One of the interesting things about the site Snopes.com, those Web sleuths who uphold or debunk strange assertions, is that you discover some things you didn’t even know were open to question.
Case in point: the classic holiday carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. This, of course, is the song that bespeaks the gifts given by a “true love” between Christmas and Epiphany (Jan. 5).
No way that song could stir up a controversy, right?
A coded catechism
According to an urban legend that began in the late 1990s, the song was created by the Catholic Church as a coded reference to important articles of the Christian faith, says Snopes.
According to this claim, The Twelve Days of Christmas was written in England during the time (1558-1829) when Catholics in that country had to step lightly or face persecution until the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed in 1829.
The song was first published in England in 1780.
A way around the law
The legend goes that Catholics were prohibited from any practice of their faith, either private or public. That is way over the top, according to most British historians who say the government’s persecution or toleration of Catholics waxed and waned during that 271-year span.
Nevertheless, the claim about The 12 Days of Christmas is that it was written as a “catechism song” to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith by an easy memory device, so the story continues. The gifts sung about are actually codes to the teachings of the Catholic faith.
• The “true love” refers to God.
• The “me” who receives each gift is every baptized person.
• The “partridge in a pear tree” is Jesus. “
• The “2 turtle doves” are the Old and New Testaments.
• The “3 French hens” are faith, hope, and charity.
• The “4 calling birds” are the four Gospels and/or the four evangelists.
• The “5 golden rings” are the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Old Testament.
• The “6 geese a-laying” are the six days of creation.
• The “7 swans a-swimming” are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, or the seven sacraments.”
• The “8 maids a-milking” are the eight beatitudes.
• The “9 ladies dancing” are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.”
• The “10 lords a-leaping” are – what else – the ten commandments.
• The “11 pipers piping” are the eleven faithful apostles.
• The “12 drummers drumming” are the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed.
Interesting, no? Sounds plausible, yes?
Not so fast
Enter the urban legend detectives of Snopes who throw water on all this by noting, “There is absolutely no documentation or supporting evidence for this claim whatsoever, other than mere repetition of the claim itself.”
They point out the claim apparently started around 1998, “making it as likely an invention of modern-day speculation rather than historical fact.”
A key flaw in the claim/theory, according to the Snopes snoops, is that “all of the religious tenets supposedly preserved by the song (with the possible exception of the number of sacraments) were shared by Catholics and Anglicans alike.
So why code those articles of faith if all Christians in England believed in them?
Further, the song contains no mentions of the key points of differences that DID divide Catholic and Anglican England. For example, there is no coded reference for the Pope himself. And there is no hidden euphemism for the practice of Confession.
The list of problems goes on (and you can add the fact that some textual evidence indicates it was originally a French song), but you get the idea.
A high-tech spotlight
What I find fascinating is the way the Internet, which didn’t even exist for most of us 20 years ago, can be used to shed light on events, documents – and even songs – which occurred or were written hundreds of years ago.
So next time you hear The Twelve Days of Christmas, just enjoy it for what it is. And be happy for the lovers.
I had a home for several years in Ashland County, Ohio, home to one of the largest concentrations of Amish in the country. Known for their primitive ways and steadfast disconnect from the “English” world, the Amish lived up to their reputation in Ohio.
For the most part, anyway.
My wife Anne made an avocation of keeping one particular basket-making family in business the first year or two with her Christmas gift buys, and she got to know the 30-something Andy – already the father of eight –- as a customer.
Separate from the world
When Anne met this Amish farmer, she told him I was a journalist and he wasn’t quite sure what that was. Join the club, Andy. But when Anne mentioned I covered the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, he drew a total blank. Then she asked him if he knew of the 9/11 bombings. He scratched his head and said that, yes, he thought he had heard something about an explosion.
It came as no surprise that this member of a nationwide Christian community numbering about 225,000 keeps himself separate from the world outside. Just how separate, however, was a surprise in a world where 9/11 is one of the widest-known events in history.
And it came as a real surprise to discover that Andy was using the Internet to sell those baskets. Since this particular community of Amish could not have electricity, they had to use some non-Amish computers from neighboring “English” families.
One way or another, however, their baskets and other crafts found their way to web sites, and they purchased some of their raw materials via the same Web.
