Python for Christmas by
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(184 Stories)

Prompted By Comic Relief

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This gives a general idea of the type of procession I witnessed.

I. Python background

By Christmas eve, I was both sleep deprived and overstimulated ... As midnight approached, I felt positively grinchy.

I’ve enjoyed Monty Python’s Flying Circus since the 1970s. In addition to all the slapstick and famous sketches, I appreciated the subtle and not so subtle satire of any “establishment” institution, including religious ones. While the Spanish Inquisition is one of the more popular sendups, often Anglican church bishops, priests, and officials appear as background in other sketches, in deadpan serious processions with beautiful vestments, holding crooks and crosses. These images must have stuck in my subconscious mind, only to surface in a rather crazy way many years later, as the following incident shows.

II. First and only Episcopal Christmas

As a Jewish woman raised in a conservative household, I didn’t expect to know a lot about family Christmas traditions, but the Christmas of 2000 revealed how great my ignorance was. I’d been looking forward to winding up a very happy year by experiencing Christmas with my lover “James” and his housemate “Carol.” But by the week before Christmas, I was feeling out of sorts.

Over at James’ house, each night we’d been up until all hours arranging, decorating, shopping, and putting up a large tree in the family room. When it was time to decorate the tree, James handed me a bunch of tinsel and went off to the other side of the room to string lights on the fireplace mantel. I stood there holding the tinsel without the faintest idea of what to do with it. James and Carol turned around and burst out laughing.

By Christmas eve, I was both sleep deprived and overstimulated by all the Christmas glitz, but looked forward to attending my first midnight service for Christmas at Carol’s church, All Saints Episcopal Church, in Palo Alto. A severely lapsed Catholic, James still appreciated the pageantry in the service and wanted to support Carol, who was very active in the church. In previous months I heard her stress over being called to do readings. All I could think was, “Stressed? Over readings in English? Nothing like trying in Hebrew. A different alphabet. Right to left. And possibly from a scroll. Caligraphy. No vowels or punctuation …” As midnight approached, I felt positively grinchy.

The night was chilly by California standards, and the three of us could see our breath as we got out of the car and walked toward the gray stone church, which took up a large portion of a square block in downtown Palo Alto. Inside the sanctuary, the pews were full, and there were beautiful fabric hangings. The room quieted as the priest walked in, a pleasant woman with short, silver hair, dressed in red and gold.

I don’t recall much of the next few minutes, until, at the other end of the sanctuary, large doors opened, and then began a stately, slow procession of people, also dressed in red and gold, heading toward the altar. They wore dignified expressions and never cracked a smile. Alas, the procession looked exactly like the one in a Monty Python skit I’d seen years before.

While not a procession, this shows the formality and solemnity involved. Note the serious expressions.

I almost couldn’t contain my laughter and must have turned as red as the vestments as I tried to maintain composure. Over the next few minutes, I tried coughing, taking tissues out of my purse, turning my head, pretending I dropped something. James and Carol were taking this service seriously, and every once in a while glanced my way, but I couldn’t tell them what was so funny. I kept smiling through the rest of the service, suppressing the occasional giggle. At least my internal laughter banished the grinch. To this day, I smile when I recall that procession.

III. Coda

I wasn’t able to find the exact video of a Monty Python church procession online, but if you like their humor, you can view the Dead Bishop sketch on YouTube to get a general idea.

James’ and my relationship started to slowly unravel after the Christmas of 2000. The entire relationship is summarized in my story “Found-Lost-Found-Lost-Found?”.

All Saints is a real Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, and no disparagement of it or their members is intended in this story. The congregation is liberal and generous, having run one of the first and best free food distribution services in the area. The church is involved in interfaith activities. Several years after the events in the story, they opened their doors to my small Jewish Reconstructionist congregation, which didn’t have a building, so we could have a party to celebrate our 20th anniversary. From then on, we have referred to the church as Beit Kol ha Tzaddikim (house of all the righteous), the highest term of respect short of saints.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Characterizations: funny, moving, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    My children LOVE all things Monty Python. I had never seen any until they were watching a film one day, perhaps Life of Brian -hilarious. Our favorite was what became the basis for Spamalot. We took them to NYC to see that on Broadway. It was fantastic with all the best bits. We saw it again when it came through Boston.

