Innocents, Still

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Cuenca, Ecuador

Lisa Brunetti, an artist and friend who blogs from her home in Ecuador, greeted her readers on Christmas day with a heartfelt Feliz Navidad and a reminder of a charming Ecuadorian custom:

At the  midnight hour on December 24th, many people in Ecuador pause during their late-night meal and raise a toast to Baby Jesus. They exchange greetings with everyone in the room; then they return to their seats and resume their meal.

Other Ecuadorians, on their way to Christmas Eve Mass, carry the Christ-child from their families’ nativity scenes to the church. The infants are placed on the altar until midnight. At the end of the service, they’re carried back home and returned to their mangers.

It’s a lovely tradition, reminiscent of some Americans’ practice of leaving the manger empty until Christmas Day. Once the baby Jesus has been tucked back into the heart of his family, we sigh over the loveliness of his mother, admire the steadfastness of his father, give a nod to his humble surroundings, and go our way. What comes next isn’t our concern.

The temptation to abandon the Christ-child to eternal infancy isn’t particularly surprising. Babies offer challenges, to be sure, but there’s very little more touching than the sight of a sleeping infant, warm and secure. More than a few parents and grandparents have been heard to murmur the ages-old wish: “If only this time would last, just a bit longer.”

Life doesn’t allow for such freeze-frames, of course. Gazing in delight at innocent babes in bassinets is only the beginning. Soon enough come colic and teething, followed closely by the terrible twos.  Eventually, orthodontists, tutors or coaches come knocking at the door. The driver’s license becomes unavoidable, as does that awkward young man with the skateboard and tattoo who appears to know the daughter everyone assumed was spending weekends in her bedroom, reading.

Sometimes life hands out worse than a tattooed skateboarder. Unhappy choices of friends may lead to a Saturday night call from jail, or a suspension from school. Now and then, illness diverts the flow of life, or accidental injury. Given the unpredictability of life, it’s impossible to know what’s just around the bend. Whatever it is, it may be heading straight for us, perfectly capable of  doing in our children, and us along with them.

In countries less fortunate than the United States, the challenges are different, but equally daunting. Preventable diseases like measles and malaria, environmental scourges like shistosomiasis, and simple malnutrition lead to much higher infant mortality rates. Violence, insurrection, civil war, and genocide kill or displace hundreds of thousands every year.  

While our Christmas celebrations often romanticize a single stable, children born today into stables and barns, refugee camps, colonias, barrios, and slums around the world continue to suffer and die. They are defenseless, with few advocates, and their needs rarely are considered. Innocents in every sense of the word, they have done nothing to deserve their fate.

Massacre of the Innocents ~ Illustrated Bible, Monastery of St. Bertin, France (c. 1200 CE)

The Christian Feast of The Holy Innocents, celebrated on December 28, commemorates the death of such defenseless children.  According to historical sources, King Herod the Great, Rome’s man in Judea, already was wearing his crown a little uneasily when Jesus was born.  

Given to tyrannical and repressive behavior,  Herod lived in a state of hypervigilance, fearing both Rome and his own subjects alike.  After a visit from the Magi, the traditional Wise Men from the East who prophesied the birth of another, more powerful ruler capable of usurping his authority, Herod reportedly ordered the slaughter of all boys in Bethlehem under the age of two.

Whether the massacre is historical fact remains an open question, although evidence exists that Herod’s ferocity was real, even when it came to his own sons. But no matter how many Bethlehem children actually died by Herod’s hand, their Feast Day stands as a reminder that power is not always kindly disposed toward innocence. In every age and across multitudes of circumstance, power seeks to maintain itself at the expense of the defenseless.

An especially poignant and mournful Christmas song commemorates the killing of those defenseless infants. Named for Coventry, England, the 16th century Coventry Carol formed part of the Medieval Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, an entertainment rooted in 14th century morality plays and provided by tradesmen to their towns.

One of the oldest unadapted carols we have, the Coventry Carol retains both the original lyrics (words attributed to Robert Croo, 1534) and tune (Thomas Mawdyke, 1591). Both were recorded in 1591, and their preservation makes the Coventry Mystery Plays especially memorable.

“Coventry Carol”  ~ Collegium Vocale Gent
Lully, Lullay, Thou little tiny Child
By, by, lully, lullay
Lullay, Thou little Tiny Child
By, by, lully, lullay.
O sisters, too, how may we do
For to preserve this day,
This poor Youngling for whom we do sing
By, by, lully, lullay.
Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.
Then woe is me, poor child for thee,
And ever mourn and sigh
For thy parting, neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lully, Lullay, Thou little tiny Child
By, by, lully, lullay
Lullay, Thou little Tiny Child
By, by, lully, lullay.

Understandably, Coventry’s carol rarely is heard in retail spaces during the Christmas season, but it’s equally uncommon in congregational settings. Medievalists love it, as do madrigal groups and chamber singers, but it’s not Joy to the World or Adeste Fidelis. Offered the chance to move beyond familial scenes bathed in golden light toward a feast memorializing the slaughter of children, even our violence-ridden culture seems to hesitate.

Perhaps because of its unapologetic realism, the Coventry Carol has become one of a multitude of Christmas songs rarely experienced today.  Too archaic in language, too bleak in tone, too reflective of realities we prefer to ignore, and far too straightforward in its recognition of innocent death, the Coventry Carol makes us nervous.

Ignoring reality has its perils, of course. Birth is only the beginning. Life is movement; time passes, and history continues to unfold. Herod may be gone, but his successors live on, determined to preserve their positions of power at the expense of innocent life.

Certainly we are free to turn away, to avert our faces, to imagine ourselves innocent of complicity in events unfolding in time.  But we cannot profess to love the babe in the manger while choosing to ignore the needs of children living among us.  If we can come to see in Bethlehem’s stall every child of Christmas; if we dare to preserve against slaughter every poor youngling for whom the angels sing; we may yet free them from the world’s hand, and transform their song of darkness into a dance of light.

Dancing Coventry Carol ~ Farah Canale, Principal, Anchorage Ballet

Comments always are welcome.

127 thoughts on “Innocents, Still

  1. “But we cannot profess to love the babe in the manger while choosing to ignore the needs of children living among us.” And yet so many professed Christians are willing to do just that. I’m always blown away by your ability to weave the past to the present and to make history relevant and interesting.

    1. We all share some responsibility for the world around us. I’ve always thought that every faith community is particularly vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy, because of the nature of the ideals they profess.

      I do love these old, somewhat mysterious, and yet beautiful carols. I wrote in the past about another favorite, “The Kingfisher’s Carol. I dare you to listen to it a couple of times without starting to sing or whistle along.

  2. In the 1920s my father and his small family (parents, younger brother) fled not to Egypt to escape Herod but to the United States to get away from the dual scourges of Communism and anti-Semitism. Human nature seems to guarantee that tyrants will always be with us, alas.

    On a lighter note, I initially read “they’re carried back home and returned to their mangers” as “they’re carried back home and returned to their managers.” The mind’s a capricious manager.

