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The Actual True Meaning of Christmas

Blasphemy alert: Readers stumbling upon this entry and thinking they'll be getting a nice, heartfelt message about Jesus or something had better stop reading. SantaDogsaJesusFetus brought me a humdinger of a cold for Christmas (with a little help from My Own Dear Personal Sister and Alaska Airlines) and I'm none too pleased with it.

OK, now that we've gotten rid of the Hallmark crowd, where were we? Oh yes, Parasites.

Anyone who has read Carl Zimmer's Parasite Rex* already knows about the nematode larvae which, upon infesting a snail, travel up into its antenna and cause those antenna to swell and pulsate and strongly to resemble a caterpillar. These larvae also have a profound effect on the affected snail's behavior, causing it to want irresistibly to climb up onto a rock or plant where its catertennae can best be displayed to passing hungry birds. The object of all of this manipulation is to cause the snail to be eaten, nematode larvae and all, by the bird who will host the next stage of the nematode's development. It's a cunning and creepy way of continuing a species that perhaps we can all be grateful doesn't happen to us.

Or does it?

Can it really just be a coincidence that November and December traditionally mark not only the Holiday Season but also the beginning of cold and flu season? Think about that for a moment. I need another tissue.

I submit to you all that these so-called holidays with their hustle and bustle and compulsions to engage in gratuitous acts of cross-continental travel are nothing more and nothing less than the human version of growing fake caterpillars in our antennae. Our systems riddled with cold and flu viruses we've already had a month or so to tame and conquer locally, suddenly we embark, by plane (and crowded departure lounge, piled with coughing and sniffling bodies awaiting actual departures from crammed airport terminals), train (car after car of captive bodies breathing in and out and circulating exotic strains of various microbes) and automobile (with frequent stops to refresh and refuel at convenience stores and truck stops from coast to coast, there to interact with gaggles of sneezy strangers who may or may not have been exerting undue evolutionary pressure on their bugs with their purseloads of antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers that kill off the weak germs and leave only the strong to exude ever outward), the better to exchange these barely tamed internal monsters with those of others, in whose bodies these germs' cousins have undergone mutations just different enough from our local environments' to leave us totally unprepared to cope. All in the name of spending quality time with the people we would least wish to make ill. Really, in comparison with the nematode gambit this strategy is a masterwork.

I of course do bear a considerable share of the blame for my part in this annual conspiracy. I am a common vector between the Cheyenne and Saratoga germ pools in southeastern Wyoming, even when there isn't pumpkin pie or hot buttered rum involved. However (though I'm no epedemiologist), I'm pretty sure those pools commingle quite a lot. Kanoodle even. The distance in time and space is short compared to, say, New York to Chicago or San Francisco to Brisbane or London to Hong Kong, and I suspect the difference in strains of rhinovirus and whatnot are correspondingly small. For real exoticism in germs, we need a reason to really stir up the currents: a cluster of big winter holidays.

Anyone else seeing a bit of a chicken and egg thing here? After all, carols like "In the Bleak Midwinter," which implies that somehow the Meditteranean nativity occurred in a freak (for Bethlehem) snowstorm, aside, we really don't have a lot to connect the Nativity with December. Everybody knows the placement of Christmas just after the Winter Solstice was just another way to co-opt the playful pagans, dancing around their (local!) maypoles and burning their (locally grown and built) wicker men and never even imagining the need to make a cross-country trek in the middle of the year's worst weather to swap spit and cough in each others' faces. Was Bishop Juvenal, the guy who finally formally established the feast day of the Nativity on December 25th, in fact just a guy with a really bad cold who felt compelled for  unknown reasons to spread it around? It might bear investigating.

Dan Brown, call your office.

Meanwhile, thank you Jesus, it's time to take another Mucinex.

*If you haven't, well why the heck not? It's a thumping good book, elegantly written, evocative and interesting. Go on, shoo, head over to your local library or Paperspine account or bookstore or Amazon and get your hands on a copy. It's good stuff)

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Thanks

Kate,

Loved this blog and just wanted to say thanks for posting it. It brought a smile to my face - or was it a sneeze that changed it's mind? No, it was  definitely a smile. :)