Category Archives: Anglicanism

Advent Day 11: Priest, Cat, Kremlin

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Small fat singing Father Christmas was originally my mum’s – I love him so much and cried when she gave him to me. Look at him rocking out in front of Ibsen’s Plays.

Lo! The Advent Calendrist has been derailed by the snow cancelling her evening plans! SEE how she reduces her living room to Santa’s Workshop if-Santa-had-really-specific-views-on-wrapping-paper. MARVEL as she finally exhausts the internet’s supply of tabloid articles on Strictly drancers’ marital breakdowns  and the romantic life of Craig Revel-Horwood. REJOICE as she assembles a smorgasbord of FESTIVE GOODNESS for ALL BROWS both LOW and HIGH.

For those who appreciate FINE MUSIC and EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD RELIGIOUS SENSE, there is a podcast by the Revd Dr Jenn Strawbridge (all-round excellent priest and person) exploring the carol ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night’ as part of a Sacred Music Advent Calendar from St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London.

For those who appreciate CATS that are trying to DESTROY CHRISTMAS, there is a seasonal selection of  20+ Times Cats Hilariously Crashed Nativity Scenes!

And finally, for those who appreciate ICONIC CLASSICAL BALLET as reminiscent of 1980S FLAMINGO CANDY DREAMS, see: this extract from the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker, a WALTZ OF THE FLOWERS against a backdrop of MY BARBIE DREAM HOUSE KREMLIN. This production was staged in 1993, a year which inspired ALL OF CURRENT TOPSHOP, but also a year in which none of my current undergraduates were AS YET ALIVE:

С Рождеством! (from Google Translate and me)

Advent Calendar Day 5: Christina Rossetti

The fifth day of Advent belongs to poet Christina Rossetti, born on 5th December 1830. She has been much on my mind today, as admissions season continues. Back in 2004, when I was interviewing at Oriel, Christina Rossetti was one of two women nineteenth-century poets of whom I’d actually heard (the other was Emily Dickinson), and she crops up with candidates – especially women – today.

image_largeThis week, I have also been spending my evenings at Keble, whose chapel is home to ‘The Light of the World’, Holman Hunt’s 1853 painting, whose Christ has the face and head of Christina herself; her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) co-founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with Holman Hunt and Millais.

‘The Light of the World’ was one of relatively few paintings that I could identify before university, partly because one of our schoolteachers was sufficiently obsessed to give an annual assembly on the picture, and partly because the PRB were amply exhibited in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (I also knew some other paintings, e.g. Guernica and some Van Gogh, and – less usefully – such items of folk art as The Really Big Pigs at Compton Verney).

Keble Chapel is sublime. No other college chapel changes so much with the weather. In sunshine, the mosaics glitter like a Children’s Illustrated Bible, and during a thunderstorm, it turns into Byzantium.

Christina Rossetti’s best-known poetic contribution to Christmas is ‘In The Bleak Mid-Winter’ (1872) now a much-loved carol that I remember learning in primary school, with appropriately mordaunt sigh-singing on snow on snow, snow on snooow throughout December. It’s the carol that springs horribly to mind when I witness homelessness exposed to a ‘frosty wind’ and ‘earth stood hard as iron’.

Rossetti’s other Christmas poem, though, is ‘Christmas Eve’ (undated pre-1886). I love it and it’s reproduced below.

Christmas hath a darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Earth, strike up your music,
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven hath answering music
For all Angels soon to sing:
Earth, put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

I love this poem for holding in tension the tragic framing of the Christmas story, seen here as chillness, coldness and poverty  – with the joy of the season of Christ’s birth. I struggle with the joyless snobbery of some Christian commentaries on Advent. No, it’s not Christmas yet, yes Advent is penitential, and if the ‘commercialisation’ of Christmas is ‘depressing’, it’s perhaps rather less depressing than e.g. the ongoing sexual abuse scandals, the existence of Trump, and the rollout of Universal Credit. The world and the winter are cold and dark, and I am both doggedly Anglican and fond of tinsel. There are, it seems to me, so many more Christian things to do in December than grumble about secularised Advent: donate to your foodbank, bother your MP, chat to your neighbour, support a charity that helps those most vulnerable to the inequalities Christmas highlights. Light some lights and eat some chocolate. If you share the chocolate that is basically A Moral Good too.

Advent Day 4: St Barbara

It is 10.30 p.m. on Monday 4th December, and I have just got home from an Admissions meeting with colleagues of many colleges. I am fuelled by an unexpectedly not-horrible elderflower Schloer, a quantity of flapjack, ravioli, and caffeine. Given my schedule for tomorrow, some or all of this may become a problem. I’m not sure how admissions chimes with Advent as a season of preparation, but both processes are intimately connected with justice, thanksgiving, community, and chocolate.

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Paolo Verenese, ‘The Holy Family with Saint Barbara and young Saint John’, 1565.

I thought I’d tell you (in some haste) about St Barbara. Today is her feast day. As saints go, she scores highly: A Woman, if not Definitely Real. She is the patron saint of those who work with explosives, and invoked by anyone with a dangerous job; her feast day is marked by the armed forces. She’s also invoked in one of my favourite plays, The House of Bernarda Alba, by Lorca, with the words ‘Blessed Santa Barbara, your story is written in the sky, with paper and holy water’. Her father, Dioscorus, was a wealthy Roman governor who enclosed her in a tower; left alone in contemplation, she became a Christian through independent thought and study. She refused her father’s suitors, and wangled some freedom which she used to meet other Christians. When he built her a bath-house, she used it as a space to perform healings and miracles. When he tried to abuse her, she ran away; ultimately, after a lot of torture alongside another Christian woman, Juliana, Barbara was beheaded by her own father. Seconds later, lightning struck him dead. Showed him. Barbara has become important to Yoruba practitioners of African religion in the Caribbean, where she represents fire, determination, and commitment. She’s also a popular saint among Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian Christians, who – today – will celebrate Eid-il-Burbara with anise, barley, pomegranates, walnuts, and almonds.

I am glad not to have a job requiring the special protection of St Barbara. I would, however, love to celebrate Eid-il-Burbara in Lebanon. Costumed children visit neighbours’ houses singing songs about how Barbara defied her father, and receive sweets in return. Evidently, our lightning-slinging heroine inspires a kind of festive Hallowe’en remix! It’s very Blink-182, only with more barley.* Hurrah for St Barbara.

 

*Watch the full video for Point Horror realness, sub-par starlets, and a bald cat (??). MERRY ADVENT. I still haven’t made any mincemeat.