Snow

victoria-xmas-cardSome stories demand attention.   Any writer can find them – or rather, they find him, eagerly salivating little gangs that pounce each time he opens his laptop and switches on.  Headlines, oddities, issues that invite comment, or exercise a turn of phrase.  Stories that beg to be told.

So here I am, staring at the keys.

Christmas stares back at me.

Christmas makes it abundantly clear:  it does not beg to be told.  All it wants is to be put back in its box.   Its greatest hope is to be left in peace.   Over the centuries it has been written about incessantly; it has been turned over, forensically examined, boiled down and put into test tubes, sculpted by the greatest, depicted by the painty-est (yes, I know it’s a new word – I just invented it) and sung without mercy.

There is nothing about Christmas we do not already know.

We know that St. Nicholas began a legend when (allegendly – another new one, do you like it?) he dropped bags of money down the chimneys of a deceased friend’s daughters to save them from penury.  We know the first Christmas trees were religious symbols Eastern European people hung upside-down from their ceilings (or medieval equivalent) as appeasement to evil spirits, just as ‘decking the halls with holly’ dates back to days when the dark woods were never far from our doors, and we needed to be sure our friendly sprites and fairies would feel at home when the party started.

We are aware our celebrations are intrinsically pagan, and early Christians hung their own festival of Christ’s Mass upon them for convenience, because it was easier to get converts if they didn’t try to impose additional celebrations on people whose winter resources were limited.   They understood even then that Jesus was not born on December 25th:  they argued about His actual birthday from the very beginning.

So where is the new angle?  What startling revelation can I bring?

I have seated Christmas on my window sill, hoping a little cold air will wake it up.  It just stares at me, blankly.  Beyond the glass, Washington Irving’s rotund red fellow ho-ho-ho’s at me before fading away; heading back, presumably, to his inhospitable den at the North Pole.   How the hell does he cover Australia in midsummer from there and still get home before dawn?   Albert and Vicky smile regally from their cardboard portrait, the first Christmas card, before disappearing into an envelope to be despatched by a postal service that hasn’t been invented yet, making me wonder – was it an ill-advised penchant for adorning our Christmas trees with lighted candles that stimulated creation of a national fire service?

“No.” Christmas assures me.  “Insurance companies created the first organised fire brigades.  Nicholas Burbon initiated one after the Great Fire of London to protect properties he insured.  The first organised municipal brigade was probably Edinburgh’s, in 1824.”  It squirms in a weak attempt at enthusiasm.  “That’s something new for you!”

“But nothing to do with Christmas.”

“Oh, well then.”  It appears to be dropping off to sleep.  I give it a prod.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, WHAT?”

“I want a new angle.”

“There isn’t any.”

“Just something – anything – a bit different?”

It tucks its chin into its chest, adopting the shrivelled appearance it always has just before twelfth night, when nearly all its needles have dropped off.   “Snow.”  It mutters.

Snow.

Snow, of course, is the great enemy in Eastern Europe’s icy winter heart.   The Germanic peoples of history knew all about snow – the white blast that drove them to huddle within their huts, sealed up and buried, for the winter of the year.   It was an enforced hibernation, a somnolent wait for the coming of spring, and a habit as old as time.

Equal in tradition was Yule (the Nordic houl), the time of the hunt.  It began once the huts-on-the-steppeharvest was gathered in, and, just like the harvest, it culminated in a great feast – the feast of Yule.  Carcasses kept frozen by frost could be stored, so as to provision the months of incarceration.  Given a good hunting season, whatever was left over was consumed in feasting, sending celebrants to their hovels with full stomachs and hopeful hearts.

The Yule Festival – kept more formally by the Romans as ‘Saturnalia’, equally an occasion for seven days of self-indulgence – had added significance, for peoples of early times, as the winter solstice; important for those who relied so heavily upon the mood of the sun, and therefore a religious occasion:  of course, wherever there was a religious occasion the witches could be expected to put in an appearance, so it was a time of superstition and fear, too.

Perhaps it was that weak underbelly of terror that the Christians, four hundred years after the time when Christ is said to have lived, latched onto in the spread of their gentler creed; but it took all that time before Yule could be reborn as Christmas.

So there’s my angle.  It isn’t really new, and I’m sure you knew it already, but I thought I should just remind you that whenever someone laments Christmas’s ‘commercialism’, and insists upon the ‘true message’ of Christmas, it is you who has the moral high ground.   It is the time of the solstice and it is a feast:  the Romans gave gifts at Saturnalia, and so should you.

Christmas looks at me archly.  “Can I go back in my box, now?”

“Yes, of course.  Until next year, at least.   Oh, and thank you for ‘snow’.”

