Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

The Perfect Christmas Gift

Posted in General on December 24th, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

Irene's CrownWhat Christmas gift can you give the man who has everything–or at least control of France, Germany and Italy? That was the challenge confronting Pope Leo III. You just couldn’t give Charlemagne a Christmas card. It would only remind the Warlord that he was illiterate. Charlemagne was a widower, so there was no point in offering him a gift card for an annulment. Then Leo thought of the perfect gift for his Frankish friend. True, Leo had to steal it; but a Pope can always absolve himself.

So, on Christmas Day in 800, the Pope proclaimed Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emperor. Unfortunately, Charlemagne was not pleased with his fancy new title. Western Europe’s King was not ostentatious, and he certainly was uncomfortable with a “hot” crown. The real owner–in Constantinople–would certainly object.

The Pope–looking perfectly innocent, which should be a prerequisite for the job— had an impeccable rationale for his crowning presumption. He had only made Charlemagne an Emperor; the reigning sovereign in Constantinople was named Irene. The Empress Irene was a widow, which she probably arranged; so there was no Byzantine male to contest the role of Emperor. (Irene had a son, but she had him ousted, blinded and killed; to her credit, she never harmed her grandchildren–who happened to be girls–and one would become Empress.)

In proclaiming Charlemagne to be Emperor, the Pope was not criticizing Irene. On the contrary, the Church liked her. When Irene overthrew her son and seized the throne, Pope Leo had congratulated her. That unfortunate young Emperor, like his conveniently dead father, had been proponents of Iconoclasm, a dogma condemned by the Roman branch of Christendom. Irene, however, agreed with the Roman reverence for art; she certainly preferred icons to her family.

Of course, with her aesthetic refinement, Irene would not have appreciated sharing the most prestigious title in Christendom with an illiterate warlord. The Byzantines refused to recognize Charlemagne’s title. Frankly (sorry about that), neither did Charlemagne. To legitimize his Imperial rank–and make an honest man of himself, Charlemagne offered to marry Irene.
The Empress was not flattered or tempted: she declined the proposal.

Given Irene’s family history, Charlemagne probably was lucky. At least, he lived another 14 years. His Empire did not last much longer than he did: squabbling grandsons whose ambitions surpassed their competence shredded it into warring states. For another three centuries however, Byzantium would remain the greatest power (and only civilized one) in Christendom.

Its only rival was, ironically, the Roman Church. When Pope Leo III assumed the right to appoint and crown an Emperor, he had also given the Church the perfect Christmas gift: authority over the temporal world.

None of your gifts will be that good, but try to enjoy the holidays anyway.

Your RDA of Literacy

Posted in General on December 28th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 5 Comments

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The Twelve Answers to My Christmas Quiz

1. Bethlehem is “house of bread” (answer c). If this was intended to be a franchise, it didn’t work.

2. Nicholas managed to be both a saint and a bureaucrat (answer b). In fact, Nicholas was a bishop, which is a bureaucratic job in itself. Furthermore, bishops in the late Roman Empire were part of the civil service, handling the judicial and supervisory responsibilities of their dioceses. The emperor tended to trust the clergy more than his relatives.

3. There would be no office Christmas parties under Oliver Cromwell (answer b). He outlawed the celebration of Christmas: It smacketh of Popery! Nonetheless, it is fun to imagine John Milton (Cromwell’s PR flack) getting drunk and poetically propositioning Mrs. Cromwell.

4. The answer is d: three sons. Don’t worry; Herod still had four sons to spare. He also executed one wife and one son-in-law. None of his daughters were so honored. To his credit, Herod never executed any of his grandchildren.

5. Magi were priests of the Zoroasterian religion, the dominant faith of the Parthian Empire (answer a). Peloponnesia (southern Greece)  Phoenicia (alias Lebanon) and Phrygia (central Turkey) were Roman provinces, and their versions of wise men would have been Hellenized sophists.

6. Prince Albert (answer d), the German-born husband of Queen Victoria, introduced the tannenbaum to England. He also may have introduced both intelligence and hemophilia into the Royal Family. The hemophilia made more of an impression.

7. The Pompeii REIT (answer b) would have been a good investment until AD 79. Being Augustus’ heir would be a terrible bet. All of his heirs had mysterious accidents or succumbed to surprise diseases. The Janus Theology Fund didn’t turn a profit until the fourth century, when a small-cap religion known as Christianity got Emperor Constantine’s celebrity endorsement. While philosophy was the first artificial intelligence, Microsophist would have been too ahead of its time.

8. Unfortunately, the answer is b. Berlin’s first memories were of the Cossacks’ version of “The Easter Parade.” Encouraged by the anti-Semitic policies of Czar Alexander III, the vicious mob could have been called “Alexander’s Rage Time Band.”

9. Would you try growing cotton in December? Neither would Sally Field’s character in Places in the Heart (answer a). In The Lion in Winter, the Plantagenets gather to celebrate Christmas and kill each other. In The French Connection, one of Gene Hackman’s transparent guises was as a street-corner Santa. Between planning escapes and beating up William Holden, the prisoners of Stalag 17 celebrated Christmas.

