Behind the Iron Curtain part 25 – Christmas

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


Not only the Christians have realized that trying to ban solstice celebrations that have gone on for thousands of years is like pissing against a hurricane. Communists realized that too. To my knowledge, they did not even try to eradicate or co-opt it. They just went along with it as it was.

I mentioned already that the regime was in fact actively anti-religion and anti-theism in general. This had little to no effect on the general population though. Czechs were heathens before, during and after the Iron Curtain, Slovaks and Poles were strongly catholic before, during and after the Iron Curtain. And since I live in one of the most heathen parts of Czech Republic, my childhood Christmas had nothing to do with any religious mumbo-jumbo whatsoever.

So how did we actually approach the Christmas? As a family holiday, a time for spending time together and gift-giving. The TV run mostly light entertainment (and still does) for three days straight, with emphasis on fairy-tales, whose airing on TV literally became a new christmas tradition in itself. There are fairy-tales that are expected to be aired for generations, and when they ceased to be aired after the fall of Iron Curtain, because they do contain some propaganda stuff hidden in them, they were nevertheless demanded by the public and thus got aired again.

My parents tried, not very enthusiastically and therefore with little success to bring some “magic” to the gifts appearing under the christmas tree by being brought by Ježíšek (Baby Jesus), whom they never defined to me. However it did not last long and I in fact remember nearly nothing about it. By the time I started to go to school one girl in our class got mercilessly mocked by most of the class for openly saying she believes in Baby Jesus bringing gifts. Most of the kids by that time already knew how gift giving really works.

First time I have learned what Ježíšek is actually supposed to be that I remember was when reading the book by Josef Lada “Kocour Mikeš” (Mikes the (male) cat). The book contains the whole biblical story of how Jesus was born in Bethlehem, sanitized for children audience into a fairy-tale form. Which is how I got exposed to most of religious ideas – as fairy tales. Which is what they are.

As soon as I gained some skills, I was trying to make christmas presents for my parents and siblings. The first succesful attempt that I remember was making simple paper models of a church (for my Mum) a castle (for my father) and a fort (for my brother). Blast it, I completely forgot what I have given to my sister that year. Nevermind, this was and remained for me the true meaning of christmas, but I grew up to resent the mandatory gift giving because life obligations are not so kind as to align with arbitrary date in the calendar, so nowadays if I come across something that would be suitable as a christmas gift, I give it on christmas, but I do not fuss about it. I give gifts to family and friends when opportunity and/or need arises, Christmas or no.

The one tradition that endured all political changes in our country, and which even our heathen family still observes, is eating of fish – specifically carp – for dinner on 24. of December. The fish are generally sold alive a few days prior. And since my mom was the boss at local food store, she was in charge of these yearly fish sales. So as a child I have spent a few adventurous days from 4:00 a.m. till 5:00 p.m. with my dad and a few other people outside, near the huge vats in which the carp swam. I learned to kill, gut and dismember fish before I finished school. I learned to recognize a few fish species that way too, because other fish got occasionally caught with the carp. I had a lot of fun there and I looked forward to that part of Christmas the most – when I was healthy enough to actually participate that is.

I like the fish soup and less so the fish steaks, but what I do not like at all is the killing and dismembering the poor animal. I am not opposed to eating meat and killing animals for that purpose, but I do not enjoy it either. However since my father has a really bad eyesight now, it is nowadays my duty to do these chores. I usually let the fish being killed at the stall however, so the poor animal’s suffering is over quickly

A tangent – how Chuck Norris was unable to kill christmas carp. The man at the end says “Everyone can be tough on TV”. I know Chuck Norris is a bit whacko and a Republican, but there is no denying he does have a sense of humor:

 

Happy whatever, everyone.

I Had Plans

They didn’t include a break, but as it happens, ’tis the season.

