Simple Gifts?

THE FIRST DAY

1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 25, 2016

Dearest Marvin,

Thank you ever so much for the fabulous present. It’s really the most fun gift I’ve ever been given. The partridge is so cute, and he just adores his little pear tree. Of course, they do sort of dominate my one-room apartment, but I’ll make do, even if it does mean putting one of my favorite armchairs in storage. But I love your gift. I really do!

All my love,

Carol

THE SECOND DAY

1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 26, 2016

Dear Marvin,

Another present! What a surprise! Now, Marvin, Honey, don’t think that I’m not appreciative, but really, Sweetie, two turtle doves flying around an apartment can really make a mess. Remember my red carpet? It’s now two-toned. I know your heart is in the right place, but don’t you think the partridge world have been enough for one Christmas?

Love,
Carol

THE THIRD DAY

1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 27, 2016

Marvin–

If your latest gift is your way of telling me that you’re for the birds, then you have succeeded! Did you know that French hens cannot be domesticated and that their deadliest enemies are turtle doves and partridges? Did you also know that I have a cleaning bill of over $200 for the blood and feathers? Did you also know that I am now known throughout my building as “That Crazy Bird Lady”? No more! Please!

Carol

THE FOURTH DAY

1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 28, 2016

MARVIN!!

Let me tell you about calling birds! THEY CALL TO EACH OTHER! MORNING, NOON AND NIGHT! 24 HOURS A DAY! NON-STOP! Thanks to you, I am now on tranquilizers and wearing earplugs! Needless to say, I have stopped entertaining. Parties just don’t make it in a bird sanctuary! Now PLEASE!! BUG OFF WITH THE GIFTS!!!

Carol

THE FIFTH DAY

1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 29, 2016

Dear Big Sport!

When I got the five “gold” rings, I figured you were finally coming around to your senses by giving me something I could use. Naturally, I was wrong. Five minutes after putting them on, my fingers turned green!

Marvin, you are the pits! One more gift and I get tough!

THE SIXTH DAY

Quigley, Farquahr, Gribble and Stubbs
Attorneys at Law
200 W. 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
December 30, 2016

Mr. Marvin Truelove
12 St. Nicholas Avenue
New York, NY 10026

Dear Mr. Truelove,

My client, Ms. Carol Yule, has instructed me hereby to order you to cease at once the sending of geese, hens, doves and other birds or gifts of any kind to her. Should you fail to comply with this order, we have no course but to take immediate legal action.

Very truly yours,
Elbert Gribble

EG/ct

THE SEVENTH DAY

1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 31, 2016

Dear Mr. Truelove,

I am the downstairs neighbor of Carol Yule, and she has told me to send this bill to you.
For water damage to my apartment and possessions following flooding caused by seven swans overflowing upstairs bathtub.
–$3,500.00
Please remit at once!

Myron Schmeer

(P.S. from Carol Yule: “Marvin! See what you have done?! For God’s Sake–STOP!

THE EIGHTH DAY

THE CITY OF NEW YORK
Department of Housing
ORDER TO REMOVE VIOLATIONS

January 1, 2017

To: Ms. Carol Yule
1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005

You are hereby ordered to take immediate steps to remove the following violations as specified under Section 4, Paragraphs 5 and 14, of the Residential Zoning Law, which states:
“No dairy farm or establishment providing milk produce, and no zoo or aviary may be permitted in a multi-unit dwelling.”

A.B. McChesney
Asst. Director
Dept. of Housing

THE NINTH DAY

Police Department of the City of New York
SUMMONS

January 2, 2017

Ms. Carol Yule
1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005

By order of the Police Commissioner, you are hereby ordered to appear at Civil Court to answer the following charges:
1. Operating a cabaret with nine dancers without a license.
2. Using a private residence as a wildlife preserve.

Failure to comply with this summons will result in your arrest.

