Sunday, December 30, 2007


Scots and their progeny more than any other People or Culture celebrate the New Year with a heightened passion. The Hogmanay tradition has been well kept by many American-Scottish organizations to include The Scottish-Norse Kingdome of Raknar, just as religiously as their annual raids at the height of the Highland Games season in the United States. Records will reflect that organizations of that ilk have kept to the traditions of the Auld Sod which we will further explore here. For those not acquainted with Hogmanay we will attempt to explain this most Scottish of holidays and its origins.

Despite some determined academic studies the origin of the term, “Hogmanay” remains obscure. Opinions differ as to whether the linguistic origins are from the Gaelic oge maidne ("New Morning"), the Flemish hoog min dag ("Great Love Day"), the Anglo-Saxon Haleg Monath ("Holy Month"), Guernsey’s hoginono or Norman French word hoguinané (or variants such as hoginono and hoguinettes), which was derived from the 16th century Old French anguillanneuf ("gift at New Year") or even the more modern French au gui mener ("lead to the mistletoe”).

The most likely source would appear to be the French. "Homme est né" or "Man is born" or the previously referenced "hoguinettes", the French Norman presents given at that time.

The New Year’s celebration in 1604 was mentioned in the Elgin Records as hagmonay. The Oxford English Dictionary of 1680 defines Hogmynae-night as a festival. A similar Scottish practice to that in Normandy was recorded in 1693, rather disapprovingly, by the Church of Scotland, "It is ordinary among some Plebeians in the South of Scotland, to go about from door to door upon New Year’s Eve, crying Hagmane." The word continues to 1696 with references noted to someone singing “a hog ma nae song”.

Many historians believe that we can give the Norse credit for any celebration at that time of the year, which was near the significant passing of the shortest day in the year. In Shetland, for example, where Norse influence was strongest, they celebrated their interpretation of the Druidic Yule, Hoggo-nott or hogenat which became the twelve days of Christmas, or the "Daft Days" as they became known in Scotland. There is no doubt however that Hogmanay was a mix of arcane customs from many separate though connected cultures. Many of the American-Scottish organizations choose to pay homage to the Scots and the Norse for their contributions and yet another reason to have a party!

Of special significance to our study here is that Christmas was not celebrated as a high feast day or festival and was virtually banned in Scotland for four hundred years, until the end of the 17th century and then not generally accepted literally until the 1960’s and even the 1970’s. The ban which sent Christmas underground had its roots in the Protestant Reformation when the Presbyterian Church (Church of Scotland) portrayed Christmas as a sinister Catholic Celebration and therefore banned. Apparently this looked like too much good fun for the rather dour brand of Calvinism adopted by John Knox and his followers. Many Scots, then, worked over the Christmas “holiday” so the major event of this festive season became the Caledonian Celebration of Hogmanay, at the New Year.

Hogmanay, then, took the place of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (celebrated in the rest of the Christian World) when family and friends formally gathered to party and exchange presents. Hogmanay became the big winter celebration which prevails despite the recent resurgence of Christmas which has to the delight of most Scots now regained general acceptance in Scotland.

There is no doubt that with the amalgamation of so many populations and cultures to include the traditional alliance of Scotland and France and the heavy influence of the Druidic, Norse, Celtic and other Continental cultures, this celebration certainly has a life that continues to this very day. While many, but not all, of the old rituals have been forgotten, the holiday has re-emerged with a new vigor via 21st century protocols. The enthusiastic spirit of the celebration remains undiminished.

The great irony here is that Christmas and Hogmanay's roots reach back to Druidic and Celtic revelry and the pagan practice of sun and fire worship of the deep mid-Winter. As we have noted in a previous narrative, this evolved into the ancient Roman Saturnalia Festival, where people enthusiastically celebrated, completely free of restraint and inhibition. With Emperor Constantine’s cautious support for Christianity (he was baptized on his deathbed), he merged many pagan traditions including the conversion of Saturnalia, the annual celebration of the Roman Sun God and the December 25th birthday celebration of Mithras, the Persian God of Light into what became “Christmas.” This facilitated a seamless transition from the pagan to the new religion and made Christianity more palatable for Roman citizens. Thusly, Constantine arbitrarily set the date of December 25 as Christmas
[i], a date we now know to be months and years from the true date though in enthusiastic support of the wishes of the people to continue their winter revelries.

We do know, however, that the true official date for Hogmanay is December 31, New Year’s Eve, the start of an exuberant celebration which lasts through the night until the morning of January 1st, (Ne'erday, a contraction of "New Year's Day" in Scots dialect) and in many cases even to January 2nd, all official Scottish holidays.

In the modern Scottish cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling, for example, Hogmanay has become a huge ticketed festival with hundreds of thousands of revelers taking to the streets (not unlike the hedonistic celebrations at Times Square in NYC) to celebrate the New Year! These celebrations generally start in the early evening and reach a crescendo by midnight. Minutes before the start of new year, a lone piper plays, then the bells of local churches chime at the turn of midnight accompanied by lots of kissing and then the revelers singing the Bard’s Auld Lang Syne

Throughout Scotland and particularly in her more remote parts, the tradition of pre-Christian fire ceremonies that include torch light processions, fireball swinging (Stonehaven) and lighting of New Year fires, still play an important part in Hogmanay. We in the Kingdome of Raknar are humbly reminded of our frustrations at Gude King Hägar’s Viking funeral and our attempt to burn his handcrafted, eight foot Longboat at Barren River, Kentucky on the occasion of Hogmanay in 1994. Children shouldn’t play with matches though we appear to do OK with the great Scots bonfires!

