A winter’s tale

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In the northern hemisphere, it is the Winter Solstice, when the balance between dark and light shifts once again and the Light begins to return. The moment has been celebrated as far back as we can search in human history, a tradition born from the movement of the heavens, with a message of rebirth and new beginnings not too dissimilar to the Christian ideal, though its roots lie in beliefs already ancient when Jesus was born.

There are some messages that seem common to all faiths and paths and which seem to come together at this point in the year. “Peace on Earth, goodwill to all men…” from carols to cards, this traditional phrase seems to encapsulate the essence of the season in a way that can speak to all men, across time and place, regardless of faith or creed. It is the hope for humanity that rules in most of our hearts; that we might emerge from the darkness of prejudice, fear and hatred into the light of love.

The fact that there is scholarly argument about the precise translation of this biblical phrase is unimportant…it has entered into consciousness and we even speak of Christmas as the ‘season of goodwill’. If we were obliged to look merely at the facts of the Nativity, we might be surprised at how much of what we ‘know’ of the story is based in tradition rather than in the historical record. Quite apart from the plethora of translations now available of the biblical texts, a greater understanding of the times has altered how we see and read the meagre verses that have given birth to the familiar and much-loved tale.

The ‘inn’ has, in many later translations, disappeared to become a ‘guest room’, using the same word that refers to the upper room whereXmas St Faiths 0261 the Last Supper was held. The lower floor in houses of the time often sheltered the animals too, so a manger would not be out of the question in a house. If there was no place for the couple in the guest room, then the warmth of the lower room might have been offered. Which leaves the innkeeper, who is not mentioned in the biblical story, redundant. The animals may well have shared the space, but the Ox and the Ass as we know them are not mentioned. The Magi are neither called kings nor are they numbered… only the three gifts are counted… and they may have visited the Holy Family up to two years after the birth if Herod’s decree is anything to go by. Even the date of Jesus’ birth is a based on a decision rather than facts.

There are other discrepancies between the biblical verses and the traditional Christmas story we have come to know and love. Various branches of the Christian faith attribute more…or less…importance to different passages and celebrate at different times. Many who are Christian only in name, not by personal faith, also celebrate this season and few can be unaware of the traditional and much loved tableau of the shepherds, the wise men and the stable where the Child sleeps beneath the star that shines brightly in the frosty night air.

The details really do not matter. Nor do the lines between fact, fiction and tradition. When something speaks directly to the heart, it does so in the wordless voice of truth. The story, as a story, is simply beautiful. As a symbolic tale… that the heavens rejoice as Divinity is born into the lowliest human form… it is also beautiful. For those who believe in either the story or its essence, it is the birth of Light in the darkness.

As I set up the little wooden figures of my nativity scene this year, I placed the Child in the manger with reverence, not for the small, crudely carved figure. Not even for the biblical Jesus. My reverence was for what that Child represents within the soul of humanity… and within every heart. In the darkest of times, the Light lives within each one of us, and we are one with the nameless One.

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26 thoughts on “A winter’s tale

  1. Indeed. There such be reverence for what that Babe represents – peace and joy to all, unconditional love. Blessings to you and your family and to precious Ani. I think of how much fun last year’s Canning Day was. It is a treasure for me. If SamCat were here, he would send hugs to Ani. I send them to her in his name and with his sweet spirit of love for all.

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    1. I believe Canning Day is to be a commemorative event this year in SamCat’s honour and to honour the love he brought into your days…and the inter-species entente cordiale that was fostered.
      Love and hugs to you from Ani and me x

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  2. I’m not especially religious, Sue, but I enjoy Christmas as a chance to celebrate goodwill to all. I have a lot of time for Jesus and his message of love and forgiveness (although I’m not sure what he had against figs). I must admit, though, that I’m not a huge fan of some other parts of the bible, such as the Book of Joshua. Luckily, the nativity is something I can feel warm and fuzzy about, even if the details are far sketchier than most people realize.

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    1. I’m not religious in the traditional sense either, Bun, but have a personal faith and recognise the beauty of the story of the nativity. You have a point about the fig tree though… a tad unfair when it wasn’t even the season…

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      1. It’s a bit like me having a go at the local supermarket manager for not selling Christmas puddings in August. Perhaps it’s meant to be symbolic of something or other.

        I do agree with you though, Sue, about the beauty of the story. It’s one full of hope and cheer at what is basically a very bleak time of year.

        Modern society has insulated us (both literally and figuratively) from the harshness of winter, but I’m sure a story of hope in the darkest season of their gruelling, difficult lives must have been especially powerful for our forebears.

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      2. I want to live where you live! The Christmas puds were on the shelves by midsummer here 🙂
        Yes, it is almost certainly symbolic; the usual interpretation is that the barren tree represented a nation producing nothing for the glory of their God, but there are other possibilities.
        It is thought most likely that Jesus was born in September, but the time of the winter solstice is a perfect point in the year for a story symbolising the coming of the light… and quietly took over from a number of other festivals where the light returned supreme at midwinter. And this was no tale of high drama and distant royalty, but a tale every household could understand… that a child is born.

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      3. The interpretation you mention is an interesting one. Perhaps that was the point of the story. 🙂

        I think moving the festival to around the time of the winter solstice makes a lot of sense symbolically (bringing light back to world, etc.), and who wouldn’t find joy and hope in the idea of a child being born (except possibly the next-door neighbors)?

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