THE TENTH DAY

Acme Realty Corporation
245 E. 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017
January 3, 2017

Ms. Carol Yule
1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005

Dear Ms. Yule:

It has come to our attention that you are in direct violation of the terms of your lease in our building at 1 Holly Street. In the aforementioned lease, you agreed that you would be the only person living in your apartment and also that you would keep no pets. According to complaints by other tenants, you are now sharing your apartment with 10 leaping men, 9 dancing women and 8 milkmaids, with their cows. In addition, there are reports of various numbers of swans, geese and other birds on the premises. We have no choice but to evict you, preferably before the end of the month.

Very truly yours,
F.C. Sweedle
Manager of Rentals

FCS/cmt

THE ELEVENTH DAY

Harley Stagmire, M.D.
Stagmire Clinic
234 E. 66th Street
New York, NY 10021
January 4, 2017

Mr. Marvin Truelove
12 St. Nicholas Avenue
New York, NY 10026

Dear Mr. Truelove:

I feel that it is my duty as a psychiatrist to warn you that your actions toward my patient, Ms. Carol Yule, are causing her great mental anguish and bringing on severe traumas. She came to me today in a hersterical state, screaming uncontrollably about “eleven pipers piping,” followed by other complaints I could not make out. I learned from her that you are responsible for her condition, which may require her to be committed to a mental institution. For her good, I must insist that you remain completely out of her life.

Sincerely,
Harley Stagmire, M.D.

HS/ct

THE TWELFTH DAY

Quigley, Farquahr, Gribble and Stubbs
Attorneys at Law
200 W. 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
January 5, 2017

Mr. Marvin Truelove
12 St. Nicholas Avenue
New York, NY 10026

Dear Mr. Truelove:

I regret to inform you that Ms. Carol Yule took her own life today. In her suicide note, she stated that she wished to repay you for all the things you have done for her. Therefore, I am obeying her last wishes by sending to your apartment the following of her personal possessions:

12 Drummers drumming,
11 Pipers piping,
10 Lords a-leaping,
9 Ladies dancing,
8 Maids a-milking,
7 Swans a-swimming,
6 Geese a-laying,
5 “Gold” Rings,
4 Calling Birds,
3 French Hens,
2 Turtle Doves,
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

Sincerely,
Elbert Gribble

EG/ct

[The lesson to be learned here is that of karmic justice–what goes around, comes back around. Have a happy holiday season and a fabulous New Year.]

Sing a Song of Sacred Service

TODAY’S EPISCOPALIAN
(Sung to the tune of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance)

We are the very model of today’s Episcopalian,
We’re high & low & broad & wide & somewhat Bacchanalian;
We’re mystical, political, we’re secular and clerical;
We can be charismatic, but we seldom get hysterical.
We’re traditional and modernist and socialist-monarchical,
We’re protestant and catholic, but not too hierarchical;
About ordaining women we are teeming with a lot o’ views,
As well as on the Prayer Book that our Bishops say we gotta use!
We’re prosperous, by daily work, our stewardship is merited,
Abetted by the little bit that some of us inherited.
The portion that we give the Church is best described as comical,
But please don’t call us stingy–we are simply economical.

We’re very well acquainted, too, with matters theoretical,
In spite of being vague about our methods catechetical.
A knowledge of our church remains to most of us a mystery;
(Some day we’ll take the time to learn our heritage and history!)
Don’t ask us what we mean with our responses demigogical;
They sound so grand they must mean something highly doxological!
In short, we’ve just a smattering of elementary Sunday School,
Including cheerful facts about the meaning of the Golden Rule.
The Church accommodations, like the clergy’s residentiary,
Has been a perk only since the beginning of the century;
But still in matters practical that we all dabble daily in,
We are the very model of today’s Episcopalian.