    1. My first experience of what living under tyranny might be like came during my return visit to Liberia in the 1980s. Between the Samuel Doe coup and the first civil war, life was precarious enough for expats, and terrifying for many Liberians. It only got worse, and by the second civil war, Charles Taylor probably could have bested Herod in any worst-tyrant contest. Like your father and his family, many Liberians fled, hoping for better lives elsewhere. Unfortunately, Communism, anti-Semitism, and Liberian chaos endure.

      Your misreading’s humorous, and actually quite apropos. Managing a full-fledged Christmas celebration is a full-time business, and I don’t doubt that in some household or other without a competent manager the baby’s been misplaced.

  3. Our church choir sang the Coventry Carol, and I found it particularly beautiful. The tune, that is; certainly not the words! To think of all those innocent lives snuffed out. Much like the Holocaust or other murders of those not in power. Perhaps Herod and others of his ilk should have been relegated to asylums, but wait. There weren’t any of those, were there? Very thought-provoking post, Linda.

    1. My sense is that Catholic congregations observe Holy Innocents more often than Lutherans, even though the feast day is on our liturgical calendar, too. Some people I know object to it, saying it’s too close to Christmas — but that’s rather the point. The music is beautiful, and I love that it’s one whose history can be traced.

      I did take the time to read the history of Herod’s rise to power, his political affiliations, and his eventual demise, and it was compelling stuff. The same dynamics that are abroad in our world were present then. Human nature is what it is, and every era has its portion of tragedy.

    1. I find myself irritated by those who promote in-your-face political discussions at holiday meals (“Don’t be a coward! Confront Granny about her retro attitudes before you pass those potatoes!”) but, on the other hand, a little quiet conversation and personal examination isn’t bad. Besides, we clean up our homes before guests arrive; it wouldn’t hurt us to devote a little energy to cleaning up our world.

  4. We have a cruel and unstable tyrant in the White House, whose policies are leading to the deaths of innocents in captivity at the border. He masquerades as a Christian, even as he seeks to increase his power.

    Thank you for reminding us of the slaughter, Linda, and for the carol and the reminder it brings. I pray that all who hear it take it to heart. The ballet video is absolutely mesmerizing.

    1. I don’t think I’d quibble about “unstable,” but I’d demur on “tyrant.” Our president isn’t what I’d consider tyrannical, though his ability to sow confusion and chaos is something to behold. As for any person’s faith, that’s not something I’m willing to judge. There is that Biblical line about “by their fruits ye shall know them,” however. It’s often been useful to me.

      I’m glad you like the dance. Pairing that old, old carol with electronic music and dance was a bit of genius. It’s been a favorite since the day I discovered it.

  5. Beautiful, thought provoking seasonal post.
    My late grandfather’s birthday was on feast of Holy Innocents.
    Lovely childhood memories of midnight mass when baby Jesus was placed in the manger to the hymn ‘Come,come,come to the manger ..’ sung by choir soprano & accompanied by the organ. This was in our village church in North West England.

    1. Then Holy Innocents has even deeper meaning for you. I trust your memories of your grandfather are as cherished as those memories of childhood Christmases at the church.

      I’m not familiar with “Come, come, come to the manger.” I found this version by the Westminster Cathedral Choir — is it the version you grew up with? Another called “Come to the Manger” is described as a Slovak carol. It might be a different arrangement, or it might be a different carol, from a different tradition. Both are lovely.

      I hope the coming days of the Christmas season are peaceful and joyous, and that your new year is the same.

      1. Yes Linda I have many happy memories of my grandfather, the only grandparent I ever knew.
        We had many happy holidays on his farmhouse in Co Donegal, Ireland.
        I have just listened to the Westminster version of Come to the Manger which is the version we used to sing. Listening to it again has been the icing on the cake for me at this time.
        Many thanks 🙂

  6. Think a moment about a man who was engaged to a woman, found out she was pregnant with a child he knew wasn’t his, and married her anyway. And raised the child as his own. Joseph did.

    1. If I may be just slightly tongue-in-cheekish here, there’s a whiff of the miraculous in the situation you describe no matter the time or place. More seriously, the very ordinariness of it all has its own lessons to teach.

  7. Beautiful Linda, and thank you for passing along this version of the holiday. I am in transit, stopping at friends’ home but not long enough for serious internet use. Will be back online – just not sure when!

    One friend wrote and shared her family’s Ecuadorian dinner/tradition which is very similar. I’ll ask if I can pass along her personal story.

    May the week be a quiet and lovely one for you! Lisa

    1. Safe travels, and all good wishes for this joyous, in-between week. I’ve enjoyed delving into so many different traditions this year — and yours are some of the most appealing. If you’re not online before the New Year, I hope the celebration is delightful, and the prelude to a wonderful year!

    1. Thank for for the kind words, and for the link to Artway. I found several interesting entries, and intend to go back and explore. As well as the “Mother and Child,” I enjoyed the recent post about the manger. There’s a wonderful variety of art associated with this remarkable season.

  8. You weave the past with the present so easily for us. We certainly need to remember the Innocents around us today. I somehow think of those children brought across the border who have no choice in the matter.

    1. And not only children brought by their parents across our border. Children in a variety of circumstances have no control over the realities that confront them: even in our most pleasant suburbs or wealthy enclaves, there are children attempting to cope with everything from alcoholic parents to simple neglect. Every summer, we hear the stories of children who’ve died in hot vehicles: left there by parents or carers who “just forgot” them. As one father said last year, “I guess I had a lot of things on my mind.” Apparently his child wasn’t one of those things.

    1. Whatever its complexities, the real world still beats imaginary worlds, hands down. As imperfect humans, the chance of us perfecting the world are slim to none. But making it better? We certainly can.

  9. I must admit to being familiar with the tune but not the lyrics. I’ve always enjoyed the sound of it. Now, it will remind me of the story. Not a bad thing. There is much we ought to be more aware. Perhaps we can do something positive about the negatives. Our recent trip to Peru reminded us of how poverty is a hard load to carry. People work hard within it, and yet try to be hopeful. For Christmas presents to our grandchildren we gave gifts of llamas in their names to Heifer International.

    1. I know someone who also gave the gift of llamas to her grandchildren through Heifer International. What I thought was most interesting was that she kept following up on the gift in concrete ways: taking the kids to see llamas at the zoo, giving them stuffed llamas the next Christmas, and so on. It was a neat way to concretize the gift, especially since her grandkids were quite young.

      It is interesting how so many of our Christmas carols and songs become little more than additions to the seasonal soundtrack playing in the background. Some have become more popular because they’re easier to sing, or make good performance numbers. Still, these old carols always have interesting backgrounds, and they’re fun to learn about.

  10. I do remember the Jesus in its manger which my parents would always set out each year at Christmas time. All the figures were the genuine clay baked ones. Through the years some broke but would be re-glued again. The Christmas tree was a real one. A spruce on which home made fondants would be hung. They were magical times. The Christmas period would be with white snow and a walk to the Mid-Night Mass by our whole family.
    A lot has happened since, but remnants of the magic of Christmas still linger. With all the abuse that the churches’ masters are now found to be guilty of, it is hard going.

