Halloween continues to get weirder and stupider…

fullsizeoutput_2076To the child, Halloween has a broad appeal; there are costumes, jack-o-lanterns to carve, and trick-or-treating (the primary mechanism by which candy is obtained).

But the New Halloween of our age isn’t for kids anymore. It isn’t children working tirelessly in the yards of quaint neighborhoods to install the many inflated pumpkins, animated zombies and frankenfreaks, chattering ravens and cackling motorized skulls, along with lights, and spider webs, and styrofoam tombstones, and a whole host of other items from the seasonal aisles of the local Target.

It isn’t children who gave the New Halloween its own embedded and inherently false mythology, a sort of hybridized sanitized amalgamated tale about ancient stone circles of gnosis and druids and dryads and how all was untamed and yet wonderful before the nasty Christians came along and deprived the natives of their true inchoate and natural celebrations, the shells of which were co-opted and perverted and now all that remains is the equinox or made up name Simhain or whatever to remind everyone of how terrible Christianity is.

It isn’t children who make it the Dan Brown of “holidays”, in which freshly concocted garbage from the imagination of ignorance is packaged each year into the flashiest of coverings and presented as an apex in New Culture.

It isn’t children engrossed in a festival of masquerade in which few limits are placed upon poor choices so that craven appetites — more drinking, more drugs, more sex, outrageously profane and objectifying costumes, more libertinism — are proposed as normative.

 

In other words, it isn’t children who have screwed up Halloween, twisted it, and made it weird and stupid. Rather, it’s adults who are to blame for the New Halloween, an Embarrassment at best and a Portal for Demons at worst.

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Something “Different” for this Year’s Thanksgiving Turkey

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After 16 years of hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house, I’ve learned a few things about Roasting the Bird.

In prior years, long ago, my sister raised turkeys and I had a hand in the slaughtering for the holiday dinner. Then, in the earliest years of hosting at our house (or apartment), we traveled out to the Heartland on a pilgrimage to buy a fresh, free-range, organic, and exceedingly expensive turkey. Then we got tired of the drive but continued to buy fresh free-range from the grocer.

About 10 years ago I started to brine the Thanksgiving turkey, which I am convinced is the single most important element for roasting a bird that is flavorful and moist. If you haven’t tried brining your turkey — regardless of whether you intend to deep-fry, roast, or crock pot the thing (blech) — you’re doing it wrong. Heed the Quartermaster’s instructions for brining your bird and be amazed.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 12.31.50 PMThe beauty of brining is that it elevates a cheap frozen turkey, so much that spending more money on fresh almost seems a waste. Not only will the meat be flavorful throughout, it will be much more forgiving in roasting, so that dry turkey is still theoretically possible, but practically difficult to achieve.

Moreover, with brining you can entirely forgo the whole basting ridiculosity, which I’m convinced does nothing more than slow down even cooking and reduce efficiency with all the periodic opening of the oven and removing of the turkey. And you can forget about roasting bags (a mistake), covered roasting pans (no), or starting with the breast down and flipping mid-way through cooking (LOL).

This year, I’m intrigued by something new, which I intend to try: in place of butter or oil rubbed onto the skin of the bird, I’m trying it with….. mayonnaise.

On the one hand, mayonnaise for cooking seems slightly gross. Any time I’ve gotten a mouthful of hot mayonnaise I’ve been pretty disgusted. But it does have an interesting viscous texture and composition that leads me to believe it would cling to the bird longer during cooking rather than melting in the heat and running off quickly like butter, thereby retaining juiciness in the meat and crisping the skin nicely. So, we’ll try it, and I’ll report back.

Happy Thanksgiving!

G.K. Chesterton on the “Myth of the Mayflower”

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From “The ‘Myth’ of the Mayflower”, Fancies Versus Fads (1923):

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 12.32.57 PMhe “Mayflower” is a myth. It is an intensely interesting example of a real modern myth. I do not mean of course that the “Mayflower” never sailed, any more than I admit that King Arthur never lived or that Roland never died. I do not mean that the incident had no historic interest, or that the men who figured in it had no heroic qualities; any more than I deny that Charlemagne was a great man because the legend says he was two hundred years old; any more than I deny that the resistance of Roman Britain to the heathen invasion was valiant and valuable, because the legend says that Arthur at Mount Badon killed nine hundred men with his own hand. I mean that there exists in millions of modern minds a traditional image or vision called the “Mayflower,” which has far less relation to the real facts than Charlemagne’s two hundred years or Arthur’s nine hundred corpses. Multitudes of people in England and America, as intelligent and sympathetic as the young lady in Mr. Wells’s novel, think of the “Mayflower” as an origin, or archetype, like the Ark or at least the Argo. Perhaps it would be an exaggeration to say that they think the “Mayflower” discovered America. They do really talk as if the “Mayflower” populated America. Above all, they talk as if the establishment of New England had been the first and formative example of the expansion of England. They believe that English expansion was a Puritan experiment; and that an expansion of Puritan ideas was also the expansion of what have been claimed as English ideas, especially ideas of liberty. The Puritans of New England were champions of religious freedom, seeking to found a newer and freer state beyond the sea, and thus becoming the origin and model of modern democracy. All this betrays a lack of exactitude. It is certainly nearer to exact truth to say that Merlin built the castle at Camelot by magic, or that Roland broke the mountains in pieces with his unbroken sword.