We are the very model of today’s Episcopalian;
We do our work and no one seems to care if we act gaily in
Committee and Convention; we’re a competent and cheerful band;
Get four of us together and you’ll always find a fifth on hand.
We’re known for our diversity and heterogeneity,
(Be careful not to confuse that word with hermaphrodeity!)
On controversial subjects you will seldom find that two agree;
Episcopalians are each the World’s Leading Authority!
We’re educated, talented, creative and progressional;
So proud of our humility we don’t need the confessional;
We’re very open-minded in all matters strange and alien,
We’re only narrow-minded towards another ‘Piscopalian!
–Author Unknown

[Disclaimer: If you have read my A Critique of Catholicism, don’t assume for a moment that I am condoning this faith over the other one. I love humor, cleverness and wit, no matter what the sentiment or subject matter is. I did work at an Episcopal church for 25 years, but it was simply a job and nothing else. I hope you can just enjoy it for what it’s worth.]

Nativity Redux

What follows is a discussion of the traditional Nativity story that we all are familiar with and that many seem to accept as truth and historical fact.

In my opinion, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, as well as his conception, are highly suspect, to say the least. First of all, there is no proof that Mother Mary was a virgin. The passage from Isaiah (7:14), on which this assumption is based, reads, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son…” The original Hebrew text, however, never said so. The word which the New Testament renders as “virgin” is almah, which means “a young woman of marriageable age.” The Hebrew term for a virgin is betullah. The two words don’t exactly mean the same thing, do they? When the Greeks translated the Bible, they erroneously translated the Hebrew “young woman” as “virgin,” and it is this mistake that the Gospel adopted. I would think that people would be wary of translations, especially the Bible, which has undergone so many. Moreover, Isaiah did not mention any names or dates, so who’s to say that this Mary person is to whom he was referring? That’s making an unwarranted presumption right there.

No doubt there were many young women of marriageable age who had baby boys at some point, but we don’t know if Mary was one of them or even when it occurred. Isaiah might have been reporting on some girl who lived in his village and at the present time, for all we know. A virgin conceiving is nothing special or unusual. Everyone is a virgin before they have sex for the first time. Virgin brides often get pregnant on their wedding night. Even if this unnamed girl was a virgin when she conceived a child, that doesn’t follow that she remained so during her pregnancy and childbirth. People tend to read too much into things.

According to the Biblical account, Mary was already going with Joseph when she became pregnant. How do we know for sure that the baby was not his, or perhaps some other local suitor’s? Furthermore, some scholars report that Mary and Joseph had several other children after Jesus, so how has Mary managed to maintain her virginal status even until now, according to the Christian religions? Those other children weren’t all divinely conceived (either). Actually, the Catholics vehemently negate the sibling theory so that they can continue to regard Mary as The Perpetual, Sexless Virgin.

While I’m at it, I should explain the Roman Catholic doctrine of Immaculate Conception, for those who don‘t know what it is. The claim of “immaculate conception” has nothing to do with the physical birth of either Jesus or Mary. Mary, all authorities agree, was born in the usual, natural way. But as the future mother of Jesus, she differed in one significant aspect, that of “original sin.” Ever since Adam’s disregard of God’s command not to eat of the Forbidden Fruit, everyone, until the coming of Christ, was born with sin in their soul, except for Mary. Her soul, at the moment of its creation and infusion into her body, “was clothed in sanctifying grace.” The stain of original sin was excluded from her so that she would be worthy to give birth to the Savior. But how would anybody know that before the fact, as if it were pre-ordained? This is what is meant by her immaculate conception. So you see, Mary’s supposed immaculacy, as well as her virginal status at the time she conceived Jesus, are arbitrary, manmade conventions, not based on any real proof or truth.

I am wondering, too, if “God” wanted a son so badly, why didn’t He just create one already full-grown, like He did Adam? Why bother with the whole gestation and birth thing. A baby serves no useful purpose until it’s old enough to be able to work and do something. If Jesus was destined to die the way he did, they could have just cut right to the chase and foregone all that preliminary stuff. That’s another reason why I suspect that Jesus’ conception and Mary’s part in the proceedings were all very natural.

And what about this? Has it ever occurred to you that if Mary was a virgin, and as Joseph probably didn’t know how to perform a Caesarian section, her hymen would have to have been broken from the inside in order to give birth. Then that would mean that it was Jesus himself who busted his own mother’s cherry! Ouch!

