Christ in the Guise of the Stranger
The Celtic tradition of hospitality, the welcoming of strangers, seems important to lift up not just because it is Christmas time but because the world right now is so fractured. We are experiencing a new wave of tribalism based on fear and hate of the other. While Celtic tribes fought against invaders and sometimes among their own tribes, their centering beliefs were grounded in connectedness and community. Well before Christ, the ancient peoples of Celtic lands practiced a spirit akin to what Christianity would call the Holy Spirit.
In Power of Raven Wisdom of Serpent, Noragh Jones cites an ancient rune to illustrate:
We saw a stranger yesterday.
We put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place.
And with the sacred name of the Triune God
We were blessed, and our house,
Our cattle and our dear ones.
As the lark says in her song:
Often, often, often goes the Christ
In the stranger’s guise.
This Scottish story has parallels in many cultures. The message is that we need to honor the heart of the stranger; we need to recognize how like us the person is; we need to remember the humanity of each and every person. Welcoming the stranger blesses ourselves as well as it aids the recipient of our hospitality.
As a child, I remember my grandmother always could find something in the cupboard to offer a visitor. Often it was salted codfish from a small wooden box. I didn’t particularly like the codfish but I kept little treasures in the discarded boxes. We visited relatives in Ireland when I was a teenager. My grandmother’s people were upper middle class by that point. They welcomed us lavishly with the best in Irish linens and China as well as scrumptious spreads of food. In contrast, my grandfather’s people had a dirt floor in the kitchen of their farm. They served us hard boiled eggs, tongue (which I had trouble swallowing down) and tea on chipped cups. My learning: the warmth of the fire and the authenticity of the welcome were equally meaningful to us, the long-lost American cousins.
As I have said before, the Celts merged ancient tradition and beliefs with their new-found Christianity.
Legend has it that Brede (the goddess Brigid, Saint Brigit) offered hospitality to Mary and Joseph as they entered Jerusalem and acted as midwife to the birth of the Christ child. She held the torch of welcome out for all.
As we celebrate Christmas in a country that has allowed children to be placed in detention camps separated from their parents, that has witnessed Jews and African-Americans killed in their places or worship, and watched media reports of many hate crimes against LGBTQ individuals and groups, we all would do well to remember the Celtic tradition of welcoming the stranger. Celebrating Christmas is about celebrating the Christ- the love in all of us. To me, that is keeping Christ in Christmas. I wish you a very blessed holiday season. Not sure if Tiny Time Cratchit was of Celtic origins, but “God Bless Us One and All.”