about debt, especially those that play on religion. Example: redeeming your debts and Christ the Redeemer; forgive us our debts/trespasses; pawn (the chess piece and the pawnbroker). I really wish I could share the "Debt and sin" chapter that I'm in the midst of with my Dad who died last year. His great unfinished work was a book on the Ten Commandments. I think he might have enjoyed reading it but it might have made him mad. It's not necessarily pro- or anti-dogma. He always said, when we were growing up, not to be a "dog in the manger" from which I segued to not being dogmatic. Shared letters, shared meanings, contrasting meanings.

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