Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The twelve 'yoms' of Christmas

Yom is the Hebrew word traditionally rendered as day in translations of the Bible. One curiosity of theological history is that about the same time that Alfred Loisy and George Tyrrell were getting their marching orders from Pope Pius X, the Pontifical Biblical Commission was approving a wider interpretation of the meaning of yom so that it could be understood as a period of time, rather than a solar day. That wouldn't have made much of a difference to the modernists since Loisy and Tyrrell had problems other than those posed by biblical criticism (and rather more significant critical questions than those raised by the meaning of yom).

Still, on the eve of what is traditionally the Feast of the Epiphany I cannot help wondering whether the bishops of England and Wales, who ordered the Epiphany to be celebrated last Sunday, might not find some mileage in speaking of the 'Twelve Yoms of Christmas' rather than the Twelve Days. After all, if yom refers to an indeterminate period, you can slice your yom wherever you want to. Twelve yoms could be anything from twelve hours to twelve periods of twenty-two hours, and none of us would be any the wiser.


Of course it is another matter what such a reorganisation of time might do to the gifts traditionally associated with each of the twelve yoms of Christmas. Twelve lords a-leaping can most certainly be organised in a period of twenty-four hours - especially if you tell them it's happy hour in the bar - but anything shorter than that might cause problems. The milking of cows also takes time, as does the simultaneous counting and marshalling of all kinds of fowl from swans to partridges and turtle doves. Is a yom long enough, I ask myself.

It all seems a far cry from a proper celebration which takes time after all. Naively perhaps, I'm always amazed at the indecent haste with which Christmas is forgotten every year. Just who wouldn't want twelve days of joy rather than just the one? Well, that's the rub. It depends on your joy. If your joy is fitted to the coming of the Son of God, then there's every chance you'll be celebrating for twelve days and then some. If your joy is fitted to something less marvellous, a shorter period might be in order.

I'm making no implications about the joy among the bishops of England and Wales whose yoms might in private last longer than twenty-four hours. But I wonder what is really achieved by moving big feasts like this to the Sunday, other than the regular elision of the twelve days to twelve yoms and the homogenisation of the temporal cycle.

Am I flogging a dead horse? Well, I probably am. But anything's better than trying to count out leaping lords and milking maids before the yoms run out.

A happy Epiphany one and all.

1 comment:

GOR said...

As to the ‘indecent haste’ Ches, I was exiting the local version of Tesco’s here in the rural US on Tuesday, and noticed two trucks pulling up to the first of the village’s Christmas decorations disgorging four employees of the Public Works Dept. who proceeded to take it down. How many Public Works personnel does it take to remove one decoration, one might ask parenthetically? Well, four apparently.

But, I digress. The unseemly haste with which Christmas is forgotten is an unfortunate result of an apparently endemic short-term memory loss in the populace - or the need to move on, now! While preparations for Christmas are likely to begin at Hallowe’en or even before, all traces must be eliminated post haste once December 26th comes around. The stores are already replete with the trappings of Valentine’s Day, which will be closely followed by St. Patrick’s Day accoutrements, not to mention the Easter Bunny.

The Church is liturgically complicit in this by the elimination of Octaves which at least preserved the spirit of the season for a while longer. However, all is not lost. The Franciscans hereabouts still adhere to old traditions and the Nativity scene will remain up until the Feast of the Purification on February 2nd.