The Women of Christmas

birth-of-jesusThere aren’t a lot of women in the original, biblical Christmas story. This should come as no surprise given that in the bible as a whole women show up less frequently, and in more minor roles, then men. Years ago I decided I was going to conduct a sort of spontaneous self-taught class on comparative religions and to do so I was going read a holy book from every major religion in the world. I made it through ten of them. With one, maybe two, exceptions, the bible actually looked pretty good when it came to including women in the narrative, which gives you an idea of just how bad some of the others were.

visitation-by-albertinelli-florenceLet’s face it. It’s basically a patriarchal story about patriarchal times, as told and retold by men. Mary is pregnant and has a child, which is what some woman has to do in any story in which there is a birth. Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, gets to play a brief but kind of cool role as a precognitive who has an inkling of what is coming. I think the bible gives it about a paragraph, but in any reality I can imagine, when one cousin turns to another and says anything resembling “hey cousin, blessed are you among women” you know that the conversion is going to go on for awhile.

What we don’t get to hear about is what Mary’s mother Ann thinks of this whole immaculate conception thing. Or Joseph’s mother for that matter. Is the woman who does half the work of running the inn (some would call her the innkeepers wife) sympathetic to this pregnant woman who is sent off to the barn? Is she angry with her husband for not kicking out the three drunk merchants in room four to make room for this nice couple? Or instead does she focus on how stupid these census laws are? I’d love to know the whole story.

Clearly doctors were not in the habit of attending births in those days, but midwives were. It’s hard to believe that a woman with no sexual experience and an older bachelor, who might well have been a virgin, too, managed to deliver their first child together without incident. My guess is that somebody sent for a midwife, and the story of the woman who delivered baby Jesus would have made a great addition.

what she said 1The British of a few hundred years ago seemed to really take to the angels and shepherds part of the story, given the amount of their Christmas carols inspired by the idea. I always wondered if girls got to be shepherds back then, and if they did, why were shepherds in pictures always boys? I decided it was because all the angels were girls.

As a child my favorite part of the Christmas story was the three wise men.  I don’t know, they just seemed more interesting than the rest of the people. Riding camels following a star, now that was cool. I though being a wise woman would have been a lot of fun. Arguably, three women on camels might have been quite a force for good. Maybe it’s a shame that the three wise women weren’t part of the story.

For other slightly offbeat looks at Christmas, see my posts “Christmas is Not about Love, but“,   “Duct Tape and Christmas Cards” and “The Future of Christmas.