Best E-mails of the Week 12/29/01
"12 Days of Christmas"
What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won't come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas? Today, I found out.
From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to the members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.
The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.
Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.
The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership and Mercy.
The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.
Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control.
The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.
The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.
The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in The Apostles' Creed.
So there is your history for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how that strange song became a Christmas Carol...
Question of the Ages
Young King Arthur was ambushed and imprisoned by the monarch of a neighboring kingdom. The monarch could have killed him, but was moved by
Arthur's youthful happiness. So he offered him freedom, as long as he could answer a very difficult question. Arthur would have a year to figure out the answer; if, after a year, he still had no answer, he would be put to death.
The question was: What do women really want?
Such a question would perplex even the most knowledgeable man, and, to young Arthur, it seemed an impossible query. Well, since it was better than death, he accepted the monarch's proposition to have an answer by year's end.
He returned to his kingdom and began to poll everybody: the princess, the prostitutes, the priests, the wise men, the court jester. In all, he spoke
with everyone, but no one could give him a satisfactory answer.
What most people did tell him was to consult the old witch, as only she would know the answer. The price would be high, since the witch was famous
throughout the kingdom for the exorbitant prices she charged.
The last day of the year arrived and Arthur had no alternative but to talk to the witch.
She agreed to answer his question, but he'd have to accept her price first:
The old witch wanted to marry Gawain, the most noble of the Knights of the Round Table and Arthur's closest friend! Young Arthur was horrified: she was hunchbacked and awfully hideous, had only one tooth, smelled like sewage water, often made obscene noises...etc. He had never run across such a repugnant creature. He refused to force his friend to marry her and have to endure such a burden.
Gawain, upon learning of the proposal, spoke with Arthur. He told him that nothing was too big a sacrifice compared to Arthur's life and the
preservation of the Round Table. Hence, their wedding was proclaimed, and the witch answered Arthur's question:
What a woman really wants is to be able to be in charge of her own life.
Everyone instantly knew that the witch had uttered a great truth and that Arthur's life would be spared. And so it went. The neighboring monarch
spared Arthur's life and granted him total freedom. What a wedding Gawain and the witch had! Arthur was torn between relief and anguish. Gawain was proper as always, gentle and courteous. The old witch put her worst manners on display, and generally made everyone very uncomfortable.
The wedding night approached: Gawain, steeling himself for a horrific night, entered the bedroom. What a sight awaited! The most beautiful woman he'd ever seen lay before him! Gawain was astounded and asked what had happened.
The beauty replied that since he had been so kind to her (when she'd been a witch), half the time she would be her horrible,
deformed self, and the other half, she would be her beautiful maiden self.
Which would he want her to be during the day, and which during the night?
What a cruel question! Gawain began to think of his predicament:
During the day a beautiful woman to show off to his friends, but at night, in the privacy of his home, an old spooky witch? Or would he prefer having
by day a hideous witch, but by night a beautiful woman to enjoy many intimate moments?
What would you do? What Gawain chose follows below, but don't read until you've made your own choice.
Noble Gawain replied that he would let her choose for herself.
Upon hearing this, she announced that she would be beautiful all the time, because he had respected her and had let her be in charge of her own life.
Congrats Greg for being accepted during early admission to the University of Connecticut, College of Mechanical Engineering. Your hard work taking Honors Calculus and Honors Physics in High School now has been recognized. WTG. Good luck hearing from your other choices: Villanova, (Philadelphia, PA) Rensselaer Poly Tech, and Boston University.
UConn and it's Storrs Connecticut campus have special meaning for us. It was in 1989 that Mary and I met Professor Richard Stephenson and his wife Mary at their home, an A frame house Richard built in the suburbs of Storrs just outside the campus. His office was in the Chemical Engineering Department, and he had published books including one on his great love: Ballroom Dancing. He interviewed Mary and me for the longest time in his living room before deciding he would fly to Poland with us, and introduce us to some of his professor friends there. They felt that children could be adopted by Americans with the weakening of Communism in the country. We flew to Warsaw and were greeted by Richard's best friend there Prof. Zbig Schwatz of Warsaw Technical University, his wife Sonja and children Donia and Magek. Our group visited children's homes in Lublin and Krakov before Richard had to return to U Conn.
Mary and I flew to Koszalin alone, and were met at the airport on a rainy night by Prof. Barbara S. and her husband Zenek. Barbara was an English Professor at the University of Koszalin. They took us to their home where we lived with them for the next six weeks. Their wonderful children Andre Martin and Magda spoke English and made us feel so welcome. Zenek drove us to the Children's home in Darlowo, and Panie Directore introduced us to Rafal and Gregorz then 7 and 6. They eventually stayed with us at the household, and began learning English while Mary and I prepared for the court date before three Communist judges. Everything went smoothly, and we said our goodbyes and took a nine hour train ride to Warsaw. We were greeted at Kennedy airport the next day (today, Dec. 23) by my Mom and Dad who drove us all to our Wilton home to prepare for the best Christmas ever.
Greg's legal middle name became Martin in honor of Andre Martin, one of our beloved hosts. Rafael Richard was named after Professor Richard Stephenson. The boys have wonderful memories of visiting the A frame in Storrs in the early 90's before Richard passed away. His widow Mary still corresponds with us from California where she lives with her daughter. How proud Richard would be to see that a dozen years later Raf is in college in nearby Rhode Island, and Greg has been accepted to Richard's University.