10. Alexandria (answer d) was the think tank of the Roman world. Its scientists developed the Julian calendar and correctly calculated the Earth’s circumference. One of them, Hieron, invented the first jet engine; however, he had no idea how to use it. Alexandria’s scientific community also successfully promoted a chronological concept called the “week.” The seven-day period once had been dismissed as just another Jewish idiosyncrasy. But when Alexandria adopted the idea, everyone loved it.

11. The Oracle of Delphi (answer c) offered incomprehensible utterances and was worshipped for them. Mr. Greenspan’s unique style of rhetoric would have hindered his career as a messiah. Imagine his version of the Golden Rule: “A proactive behavioralistic mode should be vectored to an optimalized spectrum with expectational reciprocity.”

12. The leaders of the rebellion hated to give up power (answer d). Unfortunately, the Maccabees were better soldiers than kings. The history of the dynasty is a sorry series of conspiracies and civil wars. Maccabee rule and Jewish independence ended in 63 B.C. when two princes were fighting over the throne. Each unable to eliminate the other, the brothers asked Rome to judge who should rule Judea. The Romans accepted the invitation, marched in, and didn’t leave.

Scoring Key

Now add up your correct answers and find your place in the Nativity.

12 correct: The center of attention
10-11: Star of Bethlehem
8-9: Host of angels
6-7: Wise men
4-5: Kindly shepherds (bewildered by Latin-singing angels)
2-3: Kindly sheep
1: Innkeeper

Christmas Newsletters Through History

Posted in General on December 16th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Catherine de Medici, 1572:

Guess who I poisoned this year!  If you are reading this, it obviously wasn’t you.

George III, 1783:

This year’s mailing list will be a little shorter.  Thirteen colonies–well, they resented paying postage anyway.  But can’t be too glum.  We are having a wonderful time talking to trees.  (They are more reputable than any of my sons.)

 Mary, 0 B.C.

We have a new member of the family, If you think that childbirth is difficult, try One with a halo! Trust me, that is no place for a sunburn. There was a choir of Angels singing in Latin; so I have no idea what they were saying. Is Gloria in Excelsis the wife of Augustus? The Welcome Wagon brought the usual gift assortment and ads: gold, frankincense and ten percent off your next purchase at Toga Tots.

Eugene, 2014:

Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men” would leave me with the ultimate writer’s block.  But maybe you’d like it?


Season’s Bleatings

Posted in General on December 3rd, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

A thousand years ago, the children of Scandinavia looked up to the sky awaiting the arrival of a jolly, boisterous spirit and his animal drawn cart. If the children had been good, they would be rewarded with weapons and attack plans for the British Isles. Thor and his goat cart would eventually be replaced by a migrant deity willing to work longer hours, deal with diseases and the other drudgery that no self-respecting Aesir would touch.

Yet, Swedes still celebrate the Christmas season with little straw goats, a symbol of their former theology. Perhaps in Scandinavian Nativity scenes the Virgin Mother is wearing a breast plate and a horned helmet.

The War Against Christmas: 1776

Posted in On This Day on December 26th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

On this day in 1776, George Washington proved himself to be an immoral secular humanist by ruining a British Christmas party. While the Hessian garrison in Trenton, New Jersey was celebrating the birth of Jesus by compressing the 12 days of Christmas into one hangover, the irreverent Continental army crossed the Delaware River and attacked. We all know the painting of that Freemason Washington standing in a boat as his men rowed to battle. Of course, truly devout Americans would have walked upon the water.

Yes, the Americans won that day, but the Continental Congress should have disavowed such godless cheating. Why wasn’t George Washington court-martialed for his impiety? In fact, as an apology to Jesus, we should have called the Revolution off.

The Wailing Wall Street Journal, column one

Posted in General on December 25th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

December XXV, Annum I


Emperor Stresses Need for Star Wars Program

Three Eastern Bloc Scientists Arrested

ROME ”While school children were being instructed in the use of catacombs as fallout shelters, the panicked Senate investigated reports of a technological breakthrough in Parthian air power. The sightings of U.F.O.s over Judea prompted the Emperor Gustus to call for the development of bigger catapults.

At a mosaics opportunity for his head start program for gladiator schools, the Emperor responded to the reporters’ questions by blaming the previous administration of Marc Antony. It was wasting money on aqueducts and roads when we should have been working on the Satyr catheter. A palace spokesman later insisted that the Emperor said Saturn catapult.

The spokesman refused to confirm reports of the detention of three Parthian magi. Reliable sources on the Senate Intelligence Committee indicated that the three were terrorists posing as a scientific mission.

There remains some doubt as to whether the Parthians actually have achieved air superiority. According to some shepherds in fields as they lay, the aircraft resembled a new star and a host of angels. That bucolic perspective was dismissed by defense analyst Pyrrhus Victorius. “Very few of those shepherds studied aerodynamics at Alexandria or Athens.”