Christmas Eve Reads

Christmas tree on Boston Common, 2013

Christmas tree on Boston Common, 2013

Good Morning!!

I have mixed feelings about Christmas. I’m not religious, so I can’t see the day as anything more than a secular holiday tradition when families get together. I do have happy childhood memories of the holiday; but like many other Americans, I find the excessive commercialization of the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day terribly annoying and depressing. I wouldn’t even mind if we could just celebrate the each holiday for a day or two, but instead we’re inundated with “the holidays” for more than a month.

At one time I liked listening to Christmas carols, and watch Christmas movies, but these days I try to avoid them–they’ve both been done to death by the media and corporations intent on grabbing as much of our money as they possibly can at the end of each year. I’ll be very glad when this week is over and we can get back to “normal.”

So . . . I’ve dug up some articles on the pagan origins of Christmas–I know you guys are aware of the history of the holiday, but it’s still fun to look at how our current traditions developed.

From (Canada) — Christmas traditions unwrapped: What do candy canes have to do with Christmas? Why do we kiss under the mistletoe? We get to the bottom of these yuletide customs. This article gathers together brief explanations for many of the common Christmas traditions and symbols. For example:

Why is the candy cane a symbol of Christmas? Legend has it that in the 1670s, the choirmaster of a cathedral in Cologne, Germany distributed candies shaped like a shepherd’s staff to children during the Christmas season. The idea was that the kids would make less noise if they were eating the large sweets. Their shape also enabled the candies to be hung from Christmas trees. SOURCE: The World Encyclopedia of Christmas

Why do we sing carols at Christmas? In the 13th century, Francis of Assisi, (who became the saint of animals and the environment after his death), wanted ordinary people to joyfully celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, so he added religious lyrics to popular tunes of the time. These energetic tunes were in sharp contrast to the solemn hymns sung by the priests at Christmas services. The word “carol” itself reflects uninhibited expression, deriving from the French word “caroler,” which means “dancing around in a circle.” SOURCE: How Stuff Works

Why do we kiss under the mistletoe? Mistletoe is a symbol of virility, but the tradition of kissing underneath it is believed to have its roots in a Scandinavian myth. Jealous of Baldur the Beautiful, the god of light and spring, Loki, god of mischief, used a dart poisoned with mistletoe to kill the unsuspecting Baldur. Distraught by the death of her son, Frigga, the goddess of love, decreed that mistletoe would never again be used as weapon and that she would place a kiss on anyone who passed under it. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that the British started hanging mistletoe at Christmas, hoping to bring Frigga’s good luck to anyone who kissed underneath it. SOURCE: Mental Floss

Next, a very cynical and snarky article from 2007 from — Pagan Orgies to Human Sacrifice: The Bizarre Origins of Christmas. Just a sample:

The Bible doesn’t give a lot of clues as to what time of the year the birth of Jesus happened (i.e., “… they met many travelers along the way, for it was just three days before the final game of the NFL Season…”) So, why December 25th? No one knows for sure.

One likely explanation is that early church leaders needed a holiday to distract Christians from the many pagan revelries occurring in late December. One of the revelries was The Saturnalia, a week-long festival celebrating the Romans’ favorite agricultural god, Saturn. From December 17 until December 23, tomfoolery and pagan hijinks ensued, and by hijinks we mean gluttonous feasting, drunkenness, gambling and public nudity….

Our favorite morbidly obese, undiagnosed diabetic trespasser is actually a bastardization of the Dutch Sinterklaas, which was actually a bastardization of Saint Nikolas, the holier-than-thou Turkish bishop for whom the icon was named.

The actual saint was not, in fact, famous for making dispirited public appearances at shopping malls. Rather, he was known for throwing purses of gold into a man’s home in the cover of night so that the man wouldn’t have to sell his daughters into prostitution.

That should help you decide if you want to read the whole thing.

Finally, a short piece at Guardian Media on some individuals who have “opted out of Christmas.”

