If you’re like me you hate Christmases, or at least associated them with gross over-eating and or being reduced to giant earth-worm status and ending up horizontal on the bed with an extended stomach focussing on nothing more profound than digesting as quickly as possible. No matter how much I always vow to avoid such scenarios it always ends up the same way around 4pm on 25th of December.
I’m an agnostic for the record, so the festival has little to no religious significance for me (our family also celebrate Passover and Hanukkah like all good mixed/secular Jewish families), which frankly were also food-orientated hybrid affairs the religious significance of which was always lost on me as a child.
But I do have a great love of symbolism and myth in general and have to profess to a slight fascination for the naivety scene with its dollhouse like elements. In Bilbao last week we visit the cathedral of Santiago and staring down at the barn scene with the three wise men of various races, the cows, pigs, Joseph, angels, Mary and a few tiny chicken, I noticed that the centrepiece- the reason behind all this frenetic gathering – the miniature plaster baby Jesus himself – was missing from the crib. ‘There is a tradition of stealing them recently,’ my Catholic friend Ana murmured reverently over my shoulder. My mind was suddenly flooded with a black Mercedes whose trunk was packed full of kidnapped squealing tiny Messiahs as it roared up into the Basque mountains in the dead of night. Could this be the work of ETA? Or just some fanatic doll collector whose fetishes had taken a strange religious bent. Or maybe even some poor teenager who had been forced to play the baby Jesus as a child and avenging himself ever since?
The other image that came to mind was the tiny plaster Jesus ascending to Heaven independently of its adoring plastic and tin audience. Little pink arms outstretched wistfully, the tiny wire halo wobbling slightly as – barely visible – in the huge silent auditorium of the Cathedral (or perhaps still vibrating with the last notes of the organ as it plays ‘Hark the Herald Angels.’) the tiny celestial, pink and plastic figure floats up through the air, passed the burning candles, pass the gleaming pulpit, the carved plaques, gold crosses and stain glass windows, to a Heaven where a thousand other plaster baby Jesuses have all ascended to – having defiantly escaped the confines of cardboard Bethlehems world-wide.
Call me blasphemous, but wasn’t Jesus a Pisces anyway? I know there has been much debate around his actual date of birth and Christmas; Apparently the original 25th of December was a pagan festival Saturnlia, a festival to celebrate the birth of the Sun god (probably because there is no sun in the northern hemisphere at this time of year). So to marry Roman/Pagan with the incoming new fangled religion of Christianity they fused the two dates. According the web Jesus was in fact born six months after John the Baptist and he was born during Passover – April – that makes Jesus actually born in September the same year. So not a Pisces but maybe a Virgo? Who knows and does it matter?
Which brings me to that other wonderful Christmas message of love and good faith given by the Pope himself this year.
I can’t remember being more dismayed by any statement by any Pope (at least that I can remember) I quite liked the last one, mainly because he was Polish and was involved in the resistance movement during the war, but this guy? What was he thinking? And who is his spin-doctor?
I was reminded of a friend of mine, who died of Aids back in the late 80’s in Sydney. He was gay, twenty-seven years old, a wonderful (and award winning) documentary maker and Catholic. A friend of mine who nursed him had told me how when he knew he was dying he returned to his Catholic faith and how this had been a great source of strength for him. My friend planned his own funeral and his wake with extraordinary courage ( a huge party with his films showing for all his friends and family, he even choreographed the music to be played) and he had a fantastic funeral at Saint Canice’s,
the Catholic church in Kings Cross, which made itself readily available for the gay community and Aids funerals.
Enough said. To all my readers – all of them – have a bloody great Xmas and with a little luck 09 will be better than 08.