05 December, 2006

Studio 60 And The Christmas Myth

Last night's Studio 60 was, once again, showing signs of improvement. The "culture war" was played down a bit, the inshow sketch was kind of funny and the music was awesome. I would love to get an MP3 of the New Orleans brass quintet's O Holy Night. That was beautiful.

The "discovery" of the facts about Christmas was the one part that rang false with me. I've spent enough time in various universities and then hanging out on the Web to know that one of the favourite intellectual pastimes is the debunking of Christian holidays. I also know that writers are curious people who have a special perversity. We love good stories, but we also have to know the facts at the root of any tale. I find it hard to believe that a room full of writers had no idea that our red-n-white Santa was created for Coca-Cola in the 30s. Haven't they gotten the cans of Coke at Christmas? Two or three years ago each pack included "Santa Facts", as the Coke company tried to reassert their ownership of Sinterklaas. I also find it equally hard to believe that the same room full of writers hadn't heard the following:

::The translation of Isaiah that some say was "virgin" could also mean "young girl of marriagable age"
:: Jesus was not born on December 25. We don't know his actual day of birth, but it was most probably in either October or March.
:: Jesus was most likely born in 5BC, not 0 AD.
:: The Bible doesn't say how many wise men followed the star.
:: The Star of Bethlehem was most likely a comet
:: Jesus was not white.
:: The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary, not Jesus.


Now, for me these are all things I've known since long ago. There are a few other Christmas factoids that Studio 60 omitted, which I think are interesting.

~The wise men did not visit Jesus at the stable for his birth. By the time they got there, He and his family had already moved into a house. Jesus was also a young child at the time. He may have been as much as two or three years old by the time they got there. And no camels were mentioned.
~The wise men were what would now be called astrologers or wizards.
~The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were prophetic in nature.
~The angels who appeared to the sheperds did not sing. Rather, they spoke.


I know we're getting into the time of year where everybody likes to fight over who owns Christmas and bicker over the true meaning of Christmas. The fact of the matter is that for thousands of years, people in the Northern Hemisphere--Vikings, Celts, Goths, Gauls--celebrated a festival of the returning light. Immediately following the winter solstice, as the days once again grew longer, they partied. They honoured what they understood as bringing the light--whether it be the moon, the sun, the stars or the rotating earth.

December 25 was not always when we celebrated Jesus' birthday. But this time of year has always been when we celebrated the Returning Light. As a Christian I believe that Jesus is the promised Light. So combining the pagan festivals with Christian meaning makes perfect sense to me.

Ironically, were you to look at the Jewish calender and time it close to Christ's actual birth--March or October--there are two festivals in Judaism that could have been remade to celebrate Christmas. Purim, in the spring, is where Jews celebrate their deliverance from destruction. Sukkot, in the fall, is where Jews celebrate the bountiful provisions of G-d. Any way you slice it, Christ's birthday is covered. He is the Light, returning to the sin-dark world. He is the deliverence from destruction. And He is God's most bountiful provision.

So party on, everybody.

18 Comments:

At 10:35 AM, December 05, 2006, Anonymous nm said...

I find it hard to believe that a room full of writers had no idea that our red-n-white Santa was created for Coca-Cola in the 30s.

Well, I'm educated, I love the history of popular culture, I'm curious, and all those things, but I just learned this particular fun fact some time last week. I don't drink Coke, which I guess is some kind of excuse. On the other hand, the idea that a whole roomful of writers (well, the pitiful remnants of what used to be a whole roomful of writers, anyway) plus an actor and producer or two didn't know any of those things does stretch the imagination.

That was the best episode of "Sports Night" I've seen for ages, BTW.

 
At 10:53 AM, December 05, 2006, Anonymous Lesley said...

Well said.

And "Studio 60" gets better every week, but all this romance is going to get old real quick-like.

 
At 10:55 AM, December 05, 2006, Blogger Slartibartfast said...

The whole "Jesus wasn't born on Dec 25th and most of the traditions were stolen from Pagans" line of thought reminds me of the people who LOUDLY refused to celebrate the new millennium on New Year's eve 1999 because, as every educated person knows, the new millennium actually started on Jan 1, 2001 .

