Saturday, December 25, 2004

Many Christmases of 2004 

Merry Christmas!

If this 80 meter-long snow sculpture of Santa has the misfortune to be created somewhere in the United States, considering the recent push to de-Christmas Christmas, chances are that the old Saint Nicholas, to use his proper name, would have been banned and snow-ploughed away. Fortunately, this giant sculpture was created in the officially atheist China so it's likely to be safe until the snow melts. The real Santa, of course, was a resident of the modern-day Turkey, which is really quite poignant is a strange sort of way; as the West chases out Santa from the public square, it begins a process of admitting into its fold his birthplace. As Nicolas Rothwell reminds us:
"Nicholas of Myra, a soft-hearted third-century social reformer with a penchant for redeeming prostitutes and a habit of secret gift-giving, was posthumously transformed into the patron saint of Christmas through an unusual set of circumstances."
No more unusual, though, than those accompanying Turkey's transformation into a member of the European Union. And hopefully just as successfully.

In Australia, it's a hot Christmas. Believe me.

In the United States, it looks like a quiet one:
"In stark contrast to last year's holiday season, when the nation was under heightened alert, counterterrorism officials say there is precious little intelligence "chatter" being picked up about any new plot this year.

U.S. and foreign intelligence and law enforcement services report a continuing stream of vague, lower-level threats from Al Qaeda (search) and other Islamic extremist groups against American interests at home and abroad. But officials say nothing specific and credible has emerged in recent months that would require the government to raise the risk level above yellow, or 'elevated,' the midpoint on the five-level threat scale."
Of course, the weather conditions have done a better job at paralyzing the country than a terrorist attack arguably would. Wait and see if bin Laden comes out with another tape to claim credit for bringing unusual amount of snow onto the land of infidels.

In the Middle East, a bit more Christmas cheer than usual. "Israel freed up travel into Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and handed out candy to Palestinian and foreign pilgrims at roadblocks, the latest signs of warming Israeli-Palestinian relations since the death of Yasser Arafat." One person that did not get candy, nor was allowed to go through the checkpoint, was the Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, a Christian convert. In Iraq, the Marines outside Fallujah were confronted with the sight of the Navy's Bravo Surgical Company personnel sporting elf caps and reindeer antlers going around the Marine camp on a truck and singing carols. And in Afghanistan:

In Ukraine, they celebrate Christmas by going to the polls, and hopefully the third time lucky electing Victor Yushchenko as the new president. Matters are of course complicated by the fact that Ukraine really celebrates Christmas on the Eastern Orthodox time on 7 January.

In the neighboring Russia, the parliament has finally abolished the old communist holiday of the Revolution Day, celebrating the anniversary of the October Revolution (or the Bolshevik coup d'etat). Instead, the Russians will be given ten days off work around the New Year and Christmas (again, Eastern Orthodox one) period. Sounds like a fair swap.

In the Western Europe, meanwhile, it's the 90th anniversary of some memorable events, which unfolded against the horror and the carnage of World War One:
"It was the day when the Christmas message of goodwill to all men brought an unexpected halt to one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history.

"Ninety years ago British and German soldiers put down their weapons, walked out into the desolation of no-man's land and shook hands. In a unique moment of respite from the horrors of the First World War, the troops exchanged gifts, looked at each other's family photographs and played games of football. In some areas the impromptu cessation of hostilities lasted just a few hours, in others several days or even weeks.

"Now a major international film is being planned to commemorate those extraordinary events which have taken on the status of legend."
The older ones among you might remember the video clip to Paul McCartney's 1980s hit "Pipes of Peace", which used this famous story for inspiration.

Peace on Earth.


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