Television producer and writer Paolo Kernahan said life in the media forever ruined Christmas for him. He said: “Working as a journalist, I often had to work many Christmas days. It was very difficult to see other people and all of their merry-making while I was stuck in an office or, worse, forced to do stories about how people celebrate the season.” Kernahan, who is Catholic but “not particularly devout,” has nothing to do with it any more. “Now I cannot bear to hear any Christmas music and typically change the radio stations playing any sort of seasonal music. I don’t put up Christmas trees nor any other decorations. I certainly don’t do any shopping. A life in the media unfortunately ruined this time of year for me.” Before feeling this way, Kernahan said Christmas was a time to lime with loved ones.“Christmas for me was principally about spending time with friends and family. There is something very unique about the way in which Trinidadians celebrate Christmas. It is difficult to describe but the sort of vibe you get when you are mixing with friends and family is very special.”

I can identify with that. The weird thing is that, even though I find Christmas irritating, I’m also capable of getting sentimental and weepy this time of year because of the many memories I’ve stored in my subconscious over the years.

I’ve probably mentioned in the past that anxiety and depression run in my family. I was very anxious as a child and through much of my adulthood. Now, after years of therapy, I don’t experience a lot of free-floating anxiety, but I can still get anxious over problems and when anticipating social situation. I recall being depressed and having thoughs of suicide as early as 12-13. I was really depressed as a teenager and battled depression for many years. Frankly, Prozac saved my life.

That’s why I was fascinated by this article in the latest Atlantic by Scott Stossel, Surviving Anxiety: I’ve tried therapy, drugs, and booze. Here’s how I came to terms with the nation’s most common mental illness. It’s a long read, but here’s just a short excerpt:

I wish I could say that my anxiety is a recent development, or that it is limited to public speaking. It’s not. My wedding was accompanied by sweating so torrential that it soaked through my clothes and by shakes so severe that I had to lean on my bride at the altar, so as not to collapse. At the birth of our first child, the nurses had to briefly stop ministering to my wife, who was in the throes of labor, to attend to me as I turned pale and keeled over. I’ve abandoned dates; walked out of exams; and had breakdowns during job interviews, plane flights, train trips, and car rides, and simply walking down the street. On ordinary days, doing ordinary things—reading a book, lying in bed, talking on the phone, sitting in a meeting, playing tennis—I have thousands of times been stricken by a pervasive sense of existential dread and been beset by nausea, vertigo, shaking, and a panoply of other physical symptoms. In these instances, I have sometimes been convinced that death, or something somehow worse, was imminent.

Even when not actively afflicted by such acute episodes, I am buffeted by worry: about my health and my family members’ health; about finances and other things can find on the internet; about work; about the rattle in my car and the dripping in my basement; about the encroachment of old age and the inevitability of death; about everything and nothing. Sometimes this worry gets transmuted into low-grade physical discomfort—stomachaches, headaches, dizziness, pains in my arms and legs—or a general malaise, as though I have mononucleosis or the flu. At various times, I have developed anxiety-induced difficulties breathing, swallowing, even walking; these difficulties then become obsessions, consuming all of my thinking.

I also suffer from a number of specific fears and phobias, in addition to my public-speaking phobia. To name a few: enclosed spaces (claustrophobia); heights (acrophobia); fainting (asthenophobia); being trapped far from home (a species of agoraphobia); germs (bacillophobia); cheese (turophobia); flying (aerophobia); vomiting (emetophobia); and, naturally, vomiting while flying (aeronausiphobia).

Anxiety has afflicted me all my life. When I was a child and my mother was attending law school at night, I spent evenings at home with a babysitter, abjectly terrified that my parents had died in a car crash or had abandoned me (the clinical term for this is separation anxiety); by age 7 I had worn grooves in the carpet of my bedroom with my relentless pacing, trying to will my parents to come home. During first grade, I spent nearly every afternoon for months in the school nurse’s office, sick with psychosomatic headaches, begging to go home; by third grade, stomachaches had replaced the headaches, but my daily trudge to the infirmary remained the same. During high school, I would purposely lose tennis and squash matches to escape the agony of anxiety that competitive situations would provoke in me. On the one—the only—date I had in high school, when the young lady leaned in for a kiss during a romantic moment (we were outside, gazing at constellations through her telescope), I was overcome by anxiety and had to pull away for fear that I would vomit. My embarrassment was such that I stopped returning her phone calls.

Now that’s a serious anxiety disorder! The Atlantic article is an excerpt from Stossel’s new book My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind. Coincidentally, Scott’s sister Sage, a cartoonist for The Atlantic, also has a new book, a graphic novel called Starling. Here’s the description of the book from Amazon.

