Some nativity scenes

By Gerard David:

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art

By Albrecht Durer:


Bernd Dombrowski Wishes You a Merry Christmas from the Bottom of His Heart

God bless you, Tiny Tim!

No ukulele, unfortunately, but still a Christmas song.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy Audio and Still

Not with a whimper

Originally posted on in October, this video (which I found on may offer some consolation to those who don’t enjoy the Christmas season.

Church Going, by Philip Larkin

poem for Christmas.

Once I am sure there’s nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new-
Cleaned or restored? Someone would know: I don’t.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
“Here endeth” much more loudly than I’d meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort or other will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognizable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation – marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these – for whom was built
This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

Philip Larkin

White Christmas, theremin-style

Christmas Art from Plan59

As we head into the Christmas season, here are some brightly colored images from the 1950s and 1960s. 

Christmas 1960

Christmas 1960

That’s quite a deep horizon above.

Beer Ad

Beer Ad

Beer for Christmas?  It must have sounded like a good idea in 1948.


UOGB’s latest



Last month, I mentioned that  the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain was releasing two new albums.  Our copies arrived last week, and Mrs Acilius and I can give them enthusiastically positive reviews. 

fidicula-inter-angelosThe Christmas album, referred to on their website as “Christmas with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain” but labeled as Fiducula inter Angelos (“Miniature Lyres among the Angels,”)  does not after all include the performances they issued last year as a virtual album called “Never Mind the Reindeer.”  Those performances are still available on iTunes.   I do miss the rendition of “The Holly and the Ivy” from last year, but new tracks like the “Wenceslas Canticle” and a vocalese version of  “Winter Wonderland” more than make up for its absence.  Their “Jingle Bells Canticle” gets us (Mr & Mrs Acilius and the dogs) dancing every time we hear it.  Here’s ukulelehunt‘s review of the album. 

live-in-londonIn a comment on last month’s post, ukulelehunt’s proprietor Al Wood, a.k.a. Woodshed, gave it as his opinion that Live in London #1 is the UOGB’s best album yet.   I agree, though Mrs Acilius still leans toward Precious Little.  She plans to walk down the aisle to that album’s recording of “Finlandia” when we make the “Mrs” part official in May, so it has a sentimental importance to her.  Though when we listened to Live in London #1 and heard Hester Goodman’s rendering of “Teenage Dirtbag” as a ballad of adolescent lesbian angst, Mrs Acilius was so enthusiastic I wondered if she was about to suggest using that instead.  She assured me that her enthusiasm was strictly political, stemming from a conviction that sexual minorities need representation in music.  That she has a crush on Hester is purely by the way.  Here is an unflattering picture of Hester sitting next to George Hinchliffe that I could look at if I were in a jealous mood, which of course I never am.    


Chronicles, December 2008

Giotto painting reproduced on the cover of this issue




Giotto painting reproduced on the cover of this issue


Three articles about Christmas in this issue of Chronicles.  Editor Thomas Fleming, who I seem to recall occasionally describes himself as having been raised an atheist, then converted to arch-traditional Roman Catholicism, describes in the third person the attitudes of an unnamed man who was raised anatheist, then converted to arch-traditional Roman Catholicism.  As a boy, this anonymous person disliked Christmas.  The months-long buildup, the morning moments unwrapping toys that could never live up to the expectations that buildup engendered, the endless anticlimax of the day as of adult relatives hung on and bored him with their chatter.  Far better Halloween, an ordinary day that ended with a burst of total anarchy.  As he grew, he preferred the moral atmosphere of Halloween to that of Christmas.  The Christians he knew pretended that death was nothing to be afraid of and embedded that pretense into the holiday, while Halloween began by taking the cold terror of death and everything touching death for granted.  Evidently this preference remains with him in his religious phase, as the terror of death gives Easter its power.

Contributor Thomas Piatak defends Christmas, not against the severe theology of Fleming, but against opponents of public piety at Christmastime.  Apparently it was Piatak who coined the phrase “The War Against Christmas.”  While Fleming inveighs against a religious Christmas that soft-pedals or denies the hard truths of lifeand thus denatures Christianity, Piatak fears a secular Xmas that is “devoid of religious or cultural significance or indeed of beauty, with nothing left but multiculturalist pap and tawdry sentimentalism.”  As examples of this creeping insipidity, Piatak cites a case in Columbus, Ohio in 2003, when the school district banned a performance of Handel’s Messiah unless equal time were given to “Frosty the Snowman” and “Jingle Bells.” 

Columnist Aaron D. Wolf has little use for the idea of a secular “War Against Christmas,” though he does agree that such a thing exists.  He tells us of wishing a store clerk “Merry Christmas.”  “She looks directly at me, smiling, eyes narrowed, and nods.  “Yes.  Merry CHRISTMAS!”… It wasn’t a bright, elven (sic) “Yes!  Merry Christmas!”  She spoke with a knowing, in your face, liberal America air of defiance.”  Later: “That Merry Christmas seemed more like a countercultural protest statement, that kind that says, yeah, you’re one of us, or yeah, I’m one of you.  One of you… what?  Believers in Christ Jesus?  … Or perhaps it was one of you proud white Americans.”  Wolf’s suspicion that many of those most exercised about the “War Against Christmas” are in fact not very much devoted to Christ at all, but are only interested in sticking it to educated secularists, gains verisimilitude from the high December sales of mugs bearing the slogan “Don’t be a Pinhead.”