 

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Two Books

History is best when briefest, so forgive me for omission of a multitude of finer points in pursuit of essence?   Yes, I know the Devil is in the detail, and the Devil has a fairly prominent role in what follows.  Nonetheless….

A Book:Old Bible

The Bible is the result of a collection of manuscripts, Hebrew and Greek, which became an entity about a thousand years after the life of Christ.  It has since evolved and suffered the rigours of translation a few times.   It is the book that props up the table leg of Christian belief, but very few of its followers, even the most devout, could quote it word for word.

Another Book:

imagesThe Quran tabulates the teachings of the prophet Mohammed (and forgive my failure to bless his name when I mention him) as they were handed down to him by the angel Gabrielle – a bit like Moses and the Commandments, if you like.  The work was begun around 610 AD and formalised around 644 AD, twelve years after the prophet’s death.  It has altered remarkably little since – if at all – and good Moslem children learn it by rote, word for word.

Two books.  The one an archive of documents which, although by no means exclusively, forms the basis of Western morality; the other the masterwork of a single author who, if we are to believe his own account, acted as ghost writer for an angel.

Nothing wrong there.  Two ancient tomes, both alike in dignity, but with very different impact upon their readers.  The ‘Christian’ world of the West has diversified, experimented and generally subsumed the original pearls of Biblical faith as parts of a recognised standard of behaviour we might once have classified as ‘God-fearing’.  The faith is old; the code remains.

The Islamic world, by contrast, is as youthful and fresh as ever, and has moved not one inch.   In western terms, because they determine political thinking, the teachings of the Quran are corrosive and dangerous, and the inescapable fact that Muslims should have imbibed the book in its totality by the time they reach their grown-up years makes compromise with Western society extremely difficult.

It seems well-nigh impossible to find a neutral translation from the Arabic where the Quran is concerned, but certain quotations are undeniable.   These concern Moslem treatment of women:

“Women are your fields: go, then, into your fields whence you please.” Quran 2:223

“Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other……. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and forsake them in beds apart, and beat them.”   Quran 4:34

“Call in two male witnesses from among you, but if two men cannot be found, then one man and two women whom you judge fit to act as witnesses…” Quran 2:282

“And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment…” Q 24:31.

It requires only a very brief adventure into these texts to gain an understanding of the separation from our society that immigrants from the Moslem world must feel.  It makes the assaults upon German and Swiss women by drunken North African Moslem immigrants no more forgivable but somewhat more understandable if they have been raised to believe women are their ‘fields’: ‘go, then, into your fields whence you please’ can, after all, almost be read as an incitement to rape.  Q.24:31 might have been the text that led an Imam to blame the assaulted women for the crimes on the grounds that they were ‘dressed provocatively’.

My point is this; and I make it without shame.  Population drift has been a fact of history – it nearly always follows wealth from East to West, and it invariably re-shapes whatever it touches to some subtle degree.  But the touch of Islam, at least where it concerns the rights of women, will be anything but subtle.  Devout Islamic migrants cannot conform to our moral code without deliberately flouting religious laws they have learnt to obey to the letter since childhood.   The best they can hope to achieve is a necessary cohabitation with ‘the infidel’.  Whether we are prepared to accept such a dilemma, or whether we are ready to do what must ultimately be essential to prevent it, are vital matters for debate.  It is an issue that affects the USA as much as Europe because in these small-world days migration no longer takes more than the briefest tea break upon the shores of Galway.

In 2015 the borders of Europe were crossed by more than a million migrants from south and east of the Mediterranean, a figure likely to redouble next year.  As climate change bites, this trend is likely to continue.  It threatens the European Union and has already called the Schengen open border agreement into question.

I will inevitably be branded, by those who must have labels, ‘racist’ for this.  I am not.  Nor am I ‘religionist’.  These terms are tools obdurate and unyielding proponents of Islam use to stifle argument.  I have had many Moslem acquaintances who are kind, gentle, and very clever people.  Our greedy little empires need them.  But almost all have made ‘the jump’ and become ‘Friday Moslems’, very, very few manage to balance their participation in our society with devout adherence to their faith.  The sheer numbers, I fear, must overwhelm them as well as us.

burqa

This is a call, I think, to women everywhere to protect and assert those rights they have fought so hard and so long to achieve.   In similar measure the Quran’s position on homosexuality should be challenged.   We are tolerant, but there must be limits.   Do we really want the burqa to ‘veil’ women from public view?  Do we accept a controlling male society that keeps its women indoors and out of sight, or do we insist these attitudes must be changed?

There is much in Islam that is good.  Mohammed’s achievement in unifying religious belief among the pagan Arabs was heroic, but rigid adherence to rules he laid down almost 1400 years ago has the potential to set civilisation back several centuries.  We should all be aware of the direction in which we are being led.