Saturday, December 20, 2008
Nestor was a donkey who had ears that dragged the ground...
I think we all know this story, right?
Once upon a time a singing cowboy named Gene Autry sang Johnny Marks's song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and it became a huge hit! Autry -- perhaps feeling bad about his role in making secular Christmas celebrations so Holly Jolly -- later helped write a song that told a Christian version of the same story:
"Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey" saves Christmas by carrying the baby Jesus (inside Mary) -- instead of Santa -- through a sand storm. He alone is able to navigate the storm because of his strange deformity (long ears instead of a glowing red nose), which the other animals had mocked him for, not letting him join in any donkey games and all that.
There are differences in the two stories, of course. This story doesn't have a misfit elf dentist or an abominable snow monster. Instead it has the most annoying cliché in the grand book of standard formulas: the mom sacrifices herself (and dies) as a plot device to set up her son's grand adventure (see also Ice Age).
Christians have written a number of incredibly beautiful and moving Christmas hymns over the centuries. And I imagine that a Christian worship service is probably the emotional center of the Christmas celebration for many people. But this holiday wasn't invented by or for Christianity. It's more than just a celebration of Jesus' birth, and that's okay, or it should be.
Given that the mid-winter festival of lights (in all of its names and incarnations) tends to be a bit of a party holiday, I'd say that taking every aspect of the holiday that people like and trying to re-brand it as Christian™ is a tad ill-advised. Take this Nestor story, for example. It sure gives the impression that the Jesus story is just a pale imitation of the real Christmas story (the one about Santa...).
Now, I know that Christians in general can't be blamed for this one production by Rankin/Bass. Rankin/Bass produced a few gems and did a whole lot of recycling in between. (Note: the third film that's on the DVD with Nestor and The Year without a Santa Claus is their New Year's special about the baby New Year who also gets mocked for having freakishly big ears.) But this isn't the only example of ill-advised Christian Christmas re-branding. You can probably guess what I'm talking about: Bill O'Reilly's "War on Christmas."
The "War on Christmas" has taken a truly surreal turn this year as the forces of CHRISTmas have decided that the over-the-top consumer spending orgy must be credited to "Christmas" alone. They're distributing a list of naughty and nice stores -- naughty meaning only that the merchants failed to stamp their advertisements with the Merry Christmas™ brand.
The thing that jumps out at me about this list is the second-to-last entry in the "nice" column: Wal-Mart. Apparently creating a buying frenzy so rabid that one of your employees is trampled to death is not enough to get your "nice" status revoked. Wal-Mart wasn't even moved to some sort of provisional list or something. So Jesus is more than okay with this orgy of consumerism -- He wants to be sure He gets the credit for it...?
I just hope these "War on Chrismas" folks from the "Liberty Counsel" don't really represent most Christians. They clearly don't represent anyone sane.
Now I'd like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!! And a Happy Monkey too!!!
And remember, Christmas isn't just about presents and it isn't just about Jesus. As the Grinch learned, it's a little bit more. :D