Saturday, December 24, 2022

"So hallowed and so gracious is the time"


Some say that ever ’gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long,
And then they say no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed, and so gracious, is that time.
[Marcellus to Horatio and Bernardo, Hamlet, Act I, Scene 1].

In the dangerous dark of medieval Danish winter, one of the Elsinore castle guards, Marcellus, looks ahead to the coming of Christmas - that so hallowed and so gracious time - as a blessed alternative to the uncertainty and chaos that threatens the Kingdom of Denmark in the wake of its king's suspicious death, the king whose ghost's restlessness seems such a frightening omen to the castle watchmen. Indeed, the ghost will confirm that Something is rotten in the state of Denmark [Act 1, Scene 4]Not unlike Shakespeare's dramatized medieval Denmark, ours is also a polity in deep distress, and we need no benevolent or malevolent spirit to stir abroad to tell us so. Against all that awfulness and tragedy, the only blessing in that rotten state, whether Denmark's or ours, is one which we cannot bring about ourselves, that so hallowed and so gracious season wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated.

Hamlet is spread out over several months of the liturgical calendar. Another, more modern Christmastime ghost story, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, occurs all in one night, the holy night itself, the holy night of Christmas. Hamlet's ghost is a harbinger of evil, the increasing, self-multiplying evils that are the consequences of the original evil which ended his earthly reign and reduced him to a wandering spirit of warning and woe. In A Christmas Carol, however, occurring as it does on Christmas night itself (when ordinarily no spirit dare stir abroad), Jacob Marley's wandering spirit of warning and woe becomes the entryway for Ebenezer Scrooge's ultimate redemption. A different ghost, a different result, so hallowed, and so gracious, is this Christmas time.

 To anyone anywhere, who reads this, 

Merry Christmas!

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