By Thomas Hardy
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come, see the oxen kneel
"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
In yesterday's Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World, Robert Pinsky wrote about Christmas nostalgia even among the secular. "Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), in his Christmas poem 'The Oxen,' chose to write about a folk belief," he explained. "He treated the legend that the beasts kneel at midnight on Christmas Eve with a wistful, skeptical dignity. The loyalty to old ways manifests itself in the regional dialect terms 'barton' (a farmyard) and 'coomb' (a valley)...the 'fair fancy' that 'childhood used to know,' the meek mild oxen kneeling at midnight, comes ultimately from a world of animal myth -- a world older than the religions that incorporate its images." This particular myth, adds Pinsky, "expresses a yearning for peace."
Speaking of theology and the secular, today my entire family (including my parents) attended the "wax museum" performed by the seventh graders at the Hebrew school, where the kids dressed up and stood with flashlights on their faces and, when anyone pressed their "buttons," did a spiel about the person they were portraying, which in the case of my son was Ariel Sharon (a great role to have, as it happened, as he got to sit behind a desk beside the Israeli flag, rather than having to stand in a long line of Biblical heroines like a lot of the girls -- though I am a bit embarrassed to report that my favorite female role was neither Rebecca nor Naomi nor Golda Meir nor Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but the girl with the white beard playing the Baal Shem Tov. The fourth graders went to visit the wax museum while the adults were being shown a movie about 4000 years of Jewish history condensed into 20 minutes with a Yiddish-speaking time-traveling bird, in which the invasion of the Middle East by the Roman Empire was somehow the fault of the Jews for not obeying the Commandments or some such -- in any event, not my thing -- but this meant my younger son got to see some of the performances as part of his Hebrew school morning.
After the wax museum, there was what had been described as tea, which I was expecting to be, well, tea (given that a full dinner at the synagogue generally consists of rolls, salad and cold chicken). Instead they served us a full brunch with bagels, tuna, whitefish, lox, egg salad, a variety of cheeses, pastries and various veggies. We were still in there chatting with friends when younger son's class was dismissed so he came in and ate too. We didn't get home till quite awhile after Hebrew school officially ended but for once no one was complaining. In the late afternoon, younger son had a laser tag birthday party (for which we had not yet obtained a gift) and older son had friends over to play various games, including a boy from his fencing class who lives in the neighborhood and whose father teaches filmmaking at the community college near here -- I had never met the family before and it was quite nice, especially since they did not mind the disaster area that is our house and were pleased to see the cats since they just lost one of their own.
Dinnertime was chaos, as younger son was full from the pizza and junk at the party, older son was ravenous since he had not wanted to take time away from his friends for a snack and hubby and I were sort of meh as neither of us is completely back on a normal eating schedule. My energy is still pretty low, and in the evening I crashed a bit watching The West Wing, where I have the impression that Jimmy Smits gave an outstanding performance and Josh and Toby were heartbreaking but I'm a little blurry on the details because I was zoning when I wasn't being rudely awoken and interrupted by kids with questions. After that we watched Da Vinci and the Code He Lived By, which was interesting, did not impress me as wonderful but that again might be because my focus is rather off.
Barbra Streisand. Okay, not really, but her defense of Yentl was extremely entertaining.
More Civil War and Pennsylvania skies during the week. I did not get any work done this weekend at all and am expecting to be lectured for that, though I ought to be able to get at least some of it done in the morning since we're supposed to get snow accumulating and I doubt I will be going anywhere.