Sunday, December 19, 2010

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

"One the 1st day of Christmas my true love gave to me; a partridge in a pear tree" wait, what? I like that song but, you know what, it makes about as much sense as "We Three Kings" wait, you don't get the comparison? Well here, let me help, here is my list of my 'favorite' Christmas gafts. (In no particular order)
1) Happy 'Birthday' Jesus? The Bible gives us enough information to determine when Jesus was born, and it wasn't in December. The timing of Christmas, Christ's Mass, was initially to celebrate his conception. The Light of the World was conceived on the Jewish Feast of Lights, which falls in November or December (due to the variation between the Jewish and Gregorian calendar). The specific date chosen by the paganized 'official' church was an attempt to line up with pagan festivals (much like trying to slip 'All Hallows Eve', a completely made up holy day, right next to Samhain. Christmas does have legitimate Christian roots just the specific date, Dec 25, was to help make the official church's celebrations more popular.) Of course there is nothing really wrong with celebrating your birthday on a day other than the actual anniversary of your birth. How many times do we schedule birthday parties around other things, like weekends or other birthdays, for convince? But that the average person, probably even the average Christian, doesn't know that we celebrate His birthday around the date of his conception is definitely annoying.
2) 3) 4) We Three the birth. Here's a 3 for 1 sale on these guys. There is no real reason to think of them as kings, and plenty of reason not to. They were 'wise men' or 'magi'. Almost assuredly Persian in origin these figures were most likely learned men of the palace(s) astronomers, sages, advisors, and/or scholars of prophecy. Their number isn't mentioned in the Bible. The '3' is assumed because three types of gifts are mentioned. But the number of magi are not know. For all we know 20 magi decended upon the palace at Jerusalem looking for the newly born king, each with their gift of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Or maybe 5 wise men had pooled together resources to bring the three gifts worthy of a King-God. Think about your birthday parties, or any gift giving occassion, how many times does the number of gifts exactly match the people involved? (Especially when there are some rich people involved) and speaking of birthdays, they weren't there for the BIRTH! Nativity scenes annoy me more than most because they always show the wise men there the night of His birth. These men saw the star on the night of his birth. They quickly started their journery, traveling from Persia, probably from a palace, to Jerusalem, without the benefit of modern travel. They then spoke with King Harod. Then all the chiefs and scribes gathered together and and consulted their charts and held counsel together. (Tell you what, go ask Congress to answer an obscure procedural question and tell me how long it takes to get an answer) Finally they traveled to Bethlehem and "came into the house" and found "the young child" with Mary. (Note that the angels had used the term 'babe' when talking to the shepards night of) Given that Harod had all male children 2 and under slaughtered in an attempt to kill Jesus this whole process probably took....about 2 years. You'd think with all the nativities with their richly dressed magi and loaded camels that the average person must think the wise men from the east were capable of teleportation!
4) 5) Inn/stable: here come those darn nativity scenes again, the new family settled amongst the wooden stalls kneeling amidst straw with farm animals peeking over the wall. Rustic, cute, and extremely unlikely. There are a couple of possible (Biblical/historic) answers to this one and none of them are what a 21st century American is going to think about when hearing the words. 1st, and most likely, is Joseph and Mary were staying with extended family. But, do to the Feast of Tabernacles (Jesus's birthday, falling in Sept or Oct) and the Roman census there would have been a lot of extended family in the area. Homes at the time were usually built in 3 levels. There was the recessed lower level, the bedrooms on the 2nd floor, and then either an 'upper room' or a flat and habitable roof. The upper room or roof was the guest area, the 'inn' of the day. (True inns were fairly uncommon) If the upper guest room/roof was full when Mary and Joseph got there, then they would have been put up in the ground floor. This recessed ground floor would have likely contained the kitchen and things of the family livelihood too important to have outside, like a loom, potters wheel, carpenter work bench and tools etc. It was also where they brough their more delicate animals in to shelter for the night. A lamb, a calf, maybe a pregnant goat, or sick donkey, any animal that the household didn't want to spend the night outside. Thus the manger. You don't bring animals inside and not provide ready access to food, unless you don't mind them snacking on the decor. Another highly likely senario is like the first but, since it was the Feast of Tabernacle, the whole extended family may have been camping out in temporary dwellings (part of the feast) either on the roof or lower level, thus resulting in the crowding mentioned. (If you're 9 months pregnant and your choice is roof top or lower level how many pregnant women are going to choose the stairs?) So most likely Jesus was born into a warm circle of extended female relatives (who would have cared for Mary in her labor, birth being a woman's only task back then) in what we would today call a livingroom with a few curious animals looking on. There are 2 other less likely but possible senarios: there was a Roman inn in the town or their extended family's house was so full they were given the outdoor stables for privacy/space in birthing. In that area caves were used for stables/barns. It's possible if there was no room for the birth in the overcrowded house the animal cave was the next best offering, but see above for the gaggle of female relatives. Finally Roman inns were fairly predictable buildings. You had the inside space for a communal eating space and possibly higher priced rooms (those might be found in a 2nd story too) and then on the outside of the building you had straw filled stalls, used as both cheap lodging by the less wealthy travelers and to stable the horses or donkeys. While this is a historic possiblity in that such buildings existed, given the importance of family and guests in ancient Judea it is extremly unlikely Joseph would have been turned away from the household of his extended family, regardless of how crowded it was. As they say, there's always room for one more.
6) The happy couple's tailor. Why is Mary (and to a lesser degree Joseph) always shown in rich purples and blues? Lavishly swathed in the finest fabrics? These were things that only the rich could afford. Purple, blue, and to a lesser extent red dyes were expensive. No working class Jew could afford such things. Plus, she's just given birth, who wears their finest to a birth? Birth is messy, you've got every type of bodily fluid there is going all over the place. Even if by some stretch of imagination Mary had been gifted some regal fabrics the last place she's going to wear them is in labor! The second to last is traveling by foot or donkey on a dirt road. There is no reason to portray the young couple in anything other than sensible peasant browns.
7) Nativity scenes: see above. Also they have a tendency of showing everyone blond and blue eyed and/or the baby Jesus with arms outstretched basking very knowingly in all the adoration. Jesus came to earth 100% man (will still maintaining His godhood), so, like all men at the time of their birth He would have been tired, socially interested only in His mother, and likely unable to hold up His head, and, like Jewish babes were at the time, tightly swaddled with only His face showing.
8) Santa Claus is coming to town. Ok, I understand that not everyone who celebrates Christmas is a Christian and they need someone to focus attention on. I get that. I still don't get Santa. Mostly because it involves lying to your children and I definately don't get that (we always knew our presents came from our loving parents not some fat burgler who was only interested in you if you were 'good'). And I don't get why Christians 'do Santa'. There is nothing remotely Christian about him (he is not based on the Catholic saint Nicholas [which still wouldn't be a Christian connection], he's a mixture of Celtic and German mythology sprinkled after the fact with some Catholocism), and even if you just find him a 'fun' and 'harmless' figure, he still involves LYING to your children, which is against the Christian faith. So yeah, I hate Santa.
9) 'Happy Holidays': Yes, Christmas is a religious holiday, a Christian holiday with a fair portion of various favors of pagan thrown in (tree, yule log, Santa etc). It's a mutt holiday, that many people of many faiths why the huge push lately to not only remove any semblance of Christianity from Christmas but to refuse to acknowledge even the name? 'Winter trees' on sale in stores, 'holiday party' at work, 'winter break' for the kiddies, business telling employees they can't say 'merry Christmas', businesses and government removing nativity scenes (which you already know I don't like but are very much part of the tradition of Christmas), some of which have been fixtures for generations, cities putting up 'holiday' decorations instead of 'Christmas' decorations. It's sickening. Sit by your yule log fire reading 'twas the night before Christmas' to the kiddies by the glow of the lights from your Christmas tree while baby Jesus and the 3 wise men look on from the mantel, but it'll get you fired if you wear a button that says 'Jesus is the reason for the season'. Nevermind that it is, in fact, CHRISTmas that we, you, and the atheist next door are celebrating (I have met people who didn't make a big deal out of Christmas, I have met people that further mixed in pagan traditions with Christmas, or edited out parts they didn't like, but in 28 years I have known 1 person who actually didn't celebrate it) deplorable.
10) initially I was going to have 12 to go with the whole '12 days of Christmas', but it's taken sometime to write this and now I can't remember what my last two were supposed to be. So I'll leave you with a couple comments. I don't object to different people celebrating different days, different holidays, different ways. My 1 friend who doesn't celebrate Christmas celebrates Winter Solstice. I have given her Solstice gifts. What 'feast days' you celebrate, and how you celebrate them, are strictly between you and God. The Bible says celebrating certain days is a matter of conscience, not sin, so I've nothing morally against any feast day you may celebrate (I may have a moral objection to certain practices that in and of themselves are wrong such as lying to you kids or see my post on Halloween 'a different world'). I hope, whatever form or version of Christmas or other winter holiday you celebrate, you have a wonderful time with friends and family, and maybe my list of annoyances provided you with a few minutes of thoughtful humor.
Do you have a 'favorite' Christmastime annoyance?


