Humanist Performance Anxiety

Does this ever happen to you?

I have this set of humanist values, and chief among them is the notion that since I only have one life, I want to live it to the hilt. Back when I had religious beliefs (mine were of the New Age variety, including reincarnation), I was often lazy about taking advantage of life’s opportunities, since I thought I could always pick them up on the next go-around. Now that I know that I only have one life, I feel intensely motivated to make that life matter: to create meaning and purpose, to make things better for myself and others, to be fully present in moments both large and small. Humanism 101. You know the drill.

But lately I’ve been noticing that, in moments when I’m not richly experiencing my life or taking full advantage of its opportunities, I feel this sense of guilt, and even panic. I’ve taken to calling this feeling “humanist performance anxiety.” And ironically (although pretty predictably), this performance anxiety actually interferes with my ability to enjoy my life and imbue it with meaning.

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Thus begins my latest “Fierce Humanism” column for The Humanist magazine, Humanist Performance Anxiety. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

My Half-Century Cocktail Recipe

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. Enjoy!

We invented this cocktail recipe for my 50th birthday (a couple of years ago — I turn 52 on December 31), and I like it so much I’ve made it several times since. I’m calling it a Half Century. It’s not wildly freaky or anything — it’s roughly a whiskey sour made with lime juice and cardamom simple syrup — but it’s awfully damn delicious. And it has qualities both of a classic cocktail and a weird modern spicy cocktail, which seems appropriate for the occasion it was named after. Plus it has cardamom! Nature’s perfect food. [Read more…]

Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. Enjoy!

New Year’s Eve is coming up, so I thought I’d reprint this recipe for Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. Proceed with caution.

hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxyWhen I was about to turn 42, I of course wanted to serve Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters for my birthday. Not the real thing, of course — they can’t be mixed in Earth’s atmosphere — but a reasonable approximation.

So we went online, and found approximately 894,589,760 recipes for it. Trouble was, most of them involved gin, to approximate the Arcturan Mega-gin. Trouble was, I don’t like gin.

But we found this one, and loved it. It has just about everything a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster should have. It looks really alien, like something they’d drink on Star Trek. It’s entertaining and dramatic to put together. And its effects are, in fact, very similar to having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick. It’s one of those sneaky drinks that’s waaaaaay more intoxicating than it tastes: it goes down sweet and easy, you keep tossing them back… and soon you’re putting plastic cocktail monkeys in your hair, and trying on other people’s pants, and telling total strangers how awesome they are and how much you love them.

Ingredients:
Champagne
Vodka
Blue curacao
Sugar cubes
Bitters (we used Angostura)

Ahead of time (you can do this a day or two ahead of time, or whenever you like, really), pre-mix a mixture of:
1/2 blue curacao
1/2 vodka

Also ahead of time (shortly before the party):
Prepare a plate of sugar cubes with one drop of bitters on each cube (this approximates the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger).

As guests arrive:

Fill a champagne flute mostly full of champagne, about one shot short.
Add one shot of the curacao/vodka mixture.
Drop in one embittered sugar cube.

Do these one at a time for each guest: it’s pretty to watch, and the embittered sugar cube goes “fizz fizz fizz” in a very dramatic way when it’s dropped into the champagne/ vodka/ curacao mix.

Drink only with people you trust. And beware the plastic cocktail monkeys.

Some Thoughts on Spending Christmas Day Alone

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. Enjoy!

I’m not spending Christmas Day alone. I’m spending it with Ingrid. I’ve spent Christmas Day with Ingrid for as long as we’ve been together: sometimes with her family, sometimes just with the two of us. And I love spending Christmas with Ingrid, whether it’s with her family or just with her. I’m greatly fortunate in my in-laws — I like them as well as loving them — and we have a whole set of wonderful traditions both silly and touching: some from her family, some that I’ve brought to the table, some that Ingrid and I have created for ourselves. And of course, I’m fortunate beyond words in Ingrid.

But I was single for twelve years before I fell in love with Ingrid. For ten of those twelve years, I was very happy to be single, was single very much by choice, was actively and adamantly resistant to the idea of not being single.

