Hili’s Christmas Eve message to the world

December 24, 2013 • 4:05 am

Today there will be no morning Hili dialogue, for in her Feline Wisdom she offers us instead a special Christmas Eve monologue about the true meaning of the holidays. She refers especially to Christmas traditions in her native land. You can see it in the original Polish here.

She may deign to provide us with a few additional remarks later.

As you see, she is speaking ex cat-hedra from her throne, which doubles as a manger scene.

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Hili:

When it comes to tradition I have to say that this Polish tradition of fasting is completely alien to my whole way of thinking. Maybe it is because I was spared the “grace of faith”, or maybe it’s because of my good appetite. Anyway, I’m submitting a motion that fasting be deleted from the list of rituals connected with Christmas.  I do not have an opinion in the matter of the Christmas tree, but I miss it a bit. An ornamented tree indoors (especially in the winter, when there may be rain or even snow outside) is an attraction for a cat which is not worth giving up for such trivial reason as a deep disbelief.

It is a different matter with the nativity scene in the stable; there is nothing stable about it because it has many interpretations.  It is surely possible to debate endlessly about who was born in a barn, and where and when exactly, and to ponder the form and content of the manger (how mangy was it?), but it is more rational to conclude that we know too little, and that some people confabulate what they do not know with a passion worthy of a better cause.  Let’s not get stalled in the ox stall; let’s not make a scene about it. Instead of wild guesses let’s make a nativity scene set in reality.

Of course, nobody has to agree with me, but I have the impression that those plaster figures are pure kitsch. They are in a taste… how to put it? – to be honest I do not have faith in their beauty. So, if we have to have a nativity scene, let’s have it only with cats. It can be a simple cardboard box with some hay or just a cardboard box with any fine sweater or blouse of the woman of the house, and the nativity scene is ready. We can discard the Christmas carols, but the food should be traditional. I mean, without the ritually murdered carp so essential for a Polish Christmas Eve. Herring would do for humans, and for me – salmon and later some cream and special treats.

Tradition demands that one place is left unoccupied for an unexpected guest, but it is better not to wait until the guest comes, but  to take somebody in and give him or her a bowl of milk and something more substantial which has nothing to do with fasting.

Family traditions are different in different homes, and apparently the more plaster figures there are, the more people share out a tasteless piece of holy wafer that no cat would think of putting in its mouth. In our family we sit in front of the computers and share the knowledge we find there. The tradition of sharing is a good one, so now I share with you the tail of a mouse I ate long before the fast ended with the first star in the sky.

–Translated from Hili’s Polish by Sarah Lawson and Malgorzata

17 thoughts on “Hili’s Christmas Eve message to the world

    1. Actually, the play on words in English do not appear in the Polish. The play on the two meanings of stable for instance. The Polish version does not even use the word stable but “szopka” – which means creche. A literal translation from Polish to English would not sound good. The translation gets the message through and sounds good.

      Like in other countries, Polish xmas traditions have their own unique features. The translation goes over a few of them but does a better job of expressing the feel rather than getting the details exact.

      BTW, the xmas tree part does not appear in the Polish version.
      http://www.listyznaszegosadu.pl/rozmowy-z-hili/wieczor-wigilijny

      1. I have to explain that there was a word play in Polish with the word “szopka”. Besides “creche” or rather “nativity scene” it has a second meaning – “farce”.

        Our wonderful translator, Sarah, who can always find a word play in English to subsitute for untranslatable word play in Polish, got the full text with Christmas tree, which somehow disappeared while the piece was posted. It will be corrected presently.

        1. I probably should have explained more fully that the word play in Polish was different from the word play in English. I think Bob had the impression that it translated when in fact there was a substitution that kept the feel of the original.

          In any case, your translations are great. I usually try to see if I can do a better job but cannot. But I never find the English fully satisfactory. There is a feel or mood in the Polish that does not carry over into English. But there is nothing that can be done about that. The languages are very different.

          A recent article said that Polish was the hardest language to learn. Not sure if that is true, but it is very complex and allows for a wider range of expression than English.
          http://claritaslux.com/blog/the-hardest-language-to-learn/

          I love Wislawa Szymborska’s poetry but if I had only read it in English, I am not sure she is worthy of a Nobel Prize. In Polish, it is certainly worthy. It is probably since I can compare the Polish and English versions and the English version comes up short. I imagine that is true of all poetry translated from its original language.

          Basically, translating is a very difficult process.

          1. I am always a bit surprised when people claim that this or that language is “the hardest language to learn”, as though there is some means of measuring absolute hardness. It must depend on what languages you already know. Polish would not be that hard if you already spoke another Slavic language like Czech or Serbian. You would be familiar with the general grammatical structure and many of the words. It would be harder if your first language was, say, Italian or Hindi.
            I wonder if you have read the Baranczak and Cavanaugh translations of Szymborska? They are amazingly skilful.

            1. All those are at least Indo-European languages. It gets more tricky when you learn something out of the family like Sino-Tibetan indigenous languages of Canada and America. I haven’t challenged myself this way yet and have only stuck with the Indo-European ones.

            2. Surely the hardest language to learn is your first, and they get progressively easier after that? (For me, English, French, Spanish, a smattering of Russian and smidgins of Swahili, German and Norwegian)

  1. “…some people confabulate what they do not know with a passion worthy of a better cause.”

    Wow. Bravo.

    You rock, girl. L

  2. Some time ago, my mother, trying to offer a traditional Polish Christmas dinner, called a local Catholic church to get some of the “holy wafer” (presumably not blessed, consecrated, or whatever). The local Irish priest was suspicious and wouldn’t comply. So she called a Polish priest she knew to get him to call the Irish priest and assure him that this was a Polish tradition and not some devil worshiping cult ritual. Pieces of the wafer would be passed around and one was supposed to break it with someone else and wish them the best, and that person would wish you then best, and then take their portion to some one else to do the same, etc. etc. Eschewing tradition, I soon learned to head for the snacks and learned to break them into my mouth and wish myself a yummy Christmas, while occasionally toasting all the visitors with a small sip of vodka.

    1. The Polish word for the wafer is oplatek. It is one of my favorite xmas traditions. It is not religious – other than using a wafer made of the same material as communion host. Each person has his own piece of wafer and goes up to every other person at the dinner. You each take a small piece of the other person’s wafer and wish each other the best for the New Year – with a big hug and kiss.

      1. At the time I changed my habits with this
        tradition, at about the age of 16 – 17 I was rebelling against my parents trying to get me to maintain various Polish modes of behavior while I was trying to adjust to becoming “American” in New York City. I would be asked to go kiss ladies’ hands and click my heels while saying hello to them, dress up in suits that did not appeal to me,
        etc. etc., and this by parents who were sociologists/anthropologists and perhaps should have known better. Some years later a I helped a Polish sociologist friend of theirs get living quarters and do his shopping in Chicago, and he complained that that I wore a denim jacket, like many other students in those days. They said they should have remembered to tell me to wear a suit. Some things about some Polish social scientists addiction to fancy duds and upper bourgeois social behavior that puzzles me. However, when my father taught me how to drink vodka with Russians, that I could understand.

  3. If the Poops of history had exhibited half as much wisdom as Hili in their own Christmas messages throughout the ages, we wouldn’t be in anywhere near the mess we are today.

    b&

  4. If cats pronounce dogma ex cat-hedra, do parrots pronounce dogma ex polly-hedra?

    Yes, it’s a groaner. Merry Christmas! Don’t eat too much turkey. Fruitcake lovers to the right, please.

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