Back to previous post: Holiday hits

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Technical problem, sigh

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

December 24, 2004

Christmas, 2004
Posted by Teresa at 11:23 PM * 35 comments

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, “Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Comments on Christmas, 2004:
#1 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 12:16 AM:

Joy to you and Patrick, and all in your circle, Teresa.

#2 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 12:40 AM:

Blessings to all, peace and joy of the season. My favorite Christmas piece is by Bill Vaughan. Originally printed in the Kanssas City Star, not sure how long ago, but quite a while, it's here:

It still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

#3 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 01:25 AM:

Health, love, and peace, to you, this night and in the new year.

#4 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 02:26 AM:

A Christmas Card - 1947

When the white stars talk together like sisters
And when the winter hills
Raise their grand semblance in the freezing night,
Somewhere one window
Bleeds like the brown eye of an open force.

Hills, stars,
White stars that stand above the eastern stable.

Look down and offer Him.
The dim adoring light of your belief.
Whose small Heart bleeds with infinite fire.

Shall not this Child
(When we shall hear the bells of His amazing voice)
Conquer the winter of our hateful century?

And when His Lady Mother leans upon the crib,
Lo, with what rapiers
Those two loves fence and flame their brillancy!

Here in this straw lie planned the fires
That will melt all our sufferings:
He is our Lamb, our holocaust!

And one by one the shepherds, with their snowy feet,
Stamp and shake out their hats upon the stable dirt,
And one by one kneel down to look upon their Life.

-- Thomas Merton

Blessings to you all this night.

#5 ::: Suzanne M ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 02:27 AM:

Happy Christmas to you and Patrick, and a joyful New Year!

#6 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 03:10 AM:

Merry Christmas.

I just posted a version of that story

#7 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 04:15 AM:

A good Christmas to P+T, and to all who visit here.

Family tradition -- my father always read that section (more both before and after) on Christmas Eve, before we'd go and open our one present of the evening -- the rest were saved for Christmas Day (a compromise from one family where all were opened on the eve and one where all were opened on the day). On the Day, the stockings were opened before breakfast (and always had a Droste Chocolate Orange at the top, pistachios and a real silver dollar at the bottom -- the silver dollars stopped about 1970). There was a Specific Christmas Carol record that my parents played, and I don't know what it was. The youngest always got to open the first present (in all the stages, Eve, stocking, main day). Then it was off to the big family celebration, which had its own traditions.

New traditions -- visiting my brother and his kids and wife's family on Christmas Eve, opening the presents for visitors. This year, my brother did the reading that my father used to, and I was quite touched. And coming here, and finding it again, I think on what it's meant to me over the years.

#8 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 08:51 AM:

Merry Christmas.

#9 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 09:32 AM:

Merry Christmas, everybody! Teresa, thanks for this nifty clubhouse.

#10 ::: Beth Meacham ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 11:53 AM:

Merry Christmas, P&T.

#11 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 01:20 PM:

Merry Christmas!

Weal and frith and witfulness to you and yours all the year's length long.

#12 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 07:56 PM:

Wishing Teresa and Patrick and everyone else here a joyous season and best wishes for the New Year.

#13 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2004, 08:51 PM:

the sermon at midnight mass was about God becoming one of us so we'd know he understood about life being messy.

I liked that.

Merry Christmas.

#14 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 01:32 AM:

Merry whatever-it-is-you-are-celebrating-at-this-time-of-year to all, and, more particularily, merry Christmas to hour dear hostess and her other half (and relatives). May their light always shine bright enough to cast soothing shadows, and sweet enough to tune in divine greens.

#15 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 01:43 AM:

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

#16 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 03:40 AM:

Merry Christmas!

And thanks for the Particles link on a Presbyterian defence of Christmas. Even the atheist Presbyterian conscience is a weird thing.

While I was hanging up the Christmas cards in vaguely thematic strings (robins, Santas, Nativity scenes, sparkly things, etc) I shuffled together a series of cards showing the Three Wise Men, and I found myself wondering what the traditional theological significance of that story is. And I knew this very thread was the place to ask.