Last y’all heard of me, I was becoming a star, and I expected to be back on track by now – turns out, two post-1am nights plus a workday plus a day of rogaining followed by a day of children’s tae kwondo tournaments isn’t exactly a recipe for recovery (after 22km and a record* 48 points in 4 hours on Saturday, I hope you believe me I was practically dead on my feet come Sunday, but parental duties meant I got to sit in a gym for most of the day, keeping a little person’s nerves calm)… and then there was the work trip to Vilnius, and then the centennial celebrations plus my mum’s birthday this weekend. That’s a long list of excuses, but there you have it, at my age, excuses is all you have. I’ll be back on track with a couple of more Macedonia posts (have to finish with those before the next trip comes up, and that, as it turns out, has come up a lot faster than expected, by request of the project leaders and I have two kinds of thoughts about that), I have at least one more post from Austria, and then a few randomly selected picture essays from the summer and early autumn.

In the meantime, please accept my apologies, some rather boring photos from the show (I am in the circle of light) and this lovely song by The Stars, which quite often reflects my ideas about life, planning, and my own expectations. I can write a script and set the scene as much as I want, but life provides its own twists and turns and cliffhanger endings. In other words, I am fine, and I apologize for not keeping up with the rest of you, especially with my forest raking. ‘Intermittent’ is my middle name.

  • A record for my team and I, since we’re not hardcore and we don’t run, we maintain a fast walk, preferably between 5  and 6 km per the hour, take breaks in picturesque locations, and collect as many points as we can. Previous high-scoring events have topped off at 43 or so.

Youtube Video: A Guide to Imperial Measurements with Matt Parker | Earth Lab

Matt Easton mentioned in one of his latest videos why he still uses and prefers imperial units to metric ones, which has completely baffled me.

I know that humans are creatures of habit, but why anyone who knows both imperial and metric units would still prefer the imperial ones is a complete mystery to me. But I do not wish to rant too much, so I let someone else to do that (content warning: razor sharp sarcasm).

The Elephant Not In The Room.

Highlights from Hasan Minhaj’s speech at the white house correspondents dinner. The full speech is available after the highlights video at The Washington Post.

Here are some of the harshest jokes from Minhaj’s speech.

— “I would say it is an honor to be here, but that would be an alternative fact. It is not. No one wanted to do this. So of course it lands in the hands of an immigrant.”

— “Don Rickles died just so you wouldn’t ask him to do this gig, alright? RIP to Don Rickles, the only Donald with skin thick enough to take a joke like that.”

— “A lot of people in the media say that Donald Trump goes golfing too much. . . which raises a very important question: Why do you care? Do you want to know what he’s not doing when he’s golfing? Being president. Let the man putt-putt!. . . The longer you keep him distracted, the longer we’re not at war with North Korea.”

— “We gotta address the elephant that’s not in the room. The leader of our country is not here. And that’s because he lives in Moscow, it is a very long flight. It’d be hard for Vlad to make it. Vlad can’t just make it on a Saturday! As for the other guy, I think he’s in Pennsylvania because he can’t take a joke.”

— “There was also another elephant in the room, but Donald Trump Jr. shot it and cut off its tail.”

— “Jeff Sessions couldn’t be here tonight, he was busy doing a pre-Civil War re-enactment. On his RSVP, he just wrote ‘NO.’ Just ‘no,’ which happens to be his second favorite n-word.”

— “Is Steve Bannon here? I do not see Steve Bannon. I do NOT see Steve Bannon. Not see Steve Bannon. Not-see Steve Bannon.”

— “Betsy DeVos couldn’t be here, she’s busy curating her collection of children’s tears.”

— “Fredrick Douglass isn’t here, and that’s because he’s dead. Someone please tell the president.”

— “Mike Pence wanted to be here tonight, but his wife would not let him because apparently one of you ladies is ovulating. So good job, ladies. Because of you we couldn’t hang out with Mike Pence.”

— “Even Hillary Clinton couldn’t be here tonight. I mean, she could have been here, but I think someone told her the event was in Wisconsin and Michigan.”

— “[Sean Spicer] has been doing PR since 1999. He has been doing this job for 18 years. And somehow, after 18 years, his go-to move when you ask him a tough question is denying the Holocaust. That is insane! How many people do you know that can turn a press briefing into a full-on Mel Gibson traffic stop?”

— “Donald Trump is liar-in-chief. Remember, you guys are public enemy number one. You are his biggest enemy. Journalists, ISIS, normal-length ties.”