For Amy Sturgess, life in the big city comes with trouble. Her marketing career is being derailed by a conniving coworker stealing her accounts. Her family crises range from her down-and-out brother running afoul of the law to her mother’s growing affections for the house cats. And Amy’s love life just flatlined thanks to an unexpected reunion with the one that got away–who’s now engaged.

When Xanax and therapy fail to relieve her stress, Amy does what any young woman in her position would do: She uses her superstrength, speed, flight, and ability to generate 750 volts from her hands to fight crime as the mysterious masked vigilante Starling. But while Starling is hailed as a superhero, will Amy remain a super-zero?

Apparently Sage also has psychological issues, according to The New York Times. They have a long family history of psychological disorders:

Scott’s book, published by Knopf, is a mix of memoir, medical history and modern manual of anxiety disorders. It traces six generations of family history brimming with nervous stomachs, depression, alcoholism and possible Oedipal complexes. His great-grandfather Chester Hanford, once the dean at Harvard College, was admitted to a mental institution in the late 1940s after experiencing acute anxiety. Twenty years later, his wife died from an overdose of scotch and sleeping pills.

Scott Stossel’s mother suffered from panic attacks and is afraid of heights, public speaking and vomiting. (His wife, Susanna, is an elementary-school teacher who is not prone to anxiety.)

Sage Stossel, who is 42 and married, said that, as a child, she was shy and socially anxious. She recalls becoming “utterly fixated” on a classmate’s criticism of her for being quiet.

And as if that weren’t bad enough, Scott and Sage’s uncle (their father’s brother) is the infamous right wing nut and Fox contributor John Stossel.

I’m out of space, but I’ll post some headlines in the comment thread. I hope you’ll do the same if you happen to stop by today. Have a wonderful holiday, no matter how you choose to celebrate (or not celebrate).

58 Comments on “Christmas Eve Reads”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    I’m going up to New Hampshire this afternoon to spend Christmas with my brother and his family, but I’ll try to check in from time to time. My nephew already called to make sure I bring my computer so we can play Minecraft.

    • Merry Christmas BB, have a safe trip and hug your nephews for me.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Thanks, JJ. You have a wonderful Christmas with your family. How is Bebe feeling?

        • She is not feeling good, poor thing. And yesterday my Uncle had a stroke. (My mom’s sister’s husband.) He is seventy, looks like it affected his speech. Still waiting on the news from the MRI. You know how it is in my family, it is always something. lol

          • bostonboomer says:

            Never a dull moment. I hope you uncle will be OK. Those symptoms can reverse themselves. My mother-in-law lost her ability to walk, talk, and write from a stroke and everything came back eventually.The human brain is amazingly flexible.

          • NW Luna says:

            JJ, I hope Bebe feels better quite soon.

            And I second what BB said … brain plasticity does wonders. It’s way too early to rule anything out, especially if it only affected his speech. It’s just just so damn frustrating to have to re-learn to do something as an adult, though.

          • NW Luna says:

            Heart troubles spike during holiday season, studies show

            Heart attacks rise the most, but other serious illness does too. 😦

          • dakinikat says:

            My ex had a stroke a couple days ago. Kids are there spending time in hospital with him.

        • NW Luna says:

          Have a wonderful trip and peaceful visit, BB.

          • bostonboomer says:

            Thanks. It has been a lot of fun so far.

          • NW Luna says:

            That’s good to hear, BB.

            Oh, I plowed thru a few more medical journal articles on ketamine and yes as you commented it can be addictive. Odd that articles on potential new uses rarely bothered to mention that drawback. Also there appears to be a dose-dependent relationship, but I didn’t have time to get a good grasp of it yet. Psychoneuropharmacology is not my strongest talent. I’ll look at them again in the next day or so and will go add a summary to that post when the topic first came up.

          • bostonboomer says:

            You never know, it could help people. Electroshock therapy helps some people, though I’d never do it myself after I saw what it did to my mother-in-law. Depression is incredibly painful. But I think a serious drug like that should be prescribed only by a qualified psychiatrist who really knows what he or she is doing.

