Print this page
Friday, December 24, 2021

His Yoke is Easy and His Burden is Light

Written by 
Rate this item
(11 votes)
His Yoke is Easy and His Burden is Light

“Are you ready?”

I HEARD THAT question ominously posed in the Greenwich Village café where I was sitting on the Friday after Thanksgiving, following my recent return from university in Britain in the late 1970s. The man demanding a response was clearly miserable, and knew that his query would depress the group of regulars standing round the counter with him. Their equally downcast faces indicated that they were indeed grimly prepared for the nightmare that all without exception were confronting together. Some mini Apocalypse was obviously unavoidable. What was it? It was another “holly, jolly Christmas”, the intolerable pretentions of which the lot of them anticipated as eagerly as an extended vacation in a leper colony.

Admittedly, I had already hit upon a kind of “Christmas problem” the moment that I moved into my nearby apartment, this due to the shenanigans of an elderly, old-time immigrant couple that lived below me. Maddalena, her various parts fitted roughly together like a primitive pyramid or an Italian tootsie roll, always dressed as though she were a horse past its prime and wrapped compassionately in a blanket. Matteo, her husband, played Jack Sprat to her piecemeal equestrian allure. He was fastidious, and, in true Latin fashion, primped for the evening. At dinner, Maddalena played Christmas carols on tasteful recordings.

Each of the regulars, like a gang of professional experts in torture, upped the ante as the days moved on, competing with the others in outlining the agonies that they would increasingly endure until the entire holly, jolly nightmare was over.

The difficulty was that she always was convinced it was Christmas. Several weeks after my arrival, in early September, I heard Matteo balk at the sight of a table set for twenty. A festive meal was about to be served. “What’s all this?” he screamed. “Merry Christmas, dear one!” she shouted, overcome with seasonal cheer. “It’s not Christmas!” Matteo yelled, momentarily lucid. He thought hard. “That’s next week.” He had lost it already. “Who’s going to eat all this food then?” she gasped. It was the only time I was to enter their flat. At least Maddalena could cook well. Normally, the Christmas carols signaled the beginning of the vicious daily dinner battle. “Move that spoon!” she commanded. “No! You move your spoon!” he retorted, not to be outdone. “I never saw anybody move a spoon like that!” “I’ve never moved a spoon any other way, and I’m not going to start now!” Both then stared out the window, broken by the horror of it all. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” accompanied their lamentation.

Still, what I experienced in the café that Thanksgiving Friday was different from Maddalena and Matteo’s eternal Christmas woe. They were simply bonkers due to reasons beyond their control. The wretched frontline soldiers intent upon swallowing their morning brew as unenjoyably as they possibly could in expectation of what was now to come were not senile. They were simply “getting ready” for four weeks of totally self-inflicted pain.

Christmas Special

Moreover, each of the regulars, like a gang of professional experts in torture, upped the ante as the days moved on, competing with the others in outlining the agonies that they would increasingly endure until the entire holly, jolly nightmare was over. The horror! The horror! as Mister Kurtz said in The Heart of Darkness. They would have to shop unceasingly, emptying their bank accounts, probably even having to do the supreme violence to themselves entailed by crossing the Hudson to buy some gift mandated by blood relations that was available only in a chain store along Route 4 in Northern Jersey. And then they would be forced to eat and drink substances dangerous to their cholesterol and blood pressure, gaining weight they would most certainly never lose again, in the company of cousins they had no desire to see and whose crimes from decades past they described in uncharitable detail to their all too understanding fellow victims.

This article appears in the Christmas issue of The Remnant Newspaper
Don't miss the rest -- SUBSCRIBE TODAY!dec 25 cover

I began to panic, wondering how “ready” I myself was for the trial ahead. Honestly, I was far behind everyone in calendar time, since I remembered that preparation for the jollity had begun as early as Halloween. Although Halloween in 1979 was not the High Holy Day that it became in New York when the neighborhood parade took on an international importance from the mid-80s onwards, it was sacred enough already. People really “kept” Halloween, the way Scrooge “kept” Christmas after his ghostly chastisement, enjoying it thoroughly as they did. They desperately wished to revel in diversion, since it was to be all down hill afterwards, with Thanksgiving providing the sole secular respite before the final descent into the holly, jolly abyss.

