“The only [religious story] that stuck with me was something Sister McKenna said, . . . ‘God is love.’ It’s simple, and a little sappy, but, that’s the version I like. God is love; the thing that holds us together. And if that’s true I don’t think he’d punish you for making a mistake. I think he’d forgive a mistake.”
—Skye (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S1.E9)
Because I love a lot about the new Netflix series Jessica Jones, I was all the more disappointed when it resorted to cheap shots the first time Jessica encountered a religious person—a Catholic woman who seems to thank God that her son is home, now, albeit strapped to a machine because a villain stole his kidneys. Jessica doesn’t say anything specific to the woman, but it’s clear the show views her faith with derision.
“Hallelujah score 1741” by George Frideric Handel 1685–1759 – Scanned from The Story of Handel’s Messiah by Watkins Shaw, published by Novello & Co Ltd, London 1963. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
A few Decembers ago, I saw Handel’s acclaimed Messiah oratorio in concert for the first time. From our side balcony seats at the Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto, my friends and I had an overhead view of the choir as well as the orchestra stage. We could only see the backs of the interchanging soloists, which worried me a little. Would the experience be lessened by this limited view? A few minutes into the show, however, I realized that we could see something that the coveted, pricier center section below could not: the face of the conductor.
“ChristmasEveOhio1928” by Father of dok1 / Don O’Brien – Flickr photo. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons
You have probably heard the over-used saw, “tis better to give than to receive.” Now aside from the advertisers who glibly employ it for entirely selfish reasons (may they be sent for a week to the 8th circle of Dante’s hell) here is my annoyance: a gift with a motive is no gift at all, unless it’s to make the receiver thrilled to their booties. Romantic friends with pure intentions know that warming glow felt deep in their hearts as the beloved opens up some carefully chosen little treasure. Parents also know a similar feeling – or so I am told, not yet partaking in parenthood – of watching a twinkly eyed tot ogling over their gifts. I rather doubt that the parents were secretly plotting in the corners of toy department how best to psychologically manipulate their children into being better behaved, or quicker memorise their classical education. If they did, the gift would cease being a gift.
Good holiday stories need a villain. Ebenezer Scrooge, The Grinch, Hans Gruber. And of course, Krampus.
Krampus is having a moment—he’s acquired a Los Angeles fan club with a pretty spiffy web page, he’s been featured on the Colbert Report, and he’s even starring in a film. This half-goat-half-devil Austrian folk creature dates back, most believe, to Norse mythology. He’s St. Nicholas’ other half—he handles the kids who’ve been nicht so gut.
A few Christmases ago, I heard Johnny Cash’s version of “The Little Drummer Boy” for the first time—and heard words in the song I never had before. That gravelly voice brought a certain realistic cadence to the carol, the cadence of a human soul before the Son of God, lying as he is in a container that holds food for cows and donkeys. And it’s also, I realized, the cadence of a musician, an artist, giving what he has. (The video of Cash singing the carol is well worth watching.)