And during those years, I almost always spent Christmas Day alone. I could have visited my family, but I chose not to: I preferred to see my family at times other than Christmas, without the stress of holiday travel/ high expectations/ December in the Midwest. And I could have visited any number of friends who were having Christmas Day gatherings. But I didn’t.

Because when I was single, I loved spending Christmas Day alone.

In my Bay Area circle of friends, the weeks leading up to Christmas are almost always a bit of a wild social whirl, with parties and gatherings starting the first weekend of December and not ending until New Year’s Eve. A big part of that social whirl is a Christmas Eve dinner that I co-host/ co-organize every year, about half the time in whatever apartment I’m living in: a Christmas Eve dinner that’s hosted as few as eight people and as many as twenty-one. I’m one of those freaks of nature who actually loves Christmas: the December social whirl is fun and awesome, the Christmas Eve dinner is a high point of my year, and I look forward to all of it for months. But it’s also kind of exhausting. And when I was single, Christmas Day was the eye of the hurricane. Christmas Day was my day of peace and quiet. Christmas Day was the day I spent reading books people had given me, listening to CDs people had given me, eating leftovers from Christmas Eve dinner. I’d talk to friends and family on the phone… but otherwise, Christmas Day was the day that I fed my introverted brain with all the downtime it wanted.

Here’s the reason I bring this up.

The one thing that sucked about spending Christmas Day alone was the way other people reacted to it. The one thing that sucked about spending Christmas Day alone was the expectation that of course you want to spend Christmas Day with family and/ or friends… and that you were a big sad loser if you spent it alone. The one thing that sucked about spending Christmas Day alone was the cultural trope that the only possible reason anyone would spend Christmas Day alone was that they had no family, no friends, nobody who cared about them, no other choice.

I remember in particular one phone conversation I had on one particular Christmas Day. I was doing the rounds of Christmas phone calls, and one of the people I was talking to asked what I was doing that day. I said that I was just hanging around reading books and eating leftovers. And they said, in a voice filled with horror and shock, “ALONE?!? You’re not spending Christmas alone, are you?”

Up until that moment, I’d felt fine about spending Christmas alone. I’d felt more than fine about it. I’d felt positive and happy about it. I’d been looking forward to my Christmas day alone almost as much as I’d been looking forward to my Christmas Eve of food and festivity and boisterous social chaos. But as soon as I heard, “You’re not spending Christmas alone, are you?”, I suddenly felt ashamed. I actually wound up lying, just to stop the horrified sympathy: I told them I was alone at the moment, but had plans to go visit friends later in the day. This person’s concern — and I do think it was genuine, well-meaning concern — about me not being a big sad loser on Christmas… it was exactly the thing that made me feel like a big sad loser. (And if I had, in fact, felt sad about being alone on Christmas Day, this would have made me feel even worse.)

I know, from what I’ve been told, that I’m not the only one to feel pressured about not spending Christmas alone. I know that this pressure to not spend Christmas alone is felt even by people who don’t care about Christmas. Even people who don’t come from a Christian background, religiously or culturally, get hit with this “You’re not spending Christmas alone, are you?!?!” thing. And I know I’m not the only one who’s been made to feel ashamed about spending Christmas alone, even if they personally were fine with it.

So I want to say two things.

One: If you have people in your life who may be spending Christmas alone — please don’t make them feel bad about it. Sure, extend an invitation if you’re having a gathering. But please don’t frame it with, “You don’t have to spend Christmas alone.” Please don’t frame it with the “You don’t have to be a big sad loser who can’t even find anyone to cadge an invitation from on Christmas” trope. Please don’t frame it as “You poor thing, we’ll invite you to join us out of charity.” Frame it as, “We would love to have your company if you’d like to join us.” (And if they say “No, thank you” accept it.)

And two: If you’re spending Christmas Day alone, I hope you have a good one. Whether you care about Christmas, or you don’t give a damn about Christmas and as far as you’re concerned today is Wednesday and why the hell are all the stores closed… I hope you have a great day today.

The True Meaning of Christmas

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. Enjoy!

So what does Christmas really mean?