Now my family used to put its tree up on Christmas Eve and take it down after the Feast of the Epiphany. In other words, it kept Christmas, just like the reformed Scrooge did, celebrating its full twelve days when they traditionally ought to be celebrated.

November 1st was All Goods Day, with advertising emphasizing the grant of indulgences for those purchasing now whe purchasing was comfortable, and warnings of the penalties for those who did not gild their path to the cashiers. Bing Crosby, though dead and buried, made his presence known from shop radio to shop radio, singing the holly jolly hymns. French Canadians emerged from out of nowhere when the Thanksgiving Lull approached. In fact, I spotted my café comrades dutifully dragging overpriced trees home from their sheds the minute that this crucial task of Preparation Season called for their obedience. Needles long dead, they were to toss them out late on Christmas Eve, when---by their Enlightenment inspired calculation---the mini-Apocalypse was over and the avenging angel had once again mercifully passed them over, still alive, until the threat was clear again next year.

Now my family used to put its tree up on Christmas Eve and take it down after the Feast of the Epiphany. In other words, it kept Christmas, just like the reformed Scrooge did, celebrating its full twelve days when they traditionally ought to be celebrated. My earliest recollections of the festival were traditionally joyous as well, in a way that would have very much pleased Kaiser Wilhelm II, focused as they were around Kinder, Küche, und Kirche, in their Italian-American Bambini, Cucina, e Chiesa version. Cousins I actually did want to see stood out vividly in these holiday reminiscences, especially the ones who stayed overnight, sleeping between table legs, in anticipation of the sacred feast. I also much appreciated the women, industriously shaping ravioli into forms both round and square, which sometimes took them a great deal of time given the interruptions caused by unexpected visitors who insisted that their particular seasonal pastry or liqueur had instantly to be tasted. And I remember with gratitude the break between the seven fishes and dessert on Christmas Eve, necessitated by the three hour fast before Holy Communion at Midnight Mass. That merciful delay gave the stomach room that was needed to make the cannoli all that more delightful.

The Elders grew exasperated with me. Was I slow? Did I have lice? Had the scratching kept me up nights, and then exhausted and dulled my mental faculties?

Nevertheless, I could not deny that those last years before my temporary educational departure from the United States, recently marred by growing ecclesiastical secularization, already testified to the encroachment of the holly, jolly Christmas-as-punishment mentality that I witnessed full blown in 1979 upon my own relatives’ psyche as well. Fewer and fewer of our extended family showed up at holiday celebrations. We did not go to see them either. This had nothing to do with transportation. Some relatives had so many cars that it seemed as though they could walk from their homes to mine atop their vehicles without ever touching the hood of an automobile not in their possession. In fact, a few relatives lived right down the street, much closer than they had in the past.

When, in my teenage arrogance, I demanded an explanation, the answer was: “We all have families of our own now”. Biology had never been my strong point. I wondered who had generated my parents, and therefore pressed the interrogation. “But there’s plenty of space for whole armies to eat here. They could stay up all night, playing cards and drinking, like they used to do.” The Elders grew exasperated with me. Was I slow? Did I have lice? Had the scratching kept me up nights, and then exhausted and dulled my mental faculties? Did I not understand that there was no room for guests when the invisible Army of Secular Change was now bivouacking in our parlor? Something had to be done to set me straight. What use would I be otherwise, and just at this moment, too, when my help was needed to move the big, unneeded, family table downstairs, so that the new, essential television could be set in its vacant place.

What is the serious reason for my penning this rather cheeky little piece for The Remnant? It is the fact that reliance on the Catholic Faith is our sole hope not just for eternal life in Heaven, but also for all joy here on earth as well.

“John”, my family patiently catechized. “Holidays are a very, very trying experience. Everybody is cranky. You cannot put demands on people when they are under tension. And your smaller cousins might break things. Remember. You were a child when we did all the things you mentioned. You have childish memories. Nostalgia is fine, sometimes, but not when it stands in the way of living. Not then. Why don’t you realize that you’re growing up now? Why not aim your attention at something real and attainable? Like buying bigger and better gifts that no one wants.

Henceforth, I limited my own visits to relatives to times when they would apparently be more relaxed---such as workdays in January, after the misery of celebration had faded from their minds.