    I had a terrible case of the giggles in church one day, but in a different capacity. My senior year in high school, my choir sang on at Good Friday services for a large local Episcopal church. We were seated next to the altar. Being the shortest, of course I was in the front row. The church was full. The priest began his sermon-fire and brimstone! I was unaccustomed to such rhetoric. It made me uncomfortable and I broke out in a nervous giggle, which quickly spread throughout the entire, large choir! Our director was NOT happy with me.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    You had me laughing out loud at this story! I had a serious giggle fit myself in a Catholic church (not my usual milieu)when we attended a 50th anniversary repeat vow ceremony (who knew such a thing existed?)for an aunt, and the congregation was invited to sing along—which my in-laws all did in their notoriously off-key voices. I also was coughing and snorting and crying and hoping it looked like I was moved….

    • Marian says:

      Wow, Khati, seems as if there is more laughing in church than I would have thought. Seems like that’s a “thing.” And, I too have attended one of those Catholic vow renewal ceremonies (but something more like a 25th anniversary). I found it somewhat bizarre, and fortunately, we sat in the back so our absence from the communion line wasn’t noticed!

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Marian. I just about got the giggles reading it. And I have always gotten hysterical over all things Python. (For some reason, one of their famous lines, “Tis just A scratch,” has been in a lot of Times crossword puzzles lately.) So I really could identify with your story. That said, I’m glad you survived the service with as much composure as you did. I might have had to stuff rags into all of my orifices.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, John. “Tis just A scratch” is one of the more well known Python lines. I’ve never been able to figure out if Jews have a distinctive point of view and take religious rituals less seriously than Christians. “James,” from my story, asked me to accompany him to a Bat Mitzvah, partly because he wanted my guidance to avoid doing something wrong in the synagogue. It took a lot to convince him that there were very few potential faux pas.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    I don’t know why, Marian, but your story cracked me up. I could picture myself in your place trying to stifle my urge to burst out laughing. You were my comic relief for today.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Laurie. I think we all want to laugh because everyone at the church was taking the service so seriously, and then the contrast with the Monty Python skit … Just commented on your story, which made me recall an incident with a child, who’d also taken things seriously and made me laugh. It’s good to smile today!

  5. Suzy says:

    Thanks for reminding me about Monty Python, Mare. They always cracked me up too. I can just imagine you trying so hard not to laugh at the procession in church. If you had been with a friend who had the same thoughts, it would have been even worse. I can remember getting the giggles in a similar situation, getting them under control, then looking at my friend and bursting out laughing again.

  6. Thanx for this very intriguing, ecumenical story Marian! I can understand why the sight of the actual church service looking so similar to the Monty Python parody struck you as so funny!

    And I remember when New York’s beautiful and historic Central Synagogue had a devastating electrical fire, and the destruction kept the building closed for at least two years. A neighboring church offered their space for the synagogue’s shabbat and holiday services.

  7. Oh gawd, I loved this fish out of Episcopalian tale, Marian! They all look so serious and so silly at the same time! You brought up a huge and ‘horrendous’ topic in this story, as well: suppressing laughter when laughter is not appropriate. Oh my gawd. How many times, oh lord, have we all struggled to shove unsuppressable laughter back down our gullets!!!

    • Marian says:

      Yes, Charles, it’s the seriousness of the target and the inappropriateness of finding it funny that gets people chuckling. The Monty Python crew were incredibly gifted at finding the perfect targets for this type of laughter.

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    I remember my first exposure to the Pythons. I was home from college for the summer, and WNET was running Monty Python. I was lying on my bed watching on a small portable TV, and started laughing so hard that I rolled off the bed onto the floor. My Dad came running into my room, thinking that I was having some sort of seizure.

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