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Friday, December 25, 2015

THE NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF CHRISTMAS

Unique Case of Aerial Sleigh-Borne Present-Deliverer's Syndrome 
Source: North Pole Journal of Medicine, vol 1 no.1, December 1997 Author: Dr. Iman Elf, M.D. 

On January 2, 1997, Mr. C, an obese, white caucasian male, who appeared approximately 65 years old, but who could not accurately state his age, presented to my family practice office with complaints of generalized aches and pains, sore red eyes, depression, and general malaise. The patient's face was erythematic, and he was in mild respiratory distress, although his demeanor was jolly. He attributed these symptoms to being "not as young as I used to be, HO! HO! HO!", but thought he should have them checked out.
The patient's occupation is delivering presents once a year, on December 25th, to many people worldwide. He flies in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer, and gains access to homes via chimneys. He has performed this work for as long as he can remember. Upon examination and ascertaining Mr. C's medical history, I have discovered what I believe to be a unique and heretofore undescribed medical syndrome related to this man's occupation and lifestyle, named Aerial Sleigh-Borne Present-Deliverer's Syndrome, or ASBPDS for short.
Medical History: Mr. C. admits to drinking only once a year, and only when someone puts rum in the eggnog left for him to consume during his working hours. However, I believe his bulbous nose and erythematic face may indicate long-term ethanol abuse. He has smoked pipe tobacco for many years, although workplace regulations at the North Pole have forced him to cut back to one or two pipes per day for the last 5 years. He has had no major illnesses or surgeries in the past. He has no known allergies. Travel history is extensive, as he visits nearly every location in the world annually. He has had all his immunizations, including all available vaccines for tropical diseases. He does little exercise and eats large meals with high sugar and cholesterol levels, and a high percentage of calories derived from fat (he subsists all year on food he collects on Dec. 25, which consists mainly of eggnog, Cola drinks, and cookies).
Family history was unavailable, as the patient could not name any relatives.
Physical Examination and Review of Systems, With Social/Occupational Correlates: The patient wears corrective lenses, and has 20/80 vision. His conjunctivae were hyperalgesic and erythematous, and Fluorescein staining revealed numerous randomly occurring corneal abrasions. This appears to be caused by dust, debris, and other particles which strike his eyes at high velocity during his flights. He has headaches nearly every day, usually starting half way through the day, and worsened by stress. He had extensive ecchymoses, abrasions, lacerations, and first-degree burns on his head, arms, legs, and back, which I believe to be caused mainly by trauma experienced during repeated chimney descents and falls from his sleigh. Collisions with birds during his flight, gunshot wounds (while flying over Chicago) and bites consistent with reindeer teeth may also have contributed to these wounds. 
Patches of leukoderma and anesthesia on his nose, cheeks, penis, and distal digits are consistent with frostbite caused by periods of hypothermia during high-altitude flights. He had a blood pressure of 150/95, a heart rate of 90 beats/minute, and a respiratory rate of 40. He has had shortness of breath for several years, which worsens during exertion. 
He has no evidence of acute cardiac or pulmonary failure, but it was my opinion that he is quite unfit due to his mainly sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits which, along with his stress, smoking, and male gender, place him at high risk for coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, emphysema and other problems. Blood tests subsequently revealed higher-than-normal CO levels, which I attribute to smoke inhalation during chimney descent into non-extinguished fireplaces. He has experienced chronic back pain for several years. A neurological examination was consistent with a mild herniation of his L4-L5 or L5-S1 disk, which probably resulted from carrying a heavy sack of toys, enduring bumpy sleigh rides, and his jarring feet-first falls to the bottom of chimneys. Mr. C. had a swollen left scrotum, which, upon biopsy, was diagnosed as scrotal cancer, the likely etiology being the soot from chimneys. 
Psychiatric Examination and Social/Occupational Correlates: Mr. C's depression has been chronic for several years. I do not believe it to be organic in nature - rather, he has a number of unresolved issues in his personal and professional life which cause him distress. He exhibits long-term amnesia, and cannot recall any events more than 5 years ago. This may be due to a repressed psychological trauma he experienced, head trauma, or, more likely, the mythical nature of his existence. Although the patient has a jolly demeanor, he expresses profound unhappiness.
