Christmas isn’t over... my tree will stay up until next week!

John Arnold says he still observes the 12 days of Christmas as a very special time.
Christmas isn’t over... my tree will stay up until next week!

The SHARE crib in Cork city in 1984 - John Arnold continues the tradition of putting the Three Kings in there on January 6

THE big problem about common sense is unfortunately it’s not so common at all!

We all know plenty people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. They’d buy and sell you, look for change, and ask for a receipt!

As the Christmas season comes to an end and the vista of a new and unknown year opens up before us, we tend to make promises to ourselves and aspire to greatness in one form or another for the months ahead.

Now, more than ever, sense - and sensibility too, is more important than ever. Being sensible seems to have got a bad press in recent times.

Long ago, parents always yearned to get a ‘sensible young man’ to marry a daughter - in other words a suitable catch! Being sensible has gone out of fashion as it seems to denote a boring, non-adventurous personality.

Now, a person that would ‘mind mice at a crossroads for you’ might be termed cute, even mean, but having sense should never be deemed such a negative trait. Then again, things have changed so much down the years and the pace of it seems to quicken with each passing year.

Monday last was a Bank Holiday, the first of 2022, and to judge by what I heard on the wireless on Tuesday, there seemed to be a mad, lemming-like rush from Tuesday morning onwards to usher Christmas quickly out the door.

I suppose we are in a minority of families and households nowadays that observe the 12 days of Christmas - no, ‘observe’ is the wrong word there as it smacks of keeping rules and regulations. No, we still enjoy the full Christmas ‘experience’ from Christmas Eve ’til today, January 6.

These last two Christmases, I’ll admit, have been like no others in living memory due to the scourge of Covid. Our family tradition of either having ‘visitors’ in or calling to the homes of family, friends and relations each day of the 12 has been cancelled, all changed, utterly changed. No point in complaining as it solves nothing, but in fairness I wrote a lot of letters and made a lot of telephone calls since December 24, it’s great to keep in contact with acquaintances near and far. Texts are good, but nothing beats the individuality of a written note or a chat.

We’ll probably take down the Christmas tree and the decorations early next week. I always like to give the Three Wise men at least a few days in the crib before it’s packed away for another year.

If one reads the Bible, or different versions of it, you might think the first three callers to see the new-born baby were the shepherds. After that, take your pick – it could have been three ‘political advisors’ to local rulers around Bethlehem, three Wise Men, or Three Kings or ‘the Magi’ as they were called!

Over the centuries, the trio have been given the name of Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, though there is no actual proof that these men came to see the newborn baby.

Likewise you’d often hear the saying ‘Typical of men, to bring useless presents - what good were gold, frankincense and myrrh? - a few blankets and some food would be more suitable’!

Wise words, well spoken, but like so many things, the message changes as time goes on - remember the order ‘Send up reinforcements, we’re going to advance’? By the time it was finally relayed, it had become ‘Send up three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance’!

The gifts brought long ago may indeed have been things needed for a newborn child, but then this was no ordinary child so extraordinary gifts might have been called for. We must remember also that the written accounts of the Birth of Christ - which we celebrate at Christmas time - weren’t compiled until years later.

One way or another, the ‘Three Wise Men’ we have at home were bought in a shop in Castletownbere many years ago. Since early December they have patiently ‘waited in the wings’ for their arrival in the Crib today - they’ve had a long journey so they deserve a few days with the Holy Family.

There was an awful phrase that crept into use - both spoken and in the printed press - a few years back. They referred to today, January 6, the 12th day of Christmas, as ‘Little Women’s Christmas’ - woeful entirely in my mind. Now, American writer Louisa May Allcott did write a book called Little Women with ne’er a reference to Christmas in it!

Of course, this day January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, has several other ‘names’, most notably ‘Little Christmas’ or ‘Women’s Christmas’, and somehow or another these two have been mixed up in a manner never meant to happen.

With December 25 the highlight of the Christmas season and a day of great feasting, the last day, the 12th was called Little Christmas - a final occasion for celebrating before getting on with the hum-drum, mundane matter of January.

Women’s Christmas came from the tradition, not of women, ladies and girls heading out for a knees-up, but of the women of the house being treated specially on this day. After all, the cooking, baking, cleaning and tidying associated with Christmas was, in olden days especially, considered ‘women’s work’, and now on the ‘last day’ of the season, they deserved a little treat and to take it easy for once.

As a child, I can’t remember Mam having a day off or anything like that on January 6, but certainly it was another lovely family day. As a Church Holiday we always attended morning Mass in Bartlemy. It was our last chance to look at the life-size crib figures in their bed of straw before the crib was dismantled.

Sometimes we’d have a few neighbours or relations for the dinner on Little Christmas - no turkey but often a goose. I always thought it was the last hurrah until St Patrick’s Day and Easter in terms of having a special family meal.

I started writing about common sense, and in my mind Christmas and its observance was a classic example of how practical and, yes, sensible, people were in days of yore. We all have heard of the ancient feasts of Midsummer and Midwinter - these go back into pre-history and have much to do with closeness to nature.

Our ancestors worked the land, they farmed with nature - if they were good to the land, the land was good to them in terms of yielding bountiful crops and harvests. They weren’t educated or learned people but they had plenty sense and the lengthening and shortening days were times to be marked, the coming of sunlight and darkness.

Christianity took Midwinter and more or less made it into the feast of Christmas as we know it today. The closing of the old year, the rebirth of Christ and of the New Year.

So, tradition and religion and ancient beliefs were mixed together to make the oldest, yet newest story.

From a farming point of view, this is the ‘resting’ season as the land and soil take a break. Animals are housed and fed daily - all in preparation for a new year of growth.

As I said, we still observe the 12 days of Christmas as a very special time. Each day we do what has to be done around the farmyard in terms of tending to our livestock. We do no more than just what is needed. There is time for everything and a time for everything and these past days have been a time of renewal and thanksgiving for all we have.

I hope these words of mine make sense to you - the old people used say that “there were 5 ounces of sense in Bartlemy and one family had four of them ounces” -all I can say is, it wasn’t us!

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