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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Crèche or Ferme?

A few years back in a small village in la France profonde, we were celebrating Christmas with the family in an old old house which had been spruced up and decorated for the holidays with many precious and beautiful things.  One of those things was an old crèche (a nativity scene) which my spouse remembered from his childhood.

Another family member was due to arrive with her children who were very young (much younger than ours) when the phone rang.  It was her and she had an important message to impart. A fervent atheist and a fanatical detractor of the Catholic church, she insisted that if we were asked about the crèche, we were to casually reply to her young and impressionable offspring that it was nothing more than a ferme (a farm).

After she hung up we all looked at each other and started laughing.   She was so afraid of Christian influence that she wanted us all to lie to her children.  Heaven forbid that they might actually learn something about this symbol of Christmas which surely they had seen elsewhere in shops and other places.  Unless, of course, she had them locked up in the house during the holiday season lest they be tainted by this aspect of  her own culture that she found offensive and dangerous.

Grace Davie in Religion in Modern Europe: A Memory Mutates talks about something she calls religious illiteracy in the more rabidly secular nations of Europe like France.  It's not really about religious practice per se but about basic knowledge of religious history and symbols that are absolutely essential for understanding other cultural goods like cathedrals or paintings or sculpture or references in books.  It's much broader than just learning about Christianity and extends to the basic symbols of Judaism or Islam or Buddhism.  How is anyone to understand the religious impulse which is still strong in the world outside Europe (and even places within it) if children and adults lack the basic vocabulary to be able to have a conversation with a religious person of any faith.

My take at the time about this collective hoodwinking of the young was to quietly remark that if we told these poor children that they were looking at nothing more then some sort of bucolic mise-en-scène, that they might repeat this to their friends who would have great fun treating them like the village idiots.   And that didn't seem fair to them. Nonetheless, we respected her wishes and I don't recall if the children ever raised the question.  But the story has passed into family lore and still makes laugh and shake our heads.  Ah well, no parent is perfect and that goes for every one of us.

Enter this short Mr. Bean video would have served her purposes quite well.  Or perhaps not.   Because to understand why it's funny, you do have to know something about what a nativity scene means.  The joke falls completely flat if it's just some slightly creepy man amusing himself in a store and getting caught.  I offer it to you this Christmas Eve day assuming that you will understand and enjoy it.  I certainly did.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing both the story of the fundamentalist atheists and Mr. Bean. Merry Christmas to all.

Christophe said...

Merry Christmas to you and your family, Victoria.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

A very merry Christmas to you and yours, Andrew.

Joyeux Noël, Christophe!

Catherine said...

AH, thanks so much for the laugh. That is one good video!