    Thank you, Linda.

    1. There’s not a thing wrong with re-gluing the holy family. I have crucifix hand-carved by a man in a Liberian leper colony that had an arm broken when someone (ahem — the kitty sitter, no doubt) knocked it off the wall. A steady hand and a little superglue did the trick, and after some time, I stopped noticing the repair.

      I wasn’t sure about the fondant, so I looked it up, and discovered there’s such a thing as rolled fondant that can be cut into shapes, like clay. That must have been what hung on your tree — like our candy canes, in a way. And we shared snow, too. Snow on Christmas eve always was magical.

      As you say, that magic does linger. Perhaps the best news of the season is that the message endures, regardless of the quality of the messengers.

  11. I sang this carol in choirs many years ago and was able, without hesitation, to call up its music now. I am startled, however, to realize, on reading your post, that I knew nothing of what it depicted. It’s remarkable to me that no one who taught us to sing the carol thought to say something about that. Perhaps our teachers didn’t know, either.

    1. It does have a haunting, memorable melody, doesn’t it? When I was looking for a good version to present here, I was amused by the number of YouTube comments I found that objected to its ‘dissonance.’ It may be the minor key that sounded odd to them. I thought this was interesting:

      “The song was written in a minor key, then a recent invention. (The Aeolian mode, on which the minor key is based, doesn’t contain any sharpened of flattened “accidental” notes.)”

      “The Coventry Carol also contains a much cited example of the Tierce de Picardie (Picardy Third). This is where final tonic chord of a phrase or melody in a minor key is replaced with the tonic major. Conventional wisdom would have it that shifting from minor to major in this way would produce an uplifting effect.”

      As for your teachers, they may simply have accepted it as a lullaby and let it go at that. Who was singing that lullaby, and to what purpose, certainly isn’t common knowledge.

  12. A provocative and a sobering reminder of so many millions who have perished at the hands of tyrants–how many more?
    The carol is lovely, the tune so familiar. I was unable to listen to the first recording, but the the ballet rendition was beautiful.
    My favorite Christmas memory was going to Christmas midnight services with my mother and singing carols and lighting the candles. When my son was little I sang Silent Night to him as he went to sleep. Away in a Manger is among my favorite and still brings tears to my eyes as I sing it, as it did on Christmas Eve in a sweet candlelight service here in Ajo. There was no choir, no recorded music, just one very enthusiastic man who led us a cappella and made me laugh when he brought his fingers to his mouth during Silent Night indicating we should sing more softly in one part–and then started belting out the tune. Loudly. I started giggling.
    May we remember the innocents in our prayers. Thank you for this beautiful post.

    1. Not only have perished: are perishing. The genocidal treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar; the persecution of Yazidis, Shiites, and Christians in Iraq and Syria; and the ethnic killings in Darfur have been well-publicized in recent years, but current and historical examples seem endless. From the Ukranian famine, to the Holocaust, to the killing fields of Cambodia, the lust for power and control seems boundless. Herod was bad, but he wasn’t the worst.

      That said, the lullaby survived: beautiful enough to be included in the Christmas canon despite its haunting reminder of an unhappy event.

      Midnight candlelight services with my parents are cherished memories for me, too, but I love your story of the service at Ajo: especially your giggling. I had to dig out this wonderful bit from Annie Dillard, who wrote about her congregation in Holy the Firm:

      “We had a wretched singer once, a guest from a Canadian congregation, a hulking blond girl with chopped hair and big shoulders, who wore tinted spectacles and a long lacy dress and sang, grinning, to faltering accompaniment, an entirely secular song about mountains. Nothing could have been more apparent than that God loved this girl; nothing could more surely convince me of God’s unending mercy than the continued existence on earth of the church.”

      I suspect we’ve all had those experiences, and with age and wisdom, we just smile and say, “Yes.”

  13. It’s sobering to think of all this in a season which is associated with so much warmth and merriment. I hadn’t known about it.

    I love the medieval carol. I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard the Coventry Carol before. Despite being Jewish, when I was a child I sang in the school choir, singing Christian hymns, and I wish I’d known about this sort of music then. Not sure my voice would have done it justice, though, and I wouldn’t have understood the words.

    Not sure why but it makes me think of this: https://youtu.be/oLCkMnOcz2M Maybe the emotion in it.

    1. The medieval carols are filled with haunting imagery, and in at least a few instances, like The Coventry Carol, haunting music. I thought it especially interesting that the minor key just was beginning to be used at the time of the carol; that’s part of what gives it a sound unlike, say, “O, Little Town of Bethlehem.”

      That may be part of what brought “The Host of Seraphim” to your mind. I’d never heard the group, but liked the complexity of the composition: especially the Middle Eastern influence. In turn, you brought to mind this version of “Adiemus, Karl Jenkins’s lyric-less composition. Using voices as instruments, they create the same strong sense of emotion.

      1. The minor key is loved by Jewish people so it probably began long before medieval music and may be more authentic than most people realise.

        Ah, yes, I know Adiemus. Love it.

    1. I’m delighted that you know it, and like it. I can’t remember exactly when I first met the carol, but I’m almost certain it was in the late 70s when I was visiting friends in NYC. They were great fans of early music, and introduced me to much I’d never been exposed to.

  14. It seems rather unfair to only love a child when they are newborn, perfect, innocent. Loving the child in the traumatized adult who is acting out is harder, but I think that it is sacred. Thank you for this lovely reminder!

    1. There’s nothing especially lovely about a tantrum, particularly when the tantrum-thrower is fifty years old. Of course, a whole range of childish behaviors endure into adulthood, from denial (the chocolate-faced kid who so did NOT eat that cookie!) to passive-aggressive resistance. We all have our ways, and you’re right: however small our traumas, having someone who can recognize them for what they are is a blessing.

      1. Half of my job in clinic is trying to figure out what level a person is on and then checking other levels. Sometimes they will shift to a deeper more mature one and sometimes they won’t. And sometimes they won’t but they return later on to talk about that deeper level. With substance abuse people get stuck in whatever maturity they are in when they started, so that can be fairly weird. When they stop drinking/using, they may start maturing again. Or not.

  15. Like Jim R I have enjoyed the music of the Coventry Carol but have never really listened to the words, so it’s good to have these reflections. Hopefully leading to actions. I love the ballet video.

    1. It’s such a simple song, and so soothing, that I suspect many people never really listen to the words; they just enjoy the sound. Even if someone hears the words, there’s not really anything in the song itself to suggest it’s anything more than a lullaby. Context may not be everything, but it helps!

      I’m so fond of the ballet video. I’m happy it pleased you, too.

  16. A very moving post, Linda. As a child, I think I was more aware of the plight of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. And, in Sunday School, the wickedness of Herod was impressed upon us, although not in graphic detail. When I was in Egypt the story of the nativity and the Holy Family’s escape to Egypt was told so vividly it was hard to believe it hadn’t happened just the week before. Your post made me realize how sanitized the Christmas story has become for many just in the course of my adult years. Somehow the real world context of the story has been pushed into the background.

