The myth of Christmas

As I would discover, people in Bethlehem love Scottishness and their pipers take great pride in their playing.

By JORG LUYKEN
January 11, 2007 10:03
4 minute read.
xmas story image 88 298

xmas story image 88 298. (photo credit: Illustration by Rinat Gilboa)

Quite how the myth started I'm still not sure. One possibility is that a grand game of Chinese whispers turned the news of the arrival in Bethlehem of a "young chap who plays the bagpipes" into the glorious entrance of one of Scotland's youngest piping champs. A more cynical interpretation is that Joseph, the pipemajor of the Terra Santa Pipeband, with whom I was to perform as a guest piper at the Christmas parade, exploited my Scottish credentials to sow seeds of jealousy among Bethlehem's other bands. Either way, it was very important that the myth was not dispelled. At our final rehearsal, Joseph told me with a mischievous grin that most of the other scout groups in Bethlehem now knew of Terra Santa's special guest. Therefore, I was under strict instructions not to play any tunes on request, for that would undoubtedly give the game away. I was to apologize, but say that sadly I was suffering from a severe bout of the flu. So, on a glorious Sunday morning in central Bethlehem, where 30 scout groups had gathered to perform for the Latin patriarch, I found myself marching at the head of the Terra Santa Pipeband in kilt and sporran, basking in the adulation of the local crowd. All this to the envy of the other bands, who believed that Terra Santa had a professional piper - and a champion at that. Perhaps I should explain the reality of my modest piping career. I began on the practice chanter when I was eight years old, and at 13 I won my school's chanter competition. By my last year in high school, I had been promoted to sergeant in the pipeband. But, to be honest, this had more to do with my powers of blackmail than my skill as a musician. So, I am a champion... of sorts. But why was it so important for Terra Santa to have a champion Scottish piper? As I would discover, people in Bethlehem love Scottishness and their pipers take great pride in their playing. A greeting that was especially common among the older generation was "Ah, Scotland, the land of whiskey." In the center of Bethlehem, a new shop has just been opened called the Scottish Center. Given the dire state of the economy, it is a minor miracle to find any new franchise not selling luminous Jesuses, let alone one that specializes only in selling and teaching the bagpipes and the snare drums. One of Terra Santa's senior pipers explained to me that in the 49 years that pipebands had performed in the Christmas parade, this was the first time that a Scottish piper would be participating. Not wanting to pass up my status of King for the Day, I decided to go on a meet-and-greet of the masses. As I strolled toward Manger Square with my double bodyguard, I could hear the word "Scotlandia" murmuring through the crowd. Children ran up and touched my legs to make sure I was real. I was stopped repeatedly for photos as brothers, sisters, great aunts and third cousins twice removed posed beside a real Scotsman. One particularly forthright woman put her arm round my shoulder and begged me to take her back to Scotland. As my ego skyrocketed and the trappings of fame began to suffocate me, like Midas clutching at his throat, I dragged myself back to the safety of my protected compound (also known as the scouts center). Little did I realize the trouble was just beginning. In the courtyard, the Syrian and Arabic Catholic bands were having a little argument over who was the best. But when one of the Arabic Catholics claimed that without their best piper the Syrians were too afraid to get up on stage, their adversaries decided the time for talking was over. Bottles began to rain from the sky, scattering the terrified and confused scouts in every direction. The two bands chased each other down relentlessly, some used flag poles as makeshift lances, others used drums as makeshift stones. It was only when some heavies with assault rifles arrived that order was restored, even then with some difficulty. The aftermath was more reminiscent of an explosion at a toy factory than the commemoration of the messiah's birth. But there was never any question of the parade being cancelled. The Terra Santa band played our repertoire of Arabic and Scottish tunes excellently, a remarkable achievement given that it had only been reorganized a month before. We also played with commendable stamina for an hour or so on the march to the Church of the Nativity, taking only one break, for a small fight, near the end. As I woke up on Christmas morning nursing a headache that had not come my way during the fighting, but much later in the night when the Scotch arrived, I contemplated that potent triumvirate of pipebags, fighting and whiskey. In each event I was outclassed by these men with names like Donny and Charley. It goes to show, to be a real Scotsman you do not need to wear a kilt. All you need to do is pay attention to the old piece of wisdom on what to do when you have had so much Scotch that you can see two men in front of you. Keep drinking until you can see three, then make sure you go for the one in the middle.


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