Sunday, December 24, 2006

Lá Fhéile Stiofán

Happy St. Stephen's Day to the faithful.

So as I try to get back to my work after a rather subdued but reflective Christmas, I can't help but think of the seven American families who will have to live evermore with the burden of Chistmas because their father/brother/son was killed in Iraq on the 24th or 25th of December 2006. I have to wince everytime Mr. Bush speaks of sacrifice; and the audacity of him to send another 40,000 troops to that hell-hole he created after the referendum -- yes Mr. Bush, it was a referendum on your war-making policy -- handed down last November. here's an interesting twist to the already rich tapestry of mishaps, bungles, and stupidity of the Bush administration: apparenly we can add to the growing list of administration 'accomplishments' the destruction of Christmas. That's right, W is also responsible for ruining Christmas. Now before you react redfaced and spit ad-hominems like Tony Snow and the boys and girls from FOX, the only 'explainers' of this administation's disastrously failed policies, consider this. W and his evangelical friends attempted the free the Middle East and promote democracy (as long as they don't elect people we don' t like) and rescue the poor oppressed Christians of the region, but instead they've provoked Jihad which has not only plunged Iraq into chaos and civil war, but also has led to the destruction of Christian churches, the killing and expulsion of Christian commnities that have existed in the region for nearly 2000 years. Most Chritians from Iraq have actually fled and are living as refugees in Syria of all places, where they are rotected. Along with the report this Christmas day of yet another American serviceman KIA comes the news that Iraqi Christians weren't even allowed to celebrate the feast day due to concerns for their safety. Thanks George for preserving liberty and religious freedoms around the world.

On a brighter note, I am also reminded of a particularly carefree St. Stephen's Day I spent with a wonderful Canadian family at their manor home outside of Bandon, County Cork in 1999. I have to admit, the home was a grand Georgian edifice of the by-gone Anglo-Irish ascendency and we spent the week in the manner of something akin to an episode of Masterpiece Theatre or a Jeeves and Wooster novel, but these Canukes are good people, and Catholics, so all is well with the world in Bandon. Comforting memories include: a massive stilton, about 18 inch diameter, on the sideboard in the formal dinning room; playing parlour games in a real parlour (no TV of course anywhere); a well-stocked larder from which I produced not a few of my best meals for a crowd (the creamed haddock soup was a particular hit); a wall of Murphys in said larder that sustained the aforementioned parlour games and cooking endeavors; meandering walks across the estate; and an outing on St. Stephen's to the coast at Seven Heads Bay where we ran into the Straw Boys. Ah you have nae heard of the Straw Boys, or the Wren Boys? Well we had passed a troop of them early in the day, dancing about a slow moving hay wagon, while we drove to a small car-park near the coast for our wee stroll along the cliffs. Covered with all manner of multi-colored ribbons and strips of cloth, with straw protruding from beneath hats, tabards and jackets, and in one instance a floral-print housemother dress, 'the Boys' at 10am were just getting their act together with few drus, bells ad whistles. By 4pm when we encountered them again, this time while warming ourselves in the local pub after our hike, they were in full form. One of the things the Boys do is go from house to house, or in this case pub to pub, singing Wren Boy songs and collecting money to bury a dead wren (thus the name, ah ha). Yes, this is all an elaborate funeral service (what the hell, it is Ireland afterall) for a bird; and an ingenious way to drink free all day in local pubs. The treacherous wren, you good Catholic devourers of haigiography will recall, was afterall responsible for the death of St. Stephen - so I guess the little bugger had it comin. I didn't actually see that they had a wren that day, but I expect they could have just as well pickled the poor thing by breathing on it. The whole day, and my recollection of it today, makes me remeber that the world is a far older and better place than Disney, Hollywood, or MTV will ever know.
So all good and true Hibernians, go out there and kill your birds! Happy Hunting. See you in the Pub.
How lovely is the inspiration exhibited by those who are good, and how sweet is the joy which they disclose! See, we acquire a feast from a feast and grace from grace. Yesterday the Lord of the universe welcomed us whereas today it is the imitator of the Lord. How are they related to each other? One assumed human nature on our behalf while the other shed it for his Lord. One accepted the cave of this life for us, and the other left it for him. One was wrapped in swaddling clothes for us, and the other was stoned for him. One destroyed death, and the other scorned it. - from sermon of Gregory of Nyssa delivered on the feast of St. Stephen, 26 Dec. 386

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