Today is the Sixth of January

I had been thinking of various essays to commemorate today, January 6, often known as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. Several topics came to mind.

First, I thought I might write about the bizarre time the spouse and I were ordered by a man to hide behind some columns in a dark crypt inside an Mayan pyramid in Yucatan, and then we think we were invited by this man (we think it only because we had such trouble understanding his English) to a neighborhood Three Kings party. P.S. We didn’t go.

            Then I thought I might write about how some traditions call the Magi Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar even though these names are not in the Bible. I would continue by noting that not all Christian faiths limit the Magi to three or agree that the wise men visited shortly after Jesus was born. Thus, s0me denominations have as many as twelve Magi and some have the adoration by them occurring up to two years after the birth. I might include that we refer to them as “kings” even though that designation does not appear in the Bible.

            And then I thought I might explore different gift-giving traditions observing that various cultures share presents on St. Nicholas Day, December 5, or 6,  some on Christmas Eve, some on Christmas Day, some on Boxing Day, and others on January 6.

            I have several times been in New Orleans on January 6 and have always been served Three Kings cake then.  I planned to write amusingly about that tiny plastic baby Jesus hidden inside the cake, which I think is tacky. The essay would have continued with a discussion of Mardi Gras.

            However, I have been distracted today from thinking about the religious, social, and cultural aspects of January 6. All such thoughts have recently been replaced by a new epiphany that January 6 is another important day in the selection of our president. For most of my life, I considered there to be only two crucial dates for our presidential picking: Election Day (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November) and Inauguration Day, some day in January when, according to the Constitution, a new presidential term starts at noon. I was aware that we had an Electoral College, but I never knew the date that it “met” because it never seemed crucial, and it never garnered more than a paragraph in the news. (Of course, the EC does not really meet – at least not in Washington. Instead, electors in each state separately convene and cast their votes.) If I had thought about it, I might have realized that there had to be some sort of state certification process of the vote after Election Day, but until this year I had not thought about that process. Moreover, I learned that the date of certification varies from state to state.

            And then there is the day that Congress counts the electoral vote — once again a date I have paid little attention to because for a century-and-a-half it has been an insignificant day of routine bookkeeping. I could not have told you that it fell on January 6, but now I know that it does. It is still expected to have no practical significance. The electoral count will be the same number that has been in effect since a few days after the election. However, this January 6 will garner more attention than any congressional elector count since 1876, a shameful time in our history. We can hope that today’s count will not reveal a shameful time in our current history.  

            The day will get attention because several members of Congress will object to the electoral count, and that will lead to “debate” in each House. Other than reaping attention for themselves, the naysayers are not expected to affect the election results. At least some of the constitutional subverters say their goal is not to keep Trump in office, but to address the distrust that has built in the public. F0r example, Ted (Look! I can grow a Covid beard) Cruz, a leader in attacking the election, said, “We’ve seen in the last two months unprecedented allegations of voter fraud. And that’s produced a deep, deep distrust of our democratic process across the country. I think we in Congress have an obligation to do something about that.” (Hmmm. And what’s he going to do? Tell us that the fraud is real and the election results are invalid? Yeah, that’ll help.)

            So, while he is hardly the appropriate person to address this problem, he has a point. Even I have become distrustful of our “democratic” processes, not because I buy into the baseless claims of electoral fraud, but because so many of our political “leaders” are fanning the fraud flames and are advocating extraordinary, sometimes bizarre, and often illegal and unconstitutional measures that would sabotage the democratic process. While we can be cautiously optimistic that today will end as it should with Biden’s being declared President, the bombastic stupidity that will be on display is disheartening to say the least.

            The Trumpistas are winning. They have made me distrustful and fearful. May our country and our democracy and our republican form of government survive today intact.

A Spectacular Christmas Kick (concluded)

While the Santa-is-not-real portion of the present Radio City Christmas Spectacular was not my favorite, my major criticism of this pageant is its lack of diversity. While a sprinkling of color can be found, the cast is overwhelmingly white. New York has many wonderful singers and dancers of all shades, and one wonders why more non-whites weren’t on stage. The audience, too, is heavily white, but I doubt that that is the conscious choice of Spectacular producers. I am sure that they are happy to take everyone’s money.

This Christmas Spectacular, however, retained two of its most important elements. It had the Living Nativity, although it has been shortened from back in the day. It has dropped the part where a sonorous baritone intones words that are projected on a scrim. This told us that Jesus was important even though his life had been limited: he never wrote a book; few knew about him while he lived; he never traveled more that fifty or hundred miles from home, etc, etc. I believe it ended with an explicit reference to Jesus being the Messiah. The Living Nativity today still has a religious component, but it seemed dampened down from what I (perhaps incorrectly) remember. (In today’s New York, where many people automatically say “Happy Holiday” instead of “Merry Christmas,” it is noteworthy that this is still a Christmas show that, although overwhelmingly secular except for the Living Nativity, is devoid of a menorah or any reference to kwanza.)

This Living Nativity does not have any reference to a census or to a no vacancy sign at the inn, but centers on the Magi. (Quick New Testament trivia. How many wise men do the Bible mention? You’re wrong. It says that three gifts were brought, but not the number of wise men. Radio City has it right. It says that “tradition maintains” that there were three.) A caravan of humans and animals cross the stage, including sheep and a donkey, but the audience is always most impressed with the camels. (Questions abound. Where are the kept? Where are they the rest of the year? Do they ever have an onstage accident? I have never seen this, but friends have: Late at night or early in the morning the camels and perhaps the other animals are exercised by walking them through the streets of midtown Manhattan. It is a sight I would like to see.) The Living Nativity concludes with a magnificent rendition of Hark, the Herald Angels Sing. No Sunday school could even dream of competing with this pageant.

However, what the Christmas Spectacular is most known for are the Rockettes, an amazing collection of women all of the same height, all of the same body type front and back, all of the same shapely legs. And, of course, all who can kick at the same height in precision with all the others. They are on stage more than I remember when I went in the NBP’s youth, with many costume changes, including as Santa’s reindeer and as Raggedy Annes. But their defining performance, which has apparently been included in every show since their first one in 1933, is the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. I am sure you can see it on YouTube, but I have now seen it on the Radio City stage many times, and I have marveled at it each time, especially when the Soldiers are “shot” down. I loved it again.

I liked the show and it brought back warm memories of when the NBP was young and other times the spouse and I spent with the NBP. But this show did more than that. Sitting to my right was a ten-old girl with her seven-year-old sister. When the Mighty Wurlitzer’s overture ended, the show began with the stage, which must be a hydraulic wonder because it can do so many things—portions can go up and down and also glide over each other–impressively ascended out of depths that could now be seen holding an orchestra and conductor. I heard next to me barely breathed “Wows.” I looked over and two pairs of eyes were as wide as eyes could ever be. Seeing those wide eyes and the breathless “Wows” made me realize again that Christmas can be magic. And if it magical for those young ones, it can be magical for me, too. It still is, and I hope for you, too.