For at least the old fables are faults on the right side. They are symbols of the truth and not of the opposite of the truth. They described Roland as brandishing his unbroken sword against the Moslems, but not in favour of the Moslems. And the New England Puritans would have regarded the establishment of real religious liberty exactly as Roland would have regarded the establishment of the religion of Mahound. The fables described Merlin as building a palace for a king and not a public hall for the London School of Economics. And it would be quite as sensible to read the Fabian politics of Mr. Sidney Webb into the local kingships of the Dark Ages, as to read anything remotely resembling modern liberality into the most savage of all the savage theological frenzies of the seventeenth century. Thus the “Mayflower” is not merely a fable, but is much more false than fables generally are. The revolt of the Puritans against the Stuarts was really a revolt _against_ religious toleration. I do not say the Puritans were never persecuted by their opponents; but I do say, to their great honour and glory, that the Puritans never descended to the hypocrisy of pretending for a moment that they did not mean to persecute their opponents. And in the main their quarrel with the Stuarts was that the Stuarts would not persecute those opponents enough. Not only was it then the Catholics who were proposing toleration, but it was they who had already actually established toleration in the State of Maryland, before the Puritans began to establish the most intolerant sort of intolerance in the State of New England. And if the fable is fabulous touching the emancipation of religion, it is yet more fabulous touching the expansion of empire. That had been started long before either New England or Maryland, by Raleigh who started it in Virginia. Virginia is still perhaps the most English of the states, certainly more English than New England. And it was also the most typical and important of the states, almost up to Lee’s last battle in the Wilderness. But I have only taken the “Mayflower” as an example of the general truth; and in a way the truth has its consoling side. Modern men are not allowed to have any history; but at least nothing can prevent men from having legends.

We have thus before us, in a very true and typical modern picture, the two essential parts of modern culture. It consists first of false history and second of fancy history. What the American tourist believed about Plymouth Rock was untrue; what she believed about Stonehenge was only unfounded. The popular story of Primitive Man cannot be proved. The popular story of Puritanism can be disproved. I can fully sympathize with Mr. Wells and his heroine in feeling the imaginative stimulus of mysteries like Stonehenge; but the imagination springs from the mystery; that is, the imagination springs from the ignorance. It is the very greatness of Stonehenge that there is very little of it left. It is its chief feature to be featureless. We are very naturally and rightly moved to mystical emotions about signals from so far away along the path of the past; but part of the poetry lies in our inability really to read the signals. And this is what gives an interest, and even an irony, to the comparison half consciously invoked by the American lady herself when she asked “What’s Notre Dame to this?” And the answer that should be given to her is: “Notre Dame, compared to this, is _true._ It is history. It is humanity. It is what has really happened, what we know has really happened, what we know is really happening still. It is the central fact of your own civilization. And it is the thing that has really been kept from you.”

Notre Dame is not a myth. Notre Dame is not a theory. Its interest does not spring from ignorance but from knowledge; from a culture complicated with a hundred controversies and revolutions. It is not featureless, but carved into an incredible forest and labyrinth of fascinating features, any one of which we could talk about for days. It is not great because there is little of it, but great because there is a great deal of it. It is true that though there is a great deal of it, Puritans may not be allowed to see a great deal in it; whether they were those brought over in the “Mayflower” or only those brought up on the “Mayflower.” But that is not the fault of Notre Dame; but of the extraordinary evasion by which such people can dodge to right or left of it, taking refuge in things more recent or things more remote. Notre Dame, on its merely human side, is mediaeval civilization, and therefore not a fable or a guess but a great solid determining part of modern civilization. It is the whole modern debate about guilds; for such cathedrals were built by the guilds. It is the whole modern question of religion and irreligion; for we know what religion it stands for, while we really have not a notion what religion Stonehenge stands for. A Druid temple is a ruin, and a Puritan ship by this time may well be called a wreck. But a church is a challenge; and that is why it is not answered.

