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Christmas: Ancient and Modern



     Christmas in its least commercial form was naturally in Vatican City At 11:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, the Pope solemnly opened the Holy Door, symbolizing Christ's role as the entrance to a better life. A masonry wall blocking it had been knocked down, and "the treasure" taken out, a box containing indulgences which looked like gold bars. After all the trouble they caused, it was surprising to hear indulgences are a feature of this holy year. It was not clear if they are upgraded and Luther-proof. That takes us to Germany, a well-fed, advanced industrial country. Food was uppermost on the Germans' mind. In Nüremberg a world-famous toy festival was held; the multinational crowd included the inevitable smiling Japanese. The Christchild is an attractive girl, aged about sixteen, wearing a big gold crown. Given the fact that she must have specified measurements, it would not be surprising if the Germans claim that they invented Miss America and Hollywood, a claim which Vice-President Gore would certainly refute. The Christgirl distributed free certificates attesting that the visitors had been to the fair. They then went off to gorge on repulsive-looking sausages in rolls. In Dresden the crowd ate chunks of a three-ton (!) cake. In Lübeck, the fair was held in the infirmary and crypt of a church. Villages in the Bavarian Alps had not forgotten what Christmas was all about, nor presumably had those in the Austrian Alps, where after all "Silent Night" was written.
     Mexico is an underdeveloped country, and there Christmas was celebrated with sincere devotion. Cardinal Norberto Rivera read a message of goodwill to all Mexicans, while in Spain a similarly moving message was read by King Juan Carlos, but it contained no direct reference to the Christianity of Christmas. It was addressed to Ibero America, of which Spain is implicitly the leader. Was the king referring to that when he urged people to respect their parents?
     Both Mexican and Spanish TV devoted time to moving scenes of the natural disasters which have afflicted the peoples of Venezuela and Colombia. There is no Christmas rejoicing for them. The Spanish program ended with a section on the bankers of New York, who have so much money that they do not know what to do with it. They lounge around looking bored, and they pay fabulous prices for Christmas presents. Christmas a season of goodwill toward all men? For Spaniards, to the suffering people of Venezuela, yes, but to New York bankers, no. Was this a subtle attempt to reinforce Latin American, or rather Ibero-American resentment of wealthy Americans? Fidel Castro may have been watching the program approvingly, but there was no mention of his attending Catholic mass.
     Final assessment? The advanced industrial nations failed the Christmas test. In the spirit of Christmas, let us give them a social passing grade.

Ronald Hilton - 12/25/99


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