Thursday, December 26, 2013

On the 2nd day of Christmas -- Calvin & Hobbes' wager and "Fairytale of New York" on the Feast of Stephen

Some Yuletide cheer on what's already the second day of Christmas …

Arianna Rebolini of BuzzFeed, the entertainment website, has "The 24 Most Valuable Christmas Lessons From Calvin And Hobbes" from the most consistently philosophical comic strip of the 1990s -- perhaps ever. (She adds a 25th: "Santa’s watching.")

Among them is something I'd call Calvin's wager. Scroll down to No. 12, "So it’s good to keep up a level of pragmatism …," and you'll see it as Calvin explains:

"I've decided I do believe in Santa Claus, no matter how preposterous he sounds. … I want presents, lots of presents. Why risk not getting them over a matter of belief? Heck, I'll believe anything they want."
Calvin's wager has nothing to do with the Reformation-era French theologian, of course. But it's a distinct echo of "Pascal's Wager," developed by 17th-century French mathematician Blaise Paschal. As paraphrased by Wikipedia, Paschal posits that "humans all bet with their lives either that God exists or does not exist. Given the possibility that God actually does exist and assuming the infinite gain or loss associated with belief in God or with unbelief, a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.)."

And here, with no reason for being in the same post other than the Christmas season, is an item in the Irish Mirror tabloid of Dublin, quoting frontman Shane McGowan of the Pogues on the origin of "Fairytale of New York" ... which I sometimes think is the best piece of seasonal music since Bach's Christmas Oratorio.

“I’m very grateful to Christ and his Holy Mother and Joseph and all the saints, including my family who have passed on, for the success of Fairytale,” McGowan told the

He also credited Kirsty MacColl, who shared the duet with him in the 1987 video: "I don’t think it would have been such a big hit without her contribution." :

... “It’s a good song – it’s a great song – I’d never get tired of it.

“But I can’t really get excited about it any more and for a while it used to depress me to sing it after Kristy died [in a 2000 boating accident] but now I think of it as a tribute to her.”

Official video for the The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale of New York. RhinoUK bills it as: "Arguably the greatest Christmas song of all time!" Wikipedia concurs: "It has been cited as the best Christmas song of all time in various television, radio and magazine related polls in the UK and Ireland," citing a 2004 poll of all-time Christmas hits by British music TV channel VH1.

Finally, today is St. Stephen's Day. What better way to observe it than to commemorate what Good King Wenceslas said and did when he looked out upon the Feast of Stephen, "When the snow lay round about, / deep and crisp and even."

Turns out the melody comes from Piae Cantiones (1582), and it was a typically Scandinavian song about the coming of spring -- "Tempus adest floridum" ("The time is near for flowering"), first published in the Finnish song collection in 1582. Wikipedia has lyrics in Latin and English.

Here's the Christmas carol --

Good King Wenceslas York Minster 1995. The full English cathedral choir treatment with solos by baritone and boy soprano, organ and soaring descant on the last verse.

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