Anonymous Rachel said...

I will tackle santa...I don't see is as much as lying to my kids (come on if someone asks if these pants make her butt look fat odds are a person will lie about the answer) as allowing them to believe in magic and that the world is a good and magical place and that there are people out there who only care about making children happy. The world can be these things but they can also be cold and cruel...I want my children to believe in magic and faries and other wonderful things because I remember the feeling that brought me when I thought that all this was possible...I was not crushed when I found out that this was not entirely true (It took me 20 years to figure out what the heck a bunny had to do with easter though)it made it easier to see true miracles and magic when I did see them.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Jespren said...

Thanks for commenting Rachel, that's the usual response people give when someone objects to lying to kids, and, while I am certainly used to hearing it, I don't really 'buy' it from a moral perspective. A lie is a lie. (And i'd rather tell my kids the miraculous is from God and 'magic' is either illusion and fun trickery or satanic, real, and scary) and, for the record, if someone says 'do these pants make my butt look big?' I'm not going to answer like my brother (no, your butt makes your butt look big), but I will give an honest answer. When I ask my husband is something I wear I looks good or not I hope he 1) has enough respect for me and 2) cares enough about my appearance to answer truthfully. It's the old axiom, if you don't want the answer don't ask the question!

5:58 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

I hear you on the Santa thing. I don't plan on lying to Maddy but she'll see Santa around and I plan to explain that people believe it in, etc. Funny Santa story though - in some parts of Finland, apparently they get a local single guy to dress up as Santa and go door to door Christmas Eve to visit the kids but at each house he gets a shot of vodka. So if you're lucky enough at the end of the trip, you get drunk Santa :) My friend from Finland told me about this. I guess they schedule it that the older kids who don't believe get drunk Santa!

Great post btw - learned quite a bit from it :)

3:57 PM  

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