ENH251/ Mr. Jacobsen
December 15, 2014
A time when Santa Claus didn't yet arrive by sleigh. In Italian, German and Polish colonies that were taming the Concordia-SC region, known as the headquarters of Sadia and Seara with their excellent meat products, we were only familiar with Baby Jesus. Those were times of a deep and naive faith that informed every detail of life. For children, Christmas was the culmination of the year, prepared and yearned for. Finally Baby Jesus came with His little mule (musseta in Italian) to bring us gifts. Learning to love is never easy. It means letting go of a lot of things that don’t really matter. With a little child, it’s easy. They’re totally vulnerable and dependent, and so our natural maternal and paternal instincts take over. We incline naturally to want to love children and make sure they’re safe and comfortable. We’re willing to keep at bay whatever calamities lie outside our domestic perimeter, that this baby might sleep peacefully through the night and rise up eager and filled with hopeful expectation.
It’s harder to love the less innocent, people who are grown up and especially those who make choices that hurt us, sometimes knowing they’re hurting us but who do it anyway. This is why we’re so easily hurt by family members, and friends. And why we sometimes steel ourselves against them, even when we don’t consciously intend to.
The region was pine forests as far as the eye could see and it was easy to find a beautiful little pine tree. This was decorated with rudimentary materials from that area that was still under construction. Popular wisdom connotes myth with “primitive untruth.” Myths are, in fact, neither—neither primitive nor untrue. They are, rather, a kind of poetry that helps us make sense of the world and our place in it. They are not to be taken literally, any more than Shakespeare or Mark Twain or Emily Dickenson. They should, however, to be taken seriously. People who reject myth out of hand, it seems to me, are as confused about its intention as those who take it literally. The key—if you want to understand myth—is (1) enjoy it as poetry, and; (2) demythologize it. If you strip away the myth—see it as myth (as metaphor and poetry), that is, then you can enjoy it all the more, and see its value and meaning all the more clearly.
So what’s the Christmas myth? Basically, it seems to me, it’s about faith. And hope. And renewal. And also, Christmas is about the means to nurture these needed qualities—faith, hope, renewal—in our communities and in ourselves. When we understand myth as poetry we realize that all parts of the story are happening all the time. Nevertheless, the Christmas myth focuses on one particular winter, roughly 2000 years ago, when Jesus of Nazareth—a man later executed by Roman authorities—was allegedly born. The nativity narratives that we’re all familiar with essentially reflect the efforts of early Christian mythmakers to conflate the natural cycle of the returning S-U-N with the birth of one particular S-O-N. They wanted Jesus to be born in Bethlehem so that he’d be—through Joseph, whom they rendered more or less a step-father—in the lineage of King David. The myth makers also put wise men (professors, scientists, of their day) and shepherds (hard working everyday hustlers) in attendance, and raging tyrants out to get the baby, that we might recognize the birth’s importance.
Below, around the Christmas tree, we put up the nativity, made of scraps of paper that came from a magazine to which my father, a schoolmaster, subscribed. There was the Good Joseph, wholly devout Mary, the wise men, the shepherds, the little lambs, the ox and the ass, some dogs, the singing angels we hung on the lower branches. And of course, in the center, Baby Jesus, whom, seeing Him almost naked, we imagined to be shivering with cold, and it filled us with compassion. In the face of darkness the human capacity to