On the face of it, it's a very odd and anomalous story. Three Magi who might be astrologers coming to worship Jesus! What's going on here? I know that tradition has made them kings and given them names, but what else has been said about them?

#17 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 07:26 AM:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all! Sounds to me like Ken MacLeod may have the workings for a new story....?

#18 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 09:54 AM:

If you know Life of Brian, Mummers plays, "We Three Kings" and "Journey of the Magi" ("It was a cold coming we had of it...") then you're pretty well up on what's been said about the soi-disant Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.

A few years ago I went to a thing at the Planetarium around Christmas which was mostly interesting scientific possibilities for the Star, including Clarke's "The Star". One of the things they said was that the story of the Magi:

a) Gave a biblical justification for astrology (run away!)

b) Was an example of the Gospel writers trying to appeal to other kinds of Mediterranean mystery religions than Judaism, though you'd expect it to be Luke who mentions them and it isn't. Luke, the Greek, has the domestic down-home shepherds.

c) Is an example of a story where a tiny fire (the biblical source, never mind the origin of that) has provided a huge amount of smoke, because the star and the journey and the kings appeals to people.

#19 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 02:51 PM:

I thought I heard somewhere that at least one magus was a Zoroastrian preist.

Maligayang pasko.

#20 ::: Ted Curtis ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 02:57 PM:

Ken, I was told the Three Wise Men story was to emphasize that Jesus's birth and message were for gentiles as well as jews. It adds some irony to the story -- even foreign astrologers recognise the kingship of Jesus, but his own people reject him. It fits well with other stories where non-jews play a big role: The Good Samaritan, the Samaritan woman at the well, healing of the Centurion's (sic) daughter, etc.

I also remember being told once that the word for "inn" could also be translated "guest room." I sort of like that image -- Joseph's family won't let them stay in the house, because of Mary. I can imagine them all whispering about Mary being loose and Joseph a fool, commenting on how Mary wearing blue is so out-of-style, and giving her a cold shoulder at mealtimes.

Merry Christmas

#21 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 05:42 PM:

I was taught that the purpose of the Magi was to bring the gifts foretelling Jesus's life.

#22 ::: Maines ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 06:22 PM:

Merry Christmas (we get twelve days, right?) to Teresa and Patrick and everyone here.

Re the magi: I don't know what theologians say, but I've always assumed them to be inserted as a literary device to provide a larger context for the birth (as Ted Curtis and Marilee said above), but I've also heard it said that shepherds were considered very unclean because they handled and lived among animals, and so their replacement with magi might have been to appeal to those who would otherwise look down their noses at this nascent religion.

#23 ::: liz ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 06:32 PM:

I am so grateful to have a place to visit like this.
I am so grateful that I have enough to eat, and enough to share.
I am so grateful that I have a warm, dry bed.
I am so grateful for my family--the good, the bad, and the silly.

May all of you have what you need, now and in the future.
May all of you be visited by joy.
May all of you give and recieve love.

My personal favorite Christmas recording? Ki ho'alo Christmas, from Dancing Cat.

Sentimental? You bet. But the "Christmas Memories" song reminds me not Christmases at my grandparents' and I love slack key.

#24 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 07:03 PM:

The Magi would have been Persian Zoroastrians, and there are a lot of things that Judaism picked up from the Zoroastrians as a result of the Persian Empire's rule of the Middle East all the way from the Hindu Kush to Egypt. It's highly possible that both the idea of Satan as an opposed force, as well as the idea of a miraculous child savior-to-be were part of the acquisitions.

Throwing the Magi into the picture may have been a suggestion that Christianity had something to offer the Zoroastrians, as well as the Jews and the other gentiles. The Mithraic cult so popular among the Roman army was Zoroastrian in origin, and Manicheanism manages to be both a Christian and a Zoroastrian heresy, which is a pretty neat trick when you think about it.

#25 ::: Cam ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 07:49 PM:

Perhaps a hymn from the Eastern Orthodox (Christian) celebration of Christmas might help explain the Magi.

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has shown to the world the light of wisdom! For by it, those who worshipped the stars, were taught by a star to adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Orient on high. O Lord, Glory to Thee!

The Magi might have recognized an astrological event as a precusor to Christ's coming, but the point was to teach them not the stars but the Son of God is to be worshipped.