(# …Where was he born? / Born in a manger… #) There is nothing in the Bible to justify the popular belief that Jesus was actually born in a manger. I’ll bet you that most people don’t even know what a manger is. The word, meaning “to eat,” in French, is a feeding trough or box for barnyard animals. Now, why would someone, under any circumstances, get into an animal’s feed trough to give birth? Mary might have placed her baby in there afterwards, however, as one of the versions of the Scripture suggests. It’s just another interpretation, but I don’t think that “she laid him in a manger” means that she laid him like a bird lays an egg or that she had sex with him.

Pictures representing the Wise Men worshiping Jesus in a stable surrounded by cattle and horses are not based on Scripture either. Nowhere does the Bible mention a stable in this context. Some scholars have suggested that the manger in which Mary was said to have laid her child was in the courtyard of an inn or caravansary, and others suppose that it was a grotto or cave near Bethlehem.

Twelve days after Christmas, referred to as the Epiphany, is the day that commemorates the arrival of the Three Kings from the East to pay homage to the Christ Child. Now whether it took just 12 days or much longer for them to get there, it seems a bit far-fetched that Mary and Joseph would still be in the same place. They only stopped there for the night so that she could have her baby. I don’t imagine that they took up indefinite lodging in the place. I would think that they would already be long gone by the time the Kings, Amahl and all those shepherds and other folks allegedly got there. “Uh, Joseph, dear, we can’t leave just yet. We’re expecting a lot of visitors.” “When, Mary?” “I don’t know for sure. Some day soon, I guess. Besides, look, we have all the comforts of home right here.”

 

the Three

 

It’s said that the couple were on their way to Bethlehem to be registered, but they must not had made it there yet. So was Jesus really born in Bethlehem or somewhere else entirely? And where had they planned on staying when they did get to Bethlehem? Their mission probably took more than one day to accomplish. But if that was Bethlehem where they encountered the fully-occupied inn, had they neglected to call ahead to make reservations?

And what about those “gifts” that the Kings presented to Jesus? Now what is a little newborn baby supposed to do with gold, frankincense and myrrh, which were all symbolic in some way? The child neither understands the symbolism nor cares. He needs food and diapers. How practical is that other stuff?

You see, I am one who questions everything, instead of accepting it on face value. If it doesn’t make logical sense, I will comment on it. For example, how did all those people—shepherds, Magi and whoever else—find out where Mary and Joseph were holed up? They couldn’t have sent out a press release. The new parents didn’t even know where they were going to be. They ended up in that place only on a whim and as a last resort. Now the story goes, according to St. Luke, and let’s face it, it is just a story, a fairy tale, if you will, but instead of actual fairies, we have angels to play a part, okay?

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a Fairy Godmother, I mean, an Angel from God, appeared to some really freaked-out shepherds and announced that a Divine Baby Boy had just been born in their midst, and insisted that they go worship Him. “…And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Long pause) “That’s it? That’s all we get?  And why are you telling us anyway?  We ain’t nobody!  What are we supposed to do with this information?  We’re simple shepherds, not bloody detectives!  Now let me get this straight.  So you expect us to drop what we are doing, just leave our flocks unattended and go look for some damn baby who knows where, to do what, worship it? And this is on the word of…who did you say you were again?  An Angel from God?  Right!  Thank you, no.  I don’t think so.  Homie don‘t play that!”

But for those who did take up this alleged quest, how in the world did they find Him?  He undoubtedly was not the only baby born during that same time.  (This idea was explored and spoofed in Monty Python’s Life of Brian [1979]).  And certainly there were more than one manger throughout the land.  Did they do a farm-to-farm search until they found the right one? There was no kind of media communication in those days, no tracking devices, no GPS, nothing.  And again, why would the family still be in the same place by the time the others got there, who knows when?  Do you get my point about the implausible silliness of the whole thing?

The Planetarium in New York City gave a very interesting presentation one year.  It must have been around Christmastime, because the show was a speculative explanation about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth.  That very bright “Star-in-the-East” which supposedly guided everybody to the Christ Child, was the result of the alignment of several planets, a celestial phenomenon that occurs only once every few thousand years. Some people at the time may have wanted to associate such an unusual occurrence with a very special manifestation or birth.  But even so, who is to say that Jesus was that special birth?  It is all conjecture.

