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This bloody season

Congratulations to all who have survived Christmas despite the hazards of excessive eating and drinking, or prolonged exposure to family members. Today, December 26, is the second of the twelve days of Christmas.

It is also, in British tradition, Boxing Day. The origins of the term are in dispute. It was probably not a day to return purchased presents. It may have been the day on which the wealthy gave their servants a Christ box of gifts and the day off. One explanation is that gifts from the charity box in church were distributed. It is, in any event, now a legal holiday on the first weekday after Christmas Day.

It is also the feast day of St. Stephen, deacon and martyr, who was stoned to death for persistently proclaiming the story of Jesus and the Resurrection to people who preferred not to hear it. And thus we are off on a post-Christmas week of days to commemorate bloody and unpleasant events characteristic in the history of Christianity, rather than relentless sentimentality about the baby in the manger.

December 27 is the feast day of St. John, apostle and evangelist. It seems extremely unlikely that the John to whom is attributed the writing of Revelation, circa A.D. 100, is the same John who was a companion of Jesus, circa A.D. 33. The former John, in exile on Patmos, composed a visionary book that includes moments of great tenderness and beauty, combined with visions of extreme violence and hostility. Revelation barely made it into the canon, and the nutty calculations subsequently derived form it suggest that omitting it might have been the wiser course.

On December 28 we mark the feast of the Holy Innocents, the children of Bethlehem slaughtered by order of King Herod. If you do not know the monologue W.H. Auden assigns to Herod, the reluctant liberal, in his Christmas oratorio, For the Time Being, it’s hilarious enough to merit your attention.

And December 29 commemorates St. Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in his cathedral in A.D. 1170 by Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton, acting on what they perceived to be the direction of King Henry II.

By January 1, you can wash the blood from your hands and mark the Feast of the Holy Name.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 10:00 AM | | Comments (5)
        

Comments

You're ending the year on a sanguine note, but the consanguinity of people who love language is hardly in dispute. Happy new year!

>"acting on what they perceived to be the direction of King Henry II."

It's too bad that the quote "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" is probably apocryphal, because that's one of yer better examples of plausible deniability.

Very educational post.

> It is also, in British tradition, Boxing Day. The origins of the term are in dispute. It was probably not a day to return purchased presents ...

Boxing Day is the day after Christmas, when, having spent Christmas Day in church and with family, a family may gather round the tree and finally open their presents. Easy to believe, it is also a Canadian observance.

> It is also the feast day of St. Stephen, deacon and martyr, who was stoned to death for persistently proclaiming the story of Jesus and the Resurrection to people who preferred not to hear it.

The mention of this feast day may ring a distant bell. It is the background setting of the Christmas song Good King Wenceslas.

Becket, although he was right and just in his opinion of the King's Man, was not as Saintly as he has been portrayed, even by the wonderful Burton. He was smelly, vulgar, had bad teeth and drank too much - like many of his time. Let's not drool over him too much. I did, however, feel appropriately whelmed standing in Canterbury Cathedral at the altar where he is thought to have been killed. I'm not cynical about cathedrals (except St John the Divine in New York City.)

P the T, I think that's the first time I've seen "whelmed" without "over" or "under."

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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