He reports anger at not receiving royalties for the widespread commercial use of his likeness and name. Although he reports satisfaction with the sex he has with his wife, I sense he may feel erotic impulses when children sit on his lap, and I worry he may have pedophillic tendencies. This could be the subconscious reason he employs only vertically-challenged workers ("elfs"), but I believe his hiring practices are more likely a reaction formation due to body-image problems stemming from his obesity.
The patient feels annoyed and worried when he is told many people do not believe he exists, and I feel this may develop into a serious identity crisis if not dealt with.  He reports great stress over having to choose which gifts to give to children, and a feeling of guilt and inadequacy over the decisions he makes as to which children are "naughty" and "nice".  Because he experiences total darkness lasting many months during winter at the North Pole, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may be a contributor to his depression.
Treatment and Counseling: All Mr. C's wounds were cleaned and dressed, and he was prescribed an antibiotic ointment for his eyes. A referral to a physiotherapist was made to ameliorate his disk problem.
On February 9, a bilateral orchidectomy was performed, and no further cancer has been detected as of this writing. He was counselled to wash soot from his body regularly, to avoid lit-fire chimney descents where practicable, and to consider switching to a closed,  heated, pressurized sleigh. He refused suggestions to add a helmet and protective accessories to his uniform.
He was put on a high-fibre, low cholesterol diet, and advised to reduce his smoking and drinking. He has shown success with these lifestyle changes so far, although it remains to be seen whether he will be able to resist the treats left out for him next Christmas. He visits a psychiatrist weekly, and reports doing "Not too bad, HO! HO! HO!".
Conclusions: Physicians, when presented with aerial sleigh-borne present-deliverers exhibiting more than a few of these symptoms, should seriously consider ASBPDS as their differential diagnosis. I encourage other physicians with access to patients working in allied professions (e.g.Nightly Teeth-Purchasers or Annual Candied Egg Providers) to investigate whether analogous anatomical/ physiological/psychological syndromes exist. The happiness of children everywhere depend on effective management of these syndromes."
http://www.dezert-rose.com/humor/christmas/ 
THANKS FOR READING ALL YEAR LONG
AND
MERRY, MERRY CHRISTMAS
- 30 -

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

BATTLE OF THE NATIVITY

I am tempted to call it a primeval struggle, drenched in antiquity, shrouded in religious fervor and destined to feed future conflict until come judgment day, whenever the heck that may  be. Except it just ain’t so. It is much simpler than that. The day after Christmas 2007, two rival gangs got into a turf dispute and started a  rumble. Somebody called the cops, who managed to separate the combatants, The Jets (AKA the Greek Orthodox Priests), and the Sharks (AKA the Armenian Apostolic Priests) were battling inside the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birth place of the Prince of Peace in Bethlehem, Israel, Palestinian Territories. And nothing about this melee made any more sense than your standard gang brawl. And yet I blame the French Emperor Napoleon III for the entire mess.
First, a word about all that antiquity – it does not appear to have happened where or when everybody now thinks it did - assuming it happened at all. Roman census or no census, there was no reason for a pregnant Mary to be making a 90 mile donkey ride from Nazareth, on the Galilee plain of northern Israel, to Bethlehem in the mountains just south of Jerusalem, in the west center of Israel. Being the man, Joseph was expected and qualified to speak for his entire family. He would have been the only one required to travel. But why require anybody to travel? The Romans census takers did what census takers still do today - they counted people where they were. That would be where their property was, and where their money was. Why disrupt business all across a rebellious province, in the name of counting people where they were not? It makes no sense.
And there is another problem, an archaeological problem. There is no archeology in Bethlehem from that period. The ground under today's Bethlehem contains Iron Age artifacts and Byzantine artifacts, but nothing in between, nothing from the age of Jesus. The village outside of Jerusalem did not exist on the night that Jesus was born.. However, there was another Bethlehem, “Bethlehem Ha Galilit”, Bethlehem of Galilee, just about 7 miles to the west of Nazareth. It seems far more likely that Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem Ha Galilit, than in Bethlehem Judea. But because Bethlehem Ha Galilit no longer existed in the fourth century of the common era, when the Byzantine Christians came looking for Jesus' birthplace, they jumped to the wrong conclusion and picked the wrong Bethlehem. So did the followers of Islam, when they first captured the region in year 627 B.C.E.  After all, Jesus is one of their prophets. But after this, things got really complicated.