And then it’s said that the Wise Men “followed the Star,” which led them to the Christ Child.  Now, how do you follow a star?  Can you follow the sun or moon?  Was this particular star moving all around and had a big, flashing arrow on it pointing, “This Way to the Kid”?  Or as one version of the scripture says, “The Star came and stood over the place where the young child lay.”  Come on, how can the exact location of anything on earth be physically determined, based on where a star is in the sky?  And then, too, they are giving intelligent conscience to a star!  How did this star know where the baby was or who he was, or cared?!

(# What month was Jesus born in? [Well, it wasn’t…] The last month of the year… #) (# Long time ago in Bethlehem, so the Holy Bible say, Mary’s Boy Child, Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day… #) What is that, the Gospel According to Jester Hairston?  Nowhere, other than in certain songs, does it say that Jesus was born on December 25, Christmas Day.  That is not the case at all.  There was no such thing as “Christmas” until a couple of centuries after the fact.  It’s merely a man-established commemoration date, just like Columbus Day is.

That planet conjunction is said to have occurred in late February or early March. Others speculate that Jesus may have been born in August or September, based on the account that there were shepherds tending their flocks on the night in question. You see, they did this only during the blistering days of late summer when it is too hot for the sheep to graze in the daylight hours. So Jesus was not a Capricorn as people think, but possibly a Pisces, a Leo or a Virgo, if that matters to anybody. But Christmas occurring in the last week of December, and specifically the 25th, is no accident, but an arbitrary decision.

The early days of Christianity (about 300 years) were met with much persecution, by the Romans, mainly. They used to feed Christians to the lions as public entertainment. So people didn’t go around announcing that they were Christians. They tried to keep it pretty much on the down-low. So starting around 212 A.D., by holding Jesus’ Feast Day during the same season as the Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, Sacaea and some other established religious ceremonies, like Chanukah, Sol Invictus and the Mithraic Festival, the Christians could celebrate right along with everybody else without drawing special attention to themselves. That date works out well for the Catholics, especially, because seven days later is New Year’s Day, which symbolizes for them a new beginning and a new Covenant and all that.

So you see, the practice of changing and moving people’s birthdays around for convenience’s sake is not a new thing. Even the Sabbath for Christians, Sunday, is a result of an arbitrary change from the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday to the pagan’s weekly veneration day of the sun, hence the name. Incidentally, it is purported that the pre-Christian Persian God Mithra—called “the Son of God” and “the Light of the World”—was born on December 25, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days. Sound familiar?

Dec. 25 is also the birthday of Adonis, Dionysus and Osiris, and the newborn Krishna was presented with gold, frankincense and myrrh. In fact, no aspect of Christianity is original. Everything about it is based on prior religious conventions, practices and symbolism, which makes me even more convinced that the whole Nativity Story, as we know it, is merely an adaptation. I don’t mean to make fun of anybody’s faith (well, maybe I do), but this is just another way to look at it and something to think about.

[Related articles: A Critique of Catholicism; For the Bible Tells Me So; Heaven and Hell; Jesus H. Christ!; Oh, God, You Devil!; Sin and Forgiveness; The Ten Commandments]

The Boy Who Cried “Kings!”

This is my Christmas submission for the year. I know that we are supposed to be all-inclusive nowadays and use “holidays” in our seasonal references, and I do that when it is applicable. If I ever submit a Chanukah piece or one on Kwanzaa, for example, then I will call it what it is. This just happens to be specifically a Christmas story, or more appropriately, an Epiphany story, as you shall see.

For those of you who don’t know or remember Anna Russell [1911-2006], she was sort of a music humorist, similar to Victor Borge, who in her concerts did demonstrations and sketches on various music-related subjects. The English-Canadian also sang and played piano. One of her most famous and popular routines is a hilarious synopsis of Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas. There are recordings of it available, if you want to check it out for yourself. Why the bit works so well is because it is funny even if you are not familiar with the operas themselves. One can enjoy a good story that they haven’t heard before. I only mention this because I am doing something similar with an opera of my own choosing.