War on christmas
Among all the traditions of the holiday season, one that’s becoming increasingly familiar is the War on the Supposed War On Christmas. In this tradition — one that dates back to the sweet olden days of overt anti-Semitism — the Christian Right foams at the mouth about the fact that not everyone has the same meaning of Christmas that they do, and works themselves into a dither about things like store clerks politely recognizing that not everyone is a Christian by saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Because in the mind of the Christian Right, it somehow disrespects their faith and impinges on their religious freedom to share a country with people who feel and act differently than they do.

Okay. Insert rant here about how the Christian Right isn’t actually interested in religious freedom and respect for their faith. They’re trying to establish a theocracy. They don’t care about religious and cultural plurality. They don’t care about the fact that winter holidays mean different things to different people, and that different people celebrate different ones and in different ways. They don’t care about the fact that not everyone in the country is Christian, and that lots of people who do call themselves Christian are actually pretty secular in both their everyday life and their celebration of the winter holidays.

No, scratch that. They do care about it. They think it’s bad.

But that’s not actually what I want to talk about today.

In the face of Bill O’Reilly and company screaming hatefully about the true meaning of Christmas, I want to talk — in true grade-school essay form — about what Christmas means to me.

Because I actually like Christmas.

Lights_in_the_tree
Christmas; Solstice; Hanukkah; Kwanzaa; Festivus; “the holidays”; whatever. I don’t have a strong attachment to any particular name or date or occasion. Any mid-winter holiday around the end of December will do. Lately I’ve been calling it either “the holidays” or “Santamas” (in honor of what Bart Simpson has described as the true meaning of the holiday: the birth of Santa). I was brought up culturally Christian, though, with Christmas trees and Santa and all that, and I do tend to refer to it as Christmas at least some of the time.

And I love it. I always have. I know it’s fashionable to hate it, and I get why people get annoyed by it — but I don’t. I love it. It’s one of my favorite times of the year.

And here’s what it means to me.

Axial_tilt
I think that holidays tend to rise up naturally out of the rhythms and seasons of a particular geographical area. And in parts of the world where winter is a big nasty deal, I think it’s almost inevitable that a winter holiday, at right around the darkest, shortest day of the year, is going to become the biggest holiday in the culture.

It’s been noted many times, for instance, that Hanukkah is far from the most important holiday in the Jewish religious calendar. What’s less well known is that Christmas isn’t the most important holiday in the Christian calendar, either. Christmas is pretty much a pagan midwinter holiday shoehorned into the Christian religious calendar for convenience. From a strictly religious standpoint, Easter is a much bigger ticket. (Getting born? Big whoop. Everybody gets born. Dying on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, and getting resurrected three days later because he’s God? Now that’s what they’re talking about.)

Xmas shopping
And yet — in parts of the world where winter is a big nasty deal — Christmas has almost entirely eclipsed Easter, for all but the most devout. Christmas gets an entire month of frenzied eating and drinking and shopping and traveling and party-going and family drama. Easter gets — maybe — a nice dinner or brunch, plus for kids it acts as a sort of secondary candy- frenzy holiday to Halloween. If the holidays were really about Jesus, we’d be having a nice quiet dinner with friends and family in late December, maybe with a hunt for hidden chocolate Santas for the kiddies… and a massive social and economic whirl in March or April. As it’s commonly celebrated — at least in the U.S. — the meaning of Christmas is only partly about the Christian religion. And a pretty minimal part at that.

So what is the meaning of Christmas? Solstice? Santamas? The holidays? Etc.?

It’s cold. It’s dark. The days are short, and the nights are long. Life is harder than usual right now, and we’re cooped up in close quarters more than any other time of the year.

So let’s celebrate.

Whoville
Let’s sing. Let’s decorate. Let’s eat and drink. Let’s light candles and put up electric lights. Let’s have parties. Let’s visit our families and our friends. Let’s give each other presents. Let’s spend time together that’s specifically devoted to enjoying each other’s company, and take part in activities — like gift- giving and parties and big group dinners — that strengthen social bonds.

Let’s remind ourselves that life is worth living, and that the cold and dark won’t be here forever. Let’s remind ourselves that we care about each other, and remind ourselves of why.

That’s what this holiday means to me.

Happy holidays, everybody!

White Wine in the Sun

For the 5% of you who aren’t familiar with it, here is Tim Minchin’s lovely and touching atheist/ humanist Christmas song, “White Wine in the Sun.”

