Monday, December 19, 2005

A few things I didn't know about Christmas

Stumbled across this over the weekend, and it has some interesting information about our Christmas "traditions" (most of which don't go back beyond early 19th century America).

I don't quite agree with his explanation of how the Magi got into Matthew's account. I think the overall evidence of the Gospel indicates a heavy reliance on the Hebrew Scriptures in that Gospel (the idea that John is the herald proclaimed by Isaiah is Matthean, not later conjecture imposed on Matthew, for example). So I think Psalm 72 was on the mind of the Matthean community when that nativity story was preserved. He does note that while there are three gifts mentioned, that doesn't limit the number of Magi who visited. But we should also note the Magi came as much as two years after Jesus' birth (the concept of "event" is, frankly, a very different one for the pre-clock world than for ours. J.G. Ballard was right about that: we do love in "Chronopolis." But it wasn't always that way.)

It's also worth noting that the concept of "birthday" was essentially an Egyptian one, and they noted it only for Pharoahs, since Pharoahs were "gods," therefore significant from birth, not because of their deeds (the usual standard of measure). So in Matthew, with the Hebraic connections to Egypt (more traditional than the Hellene connections of Luke, John, and Paul), honors the Christchild as a king. But of the three gifts, two refer to death. The perfumes are for a corpse.

I do like what Walsh says about the invention of Santa Claus, the roots of Christmas celebrations, and the origin of the Christmas tree.

Nothing about the past is ever as simple as we think it is.

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