The Hogmanay Fire is reminiscent of ancient pagan customs and symbolizes the power of the sun and the purification of the world by the consumption of all evil spirits; “bringing the light of knowledge from one year to the next, lighting the way into the next uncharted century, putting behind you the darkness past, but carrying forward its sacred flame of hope and enlightenment to a better parish, and in this day, world.”

Interestingly, the custom of lighting kerosene soaked balls of yarn or tightly woven rags and tossing and swinging these fiery objects at night as a way of celebrating Christmas and New Year’s is still even practiced in several Georgia and Alabama counties in the United States! The tradition is believed to have derived from the ancient Scottish fire rituals described herein.

The Scottish customs of First Footing and Ceilidhs (kay-lees) are integral to Hogmanay celebrations and as in ancient times, are well practiced in the American-Scottish community.

Many Scots bent on the prospects of a prosperous new year usually secure the services of a "tall, dark stranger" to appear at their door with a lump of symbolic coal for the fire, shortbread, salt, black bun and whisky and the traditional toast to the Family of “A guid new year to ane an a’” (one and all) in return for food, wine or a wee dram of whisky, or the traditional Het Pint, a combination of ale, nutmeg and whisky. This writer has bought many a chunk of anthracite in anticipation of this generous reward!

“He shouldnae come empty-haundit. Traditionally, he would gie ye saut and a bit o coal tae bring ye prosperity for the comin year. Ye maun gie him a dram.”

Though many members of the American-Scottish Community may not harbor the memory of blond-haired Vikings raping and pillaging, they do delight in a celebration that rewards the brown-eyed, brown-haired “first foot” in the door after midnight and the attendant good luck it proffers to that household. Hogmanay celebrations include all the above especially the traditional welcome of Family, Friends and potential new Friends, with warm hospitality and, of course, a kiss to wish everyone a Guid New Year. While we can traditionally clean our houses on 31st December via the Hogmanay Redding maybe we can have a go at paying all our debts before "the bells" at midnight? Eh?

Yours, Aye & Happy Hogmanay

Ned Buxton

[i] Those that follow the sometime circuitous meanderings of The Scriptures can arrive at a date of September 15th, (the year is even more elusive) while others find his birth in February or August. Muddying the waters further there are other Christian sects that have celebrated the birth of Jesus on over one hundred different dates! Pope Julius in 337CE reaffirmed Constantine’s earlier ruling by maintaining the festivities and continuing the blending of pagan revelry with celebrations for Christ’s birthday. The die was cast.

[ii] When Ne'erday falls on a Sunday, 3 January becomes an additional public holiday in Scotland; when Ne'erday falls on a Saturday, both 3 January and 4 January will be public holidays in Scotland. Most Scots still celebrate Ne'erday with a special dinner, usually steak pie.

[iii] The words to Auld Lang Syne (“old long ago”, hence “times long ago”) were adapted by Robert Burns from an earlier traditional poem while the tune had been in print for over 80 years before Burns published his version in 1788. The words to Auld Lang Syne are written in Old Scots, the language most commonly spoken in Scotland until 1707 when the Scottish and English Crowns were joined by the Act of Union.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear, For auld lang syne, We'll tak a cup o'kindness yet For auld lang syne!


[v] Holiday Fireball Tradition Revisited, By Anne Kimzey, December 1993, Alabama Center for Traditional Culture, Montgomery, Alabama


Sunday, December 23, 2007


This Christmas season I’ve noted many sincere Christian folks of good will waxing teary-eyed and eloquent about the sacred traditions of Christmas and their two thousand year old pedigree? Their claims are born of ethnocentrism, an incredible leap of faith and ignorance of thousands of years of history. Given that most of us seem to be losing the real meaning of Christmas, I thought it appropriate to set the record straight. I am not intent on debunking Christmas (no Bah Humbug here), rather to shine the light of day on the origins of the holiday and ultimately straighten our path.

In a great irony we have the formerly anti-Christian Romans to thank for the start of the evolution of December 25 as the celebration of the birth of Jesus aka Christmas. Despite the evolution of this holiday there remains significant pagan and secular symbolism. For starters we know that Jesus wasn’t even born in December!

Pagan cultures all over the world have traditionally celebrated the winter solstice as a feast day, the precursor of the beginning of deep winter and the rebirth of the Sun. Indeed, Bronze Age archaeological sites to include many stone circles like Stonehenge in England had their footprints aligned with the sun of the winter solstice.

The symbolism of the year as reborn fits nicely with the celebration of the birth of Jesus, The Son emanating from the rebirth of The Sun. It’s an easy segway that leads us to many other celebrations of new beginnings to include Hogmanay's Redding (cleaning) tradition in Scotland and the North Country.