See, after the Crusaders were driven out of the Holy Land in 1187 the Muslim rulers had enough respect for Christianity that they were willing to protect the Christian holy sites, and, of course, tax them. But they
did not trust the Roman Catholics, who had invaded them and now made up a majority of Bethlehem Judea’s population.  So the Muslim rulers split control of the profitable tourist sites in Bethlehem Judea between the Greek and Armenian Orthodox churches, in particular the church built upon the “traditional” site of the birth of Jesus. The Greek Orthodox were given control of one part of the building, the Armenian Orthodox control of another part. This allowed the Muslims rulers to play the two Christian sects one against the other, and to play them both off the Roman Catholics, who were now the poor relations in town.
And thus some calm was achieved in a region not famous for calm, at least until 1852, when a “firman” (or edict) was issued by Abdulmecit I, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and Caliph of the Muslim World (above). Abdulmecit issued his edict because…well, because first, in 1847 some thug stole the silver star which marked the “traditional” spot of Jesus’ birth, in the floor of the Church of the Nativity, and, more importantly, because the Sultan was weak and because Louis Napoleon III of France was a pompous political hack, who believed that he had been chosen by God to fix, first France, and then rest of the world.
Louis Napoleon III was elected to a ten year term as the first President of the Second Republic of France in December of 1848. He immediately started plotting to follow in his uncle’s imperial boot prints. By early in 1852 Louis had helped to restore the Vatican’s independence in Rome (which pleased French Catholic voters), but he had also insisted that the new Papal government be drawn up along “liberal” lines, to placate the liberal (meaning non-Catholic) French voters. But no Church ever likes to be lectured about liberal policies from secular politicians. Just try it some time and see.
In an attempt to placate the now angry Catholic voters, Louis III suggested that the theft of the star from the Church of the Nativity (five years earlier) proved that the Church of the Nativity was no longer “safe”, and control should be handed over to the Roman Catholic Church for protection - yet another politician declaring a crises which needed his genius to solve. This particular crises pleased Pope Pius IX., who had come to the conclusion that Czar Nicholas I of Russia was intent upon wiping out Catholicism in his country - which Nicholas was, the Czar being the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Louis' demand also pleased Abdulmecit I, because Albdulmecit had the distinct feeling that Czar Nicholas was about to invade Turkey - which he was. So,  under Abdulmecit's edict, the keys to the Church of the Nativity were now handed over the representatives of the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time the edict also required the Vatican to maintain the church “in statu quo res errant”, or, “as it was before”. This edict is linguistically important because it popularization the English phrase “status quo”.
Now, all of his life Russian Czar Nicholas I had been told that Russia was a military superpower and protector of the true faith, that faith being Russian Orthodoxy. And Nicholas was not about to allow a mere “politician”, least of all a trumped up “Bonaparte”, to usurp his regal and holy authority. Nicholas demanded the keys to the Church of the Nativity be returned to the Armenian and Greek priests, who would, he was certain, be controlled by him. And when the keys were not handed over,  he declared war on Turkey - of course, he had been planning on doing that anyway.  Britain and France then came to Turkey’s defense. And so Louis’ gambit to impress French voters led directly to the Crimean War, and 118,000 dead; of whom 20, 000 were French, and 73,000 were Russian.
In his rise to power Napoleon III (above) had shamelessly played one political faction off another, and eventually abolished democracy in his own state, created a throne for himself, invaded Algeria and Vietnam - both of which actions came back to haunt France a century later - and was finally goaded into the 1870 Franco-Prussian War,  which resulted in his humiliating defeat, the creation of Germany,  Louis’ own overthrow and his death. This guy was the George Bush of 19th century French diplomacy.
The Crimean War also cost Nicholas I his life. While on campaign against Turkey he caught a chill and died of pneumonia on 2 March, 1855. The Ottoman Sultan, Abdülmecit, lived long enough to see his nation plunged into debt by that same war.  By Abdulmecit's death from tuberculosis in 1861, Turkey was flat broke. His successor was dethroned.