Links to the past
I was thinking about that this week when I was at the mall buying some gifts. Thinking about the Internet, which brings us so many mind-blowing applications, also can make it easier for us to find simple, homemade, American goods.
A major web site for these kinds of products is Lehmans. In business for 55 years, Lehmans notes it is in business “to serve the local Amish and others without electricity. The Kidron, Ohio., company ships old-fashioned, high-quality merchandise all of the world.”
Says proprietor J.E. Lehman, “My idea was to preserve the past for future generations. My goal has always been to provide authentic historical products to those looking for a simpler way of life.”
A shop for Amish
Lehman’s is a kind of general store for products made and used by the Amish and their somewhat more progressive cousins, the Mennonites. Its departments include appliances, books, home goods, natural goods, stoves, farm tools, toys, and even water. Under this last department are things like buckets, heaters, and pumps.
Within the Natural Goods Department can be found things like, “A Book for Midwives,” a breathing hand washer (“Plunge up and down to force soap and water through clothes and linens.”), high-density heating bricks, and a supply of 20 Mule Team Borax household cleaner.
In Appliances, you can find an artisan wood-burning cook stove (for a healthy $6,295) or a 15 cubit foot gas refrigerator for $1,880.
A common myth is that the Amish are poor, but just because they live plainly doesn’t mean they don’t have money. Andy once told us he turned down a $2,000 for one of his cows.
Over in Personal Care is a book on “Basic Soap Making,” and a set of six arthritis heated hand balls in a bag (“These air-activated balls slowly heat up to a comfortable warmth, providing hours of relief from the pain of arthritis and other ailments.”). You can also find a set of canning jar soap pump lids (“turn your new or old jars into practical, pretty soap or lotion dispensers…”), and – of course – lots of suspenders.
In the same department you can find a therapeutic corn pillow, a jar of carbolized mutton tallow (“recommended for use on cold sores and chapped hands…”), or a bottle of Humphrey’s Original Witch Hazel.
In the Farm Tools Department you can find a Sno Wovel Snow Shovel, billed as “The world’s safest snow shovel – the snow shovel on a wheel.” This device allows you to roll the shovel along on its 33” diameter wheel, then lift to throw the snow anywhere you want. “Outperforms snow blowers, without the expense, fumes, maintenance or noise.”
An eBay of handmade goods
Another site I recently discovered is Etsy, which opens up a huge world of handmade products. It’s a virtual eBay of classic handmade — many American — goods, including – no surprise – Amish products.
What is more Amish than quilts, and you can find many on Etsy, including one from the 1800s in a folk art pattern that sells for $1,200. Another, featuring “traditional ocean waves,” and a “black hole design” in the middle, goes for only $450.
Etsy says of itself, “Our mission is to enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers. The Etsy community spans the globe with buyers and sellers coming from more than 150 countries. Etsy sellers number in the hundreds of thousands.”
Another large site featuring Amish products is Amish Trader Country. This web site notes, “Amish Trader Distribution started out working directly with Amish craftsmen and distributing their high quality handcrafted products directly to store owners. “
The company did away with the retailer or middleman, selling from its “cash and carry warehouse” and shipping department. The Amish Trader Distribution warehouse is in Paradise, Pennsylvania.
Amish Trader features many pieces of finely crafted wood products ranging from a large wood stove cover to a tiny hanging wooden heart. Other departments in the store are candles, craft parts, inside iron, lanterns, outside iron, watering cans, signs, and rusty items (for decorative purposes).
Users must first log in to see the prices of the Amish Trader items.
If you’re serious about looking for some Amish-made wood furniture, a great spot is the Amish Oak Furniture Co. in Loudonville, Ohio, complete with its own catalogue web site. I’ve been in this store several times, and it is amazing to see how good Amish craftsmanship can be.
A world of wood
This stuff isn’t cheap, but you can find virtually any kind of bed, chest, bookcase, breakfront, or storage cabinet you could imagine. If it’s made of wood and made by Amish hands, it’s probably here.
When we think of the Internet, we usually think about high-tech products and services, so it’s refreshing to know that this same Web can take us back to simpler times and handmade goods.