My favorite one-act opera happens to be Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian-Carlo Menotti. This is the first opera to be commissioned specifically for television, and it premiered on NBC on Christmas Eve, 1951. Since I know the work very well, having heard it often, studied it and even performed it several times, I am aware of the glitches and flaws in the story, which I am about to point out. Menotti himself did his own libretto, so he is the one at whom I will be throwing shade. It’s too bad that he is not alive to receive my critique. I hope you enjoy my irreverence.

The title character, Amahl, is a 12-year-old, “crippled,” shepherd boy, who walks with a crude crutch, which he made himself, he tells us. His mother, who is unnamed, is purportedly a widow, and Amahl’s father is never mentioned. We don’t know who the hell he is or how he “died.” Those are sardonic quotation marks, by the way.

The opera opens with a short prelude for string orchestra then segues to Amahl sitting on a rock outside his hut, playing on his makeshift pipe. But what we hear instead is a virtuosic oboe! I am already thinking, Gee, if he is that good a player, why isn’t he enrolled in a music school or playing in a youth orchestra somewhere? It is night and we don’t know what time it is, but Amahl’s mother calls him inside to go to bed. We don’t know if this is a school night or if Amahl even attends school, so why does he have to go to bed when he’s not tired or sleepy?

You know about the famous Star-in-the-East. Amahl tries to tell his mother about this fantastic Star that is lighting up the whole sky, and it has a tail, no less! But instead of taking a look herself to verify his story, she just comes right out and calls him a liar. You see, he’s always making up stuff, so why should she believe him this time? She then informs her son that since they had to sell all their sheep and everything else of any value, they will have to become door-to-door beggars. This news actually delights Amahl. He sees it as a fun adventure. He is a little Pollyanna, that one.

As soon as Mother and son retire to their straw pallets, the Three Kings (and their Page) start their approach from wherever. We don’t know why they picked this hut at which to stop. You will see later that there were plenty other options. Was it the first one that they came to? They don’t say. So when King Melchior knocks on the door, instead of the Mother getting up to see who it is, she orders poor, crippled Amahl to hobble over to the door. I mean, it’s night, and she is the adult who should be the one answering the door. Whoever it is, they are probably calling to see her, not Amahl.

Then when he tells her that there is a king out there wearing a crown, of course, she doesn’t believe him again. The knocking continues, and twice more she sends Amahl to the door. The third time when he informs her that now the Kings are three, and one of them is black, that does it. “Oh, Lord, what am I going to do with this boy?!” Well, you could go to the door yourself, which she should have done in the first place. She finally does, and finds that everything Amahl has said is entirely true, including that bright Star with the tail that is guiding the Kings’ journey. She never apologizes to Amahl, however, for accusing him of lying to her.

King Balthazar sings, # May we rest a while in your house and warm ourselves by your fireplace? # The woman explains that she ain’t got shit to offer them, but they are welcome to come in anyway. The Mother then leaves to go gather some wood for the fire and leaves her young son with four perfect strangers. In this day and age, who would do that? Even then, it was not a smart thing to do. She doesn‘t know anything about these guys. They could be imposters posing as kings to gain people‘s trust. They might be combing the countryside, looking for children to sell into slavery and prostitution. Why did they pick this particular house to visit? It would have made more sense to send Amahl out to gather the wood.

But this gives the boy a chance to make amusing repartee with the Kings, especially with the hard-of-hearing Kaspar, with his vicious parrot and his drawered box containing precious stones, colored beads and licorice! (# This is my box…I never travel without my box. #) Amahl, at least, must have some suspicions when he asks the visitors if they are real kings and wants to know where they came from. The Mother could just as well have been present for the scene. In fact, these are questions that she should be asking!

