The day after Thanksgiving Yule trees were stacked against the local supermarkets, hardware and feed stores, early casualties in the annual collision between high commerce and high holidays. Black Friday, a day when, at least here in the States, madness sets in on the side of commerce. Mild-mannered, feast-sluggish human beings turn into fearless berserkers all for the sake of deals on stuff, briefly appreciated yet then long-added to the general clutter of their lives. And then there is Cyber Monday, for those who prefer their shopping on-line instead of in-line (a safer prospect, if reports from last week are valid). Now it seems that some retailers were so thrilled by the cash flowing into their coffers that they are extending the lunacy into today. (A sign of an improving economy people say, and I do hope they’re right.)
Being warriors, Mithras and the Maccabees would likely have enjoyed a knock-down drag-out at the gates of Walmart – taking the side of ill-treated employees, of course.
What about the Magi? The fact is, we turn our legends to suit our political, social, even economic needs, so much so that it is possible we got it all wrong in the process.
This lead us to a fertile swath of “What if…” thinking. What if, for example, that ancient trio of wizened cameleers (mentioned only in St Matthew, by the way, and thus verging on the apocryphal from the get-go) were actually on their way to Tyre for some sun and surf. In all that uncharted desert, they zigged when they should have zagged (it could happen) and wound up in Bethlehem – last stop before Jerusalem and a sharp left turn to the sea.
Of course, being foreigners, they were clueless about the census and attendant inn overflow (even for the well-heeled); still, there was room to put their mounts up for the night, and this simple traveler’s chore led them to crashing a poor lad’s birthday party. Not wishing to seem ungracious – or illiberal – they rummaged through their howdah bags and found gifts; just a few things of little import to men of wealth, but priceless to a family struggling to stay in the working class.
There was gold: coins most likely, though we’re never told. A handful extracted from a bag reserved for travelling expenses. A pittance to a mage (or monarch, depending on the translation), but a wondrous start for a young lad swaddled in manger-warm straw. (Makes me think of the Treasury Bonds so many of us got from our Grandparents.)
Frankincense: Interesting gift. The sort of thing any mage would carry for daily rituals (or, on the chance they were headed for Miletus, not Tyre, where frankincense was an expected offering to Apollo. He could be a generous god and not begrudge the lack of a nugget or two.)
And then there is myrrh. I always figured this was Melchior’s contribution to the birthday haul. He’s depicted as eldest of the three, all grey haired and rheumy. It is not too far fetched to imagine him carrying his personal stash of myrrh just in case he didn’t make the return trip to those who would tend his corpse. Still, he must have been feeling rather spry to gift a baby with a portion of his sacred resin.
Aren’t “What ifs” wonderful?
Now that I have inadvertently offended some of you, I want to be clear: I am not anti-holiday, by any means. I deck my lemon tree with tinsel, keep Chanukah with dreidel games and bright abandon, and exchange Solstice presents with glee. I am also no Scrooge. I give when and what I can (frequently without rhyme or reason) and have written off more than a few loans over the years as the simple cost of friendship (aka the Polonius Effect).
All of which brings me, circumlocutorily, to my current dilemma: I am a writer. Writers survive by selling books. After the writing is done, we are more marketers and shills as artists – or at least we’re expected to be. And what better time to flog our wares than around the holidays when wish-lists are long and wallets are open.
Why then do I look upon the coming weeks with growing dread? (I mean, compared to some, my books aren’t even that expensive.) Because my strong anti-materialistic streak gets twitchy and prickly, eager to strike a blow against my financial self-interest and for the simple home-made gift from the heart. In short, the season remains an open invitation to unceremoniously face plant on the bitter macadam of commercialism.
Today is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Some are calling it Giving Tuesday. A time to turn away from the stuff lining store shelves and on-line warehouses and to giving a little time or money to those who need it most. Perhaps a bag of kitty toys for your local animal shelter or a box of books for the VA hospital. Perhaps just signing up for an hour or two at the neighborhood hospice or soup kitchen. Not much in the grand scheme of things, but the sort of giving that goes to the heart of the season.
And, if, at the end of the day, you have a Dragon-loving bibliophile on your holiday list and are still inclined to treat their fancy, I’d be right chuffed if you considered putting a copy of The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook or Dragons for Beginners under their Solstice tree. (also at Amazon and your friendly, neighborhood bookstore)