Amazingly, the same war left Pope Pius IX alive but very frustrated. Because France had been distracted by the Crimean War, there was no help from France when Victor Emmanuel took control of Italy in 1860 from the Catholic Church and established the modern semi-secular nation of Italy.  But Pius achieved a measure of revenge when, in 1869 he issued the decree of Papal Infallibility and declared the dogma of Immaculate Conception. Together these meant that Mary, mother of Jesus, was born without sin because the Pope said she was without sin. And the Pope was never wrong, because he said he was never wrong. Neither of these were official Roman Catholic dogma until 1869, but it has been church dogma ever since. The last American President to declare this was Richard Nixon, and he got impeached anyway - so evidently it only works for religious leaders.
But, let us finally return to the Church of the Nativity on 27 December, 2007. According to the Associated Press; “....dozens of priests and cleaners came to the fortress-like church to scrub and sweep the floors, walls and rafters ahead of the Armenian and Orthodox Christmas, celebrated in the first week of January...  But the clean-up turned ugly after some of the {Greek) Orthodox faithful stepped inside the Armenian church's section, touching off a scuffle between about 50 Greek Orthodox and 30 Armenians. Palestinian police, armed with batons and shields, quickly formed a human cordon to separate the two sides so the cleaning could continue...Four people, some with blood running from their faces, were slightly injured.”
Traditionally both the Orthodox and Armenian churches have recruited their priests for this sacred post from tiny isolated villages scattered across Greece and the Balkans, where Christians (and Muslims) have been slaughtering each other for a thousand years. These naive young men now suddenly found themselves working in intimate contact and sharing the most precious artifacts of their faith with heretics. Nothing in their lives or their training prepared them for any kind of peaceful coexistence.
And the whole thing was Louis Napoleon III’s idea.  But try explaining that to a bunch of uneducated foreigners.
- 30 -

Friday, December 18, 2015

A ROMANTIC CHRISTMAS


I find it curious that Ernst Theodore Hoffman (above) is considered a romantic. I think of him as a manic depressive, and justified at that, considering that Napoleon spent most of Ernest’s life turning Europe into a slaughterhouse. As a young man Ernst did fall in love, but the lady was married. And when she turned up pregnant Ernest’s family shipped him off to Poland, where he labored as a petty bureaucrat. But he spent his free time composing classical music and writing vaguely creepy stories. One of his more successful tales was a sort of 19th century “Jaws”, except instead of a 25 foot Great White Shark, Ernest’s villain was a mouse bent on revenge. In Hoffman's story seven year old Maria receives a mechanical doll as a Christmas present, which her older brother Fritz promptly breaks. She sits up late trying to repair the toy, until an army of mice attack her doll. She saves the toy by throwing her shoe at the rodents. Now, maybe I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I think this idea has ballet written all over it. Interestingly, that idea never occurred to Ernst.
Nor did it occur to Alexander Dumas (above), the vulgar and prolific son of a French nobleman and a Haitian slave woman. See, Alex liked the Parisian good life a lot more than he liked writing. He had at least 40 mistresses, but he made enough to afford his profligate lifestyle by out doing Andy Warhol at marketing his art. Alex kept a warehouse full of writers who ground out stories under his direction, such as “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers”, and its sequels. And one of his minor best sellers was a direct steal of Ernst's hallucination, which Dumas changed just enough to avoid a lawsuit – like changing Maria's name to Clara.
Then, seventy years after Ernst died of syphilis (the ultimate romance disease), and 12 years after Alex died of a stroke in 1870, the ballet idea finally did occur to Marius Petpa (above), celebrated head of the Bolshoi Ballet Company in Russia. In 1882 the Imperial Theaters hired Marius and Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky to create the “Sleeping Beauty” ballet. This was such a critical and financial success that it established the Bolshoi as the world's premier ballet company, and Marius as a world class genius. And then like a modern Hollywood producer looking for a project to fit the marquee talent, in 1890, the theatre brought the pair together again. But this time, having over inflated these two monumental egos, the management merely suggested a sort of theatrical sandwich – a double header, both a serious opera and a light ballet staged on the same night..
