A Little Fiction – A Christmas Tale – The Three Wise Men Who Came From the East

three kings figurines
Photo by Jonathan Meyer on Pexels.com

‘…And you are absolutely certain,’ said Melchior, ‘that this is the right place? I mean, I know that it is under the star, but then, truth be told, so is the rest of this village. So is the rest of this country, I shouldn’t wonder. High up, stars, shine all over the place they do. Must be some margin of error there, star-wise, that’s all I’m saying. Maybe we should check out the five star places first.’Balthazar sighed – again. ‘None of the five star places have angels hovering over them,’ he said. ‘Nor,’ he continued, ‘are they packed with shepherds watching their flocks, donkeys and assorted beasts of the fields.’
‘Or giraffes,’ said Gaspar.
Balthazar nodded his agreement. ‘Or gira… Did you say giraffe?’
‘Yes.’
‘What’s a giraffe?’
‘It’s a bit like a tall cow,’ said Gaspar, ‘with a long neck. My cousin brought one back from his travels. Dead, mind. Same as the big tusky, grey thing. Don’t travel well, apparently.’
Balthazar stared. ‘Do you see any of these tall cows around here?’
‘No,’ said Gaspar.
‘Then in what way, pray, are they relevant?’
‘I’m not sure,’ answered Gaspar. ‘I just have a feeling that someone will find that there’s only the giraffe left to play, in the future…’
Balthazar stared manically at Gaspar, his fists tightened and his jaw clenched. A small vein squirmed like a lug-worm below the skin of his forehead.
‘Shall we go and look inside,’ suggested Melchior, summoning the slaves to help them down from their mounts.
‘And where did you come by these things?’ asked Gaspar. ‘I’ve never sat on anything so uncomfortable in my life. They smell like the inside of an old sock and they spit. What’s wrong with a horse?’
‘These beasts are our traditional mode of transport,’ answered Melchior. ‘A man’s wealth is measured by them.’
‘I,’ said Balthazar, ‘have thousands.’
‘Sooner have gold,’ said Gaspar, gripping the gift-wrapped parcel he had borne with him from Arabia. ‘Think I’d rather travel on one of them long-necked cows, if I’m honest. At least they don’t have lumpy backs. And also,’ he continued as he was helped down from the musky beast, ‘how come yours has got two lumps and mine has only got one? Know exactly where to sit with two lumps. Never sure with one: either slide off its back end or wind up dangling from its neck…’
‘Rank,’ blurted Balthazar, suddenly aware that he had brought myrrh for the baby and nobody else even knew what it was. ‘The higher your rank, the more lumps you get on your camel.’
Gaspar gave Balthazar one of his stares. ‘So,’ he said, ‘where’s his then?’
‘His?’
‘His lumpy thing. Surely you’ve brought one for him if they’re so valuable; King of Kings and all that. Must be worth at least three lumps.’
‘They’re called camels,’ said Melchior, breaking the uneasy silence. ‘And they only come in one and two humped varieties.’
‘Bit of a design flaw there then, isn’t it? I’d be inclined to have a bit of a word.’
‘A word?’
‘With Himself, you know, when we get in to worship him, have a quick word in his ear. See if he can get it sorted.’
‘He’s a baby!’
‘Got connections, though,’ said Gaspar.
The three wise men had, by now, all been brought down from their camels and were straightening their robes in preparation for their big moment. Melchior was checking his frankincense. ‘You can never go wrong with perfume,’ he thought. Gaspar was scraping camel doings from his satin slipper. Balthazar, meanwhile, was chastising his Chief of Staff. ‘‘Take him myrrh,’ you said. ‘Everyone likes a bit of a rub down now and then,’ you said. Nobody else has even heard of it. Have we got nothing else we can give Him? Maybe jewels, or something?’’
The Chief of Staff looked crestfallen. ‘We left in a bit of a hurry,’ he said, ‘if you remember. Didn’t really have much time to shop around and myrrh always goes down really well in my family.’
‘Your family the myrrh merchants, you mean?’
‘Come on,’ said Gaspar, who had by now got the worst of it off with a stick. ‘Let’s go in.’
The three wise men entered the stable and fell to their knees at the side of the manger.
‘Gawd,’ said Gaspar, peering in. ‘He’s an ugly little bleeder, isn’t he?’
‘That’s a pig, you fool,’ snapped Balthazar.
‘Really?’ sneered Gaspar. ‘One humped or two?’
‘I think, gentlemen,’ said Melchior, rising to his feet. ‘That we may be in the wrong place.’
Balthazar and Gaspar also rose, brushing the crud of the stable floor from their robes as they prepared to leave.
‘So what now?’ asked Gaspar. ‘This had to be the place. What about that star?’
‘It appears to have moved on,’ answered Melchior. ‘They have a habit of doing that, apparently.’
‘And the Heavenly hosts?’
‘They appear to have found themselves rooms at the Travel Lodge. Perhaps we should join them. Try again in the morning…’
‘But how long is it going to take us to find him?’ asked Gaspar. ‘How long do we have to keep looking?’
‘Who knows,’ answered Melchior. ‘Could be days. Could be weeks, years…’
‘Could be,’ said Balthazar, ‘millennia…’

