12 Days of Christmas Giving

There are a large number of posts and articles circulating at this time of year, with gift guides for this, that, and the other person in your life. This is not one of those posts. Today we look at a different kind of giving: giving to those who actually need it.

Some traditions say the 12 Days of Christmas are those from the 25th of December to the 5th of January; others say the 26th of December to the 6th of January – aka Epiphany or Twelfth Night. You can choose either, or you can pretend to be a baker and have your “12” Days run from the 25th to the 6th.

Since this coming Sunday marks the beginning of Advent, the fast that leads up to the feast of Christmas, this post could be construed as a little premature. But it never hurts to have time to mull over things. These days the “fast” of Advent seems to be more about the speed of the frenziedly busy days whizzing by, rather than abstaining from something.

(You’ve probably heard of the tradition of giving something up for Lent; perhaps we could consider choosing the least life-giving/most soul-destroying part of the December hustle and bustle and announce to the world that we have given it up for Advent.)

A post-it note stuck to a rough wall. In the glowing light it reads "To Do: Christmas"

But back to the 12 Days of Christmas Giving. The idea is that for each day, one chooses a charity to make a donation to. You might have favourite charities all lined up, or you might want to choose a number of charities working in an area you are passionate about. Or – and this is my personal favourite – you could actually choose Christmas-themed charities.

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The God of Consent

‘Tis the season for Christmas posts, is it not? But instead of looking again at the manger scene, the ruthless dictator, or, God help us, a fat man in red, I’d like us to cast our minds back nine months – not back to March 2018, but back to nine months before The Original Christmas.

An angel appears to a young woman in the back-blocks and showers her with blessings, compliments, and a rather daunting proposition: mother to God in human form?

Photo by KayR Studios from Pexels
And who is she? She is, not to put too fine a point on it, nobody in particular. She has no position, no title, no fame; her fiancée’s just the local builder. She’s got a cousin who’s married to a priest, but that’s about as influential as the family gets.Continue & Comment

Famous Refugees of Fact and Fiction

Most refugees never become famous at all, seen simply as part of a sea of faces. Very occasionally someone becomes famous for being a refugee. But there are times when someone becomes famous and people simply forget that they ever were a refugee.

I don’t suggest that being a refugee should perpetually define anyone. But it’s as well to remember that refugees aren’t only those people, they’re these people as well.

Take, for example Jesus, Mary & Joseph, who fled Roman-occupied Israel for Egypt when Jesus was only a tiny tot. The wise men from the East having inadvertently outed the baby as “born to be king of the Jews”, he was squarely in the sights of Herod the (so-called) Great – whose paranoia about takeovers was so strong that he had, at various times, had his mother-in-law, wife, and three sons whacked. Just to be on the safe side, Herod issued an order that all the little boys of a likely age in the region where Jesus was born should be exterminated… but Joseph had been warned and so Jesus escaped.

Moving forward with a leap to the twentieth century (hup!) we get to a fictional family (also Jewish) living in Russia. They also fall foul of a powerful ruler – in this case, Tsar Nicholas II – and are driven out amid a backdrop of state-sponsored pogroms. Sounds like a cheery subject for a stage musical, doesn’t it? Tevye and family, from Fiddler on the Roof.

Speaking of stage musicals, the Von Trapp family appear on both fictional and non-fictional lists, The Sound of Music being somewhat fictionalized. Driven from occupied Austria by the Nazis’ plans for Captain Baron Von Trapp, they took refuge in America, but their experiences undeniably left marks on the family. (Have a read about them; theirs is a fascinating story.)

Hopping backward in time slightly – and moving back into the purely fictional realm – we have Monsieur Hercule Poirot. It isn’t often brought up, but he initially comes to England as a refugee during World War I. His first appearance is in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, wherein he investigates the murder of the wealthy woman who has given a home to him and his compatriots. After the war, he stays on… and, of course, thrives.

Alas, the real refugees were not always so lucky. The Frank family fled Germany for the Netherlands when the Nazis came to power, but in due course the Netherlands too were invaded. They tried to escape again, to the USA, but doors closed in their faces: they were Germans, and therefore suspect. After all, the government reasoned, with family still in Nazi Germany, they might be able to be blackmailed into acting as spies. So the Franks remained in the Netherlands, until they were sent away to the concentration camps.

Others were more fortunate. Albert Einstein was already in the USA on academic business when Hitler came to power, and sensibly decided to stay where he was. For a refugee, he was a many-stated man: his citizenship listing on Wikipedia has seven listings (including, admittedly, “stateless” for five years) and he was offered more.

Conrad Veidt 1-M-2579Another who took refuge in the USA was Conrad Veidt. A popular film actor, he was not himself Jewish, but when compelled to state his race for the authorities, he put down “Jew” – because his new wife was Jewish. (Goebbels: He will never act in Germany again.) Veidt and his wife then fled to Britain, and subsequently, when it appeared Britain was in danger of invasion, to the US. He kept busy appearing in anti-Nazi propaganda films, but died suddenly (golfing heart-attack) in 1943.

Peasants, singers, scientist, actor, diarist, detective, Messiah… The next time you see a mention of refugees in the media, try to see past the sea of faces to a single face, and wonder who they are beyond “refugee” – and who they might yet live to be.