    Of Innocents, who are with us still; I was learning today about a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, Venerable Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, who, while living in the US, was called by the State Department to assist with the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees. Of course he did so willingly. This prompted me to look further into the Vietnamese refugees, and I found this interesting article https://www.nytimes.com/1975/05/07/archives/ford-asks-nation-to-open-its-doors-to-the-refugees-president-in-tv.html How far we haven’t come with regard to the Innocents.

    1. I’ve been trying to remember our Sunday School Christmas pageants. All of the important characters were involved — Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, wise men — but I don’t remember Herod being involved at all; at best, he showed up as an explanatory footnote offered by the narrator. I hear that bathrobed shepherds and tinsel halos are out today, although I think I prefer our version to the slick productions that have gained favor.

      The thought of contemplating the flight into Egypt while in Egypt is fascinating. I did an image search for ‘flight into Egypt,’ and found some remarkable images. One of the most unusual is “Flight Into Egypt by Boat”, by the Flemish artist Hieronymus Wierix. I can’t remember ever seeing boats portrayed as part of the journey, but after looking at a map and seeing that it’s only 135 miles from Ashkelon to Port Said, I can at least imagine it.

      The article you linked to would open some old wounds in my neighborhood. On my list of tales to be pursued in 2019 is the story of Little Saigon, the name given to the harbor just down the road from me where the Ku Klux Klan once set Vietnamese fishing boats on fire — just to add a little emphasis to their general harassment. The Texas coast was a hotbed of shrimper conflict in the 1970s and even into the 80s. While there still are some resentments today, there’s no direct conflict that I know of — but some research is necessary. There are some delightful and touching signs of the incorporation of the Vietnamese community into the larger society. Barbeque still is king, but there are plenty of cattlemen who like their Phở.

        1. The church is lovely, with an interesting history. I did smile at this first sentence: “The ancient Virgin Mary Church in Maadi is believed to be the Holy Family’s point of departure to Upper Egypt.” I think a better way of phrasing it would have been “The ancient Virgin Mary Church in Maadi is believed to mark the Holy Family’s point of departure to Upper Egypt.” Perhaps there was a different sort of building there at the time, but the Church as a movement was a few decades away.

          Still, it’s lovely to imagine Egypt generally, and Mary and Joseph’s time there specifically, although it must have been a relief when they were able to return home.

          1. Having travelled some of Egypt by car and found the journeys tiring, I find this journey of the Holy Family (even allowing for tall story telling) mind-boggling. Going home by the quickest route possible, as they are reported to have done, would have been an enormous relief.

  17. I’ve never heard this one but I’m not surprised. the christianity of today, at least in this country, is full of hypocrisy. to include this carol should cause christians to look at their own behavior. the anti-abortion crowd that only cares for the child to be born but not for the child itself, the policy of denying families fleeing from violence safe haven and tearing children away from their parents at the border and incarcerating them, this administration’s attempt to end the free breakfast and lunch program in schools for kids living in poverty to name just a few. do these so called christians know anything about the man they claim as savior?

    1. The states control who gets the state and federal funding for free lunches in schools. Our schools locally serve 3 meals a day – and during summer lunch is served free to any kid who shows top at several locations – with adults only charged $1.00 (they had to start charging adults last summer) A good deal of charities and local businesses give financial assistance for these programs as we all think children learn better when not hungry. All states are free to do the same.
      The free in-school family health clinics were closed by the last administration’s decision to pull their share of allotment of money to fund the new health care plan options. Donations could not keep them open.
      There were 6+ city wide Christmas gift give aways for children (along with free clothing /shoes, are health checks and vaccinations, dental care multiple times during the school year) in this city funded by concerned citizens and some sports athletes as well as sponsored and paid for city wide dinners for Thanksgiving and Christmas – for whoever wanted to show up.
      Please take care about generalizations about groups of people – especially about those in border states who are almost tapped out. Our schools are full, the amount of money available to be spent on each citizen child reduced as mandates insist new arrival must have extra funds spent on them for emotional well being as well as education/language acquisition. Our foster homes are full. Our shelters are full.
      No one is against organized, orderly immigration – it’s what built this country. Ancestor immigrants waited their turn – (and did not proudly wave their old country’s flag in the entry points faces while all the time claiming their own country is terrible to them?)
      We need Congress to stop playing hooky and rewrite the immigration laws (which now mandates splitting up of families – a left over from the previous administration – it was supposed to deter dragging kids along on dangerous journeys. It didn’t. How many must die?) and help the DACA individuals. Negotiate with the President and fix the darn laws. That’s what we sent you up there to do.
      Odd that the Bible does report that Joseph and Mary were obeying the laws of the land and traveling for the mandated census even though is was a great hardship for Mary. There are those more qualified than I to discuss the verses in the Bible about people obeying the laws of the lands – like paying taxes, Although most of those are old testament I think, but there’s also a thing or two about it in the New Testament. All in interpretation these days – like everything.
      Difficult to consider anyone who starts quoting the Bible these days. So often out of context and an attempt to guilt trip – a cheap emotional appeal rather than appealing to logic, intellect, and universal human ethics.
      Some say religion is fine – it’s when people organize into churches that ideas/things get mixed up and warped. Organized churches are no stranger to politics – neither are activists groups. Hypocrisy is eternal and everywhere, it seems.

      1. My gracious. There’s a good bit to ponder here. You might take a look at my response to Steve Gingold, down below. I added a few historical details re: the census and the trip to Bethlehem, as well as the flight into Egypt. Those details are getting mashed up in some truly creative ways of late.

        You’re right that generalizing is fraught with difficulties. For example, I know people who assume it’s the poor and poorly educated who aren’t vaccinating their children, but it’s often well-off and supposedly educated people who are denying their children vaccinations. Last fall, California’s Marin County, one of the wealthiest in the country, issued this travel alert . This particular triumph of ideology over science could end by putting us all at risk.

        You’re right to point to Congress as being part of the problem. Whether power struggles among factions in the newly-elected Senate and House will lead to change, or simply perpetuate old patterns of behavior, is hard to say. I guess we’ll find out.

        1. Frustration. Totally frustrated with things from all angles and places. Thanks for clarifying some points – I was having to rely on memorized things from long ago.
          Basically if people would go back to live and let live – try to live gently in the environment, and help your neighbors when your own are cared for – well can’t turn back the clock that much perhaps
          Especially with Congressional leaders without any term limits as a brake, become millionaires on taxpayer’s backs and vacation in Hawaii and Bahamas rather than showing up for work and doing their job in DC.
          ( Measles scare at Newark with passenger sick, flu epidemic for all ages everywhere – and this new polio like disease on the rise…people may sadly learn that you’d better take what preventative measures you can get – and which work – or pay dearly. Sigh)
          Oh meant to add comment that we had the baby in the manger early, but moved the shepherd and 3 kings closer and closer to Mary and Jospeh during the holidays. Not really a local thing – probably a teaching moment by parents? Anyway that was fun and I still do that.)
          Hope springs eternal with a new year..

    2. Ellen, I’ve read your blog long enough to know how deeply you despise both Christians and the Church. When I open a new post and find you’re ranting again, I simply close the page and go away. In those instances, I don’t feel any need to argue with you, and the same is true now.