Christmas Dinner

xmas dinner
Photo by Amelie & Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash

The highlight of Christmas Day in the UK (after the seasonal TV ‘special’ Stars In Their Eyes, featuring pets of the rich and famous, and Susan Boyle singing a novelty version of ‘We Three Kings’ especially written for her by Richard Stilgoe) is the Great British Christmas Dinner, and it is this repast upon which this piece will focus as, to be brutally honest, I simply do not know what is eaten elsewhere in the world, although I would be delighted to hear, should anyone wish to fill me in.

The traditional Christmas Dinner contains sufficient calories to see the average Blue Whale through the winter, but it does not usually begin with any form of appetizer as most celebrants are already stuffed to the gills with candied fruit, chocolate covered nuts, mince pies, sausage rolls, buck’s fizz, cream sherry, glacé cherries and eggnog by the time they sit to eat. It is entirely normal for over-imbibed members of the family to have to be woken in order to be brought to the table, whereupon they immediately fall asleep in the chestnut stuffing and dribble gently into the gravy.

At this early stage, instead of eating, the Christmas crackers are usually pulled. The ‘crack’ associated with these sparkly seasonal tubes will inevitably make the babies scream and the elderly momentarily lose control of their bladders. Disagreements over the ‘prizes’ in the crackers, and whose flew where, may persist well into the New Year. The wise host will have a carrier bag full of crap with which to pacify the dissatisfied. The contents of the cracker usually consists of a paper crown which splits into two as soon as you attempt to put it on your head; a plastic novelty that flies across the room, ricochets from head and ornament before settling somewhere unseen, where it remains lost until a week later when it is sucked up with 3cwt of pine-needles and a half-eaten coffee-cream which jams the Hoover, having smeared itself over a six foot strip of mushroom shagpile. Finally, there is a joke, written, I believe, by a robot in Taiwan, which proves beyond doubt that there will never be an AI comedian. Never-the-less, it is not considered good manners to begin the meal until everybody has had the opportunity to read out their joke – even if a packing malfunction at the factory has resulted in everybody having the same one.

The traditional ‘bird’ of Christmas Dinner is, I think the goose, but this has now been firmly superseded by the turkey, due largely to its greater post-Christmas adaptability in sandwich, curry and rissole. Henry the Eighth, it is said, was the first person to eat Christmas turkey in the UK and, looking at some of the sandwiches in the shops around this time of the year, the same bird is still doing the rounds. It is traditional to concur, when taking one’s first mouthful, that it is a bit dry and ask for more gravy. As a non-meat eater, I will traditionally be asked at this point if I would like some ham.
Christmas Dinner is, in effect, a standard Sunday Roast with knobs on, separated from ‘the normal’ by volume and accoutrement:
• Brussel Sprouts are, for many people, a once-a-year veg. Traditionally boiled for approximately three weeks before the day and hidden under the table during the meal.
• Bread Sauce – follows the English tradition of taking something relatively bland and stodgy and transforming it into something even blander and stodgier.
• Pigs in Blankets – pork sausage wrapped in bacon (so, more correctly Pigs in Pig, I would argue) presents the UK diner with the unique opportunity to accompany a meal with the sensation of inadvertently driving a cocktail stick through the hard palate and into the nasal cavity.
• Cranberry Sauce – this is most un-British, like having gravy on your pudding. Tolerated only on this one day of the year. For the rest of the year such gastronomic eccentricities are left to the French.
• Wine, both red and white may be served. Grandma, robbed of her mug of tea, will reluctantly agree to have a glass of port and lemonade (‘More lemonade than port, please. Well, perhaps just a splash more port…’), before falling to sleep and coughing her false teeth into the mash.

After the meal has been eaten, the plates have been cleared and the worst of it mopped off grandad’s shirt, comes the Christmas Pudding: the densest duff since Cnut. The glistening globe is placed, steaming, in the centre of the table before being doused in brandy and set alight, to shrieks of admiration from everyone around the table, except for grandma who has woken to find her hairpiece is on fire. The brandy soaked pudding is usually served with brandy butter, brandy sauce and brandy – or perhaps that’s just our house. In the past, the pudding would contain a silver sixpence, which the lucky finder would use to get their teeth fixed.

Only the hardiest of souls, and those desperate to avoid the washing up, will attempt to tackle the cheese and biscuits after all of this. Those wishing to have a cigar will be sent to the bottom of the garden as the smell makes Auntie Vera nauseous. Unfortunately, the bottom of the garden contains a compost heap that makes the smokers nauseous.

When the traditional moaning about who always gets landed with the washing up has subsided everyone settles down for an afternoon doze.

The first to wake opens the window and lets it out.