If you were one of those people, I mean no offense, but I'll never understand that line of thinking.

Anyway, we celebrate the fact that Jesus was incarnated at all (no matter when it was) - this is the miracle.

 
At 11:55 AM, December 05, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

That was the best episode of "Sports Night" I've seen for ages, BTW.

Ha! Yes. Exactly....

all this romance is going to get old real quick-like.

It's what he did with Sports Night so he's back to his ol' tricks again.

I just learned this particular fun fact some time last week.

Wow. I feel extremely useless. Or maybe I just used to drink way too much coke. yeah, that's it.

we celebrate the fact that Jesus was incarnated at all (no matter when it was) - this is the miracle.

Exactemente.

 
At 12:23 PM, December 05, 2006, Anonymous nm said...

I just learned this particular fun fact some time last week.

Wow. I feel extremely useless. Or maybe I just used to drink way too much coke. yeah, that's it.

Noooooo, I didn't mean it that way! I am the one feeling totally clueless for not having known the Coke-Claus connection before.

BTW, I don't think all of those "it wasn't really December 25" arguments are completely reductionist. All religions are syncretistic to some extent, and looking at what elements they picked up from other religions and when they did so can be fascinating. I mean, if you claim that the date of Christmas is taken from the Roman Saturnalia, you are claiming that in addition to being a sun-return holiday it holds elements of carnivalesque reversal; what does that say about the beliefs of the early Christians who adopted the date? OTOH, if you claim that the date was adopted because it was the birthday of Mithras you get an emphasis on heroism and suffering instead. I find it all thought-provoking.

 
At 1:08 PM, December 05, 2006, Blogger Malia said...

Returning Light...so beautiful...I didn't know a lot of what you put in this post so I consider myself a bit more educated today!

 
At 1:54 PM, December 05, 2006, Blogger Sonia said...

lots of good info in this entry! I"m going to come back and read it again :)

 
At 4:05 PM, December 05, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

NBC's web site may have it. There was some comment at the end of the episode that if you went to NBC.com you could learn more about the music.

 
At 4:28 PM, December 05, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

Noooooo, I didn't mean it that way! I am the one feeling totally clueless for not having known the Coke-Claus connection before.

Hey, prior to July 23rd of this year I did drink entirely too much Coca cola per day. I was what one would call a fanatic. I never collected Coke memorabilia. Except for the Coke bottles I purchased from every country I ever visited.

No. No problem here....... Moving along...

All religions are syncretistic to some extent, and looking at what elements they picked up from other religions and when they did so can be fascinating.

I see you and I share a weird hobby. ;-p At least collecting religious facts is generally less dangerous to one's health than Coca-Cola.

NBC's web site may have it.

Now I'm frustrated--but more with iTunes than NBC. I went there (thanks for the idea, BOM) and the link sent me to the Tipitina's Foundation. That site claims the song can be downloaded free from iTunes. Which is cool, even though I'd gladly pay freight for that. (Love jazz, love brass combos, love that Christmas song so hey...can't go wrong!)

But the song, alas, is nowhere to be found on iTunes. Sadness ensues.

 
At 4:59 PM, December 05, 2006, Blogger John said...

The only thing that really bothered me about the Christmas bit was that a lot of different factoids, theories and pseudo-factoids were being lumped in together as fact. I thought that the Dec. 25 and it-wasn't-in-the-year-0 things were relatively common knowledge (although I don't think there's universal consensus on what year it did take place). Of course, they did make reference to having found all this "on the Internet," so hopefully anyone who doesn't know better will realize that, like most of what you find on the Internet, it's a mixed bag.

 
At 6:34 PM, December 05, 2006, Blogger John H said...

I did get a good feeling from last night's episode, esp. the 'o holy night' bit..WOW..but here is my real question:

We have a major network show...obviously NBC really. The show lost a bunch of writers to another show when they defected. They don't have 8 million people wanting to take their place? They don't hire replacements fairly quickly? There aren't Groundlings/2nd City/etc. writers waiting for their big bump..puhleeeze.

Thanks..