      I will say I was interested in your last sentence. I’ve had occasion to interact with a few Christians over the years, and I’d say the answer is both “Yes,” and “No.” Beyond that, judging the quality of a person’s faith by their stance on specific issues can be risky business, no matter the faith tradition.

      1. well, I feel duly chastened here. I hope you read this Linda because I’m not angry and don’t consider this a rant though I know I can be rather intense in my opinions at times. this is an attempt to explain myself a little and apologise further down the line. I do know that there are plenty of christians who act according to the tenets of their faith and that these are the ones we never hear or read about, and I know generalizing is bad and not to paint with a wide brush, just like I know that not all muslims are terrorists. in my defense here, my comment above was directed at those specific individuals attached to the instances I mentioned…the anti-abortion crowd, the family separation crowd, the people that deny hungry children lunch and shame them for it (and not mentioned, the evangelicals and others who support a self proclaimed sexual predator who espouses hate and fear, who institutes policies that do nothing but harm). these people exist and they will tell you they are good christians. I don’t despise individuals, I have no hard feelings against those who go about their lives quietly doing good when and where they can regardless of the religion in which they place their faith with no need to proclaim it to the world or force it on others (and if those beliefs give them peace and hope well, I’m happy for them). what I don’t care for is the hypocrisy of the ones and congregations that claim the moral high ground and the politicians they support to try to code their religious beliefs into law, those who use those beliefs to add misery to the lives of others. I’m not sure I would go so far as to say I ‘despise’ the Church, I think it would be more accurate to say I have little respect for it (and the reasons behind that are separate from the actions of its adherents).I just don’t do religion, any religion. I think religion does more harm than good (I can’t separate today from it’s history, all the horrors that have been done and are still done and will be done in the name of whatever religion). I didn’t just wake up one day and decide this. it was a decades long transition based on an interest in and study of the origins and history of religion. I tend to focus on christianity when I think about it because that was my upbringing and I live in a predominantly christian nation and it’s more personal for me and as a non-believer I’ve been asked where I get my morals as if religion is the only source of such, I’ve been judged because I’m not a christian, I’ve friends judged because they don’t go to the ‘right’ church, my religious cousin who when my son was being sent to Iraq sent him a shoebox full of religious tracts telling him to repent now and accept Christ before it was too late, my husband growing up and his family discriminated against because they aren’t christians. I have friends who are demonized by religion/believers for who they are and who they love and want to deny them their civil rights. I can only surmise that people who don’t see this as offensive, don’t see it because it doesn’t affect them. you might assume from this that I’m an atheist. I’m not. but my particular concept of The All That Is is about as diametrically opposed to the Abrahamic religions as it could possibly be. So I apologise to those good christian people whose beliefs only apply to their lives if I have offended them. I’ll probably continue to be angry at and point out the hypocrisy of those who don’t walk their talk and use their religion to club other people over the head that think or believe differently or use it as justification to do evil. live and let live. do unto others as you would have them do unto you. why can’t we just live like that?

        well, this has taken me several hours to write and I’ve edited it about a million times and even now wonder if I should respond at all, but oh well, you know me, when have I ever shied away from controversy.

        1. First, I think it’s a wonderful response, and I appreciate it.

          When you described some of the things you’ve seen and experienced — that shoebox filled with tracts and the discimination against your husband, for example — it makes sense that you’d be upset. On the other hand, it’s worth remembering that clubbing people over the head — literally or figuratively — has precisely zero to do with Christian faith.

          One of the things that frustrates me most is hearing someone say, “Christians believe this” or “Christians believe that,” when the beliefs they’re holding up as Christian have nothing to do with the historic teachings of the Church. One example is the growing number of televangelists and others who proclaim that faith will lead directly to wealth, and that if you’re not rich, you’re not faithful. More often than not, their message ends up lining their pockets, but there’s nothing about it that’s Christian.

          The same thing has happened with the perfectly good word ‘evangelical.’ It’s odd and sad that the word that once meant ‘good news’ (it’s rooted in the Latin evangelium) has taken on such a negative meaning. The way it’s thrown around today, it’s become almost synonymous with particular political positions, and that has nothing to do with its original meaning. In fact, the word ‘evangelical’ didn’t get attached to certain varieties of Protestantism until the early 1800s. Today, its meaning has narrowed even more.

          I do think it’s worth remembering that as obnoxious, hypocritical, and flat nasty as some people of faith can be, there are many others here and around the world who only are attempting to live out their faith in community and peace, and are being persecuted for it. One example is China, where Christians and Muslims alike are facing everything from the destruction of their houses of worship to imprisonment and ‘re-education.’ Like the children of Coventry, they don’t deserve their fate.

          Well, on we go. I hope your New Year’s eve is a good one, that the fireworks don’t completely undo the dogs, and that the year to come is a productive and peaceful one.

  18. Your description of how the innocent baby boy growing up to be a big Dennis the Menace is so apt. And an image that I’d succeeded in avoiding on my part, just hope the next generation will follow. :)
    And o so sad about another migrant child died in U.S. custody. Utmost tragic irony for the parents hoping for a better life for their children.

    1. It is unfortunate (such a weak word!) that two of the migrant children have died. Still, I can become irritated by the quickness with which people are willing to condemn border agents trying to cope with a chaotic situation. Their superiors? The politicians? The bureaucrats? That’s a different issue.

      I grieve for all of the children who are being used as pawns by a variety of groups and officials. Hysteria doesn’t usually lead to good policy-making, as we should have learned by now but apparently haven’t.

      On the other hand, I have no fear at all for your ‘next generation.’ Maybe the Asian American Press needs to consider a special reviewer for young people’s films in a few years!

  19. I’ve a friend in Cuenca where that lovely image is from. Beautiful architecture laden with history.

    A Very Happy 2019 to you. I look forward to your photos and essays all year long.

    1. I hope your holidays were good, Judy. I enjoyed the poem you posted, and I’m looking forward to sharing the new year with you. Let’s hope it’s more peaceful than the last, weather-wise and otherwise.

  20. It always starts at home and moves outward, doesn’t it, Linda. Maybe it is a matter of how large our soul is, or how large our vision. Parents are the greatest guarantee of a child’s safety. But the responsibility expands to family, community, state, nation and world. When we fall back into tribalism, where people not of our tribe are devalued, whether we define a tribe as the way a Liberian does, or by race, religion, ethnicity, nation, sex, etc., we all lose. And the most innocent, the least protected, the most vulnerable: the children, lose first. A very thoughtful and appropriate post. Thank you. –Curt

    1. One day I ended up in Phebe’s morgue, helping to prepare a newly-deceased patient for burial because the employees assigned to the task were of a different tribe; they simply refused to touch the body. Whether it’s an individual or an entire group of people affected by tribalism, the effects are real, and sometimes can linger for decades: even centuries. Millennia, now that I think about it.

      A phrase that’s thrown about — that as a nation we have a cultural problem, not a political problem — is facile, but it still contains some truth. Parents and care-takers who ignore or reject responsibility for the needs of their children — for stability and love as well as for food and shelter — aren’t doing their children any favors. And as I mentioned to Phil in my comment to her, it’s not always the poor and less-well educated who are falling short.

