It is December 24 in the Gregorian calendar, the Ides of the decimus mensis in the Julian calendar, and the Eid Majlis, 1410 in the Hegira calendar. A file of Hare Krishna bedecked in health and safety bright orange robes is chanting its way towards Bethlehem for a friend’s Bar mitzvah. The Hares: Hare Kari, Hare Potter, Hare Ramsey and Hare Hill, are hungry but happy and hopeful, and in celebratory mood because they have all achieved a special music award for chanting in the Middle Eastern Peace and Love Festival. Along the way, the Hare Krishna is joined by Ladysmith Black Mombasa, whose powerful earthy rhythms and mellifluous harmonies add counterpoint to the plainsong iambic pentatemeter of the Hares. For the full inclusive experience, both sets of singers and chanters spontaneously break out into Haiku every 15 minutes. Notwithstanding the cultural differences, the Hare Krishna’s bright orange robes are complemented by the Ladysmith’s tie-died and plantain-printed organically grown cotton kaftans.
In the pitch black, dark black, gloomy rheumy night*, Joseph and his heavily pregnant wife Mary are waiting by the roadside staring at a bright shining star in the sky. They had begun their journey on a donkey called Don who really wouldn’t mind retiring to a sanctuary on the Gaza Strip and just doing the odd job to supplement his pension. He realised that it was against the EEC Directive 19804/b, which asserts that carrying heavy loads above a certain weight incurs the requisition of a Manual Handling Certificate and Public Liability Insurance. Don thought he was too old for this now and as he had served his time on Blackpool Beach ferrying overweight children back and forth, back and forth, he thought that Mary was one heavy load too many and refused to go another step.
Thus it comes to pass that Joseph and Mary find themselves in the designated waiting area for the late-night bus to Bethlehem. They hear the tintinnabulation of the Hindus’ tinkly bells and the throaty Mombasa cries and mistake the sounds for a number 13 bus and flag them down.
There is confusion for a time until one of the Buddhists, Hare Ramsey, suddenly remembers that he was a taxi in a former life and as he had been licensed to carry 6 persons said he would be prepared to carry Mary. Hare Kari, Hare Potter and Hare Hill are about to mount their colleague when Joseph exclaims that he has no money and can’t pay the fare. He is thinking of entering into negotiations for a two-for-one deal on his Visa when suddenly there is a glorious shining all around from a bright shining star visible in the night sky. Don the donkey turns back as both the bathing light and the bright shiny star remind him of the illuminations he fondly left behind in Blackpool. He brays in excitement, but carefully, as he is prone to coming over all unnecessary.
It is at this point that the Ethiopian Rastafarian of the Lord comes down, dreadlocks cascading and illuminated in a blaze of light (and fetching Lycra safety harness) and says the cost is normally 1,000 sesterces per passenger including VAT, but as it’s the holiday season he’ll accept 100 Euros. Then he suddenly remembers that Diwali celebrations are underway and because of this Festival, Herod had agreed to cancel all charges, payments and ‘taxes’ so the ride would be free.
So the Hares, Mary and Joseph squeeze onto Hare Ramsey and set off following a shining star with Don the Donkey by their side. Hare Hill leads the community singing as is customary when going on a journey en masse, especially where bright lights are involved and there’s a promise of food and drink on arrival. Hare Potter is equally vocal and both his and Don’s dulcet tones attest to their creative selves, which is not only entertaining but also helps to offset the extreme discomfort that the mode of transport offers. Hare Hill tries to tell a few jokes to help the time pass but Hare Kari is having none of it, doesn’t understand them anyway, and is feeling quite depressed Hare Hill just can’t sit still and Mary tries to distract them by telling a story. This is not really a successful strategy as Mary’s memory is not too good and she keeps forgetting what comes next. Hare Kari’s depression gets worse as Mary’s story gets more confusing; and the Mombasa keep measured time with their acapella renditions that spur everyone on.
A caravan of Bedouin from the tribe of the Nejd invites the Hare Krishna, including the Taxi, Ladysmith Black Mombasa, Mary and Joseph, and Don the Donkey to join them; and before long they are snaking their way across the desert, the cloudless night sky lighting their way with that bright shining star in particular outshining all those in the heavens.
In the fullness of time they arrive in Bethlehem. The Hares dismount and take themselves off to their previously booked Buddhist Boutique Hotel. Don goes to find the nearest stable that offers him gluten-free hay, and Mary and Joseph try to find an inn to rest for the night. Joseph spots a suitable place and Mary insists he checks that the inn has Food Hygiene Certificates, a Fire Safety Certificate, is COSHE compliant and preferably holds at least a 3-star rating with wifi connectivity. She is not bothered about the trouser press.
Unfortunately, the Hindu Innkeeper has taken a booking from 3 Mormon and 4 Muslim businessmen, not realising they would be bringing their wives. It turns out there are 28 of them, each of whom wants her own en suite. Ironically, despite the hospitality industry’s publicity and marketing that announces a good night’s sleep, there is in fact No Room at the Inn.
