CHRISTMAS DAY by Pamela Ostler
What do we know about the First Noel? We see pictures of the Nativity, often a small building alone in the countryside. There was ‘no room for them in the inn’ but space in the stable. Was this a callous indifference or a gesture of compassion as they could go nowhere else. Our stables are for horses, but that had an ox and an ass, both beasts of burden there. The donkey may have been the family’s own beast, carrying their belongings and even Mary when she grew tired.
Did they have help from the inn? did the maid servants come to see the Baby? Or other women nearby too, who may have brought gifts –clothes and blankets, toys.
We know they did have visitors, and the first were the shepherds given the news by angels. Even in this industrial age we know a little of what a shepherd’s work entails though now they don‘t spend time in the fields watching over their flocks, but their work can be heavy and not too clean, and these men came straight from the fields to see the wonder of the new Baby. Were their sheep lambing in winter? They are shown with lambs in their arms – artistic licence?
The next visitors are the Three Wise Men – or Three Kings – from the east. From far, one is traditionally black, which suggests India – a very long way, why make this journey, how long did it take? Were they travelling as old friends or did they meet on the way? They had read the signs and portents which lead them to believe that they should visit the new King as the shepherds also felt the need.
The Magi did not come straight from work, they are shown in all their wealth and circumstance and with attendants. They also brought the gifts they thought proper, but more costly – myrrh, frankincense and gold, which like the shepherd’s had, all foretold a future life.
T.S.Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi” is a vivid word picture. One describes their experiences. “A cold coming we had of it, Just the worst time of the year . . . such a long journey”. The weather was cold, the roads bad, the Inns poor, the men and their camels were difficult. They had left lovely homes behind. And wondered . . . Till at last they came to a scented valley, which proved to be their goal. . . . “And I would do it again”. Then he ponders on what they saw and why they were called to go on that journey.
But these are pictures of the imagination not factual, what was it really like?
St Neots, England