Christmas is for heretics

Christmas is for heretics

What if the Messiah were born a girl?


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Heresy! I’m all for it, and practice “her-esy” every chance I get. For instance, as most of us know, Christian nativity scenes feature a baby in the manger as the central event. In a patriarchy, the baby is the star while the mother is a mere delivery system, and a virgin at that! If I were living in another era, my home’s nativity scene would end up with me and my hubby being burned at the stake and then burning in hell, the fiery scent of brimstone forever associated with our names. Why? Because our manger scene has a baby girl in it! Heresy!

And when you think about it, the word “heresy” begins with “her,” and “her” is exactly what I’ve devoted my life to: bringing all the “hers,” including myself, back into full participation at every level of life — home, community, society, religion, corporations, government. It’s a tough job, but there are a whole bunch of us out there who feel the same way.

Yes, my nativity scene is odd and probably gives cause for pause. The usual suspects are all there — Mary, Joseph, the wise men, the animals, both domestic and wild — then I have the Simpsons, a Menorah, and best of all, baby Jesus is a girl. My three-dimensional characters even have dialogue or thought bubbles. The so-called “wise men” exclaim, “The Messiah can’t be a girl!” Mary says, “Oh, I see. You buy into a virgin birth but can’t, excuse the expression, conceive of a female saving the world?”

There are boatloads of us who actually believe in a type of collective messianic female. That is, if we pour our resources into bringing girls and women into their rightful places worldwide, we will save the world.

When you just take a moment to consider it, putting money and resources behind girls and women is the most logical thing in the world. A mother in an impoverished country is likely to be ill-fed and illiterate. Men are fed first; women and girls are given scraps. That custom doesn’t serve men and boys in the long run. These almost-starving mothers give birth to babies, both male and female, who suffer from her malnourishment and whose bodies and brains don’t develop properly. Since she can’t read, she can’t understand instructions on safety and health-related fliers, or follow basic directions found on medications. We have the statistics. We know that the empowerment of women and girls as a priority is good for everyone, including men and boys, and yet, and yet …
Most of us are still incredibly biased about gender, even unconsciously so. I see it when I go on anti-Santa rants. People don’t like me messing with male symbols, although I’ve had people write to me and say, “Thank you! I hate Santa, too!” For years, I’ve used this column to lambast our most “sacred” (yet secular) image of Christmas: A rotund, benevolent fictional character, who also happens to be a white patriarch, who now symbolizes the crass commercialization of a holiday that marks the return of light. Go figure.

Do you think you’re “over” sexism? If so, what do you think of this, one of my default email signatures? Does it give you pause?

Murphy's Laws
Although no one is sure who Murphy was, her laws are well known. She said:
• Nothing is as easy as it looks.
• Everything will take longer than you think.
• If anything can go wrong, it will.

In times of frustration, people will often remark that things are going according to Murphy’s laws.

Or what about this? A father and son are in an accident and the father dies instantly. The son is taken to the hospital, the doctor takes one look at him and says, ‘I can’t operate on him! He's my son!’ Since his father died in the accident, how is this possible? Answer: It is possible because the doctor is the boy's mother.” (Or in these times, the boy has two fathers.)

But the point of my nativity scene, the Murphy ’s Law inversion and the doctor riddle is to shake up assumptions. Even the most enlightened of us have shockingly unexamined ideas about who can do what within the confines of gender.

When I think of the babies, girls and boys, who are literally “wasted” all over the world, my heart breaks. Because the infant who dies of an easily curable disease could have been the next Madame Curie, or the next Einstein, or yes, even the next Messiah.

Am I a her-etic? Yes. And I hope you are, too.
Happy Holidays, everyone. Whatever it is that you celebrate, do something heretical! n

Ellen Snortland is a writing coach and teacher in Altadena. Visit


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Ms. Snortland:
I would love to see your Nativity scene. It sounds fun, as well as thought provoking.
One snit, however: it seems you perpetuate a bit of sexism yourself at the close of your article when wondering about the next "Madame" Curie. Her name was *Marie* Curie. She was, and usually is, referred to as Madame Curie because at the time she was most scientifically prolific it was somewhat unseemly for a Polish woman to be so independently minded. Her identity thus was almost always associated with her husband, Pierre, hence the "Madame," or "Mrs." Curie.

posted by grecodan on 12/22/12 @ 01:38 p.m.

Hey Ellen, I think I would like your eclectic and non-traditional version of the nativity. One of the great things about California, and indeed the USA, is that we can make our own traditions. And I've always enjoyed the "doctor paradox", and how hard it is for some of my (boomer) generation to figure out. Of course, I had an unfair advantage - my mother was a medical doctor.
Thanks for the column!

posted by espresso on 1/18/13 @ 12:12 p.m.
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