It's Christmas Eve Eve - one of my favorite days of the year. All of the holiday's sweetness is just peeking around the corner, just about ready to pop out but not quite. It's a sort of quiet and lovely anticipation. Admittedly, however, the week before Christmas can be absolutely insane. So I usually read one of my favorite books (which happens to also be my favorite Christmas story) to ground me in the actual season - a season whose celebration existed for centuries before the Church and certainly existed as something important long before Apple started pushing iPods at us. It's a little like asking a good friend to throw a bucket of water over me to help stop the inevitable seasonal panic. I have not managed to crack this old friend open yet, so that's what I'm doing tonight - reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
This is not what most folks would think of as a typical Christmas story...to be honest, a lot of people read it as undergraduates and file it away under the mental heading of "vaguely remember if you should ever be talking to a sexy medievalist college professor - otherwise, go ahead and forget it"... But it really is a lovely story all about rebirth and regeneration during the coldest and darkest days of the year. It's a 14th century poem, so the Christian overlay is there, but underneath it you get lots of glorious pagan and Celtic imagery, with the challenge of the self-regenerating Green Knight and Gawain's quest to bring honor back to Arthur's court. It is also a quest during which Gawain discovers qualities in himself that will continue to challenge him througout the year. And besides, the imagery is just so rich and...well, illuminating.
It's a classic allegory for the return of the sun after the solstice. It also depicts a way to seeing clearly after the darkness of delusion has been lifted from your eyes. Or at least my eyes through Gawain--that's what I mean by this story being an old friend. I learn something new about the text and about myself every time, and that's something I never want to stop doing.
Happy Christmas everyone! I hope your holidays are lovely and warm and a little illuminating too.