The one act opera was clearly intended to be the meat in this theatrical happy meal, and being the foremost Russian composer of the day, Pyotr (above) got first choice of subject matter. He decided on a Danish story of a blind princess named Iolanta.. But then, early in February of 1891, in Saint Petersburg, Marius handed Pyotr a detailed synopsis and bar-by-musical bar outline for a two act classical ballet based the story Dumas had filched. Pyotr was appalled. He though it childish and unworthy of serious application. But, if it meant he got paid to write another opera, he would somehow make the silly ballet work. After struggling for a month he tried to remain optimistic. He wrote to one of this brothers, “I am working with all my strength and reconciling myself to the subject of the ballet.” But he also admitted “I am experiencing a kind of crisis.” This was good, since Pyotr had a lot of experience with those.
See, Pyotr had a secret that held the potential to turn every problem in his life into a crises. He was approaching fifty, and had reached an uneasy equilibrium with his homosexuality. He had tried to go straight but his marriage to Antonina Ivanova (above) had blown up after little more than a month. This raised again the threat of exposure by envious and bigoted court and church officials, who at any moment could end his career. Each contract, including this one, could be his last. What little stability existed in his life was supplied by his younger sister Aleksandra and her seven children with Lev Davydov. Pyotr wrote many of his 11 operas, six symphonies and three ballets on their Ukrainian estate near Kamenka. And now, in March, while on his way to a concert tour of America, and still trying to come up with something presentable for Marius's ballet, he learned of Aleksanda's death.
He had just seen Aleksandra (above) over the Christmas holidays, so he must have known how ill she was. Still, Pyotr was hysterical. And then, pausing in Rouen, France, he managed his agony by putting it to work. His genius was always his ability to combine the Russian musical themes with Western ones, and to subjugate his true identity into the restraints of his art. And in the “grand pas de deux” for the lead dance character of Clara, he weaved in threads from the Russian Orthodox funeral service  The musical themes of the entire ballet became darker and more nuanced. As one critic has put it, “In Clara, he found a parallel for his sister.” A ballet about wealthy Victorian children, became, with the talent of Pyotr's genius, a work for people of all ages and for all time.
When Pyotr returned from his wildly successful 25 day American tour (he inaugurated Carnegie Hall in Manhattan) he delivered his musical score to Marius in St. Petersburg, to be animated. But as the opportunity approached, the world renown genius, Marius, suffered his own crises of self confidence. The primary symptom of this understandable panic was an attack of Pemphigus vulgaris, a debilitating skin disease, usually afflicting Ashkebazi Jews – of which Marius was one. Scratching his itching skin produced open sours, which made it impossible for Marius to concentrate on the ballet. So his assistant, Lev Ivanov, took over.
Lev (above) had been with the Bolshoi since he was eight, and had a natural talent as a musician, as well as being an excellent dancer. But where Marius was a classical ballet master, Lev was, like poor Ernest, a romantic. He followed Marius's general guidelines. He had to, the music had already been composed based on them. But Lev also arranged his dancers like an impressionist painter, throwing patterns of sugar plumb fairies and swirling lines of snowflakes on point, about the stage. It was the shape and flow of the dance that interested Lev, and somehow the combination of all these hearts and souls, the romantic Ernst and the hedonist Alexander, the classicist Marius and the dark Pyotr, and now that other romantic Lev, they all gave birth, on 15 January, 1890, to the premier of “The Nutcracker” ballet at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The audiences seem to have been enthusiastic, giving five curtain calls to the Sugar Plum Fairy. The next morning Pyotr wrote to his brother, “The opera in particular was to everyone’s liking ... The productions of both...were superb” But it was a very long evening, with the Nutcracker not ending until well after midnight. 
The weary critics took it out on the dancers, calling the lead ballerina (above) corpulent and pudgy. The battle scene between the mice and the nutcracker confused them: “Disorderly pushing about from corner to corner and running backwards and forwards – quite amateurish.” The Grand Pas de Deux, so inspiring to the composer, was labeled ponderous and “completely insipid”. A week later Pyotr wrote to another brother, “Once again I am not embittered by such criticism. Nevertheless, I have been in a loathsome spirit, as I usually am...in such circumstances.” After 11 performances the double bill was closed.
Less than a year later, in October 1893 Pyotr would die during a cholera outbreak, his secret still secure. Although many have suggested he committed suicide, he did not. Lev Ivanov followed nine years later. Finances forced him to work until his death “in harness”, in December of 1901. About the same time the Bolshoi brought in the upstart Alexander Gorsky to replace the aging Marius (above) as director. While watching his intended replacement rehearsing on his stage, Marius was heard to shout, “Will someone tell that young man that I am not yet dead?!.” Within a year it did not matter; Marius was quietly retired. He did die in 1910, at the age of 92.