Indeed, this correlation was not lost on several early Christian writers to include the former pagan and martyred Saint Cyprian of Carthage who connected the rebirth of the sun to the birth of Jesus in the mid third century when he wrote, "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born."

Roman Emperor Aurelian laid the foundation for the modern tradition of Christmas by establishing December 25, 274 A.D. as the Festival of the Sun God. Early Christians who were being ruthlessly persecuted reputedly used the festival to celebrate the birth of Christ without being detected. In many modern quarters Aurelian is known as “The Father of Christmas.”

Some agenda driven, intellectually bankrupt naysayers like William J. Tighe have tried to unsuccessfully convince us that Aurelian chose the date in an attempt to, “create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians” despite the fact that pagan cultures had reserved and celebrated that date for thousands of years based not on some incident of historical import but the winter equinox. Tighe’s suspect scholarship and use of “appears” and “was almost certainly” is no justification for his theory. Indeed, most scholars agree that it was the other way around; that the Christians lifted many elements of the Mithraic theology and incorporated it into their own ritual. To early Christians, the childhood or place and manner of the birth of Jesus was irrelevant as The Resurrection, the Kingdome of God, was at hand. That postponed, they had to build a complete history of their, "beginning."
This is the stuff of a whole other treatise which I may engage at a later time.

Of course, we ultimately need to thank Roman Emperor Constantine I who after attributing his victory over Maxentius at the Tiber River in A.D. 312 to a Christian sign, “converted to Christianity”. Constantine then lifted sanctions against Christians, returned confiscated property, built many churches and may well be more of The Rock than Peter. It was Constantine who made Christianity the official state religion and convened the first Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. Without his protection and patronage one wonders how Christianity might have evolved or whether it would have survived. Otherwise, we might all be worshipping Mithras? Even with his fervor, Constantine was a politician to the end, hedging his bets and playing both sides against the middle, not being baptized until he was on his deathbed.

Though Constantine worshipped the full pantheon of Roman gods and especially the Roman Sun God Sol, the symbolism noted earlier was not lost on him. Constantine was one sharp guy who saw great benefit in using Christianity to unify his empire by bringing it under the banner of one religion.

Constantine was intent on blending the existing pagan traditions with the new Christianity. He knew that he wouldn’t be favorably received if he took away two of the more popular Roman holidays – the Mardi Gras-like celebration of Saturnalia (December 17-24) and the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the invincible sun" and the inclusive celebration of the birth of Mithras, the Persian god of Light (December 25-Jan 1) that was embraced by many upper class Romans and especially, the Roman military.

A significant side note: In a not too surprising coincidence, December 25 was Mithras' birthday before it was Jesus’, Mithras healed the sick, made the lame walk, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead and before returning to heaven at the Spring Equinox, had a last supper with 12 disciples?

The Mithraic, and Christian cults were very similar both in appearance and in the character of their ritual. Indeed, the similarities between Mithraism and Christianity are so numerous that it cannot really be denied that the older cult influenced the more recent one. Early Christian priests alarmed with the similarities with their liturgy could offer no better explanation than to surmise that the Devil had gone back in time and planted the belief system so as to confuse the Christians of the day.

The initiates of Mithras, the sun-god, believed that he was born of a virgin in a cave on December 25, and was worshipped on Sunday, the day of the conquering sun. Mithras condemned evil, practiced baptism and consumed the sacraments of bread and wine. He was a savior-god who exceeded Jesus in popularity in ancient Rome. He died and was resurrected in order to become a messenger god, an intermediary between man and the good god of light, and the leader of the forces of good against the dark forces of the god of evil. Hmmmmmmmmmm…

The Mithraic Holy Father wore a red cap, robe, and a special ring, and carried a shepherd's staff. All Mithraic priests were called ‘Father’ not unlike Christian priests who adopted the same title. Mithra's bishops wore a mithra, or miter, as their badge of office. Christian bishops also adopted miters. The Mithraic mass involved the eating of a sun-shaped bun embossed with the sword of Mithra, which was a cross. The Catholic communion wafer continues this Mithraic tradition, and the structure of the old Catholic Latin Mass closely mirrors the Mithraic mass.

Back to the origins of Christmas - Saturnalia was a hedonistic celebration where normal Roman social order was turned upside down and Romans paraded in the streets wearing masks (and sometimes little more), costumes and animal skins and practiced ritual which continued later in Europe evolving into the Mummers tradition. Emperor Constantine merged these pagan festivities with the new Christmas holiday though many of the pagan celebratory traditions from these festivals continued unabated. They just had a new label. Gifts were exchanged and Families and Friends gathered to drink and feast – traditions that are resoundingly familiar to us today. By the 12th century the remnants of Saturnalia were formally incorporated into what we now know as the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

In 350 CE, Pope Julius I reaffirmed that Christmas would be celebrated on December 25 and like Constantine I was sensitive to the still Roman pagan majority’s penchant for the debauched celebrations of their non-Christian past (a bitter pill goes down easier with a little sugar). The first mention of December 25 as the celebration of the date of Jesus' birth is found in an early Roman calendar from A.D. 336, well before Pope Julius’s proclamation. OK, so now we know that Christmas is a pagan-based holiday fraught with considerable political ramifications.

