In the lately released Oxford Handbook of Christmas, a certain theme quickly emerges insofar as Christmas traditions are concerned: the origins of most Christmas traditions are a little obscure. Many Christmas traditions can be traced to a certain century and a certain country, but not to a particular person or event.
The latest episode of Proverbial is devoted to a saying from The Divine Comedy that the modern Christian finds particularly knotty (and naughty, perhaps):
“Fame, without which man’s life wastes out of mind,
Leaving on earth no more memorial than foam in water,
Or smoke upon the wind.”
If you have read this column with any sort of regularity over the last several years, you have indirectly benefitted from the work of Harold Budd, who passed away on December 8th at the age of 84. Harold Budd is one of perhaps just three musicians who I listen to while writing. He was my regular companion while drafting essays on pedagogy, tradition, and classic literature.
Tom: I got to Fillmore High. Where do you go?
Harry: I go to Trinity Covenant, but I’m not one of those private school kids.
Tom: Which ones?
Harry: I’m not one of those private school kids who thinks he’s better than everyone else.
Tom: Is that what most of the kids at your school are like?
Harry: Yeah. Most private school kids are like that.
Tom: So, you’re claiming that you are better than most of the kids who go to your school?
Harry: I mean, I’m not like them.
Tom: Not like them in a good way or a bad way?
How do non-classical families end up at classical schools?
What is The Divine Comedy about? It is the rarest sort of book which is about absolutely everything. Every year when I start on the Comedy, I ask my students, “What do you want this book to teach you?” and they begin naming their several interests. Politics. Predestination. Piety. Free will. Determinism.
Parent: I’ve heard that you have said some pretty disparaging things about TikTok in class.
Parent: Wouldn’t you say that what is true of all tools is true of TikTok? What I mean is that any tool can be used poorly, and any tool can be used well. In and of itself, a tool is morally neutral.
Parent: I have heard quite a lot about “piety” coming from the school recently. What is piety?
Gibbs: A dictionary is apt to tell you that a pious man is “devoutly religious,” which is not a bad definition, although I typically tell my students that piety refers to holy manners. Morality is what one man gives another, but piety is what a man gives to God alone.
Parent: Can you give an example?
Gibbs: I can give you three: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Parent: That sounds very Catholic.
Just a little more than a week after Sean Connery passed away, Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek went on to his great reward. The loss I felt upon hearing the news of Trebek’s passing came not only from the fact that I have watched the show since I was a boy, but because Jeopardy! is really the only game show which a professional intellectual, amateur intellectual, or wannabe intellectual like myself can truly get behind. What other game show could a teacher of classical literature endorse?
What if Christmas is exactly what it claims to be? What if Christmas is nothing less than the birthday of Jesus Christ?
And what if Christmas does not need us? What if we need Christmas?
Modern men shudder at the thought.
Enlightened men want Christmas to be anything other than the birthday of Christ. They want Christmas to be a commercial racket, a Catholic superstition, a hollow symbol emptied of meaning centuries ago, an embarrassing relic of a purely hypothetical Christian envy of pagan holidays.