Now that we've entered the Christmas season, it seems like a good idea to resolve some of the confusion surrounding Christmas.
Let's begin with confusion over when the Christmas season actually starts. H-E-B, Walmart, and Kmart all seem to think that Christmas starts the day after Halloween. They're busy pulling black and orange M&Ms off the shelf to make room for red and green M&Ms even before the kids have had time to get sick from their Halloween take. Christmas lights go up at every shopping center long before Black Friday ruins what's left of our Thanksgiving Holiday. I can live with this. However, I draw the line at the biggest breach of holiday etiquette: playing Christmas music, or Muzak, so early. I'm irritated enough, when "Jingle Bells" comes over the speakers in early November that I'd like to propose a city ordinance, or perhaps a Constitutional Amendment, that forbids playing Christmas music before midnight on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas music, from "Away in a Manger" to "White Christmas." I'm even willing to smile with the kids when I hear "Grandma got run over by a Reindeer" - though that smile tends to fade after I've heard it the tenth time and know I've got at least 90 more to go before December 26.
The next confusion is a little easier to resolve: it's pronounced ponset-a (silent "I") not ponseteeea. Got it?
Perhaps one of the most controversial confusions about Christmas is the term X-mas. It seems like every year some crazed individual stops me on the street and explains that X-mas is a conspiracy to get Christ out of Christmas, then slips a tract in my hand. Last year it was a Hari Krishna at the airport; I still haven't figured that one out. In past years the tract warned about a communist conspiracy. Now that the Chinese are doing everything they can to out capitalist us, the tracts have started blaming the Illuminati. After all, if they could change the Gospels and try to blow up the Vatican, they're capable of anything. (Let's say of silent prayer for Tom Hanks for saving us, not once, but twice. And please Lord, have him get a different hairdo for the sequel.) Here's the deal about X-mas: X has long been a symbol for, you guessed it, Christ. X is Chi, the first letter of the Greek alphabet. Guess whose name starts with Chi in Greek. That's right, Christ. X is often combined with P to form , a common Christian symbol. There's even a fancy name for , the "labarum." And we all know that anything with a fancy name we can't even pronounce must be true.
Next Confusion: "Oh, Christmas tree, or Christmas tree, the faithful leaves unchanging." Nice song, but not biologically accurate. As anyone with an evergreen in their yard knows, they drop leaves just like other trees. The only difference is that the don't do it all at once, which would be nice, since then you have to rake leaves all year long rather than once in the Fall.
Finally, the most troubling confusion: The innkeeper. This guy got a raw deal. He always gets blamed for turning Mary and Joseph away because there was no room at the Inn. I blame Fontanini. They make those nativity scenes that look like Botticelli knockoffs. You can buy extra sheep and goats. Three wise men not enough for you? You can have a different wise man for every one of the Twelve days of Christmas. And buildings? You can get stables (in the brochures, referred to as crèches) tents for your wise men - and inns, all with no room. The inns look like quaint, medieval (which makes them more quaint), Irish pubs: warm, inviting, full of fun and fellowship. Who wouldn't want a room in that inn? Never mind that a room in a real (read not quaint) inn was the Medieval equivalent of the penthouse suit. Not something a humble carpenter could afford. No, Joseph might have been able to spring for an efficiency, which at the time would have been a space somewhere on the floor of the common room surrounded by other riff-raff sleeping on the floor. Extra for a space close to the fire
Inns at the time were outposts of the Roman Empire. They looked more like armed camps than quaint Irish pubs. They were not designed for warmth and good cheer. They were designed to provide caravans, critical to the Empire's economy, a safe haven from brigands and hostile tribes. So, think a huge open space surrounded by a palisade topped with stakes, a place where the caravansaries could bring their camels, build a fire, cook their food, and get a good night's sleep - all in the open. They were noisy, dusty places lit by the fire of burning camel dung when wood was scarce. Is this where you want the wise men to find the baby Jesus? The stable, at least, was quiet. And probably more sanitary. So, let's give a little Christmas forgiveness to the innkeeper. May he sleep in heavenly peace.