Last month, I noticed some advertisements inspired by the ‘twelve days of Christmas’. RSPCA Victoria, for example, had a Facebook campaign called the ‘12 strays of Christmas’. Creative, yes. Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, they were advertising in the weeks leading up to Christmas, whereas the twelve days of Christmas don’t start until Christmas Day and end on twelfth night, on 5 January …
The following day, on 6 January, some Christian churches celebrate the Epiphany, the visit of the three wise men to the infant Jesus. In Flanders, this day is called ‘three kings’ day’ (driekoningendag) or ‘thirteen-day’ (dertiendag).
Around that time, it is custom for children to dress up as one of the three kings (or wise men). In groups of three, they go knocking on doors, often carrying a homemade Star of Betlehem on a stick, and sing ‘three kings’ songs’ to receive sweets in return. Bakeries sell the ‘three kings’ tart’ (driekoningentaart). This cake traditionally contains a dry bean. Whoever gets the bean gets to be king or queen for the day and wear a crown!
The Christmas panic is at its peak. Let the buyer beware … that in the end most presents become waste.
As a serial ‘no-gifter’ and ‘re-gifter’, I want to share this image (and the new word ‘buyerarchy’ … ) with you. Its message may help take some stress out of things, if not now then next year.
I’ve finished reading Hanya Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life. Oh my, what a book. Such compelling reading. I don’t know what else to say, except: Just read it.
I found two punctuation metaphors this time.
Willem always thought they clearly looked like brothers — they had their parents’ light, bright hair, and their father’s gray eyes, and both of them had a groove, like an elongated parentheses, bracketing the left side of their mouths that made them appear easily amused and ready to smile — but no one else seemed to notice this.
He was so discombobulated that he forgot that Willem was already onstage when he called, but when Willem called him back at intermission, he was still in the same place on the bed, in the same comma-like shape, the phone still cupped beneath his palm.
On the occasion of the signing of the Armistice of 11 November 1918, Thomas Hardy wrote the poem ‘And there was a great calm’. This is the last stanza.
IXCalm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency;There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;Some could, some could not, shake off misery:The Sinister Spirit sneered: ‘It had to be!’And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, ‘Why?’
The word ‘aftermath’ springs to mind.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘-math’ is related to ‘mow’ and the word ‘aftermath’ has been in use since the end of the 15th century, meaning ‘a second crop or new growth of grass […] after the first has been mown or harvested’.
A century and a half later the word is also used figuratively to mean ‘a period or state of affairs following a significant event, esp. when that event is destructive or harmful’.
The Christian holidays All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (on 1 and 2 November, respectively) are to me inevitably associated with the chrysanthemum, a flower that blooms in autumn.
By (or on) 1 or 2 November, most people in Belgium — where I grew up — will make sure to visit the graves of deceased family members and place chrysanthemums on the gravestones.
In my childhood, these chrysanthemums used to be large, pale, globe-shaped or spidery flowers. Nowadays, they’re round bushes with button-like flowers and strong colours.
The word ‘chrysanthemum’ comes to English, via Latin, from the Greek for ‘gold’ and ‘flower’.