Did you notice that my title says Christmas instead of Xmas? I know what you must be wondering. Have I taken Christ into my heart, overwhelmed by all the seasonal joy and what not? The answer, my turkey-and/or-tofurcky-stuffed friends, is yes! It all happened last week when I was driving home from the Superstore, my trunk full of President’s Choice frozen sticky ginger pudding. Spiritual enlightenment descended upon me like a thunderbolt. The world suddenly went all St. Paulish, except without the wrinkly groomsman and towering horse. God instead called to me in the form of a giant billboard, which showed a sedate couple cradling what appeared to be a ‘soothe and glow seahorse’ toy, while standing beside a text commanding readers to ‘Keep Christ in Christmas.’ Then and there I decided to surrender; I chose to obey. It was now my destiny to join the fight against the increasing commercialization of a key religious holiday, nevermind that said consumerism had been standard practice for 150 years. I could not help but admire the sponsoring group, which had cleverly purchased advertising space in order to make its anti-capitalist intervention. Although this collection of august Christian men often battles against other outrages, such as reproductive justice and gay rights, saving Christmas was a cause I could get behind. After all, I too have a certain fondness for bouncing bumbles. And I was raised in the Catholic Church, with all of the wonderful memories it provided: giggling with my sister while getting progressively more stoned on thickening incense smoke during midnight mass; lining up with strangers to kiss the plaster feet of a near naked and bleeding man; heeding my mother’s advice to rinse my mouth out after receiving communion just in case bits of God had got stuck in my teeth. This hygienic task was especially important at Christmas time, when the flesh of our saviour was in danger of mixing in with those Kraft-recipe-book-peanut-butterscotch marshmallow treats so thoughtfully prepared by grandma. Those were the days and I wanted them back.
But how best to fulfill this nostalgic desire to recapture the innocent delights of my childhood? Should I attend midnight mass at the nearby cathedral, obviously forgoing communion since I now live covered in sin? Nah. Should I perform charity work or donate to the homeless shelter? Nah. I already do that, but in a heathen kind of way that is not entirely pleasing to God. Wait. I’ve got it. I will return to the glorious history of the Catholic Church, thereby rediscovering the true meaning of Christmas. Can I get a hell yes? With this freakin’ great idea in mind, I walked over to the Rogers video store near my condo and purchased the complete first season of The Borgias. On Christmas morning, I slapped on weekender pants so as not to be interrupted by annoying bodily needs—thanks Amy Sedaris!—then brined my turkey and chilled my marble pastry slab, before settling in to watch nine solid hours of humanism, culture, and the pointy gold hats worn by Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope of Rome between 1492 and 1503. Let me tell you, my chocolate-pope stuffed and regretful friends, it was the most Christly Christmas ever.
Okay so I hereby confess—guess I had better get used to doing that again!—that the previous description is not entirely truthful. I did spend Christmas day watching a theatrical miniseries while peeing in padded pants, but I was not necessarily filled with the holy spirit while doing so. I was instead inspired to watch The Borgias by an e-mail I had received on December 24, asking me to write a chapter about the show for a forthcoming anthology. I was to analyze it from the point of view of an art historian of the early modern period. I immediately responded to this request in the affirmative, though I fear it was not in my usual professional manner. [Aside: I can only blame the Oban]. ‘Of course,’ I wrote, ‘I will happily get paid to look at Colm Feore in a hot tub.’ In hindsight, I realize that I had confused the miniseries in question with the famous Roman bath scene in Spartacus. Oops. But I was not entirely mistaken, for during the second episode of the Renaissance melodrama who should appear at the public baths? The future Julius II, unfortunately wearing loose linen underpants. ‘Historical inaccuracy,’ I shouted, raising my flour-covered fist in anger.
In the end, I was not very interested in the historical facticity or lack thereof of The Borgias. I could not help but notice that it was 10,000 times better than the The Da Vinci Code. I enjoyed its satisfyingly Sopranoesque juxtaposition of civil display with someone suddenly getting stabbed in the eye. Indeed, The Borgias gets many things right: the Pope and his cardinals dine on feasts of smoked fish and oysters; they eat from Chinese porcelain plates; they wear expensively embroidered robes, and the most fabulous jewelry, particularly a certain seahorse necklace. [Such details might be of interest to RenMan among others.] Overall there is an attentive focus on clothing, its presence, its heaviness, its meaning. I think my essay will explore the politics of appearance and investiture. I liked the beautiful people too, especially Cesare Borgia with his lank long hair and musky manliness.
Of course, The Borgias is not really meant to recapture the Renaissance in all of its nastiness. Its characters should be a little dirtier and smellier, more covered with lice and fleas. Now I would like that, but most contemporary viewers would recoil in horror. The Borgia and Farnese women are also incredibly beautiful, and empowered in a way that pleases me. However, they are shown having more freedom than would have been the case. Would Lucrezia really have been permitted to travel unaccompanied? To fuck young grooms in the woods on a daily basis? Highly doubtful. Still, it makes for great TV.
Nostalgia is as dangerous as it is powerful. It is a fundamental part of Christmas. I indulged in it again during the polite Il Cortegiano dialogue that took place after my friends and I had feasted. We sat around, drinking beer and wine, reminiscing about the festive foods of our respective childhoods. My two Australian guests recalled such delicacies as musk sticks, marmite, vegemite, and pie floaters. At first I thought they were insulting my attempt at flaky pastry, describing the digested future of my apple pie. It turned out they were referring to meat pies in a mushy pea broth. ‘What does vegemite taste like?’ I naively asked. The response was instantaneous: ‘It’s like the cheese that you rub off your balls.’ Ugh! I prefer cinnamon balls. ‘I always think of Gangong chicken bones as a New Brunswick Christmas treat,’ I said, ‘and O-Pee-Chee Thrills gum as specific to London Ontario. Plus I freakin’ love maple syrup in any form. That is very Canadian of me.’ One of the misguided Aussies declared: ‘Oh I do not like 100% maple syrup.’ ‘Then you don’t like life,’ my partner exploded. ‘Life hater!’ I shouted. Things were about to get out of hand, resulting in a brawl and potential police intervention; it never came to that. That was too bad, because I would have had the most complete and nostalgic return to my childhood ever. It would have been even more magical.