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Christmas Eve Around the World



     Christmas is a time to give thanks. Among my many reasons to be thankful are the e-mail greetings I have received from WAISers. Then I must remember SCOLA, which allows us to tour the world from a better vantage point than a balloon. Jules Verne would enjoy it.
     For this we must thank Father Lubbers, who, in addition to his SCOLAstic duties, must be busy this weekend. He is a Jesuit, and I take this opportunity to apologize for all the nasty thoughts I once had about the Jesuits, the result of my original training as a French specialist. My guess is that Jules Verne despised the Jesuits, since that was the mood of the France of his day.
     While I am engaged in the papal exercise of apologizing, I want to apologize to a nun, an anthropologist, whom I never met. Years ago, she wrote her dissertation on the Patagonian Indians. I have little patience with cultural anthropologists who seek out an isolate tribe and then idealize it. I wrote a sharp review of her dissertation, and it has bothered me ever since. since. The young lady needed support, not mean-spirited academic damnation, admittedly less serious than eternal damnation.
     Since this is the time to celebrate children, I wish to apologize also to a Brazilian man, who, if alive. must now be well on in years. Then a small boy, he was sitting next to me in the airplane. I was trying to read the newspaper, and he kept interrupting me. Finally, he looked at me with wide, reproachful eyes and said sadly "You do not want to talk to me, do you?" Those eyes have haunted me ever since, especially at this time of child worship. Well, that's enough apologies for today.
     Going back to Father Lubbers and SCOLA. which allowed me to witness Christmas Eve in the "Christian" world.: here are some highlights, or perhaps lowlights. In Bethlehem, Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar was there as the guest of Arafat. He toured the Road of the Star, which the Wise Men are supposed to have followed as they entered Bethlehem. It has been restored with Spanish help, and the street sign has a translation in Spanish. He then descended to the crypt, supposedly the birthplace of Christ. Outside vendors were busy trying to sell their wares. The ceremonies opened with a march by some kind of military band, the players wearing kilts and tooting on bagpipes, presumably a hangover from the pax britannica.
     Rome was all agog as St.Peter's prepared for the Pope to open the great Holy Door. In preparation for the Y2K ceremonies, the mayor has cleaned up all the historic buildings, and the city gleams. This is fated be to be a flash in the smogpan, because of the prevalence in Rome of pollution, that symbol of the human race. Elsewhere in Italy there was rejoicing. In Assisi, the restored Basilica of St. Francis, with its splendid frescoes, had been rededicated, while the victims of the earthquake, still living in small temporary buildings, compared them to the manger where Christ was born.
     In Padua, home of St. Anthony, there was rejoicing. His feast day is June 13, but he gets a second feast day since the child he is holding is supposedly the Christ child. The cathedral, very plain by Italian standards, has received from the Pope a rather odd modernistic statue of St. Anthony. He is shown with his two arms outstretched. In one he holds the Christ Child, who miraculously does not fall. The other has a hand into which the faithful visitors are supposed to place theirs.
     The merits of St. Anthony are a little confusing to me. He is reputed to help people find lost objects, but he also helps girls find a mate. Most of this section was taken up with a young monk, clearly enchanted by an attractive girl, telling her she would find a husband. I suppose boyfriends are like buses. If you lose one, wait for the next. They are scheduled to pass every fifteen minutes.
     Christmas Eve was different in Corsica. Rival nationalist gangs have been blowing up public buildings and killing each other. They held a joint meeting in the mountains, where, with their heads covered in black hoods like the Ku Klux Klan. they received newsmen. After explaining that the truce was just temporary, they stopped before an image of the Virgin and crossed themselves.
     The perversity of youths is manifest in these cowardly masks. In the Basque provinces, similar ETA gangs were at "work". The Guardia Civil caught two vans just about to enter Castile on the Madrid road. Each carried enough explosives and detonators to blow up several Madrid buildings. Spaniards were appalled and relieved. The captors were hailed as heroes. Leaders of the Basque Nationalist Party lamely said it had not been proved that the captured ETA members actually planned to blow anything up.
     Otherwise, Spaniards went about their Christmas business. Although fish and lamb are the favorite Christmas foods, the stores were abundantly stocked with all kinds of meat and goodies. People were advised not to eat too much and told what remedies to take should they fail to take the advice. Women were busy buying themselves necklaces for Christmas. For some reason they were warned that the gold might affect their skin and advised to paint them with clear varnish before wearing them. The neck, inside and out, is the problem. Otherwise, in Spanish TV, the nativity motive was about as present as in this year's Christmas cards.
     Closer to home, headlines in the San Francisco Chronicle proclaimed that Christmas is a great time for shoplifters. For unto us a child is born... WAISer Marta Weeks, an ordained minister, will be busy lifting souls. "God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay"... I must confess, some things do.

Ronald Hilton - 12/24/99


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