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Tis the Season for Urban Legends

I recently started receiving emails from an outfit called Christian Cyber Ministries. At work. I’m not exactly sure how that started, but it’s beside the point.

Yesterday’s email from “Pastor Bill” related the “Story Behind The Twelve Days of Christmas. Perhaps you’ve seen some version of this. As the story goes, early Christians couldn’t talk openly about their faith, so they coded everything into this song. Each gift represents something theological:

The “partridge in a pear tree” was Jesus Christ who died on a tree as a gift from God. The “two turtle doves” were the Old and New Testaments; another gift from God.

The “three French hens” is the Trinity of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The “four calling birds” were the four Gospels that document the Good News of Jesus Christ. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The “five golden rings” were the first five books of the Bible also called the Books of Moses, Pentateuch or Torah.

The “six geese a-laying” were the six days of creation.

The “seven swans a swimming” were “seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

You get the idea (no doubt there is some deep symbolism associated with the fact that “five golden rings” is always sung more slowly and dramatically - maybe because the Torah is long and full of drama?).

Trouble is, the story is of questionable pedigree. You can read about it at your favorite urban legends site (for example, here).

It’s reminiscent of another story that makes the rounds this time of year - the legend of the candy cane:

A candymaker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a witness, so he made the Christmas Candy Cane. He incorporated several symbols from the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ.

He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy. White to symbolize the Virgin Birth and the sinless nature of Jesus, and hard to symbolize the Solid Rock, the foundation of the Church, and firmness of the promises of God.

And so on and so on, and scooby dooby dooby. The UL Reference Page folks lay this one to rest as well.

I am at once intrigued and repelled by these sorts of stories. Intrigued at how they propagate (and in particular, how the internet has facilitated that propagation); repelled by the fact that untruth is being sold as truth. At the risk of sounding judgmental, it’s worse when Christians are the ones disseminating stories like these (and there is no end to such stories) without verifying their accuracy. I mean, we’re supposed to be keepers of the truth. And we have enough trouble convincing folks of the Truth. I think we poke holes in our credibility when we pass this other stuff off as factual.

I was tempted to send an email to Pastor Bill, asking him for his source. But I’ve been burned too often trying to set someone straight on these urban legends. Early on, I was pretty blunt in my responses to emails I’d receive telling me about the latest missing child or claiming that I’d receive a dollar from AOL for every person I forwarded the message to — ended up with hurt feelings and occasional nasty replies. But even when I tried to be kinder and gentler, the message wasn’t well received. So, I’ll have to be satisfied with this post.

Merry Christmas, and please send this to everyone on your address list.

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