The rest is a matter of history with many elements of our Christmas being incorporated from many cultures around the world.

Several hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Druids used mistletoe to decorate their homes and celebrate the coming of winter. The Druids believed the plant had special healing powers for everything from female infertility to poison ingestion while the Scandinavians thought of mistletoe as the plant of peace and harmony. The Norse associated mistletoe with their goddess of love, Frigga, who rode in her cat-drawn chariot (they were Norwegian Forest Cats) and whose tears became the white berries of the mistletoe. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe is believed to originate from this belief. Contrary to the end and not surprisingly, the early church aggressively banned the use of mistletoe for Christmas substituting the use of holly. That failed and we now have the tradition of the mistletoe and holly.

Remember the Yule Log? Yes, on the occasion of the winter festival called Yule they were lit to honor Thor, the God of Thunder, with the belief that, “each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year. Feasting would continue until the log burned out, which could take as many as twelve days. In pagan Germania (not to be confused with Germany), the equivalent holiday was the mid-winter night which was followed by 12 "wild nights", filled with eating, drinking and partying. As Northern Europe was the last part to Christianize, its pagan celebrations had a major influence on Christmas. Scandinavians still call Christmas Jul. In English, the Germanic word Yule is synonymous with Christmas, a usage first recorded in 900.”

The early Christian Church strictly prohibited the decoration of their houses with evergreen boughs perceived then as “Pagan”. While the modern celebration of Christmas continues to incorporate the pagan symbols of the evergreen tree (the green symbol of the renewal of life), they have long been a pagan tradition dating back to prehistory.

The ancient Romans may have had the distinction of having the first decorated “Christmas tree” as they decorated trees with small pieces of metal during Saturnalia through to its ultimate conversion to Christmas.

The modern Christmas tree originated in the Alcase region of western Germany in the 16th century. German Christians decorated fir trees with flowers, apples, candles and colored paper in celebration of Adam & Eve Day on December 24th. The decorated Christmas tree known to the Germans as Paradise trees didn’t catch on throughout the rest of Europe and the United States until well into the mid-19th century. The great irony is that bastion of pagan ritual in some more politically correct towns and villages in the United States has now evolved into a Christian symbol and rejected as such on the basis of separation of church and state, surely amusing the spirits of our pagan ancestors.

United States President Franklin Pierce arranged to have the first Christmas tree in the White House in 1856 while it was President Calvin Coolidge who started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn in 1923.

Today, the Christmas tree has become accepted by Christians, by people of other faiths (many of my Jewish Friends have adopted Chanukah Bushes), and even for those who do not follow an organized religion. It has become a popular late-December tradition and part of our present-day culture, commercially inspired or not.

Lastly, we tackle the image of today's Santa Claus, a folk figure with multicultural roots. Santa Claus, while not religious, has become an important symbol of Christmas throughout the world.

As a member of the Kingdome of Räknar, a Scottish-Norse society (I do also celebrate my French-Norman-Viking) roots) I appreciate that Odin, the Norse God has been recorded, at the native Germanic holiday of Yule, as leading a great hunting party through the sky. There are many historical references to Odin to include Snorri Sturluson’s 1220 CE epic, Snorri’s Edda, an Icelandic collection of poems and stories from Norse mythology. In this saga Odin is described as riding an eight-legged horse name Sleipnir that could leap great distances giving us to immediately compare Sleipnir to Santa’s reindeer.
It gets better, still.

Odin's appearance was hauntingly similar to that of Saint Nicholas, usually being depicted as an old, enigmatic man with a long white beard and conical hat.

According to writer Phyllis Siefker, author of the wonderful book, Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years, “Children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw or sugar, near the chimney for Odin's flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would then reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir's food with gifts or candy. This practice survived in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands after the adoption of Christianity and became associated with Saint Nicholas as a result of the process of Christianization and can be still seen in the modern practice of the hanging of stockings at the chimney in some homes. Children still place their straw filled shoes or stockings by the chimney every winter night, and are rewards with candy and gifts.”

Despite this rather familiar and (to some) alarming reference to Odin as a Santa Claus figure, many historians give the original Santa Claus nod to St. Nicholas, the 4th century Turkish saint who was known for his generosity to the poor. Nicholas was imprisoned and tortured for his good works by the Romans and it was only the intervention of Emperor Constantine I that saved his life. Saint Nicholas’ persona ingratiates himself to the role as Santa Claus as the patron saint of children.

There were many other personalities whose characteristics and traits ended up in Santa Claus. Some of these personalities include Cronos, the Greek Father God who was worshipped at harvest time; the Holly King, an important deity in Celtic and Norse mythology; Freyr, the Norse fertility god who, "bestows peace and pleasure on mortals"; the Tomte/Nisse a shape shifter and small, elderly man (red elf) often with a full beard known for giving gifts to children at Christmas and, indirectly, Thor, the Norse god of thunder and sometimes benevolent protector of human kind who rides the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr. Now enter Julbock or Julbukk, the Yule goat, from both Sweden and Norway, who derives from and had his beginnings as a carrier for the god Thor. Now he carries the Yule elf when he makes his rounds to deliver presents and receive his offering of porridge.

