Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 23, 2002
Mint cashes in on Christmas
Mutilating carols to market coins defames the sacred
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
Advertising is a tool, an instrument; it can be used well, and it can be used badly.
Advertising can be a useful tool for sustaining honest and ethically responsible competition that contributes to economic growth in the service of authentic human development. Advertising can contribute to the betterment of society by uplifting and inspiring people and motivating them to act in ways that benefit themselves and others. It can brighten lives simply by being witty, tasteful and entertaining.
It can also have a corrupting influence upon culture and cultural values. The exploitation of women, both in and by advertising, is a frequent deplorable use. Advertising can be tasteful and in conformity with high moral standards, and occasionally even morally uplifting, but it can also be vulgar and degrading.
As a clergyman, I am particularly sensitive to special problems relating to advertising that treat religion or pertain to specific issues with a moral dimension. Commercial advertisers sometimes include religious themes or use religious images or personages to sell products. It is possible to do this in tasteful, acceptable ways, but the practice is obnoxious and offensive when it involves exploiting religion or treating it flippantly.
The Royal Canadian Mint's peddling coins to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas and arbitrarily changing the lyrics to The Twelve Days of Giving is a case in point.
I am inclined to view this as but another instance of our government worshipping at the altar of political correctness and a direct assault on what Christians hold most precious. However, in accordance with the seasonal spirit of forgiveness, I would like to accuse the advertisers and the approving bureaucrats of nothing more than culpable ignorance.
In the Christian tradition all major religious feasts used to be extended for at least a week, a sign that Church and people were reluctant to say goodbye to it. The celebration a week later was called the octave (Latin, "the eighth"). Festivities, sometimes elaborate, continued during the days in-between. The celebration of Christmas was stretched even further - over a period of 12 days beginning on Dec. 25 and ending on Jan. 6, the Feast of the Epiphany.
The 12 days encompassed the celebration of the feast days of three martyrs and three kinds of martyrdom, which predated the seasonal observance of Christmas, but still remain in the Church's liturgical calendar. Those who went to their death willingly (St. Stephen), those who were willing to die but were not put to death (St. John), and those who were put to death without their choice (Holy Innocents).
A much later addition to the 12 days was the feast of the Holy Family, observed on the Sunday between Christmas and Jan. 1.
Jan. 1 itself has had many religious themes in Christian history, none of which are associated with the secular understanding of New Year's Day so popular in our society today. The Church, not all that successfully, tended to promote penitential liturgies and fasting to offset the influence of pagan New Year's boisterous practices. Other religious themes evolved for this day, among the earliest was a Marian theme. Today, Jan. 1 combines a number of themes: the Octave of Christmas; Mary, the Mother of God; and, more recently, the theme of world peace.
In the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation in some countries challenged the excessive celebration of Christmas. Puritans in England, for example, condemned all celebration of Christmas as pagan. After they came to political power, they outlawed through Parliament in 1643 any observance of Christmas under pain of punishment. As a consequence of this kind of religious repression, a kind of underground catechism, using lyrics and song, was developed to teach the faith.
The cheerful song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, about a true lover doesn't in its first imposition refer to an earthly suitor but to God himself.
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, much in the memory of Christ 's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem. The pear tree represents the cross.
Two turtle doves have been taken to refer to either the sacrificial gift-offering made for Jesus by Joseph and Mary ("a pair of doves or two pigeons") or the Old and New Testaments.
Three French hens symbolize the Magi's gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, or alternately, the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.
Four calling birds are reminders of the fourfold Gospels of Matthew, Mark., Luke and John.
Five golden rings recall the five books or the "Pentateuch": Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Six geese a-laying, symbolizing new life, call to mind the six days of creation.
Seven swans a-swimming symbolize the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
And eight maids a-milking, the eight Beatitudes.
Nine ladies dancing stand for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Ten lords a-leaping point to the authoritative Ten Commandments.
The 11 pipers piping refers to the faithful disciples known as apostles.
The 12 drummers drumming call attention to the 12 articles of the Apostles Creed.
I wonder if anyone associated with the Royal Mint ever took a course in Christian theology or spirituality.
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