          • NW Luna says:

            Oh there are definitely some drugs that should only be prescribed by specialists. I think a certificated psychiatric nurse practitioner could do it as well as a psychiatrist. I’m extrapolating from studies looking at care outcomes between the two professions in other medical conditions. Also the NP would likely spend a lot more time with the patient than the 10-15 min med checks that many psychiatrists do.

    • dakinikat says:

      Have Fun and be Safe!!!

  2. NW Luna says:

    Brava on your post, BB. The combination of crass consumerism, forced jollity, and inane music gets really hard to take for me too. A couple more days and we’ll be through the worst of it!

    Need to go catch up on my reading the posts and comments, but have to work today so that may get delayed even more.

    Thanks for posting on anxiety. I think our fast-paced, must do action now! world exacerbates that. Anxiety is an evolutionary advantage that worked much better when we could indeed run away from or fight the cave bears. It made sense to worry about “what if?” then. These days, worrying about “what if” makes ya crazy! (((hugs to you)))

  3. Fannie says:

    Thanks BB, luv Boston’s Tree, and Merry Christmas to all my sky dancers, there is no place like HOME.

  4. RalphB says:

    Great post as usual BB. Merry Christmas to all the Sky Dancing family. May the Holidays be happy and end soon.

  5. dakinikat says:

    Hate to sully a nice peaceful heartfelt thread with this kinda crap, but had to do it …

    it seems my Governor wasn’t the only right wing jerk that didn’t read the damned interview before spouting off!!!

    Sarah Palin: I didn’t read ‘Duck Dynasty’ interview

    Read more:

  6. dakinikat says:

    and some times I really really do find it hard to be compassionate to people like this:

    The hosts of Fox & Friends on Tuesday thanked Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) for what they said was a “bipartisan effort” to “save Christmas,” while excluding all other holidays from all other religions.

    “H.R. 448 is a bipartisan resolution to protect Christmas,” Lamborn explained. “It says that we should, as a country, protect the symbols and traditions of Christmas and not put up with any attempts to ban the symbols and traditions of Christmas.”

    According to Fox News, Lamborn’s bill would protect Nativity scenes and singing Christmas carols in public places. It would also ensure that people have the ability to say the word “Christmas.”

    “There is a vocal minority that is offended at the rest of us who want to celebrate Christmas,” Lamborn opined. “Just because someone is offended doesn’t mean that they can shut down the religious celebration or acknowledgement of every other American. Then that tramples on the rights of those Americans.”

    • RalphB says:

      What an incredible bunch of fakers and assholes.

    • NW Luna says:

      We’re going to advance a right to foist our religion on the public. And trample on everyone else’s right to not have someone else’s religion in their face.

      It would also ensure that people have the ability to say the word “Christmas.”

      Hate to tell ya, Fox, but if people lack the ability to speak, HR 448 isn’t gonna give it to them.

  7. RalphB says:

    That anxiety story brings to mind my own really odd occurrence. Growing up, and until I was about 40 years old, I didn’t have any issues with anxiety or claustrophobia etc. Really wasn’t bothered by much of anything in that regard. Then I had a small accident while working in my garage and went to the ER. The doctor there thought I had cracked my wrist and put a cast on it then prescribed the steroid prednisone.

    That night I had a psychotic reaction to the prednisone and believed that I couldn’t breathe properly. I literally felt as though I was starving for oxygen. The cast on my wrist was driving me further nuts so I used a kitchen knife and cut it off. I took no more and the effect largely went away in about a day or so.

    However, ever since then I have been very claustrophobic and get anxious for no apparent reason quite often. It seems the psychotic reaction partially rewired me. How rare is that? Anyone venture a guess? BB?

    • bostonboomer says:

      Wow! That’s quite a story. It sounds like you had some kind of reaction to the steroid. Is there anything that triggers the anxiety reaction? It sounds like the experience you had was pretty traumatic.

      • RalphB says:

        The reaction was horrible. I thought I was smothering to death and couldn’t breath. The poison control center told my wife to try to keep me distracted and if I got worse or began to lose more control to call 911 because I could be a danger to her or to myself.

        Usually crowds trigger the anxiety reaction though I have had them just sitting in my house watching TV and boom. Though sometimes crowds have no effect, it’s just strange.

