Brushes with Culture

This is a space where I can reflect on the many fascinating things that I experience. Some of the things I brush with are Culture with a capital C. Others are just intriguing moments. Sometimes I am brushing with these moments in a hurry. This is a chance to relive those moments in tranquility. These are the stories I tell myself in those quieter moments.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Over for another Year

The Jewish festival of lights, Chanukah, and Christmas coincided on 25th December this year - something which happens every 19 years, apparently. While Chanukah has another seven days to run before all the candles are lit, Christmas has given way today to The Sales, even more quickly than it used to. Already the glitter has been pulled off the shelves of a hundred thousand shops.

I note the shift from alcohol and perfume adverts that seemed integral to ITV films on Christmas Eve, as overnight they are replaced by exotic holiday and half-price sofa slots: I note it with pleasure as a sign of the passing year. (I don't like winter much.)

Sometime between 21st and 23rd of December I read Donne's poem A Nocturnal upon St Lucy's Day, being the Shortest Day. This year it is on the 23rd because I forgot to do it on the shortest day. And having forgotten, I don''t fill the house with greenery from the garden - it seems a bit belated.

'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

That's the first verse of three. I love this poem for the language, for the ideas, for the number of times I have read it out loud over the years.

I do a bit of research. I learn that St Lucy is celebrated on December 13th, a hangover from the Gregorian calendar when the 13th was the shortest day. And this saint of light (lucia, luce, lussi) is still important to the Swedes and the Sicilians, according to Diana Farrell Serbe, who has chronicled the intersection between Lucy, light and returning day on a site about seasonal foods.

So, I have been celebrating my own festival of light all these years. How apt.


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