It is the festive season and we all have a yearning to jolly things up and go back to some traditions to counter the period of constant threats and changes.
All the villages around us have strung up their Christmas lights – most of them have not changed for years, but with LED lighting there are some nice new illuminations: snails rampant or things that look like jellyfish, but are more probably imitating snowfall.
And then there are the decorative scenes, which are of a strictly secular nature. (There was uproar in a neighbouring village when a Nativity scene appeared outside the Mairie).
Last year Empurany pushed the boat out and created a whole scenery of snowmen, reindeer, ice bears, decorated Christmas trees …. and penguins.
The penguins were beautifully made by a someone in the village and stood proudly at the corner of the church.
But one day, a thief came in broad daylight and kidnapped one of the penguins. Somebody saw him in action, but couldn’t stop him. Immediately the news spread and the inhabitants of Empurany were frantic. Messages were posted on the shop door and even the newspaper got involved begging the thief to return the penguin to its family. The penguin-napper was even promised (considering the season of love and forgiveness), that his deed would be entirely excused and that he could just return the penguin at dead of night – no questions asked.
But alas, we were talking about a professional criminal. To the sadness of the villagers the penguin never returned.
So this year it was decided to screw the penguins down on to the pavement with a solid bolt to avoid a repeat of last year’s mishap.
And here they are – joined by the ice bears and reindeer. Every day at 11 am and again in the afternoon, canned music completes the mise-en-scène of this peaceful gathering of wooden animals, to the pride of the villagers of Empurany.
But there is something that has been bothering me for a while. What have penguins got to do with the Nativity?
I assume that the people who know about the story of Jesus’s birth also know that Bethlehem is not in the Antarctic. So the penguins couldn’t have been there, witnessing the event together with the shepherds and their flocks, nor would they have had time to follow a star and arrive while there was still something happening in the stable.
I know, there weren’t pine trees either, but we are always told that the Christmas tree is an acceptable mixture of pagan tradition and Christian faith at the darkest part of the year.
So it must simply be the fact that we like penguins, or – considering that most of us have not yet met one personally – the idea of penguins. They are cute, friendly, funny and make us feel good. What else do you need for Christmas?
Several years ago my Swiss nephews showed me a newspaper cartoon which at the time I thought was very funny. A small girl is standing in front of a Nativity scene. In her hand she is holding “Pingu”, (a popular children’s film character – a penguin of course). Placing her toy between Mary and Joseph she says (in Swiss German) “Pingu wants to be part of this too”.
Now it seems to have become the norm. After all, if we have festive snails and jellyfish, why not?
So Happy Pingmas and maybe we should discuss Father Christmas and polar bears another time!