Occasional comments about business and politics in Portland, Oregon, mixed in with stories from our city's colorful if not always compliant past.
"May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not." -- Millard Fillmore
At least, that's what I make of Safeway marketing an Oroweat product described as "Jewish rye bread" with a sticker that suggests using it to make sandwiches of ham and cheese. Gastronomically it's a fine idea, but theologically it leaves something to be desired.
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio is the first of the 266 men elected pope to choose the name "Francesco," and is also the first pope from the Western Hemisphere. In an interesting coincidence, he and the church are 34 years behind the world of fiction.
In "The Vicar of Christ," a 1979 novel by the late Walter F. Murphy (1929-2010), a professor of political science and jurisprudence, the cardinals elect an American as pope, who in Professor Murphy's fictional world is the first pope from the western hemisphere, and who is the first pope to take the name "Francesco," in his case after St. Francis of Assisi.
Coincidence? Prescience? Either way, Professor Murphy would have loved to see this day.
During the month of Ramadan, which this year began on August 22, observant Muslims refrain from eating during daylight hours. The Chinese government in Xinjiang wants the Uighur ethnic group, who are Muslims, to give up religious observance during Ramadan, and is threatening the Uighurs who do fast during Ramadan with being fired from their jobs.
As the Epoch Times reports, during Ramadan government offices in Xinjiang are offering free lunches to their workers. That's the carrot. The stick is that anyone found not eating lunch may lose his or her job and income, giving a new meaning to the phrase "eat or starve."
The Laquedem and Farmer families are religiously as diverse as we are unobservant. At a guess it's been 40 or more years since a Christmas Day church service saw any of the Farmers in attendance, except possibly for Grandmother Farmer, who occasionally taught Sunday School for the Methodists. (Going to church on Christmas Day has never been a concern of the Laquedems, one of whom was so determined to show that Christmas was just another day on the calendar that she set her wedding date for December 25. Attendance was light.)
Yet despite our secular thoughts, we group on two days of the year, Thanksgiving and Christmas, for much jollity and conviviality. (We also gossip mercilessly about those who don't come.) Best wishes to you and yours for Christmas Day and Chanukah week.
The Laquedemitasse asked if we could light a menorah this year. "Sure," said I, "but why do you ask?" (The L'tasse has no religious education and likely couldn't say what faiths his parents have belonged to or wandered away from.) "The Good Neighbor Doctor's family has one, so we should get one," he replied brightly.
Odd, I thought, I didn't know the G.N.D.s were Jewish, so I mentioned this to Mrs. Laquedem, whose eyebrows went up. "The G.N.D.s are Catholic," she said. "I'm sure they don't have a menorah."
So I located a menorah and we lit the candles on December 24 (the first night) as we will do for the rest of the week. The Laquedemitasse took great joy in helping to kindle the tapers. Whether he wanted a menorah because he thought (wrongly) that he would get another seven nights of presents, or because he wants a week to play with fire, I don't know. I'm hoping it's the former.
Two posts by Professor Bogdanski and Lars Larson, dealing with the subject of the use or non-use of the word "Christmas" in "Christmas tree," got me thinking on the subject. I found an illuminating history of Christmas trees at The History Channel. I'll summarize it as follows:
1. The tradition of decorating houses in winter with evergreens of some sort predates Christianity.
2. The Germans put up and decorated small Christmas trees starting in the 1600s. Colonial Americans deplored the joyous celebration of Christmas, and did not put up and decorate trees. The Mayflower group would have ostracized, or worse, anyone who decorated a tree to celebrate Christmas.
3. In the 1840s, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert put up a Christmas tree in London, and English and American society followed their lead. At about the same time, German immigrants to the United States, whose numbers were increasing, were putting up trees.
4. (Here I've added to the research of The History Channel with some other work.) By the 1880s or 1890s, the celebration of Christmas had become commercialized -- for example, F.W. Woolworth was importing glass ornaments for trees -- and the tree had become part of the secular and commercial celebration of Christmas in the United States. (Commerce really should have taken hold of Hanukkah instead, because it lasts for eight days and could have been an excuse for eight times the shopping that Christmas offers.)
I am not a Christian. I celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday. The Christmas tree in the town square doesn't bother me, because it's secular; in America it's not a symbol with religious origins. (Actually I rather like the idea of putting up a tree in my house to celebrate America's history of commercial enterprise.) Calling it a "holiday tree" suggests that we aren't really sure which holiday we're celebrating.
A radical mullah in Iraq, Acham al-Muzzarah, in a speech broadcast by the Arab news network al-Jazeera, has called for the assassination of the head of a western nation, demonstrating to me that some people by nature of their extremist beliefs are unlikely ever to be enlightened to the point of accepting democratic values.
Oops -- I've just checked my notes. The location wasn't in Iraq, but in America; the network wasn't al-Jazeera, but the Christian Broadcast Network; the speaker wasn't a mullah, but a minister; and his name wasn't Acham al-Muzzarah, but Pat Robertson.
Sorry about my errors, but I don't see why they should change my conclusion.