However, the innkeeper notes Mary’s condition and fearing litigation if he turns her away, offers them both his cowshed. Joseph has an attack of Tourette’s and is about to decline this offer when the Hindu explains that as his cow is sacred, its shed is in fact an opulently equipped 3-bedroom chalet bungalow with its own Jacuzzi, mini bar, broadband, fax machine, trouser press and attractive, elegant cot tastefully converted from a rare Georgian manger – and hung with both William Morris and vintage Liberty fabrics. Mary does a quick risk assessment and decides that this chalet bungalow is better than the alternative and the 3 stars from Egon Ronay are an added bonus. So they check in.
By this time Mary is exhausted and just wants to rest. Unfortunately, the couple are a long way from the dining room and when Mary wakens up in the night, hungry as women tend to be at such times for bizarre food combinations, Joseph decides to phone out for a takeaway. He gets the phone numbers muddled up due to his dyslexia and out of sheer desperation just decides to wait and see what arrives. The Takeaway is run by Zen Buddhists who do not depend on words but rather experience Mary’s and Joseph’s thoughts and feelings.
A miraculous moment later, three wise Bikers – Moshe, Yakimoto and Abdul Ben Nevis, arrive from the Eastern Chapter by the light of a shining star bearing chopped liver, sushi and haggis. There are many guests staying at the Hotel and because of a double booking with the Mayan Temple-opening celebrations, there is no entertainment for the evening so some jolly Bathist and Shiite shepherds throw caution to the wind and get everyone singing, dancing and doing a party turn. Even the animals join in with their time honoured ritual of follow-my-leader and running round in circles.
It is a wonderful atmosphere: stars shining, a cacophony of mixed languages strangely becoming harmonious with each passing minute and sounding as one tongue. There are smiling faces and lots of love amongst the mixed crowd of ages, creeds, colours and tribes. Two Cistercian monks declare it to be the Age of Aquarius and the elders of the Amish who are passing through en route to the Mohawk Valley, Ohio, admit that the Rhythm of Life surely has a powerful beat. All too soon the party ends and a silent order of the Sisters of Mercy, who are on retreat, communicate by sign language that they will clear everything away.
No sooner has Mary gone to bed with a nightcap than the baby Jesus is born. Knowing this to be a Truly Great Moment, Joseph e-mails absolutely everyone to tell them of this great news. (He also twitters, blogs, uses facebook and MySpace to make absolutely sure.) It is on 800 Sky programmes, the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeerah with 24/7 radio coverage in 350 languages around the world.
The Zen Takeaway proprietors urge everyone to give up logical thinking and meditate. Don the donkey comes over to bray his congratulations whilst the Sisters of Mercy expertly convey their joy through the medium of sign language. News spreads of this wonderful event and the occupants of the hotel and bed & breakfast community in downtown Bethlehem are soon drawn to the sacred cowshed. They follow a bright shining star as the Bathist and Shiite shepherds facilitate orderly queues.
The Patriarch of Constantinople brings incense and icons from the Oriental and Eastern Orthodoxies and he is joined by three Orishan Santeria drummers who not only drum up the spirits of fortune but also carry sacred flowers from the Water Goddess. An Apache Chieftain gives thanks to the Great Elk and some Plymouth Brethren, a Hollywood Scientologist and the Lulworth WI Choir bring Wassail gifts whilst rapping ‘I saw three ships’.
Everyone is in party mood. The i-pods are switched on, the three wise Bikers: Moshe, Yakimoto and Abdul Ben Nevis, are dispatched for more refreshment that is halal, kosher, conforms to EU regulations, does not have unregulated E-numbers, is low-fat, low carb, no-sugar, umami flavoured, vegetarian – and yet delicious. Hare Ramsey tells them of his brother Gordon’s latest Bethlehem Business, recently opened with the support of a Dragon. That one bright shining star leads them to this special place to collect the food.
Meanwhile, the Zoroastrian Male Voice Choir, despite coming second to the Hares, leads everyone in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Love Changes Everything’ from Aspects of Love, and then another Webber favourite with Tim Rice and Elton John – ‘Circle of Life’ from The Lion King, encoring with the Nuns’ Chorus from Abie’s Irish Rose; whereupon the organic oxen begin to low softly in two-part harmony with the camels. (The camels incidentally were left behind by the Bedouin in return for three mobile phones and a couple of Freeview Top boxes.) Passing Druids and Celtic New Age hippies are burning frankincense and myrrh and the twinkling stars direct a pall of incense towards the hole in the ozone layer to send a message to the outer limits of the ionosphere.
Whilst a Carolingian Humanist pipes messages of solidarity to the Anabaptists, Sunni and Shi’a Moslems, who are on their way back from the Hajj, join in the celebrations as it’s past sundown so they can eat and drink. The Candomblé priestesses cast their cowry shells watched by the Quakers who are silently waiting to contribute as the spirit moves them and Guru Nanak from the Punjab Sikhs calls on the Salvation Army to play a selection of classical favourites by the Blackdyke Mills Band.
Finally, the whole diverse community in the Little Town of Bethlehem joins in a rousing finale of Happy Birthday and the curtain closes on the 2013 nativity.
*A nod to Dylan Thomas
Author’s note: If you choose to enact this, please have a retiring silver collection for the Shining Star Home for the Bewildered and Plot Losers in Lulworth.
With my very best wishes for a good Christmas, Diwali, Hanukah and Solstice, and a happy and prosperous New Year …
From Chris xxx