This is the animated version, which I just recently discovered and am very fond of. For those who celebrate it — have a happy Christmas! And for those who don’t — have a happy End of December!

The Adorably Stupid Icebreaker Game from the Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time! Plus Next Social Club January 7; Next Story Hour February 1

Godless Perverts Banner

The Godless Perverts have posted a recap of our Holiday Fun Time festivities — including a complete reprint of our adorably stupid icebreaker game. Which means we’re definitely going to have to write a new one for next year.

The icebreaker game was a sort of human scavenger hunt. We passed out sheets with 25 characteristics: find someone who has not read The God Delusion; find someone who has kissed someone who is not on the gender binary, and liked it; someone who has a science- or atheism-themed tattoo, and so on. As a bribe/encouragement, whoever filled the most items on their paper got first pick from the big basket o’porn that Greta brought as prizes. We stole the idea from an icebreaker event they did at a Secular Student Alliance conference a few years ago: it was kind of ridiculously fun, and I’m really glad we did it. Enjoy!

BTW, the next Godless Perverts Social Club is happening on Tuesday, January 7. This is the casual, hanging-out social arm of the Godless Perverts empire. Community is one of the reasons we started Godless Perverts. There are few enough places to land when you decide that you’re an atheist; far fewer if you’re also LGBT, queer, kinky, poly, trans, or are just interested in sexuality. And the sex-positive/ alt-sex/ whatever- you- want- to- call- it community isn’t always the most welcoming place for non-believers. We meet the first Tuesday of every month at Wicked Grounds, San Francisco’s renowned BDSM-themed coffee house, for an evening of conversation and socializing. All orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) are welcome.

Wicked Grounds is at 289 8th Street in San Francisco, near the Civic Center BART station. There’s no admission, but we ask that you buy food and drink at the counter, or make a donation to the venue. Wicked Grounds has yummy food and drink options ranging from full dinners to coffee and tea, with lots of snacks and baked goods and other light nosh in between, and some of the best milkshakes in the city.

And save the date for February! On Saturday, February 1, 2014, the Godless Perverts Story Hour returns to San Francisco — livestreamed as part of the Freethought Blogs Con online conference! This reading/ performance event will feature Juba Kalamka, Dana Fredsti, Virgie Tovar, Simon Sheppard, Kate Sirls, and hosts David Fitzgerald and me me me! The format’s going to be a little different from our usual story hours — we just have a two-hour time slot for the online conference, so we’ll have seven performers in a row… followed by a Q&A with all seven, taking questions from both the online and the live audiences. It’ll be at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St. in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART). Festivities start at 7:00 pm ***SHARP*** (again, this is being livestreamed as part of the online conference, so none of this “we’ll wait for stragglers to come in and actually start at 7:10″ nonsense, if you’re not there by 7:00, you’ll miss the start of the show). $10-20 sliding scale donation; no-one turned away for lack of funds; benefit for the Center for Sex and Culture.

If you want to be notified about all our Godless Perverts events, sign up for our email mailing list, or follow us on Twitter at @GodlessPerverts. You can also sign up for the Bay Area Atheists/ Agnostics/ Humanists/ Freethinkers/ Skeptics Meetup page, and be notified of all sorts of godless Bay Area events — including the Godless Perverts. You can even RSVP on the Meetup page for the next Social Club, if you like to RSVP to things. Hope to see you there!

Seven Reasons for Atheists to Celebrate the Holidays

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. Enjoy! This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Grinch It’s often assumed that the atheist position on what is politely termed “the holiday season” is one of disregard at best, contempt and annoyance at worst. After all, the reasons for most of the standard winter holidays are supposedly religious — the birth of the Savior, eight days of miraculous light, yada yada yada. Why would atheists want anything to do with that?