So we can see when Early Christians embraced the Yule holiday, they replaced the old gods with new characters like St. Nicholas but retaining many of the more magnanimous and supernatural characteristics of their personalities.

The Dutch, when they weren’t plugging holes in their dikes, kept the legend of St. Nicholas alive. With thanks to California State University at Northridge, “In 16th century Holland, Dutch children would place their wooden shoes by the hearth in hopes that they would be filled with a treat. The Dutch spelled St. Nicholas as Sint Nikolaas, which became corrupted to Sinterklaas, and finally, in Anglican, to Santa Claus. In 1822, Clement C. Moore composed his famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," which was later published as "Twas The Night Before Christmas." Moore is credited with creating the modern image of Santa Claus as a jolly fat man in a red suit. While Moore’s authorship was lately controversial it now appears there is no controversy at all.

Who do we really thank for our “Christmas stockings hung with care”? We look to the Dutch again and to their former colony of New Amsterdam (now known as New York City) where the custom evolved from shoes to the hanging of socks or stockings at the fireplace.

Santa Claus as the fat, jolly man in his red and while suit and boots (wonder what his cholesterol numbers are?) is the image long maintained and reinforced by song, radio, television, and films. It would appear that the modern persona of Santa Claus survives from the Claus as portrayed by Clement Moore, illustrated by Thomas Nast of Harper's Weekly and later depicted in the Coca-Cola Company’s early 1930’s Christmas advertising.

The bottom line of all this is that Christmas is a collage of customs and traditions derived from cultures all over the world. The tradition has been distilled, synthesized and commercialized to its present form even to the degree that many of us have forgotten the real reason for the holiday. We sure can’t thank the very sour Plymouth Rock Puritans for the holiday as they did everything they could to suppress and crush it even to banning the holiday in Massachusetts. The holiday was suppressed in Scotland until the 1960’s, as a subversive “Catholic holiday.” I know Scots Families who didn’t start celebrating this holiday until the 1970’s!
They made up for it with Hogmanay!

So what’s Christmas all about in 2007? In our over the top, politically correct time it seems that we can’t say Merry Christmas any more, rather the more PC, Happy Holidays. I’m not one that wears my religion on my sleeve, so in my more private mode I do not choose to address that issue. I’m comfortable in my own skin with my own beliefs and faith. It’s OK by me if folks want to tread their own paths.

Some say, “Well, it’s all about the children.” I absolutely agree with that though I surely want them to learn the basis for our celebration; that it’s just not about presents. I experienced that sense of anticipation on Christmas Eve though I never lost sight of the real meaning of Christmas. My Mother, Brothers and I spent the greater part of Christmas Day in church; me singing in the choir, John as an acolyte and Mother as the jack of all trades and eventually becoming Acolyte Mother at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Providence, Rhode Island. The true meaning of Christmas was already indelibly etched in our hearts and minds.

As an adult, the ability to research and comment on the multicultural aspects of Christmas with the caution to not get too proprietary about a holiday that has seen contributions from non-Christian cultures all over the world, puts yet another slant on the holiday. Since we have apparently lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas, the great irony is that we need to get back to the basics and that includes the one-time pagan symbols that were so eagerly embraced by the early Christian church, disowned and then reinstated by them. Yes, these symbols remain in our domain to this day.

That will lead us back to greater truths and the reality of our faith. For me Faith is not easy. I have to experience - to see, feel and touch every aspect of my beliefs. For me the pagan symbols and evolution of Christianity do not diminish my experience. I suspect that they all came from the same source and that it was the honest, righteous attempt by Man to explain the ultimate mysteries of Life in his environment. How can the symbols of peace, harmony, mercy, the renewal of life, helping the poor and respecting children be bad? I know the right of it in my mind and soul and will always celebrate my rebirth by embracing the Christmas holiday.

Let this holiday to include embracing the Jolly Old Elf be the catalyst to further our efforts to enhance our commitments to our Families, Friends, Community and Country by being the best that we can be. That means becoming one of those thousand points of light and allowing Christmas to be the occasion for renewal and the hope that better days lie ahead.

And, yes, I still believe in Santa Claus. Falalalalalalala. Merry Christmas!


Ned Buxton

Saturday, December 15, 2007


As I was eating my sushi and sashimi and sucking down some Kirin Beer on the eve of the anniversary of Pear Harbor I pondered how rapidly our priorities and allegiances change. The Japanese, despite some of the most heinous and unwarranted barbaric behavior in the history of Man, are once again at the forefront of world politics and a staunch and valuable ally of the United States. Tell that to my Mother…

My Mother’s Brother, Charles Seabury Littlefield. fought with distinction in World War II. He was the middle of the three Littlefield kids that also included Elisabeth (Betty) Alden and Richmond Gorham. Richmond and Seabury were in that age group that found pride and defense of country their major calling - enough to enlist in the Army and Army Air Force (USAAF) respectively. Seabury ended up as a dorsal/tail gunner on a Douglas DB-7/A-20 Havoc attack bomber where he met his maker in 1944. Seabury’s crew were practicing skip bombing on the Japanese Ayutosen Maru which had been destroyed by USAAF bombers on July 22, 1942 and had settled in the shallow waters of Gona Bay, New Guinea giving it the appearance of still being afloat. During and following their bombing run the A-20 pilot veered too close to the Ayutosen Maru where a wing struck her mast causing the A-20 to spiral out of control into Gona Bay. The A-20 and the bodies of her three man crew were never recovered. The Ayutosen Maru continued to be used for the remainder of the war to range artillery and also as a target for other American bomber crews.

