Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Story of Yule - a fairly factual account

We interrupt the regularly scheduled travel blogs to bring you my annual Christmas story:

Many centuries ago, in a faraway, densely wooded land with picturesque rivers, lakes and corpse-filled peat bogs, the happy Celts sang, danced and sacrificed animals to celebrate the return of the Sun in late December. They lit giant fires, hung decorations on trees, laid out presents for the gods and made their little part of Europe pleasant and gay so the Sun would return from its celestial holiday to warm the frozen ground.

One day, a boat appeared on the horizon. This had happened before, so the native Celts knew what to expect: rape, pillage, and attractive blonde and blue-eyed babies. But this boat was different, less decorated. There was no fierce wooden dragon leading the way on the prow. Perhaps the Vikings were going through a modern, minimalist period of boat design, they thought.

Instead of the strapping, muscular, Arian eye-candy that usually jumped off the boats into the icy surf, two men in plain brown woolen robes slogged up the shore. They carried no weapons, so the Celts generously decided not to skewer them on the spot.

As to what went through the minds of the two robed and soggy men, it went something like this: I’m freezing cold and wet for God. Doing this for God. Hope I don’t lose a toe to frostbite, it would be really hard to wear sandals then. HOLY SHIT there is an army of buck-naked men wearing gold jewelry staring us down. I am not gay, dear God I am not gay.

Vikings had come before, rival tribes had come before, but what the fuck were these two guys doing, thought the Celtic chief. They weren’t undressed for war. They had no weapons. They wouldn’t last long. But, it was almost Yule, and the chief was in a good mood brought on by mead and mildly hallucinogenic wheat mold. He was inclined to be generous.

So the Christian missionaries came and stayed.

It has been said that both guests and fish begin to stink after three days, and the missionaries stayed a lot longer than that. Every year they tried to talk the Celts out of their pagan festivities.

They looked upon the wintry festival of the Sun's rebirth and were appalled at the wild behavior of the pagan partiers. The missionaries glared at the scantily clad men and women leaping around fires and toiling on richly detailed stone and metal decorations. Every year when the party was just getting started, the leader of the Christian missionaries would approach the Celtic chief and ask "wouldn't you rather honor one God instead of a whole bunch?” And every year the answer was, “Have some mead and sit down.”

The missionaries tried changing their tactics, “It's economical! You could cut down on your sacrifices and parties and institute a proper work ethic in your people. All this frolicking is not only bad for your eternal soul, but your finances too." Now, partially since the chief was stoned on ceremonial herbs, and partially because he only understood about half of what the foreign guys were telling him, he gave the missionary the old "smile and nod.”

The missionaries weren’t fooled, this wasn’t working. Hoping to feel the humble pride that comes from saving sinners from damnation, the missionaries tirelessly explained about their forgiving merciful God who condemned non-believers to eternal fiery torture and sent his own son to die at the cruel hands of Romans to pay for Man's whoopsey-daisy in The Beginning. The Celts could respect a God who held a grudge, demanded human sacrifice, and got mad easier than a PMSing priestess, but preferred worshipping their own gods who were more amenable to partying. Besides, the Christians advocated Peace on Earth, and playing drums loud enough to make the dirt vibrate and the walls of neighboring huts pulse did not fit the Christian ideal.

One early morning while the tribe members gathered logs and twigs of sacred trees to build a sacred fire around which to throw one helluva holiday bash, the younger missionary had an idea.

To the senior missionary he said, "Hey, we have a Son who was reborn, and that sounds pretty close to the Sun being reborn. Let's just pull the old switcheroo and tell the Celts that they can celebrate Jesus - the Son - in the middle of winter, and then they'll just be zealous believers instead of sinful party animals.”

The senior missionary thought this over, did some math on his fingers and replied: "But Jesus was born a few months ago, we can't have them celebrate his birthday now in the middle of winter... or can we?" A gleam caught in his eye, and a crafty smile played on his bearded lips.

He approached the semi-sober leader of the Celts and said "You know, it just occurred to me that our Savior, a very cool cat who promoted feasting, drinking and blood sacrifices, was born on exactly the same day as your pagan festival-- we even call him The Sun!"

The young missionary stood looking confused, "Don't you mean Son?"
The old missionary removed his elbow from the young man's ribs and continued as smoothly as a used cart salesman. “How about your Sun and our Son getting together? Instead of just worshipping the light ball in the sky, you can worship our guy and get an eternity of heaven in the bargain. There are lots of great parties in heaven." He winked at the younger missionary.

The leader of the Celts thoughtfully twirled the end of his long beard, picking out bits of the previous night's dinner at regular intervals. "Yes, well, that sounds all right. Can we still drink?"

"Oh yes, Jesus LOVED drinking. Did you know he made water into wine? And his last supper was quite the fete. He had all his pals over and they ate, drank, and toyed with the idea of cannibalism."

"Can we still sacrifice?'

"Hey, Jesus was a sacrifice, so we think he'd be for it."

"Can we still have the big tall tree with all the decorations and presents and have the young people make out under the mistletoe?"

"Uh... um... we don't think so,” the young missionary said, uncertainly. He was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable with the whole idea.

"Oh, well then... I think I'll have so say noo..." Said the chief.

"But wait!“ the senior missionary exclaimed, “Jesus liked giving, didn't he? So we can keep those in, and er, he'll probably be ok with it." The cold sweat settled on the missionaries’ faces as they silently prayed that God wouldn't mind trees, decorations and presents too much.

And thus was "Christmas" born and has continued throughout the centuries under very shady and dishonest circumstances.

So Happy Yule to all and to all a Good Night!

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