It’s almost that time of year again. Hanukkah meets Xmas, aka ‘the Clash of the Titans’. I know, I know, I’m not supposed to mention it but I get to light the odd candle too at this time of year and sometimes tell bloodcurdling stories about Judith and Holofernes to my grandchildren round the fireside as a change from St Nick and the Chimney Pot. At least you guys don’t have kilometers of tinsel and fairy lights to wade through. Here in France, they’re rather more civilized than other nationalities, preferring to decorate their public spaces rather than their homes with multicoloured reindeer dashing across the roof tiles and bucolic Santas waving bottles of champagne. One image I saw recently had a garishly decorated house with all of the preceding plus a forest of illuminated trees and a gigantic star invisibly positioned above the front porch where the electricity bill it ran up over Christmas would have paid for a drone strike on ISIS. The neighbouring property had the word “ditto”, spelled out in coloured lights.
For Jewish readers, then, here’s how some of the rest of us behave at this time of year. It’s supposed to be funny, not offensive and there’s a conspicuous absence of cartoons. Try not to be shocked. Churchmen worldwide are already trawling Facebook and Tumblr for the newest hipster spin on the old, old story, prepping the eight year olds not to include Darth Vader as one of the Kings in the Christmas Crib and buying wholesale oranges from Waitrose in the hope that the Christingle service (oranges with candles) doesn’t make the place stink of Cointreau until Epiphany Sunday which is about two weeks away. Many, of course, particularly those trained in the Modern Tradition, with degrees from liberal universities as well as their three years behind bars at Vicar School are using the opportunity to rework the myth and the magic for a generation who can only with difficulty be persuaded to turn their smartphones on to ‘silent’ for the duration of the services.
Contrary to popular belief, the Archangel Gabriel (he of the annunciation) isn’t an eight year old girl in a party frock, bringing ‘good tidings of gweat joy’. He is instead a fearsomely huge light-clad entity, bathed in the illumination of Heaven with a voice like many waters. Eight year old girls may be fearsome, especially when crossed, but the little squeaky voice might get lost in the electromagnetic discharge which would inevitably accompany the presence of the real thing. Secondly, the Magi, or magicians, the Albus Dumbledores of the time were in fact a trio of bishops en route to an interfaith conference. They were apparently on their way to Petra but had gotten on the wrong bus and had been promised cheap rates at the Bethlehem Marriott.
Astronomical evidence reveals that the star ‘of royal beauty bright’ was not, in fact, the planet Venus, instead was probably a Roman spyplane hovering over Bethlehem, a known area of Zealot unrest. The camera footage has unfortunately been lost over time.
The story about asses and oxen is fictitious. In the third century, the Vatican edited out the kangaroos, platypi and llamas in the hope of concealing the growing body of evidence that the world was round.
We are led to believe that persons tasked with ovine management were seated on the ground. It was, of course against union rules for managers, especially the elderly and arthritic, to squat like gnomes on hard surfaces, playing merry hell with their piles. Small folding chairs were almost certainly used instead, similar to those found in Church halls. And synagogues, presumably.
Some scholars believe that the Dead Sea Scrolls make oblique reference to a strange, red-clad figure, who may have been called ‘Sancta Callus’ in deference to his toymaking skills. The myth of the Holy Cabbage Patch dolls which he made and distributed is found in the writings of the Essenes, who burned them in effigy as idols.
The arrival of Mary and Joseph at Bethlehem remains shrouded in mystery. Some scholars have it that Joseph needed a residency permit so that he could play on the Judean basketball team.
Nonetheless, Hanukkah or Christmas, ‘tis the season to be jolly. Fa la la. Et cetera.