Monday, December 17, 2012

A Starburst of Christmases

My first year in the Middle East (back when Christmas cards were carved on stone tablets),  I was supremely secure in my ignorance.  I ground my teeth in frustration as my students told me I couldn’t schedule the exam on January 7 because it was Christmas.  They knew that I had just come from the United States, and I’m sure they understood that I had lived in a largely Christian society my entire life.  What were they trying to pull?  Christmas was over—no more need to think about it until next year.
When I arrived at work the next day, there was a note from the head of the department asking me to come to his office as soon as possible.  Needless to say, I was ashamed and embarrassed to be told I had been culturally insensitive, or words to that effect.  The students were telling the truth.  Some of them did celebrate Christmas on January 7, and some celebrated on January 6.  I delayed the exam.  When I tried to reschedule for January 19, I was told once more that it was Christmas.  Surely the students were playing a joke on me.  Well it wasn’t going to work.  Unfortunately, some of us don’t learn from our mistakes.
The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem celebrates Christmas on January 19.
I knew all about the Protestant Reformation; I knew that Christian sects continue to proliferate.  I also knew that calendars had changed several time since the birth of Christ.  How could I have imagined that the birthplace of Christianity only gave birth to sects that agreed on a single date for an event that happened over two thousand years ago and stayed united through all the calendar changes that happened during that time?
I like to believe it was because I never asked about the differences between the many churches in Palestine.  I focused instead on what they had in common—the belief that man is worthy of salvation, and the eternal hope for peace on earth.

Too bad it doesn't look like it's going to happen any time soon.

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