      1. My students teased a lot about the tribes, but there were always serious undertones, Linda. I find it interesting the way the word/concept of tribalism is slipping into political discussions today, and what is broken in our system.
        Right, parenting and love of kids has little to do with economic status. Opportunity is something else. –Curt

        1. I’ve been thinking about another aspect of tribalism this afternoon. When the geo-political boundaries were drawn in West Africa, the Kpelle were divided between Liberia and Guinea. Still, their primary identification remained tribal rather than national. It was changing when I was there, and I’ve read that national identification has increased since the civil wars, but it’s still slow.

          Now I’m pondering this: in our country, the geo-political boundaries (despite multiple shifts over time) came first, and now our one big “tribe” — Americans — is beginning to splinter. It’s interesting to see tribes coalescing into a nation in one instance, and to see a nation fragmenting into identity groups in another. There’s a dissertation in there somewhere, but someone else is going to have to write it.

          1. Tribalism was and continues to be a major issue throughout Africa, Linda. The colonialists deciding up the continent with no consideration for tribal loyalties certainly didn’t help. I remember that from my studies way back at Berkeley when I was focusing on International Relations and African Studies

          2. Wow, that shot out without being finished. WP drives me crazy at times. Anyway, a significant portion of my African studies at Berkeley was focused on the problems caused by the colonialists dividing up Africa with no consideration of tribal boundaries. The America-Liberians were trying to counter tribalism in the mid 60s when I was a volunteer there, but they weren’t willing to give up any of their power or privileges to accomplish the goal.
            As for the US, I think the tendency for tribalism is always out there, lurking. It’s in our genetic makeup to naturally not trust someone who looks different, or talks differently, or believes differently than we do. It takes effort, and vision to get beyond that point. A million years of evolution has preprogrammed us. –Curt

            1. WordPress drives us all crazy from time to time. As for tribes, at least once in my life a tribal reference made me laugh when I needed a good laugh. During the evacuation for Rita, I’d just rolled into Nacogdoches after 14-1/2 hours on the road with my mother and my cat. It hadn’t been pleasant, but when we got to the LaQuinta at 4 a.m., the manager was standing at the door with a tray of coffees and orange juice. He gave me the once over, then asked, “Are you tribe Katrina or tribe Rita?” It was wonderful — and an appropriate question, since people who’d evacuated from both storms were settling in. Every time I think of it, I laugh again.

  21. Your well-written narrative reminded me of a winter scene that has stayed fresh in my memory for quite a number of years. Our rural fire department responded to a vehicle fire at a rural home about ten miles away and when I stopped my truck between the vehicle and the house and joined the other responders in extinguishing the fire I glanced over my shoulder at the house and saw three small children with their noses pressed against a window, watching us. We were able to quickly extinguish the fire and kept it from reaching the house. Besides a haunting memory, it was a good lesson that each of us, within our abilities, has something positive that we can do to help protect the innocent and helpless.

    Have a great New Year!

    1. What a touching story, Terry. I can see the children, and imagine them both confused and a little anxious. Isn’t it something how an event like that stays in our minds? Cameras are wonderful things, but they’re not the only way we hold on to our experiences.

      You’re right about the importance of local, personal efforts, too. There’s an old line that goes, “I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand.” It’s meant to be a joke, but it’s funny because we recognize the kernel of truth in it. If we spend forty hours a week working on behalf of the handicapped, for example, but ignore and push past a wheelchair-bound person trying to get into the post office, we still have a lesson or two to learn.

      Every good New Year wish to you, too.It looks like the mountains are getting their snow — happy hiking to you!

  22. Throughout human history, the poorest and most vulnerable are also the most abused, their low-status taken advantage of by those who have more. One wonders if our existence will always spawn such unfairness. Refugees continue to turn towards the better parts of our world in hopes for a happier and more just life yet, all too often, meet similar or worse misery. So many during this season of celebration have pointed out that the person whom we celebrate was born to refugees who were also refused sanctuary. It appeared we were headed in a more beneficial direction for all of us but in reality we took one step forward and now two steps back. I’ve always been a pessimist and see no hope for my outlook to change any time soon.
    I want to think that this will turn around and the world will once again move in a better direction but history is less than encouraging. Anyway, this post is well crafted and a good thought provoking piece for us all to ponder.
    Despite my pessimism, best wishes for the coming year, Linda. May you experience calm winds and warm dry days to spread your varnish and accompany you on your travels.

    1. Will there always be unfairness in life? Of course. Learning how to cope with the unfair situations that come to us all — whatever form they may take — is part of our task as humans. If I hadn’t learned some of those coping skills in my younger years, I wouldn’t have been equipped to handle an occasional unfairness or two that came along later. Of course, there are systemic issues that can build unfairness and inequality into a society, but that’s a different issue, and needs to be addressed differently.

      I do have to quibble with some versions of the Christmas story that are in vogue today. Mary and Joseph weren’t refugees when they traveled to Bethlehem. They were required to leave their home in Nazareth, in the northern highlands of Galilee, to register for a Roman census in the city of Joseph’s ancestors: Bethlehem, about ninety miles south. What evidence we have suggests they ended up in a stable attached to an inn primarily because of the crush of people who’d come to town for the census.

      Granted, as things developed, Joseph became convinced that Herod was a very real danger to his family and they departed for Egypt. At that point, they quite rightly could have been called refugees — but they weren’t refused sanctuary in Egypt. In fact, Egypt was a logical place to seek refuge, since it was outside the control of Herod. Once Herod died, they were free to return to their home.

      Of course, people always will disagree about the meaning of the story, just as there’s room to disagree about this or that detail. But there’s something in it that rises above our human predispositions to pessimism or optimism, just as that mythic star rose above Mary and Joseph’s road. I do love that star!

      1. Speaking of the Christmas star… Did you have opportunity to see the Christmas Comet, Comet 46P/Wirtanen while it was visiting earlier this month? (Peak brightness was on Dec. 16th.).
        Wirtanen has a current orbital period of 5.4 years, but after gazing up with wonder over these past few weeks, I couldn’t help pondering if this was the star the wisemen followed…

        1. No, I missed that, thanks in part to clouds. Even had there been no clouds, I don’t think I would have had the technology or the skills to pick it up. However! I think you’ll enjoy this post. Not only are there great photos, I learned that Brian May, former lead guitarist for Queen, is also Dr. Brian May, astrophysicist.

  23. It makes me sick at heart how so many of the most fervent Christians are also enthusiastic in their support of crimes against the innocent, at least those with brown skin. No doubt they prefer to deny that the innocents of Bethlehem were of the same hue. Thank you for the beautiful carol, it was unknown to me. Historically, Americans are an optimistic people, we prefer to close our eyes to tragedy, but I sense that is shifting.

    1. Yes, and there are many non-Christians who are equally fervent in their denigration of those who differ from themselves. We call this the human condition.