A year after its premier the opera Iolanta would be preformed by itself in Hamburg, Germany. But although still performed occasionally, it is now largely forgotten. The Nutcracker, on the other hand, had to wait almost 20 years before it would be performed again, staged this time by the Bolshoi's new director Alexander Gorsky, in Moscow. He saved it. Alexander savaged Marius choices, paring away minor roles, replacing the children cast as Clara and the prince, with adults, thus adding a romantic story line for them. Standing alone, the ballet was now far better received, and short enough for modern attention spans. And after the Second World War, it became the classical Christmas season production for every ballet company in the world, responsible for up to 40% of their income.
It just goes to show you – those silly romantics may be naive simpletons, but their ideas grow stronger with time because they are positive and simple, and keep being reinvented. When in doubt, we are always inspired by the romantics within us.
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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

I have two favorite Christmas chorals; the haunting Carol of the Bells, composed in 1904 by Ukrainian Mykola Leontovych, and the seemingly nonsensical Twelve Days of Christmas, which is old enough that we have no idea who composed it. In fact, the Twelve Days of Christmas might even predate Christianity in France, where it originated. And that makes this English carol more interesting - to me, anyway – because it speaks to the evolution of the holiday. Remember, it wasn't until 137 years after the death of Jesus, give or take a couple of years, that the Bishop of Rome ordered a “Christesmaesse” - Christ's Mass, to celebrate Jesus' birth. You see, the twelve disciples did not celebrate Christmas, partly because they were Jewish, but mostly because until fairly recently anything from 60 to 80% of infants died within hours of their birth. Nobody celebrated their birth day, not even Pope Julius I, who around 345 A.D. picked December 25th for Christmas. For all humans, even for the Messiah, life did not officially begin until their epiphany, (meaning, according to thesaurus.com -the announcement, the display, the exhibition or the showing of the child), which was not held until you were pretty sure the child was going to live. And Jesus' epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6th – 12 days after Christmas.
This English Christmas Carol began as a medieval midwinter festival “memories and forfeits game”, a sort of musical chairs in a world without very many chairs. We know the game began in France because
the Red-legged (or French) partridge, widespread in medieval Europe, commonly perches in trees, unlike the the English (or grey) partridges which, while common today, were not introduced to England until the 18th century, and prefer ledges or cliffs. And in all three medieval French versions of the song that we know of, and all surviving English versions, “a partridge in a pear tree” is the first and final present always received by the lead singer.
In the game the leader sings a verse, and each participant repeats what they have just heard, and everybody then takes a drink of wine or mead. Then the leader sings another verse, adding an item, the players repeat, and then everybody drinks again. The rounds we have inherited begin “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gives to me, a partridge in a pear tree.  On on second day of Christmas, my true love gives to me, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.”
The game continues (with variations) to three French Hens, four colly birds, five gold rings, six geese a-laying, seven swans a-swimming, eight maids a-milking, nine ladies dancing, ten lords a-leaping, eleven pipers pipping, and twelve drummers drumming. A player who forgets an item is eliminated and forced to offer a kiss to the leader, or eat a less than appealing food item. The game would continue until all 12 verses were done, or all the players but one had been eliminated because they were too drunk to remember their own names, let alone how many maids were milking. Sound familiar?
And yes, the line is “four colly birds”, as in a colliery, meaning a coal pit or a mine. The birds referred to were as black as coal – the common European black bird. When this song was translated into English, crows and ravens were only referred to as fowl. But the 4 ½ ounce Turdus merula (the black thrush), was small enough to be called a bird . In the winter black birds were easy to attract with seed and easy to catch with a net, and they were a common part of the diet. Peasants sang about “four and twenty black birds baked in a pie”. It is a reminder that there are huge chunks of our culture based on now forgotten starvation repeatedly suffered in each life time. And “break fasts,” like the midwinter festival, were fond memories, which Christianity had to adopt and adapt.
