Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Codifying Christmas Tradition

Image expertly and custom made by my likkle girl!

We are enjoying a traditional Christmas. By that, I mean that our celebrations follow a number of traditions that have become customary over the years, not that we travel by donkey to a stable so that the number of family members increases by one.

Strangely, the traditions we follow have rather evolved over the years since that first Christmas. Quite a number stem from the Victorians.  We send Christmas Cards, although the first Christmas Card was ‘only’ sent in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole. We put up a Christmas tree after the tradition imported by Prince Albert (See Note 1) from Germany, but itself stems from pagan mid-winter rites.

Christmas Traditions seem to appear and evolve with astounding ease. For example, our modern notions of Santa Claus owe more to the 1930’s advertising campaign by Coca-Cola rather than the original Saint Nicolas or the Dutch Sinterklaas (See Note 2). 

On Christmas day here in the UK, we sit down to a traditional roast turkey with all the trimmings. We care not that the turkey is a native to North America. On Boxing Day (See Note 3), we sit down to cold turkey with cold stuffing and watch people taking a dip in icy seas or various sporting fixtures which have become traditional holiday events. After watching the sporting fixtures, there usually follows a traditional debate about why it is that other countries beat us at sports that we invented.

Not that we did invent the sports, we just invented the sports nerd, obsessed with the trivia, minutiae and statistics. The sports had been played quite happily for hundreds of years (See Note 4) before a Brit came along and decided that everyone should play by the same rules. The sports nerd is still with us today. Traditionally, on Christmas Day they can be found with the latest sports almanac, trying to find a printing error with which to wow the internet.

It seems that traditions come about on the basis of repetition more than anything else and on that basis, it would appear that a new traditional sport has been born.

Sadly, the British cannot lay claim to the current World Champion in this new sport. The honour of claiming ownership of the undisputed champion, Susanna Maiolo, has to be decided between the Swiss and Italian authorities. Yet all is not lost. Taking a leaf out of the book of the erstwhile Victorians, I believe that I can claim this new sport as a British invention.

As with Football and Cricket, us Brits can claim ownership by simply writing down the rules of the new sport of ‘Clobber a Cleric’. A sport loosely based on the tradition started by Susanna Maiolo who for two successive years has proved a champion of ‘Pole axing the Pontiff’.

The Pitch : The game of ‘Clobber the Cleric’ can be played in any Chapel, Church or Cathedral that has an aisle.

The Teams : These are unlimited in size, but are limited by the seating capacity within the Pitch. All those on the Pitch are divided into two Teams. The offensive team is known as the ‘Congregation’ while the defensive team as the ‘Officiates’.

Objective of the game: The Officiates are led by a cleric. To win the game the, Officiates must allow their Cleric to make passage along the aisle to the alter. The congregation must elect a ‘ringer’. It is the ringer’s task to wrestle the cleric to the ground. It is the officiates task to get the cleric to the alter at the front of the pitch unmolested. The congregation win should the officiates tackle someone other than the ‘ringer’ or if the Cleric fails to get to the front of the Church to deliver a sermon. The congregation are also expected to leave money in a collection to pay any medical bills.

To ensure this a sport that can be played by Americans, it is permitted for the Cleric to wear body armour.

The Cleric will be permitted to wield their staff in one hand, but only if blessing with the free hand.

 Once elected ‘ringer’, the player is not permitted any disguise or change of clothes. Other members of the congregation may however dress as the ‘ringer’ to try and confuse the officiates. Once elected ‘ringer’ the position is held until hideously maimed by a violently swung thurible or until excommunicated.

 The Officiates may surround the Cleric with burly altar boys, a choir or even other, lower ranked Clerics who may tackle the ringer as soon they enter the aisle (See Note 5).

The pulpit is out of bounds for the Officiate Team until the Cleric begins the procession down the aisle. During this time, members of the congregation may run up and down into the pulpit to check on the preparations of the officiates.  Once the procession starts, the pulpit is then garrisoned by a boy soprano who may use a swinging thurible to prevent the congregation from gaining a vantage point from which to communicate tactics to the ‘ringer’.

Attempts to pour canned pasta dishes over the cleric while they are still in their vestments will result in immediate disqualification of the Congregation team and require that the ‘ringer’ have a stiff talking to from the cleric. If the cleric has been divested of vestments prior to the pouring of the pasta then it will be an honourable draw (See Note 6).

Personally, I think that this is a win-win sporting tradition. It will certainly increase the congregations and revenues in churches, give the church a higher religious profile, especially on dark midwinter nights when people’s thoughts are on the need for consumerism rather than spiritual fulfilment and give congregations a sporting chance of avoiding boring sermons.

It will certainly make for good television. The audience for ‘Songs of Praise  will soar when people realise that an impromptu round of ‘Clobber a Cleric’ might break out. It will only be a matter of time before somebody sets up a league structure allowing the TV companies to run a late night highlights show, ‘Bash of the Day’, where Adrian Chiles bemoans the lack of form of West Bromwich Methodists as their minister is taken out at the last minute by a brilliant tackle by the ringer of Manchester’s St Wayne.

What is more, we now have another sport that has been invented by us Brits. This will give us all something to moan about when a Norwegian brings down the Archbishop of Canterbury during the 2010 Midnight Mass.

Note 1 : Prince Albert is famed for a particularly personal body adornment that thankfully hasn’t evolved into a Christmas Tradition.

Note 2: Rather disturbingly, it appears that the good old Dutch Sinterklaas has a rather dark and disturbing side to his character. Just follow this link to Zwarte Piet.

Note 3: Ahhh, Boxing Day. At this point I shall follow the tradition of not explaining this to the non-Brits. Suffice to say, it doesn’t involve nailing annoying relatives into a tea chest and mailing them to a remote scientific outpost.

Note 4: Some of the earliest football games involved entire villages fighting over a ‘ball’ and trying to force it into the opposing villages well. Injuries were common; the poor goalkeepers often caught cold and the water tasted funny for weeks afterwards.

Note 5: Sadly, during the world championships held at the St. Peter’s Christmas meet, the Cleric saw fit to surround themselves with rather old cardinals who proved totally incapable of providing a mobile defence.

Note 6: Please remember that after the pouring of the canned pasta product, the licking up of sauce is not permitted at any time – even if your Great Aunt Hilda insists that your local padre tastes like artichoke.