Saturday, December 11, 2004

LRC pick
Otoshi-dama

Mike Rogers on Christmas in Japan. I understand the only reason most Japanese even know about it — in a Shinto and largely Buddhist country — is because of American occupation after losing World War II.

Besides young couples giving jewelry to each other, presents are seldom given on Christmas.
Fascinating. I’d thought it was a big retail period there completely unrelated to religion because of imitating the US. I was wrong! There is the macabre funny story, perhaps apocryphal, of the Japanese shopping-centre owner or manager, like most Japanese not Christian, who decided to decorate for this Christian holiday by putting up a crucifix with Santa on it!

The legend of Father Christmas (‘to which order does he belong?’) is fine and of course I like him ’cos he looks like a Russian батюшка (parish priest or monk)! The English version in full uniform even wears a shoulder cape like in the Roman Rite — red and fur-trimmed like the Pope! But the people who keep up or revive the real story of St Nicholas are on the right track. The Russians have Дедушка Морож (Grandfather Frost) who looks more like a wizard, a whimsical force of nature not really to do with morality or judgement. (Some say he’s a Soviet invention but I think he’s traditional, a bit of real folklore.)

Новогодный день (New Year’s) is a big deal with the Russians — always has been and perhaps made more so from Soviet times when Christmas was suppressed. The ёлка (tree), semiblasphemously with the red Soviet star back then, and parties were for that holiday.

Christmas trees are German (and spread to northern Slavs as you can see) — as the story of St Boniface tells, they were iconic of the old German and Norse gods. The culture was baptized. They were unknown in England probably as late as Dickens — Prince Albert brought the custom over from his native Germany. (Wonder if the Hanoverian kings — that house is still reigning, BTW — brought it over first.) And they were unknown in Rome until the reigning Pontiff, who has imported this Northern custom from Poland into the piazza of St Peter with gusto.

Heard Boris Karloff narrate ‘The Grinch’ last night, a Stateside classic. Did you know that 1) like Leopold Stokowski he was English (Stoki’s paternal grandfather was Polish), 2) his real name was William Henry Pratt and 3) he got his stage last name from a real family name somewhere in his heritage?

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