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Comfort and Joy

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God’s love for us pours out in superabundance.

The Incarnation is for us. We are given to understand through the Incarnation that God does not seek slaves or servants, blind adoration or sycophantic adulation. God wishes to give an entirely voluntary, free, and honest LOVE, for our own good.

We are given an image, in the Incarnation, of our worth. For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son. This sacrifice is not remote. Rather, it’s directly connected with Jesus’ human nature.

God comes to know His people: by becoming vulnerable, by relying upon a man and a woman for his physical and emotional needs, by entering into communion with those he loves, and eating, drinking and sharing stories and time with them. Inasmuch as God lowers himself, he likewise raises us up to a new dignity in creation.

May the Light which comes into the world tonight fill your hearts, bringing peace, love and joy. I pray that you and all dear to you have a miraculous Christmas, and that God may bless you now and always.

Polemic Contra “Elf on the Shelf”

Christmas is not magical season. Magic (apart from that which originates from the demonic) is not real. Telling children to believe in magic and fiction in connection with the Nativity of Our Lord is a huge mistake.

Source: Flickr; Author: Davitydave; Creative Commons License

Elf on the Shelf: good little “Big Brother”, always watching. Source: Flickr; Author: Davitydave; Creative Commons License

I’d prefer not to fritter away the credibility and trust I’ve built up with my kids on selling fairy tales. There’s no Elf on the Shelf for the Quartermaster’s kids, as insurance against this foreseeable utterance: “Why should I believe you when you say God and Jesus are real? You said the same thing about Elf on the Shelf and Santa Claus!”

Elf on the Shelf strains the whole Santa thing — which has been grossly perverted by our secular consumer culture — to a point of ridiculosity. I intensely dislike the idea of coaxing good behavior from children with a season-long bribe. “Be good, or Santa won’t bring presents!” That’s true, because, getting stuff is the “reason for the season”?

As if we needed another reason to resist the whole Elf on the Shelf mania, a digital technology professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology says that Elf on the Shelf teaches kids “…..a bigger lesson, which is that it’s OK for other people to spy on you and you’re not entitled to privacy.” This professor argues that the idea of Elf of the Shelf reporting back to Santa each night “sets up children for dangerous, uncritical acceptance of power structures.”

I would have to agree. Countless millions of children are being raised in the belief that a creepy little doll watches them during the month of December, and helps a fictitious dispenser of mammon to determine whether any pellets will drop into their cages at the end of the maze. Should the government ever decide to install a similar device for year-round monitoring — under the guise that it will be used for “safety” and to determine what “services” each family needs — it will be all the more palatable, thanks to Elf on the Shelf.

Elf on the Shelf is just another warped way that the secular religion known as Consumerism draws ’em in young, conditions ’em to want and buy, and then finally lets ’em down with the realization that the thing being sold was a total lie.

Catholic parents: things like Elf on the Shelf cheapen Christmas and betray the truth that Christmas is real. Our focus should be on the reality: an infant — both fully God and fully human — was born 2,000 years ago to an Immaculate Virgin. He didn’t come to bring Xboxes and iPads. He doesn’t condition His love upon good conduct. He isn’t a minion who watches us and reports back the Big Guy.

Jesus is the Word. He is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. He is the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins. He is the door through which we enter into salvation. Giving our children their first introduction to their Savior — and encouraging them to prepare their hearts for Him — is our primary obligation at Advent and Christmastime.

Elf on the Shelf is a $15 hindrance in our mission as Catholic parents. As he sets his gaze on our kids, he diverts their attention — and ours — in an utterly wrong direction. Send Elf on the Shelf home to the landfill.

Flavorful Turkey: There is Still Time

But there is not another moment to waste. Heed the Quartermaster’s instructions for brining your bird, get the turkey in the brine tonight, for significantly upgraded holiday nomnoms tomorrow.

FullSizeRenderThe beauty of brining a turkey is that while it takes a few minutes to prepare the brine, you can effectively omit: coating the turkey in butter or oil, seasoning with salt and pepper, basting during roasting, covering or flipping the bird while cooking (which is insane anyway). For our (brined) Thanksgiving turkey, I stuff the bird, roast at 325 (uncovered) until the stuffing and thigh reads 165F. Brining is the easiest way to achieve great turkey, with minimal effort.

Ideally, you would have begun brining 48-72 hours before Turkey Day, in order to permit the bird to “air dry” in the refrigerator for a full 24 hours before roasting. But if you brine and omit this step, it will still be far better than if you did nothing at all.