    • NW Luna says:

      Ouch! Steroid psychosis is an uncommon but well-known adverse reaction to prednisone and other steroids. Prescribers should always discuss possible med side effects to patients, especially something serious like that! Not to mention it’s far from standard practice to Rx steroids to someone after a fracture, but maybe they thought differently back then.

      We do know that a “thought track” can get worn into the brain, so to speak, and it gets easier and easier for reactions to occur along the same neural pathway. This concept is theorized to explain some of the habitually anxious or depressed thoughts in people with anxiety or depression, and why you can’t just “snap out of it.” Usually it takes more than one occurrence, but since that episode was so profoundly disturbing, it may be easier to trigger such a reaction. Sometimes smells, sounds, colors, etc., can be triggers from a memory. The human brain is not well understood — seems the more we learn, the more questions we have.

      I’ve glad any subsequent reactions have been less severe.

      • bostonboomer says:

        To me the symptoms sound a little like PTSD. That’s why I wondered if something specific could trigger an attack.

        Psychological disorders develop from a combination of genetics and experience–usually stress. A very stressful experience like that could trigger anxiety symptoms, and once you have the symptoms they can continue because of simple classical conditioning.

        • NW Luna says:

          Very nicely said, BB.

        • RalphB says:

          That could well be the answer. As I’ve aged the anxiety issues have lessened quite a lot but the claustrophobia is still there. For instance, it takes drugs to get me through an MRI.

          • NW Luna says:

            Stuff someone into a tiny narrow tube and tell ’em to not move? Of course all the body’s instincts would be yelling “Get me out of here!” I sympathize.

  8. dakinikat says:

    Okay, enough of carols … enjoy the blues!!

  9. RalphB says:

    Dudebro is not cool! 😉

    Seinfeld Writer Suggests Rand Paul’s Festivus Rant Made Holiday Uncool

    Festivus’ pop-culture dominance may have run its course with Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) anti-Washington tweeting spree.

    At least that’s what Dan O’Keefe, the “Seinfeld” writer whose odd family tradition inspired the fake holiday, implied Tuesday on CNN’s “New Day.”

    “When Rand Paul tries to seem relevant with 15-year-old pop cultural references, it reminds me of when Bob Hope used to dress up as the Fonz, but that’s just me,” O’Keefe said, as quoted by Politico.

  10. RalphB says:

    A couple of pieces of what seem like unabashedly good news for the ACA.

    California Obamacare Enrollment Tops 400,000 as of Sunday.

    2 Million People Visited Ahead Of Deadline on Monday alone.

    • NW Luna says:

      Shhhhh! you’re spoiling some haternutz’s holidays!

      • NW Luna says:

        And our state’s exchange has been busy (tho alas we’ve had website problems too):

        Enrollments in private health plans on Healthplanfinder, the state’s online insurance marketplace, surged past 65,000 as applicants hustled to beat the Monday night deadline for coverage beginning Jan. 1, Washington Health Benefit Exchange officials reported Tuesday.

        Nearly 69,000 others have completed the enrollment process, but haven’t arranged payment, and another group of undetermined size has begun applications that are in varying stages of completion.

        If a large percentage of those applicants take the final steps, total enrollments in private plans through Healthplanfinder could top the state’s target of 130,000 enrollments in 2013.

  11. ANonOMouse says:

    Just wanted to stop by and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and happy holiday. You’re all the greatest. Peace to us all.

  12. Mary Luke says:

    OK this is bad. I’m eleven miles from downtown Boston and I haven’t seen the tree yet. But I will let you in on our little secret…it photographs much nicer than it looks. At least, my experience of how it looked in recent years hasn’t inspired me to jump on the T and ride downtown just to look at it. Too much blue and green, not enough contrast. It’s a nice photo, though.

    • bostonboomer says:

      You’re probably right. I haven’t been down to look at it in years. I was just looking for a nice picture to go with my pagan symbols links

  13. Stephen Winham says:

    Merry Christmas everybody. Every year for the last couple of decades when I visit my Mother on Christmas day she says, “It just doesn’t seem like Christmas this year.” I thought about that last night and realized maybe it hasn’t really “seemed like” Christmas to me since I was 12 or so. Children relish Christmas and it is one of the true joys of childhood for those lucky enough to be able to enjoy it. Let’s try to delight in their joy and spread it to others. Peace.