— “It is amazing to be among the greatest journalists in the world, and yet, when we all checked into the Hilton on Friday we all got a USA Today. Every time a USA Today slides underneath my door, it’s like they’re saying, ‘Hey, you’re not that smart, right?’ USA Today is what happens when the coupon section takes over the newspaper. Is this an article about global warming or 50 cents off Tide? Either way, the pictures are so pretty!”

— “The news coming out of the White House is so stressful, I’ve been watching ‘House of Cards’ just to relax. Oh man, a congressman pushed a journalist in front of a moving train? That’s quaint!”

— “Even if you guys groan, I’ve already hired Kellyanne Conway, she’s gonna go on TV on Monday and tell everybody I killed, so it really doesn’t matter.”

(To the press) “Remember election night? That was your Steve Harvey/Miss Universe moment.”

— “It was all fun and games with Obama, right? You were covering an adult who could speak English. And now you’re covering President Trump, so you gotta take your game to a whole new level. It’s like if a bunch of stripper cops had to solve a real-life murder.”

— “Tonight is about defending the First Amendment and the free press, and I am truly honored to be here, even though all of Hollywood pulled out now that King Joffrey is president and it feels like the Red Wedding in here.”

— “We all know this administration likes deleting history faster than Anthony Weiner when he hears footsteps.”

— “[Donald Trump] tweets at 3 a.m. sober. Who is tweeting at 3 a.m. sober? Donald Trump, because it’s 10 a.m. in Russia. Those are business hours.”

— “This has been one of the strangest events I’ve ever done in my life. I’m being honest with you. I feel like I’m a tribute in ‘The Hunger Games.’ If this goes poorly, Steve Bannon gets to eat me.”

— “Fox News is here. I’m amazed you guys even showed up. How are you here in public? It’s hard to trust you guys when you backed a man like Bill O’Reilly for years. But it finally happened. Bill O’Reilly has been fired. But then, you gave him a 25 million dollar severance package. Making it the only package he won’t force a woman to touch.”

— “I know some of you are wondering, Hasan, how do you know so much about Fox News? Well as a Muslim, I like to watch Fox News for the same reason I like to play Call of Duty. Sometimes, I like to turn my brain off and watch strangers insult my family and heritage.”

— “MSNBC is here tonight. And I’m glad you guys are here. That way if I’m bombing, Brian Williams will describe it as stunning.”

— “MSNBC. It’s hard to trust you guys when you send so many mixed messages. On the one hand you tell us the prison industrial complex is the problem, and then you air five straight hours of ‘Lockup.’ You can’t be mad at corporations profiting off of minorities in prison when you’re a corporation profiting off of minorities in prison.”

— “I had a lot more MSNBC jokes, but I don’t want to just ramble on, otherwise I might get a show on MSNBC.”

— “CNN is here, baby. You guys got some really weird trust issues with the public. I’m not going to call you fake news, but everything isn’t breaking news. You can’t go to DEFCON-1 just because Sanjay Gupta found a new moisturizer.”

— “All you guys do is stoke up conflict. Don, every time I watch your show it feels like I’m watching a reality TV show. ‘CNN Tonight’ should just be called ‘Wait a Second Now Hold On Stop Yelling At Each Other with Don Lemon.’”

— “You guys have to be more perfect now more than ever. Because you are how the president gets his news. Not from advisers, not from experts, not from intelligence agencies. You guys. So that’s why you gotta be on your A game. You gotta be twice as good. You can’t make any mistakes. Because when one of you messes up, he blames your entire group. And now you know what it feels like to be a minority.”

— (Later, addressed again to the media.) “By the way, you guys aren’t really minorities, you’re super white.”

— “It’s 11 p.m. In four hours, Donald Trump will be tweeting about how badly Nikki Minaj did at this dinner. And he’ll be doing it completely sober. And that’s his right. And I’m proud that all of us are here to defend that right, even if the man in the White House never would.”

Hasan did a fantastic job, and didn’t pull any of the well-deserved punches. There were a number of distinctly unamused faces in the audience, and that’s good, because at least some of those remarks hit home.

Via The Washington Post.