Hmmm…using the new to connect to the old … could be some new mobile apps coming for those Droids or iPhones that take us back to the farm instead of deeper into the virtual unknown.
Last year I faced one of those dreaded administrative tasks that occasionally confronts academic department chairs: Going to a remote Austrian castle to do a site check on one of our summer programs.
Tough job, but you know the saying: When the going gets tough … So of course I got going. But the last couple hundred kilometers were via rental car, and I was driving in a country I’d only visited once before in my life.
Enter my first encounter with a dashboard GPS unit, a Tom Tom. They come as a routine upgrade with rentals now, and they are well worth the extra five bucks a day.
I was impressed with the sultry-sounding Sheila, which is what I came to call my GPS in Austria because she sounded so much like, well, that’s a different story.
Over the past few years, I have experimented with two digital communication devices that I swore would never work. One was an invisible fence we installed to corral our menagerie of dogs. No way Juggler, our Greyhound, would ever let that signal stop him, I insisted.
But it did, right in his bony tracks.
We’re talking Remote
The other was this GPS unit, Sheila, whose task was to take me from Munich, Germany, to a castle that I could hardly see when I was right on top of it in the forested Austrian Alps.
But that’s exactly what Sheila did, taking me right up to the moat and across through the front gate and into the car park.
It was not an easy job. I mean, if you’ve done much driving in Europe, you are familiar with the spider web of small quaint villages, which come equipped with at least a few roundabouts with multiple entry and exit points that can spin you out to different countries. Sheila got me in an out of each circle at exactly the right point.
A broken vow
“I will never argue again with a woman giving me directions,”I remember thinking, as I pulled into the courtyard of this 15th Century schloss.
That resolve didn’t last long. A couple weeks ago I found myself striking up an argument with the as-yet unnamed GPS (another female voice) which came as part of the navigation package in my new Sonata. This time I knew where I was going; had been there several times before, and it was only an hour away from home.
So when the GPS routed me a few miles south to an outer loop of Indianapolis, only to tell me to turn around and head the few miles back north to my destination, I thought this is stupid.
Driving me crazy
In fact, I told her so. Multiple times. Over in the passenger seat, Anne looked at me like I was a guy debating his dashboard which, of course, I was. So I went my own way. (I live by that line from the classic “Shane,” where the title character drawls, “I’d like it to be my idea.”)
I turned west on a road that would take me directly where I wanted to go rather than doing the sweeping southern u-turn.
Should have listened to the womanly advice coming frm the GPS. The road definitely was straight, but it was also full of stop lights. About 22, to be exact. And it was Saturday, and it was crowded, and I was wrong. For the return route, I chose her way.
I’m a believer now in the value of these global positioning systems and may even start carrying one on me to navigate my way around the crowded malls during December. But wait: I already have one in my Droid phone which is great at getting me around the Web and the world, but sometimes not as great as a tin can and a string at being a telephone.
Before putting this GPS chat to bed, I should say I’ve been holding off on naming my new GPS voice because it doesn’t have the familiar ring that Sheila did. I’ve also learned that I can customize my GPS to convey directions in voices that are indeed familiar.
Traveling with celebs
We’re talking celebrity voices here, and a company called Navtones – one of several start-ups who have hit this niche – offers the following selections with prices to match the magnetism of the celeb. For example, for $12.95 you can have Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall route you to the cross-town sweet shop or, for only $6.95, have a high-mileage David Hasselhoff steer you into a bad episode of Dancing With the Stars.
Move over Hoff
Another celeb voice is KITT, who once took the supporting actor role to The Hoff in Knight Rider. KITT was the black Pontiac TransAm in the 80s TV show. Its enigmatic voice (think Hal, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey) can power up all your systems in ways different than Kim Cattrall could, and for the same $12.95.
Sorry Hoff. Your 28-year-old car, which GM has stopped making, now appears more popular than you.
Even MTV’s reluctant cult icon, Daria, costs more than Hasselhoff, driving you back to Lawndale for $9.95.
Personally, I’m holding out for another icon: Clint Eastwood. I wouldn’t mind having him steer me through traffic, although I fear he might lead me into a tricky Austrian roundabout only to abandon me with his famous exit line, “OK. Do ya feel lucky, Punk? Well? Do you?”