Other things you can do ahead: stuffing (mine’s already in the fridge), cranberry sauce (so easy, so much better than canned), anything containing Jell-O, sweet potatoes (all steps up to placement of the casserole in the oven to heat), peeling potatoes and placing in your boiling pot filled with salted water, the pies, etc.

Please note that *IF* you stuff your bird, which is safe so long as you reach a good internal temperature and handle the stuffing properly, you should be careful not to add too much salt to the stuffing, as some of the juices from the brined turkey (which are salty) will soak into the stuffing.

Today Mr. Karl and I engaged in some spirited debate concerning stuffing the bird versus having plenty of drippings for gravy. Apparently every person in his family requires at least a quart of gravy, because he was complaining that the stuffing absorbs all the drippings. This is not my experience at all, as we have always had an adequate volume of drippings even with a stuffed bird. But we don’t consume gravy with a drinking hose either. Meanwhile, the gaping open chasm of Mr. Karl’s turkey is pouring forth all the juices into the roasting pan. More resourceful people plug the hole to trap the flavor and juiciness.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I repeat: Halloween is stupid

I do very much like: the changing season, the earlier evenings, the sunsets, the light of the sun reflecting on rainclouds (praise God for rain!), tree leaves of gold and crimson, pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn across the spectrum, All Saints’ Day and “Discover a New Saint” homeschool assignments, the smell of fire, robust beers, apples and roasts, and the joys of looking forward to time with loved ones, giving thanks and welcoming the Savior.

But Halloween is stupid, and I reiterate and reaffirm what I said about it last year, with even more emphasis, hyperbole and arm-waving, as if fully set forth herein. Don’t even try to argue with me; just admit you like celebrating a dumb unholiday.

Why an “Octave” of Easter?

Baptistry and Font, Basilica of St. John Lateran, Rome

Octagonal Baptistry with Baptismal Font in Center, Basilica of St. John Lateran, Rome

Alleluia! Happy Easter! Today is Easter “Monday”, the second day in the “Octave” of Easter.

In our family, we struggle a little bit against the trend of front-loading the celebration of holidays that secular culture “shares” with Christianity.

Surely you’ve heard the historical myth that Easter and Christmas aren’t actually Christian, but rather pagan celebrations that were co-opted by the early Church. Insert Yada-yadda and Something-something about the Church consolidating power and misleading the ignorant tribals of pre-Enlightenment Europe.

Without explicitly saying so, the Something-something crowdset aims to re-paganize the holidays, so that if they were ever not Christian, they may be so once again. The result is empty: today’s age celebrates buying and consumption while past gnosis plumbed to the shallow depths of the day’s length or season’s climate.

The Church reminds that what God desires from us is our free choice to follow and serve Him. We are all the unworthy servants of Luke’s gospel — doing what we are obliged to do does not carry the expectation of favor from God. (17:10). We can’t repay God anything. It’s not for Him that Jesus hangs upon the wood of the cross. Thank goodness, we can take joy in this fact!

When we truly value a relationship, we take action. God values the relationship — He gave His only begotten Son. We show how much we truly value a relationship according to what we will give up for it. On Good Friday, our brother suffers. How do we show God how much we value His friendship and love?

The Christian who pretends that the journey to Heaven is possible without some measure of sacrifice seeks not a literal baptism by sprinkling, but a figurative one: “Jesus, make me damp, make me a little bit wet, let me dip my toe! Give me just one iota of salvation! But do not immerse me in the waters of your mercy! Do not drown me in faith! Do not drench me in the graces pouring from your side!” If someone knows true joy, why would they ask for just a little bit of it?

The point of Lent cannot be reduced to causing ourselves pain so that it feels good when we stop. Any sacrifice that we offer for the good of relationship with Jesus isn’t for Him, but rather, for us. We benefit not from the pain, but from the discovery that the thing being sacrificed has no real value compared to Jesus. It is this discovery that makes the Christian free.

The spiritual fruits of Easter — like Christmas — come through the removal of obstacles that block pathways to deep Mystery. There is no limit to how far God will draw us up into meditation upon the Mysteries of Incarnation and Resurrection, but ourselves.

Today we can take joy that Easter has only begun. The Resurrection is the “Eighth Day” — the day after creation, the beginning of the new creation. Baptism is directly tied to the new life of Easter as the Eighth Day. Baptistries or baptismal fonts are frequently found to be octagonal in form, symbolizing that the New Creation comes to us through Jesus, to whom we respond in baptism.

Easter is the bridge between the old creation and new, given by God for us! Alleluia!