      My eyes were opened to some of the complexities that can occur when I lived in Liberia, where repatriated American slaves proceeded to happily enslave the tribal peoples from the interior. They set up hatreds that eventually devolved into two civil wars that came desperately close to destroying the county. If you’d like a close look at that, the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell is a good place to start.

      In the end, the movement toward peace was begun by a coalition of Christian and Muslim women. They didn’t sit and snipe at one another, they joined forces for change. It’s one of the most inspirational stories of our time. You can see a brief trailer here.

      1. So interesting to me that this beautiful post has invited a harangue about the evils of Christianity. Yes, harm has been done and I have suffered, and many others have suffered much more than I, from the evils inherent in organized religion. Close to home, Native Americans, further afield so many ways Christianity has done harm because of man’s greed and ignorance. But Jesus message still resonates over 2,000 years, and we still celebrate his birth and honor the babe in the manger, even if we celebrate on a pagan holiday as we are often reminded. And if we are paying attention and open our hearts the hymns can make us weep.

        Watched the trailer…hope to watch the movie soon.
        Thank you for your forum, Linda.

        1. Well, people have strong feelings about things that are important to them. Unfortunately, there are those who profit — quite literally — from stirring the pot and setting people against one another, and the fear of being ridiculed, shamed, or otherwise punished for speaking freely is real. In the grand scheme of things, my little blog is nothing, but it may be that in forums like this we’ll begin to talk to one another again, instead of throwing verbal bombs.

          Humor and satire have taken quite a hit in the past few years, but your comment reminded me of a favorite song that first was popular in 1959: sixty years ago! It’s amazing how current it sounds — even though a pretty high percentage of our population wouldn’t have a clue who John Foster Dulles is. Have a listen, and enjoy. A new year’s coming, and I have confidence that we’ll make it through, despite it all.

      2. I didn’t mean to imply that Christians were uniquely at fault for injustice or hypocrisy. There is plenty of bad behavior to lay at the feet of other religions. It’s just that in this country, at this moment, evangelical Christianity is, in my opinion, playing a uniquely negative role in our public life. Of course, a century ago evangelical Christianity was the core of the movement for the abolition of slavery. History is full of irony, as you point out, and no people or religion is inherently the villain or hero. Louis de Bernieres has written that who is the oppressed and who the oppressor is largely a matter of historical coincidence, and I mostly agree with him. I have only a passing familiarity with Liberia, so thanks for the links.

        1. Sorry, I’m stuck in the 1960s, perhaps in more ways than one! A century ago was the 1910s, long after the abolition of slavery! I should have said a century and a half, and earlier decades as well.

        2. Part of the problem is that fine distinctions tend to get lost in discussions like these. For example, the theologies and politics embraced by those claiming the evangelical label can differ as widely as those among denominations. Evangelical fundamentalists of the Jerry Falwell sort have no more similarity to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America than Primitive Baptists have to Catholicism.

          In the beginning (which is to say for centuries) the ‘evangel’ simply was another way of speaking of the good news of the Gospel, and evangelism was a matter of spreading that good news. Then, in the 1800s, a strain of Protestantism took on the name Evangelical, and we finally ended up where we are today, with ‘evangelical’ being equated in the public mind to a particularly perverse form of Biblical fundamentalism.

          Of course, beliefs shape behavior, as I learned in Liberia. I’ll never forget my shock at discovering that, while the Lutheran Church vaccinated Liberian children for measles depending solely on need, another denomination demanded conversion and acceptance of Jesus before they would provide vaccinations. Both denominations claimed to be evangelical. Which was proclaiming the gospel is open for discussion.

          The Liberian mothers weren’t stupid, of course. They understood measles, and they understood the power of immunization. There were a lot of ‘conversions of convenience’ in order to get their children vaccinated. There was a funny Liberian-English term for it that I can’t remember, but it tickled me at the time.

  24. Yes, so much so, the need to remember everything in liturgical time and tradition and remember more than our beloved Infant Jesus but the first martyrs who died for Him, as we see in the East that the Holy Innocents are just these. I did not realize in the West that the day for this is Dec 28th as in the Orthodox East it’s Dec 29th. Thank you for this essay and the time and thought you took to write it and share it with us.

    1. I enjoy comparing traditions, and have learned so much about Orthodoxy from your blog. In our calendar, the first commemoration of a martyr actually comes on December 26, with the feast of St. Stephen. He’s included in a carol, too:

      Good King Wenceslas looked out
      On the Feast of Stephen
      When the snow lay round about
      Deep and crisp and even…

      That carol also has an interesting history, particularly since Wenceslas was a real person. I think it might be good to explore it during next year’s Advent and Christmas.

      Blessings to you in this holy season, and every good wish for a peaceful and joyous New Year.

    1. Caring for the children of the world can be such a joy — particularly when we have opportunities to interact with the kids personally. Even when we don’t have that chance, there’s something immensely satisfying about helping to stabilize and enrich their lives.

      I hope Sam’s continuing to improve, and that you all roll into the new year happy and healthy!

    1. You said it best in one of your recent posts: the birth of a child enlivens a family. And now, we’ve celebrated the birth of a child who — despite everything said and done in his name — continues to enliven the world. Now, on to the new year we go. Who knows where we’ll be in another year: both literally and figuratively? I’m wishing you all the best, and easy decision-making!

  25. As others have written in comments here, the music of the Coventry Carol is familiar to me, but I’d completely forgotten the lyrics and the story they tell. The great world spins about us, with grace and great injustice evident. I’ll take your post as a reminder to do what I that can to make a difference, great or small.

    1. I’d say it’s easy to forget the songs that aren’t promoted, but of course there’s so much bad Christmas music being forced upon us between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s easy to tune all of it out. Sometimes we tune out more — grace, and injustice alike. But when a song reminds us of those twin realities, and moves us toward a greater sensitivity, that itself is a great gift.

      I hope your Christmas season was a good one, Tom, and I wish you all the best for the new year.

  26. Interesting post. And oh, how I agree that as a believer in Jesus, I must always remember to be mindful to care for the innocents, the children of the world. It’s one of the reasons my family has always supported children’s mission and orphanages, “adopted” a child in an impoverished country, and supported local community organizations who do the same. I also agree that the Coventry Carol is seldom heard any more, except in my living room at my piano. I’ve always loved the almost haunting music of that song; it’s so very beautiful and I particularly enjoy it sung acapella. May you be blessed in the new year!

    1. In truth, there’s always someone in need of special care: the veteran, the homeless, the elderly. Still, there’s something about a child in need that tugs at us. I still remember a child begging for attention in a grocery line while her mother did whatever she was doing with her phone. Eventually the poor girl stopped trying, and just stood in line with tears running down her face. Granted, the mother could have been doing something important, but a minute’s attention to her child wouldn’t have hurt.

      I’m not sure I’ve heard this carol sung a capella. I love the period instruments, but I think it would be beautiful with only the human voice. I hope your new year’s filled with singing, and that joy abounds for you.

