Archive for December, 2021

On December 26, 1776 George Washington Sneak Attacks the Hessians in Trenton

George Washington: “I can’t believe I’m going to spend Christmas in New Jersey.”

If there’s one thing you learned as a child in America, it’s that George Washington had some rough Christmases. Christmas 1777 tested his unshakeable perseverance in the face of suffering. Christmas 1776 he and his men crossed the Delaware in a Durham boat and sneak attacked the Hessian soldiers in Trenton. As we all know, there’s nothing more horrifying than the prospect of losing a revolution or of spending Christmas in New Jersey.

By Christmas 1776 the Americans were low on men, ammunition, and morale. They had just been kicked out of New York and had been chased across New Jersey. Before being annihilated, Washington and his troops had hightailed it across the Delaware and destroyed or brought all of the watercraft with them. Belief in Washington and the cause were at a nadir, desertions were rampant, and reinforcements either couldn’t or wouldn’t come. They were fighting superior enemies. The British was better equipped and better trained. The martially-intuited Hessian were the scary mercenaries enlisted by the Brits to help whip the revolutionaries back into submission. After chasing Washington’s men across the Delaware to Pennsylvania, the Hessian took up winter quarters in Trenton. Alongside the desertions, many American soldiers’ enlistment was up and they were planning on going home to practice eating marmite without vomiting. Washington was up against a wall. What could he do?

He did what Americans have done now for 140 years – he exploited Christmas. Because if the scary Hessian loved two things it was brutal, violent combat and Christmas. The Germans celebrated Christmas with drinking and putting up a tree. The American colonists celebrated depending on where they were. In Puritan New England, they viewed Christmas as a pagan feast and so they worked all day, went to bed at 6 pm, and wished they were pagan. In the Mid-Atlantic states they partied, drank, and thanked God they didn’t live in New England. Some colonial American Christmas traditions revolved around the verb “wassail,” which means drinking copious amounts of booze and then strongarming rich people via song into handing over “figgy pudding.”

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What’s Hip

I had a longish layover in Heathrow flying home for Christmas. For once, I wasn’t bothered. Two years of being cooped up by Covid was enough to allow me to see the positive side of being in an airport with 20,000 strangers while wearing a mask. I went to WH Bookshop, Whiskey World, and Duty Free. I paced for 2 hours and just took in the chaos with some joy. Then I sat down and watched people.

I ate my cashews and watched men and women dragging along kids, old couples marching slowly along in matching travel leisure suits, college kids moseyed on autopilot while staring into their phones. There were families, kids walking into tables, and toddlers licking the side of escalators. It was a nice way to spend an hour. And then I saw it.

A boy about the age of 18 came through the crowd dressed in a matching baby blue sweatsuit. His sweatpants were tucked into his striped socks. He wore a red baseball cap into which he had tucked his ears. Though my entire body wanted to roll its eyes, I refrained. While this getup might look ridiculous to me, I understand that every getup has looked ridiculous to me since I was eleven years old. For the last time I was cool or hip to fashion was in, I hope, a previous life. I can only imagine that I did something heinous in that life to garner the inability to understand what clothing a person should wear. I have never understood what is cool. In 2003, one of our bar customers became the punchline of all the waitresses when he arrived in whitewashed jeans pegged tightly in a cuff above his shoes. It was on that day, in 2003, when I learned that from sometime in the early 90s to sometime in the mid-1990s pegging cuffs was what cool people did to their jeans. I also learned that this was cool in the 1950s, but I wasn’t around then so I didn’t feel too bad about it.

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All I Want for Christmas is a Negative Antigen Test

I am an unabashed lover of the holiday season. The lights. The music. The movies. The full on allowance to eat as if you are six people. All of it. Who doesn’t love elf costumes on employees at the stores, even if it only offers proof that someone on Earth is more miserable than you? What could possibly give you more joy than being served a sausage and cheddar brick sampler on a toothpick by an employee wearing elf ears and barely containing their tears? The answer: nothing. Also acceptable: go to the chocolate aisle where Rudolf is mixing up a Swiss Miss concoction and silently weeping.

Oh, I know it’s considered cool to be irritated by Christmas. And the reasons for said irritation are surely there. Each year Christmas makes an insurgence into our daily lives. Each year that insurgence seems to come earlier than the year before. Christmas music everywhere, the grocery stores teeming with Christmas chocolates and cookies, sales on liquor in green and red numbers help chase away those Christmas blues. If you don’t like Christmas, by December 26th you are going to hate it even more. Every time an aggressive elf tries to feed cheddar to an unwilling shopper, a goth gets its winged combat boots. I get it.

Christmas has always been big in our family. No matter what irks us to “we’re going to end up on the news” levels of angry, at Christmas we put those things aside and have a wonderful holiday season. We do this like so many other families, by pretending everything’s great and by talking about food and football for six days. On Christmas, mirth drives the bus. Mirth and pasta. Sometimes mirth and pasta and bourbon. The true meanings of the holiday season.

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Saint Brewski

When Nicholas of Myra showed up at the inn, he knew there was trouble afoot. The proprietor was acting shifty and Saint Nicholas, man of many, many talents, got him to confess to the murder of three children. We assume he was at least a bit surprised when the owner also admitted to butchering and pickling the children in brine. Maybe more surprised that he was planning on selling them as ham. Because that seems like an unusual thing to do.

Saint Nicholas brought the children back to life and probably unpickled and reassembled them. For this feat, he was (later) awarded the unlikely duo of patronages for children and brewers. Brewers. There’s not a clear reason for this, but one plausible explanation holds that since later paintings depicted Saint Nick standing above a barrel and some naked children, people leapt to brewer and children more naturally than rebuilder and reanimator of pickled ham children.

For an organization whose relationship with alcohol is requiring those who use it to kneel and repent, the Catholic Church sure has a lot of saints dedicated to beer. Saint Augustine is a patron saint of brewing, awarded due to hours of dedicated taste testing. Saint Wenceslas is the patron saint of Czech brewers and bad Christmas songs. Saint Brigid brought beer to the lepers, which is nice because if a group of people in 450 AD Ireland needed a beer it was the lepers. Saints Florian, Benedict, and Boniface are all linked to brewing. But Arnold is the name to have if you want to be a saint associated with beer. Saint Arnold of Metz was the 5th century originator of the motto [paraphrase] “save water, drink beer.” Or more accurately [paraphrase] “if you don’t want to shit yourself to death from typhoid, drink beer and not that green water that smells like a cow’s rectum.” Saint Arnou of Oudenaarde and Saint Arnold of Soissons are both said to have pulled off a “fish and loaves” miracle, but with beer. Saint Nicholas is not only one of many patrons of brewers, he’s fully outclassed by the other canonized booze mascots.

Still, Saint Nicholas’s life has nuggets of 40 proof potential. He was a bit of a brawler, knocking out a heretic called Arius. Facial reconstruction and 3D technology show evidence that his nose had been broken and reset a number of times. So Old Saint Nick evidently saw some havoc. According to patristics professor Michael Foley, Saint Nicholas is the most patronaged saint behind Mary. Considering she had a baby with God that’s not bad company. Although he doesn’t really justify the brewer patronage, his other patronages are sort of alcohol adjacent. He is the patron saint of unmarried people, pawnbrokers, coopers, sailors, and prostitutes. Add the broken nose and fist fighting heretics and you’ve got a Hammered History Saint.

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