“The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory…’

Over at the anecdotal place there is a great entry with a post-Christmas debriefing by W.H. Auden, which I share here.

This is a wonderful way to sharpen your sense of the Octave of Christmas, which we are still celebrating.

W.H. Auden wrote For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio over the terrible winter of 1941-1942. Newly returned to the Church, Auden sought “to redeem from insignificance” the dailiness of daily life and the enfeeblement of Christmas into a mere holiday. He captures our weakness, human failing and inevitable sadness:

"Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes –
Some have got broken — and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week –
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted — quite unsuccessfully –
To love all our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But for the time being, here we all are,
Back to the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it."

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10 Responses to “The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory…’

  1. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    Fr Z, you’re right about the incisiveness of the octave.

    The ever realistic Liturgy (either Calendar) presents, in succession, the deacon martyr, and then the beloved disciple, and then the Holy Innocents, so that we can pray that we go from being the ones who stone Stephen, who imprison John, who murder the unborn or just born, to those who, by God’s grace, continue to witness to His ever vivacious love. Thanks Fr Z.

  2. Henry Edwards says:

    Father Z: the Octave of Christmas, which we are still celebrating.

    I wonder whether the 1955 suppression of the other octaves — e.g., of Corpus Christi and of the Sacred Heart — was the first step down a slippery slope toward the new calendar and its diminution of a sense of season and especially of the sanctoral cycle among many Catholics.

    But at least during the three remaining octaves of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost we (in my local parish, and in others, I hope) enjoy the Roman Canon at weekday Mass as well as on the solemnities themselves.

  3. Sylvia says:

    Thank you for posting this, Father! It is indeed difficult to keep a keen sense of the Feast of Christmas, but beautiful things do help. I saw a poem by Chesterton on someone’s gmail status message and thought you might enjoy it as well:

    Gloria in Profundis

    There has fallen on earth for a token

    A god too great for the sky.

    He has burst out of all things and broken

    The bounds of eternity:

    Into time and the terminal land

    He has strayed like a thief or a lover

    For the wine of the world brims over,

    Its splendor is spilt on the sand.

    Who is proud when the heavens are humble,

    Who mounts if the mountains fall,

    If the fixed stars topple and tumble

    And a deluge of love drowns all –

    Who rears up his head for a crown,

    Who holds up his will for a warrant,

    Who strives with the starry torrent,

    When all that is good does down?

    For in dread of such falling and failing

    The fallen angels fell

    Inverted in insolence, scaling

    The handing mountains of hell:

    But unmeasured of plummet and rod

    Too deep for their sight to scan,

    Outrushing the fall of man

    Is the height of the fall of God.

    Glory to God in the Lowest

    The spout of the stars in spate –

    Where the thunderbolt thinks to be slowest

    And the lightening fears to be late:

    As men dive for the sunken gem

    Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,

    The fallen star that has found it

    In the cave of Bethlehem.

  4. danphunter1 says:

    Father,
    Merry Christmas. Nice little jab at Descartes at the end of Audens poem.
    God bless you.

  5. CDB says:

    Beautiful, insightful.

  6. John Polhamus says:

    Here’s a favourite of mine, coming from the collection of medeival poemes constituting Ben Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols.” I love the way it presents the procession of feasts as persons ‘entering’ the halls of our Christmas’, Steven and John, St. Thomas of Canterbury, and that it extends the observance of the season all the way to “Candelmesse” on February 2nd. This is a song for long winter feasting. May all of yours be as full!

    “Wolcum, Wolcum, Wolcum be thou hevenè king,
    Wolcum Yole! Wolcum, born in one morning,
    Wolcum for whom we sall sing!
    Wolcum be ye, Stevene and Jon,
    Wolcum, Innocentes every one,
    Wolcum, Thomas marter one,
    Wolcum be ye, good Newe Yere,
    Wolcum, Twelfthe Day both in fere,
    Wolcum, seintes lefe and dere,
    Wolcum Yole, Wolcum Yole, Wolcum!
    Candelmesse, Quene of bliss,
    Wolcum bothe to more and lesse.
    Wolcum, Wolcum, Wolcum be ye that are here,
    Wolcum Yole, Wolcum alle and make good cheer,
    Wolcum alle another yere, Wolcum Yole, Wolcum!”

  7. Victor says:

    Here is what I heard in mass at St Stephen’s day, which here in Germany is officially called “Zweiter Weihnachtstag” (“2nd day of Christmas”):
    “Welcome to mass today, St Stephen’s day, which, liturgically speaking, is not Christmas any more.”
    WHAT THE???

  8. John Polhamus says:

    Yyeessss…well….we might point out that, Fr. Ignorant notwithstanding, St. Stephen’s Day is “liturgically not Christmas anymore” only in a church which is similarly not Catholic anymore…mightn’t we?

  9. jaykay says:

    “And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
    Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
    Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
    Be very far off.”

    More true than ever this liturgical year, with Easter on 23rd March which (strains feeble mental powers) makes Ash Wednesday fall on 6th February. Ah well, today’s only 28th December, 9 days of Yole still to go, and Wolcom to them each and every one.

  10. elizabeth mckernan says:

    Here in Britain St Stephen’s day is known as Boxing Day – nothing to do with the sport! I understand in earlier times churches had collecting boxes for the poor on this day hence the name.