The Opsimath series, first post : LOGOS.
Christmas with added attitude.
I don’t know what you lot did on Christmas day although i hope you enjoyed whatever you did or didn’t do ; i took the day off from lopping the neighbour’s Christmas tree-like conifers , that made me grin , and instead i got on with the spring cleaning !. You see, for me the end of the year has already been and gone, that happens at the winter solstice which also just happens to be my partners birthday ; in the garden the spring bulbs are already poking through the mulch, so for me it’s officially spring and time to sort the house out.
After weeks and weeks of heavy rain down here in the west country, so much so that there’s been flooding somewhere most days, Christmas day, or December 25th to be more accurate….although just as equally day 4 of my actual new year…lets just call it ‘The day’ then , dawned bright and clear with just a thick layer of mist sitting in the valley bottom. The nice people down at Calstock boatyard posted a photograph of the river which was nice : here for almost the first time in ten years that early sun was shining on the front of my neighbour’s house and workshop now that they’re out of the shadow of the Leylandi hedge.
For the first time in many years i didn’t roll out of bed, or bunk, at some ungodly hour and either drive to the hospital and start my day’s work in the ICU, or conversely get up and start preparing the boat for the guests that day ; although my partner did head off to the hospital at early o-clock as she always cops it for Christmas day . I think i worked my first hospital Christmas day or night in 1981 and then worked just about every Christmas eve, Christmas day, new years eve…etc etc etc…ever since then and most of them in one or other intensive care unit or specialist nurse job.
I did have a few years out of the system although at least 3 of those Christmases were spent working as mate on a charter boat and for another we were at sea in the Southern ocean beating across the date line in a near gale, which was nice if you like going upwind in the big chilly-bin. Actually, something quite funny did happen that day on that trip in that we crossed the date line exactly on Christmas day and one of the crew who’d had the night off due to an injury only woke up after we’d already changed our date and because we were total bastards we didn’t let him have his Christmas pressie !
Christmas day as a nurse is at best a non event : firstly the off-duty ( shift rota) is a total shitfight as most of the mummies want Christmas and Boxing day off to spend with their families and they’ll do anything, year on year, to avoid carrying the load. What that means is usually that it’s the single women and men that end up carrying the load even though they also have ‘family’ in the form of partners, parents and siblings at home but it’s the ones with children that always self declare as being the most important and, year on year, pull the family and children being so important card. Me, i just accepted the idea of working all those shifts every year and to be honest i think years of that effectively cured me of Christmas madness anyway.
Christmas day in the ICU is, as you can imagine, extremely difficult ; dissonant even as on the one hand it’s supposed to be ‘happy day’ almost party-like and yet in the hyper-real world of intensive care patients are still doing their best to die and of course their relatives are just as upset and stressed as they always are. We always used to take in party food and take it in turns to get a snack of that during breaks but it always seemed out of place somehow….like having Christmas in a war zone !. The real action took place at the staff Christmas dinner in those days : ICU nurses really knew how to get down and party in those days and if i remember this correctly then we, as a unit, were banned from a succession of restaurants 3 years running and twice were ‘reported’ to the director of nursing for bad behaviour : what the hell, we only drank the place dry and danced on the tables a bit !
Christmas day ’92’ i think we were at anchor in port Elizabeth, that’s the little Caribbean island of Bequia by the way and we had a full boat-load of whiny British ‘guests’ on board. I remember that i started my day by rolling out of my bunk and going straight overboard for a swim before starting to clear up the deck after the same guest’s drinking session/party the night before. By mid morning the cook, the skipper and me were working on turning out a full Christmas dinner ; with the oven on full belt and all of the hobs in use you can imagine what that was like in the cramped galley, i can tell you that it was almost as bad as when the same cook and me banded and re-packed the 100′ luff spinnaker after a drop during racing….and we often did that 3 or 4 times during a race. The only way of coping with that was to strip down as far as possible and even then the heat and humidity were almost unbearable.
My Christmas day then was a bit different, different to what you might ask ?. Well, if a ‘normal’ Christmas day is all about excess : too much food, too much money spent on ‘stuff’, too much time on the sofa going square-eyed in front of the TV watching films that are on average 30 years old…..and so on……then my Christmas day was certainly a bit eccentric !.
I did start the say with coffee in bed and that’s because my partner brought me that first mug of coffee while she got ready and drove to work to spend most of her day in the coronary care unit. Did you know, by the way, that there’s always a big surge of heart attacks over Christmas ?, yep, too much artery clogging food and too much family stress makes for a busy cardiologist on Christmas day !. If a ‘normal’ Christmas is all about ‘stuff’, and it seems that way, but just wait until the day after and the madness of post Christmas ‘stuff’ sales, then my Christmas was all about reducing, clearing out, organising and simply throwing out….’stuff’ : and with some heavy duty cleaning going on at the same time.
