Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wednesday, December 23rd: It's all for the rest of us!

It's here - the anticipation amongst all of your family and offspring has reached a maddening crescendo - it's time for Festivus!

Those of you who are fans of the show Seinfeld (meaning any witty human between the ages of 26 & 46) can remember the 'joke' of a holiday that was celebrated by the Costanza Family, and now has taken off in popular culture to actually become a recognized secular celebration in some states.

In Wisconsin & Washington, there are Festivus Poles displayed in the Governor's mansion (the former) and State House (the latter). A company in Wisconsin manufactures the poles (The Wagner Companies, Milwaukee), and there is even a FESTIVUS FILM FESTIVAL up here in Denver (Google it - I swear it's real).

Yeah, I know you're saying "Seriously Bill, this is a joke!" But is it? It's a holiday where a bunch of people get together around a vertical item (tree, pole, menorah, etc) follow traditions, get honest with each other (airing of grievances or drink too much), say a prayer that it all won't be too stressful, eat a big meal, and annoy each other.

For my Jewish friends and extended family - sounds like Hanukkah, doesn't it?

For my fellow Christian friends and family (of various teams) - sounds like Christmas, doesn't it?

For my athiest/agnostic friends and family - sounds like any holiday based social gathering, doesn't it?

The only thing missing from the official account of Festivus from the show (there may be a real equivalent, as I'm not an official celebrator of this cool holiday) is the doing good and giving to others which permeates the Hannukah/Christmas/Misc Holiday Season. That is truly one of the best parts.

So why talk about Festivus in this version of the blog? First, it's in the wee hours of the morning on December 23rd - which all Seinfeld fans know is Festivus. Second, I'm really tired of the over-the-top PC sensitivity that everyone gets their shorts into a wad over around the Hanukkah/Christmas season in order not to offend anyone.

Frankly people, I've got more important things to do than worry about which holiday you celebrate - whether Hanukkah, Christmas, Festivus, Kwanzaa, or whatever. OK, I have to admit that Kwanzaa is still a bit of a stretch for me, but I'm a white guy who kicked cancer in the nuts with French Canadian/Irish blood who doesn't really have a right to tell one ethnic community"no" when all people regardless of race and creed get drunk on my day - St. Patty's Day. We all know it is a made up drinking celebration based upon a dead white saint who drove snakes off of a green little pile of rocks a millenium ago.

So go ahead, and do the Kwanzaa thing. No judgement on my end.

When we were at the Taos Pueblo a couple of weeks back we were talking with one of the shopkeepers/residents of the Pueblo about their unique traditions this time of year. For their religion (which is their Native faith interspersed with Catholicism) they do a really cool thing through the month of December - they 'rest and respect the Mother Earth'. She explained that they don't listen to radio, watch tv, or talk to each other much (yes, there is a stereotype about Native peoples based upon the actress in Northern Exposure that may have some truth to it). She explained that it gives them time to appreciate the goodness of their lives and all they have been given. Their season culminates with the 'Deer Dance' on January 6th. She couldn't tell me the meaning, as their native religious ceremonies are secret, but frankly, it sounded really wonderful.

When Amanda and I got married, we both came from reasonably devout backgrounds - she was raised a Presbyterian. I was raised the son of a Catholic and Evangelical. After we got married, we as a couple made a conscious decision to attend religious services and joined the Methodist denomination. Being from rural Ohio, I had been exposed to the "Average American Religion" (United Methodist Church) most of my life and it was a nice blend of our spiritual heritage. After all, with high profile members such as Hillary Clinton, Dubya, Rush Limbaugh, and Stephen King. how could the Methodist Team not be one worth exploring?

One of the favorite Methodist traditional services of mine (not much different from many of you other traditional Christian Teams) is attending Christmas Eve Services - of the candle light/carol based variety. It's a highly reverential service, much like the practice of the Taos Natives, which is quiet and respects the importance of the spiritual aspects of the Christmas Celebration. Frankly, being in a beautiful old cathedral lit by candles on a cold winter's night is a magical moment. This year, it will be especially magical, as we'll be at Trinity Methodist in Downtown Denver (a seriously beautiful building - check it out when you can) listening to their wonderful choir to candlelight. Of all the songs sung at past services, my favorite Carol is "Once in Royal David's City" We first heard this in a Christmas Eve service at our congregation in Cincinnati, Hyde Park Community Methodist, sung by the pre-puberty son of some friends of ours, the Viators. Absolutely beautiful.

Over the years since I've made it a point to, on each Christmas Eve, tune into the BBC's broadcast of the "Festival of Lessons and Carols" from King's College Chapel in Cambridge, England. They do a beautiful rendition of the song, in a wonderful architectural space that is a unique interpretation of a Christian Church - I like to call it the "Festivus Table" of religious space. When you look at the video, notice the beautiful, light & spiritually inspired structure. Then take a look at the layout of the chapel where the people face each other as a community, with little focus (if any) on the 'front' altar of the space. This is a room where people could (when the service is over) effectively air some grievances - possibly even participate in the feats of strength.

But seriously, start the video and turn up the volume. It's magic. One of the items on my 'bucket list' would be to attend this service at King's in person. Since I've beat cancer, I've got about 63 years to go until birthday 100 - we'll fit it in there somehow.

"Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness."

Celebrate this Season and appreciate what you've been given. You're living in this moment and have seen another sunrise. That's all you get.

Merry Christmas!


CANCER UPDATE: Radiation oncologist, Dr. Chin, said it 'looks good'. I follow up with him mid-spring. On my first 3 month check up with my regular Oncologist, Dr. Hinshaw, I may end up getting another PetScan to do a baseline 'all clear' after radiation - more to come next month.

CANCER SOUNDTRACK: "Once in Royal David's City" As mentioned above, by any whoop-*ss choir.