In any case, at Christmas we Orthodox say "Christ is Born! Glorify Him!" today (or next month, depending on the calendar (Gregorian or Julian) used.)

Christ is born!

#26 ::: Will Shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 11:27 PM:

The Magi, who're only found in Matthew's take on the nativity, do one very profound thing: they tell everyone in the Persian Empire that the saoshyant, the promised Zoroastrian savior, has been born. I posted much too much about this last year in my blog, so I won't bore anyone any more this year.

A bright Brumalia, a scintillating solstice, a yipping Yule, and a merry Christmas to all!

#27 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 12:26 AM:

Mele Kalikimaka to all (as stated above, we've got a twelve-day window, right?).

#28 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 10:29 AM:

Family tradition -- my father always read that section (more both before and after) on Christmas Eve, before we'd go and open our one present of the evening -- the rest were saved for Christmas Day (a compromise from one family where all were opened on the eve and one where all were opened on the day).

We've got a bunch of family traditions-- my father's family is Polish, so we do a traditional Christmas Eve dinner that's gotten more raucous over the years-- some of which may or may not show up in my own blog (we have a digital camera, now, and thus pictures...).

The one that seems appropriate here, though, is that every Christmas Eve, my father would read to us (my sister and me) from a tattered little paperback copy of "A Child's Christmas in Wales" that was a gift from my godmother on my first Christmas (according to the note she wrote in it, at least-- I don't claim to remember it). It lived in a blue paper envelope in the armoire in my parents' bedroom the rest of the year, and only got dragged out on Christmas Eve, but bits and pieces of it have lodged themselves forever in my memory-- snowballs thrown at the fire, "Would you like anything to read?," Aunts and Uncles, and a small dry voice on the far side of the keyhole.

We forgot to make him read it this year (though we did talk about it at dinner on Christmas Day), and it's just not the same reading it silently to myself.

#29 ::: Charlotte Freeman ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 11:45 PM:

I always hear that reading in the voice of Linus -- since that's the reading he does in The Charlie Brown Chrismas Special -- which in my own oddly-churched way, seems like the true story of Christmas to me. One of my happy memories is decorating the tree with my brother and my Mom and a few oddball friends while the Charlie Brown special played in the background, and when Linus came out, and wrapped his security blanket around his head so he looked like a shepherd, and read from Matthew, we all paused, and listened, and my mother cried quietly in the corner. A nice memory ....

#30 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2004, 05:55 AM:

Thanks to all who've responded on the Magi. I can see better now how the story fits in.

#31 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2005, 01:03 PM:

Chad, if you can obtain it (and it is a bit hard to get hold of and only available in VHS), there's a wonderful version of "A Child's Christmas in Wales" starring Denholm Elliot. That's the voice I always hear when I read it now. Beautifully produced, and it's a shame it hasn't been reissued. "The dog...was sick" is probably our favorite line.

#33 ::: Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2005, 03:07 PM:

But why dogspam? Why not hamsterspam?

#34 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2005, 03:26 PM:

Well, Magi are Babylonian astrologers, elevated to the level of a priesthood. Three is a typical Biblical number; if there were at least two and fewer than seven, they probably would have been called "three."

The astrological event in question was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Mars (that is, Jupiter and Mars were within each other's orbs three times in fairly rapid succession) in August of 4 BCE. I'm told that Jupiter represents Kingship and Mars represent(ed/s) the Jews to Babylonian astrologues; thus they concluded it had to do with the King of the Jews. They were "following the stars" rather than following a star; and if a huge flare of light had appeared above a stable in Bethlehem, a whole lot more people than that would have come!

The gifts that they bring in Matthew are all grave goods of one sort or another. This is to prophesy his death. I actually wrote a Christmas carol (well, OK, it's a Christmas/Epiphany carol) about this. It's on my stack of "arrange this for the choir someday" stuff. Well behind the Et Egressus, the Ave Maria, and the Nunc Dimittis.

#35 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2005, 04:39 PM:

The dog wasn't really sick, Mr. Dog Food. It's only of them litr'y reference thingys. He just ate too much goose.

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.

(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.