Blasting & Blessing: a festive edition

Blast:
Secularist atheists who want all the fun of Christmas, but none of the meaning. What could be more pointless? Can’t they make a fuss over the birth of one of their own kind — Robespierre, maybe, or Hitler or Pol Pot — instead?

Bless:
Nikolaus Harnoncourt for bringing out this typically generous, intense, triumphantly religious recording of J. S. Bach’s great Christmas Oratorio. Jauchzet, frohlocket! indeed.

Blast:
People who watch television on Christmas Day and then complain that the programming is vulgar and stupid. What did they expect? And anyway (with minor exceptions — I’d exempt the soothing white noise of BBC News 24 during the washing-up phase of dinner), couldn’t they have found something marginally more festive to do?

Bless:
The Complete Pompeii. The production is seductive, the illustrations gorgeous, the text genuinely informative. And given the major themes — a recognisably complex everyday life lived all unknowingly in what turns out to be the shadow of inevitable imminent cataclysm, complete with excellent food and some of the most delightfully vibrant art the West has ever produced — what could be more suitable New Year’s Eve reading?

Blast:
The U.S. presidential primaries. I can see why a certain sort of American feels honour-bound to take an interest in this intermidable exercise, but why should we?

Bless:
Hypotrochoid templates and their gears, variously sized. Having forgotten that these existed about three decades ago, their notionally mathematical, but in fact for the innumerate, wholly mystical attractiveness remains undimmed. How oddly has God created the universe, that plastic wheels circulating in plastic discs produce such sublimely surprising patterns!

Blast:
So much of ‘Christmas’, our secular festival beginning when the Halloween decorations disappear from Starbucks, and terminating sharply at nightfall on 25th December: a season of joyless shopping; ‘sales’; near-ominpresent piped-in pop music of the most sentimental, demoralising sort; newspapers stuffed with threadbare filler; ceaseless activity; pointless bustle; the terrible voracious sadness of a culture that needs something desperately, but won’t admit to anything more than acquisitiveness, boredom and hunger.

Bless:
Wonder. Young children are good at wonder, because their natural human impulses in this regard haven’t yet been deadened by life in a world where man (which is to say, lower-middlebrow broadsheet journalists and their television commentator confederates) is the measure of all things. For young children, Christmas is neither embarassing nor silly nor sad. Magic comes from as little as a tree brought indoors, a ‘dinner’ at lunchtime, lots of company, candlelight, old carols, a lovingly laid-out crib scene. By the same token, the Incarnation rarely surprises them much, being no harder to accept than a thousand other similarly remarkable truths they discover every day — truths whose remarkable quality has long since been lost on their elders. How perverse, really, that we should view this loss as a sign of growth and development, rather than deterioration and decrepitude. Well, then, let 2008 be a year of such self-evident wonder, grace and blessings as to make wide-eyed, open-hearted children of all of us.

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