Off to Britain I then flew away. While no Catholic paradise, the UK in the 1970s was so politically and economically grim enough already that the inhabitants had no time readying their personal, special holly jolly pre-Christmas Bleak Houses. Hence, Preparation Time was actually more or less still limited to the bare minimum, with almost absolutely everything entirely shut down for the first of the Twelve Days---sometimes even longer if Boxing Day came on the edge of a weekend. The rush to prepare was only really noticeable immediately before Christmas Eve, and then there was nothing else to do given all the quiet afterwards but to celebrate in a normal way. After seven years of accustoming myself to this charming routine, more in line with my recollections of the 1950s, the end of the hateful merriment that I now witnessed in New York, coming precisely near Midnight on the 24th when it should have begun---and this at the hands of those dead souls clearly thrilled that their strife was finally over---was an exceedingly strange phenomenon to digest indeed.

The more secularized our Church, State, and society have become, the more rejected the dictates of Reason, the more depraved and self destructive our morality and customs, and the more downright joyless, humorless, and pathetically dull the “merriment” the naturalist world foists upon us.

Recalling my Nietzsche, I knew that I had to destroy what these other grouches cherished. This I preceded to do with a vengeance, thankfully with the help of the still relatively small but militant group of Traditionalist Catholics that had welcomed me home from my educational adventure overseas. I recruited them to come to my café to participate in my anti-Preparation Time rampage. Yes, we admitted that we were “getting ready” through the penitential season of Advent, but with ever increasing, hopeful joy as we waited for the full explosion of happiness that would come on Christmas Eve when their holly jolly caricature of a painful holiday would draw to its longed-for end. But we told them that we were buying nothing that would cause us any pain or was no good for our friends and relatives, and that most of what we would purchase was to be perishables that we would be obliged to obtain for Christmas Feasts at the very last minute. We defiantly proclaimed our willingness to send our blood pressure and cholesterol packing, and gain weight and get tipsy, but only when the festivity was called for by holy custom. We drove home the point by inserting ear buds when the hundredth rendition of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” blasted out of the radiophonic waves. I even convinced by parents to see the truth and join in the fun. The result? Christmas, 1979 was one of the merriest in my memory. The good times rolled again and have not stopped since.

Let the grouches revel in their self-imposed distress. In this, as in everything else, I will stick with Christ. “His yoke is easy, and His burden is light”.

What is the serious reason for my penning this rather cheeky little piece for The Remnant? It is the fact that reliance on the Catholic Faith is our sole hope not just for eternal life in Heaven, but also for all joy here on earth as well. Everything that our greatest saints and thinkers have always said would happen should the Faith be abandoned to follow a purely natural wisdom contemptuous of its corrective and exalting assistance has come dreadfully true. The more secularized our Church, State, and society have become, the more rejected the dictates of Reason, the more depraved and self destructive our morality and customs, and the more downright joyless, humorless, and pathetically dull the “merriment” the naturalist world foists upon us. Dr. Faustus & Company have now pressed the misery of this alternate universe and its hellish consequences upon a clueless anti-religious people to the utmost extreme. Let the grouches revel in their self-imposed distress. In this, as in everything else, I will stick with Christ. “His yoke is easy, and His burden is light”.

The Latest from Remnant-TV.com -- THE INTOLERANT POPE: Francis Cancels Faithful Catholics

[Comment Guidelines - Click to view]
Last modified on Friday, December 24, 2021
John Rao | Remnant Columnist, New York

John C. Rao, Ph.D. is an associate professor of history at St. John's University, director of the Roman Forum/Dietrich von Hildebrand Institute, and former president of Una Voce America.  In 1977 he received his D.Phil. in Modern European History from Oxford University. Notable works include Americanism and the Collapse of the Church in the United States, Removing the Blindfold, and Periphery. His latest book, Black Legends: The War of the Words Against the Word, a guide to the history of the Catholic Church, was published by The Remnant Press in 2012. A student of Dietrich von Hildebrand and a close friend and collaborator of Michael Davies, John Rao has been a frequent contributor to The Remnant since the early 1980s.  He is known for writing his Remnant columns from Rocco's Cafe, an Italian pastry shop in Greenwich Village Manhattan.

Latest from John Rao | Remnant Columnist, New York