My Mother never, ever got over her loss and from that time to her death in 1998 she never again looked in favor upon any Japanese citizen. Mother was not unlike many of those who, as veteran Australian journalist and author Cameron Forbes put it, “still cast a suspicious eye on Japan.” Forbes continued, “There are people who will use the word hate. There are others, of course, who have walked down the road of forgiveness, though not forgetting what happened." Ironically when Richmond attended Harvard Business School in 1952 his roommate was from Japan. Richmond describes him as a good man and still communicates with him fifty-five years later. That seems to be the epitome of our impending ”new world order” only seven years after the last world war.

When I went to work as Human Resource Manager for the Japanese-owned Yoshino Denka Kogyo America (YDK) Company in 1994 Mother admirably held her tongue never volunteering dialogue or opinions about my employers (very unusual). Some hypocritical senior managers at the YDK plant in private secure quarters didn’t hold back expressing their utter contempt for their Japanese employers though they publicly fawned and doted over them and readily accepted their money. Along with several other enlightened managers, I held these deceitful folks in greater contempt and never trusted them. So world politics and all pervasive, divisive ethnocentric attitudes continued.

On December 7th of each year some of the Japanese employees at YDK saw fit to take a sick day or just not show up for work. The President of the company, an exceedingly polite gentleman named Kouzo Kameyama always deliberately assured his new American Friends that he wasn’t in the Pacific theatre in 1941. Given the atrocities committed by the Japanese all over Asia, methinks this doesn’t exactly exonerate Kouzo of any liability for the Japanese aggression at Pearl Harbor or anywhere else. At any rate, understanding the honorable Samurai psyche, Kouzo had long contemplated the issue and I believe felt morally plagued for those actions. Kouzo was a good man who probably did much to cement relations with his American employees. YDK owner Kanji Yoshino is an American educated, free wheeling international businessman who I suspect still appreciates and enjoys his trips to the United States.

After Pearl Harbor the United States responded by forcibly detaining some 120,000 Japanese-Americans (including many WWI US military veterans) in desolate Western camps from Arkansas to California while their personal property was sold off for a farthing. Some were legitimately detained as subversives though the great majority were only guilty of being of Japanese ancestry. Despite this discrimination and in a great irony many of their sons served with great distinction in the US Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team who known for their rescue of the "Lost Battalion" in France emerged as the most decorated combat unit of its size in the history of the United States Army. In deference to its service in eight major campaigns in Italy and France, the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team earned eight Presidential Unit Citations.

Many Japanese-Americans served as Japanese translators and interrogators with the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) with others serving with honor in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to include the Nisei OSS Detachments 101 & 202 and the distinguished former Battalion Sergeant-Major of the 328th and American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in WWI, Toki Slocum, a Nisei with a magnificent and distinguished fighting record. Sergeant-Major Slocum a dedicated modern Bushido declared his loyalties to America by presenting my grandfather, Colonel G. Edward Buxton, Jr. with his two samurai swords immediately following Pearl Harbor. Those swords remain within the Buxton Family.

As second in command and Head of Operations of the OSS, Buxton and his boss William Donovan believed that the best way into the mind of the enemy was to harness the minds, talents and experiences of every kind of American (hyphenated or not). That meant hiring women as well as ethnic minorities. So, while many people were gripped with a fear of subversion and while Japanese-Americans were being put in internment camps, the OSS (and Buxton specifically) was hiring Japanese-Americans from these camps along with German, and Italian-Americans. The OSS personnel office once boasted that its payroll listed every nationality and every occupation. The OSS hired thousands of women to work in many types of jobs. Buxton and the OSS and other war-related positions offered the first real relief from the discrimination then rampant in our society and set the stage for future progress. So, out of bad came some good…

The ironies of changing politics were further pointed out by Cameron Forbes who commenting on the relationship between Australia and Japan in 2005, "It's a demonstration that if the gods of war have not got a sense of humor, they've a sense of irony, because at the moment Australian troops are on their way to defend Japanese military engineers in Iraq. What goes around comes around - in November 1914, the Japanese battle-cruiser Ibuki was helping escort Australian diggers towards Gallipoli and the start of the Australian-New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) legend. In between those two events of course was one of the blackest periods in the relationship between Australia and Japan." Cameron, was, of course, referring to World War II.

Japan’s military Shogunate dictatorship of the 1930’s and 40’s was fueled by the not too original ideas of racial purity where their citizenry were taught from an early age that they were the only “true” human beings. The noble precepts of their ancestors were perverted and disgraced as aggressors against us “decadents”. Fast forward to the 21st century.