The Mother returns with the firewood and actually accuses Amahl of being a nuisance. Then why didn’t she stay there with them then? So now she sends Amahl out to summon the neighbors to bring whatever they have to offer the guests. While he is gone, the Mother takes note of the gold and stuff in the room. Melchior informs her that the gold and other gifts are for the Child. # The child! Which child? # she inquires. They don’t know. They are only following that Star. They then do a lovely quartet, “Have You Seen a Child,” the Kings referring to the Christ Child, and the Mother referring to her own child, Amahl, who needs the gold more than some baby that they don‘t even know.

Now here is where it gets a little strange, or more so, if you‘re already there. Amahl is supposed to be out telling the neighbors about his distinguished guests. First of all, why didn’t his mother do all that herself while she was just out there? She might have had more credibility. Why would they believe anything Amahl has to say? They all know what a pathological liar he is, and his own mother doesn’t even believe him most of the time. And second, if it is late enough to be bedtime, wouldn’t the others all be abed as well? So Amahl had to wake everybody up with this fantastic story about these three Kings (and Page) at their hut, and they buy it?

But here they all come anyway. This is your standard opera chorus. Check out what they bring to the party: a big assortment of fruit, nuts, cheese, herbs, spices and sweets. Now, I ask you… If they have all this food and goodies at their disposal, why had they not shared any of it with Amahl and his mother before now? The poor blokes are in there starving, and these other folks are living high on the hog! What’s up with that? But they are willing to bestow all this stuff on some errant strangers just on the word of little lying Amahl. How did they know that these Kings even existed until they actually saw them in the flesh? The boy might be trying to con them for his own purposes.

Plus, the score has these choristers billed as Shepherds. So if they have flocks of sheep to tend, why did Amahl’s mother have to sell all of hers? With them all living so close together, how could they discern which sheep belonged to whom? I would think that they would have a situation like sharecroppers. If the people in the community all do the same thing, why wouldn’t they share what they have with each other? When they are first introduced in the opera, it’s made to look like Amahl and his mother are living alone in isolation wherever they are, and then we find out that there are all these neighbors nearby who are apparently doing all right for themselves.

Since I tend to question everything, I am wondering, to whom exactly did she sell their sheep, and what did the purchasers of same do with them? Also, where are Amahl and his mother going to do this door-to-door begging? Surely not these present neighbors, or they would have already hit them up. Is there another residential town or village nearby, and if so, why didn’t the Kings (and Page) go there instead of out here in the boonies?

Now comes the compulsory dance sequence. I suppose the Kings use this time to eat, because when the dance is finished, Balthazar politely tells them all to get the fuck out, so that they can get some sleep, as they still have a long way to go. There is no mention in the score whether all the vittles were consumed, and if there were any leftovers, did the shepherds leave it there or take it all back with them? The ensuing orchestral interlude, the same music that opens the opera, denotes the passage of time of several hours, I suppose, as the lighting outside the hut indicates it is now dawn.

The Mother is the first to awaken and immediately is fixated on the Kings’ treasure and sings an aria about what she could do with it “All That Gold.” The others must be really sound sleepers, because the aria builds in volume and intensity until near the end, when she is screaming fortissimo high G’s, and nobody wakes up! That is, until she actually seizes the gold, waking up the Page who is guarding it. It is at this point that the Page finally gets to sing something. We all thought that he was mute until then. He charges Ms. Thing of trying to steal their gold and demands that she give it back at once, and they struggle over it. Amahl tries to defend his mother by attacking the Page with hits and kicks.

The Kings, however, go easy on her, and Melchior even tells her that she may keep the gold, as the Christ Child does not need it. Isn’t that white of him? I mean, that’s the least they can do. After all, this impoverished woman took them in for the night, gave them a place to rest and sleep, fed them and entertained them. They should pay her something, don‘t you think? She is not in any position to be giving out free room and board.

Let me mention this about the Kings, incidentally. Melchoir seems to be the head King, as he has the most to sing in the opera, and Balthazar, the black one, has the least to sing. Oh, he gets to comment here and there, but he does not have a real aria, short as they are anyway, like the other two do. You can assess that decision by Menotti anyway you want to. I’m just saying.

