Opinion | Biff America: Three garish wise guys
Family lore is vague about where exactly my parents got that huge Christmas billboard featuring the three wise men sitting on camels.
It had to be about 10 feet wide and 5 high and was no work of art. Though gaudy and garish, it was the signature feature of our family’s Christmas decorations with a prominent home in our front yard. The shepherds were pictured mounted, dressed in bright robes among desert dunes and seen pointing at a bright star.
The wise men themselves have been described as shepherds, kings, princes and Magi.
I never really bought into the “shepherd” designation. Over the years, I’ve run across many real-life shepherds in the American West, and none of them looked to be able to afford frankincense or myrrh, let alone gold.
The mural was stretched over plywood and two-by-fours and weighed about 100 pounds. My father, brothers and I would carry the monstrosity out of our cellar just after Thanksgiving and prop it up with metal stanchions. Illuminated by spot lights, it could be seen from outer space.
With today’s sensibilities, it was cheesy. But at the time, I loved it. Sometimes, I would go out after dark and sit in front of the mural, warmed by the spot lights, and think about the Christmas miracle.
At the time — well before my teens — I believed, quite literally, that a heavenly choir of angels appeared to the shepherds in the fields and scared the crap out of them (colloquialism). According to the Sunday school story, the wise men were then visited by a great company of heavenly hosts who told them to chill out (paraphrasing) and gave them the good news that a star would lead them to the manger where they would find the savior.
After the installing of the monstrosity of spiritual braggadocios, it was time for my father to risk injury and hang lights from 20-foot pine trees next to the mural. In a perfect world, I’d be holding the ladder for my dad as he strung the lights.
Depending on when the then-named Boston Patriots played (none of this New England stuff), my old man would be in various stages of tree trimming competence. If we hung up the lights before kickoff, he would be stable on the ladder. If they played early and lost, his lifestyle choices would cause it to be necessary for me to climb the ladder while he yelled instructions and sipped out of a pint of Four Roses.
Once the sun had set, my mother and I would make our yearly pilgrimage to some private property and steal greenery (I’m serious). There was a warehouse not too far from our home (beautifully landscaped), so my mum and I would sneak in at night and trim the trees to get branches for her planters and hearths.
While we were doing that, my dad and whatever siblings were home would place the tree in the living room, waiting for the indoor decorating to begin. Along with the tree, there would be a nativity scene complete with a manger with a hole cut in the back through which a small yellow light bulb was placed. Though the cradle and Messiah were made of wood, all those in attendance — Mary, Joseph and the wise men — were built of wax, so they deformed from the heat over the years to a point where Joseph had a hunchback.
My mate and I don’t go to nearly the lengths of yuletide frivolity as did my family.
Perhaps this is because we are childless or that the years have lent a large dose of skepticism to my once-held Catholic convictions. But whether the Christmas story is history or a parable, you need not look far to see magic in the holiday season.
Be it Christmas, Hanukkah or that other holiday that I have trouble spelling. If you pay attention, there is in fact a fair amount of peace on Earth and good will toward men and women to be seen. It is visible in the bell-ringing Santas, community meals and the various programs to provide gifts to the less fortunate. All that and more reaffirms my faith in humanity.
So right, left, Christian, Jewish or other, let the season remind us that, spiritual or secular, we are in this together. Give the gift of fellowship, kindness, understanding and acceptance.
But just a head’s up: No one wants frankincense.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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