We worked our way through all that and today the United States remains Japan's single largest economic partner with Japan now being the second largest investor in the United States helping provide critical services and propping up the weak American Dollar. Their constitutionally limited military (such as it is) is still a critical foil to those that would try to destabilize that part of the world. We all need hope that their renewed sensitivity to and leadership role re. the environment might motivate a more responsible attitude in the United States. In short, they have evolved into most indispensable Friends.

The Imperial Japanese and to some degree the Soviet Union have been replaced by the likes of “militant Islam” which has been around for over a thousand years patiently waiting to rid the world of infidels. As Jim Clonts author of Virulent Winds and US Air Force veteran who flew B-52s in Operation Desert Storm recently pointed out that, “Militant Islam has thematic roots in ridding the world of impurity, in this case religious. They are willing to use violence and intimidation to subjugate the masses. Who will come forward and condemn the militants who have highjacked their religion?

All this sounds hauntingly familiar (same song, different verse) to those who remain and remember that the citizens of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were asked that same question over sixty years ago and their failure to address that issue cost them dearly.

What new/old Friend will stand up and raise their standard beside the United States of America? By the way, while my Mother was an avid coffee drinker I think she would like to try some white Persian melon tea.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, December 8, 2007


On Monday November 26, 2007 the Monday Night NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the visiting Miami Dolphins was delayed for 25 minutes because of an unusual “horrendous” thunder and lighting storm in Pittsburgh that saw monsoonal rains and winds of hurricane intensity. The players, officials and the fans in the lower part of Heinz Field were evacuated while the storm raged. Though the exact reason is not readily apparent, in order to get the already delayed game underway, the singing of the American National Anthem and other formalities were cancelled. A reporter from the Denver Post picked up the story six days later with the headline, NFL game marred by 'unpatriotic' move? lamenting that the NFL was, “going to take away our patriotism? The brouhaha since is worthy of note.

This is surely a tempest in a teapot though there certainly is an issue here. I consider myself very patriotic and for me the National Anthem is a very important aspect of all our public events. I think that we should do all we can to honor our country and those who serve its cause. I’m sure glad, however, there was some common sense shown at that event if weather and the safety of the personnel involved with the game were, indeed, the major factors in the decision though the Steeler organization is now falling all over themselves apologizing. I guess they could have electrocuted the singer and that would have satisfied some folks (what a wonderful way to go -Serendipity!).

In retrospect, in case of inclement weather I would have thought that they would have a canned version that could be played from the safe confines of the announcer’s box? I guess that Mother Nature just made a case for all football games to be played in indoor stadiums? Vince Lombardi just twitched a bit.

If this decision was made for the sake of squeezing in another commercial or two, shame on the NFL. Let’s make them remember this, even to their pocketbooks. I am sure that Jerry Jones, patriotic owner of the Dallas Cowboys who is painfully and unrealistically milking his season ticket holders in order to build his new stadium, wouldn’t have gone along with this. In the ever politically correct NFL, there sure doesn’t appear to be any ill intent.

The real story here is a real metaphorical pit bull - the reaction by the citizenry (theirs and ours) to the cancellation of The National Anthem and the intent of Mike Klis, the yahoo reporter with the Denver Post who chose to stir this pot. I’ve seen comments and reactions including everything from patriotic angst where this has been characterized as a disgraceful, personal slap in the face to all our servicemen by “immoral godless individuals” to the more laid back “get a life” response. Methinks our reality should probably be somewhere in-between (closer to the “get a life” folks) where reason can rule supreme.

Many have used this story as the opportunity to spew profanity, address other issues or critique/extol the virtues of their NFL teams. To those Canadians who bemoaned and profusely complained the necessity to sing the two National Anthems (theirs and ours) and then used this to highlight the virtues of their medical system (Huh?), we would certainly understand if they decided to stay home. For those others on both sides of the debate, who absurdly used this incident as the catalyst to again express their strong desire to leave the United States (really!), we provide our encouragement to please do so and in the process not let the door hit them in the ass on their way out. We need to pay attention to those who want to be part of the solution, not the problem.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Even as the film The Golden Compass is garnering award after award even before its December 7, 2007 US release we are now seeing hysterical headlines filled with rage like, “Horrifying for Christians", "It’s About Killing God", "Warn All Parents", "Don’t Let the Children See This Movie” in e-mails, blogs and even in printed media. It appears that the Catholic Church, The Catholic League and some right wing Christian elements are warning all Christian parents that if they allow their children to see this movie they may be condemned to eternal damnation or, heaven forbid, they and their children might form an independent conscious thought outside the realm of Christian protocol. Gads!

I was raised in the Episcopal Church, even considered the ministry and still profess my faith and belief (roughly) along those theological lines. I have studied and filtered the Anglican doctrine accepting and embracing (and sometimes rejecting) those many tenets that I have engaged over my sixty-four years. My church wouldn’t think about telling me how to cast my vote (US Catholic bishops do) or hammer me with anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Now comes atheist Philip Pullman with his bestselling and award-winning novel, The Golden Compass based on His Dark Materials trilogy. Not unlike Tolkien or C.S. Lewis the setting is a fantasy adventure, “in an alternative world where people's souls manifest themselves as small animals, where talking bears fight wars, and Gyptians and witches co-exist.”