  27. Thanks for this. I had a colleague who once said that a pastor’s theology is tested on their mettle, or not, to face this text. On another note, especially in response to your latter comments, Inshallah has sung Away in a Manger with a couple of the verses from Away and in Danger as found here: https://www.hopepublishing.com/find-hymns-hw/hw5787.aspx Our director, Debbie Lou and I wrote a couple of alternate verses:

    God meets us in strangers
    And helps us to see
    that helping my neighbour
    is God helping me.
    The little Lord Jesus
    Arrives in strange ways
    That startle our privilege (singing priv-lege)
    And quiet self-praise.

    Be near us dear Jesus
    We ask you to stay
    Close by us forever
    To shape loving ways
    To live with each other
    As one human race,
    Show us how our weakness
    Is God’s place of grace.
    (copyright The Kanata Centre 2017).

    1. I noticed that the song you linked to included a note that one of its words is Maori. When I looked up Shirley Erena Murray, I found that she is from New Zealand, and has been a prolific writer. I suspect my NZ readers might know about her; I’ll pass on the link to them. New Zealand, and also Australia, have had their own conflicts over refugees, as you no doubt know.

      I especially like the second verse of your version. The absence of graciousness in our relationships with one another on every level suggests not an absence of grace, but a refusal of grace. I’ve always loved Leonard Cohen’s line about light getting in through the cracks, but that assumes allowing the cracks to be. Our propensity to turn to emotional caulk or ideological duct tape to conceal the cracks is understandable, but in the process we also block the light.

      Happy New Year to you, Allen. May it be filled with light and joy!

  28. Beautifully crafted, Linda. Your segue from the child in the manger to all the other innocents was smooth as silk. And oh!! I haven’t heard the Coventry Carol for years, and I love it. Always have. I don’t know where I first heard it, but I was young, and I think it may have been in church. What a delight to listen to that respectful rendition – just the song, just the lyric, nothing more is needed. I’ll save it.

    1. I think it’s one of the most beautiful of the carols, and it’s even more special that we know its history. Like much medieval and Renaissance music, it seems to deepen the silence around it, rather than breaking the silence. I’m glad to have reminded you of it; I was pleased myself to discover the group who performed it so beautifully.

  29. Pray your last sentence will come true. Not a full month has passed since “the babe” was celebrated. His absence is loud for those who would listen to him now. Sorry I am so late to this post. Your music was new to me. Thanks.

    1. You know there’s no ‘late’ around here, Oneta. I keep my tree up until nearly Epiphany on January 6, and I’m always willing to extend the spirit of the season even longer. I do love the old carols. I enjoy listening to them throughout the year. “Jingle Bells” doesn’t seem so appropriate in July, but music like this has the ability to stir the heart at any time — like the message of Christmas.

  30. Christmas is so special in each country. This post made me think and read about Holy Innocents Day and then about Epiphany as well. In Puerto Rico, Epiphany is an important festive holiday, and is commonly referred as Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos, or Three Kings’ Day. It is traditional for children to fill a box with fresh grass or hay and put it underneath their bed, for the Wise Men’s camels. The three kings will then take the grass to feed the camels and will leave gifts under the bed as a reward. I grew up celebrating this festivity.

    The period after Three King’s Day is called “Octavitas”. It is a celebration that goes eight days following January 6th. It’s an extension of the Christmas season in Puerto Rico. Like many celebrations during the holiday season, this one had a religious origin. The “Octavas”, as they were originally called, began following 3 days of commemorating each of the 3 “Reyes Magos”. It started with Gaspar on the very January 6th, then Melchor on the 7th, and Baltasar on the 8th.

    On January 9th came a celebration to what was known the “3 Marías”. The same day began the “Octavas”; the 8 days of celebrations.This means the “Octavas” went on until January 16th, meaning that many Epiphany festivities extended beyond January the 6th. In Spanish-speaking countries, the Orion’s Belt asterism is called Las Tres Marías (The Three Marys). In other Western nations, it is sometimes called “The Three Kings,” a reference to the Gospel of Matthew’s account of wise men, who have been pictured as kings and as three in number, bearing gifts for the infant Jesus.

    According to Wiki: “The three stars of the belt [Orion’s Belt] are known in Portugal and South America as ‘Las Tres Marías’ in Spanish, and as “As Três Marias” in Portuguese. They also mark the northern night sky when the Sun is at its lowest point, and were a clear marker for ancient timekeeping. In the Philippines and Puerto Rico, they are called the Los Tres Reyes Magos. The stars start appearing in early January around the time of Epiphany, the Christian holiday commemorating the visit of the Magi to the Child Jesus.”

    1. That’s so interesting about the various festivities in Puerto Rico. I knew about Three Kings’ Day, or Epiphany, of course, but the Octavitas was completely new to me. I very much like the thought of each of the Kings having his own day, and the ending of the period with the 3 Marías is even nicer.

      In the same way, I’d never heard of the stars in Orion’s belt described as the 3 Marías. Orion was one of the first constellations I learned to recognize, just after the Big Dipper. It rode high in the sky during the Iowa winter, and in those cold, clear nights it would shine so brilliantly.

      I thought I remembered a similar Dutch custom of leaving out hay and water at night, and finding gifts in the morning. They do have such a custom, but it’s for St. Nicholas’ Day, on December 6. The hay and water aren’t for reindeer, but for the saint’s horse.

      In an odd connection to the three Kings and their traditional gifts, I purchase organic soap and lotions from a company in Kansas City. Their best selling fragrance is frankincense and myrrh — and of course there are touches of gold in its packaging.

      I love the thought that celebrations still are going on in Puerto Rico tonight. Thank you for introducing me to these charming customs!

      1. You’re welcome. All of those names are really folkloric in nature. I just found out they are also called ‘The Three Sisters’.

        I also read more about the Magi in an apocryphal writing called ‘The Revelation of the Magi’. In it, the Magi are not three but twelve. It’s interpreted by Bible scholar Brent Landau. I’m sending you the link to the PDF. I know, it’s lengthy, but this last Christmas I felt compelled to read more about the Magi, and this writing is just so beautiful to me. Here it is:
        https://goo.gl/rG6r59

        The products allusive to Three Kings from Kansas City seem very original also. I’ve bookmarked the link also. Thanks.

        1. I’ve studied the traditional books of the Apocrypha (Judith, Tobit, Sirach, and so on) but there are other non-canonical writings that are fascinating, and it sounds like this is one. I’m glad for the link, and will read it. I read Elaine Pagel’s The Gnostic Gospels in the 1980s, and found it fascinating. Her life story is as fascinating as her research, and inspiring; she had to deal with a good bit of loss (a child, a husband) in a short time, and her writings about that period are remarkable.

          1. I’m glad you liked it and thanks for your link which is even more fascinating. Elaine Pagel has a really interesting article in Wiki: https://goo.gl/qX4wcj She’s similar to Brent Landau in that she’s a modern scholar who analyzes religion from different historical perspectives. It’s really interesting. Thanks for sharing it!

    1. I’m glad to know there’s another appreciator of this carol lurking around. It is beautiful, and a fine counterbalance to all things sugary and schlocky during our overwrought Christmas season. (Besides, as I like to tell people, there is no ‘late’ around here. Slow writing and slow reading make fine companions!)

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