You better watch out... 

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"The first Noel, the angels did say..."

A long time ago, when the world, at least my world, was simpler, when everything was sustainable because we had so much less to sustain, when our friends were actually friends and we knew who they were because we played with them as often as we could, I loved Christmas.

Christmas meant a holiday from school and that meant a real holiday. It meant my grandparents were coming to visit and that meant Granny was going to spoil us rotten with her baking and Gramp was going to give me more life lessons in what I didn't want to be when I grew up. It was the one time of the year I could be openly greedy, pouring over the pages in the toy sections of the big, national department store catalogs and badgering my parents for something that caught my quicksilver attention. It meant I had a better than average chance of getting it too.

The days leading up to Christmas break were high energy, giddy days and for the most part, teachers were smart enough to channel that energy into less prosaic tasks than mastering long division. Science gave way to art, manifested in decorating the classrooms, creating Christmas cards and acting out the story of the first Christmas. Carols were practiced in class because there was to be a school-wide, parents-invited caroling to climax the final day.

I enjoyed Christmas carols. But much of the imagery in them disturbed me. They disturb me still.

"...Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay..."

What the heck does that mean? What does it mean to certain someone? Is it a pastoral activity? Can only shepherds be certained? Only poor shepherds? Can shepherds certain each other or are angels necessary? What did the angels say? Can ordinary people certain other people? Is it sexual? Can you do it accidentally? Was it okay to certain other guys or, if I ever figured out what it meant, was it only something I should do to girls? I wasn't sure I wanted to be certained but I was certainly curious about whether I'd enjoy certaining someone else. Particularly Priscilla.

I once asked my teacher what it meant. I didn't want to ask her and admit my ignorance of all things certain. But she asked me, after we'd practiced the song, if I'd forgotten the words.

"No," I responded. "I know the next words are 'In fields where they, lay keeping their sheep, on a cold winter's ni-ight that wa-as so deep.' And after that it gets real easy, 'Noel, etcetera, etcetera."

But she wouldn't let it go. "Well, if you know the words, why weren't you singing?"

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