But atheists’ reactions to the holidays are wildly varied. Yes, some atheists despise them: the enforced jollity, the shameless twisting of genuine human emotion to sell useless consumer crap, the tyrannical forcing of mawkish piety down everyone’s throats. (Some believers loathe the holidays for the exact same reasons.) But some of us love the holidays. We love the parties, the decorations, the smell of pine trees in people’s houses, the excuse to eat ourselves sick, the reminder that we do in fact love our family and friends. We’re cognizant of the shameless twisting and mawkish piety and whatnot — but we can deal with it. It’s worth it for an excuse to drink eggnog with our loved ones and bellow out “Angels We Have Heard On High” in half-assed four-part harmony. (In fact, when it comes to the holidays, atheists are in something of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position. If we scorn them, we get called Scroogy killjoys… but if we embrace them, we get called hypocrites. Oh, well. Whaddya gonna do.)

So today, I want to talk about some of the reasons that some atheists love the holidays: in hopes that believers might better understand who we are and where we’re coming from… and in hopes that a few Scroogy killjoys, atheist and otherwise, might be tempted to join the party. (If not — no big. I recognize and validate your entirely reasonable annoyance at the holidays. And besides, Scroogy killjoys are an important holiday tradition.)

Speaking of which:

Hanukkah Reason #7: Holiday traditions are comforting. The human need for tradition and ritual seems to be deeply ingrained. It’s comforting to do things at the same time every day or every year: things we did as a child, things our parents and grandparents did. It gives us a sense of continuity, of being part of a pattern that’s larger than ourselves, of passing along ideas and customs that we hope will live on after we die. For those of us who don’t believe in an afterlife, that last bit can be extra important. And when those customs and rituals are about joy and celebration and people we love and so on… that makes it extra nifty.

Christmas_ornament_snow #6: The holidays connect us with our ancestors… and with the earth and the seasons. In modern civilized culture, we tend to treat the changing seasons largely as a fashion challenge and an excuse to complain. (Even in San Francisco, where the temperature rarely gets above 80 or below 40, we still gripe about the weather.)

But for our ancestors, the changing seasons were a critically important part of their lives: a matter of life and death, which they watched and marked with great and careful attention. The winter solstice holidays rose up as a way to mark those changes… and to celebrate the all-important imminent return of the sun and the warmth and the longer days. Celebrating the holidays reminds us of what life was like for the people who came before us — the people who are responsible for us being here.

Presents #5: Presents. ‘Nuff said.

War-on-christmas #4: The War on the War on Christmas. Watching Bill O’Reilly and the Christian Right work themselves into an annual lather over the fact that (a) not everyone in America celebrates Christmas and (b) some well-mannered businesses choose to recognize this fact by using ecumenical or secular holiday greetings… this is some of the best free entertainment we could ask for.

Sure, it’s theocratic. Sure, it’s bigoted. Sure, it has its roots in anti-Semitism and white supremacy. But it’s also freaking hilarious. Watching these hypocrites twist themselves into knots explaining why America is a Christian nation and it’s the grossest insult to acknowledge the existence of other religions by saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”… and why this stance somehow isn’t shameless religious bigotry? It’s the best contortionist act in town. And like the circus, it comes around every year.

Axial tilt #3: The holidays connect us with the universe. Axial tilt is the reason for the season! For many atheists, one of the greatest joys of atheism is that it opens up an awe-inspiring world of science. It’s not that believers don’t care about science: many of them do. But the passionate love of science is a defining feature of the atheist movement, and many of us will take any opportunity to gush about the topic ad nauseam. Usually in embarrassing, Carl-Sagan-esque, “billions and billions of stars” purple prose.

And the holidays are another excuse to go gaga over the wonders of science. They’re another way to celebrate the fact that we’re living on a tilty rock whizzing through frigid space around a white-hot ball of incandescent plasma. Neat!

Gay mens chorus holiday #2: The music. You heard me right. I actually like holiday music.

Not the gloppy shopping-mall Muzak that gets forced into our bleeding eardrums every year, despite our cries of pain and pathetic pleas for mercy. I hate that stuff as much as anyone. But some holiday music is seriously pretty. The soaring eerieness of “The Angel Gabriel”; the strangely haunting cheeriness — or cheery hauntingness? — of “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah”; the lilting saunter of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”; the majestic transcendence of “Angels We Have Heard On High” (especially when sung in half-assed, eggnog-addled four-part harmony). Some of this stuff is freaking gorgeous. The really old stuff especially. If you like the tunes but can’t stomach the lyrics… well, there’s a wide world of holiday song parodies at your disposal. (My personal faves: the H.P. Lovecraft ones, and the Christmas-themed parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”)

And as I discovered when I was digging up lyrics for a Christmas party songbook, a lot of holiday music is entertainingly grotesque and surreal. You don’t have to dip into the Lovecraft Solstice Songbook to find holiday songs about blood, suffering, torment, and death. I mean, “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume/ Breathes a life of gathering gloom/ Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying/ Sealed in a stone cold tomb”? What’s not to like?