As the Kings (and the Page) prepare to leave, Amahl, too, wants to give something to this mysterious Child. But wait! Amahl was outside when the Kings were talking about the Child. This is the first he has heard of him. So why didn’t he ask, “Who are you talking about? What Child?” And of course, the only thing he has of his own besides his pipe (oboe) is his crutch. So he offers that, saying that the kid may need it someday.

Get ready. It’s “miracle” time! Amahl holds up his crutch to give to the Kings and takes a step toward them. The Mother immediately tries to stop him, insisting, “But you can’t, you can’t!” But he can, apparently. After he has walked over and hands his crutch to Kaspar, Amahl proceeds to jump and caper around the room.

Of course, the Kings all believe that the boy has been healed by the grace of God through the Holy Child. Here is what I think. It really was no miracle. What happened was just this. What if Amahl was already able to walk and was never lame at all, but only was told that he was by his mother? It’s never said what Amahl’s specific affliction is. Does he have polio or something debilitating? Maybe at some time years ago he had trouble walking on his own, but if he had never tried to since or lately, how would he know if he could or not, until he tried? Even so, he was at least ambulatory, with the help of the crutch. He wasn’t paralyzed in a wheelchair or anything. So it was not some great miracle that he could walk without the crutch.

I don’t trust that Mother anyhow. Maybe she wants to keep Amahl disabled, so that he will have to depend on her always. Some parents do that to their kids, you know. Keep them ill so that they will never leave them. As Amahl is enjoying his newfound mobility, his Mother warns him, # Be careful now, my darling, you must take care not to hurt yourself. # Oh, leave the boy alone! She sounds as if she does not want to him to be well. Consider, too, that they will have a better chance at begging with a poor crippled child in tow to pity. I also contend that a person who is always doubtful of other’s words is usually because they are a chronic liar themself. Is she really a widow, for instance? We have only her word for it. What else might she be lying about? We already know that she’s a thief.

The Kings (and the Page) then make a strange request. # Oh, blessed child, may I touch you? # What? Why do they want to do that? Maybe they are pedophiles, after all! Amahl does allow it. I guess it is up to the individual director of each production where they should touch the boy. When the Page asks to cop his feel, however, Amahl is reluctant, as he is still miffed with him for assaulting his mother earlier.

Now “Mommie Dearest” is about to do something else very strange. Amahl wants to go with the Kings (and the Page) to give his crutch to the Child himself. And she lets him go! She has been so overprotective of him, but now all of a sudden, she is going to relinquish her only child to a bunch of strange, dirty old men? She doesn’t even ask where exactly are they going or when they will return? Doesn’t she care? They assure her, # We will take good care of him. We’ll bring him back on a camel’s back. # Uh, where are they getting this alleged camel from? If they have a camel somewhere, where is it, and why are they all walking? Yeah, I’ll just bet they will take care of him. Maybe they do plan on molesting him, selling him or pimping him out. If it were my child, I would go along with them. Why did she choose to stay behind? What is keeping her there? Her actions don’t make good sense. Maybe she wants some time alone with a local, secret paramour, perhaps?

As they are saying their goodbyes, here are Mother’s instructions to her son: # Don’t forget to wear your hat. # And what will happen if he doesn’t wear it? # Wash your ears. # Is that the only things that he needs to wash? The boy does not even own a toothbrush! # Don’t tell lies. # Take your own advice, bitch! Then Amahl makes these requests to his mother: # Feed my bird. Watch the cat. # What bird? What cat? They don’t have anything to eat themselves, but they have the means to take care of a fucking bird and cat?! I’m not making any of this up, you know.

So then off they go to who-knows-where. The Shepherds are up now, too, to sing us one last parting chorus. As our travelers make their way down the road, Amahl starts playing his pipe again (which still sounds like an oboe), and it’s the same tune as before. It must be the only song that he knows. The End.

Happy Holidays, my dear Readers!

[Related articles: Nativity Redux; Simple Gifts?]