 
At 7:15 PM, December 05, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

We have a major network show...obviously NBC really. The show lost a bunch of writers to another show when they defected. They don't have 8 million people wanting to take their place? They don't hire replacements fairly quickly?

That's what I don't get. [insert comment about Sorkin's ego and the need to be the Best Writer here.]

You know what I'd love to see them do? Hire the guy who played Jeremy on Sports Night. That dude makes Sorkin's stuff. Totally.

The one way I've made my peace with this whole skeleton-crew of writers is the certain knowledge that actors are more expensive than writers, so to realistically staff up that writers' room would be a big blow to the budget.

The only thing that really bothered me about the Christmas bit was that a lot of different factoids, theories and pseudo-factoids were being lumped in together as fact.

Yeah. I was gonna address the pseudo-factoids/theories, but I'm saving that for another day. Like the bit about the virgin birth thing....

After a point it did seem like they were reading from a set of Trivial Pursuit Agnostic Edition cards.

 
At 9:05 PM, December 05, 2006, Anonymous nm said...

You know what I'd love to see them do? Hire the guy who played Jeremy on Sports Night. That dude makes Sorkin's stuff. Totally.

You mean my darling Josh Malina? I read somewhere that he was offered some role when Sorkin was putting the show together, and turned it down.

 
At 8:22 AM, December 06, 2006, Blogger Loonytick Skook said...

Remember though, that they were ordered to make budget cuts as part of an across the board belt-tightening. When all the writers walked out, they were happy because that accounted for a hefty chunk of their cuts. Therefore they can't hire replacements without having to make cuts elsewhere. And since Matt thinks he can write an entire show with other writers as kind of a nice extra...

What didn't ring true to me was that all of those people would be so flabbergasted by Christmas "facts" that they didn't bother to write a show at all without a swift kick in the ass. Or that they didn't see some sort of humor in the whole tradition vs. "fact" thing that they could spin into sketches.

First the actress who is hailed as a comedic genius, whose job is telling jokes (what is the Weekend Update or whatever they've renamed it segment if not a series of jokes) CAN'T TELL A JOKE. Now comedy writers CAN'T FIND HUMOR in anything if their lives depended on it.

Sorkin really needs to hire some actual comedy writers, if only as consultants, to flesh out the parts of the show that have to do with comedy.

 
At 11:48 AM, December 07, 2006, Blogger MarceyStreet said...

Reading your blog, thought you might like this music video – not your typical Christmas song!
“Xmas Stan”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCkykjOmEsM

 
At 10:11 AM, December 10, 2006, Anonymous Sis said...

I agree about "Sports Night" getting better. However, the romances are already tiresome and juvenile.

I knew most of those factoids they were throwing out and was annoyed by the implication that our inaccurate traditions somehow invalidate our faith.

"O Holy Night" is my favorite Christmas song. When I heard the first notes, I knew I was going to love it! We HAVE to find a way to get that recording!

"The Nativity Story" is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time! Everyone should go see it! I might go see it again!

 
At 9:58 PM, December 10, 2006, Blogger Women Ablaze said...

Rock on. I love this show as does my dad (who is agnostic) and he texted me during:
Having fun with this episode? :)

Grrrr. I Love the line: "Like our inaccurate traditions somehow invalidate our faith" fabulous! I am totally using it!

 
At 7:45 PM, March 16, 2007, Anonymous La BellaDonna said...

Actually, from the work done by an astronomer with a love for astrology, a pretty good argument has been made for the date of birth as April 17, 6 BC ("BC" because certain early monks apparently couldn't count properly). Michael Molnar's The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi details it in a well-researched and readable fashion. http://www.eclipse.net/~molnar/index.html#faqs
It's fine for me if we celebrate December 25, and not April 17. It's more important that there was the birth, than having the month and day exactly right (although that's nice to know, too).

Thomas Nash would have been astonished to hear Coke claim Santa's red and white outfit; Nash painted it in 1863. It is true that Coke has used it, and that most commercial Santa suits are based on the 1930s illustrations - but Coke wasn't the first. Go back to Saint Nicholas and his red bishop's cloak for the beginnings of the red suit; Clement Moore donated the fur for it in The Night Before Christmas, and Nash made it familiar to all of America.

 

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