In The Golden Compass the church (no doubt) is in the business of kidnapping children and conducting some rather unpleasant experiments on them. Mercy, could the Catholic Church ever be criticized for abusing children?

The fear that our more alarmist Christian neighbors and Friends espouse is that since in their estimation a boy and girl kill God in Pullman’s final book, there is little doubt about his intentions. I say, so what?

Nothing good can come of censorship. Many folks disagreed with most everything that Kurt Vonnegut said or wrote, but I sure admired him and was entertained and motivated by his messages. Some attempted to censor Vonnegut who commented about librarians back in 1983 that, “Many of them may hate what I write, even though I am, at my worst, no more dangerous than a banana split. They defend my books because they are law abiding and they understand, as did our Founding Fathers, that it is vital in a democracy that its voters have access to every sort of opinion and information.'' Right on!

The recent enabling and elevation of dullard, cowboy wanna-be Don Imus of “nappy headed hos” fame who was heretofore known only as a mundane, mediocre morning show caricature with little if any redeeming qualities, punctuates this point. Now the comatose, muttering (now censored) Imus has press that has rewarded him with an even wider satellite radio audience and filled the pockets and agendas of the hypocritical Al Sharptons of the world who continue to insult in even more vile terms.

I intend to see The Golden Compass in order to satisfy my own curiosity and also because I don't have a "burn the book" mentality. I'm not going to cut and run or, "be horrified" because some movie espouses a premise or theology that I don't personally embrace (I saw the movie Reds and I’m not a communist).

That's just not how the United States works or how the world should operate. I will determine if my children are mature enough to understand The Golden Compass and maybe even engage in some good conversation following the flick.

I remember the similar reaction in the Jewish Community to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Look at the current idiotic (and staged) uproar in Sudan because a British schoolteacher and her seventh grade class innocently named a classroom Teddy Bear, "Mohammed." These extremists have actually demanded that the school teacher be put to death. Insane! This is same song, different verse. We have to be above that while embracing our own faith and belief systems. As I heard someone say the other day, “Have faith in your faith.”

I do agree that we need to strongly differentiate between mature adults who can intellectually survey the movie and its attendant landscape and then make up their own minds as opposed to impressionable children who may not understand the metaphorical intent and belief system (such as it is) of Philip Pullman. Meanwhile the atheist community sees nothing wrong as the movie would, "encourage children to question authority." That's all I need - my eight year old grandson, questioning my authority?

I wondered if the stars of this flick (Kidman, Bacon, Elliot, etc) understood the storyline (and embraced it) or was it all just about money? If they have that belief I will not condemn them but engage my right to forever couch my impressions, reactions and support of their work based on their personal protocols and agendas as I sure have with Susan Sarandon (does she look good or what?) and the incredible but woefully stupid Dixie Chicks who can now write a book on how to expertly paint themselves into a corner.

In response to this criticism, however, Nicole Kidman was recently quoted, "The Catholic Church is part of my essence. I wouldn't be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic". The film is perceived by some as "anti-establishment", as reflected in the oppressive “Magisterium”. Apparently the movie has been somewhat sanitized to the point that even the atheists are also very upset. Sounds like we have a draw?

At this point I am not so sure that people almost want to be offended because they enjoy being victimized, kind of a knock this chip off my shoulder mentality. People of goodwill and (yes) faith will have to work around this unlike some communities that are now considering banning not only the film but Pullman’s book.

When I heard this I was reminded of a successful censorship when a very popular Frisco, Texas schoolteacher with 28 years under her belt was censured and then fired from her job because she took her fifth grade class on an approved field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) where despite a pre-tour visit and assurances from DMA, there just happened to be some nude statuary. Apparently on the way to their exhibits the teacher and her class passed by the nude marble torso of a Greek youth from a funerary relief, circa 330 B.C. and Auguste Rodin’s famous tormented sculpture “Shade”.

That Texas school district and the principal are now (thankfully) laughably derided and held with contempt by many inside and out of the district. I wouldn’t move to Frisco if you paid me and I suspect they wouldn’t want me. It certainly appears that the citizens of Frisco let this happen and for you insiders, no, she wasn’t wearing flip flops, rather designer sandals. Despite smiles, some DMA folks remain appalled that this embarrassing and eye-opening incident ever occurred. No wonder we grow up so many maladjusted children to adults who hold the bodies of their opposite numbers in some neurotic, voyeuristic synapse rather than the pursuit of normalcy.

I say who the hell are those who would challenge the First Amendment's guarantee against such ignorance and arrogance? Historian and two time Pulitzer Prize author Barbara Tuchman put this whole issue in perspective when she wrote, "Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill."

Aside from the above-referenced Rodin bronze, Greek marble bas relief and the film, I have an answer to our little dilemma. Ban paper. OK, not really…

Kurt Vonnegut made a statement about those who are quick to criticize and may have even been directed at those who criticized his works by saying, “Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.” I guess such is the power of ideas…


Ned Buxton