It felt at times slightly weird…..you see, my usual routine has me spending several hours at the computer blogging and writing and most days responding to comments and questions from the groups that i am a member of. I usually surf my youtube feed to see what’s new from my subscribed channels and many of them have been hilarious after the thorough clear-out of the swamp that British politics has just had…..that dead old white guy Mr Jung might even say that there’s a bit of synchronicity going on around here….however. My strange day on the internet happened because i was emptying out boxes of books in one space, emptying out my stores crates in another and in both sorting out and throwing out, and then during breaks i was watching not just one but several youtube clips of extreme cleaners vs extreme hoarders, if you like : the obsessive/compulsive cleaners vs the total slobs !. We are neither but we do live in a small cottage that’s a bit prone to mold and mildew this time of year and we do rather tend to accumulate ‘stuff’ ; my big problem being books because i’m interested in so many things at any one time.
Christmas is more than a bit weird wouldn’t you say ?. I get the basic idea which is that the day is supposed to celebrate the birth of Jesus even though the various Christian sects don’t and can’t agree on the actual date it should be : Jesus almost certainly wasn’t born on whatever day the modern December 25th corresponds to in any of the ancient calendars but lets put that aside as mere nit picking : the core idea in the Christian faith is to celebrate his birth. I could almost end it there and ask the same kind of questions that many others ask : essentially something along the lines of “what if anything of the modern ‘normal’ Christmas has anything remotely to do with the birth of Jesus” ? the answer has to be very little if nothing at all.
The Christmas that most of my neighbours seem to be having is little more than a mixture of Victorian era traditions, such as Christmas cards, Christmas Carols and Christmas trees, mixed in with many pre-Christian aspects….Yule for example is the original Nordic/Scandinavian feast at the winter solstice….and all mixed with an enormous amount of commercial excess and sheer greed. Some would say that the Christmas meal feast of roasted Turkey and mixed veg plus or minus mince pies and Christmas pudding are ancient customs….not so , and once again most of those things are Victorian era confections.
It is the case that Yule, as opposed to Christmas is associated with Odin and the wild hunt and the Yule ham for example relates to that. Personally i find the standard turkey and vegetables meal to be the most boring and least like a true feast, if you’re now just thinking that i’m some sort of Christmas denying grouch on a bad day then no : we accidentally celebrate the winter solstice with a treat meal because it’s also my partners birthday and it’s a neat kind of way of ending the year. However we also kind-of celebrate Yule in our own way in that i make sure to turn out the most excellent dinner i can some time between official Christmas and calendar new year : this year i did very slow cooked spicy lamb shanks over fruity couscous…..and i bet that lamb is much more a ‘Biblical‘ meat in many cultures than is dry and dull Turkey.
I like the idea of a time of feasting at Yule then, and at least in my own mind, differentiate it from Christmas which is a not so old overlay arbritarily decided upon by committee in the early Christian sects and then kind-of imposed on top of pre-existing customs : but where does that leave ‘Christmas’ itself and any meaning thereof ?
The point of this post isn’t an anti-Christian polemic, rather it’s a serious question that i’m going to begin to explore in the Opsimath series of posts, of which this is the first. In my own mind i have separated Christmas from Yule, which, i believe, is much closer to what we actually celebrate in the west and is definitely based on pre-Christian customs. The actual Christmas that modern day Christians seem to celebrate is mostly a Victorian era confection ; that’s the Christmas cards, mince pies, Christmas trees and so on….the Mistletoe is very pagan by the way !.
What then of Christmas ‘Christmas’ then and any genuine meaning and not the pappy sap that many would come out with if asked ?
Well, in between scrubbing the oven, sorting out the book piles and watching extreme OCD cleaners meet extreme slobs on Youtube i did some more serious surfing and a bit of first line research. As you know i follow that Canadian professor bloke and his work : he put out a quick post that Christmas is about the birth of the Logos…..and i bet that’s not a word you hear discussed very often : wasn’t the Logos the name of Morpheus’s ship in the ‘Matrix’ films ?….great films by the way. I had to go and check because Logos isn’t a word i use every day and it doesn’t quite mean what i thought it did, i’ll cut straight to the chase scene here and say that it’s a difficult concept to grasp but basically can be taken as : the Word of God, or principle of divine reason and creative order, identified in the Gospel of John with the second person of the Trinity incarnate in Jesus Christ.
There are of course pages and pages, whole books even, of explanation , amplification and argument, which is interesting in itself because what is being claimed is none less that Jesus himself is or was the living embodiment of ‘Word’, divine reason, creative order , and, if we take in other elements of the same idea then also argument, discourse, reason and debate….and it goes on.
Now, don’t worry, i’m still a simple and Godless sailor but i work with words, reason and even creative order , language certainly, all the time here. It seems to me though that we are in the post Christian era : to me Christianity is a kind of shipwreck on the shore with dead bodies and debris on the beach. Here, at the end of the post is a sailing metaphor for you : “i keep watch, i look to windward” but not just at sea. The way i see it, on my watch, is that in this strange post-Christian and post-modern world that the ‘Word’, divine reason, creative order and even basic discourse, simple argument , fact and truth, is all being torn up and thrown away to the four winds.
This then is by way of an introduction and a lead-in to some posts in which i’m going to thinking out loud and talking about word, language, argument, discussion and language.
Time for the red pill methinks.