In fact, birds play a major role in this song, as if the leader was scanning the banquet table for the next noun to use in the next verse. The partridge is followed by turtle doves, french hens, the Colly birds, geese and swans. The five gold rings seem out of place unless they refer to the ring-necked pheasant, the male of which (above) has a golden brown plumage and a white ring around his neck. There would have been on ay well stocked pheasants midwinter festival table, along with the other bird protein
There would also have been cheese (made from milk), and about the room, men and women dancing - but not in pairs, that would not become common until the 10th century. And of course there would be musicians accompanying the song-game with the world's oldest instruments, a flute (or a pipe) and a drum. Music was as vital a part of pagan religious and social celebrations, as they are of Christian services. And that brings up the recent myth that this game was used to preserve Catholicism in a hostile Protestant England. That might be true, except there is not even of hint of it until 1979. However, the success of this myth across the Internet since, does offer an insight into the methodology Christianity used to snatch Christmas from the happy pagans getting drunk at their winter solstice break fast. I am not suggesting a conspiracy, but rather a well meaning application of religiously influenced logic .That is also probably how Mithra over came Apollo, and how Jupiter conquered Zeus. It would be wise for all born again Christian evangelicals to remember that religions practices never really die, they just become adopted and adapted.
The same can be said about a certain odd mathematical aspect of the carol. If you add up all the gifts – 1 partridge, 2 turtle doves and 1 partridge, 3 french hens, 2 turtle doves and 1 partridge, etc., etc. – they add up to 364 gifts in total. It seems there ought to be some connection between the gifts and the length of the year. The only problem is a year is 365 ¼ days long, not 364, and that length has been well known since, well, since forever. And while it seems the number of gifts, like some sort of Christmas carol kabbalah, ought to mean something, it really doesn't. And that seems to me to be the difference between religion and science. In religion the possibility of meaning is the meaning, while in science the possibility is theory and subject to testing. Religion gave us the pyramids and Michelangelo's "David". Science gave us a modern infant mortality rate in industrial nations of less then 1%.
Which brings us to the Christmas Price Index, created in 1984 by the chief economist for PNC Financial Services Group, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as “a humorous commodity price index to measure the changing cost of goods over time” using the gifts in The Twelve Days of Christmas. Each year in late November, PNC analysts consult with the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden and the National Aviary in Philadelphia to price most of the birds in the song. However, for some reason, rather than a European black bird, PNC uses the price of a canary at Petco. Gordon Jewelers, a division of Zale Corporation out of Irving, Texas, prices five gold rings for the Index, even tho, as I said earlier, the gift probably refereed to was five ring-necked pheasants. The maids-a-milking are assumed to be earning federal minimum wage, and the Philadelphia Dance Company and their Ballet Company provide the cost of leaping and dancing ladies and lords. The Pennsylvania Musicians Union provides the cost of the drummers and pipers, and the fruit tree has always been priced by Waterloo Gardens, an upscale Philadelphia plant nursery catering to the local 1%.
In 2015 the partridge and the pear tree together cost $214.99, the turtle doves $290 for the pair, the French Hens $181.50, the 4 Colling birds (actually Petco canaries) $599.96, the five gold rings $750 - unchanged for the last three years-  the 6 geese a-laying $360, the 7 swans $13,125, and the 8 maids the same as the previous three years at a mere $58 (which says something depressing about the minimum wage). The nine ladies cost $7,552.84, unchanged from last year, but the ten lords went up 3% and now cost  $5,508.70. The musicians were  $2,635.20 for the wind instruments and $2,754.80 for the percussionists, both unchanged. The 2015 total was up just 0.6% from last year, to $34,130.99. Surprisingly, the cost of buying the 12 days shopping on-line was 16% higher, at $43,626.99,  than buying the same gifts at a mortar and brick store. And although PNC does not endorse their index as a valid gauge of the economy, it does seem to confirm that capitalism turned the internet into a rip off..
PNC admits they use the index to “engage clients”, which means they are trying to entertain bankers, a profession not known for their humor or humility. But, PNC also admits this annual nonsense economic measure has become “one of PNC’s most popular and anticipated economic reports.” I suspect that is in large part because it is “filler” used by media types to add a Christmas hint to their newscasts. However, this year, the results may have a slightly more telling comment on a changing America. In June of 2012, after 70 years in business, the “nationally renowned Waterloo Gardens” went bankrupt. It seems even the 1% were tightening their belts, which means their gardeners are beginning to starve.
Have a Merry, merry, Capitalist Christmas.
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