And the Number One Reason for Atheists to Celebrate the Holidays:

Whoville #1: For the same damn reason everyone else does. Because it’s dark and cold, and it’s going to be dark and cold for a while… so it’s a perfect time to decorate and light lights and celebrate the fact that we’re alive. Because we’re all going to be cooped up inside together for a while… so it’s a perfect time to have parties and give presents and eat big festive dinners and otherwise remind ourselves of why we love each other. Because this time of year can truly suck… so it’s a perfect time to remember that the cold and dark won’t be here forever, and that the warmth and light are coming back.

Any day now.

The Great Gruesome Christmas Carols

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. Enjoy!

Christmas carols
And now for something completely different.

I’m one of those freakish people who actually likes Christmas carols. Not the gloppy, cutesy, “Suzy Snowflake” modern variety so much (although I do have a soft spot for “Silver Bells”), but the soaring, haunting, gorgeous classic ones. “Angels We Have Heard On High,” “The Holly and the Ivy,” “The Angel Gabriel,” that sort of thing.

And one of the things I like about them is how totally freaky some of them are.

There’s this annual Christmas party I go to every year, at which the singing of Christmas carols and other seasonal and not- so- seasonal music is a centerpiece. A few years back, I went on the Internet and pulled together a lyric sheet, so we could actually sing all the songs all the way through instead of tapering off pathetically after the first verse.

And you know what I found? Some Christmas carols are truly gruesome. Startlingly gruesome. Freakishly and hilariously gruesome.

So I thought I should share with the rest of the class.

We start with a classic: the fourth verse of “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”

Myrrh
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.

I love that one. It rings out so lustily — especially when a room full of eggnog- tiddly heathens is belting it out.

Then we have this gem: two little lines from the 1865 “Greensleeves” parody rewrite, “What Child Is This”:

Crucifixion
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.

Well, it definitely reminds you of the reason for the season. You can’t deny that.

Then we have the lesser- known, but haunting and really quite lovely “Coventry Carol” (here’s the tune, in case you don’t know it). With this charming third verse:

Slaughter of the innocents
Herod the king in his raging,
Charged he hath this day,
His men of night, in his own sight,
All children young to stay.

The fourth verse is a charmer, too, although somewhat lacking in the vivid “dead children” imagery:

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee,
And ever mourn and say,
For thy parting not say, nor sing,
By, by, lullay, lullay.

But the best — the very, very best, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords of gruesome Christmas carols — has got to be the “Corpus Christi Carol,” a.k.a. “Down In Yon Forest.” There are different versions of it, but the one I found when I was putting together the songbook goes like this:

Dead knights
Down in yon forest there stands a hall
(The bells of paradise I heard them ring)
It’s covered all over with purple and pall
(And I love my Lord Jesus above anything)

In that hall there stands a bed
It’s covered all over with scarlet so red

Under the bed there runs a flood
One half runs water, the other runs blood

On the bed there lies a knight
Whose wounds do drip down both by day and by night

By the bed there lies a hound
Who laps at the blood as it daily drips down

At the bed’s foot there grows a thorn
Which ever so blossomed since Jesus was born

(Here’s a nifty folk-Goth version of it by my friend Tim Walters and his occasional project Conjure Wife; here’s a YouTube video with a slightly more conventional rendition, although for some reason it’s lacking the verse about the vampire dog.)

So Merry Christmas, everybody! And in the midst of this terrible, disrespectful, heathenistic War on Christmas, let’s all remember the reason for the season: a life of gathering gloom, flesh pierced through with nails and a spear, children slaughtered by a raging king, and — merriest of all — a half-blood, half-water river, blood dripping from a wounded knight, and a dog licking up the blood. Let me know if there’s any I’ve forgotten, or any I haven’t heard of yet. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!