Pandemics Related to Christmas
by Rachel MacNair
Widespread plagues have been a part of the human condition throughout history. Therefore, it stands to reason traces of them can be found in a holiday season often used to help people cope and be resilient.
It’s a Wonderful Life
When George Bailey was still a boy, one of the ways he made a difference was in helping his employer, the pharmacist Mr. Gower, by keeping him from sending poison rather than medicine.
Why was Mr. Gower so frazzled? He’d just received a telegram that his son had died of influenza. Since that was in 1919, that would be the pandemic that killed over 50 million people; his son was one of them.
Nicholas of Myra (traditionally 270-343) was a bishop whose legendary secret gift-giving to people stuck in poverty developed into the model of Santa Claus. His was one of the legends promoting the idea of children as real people, an idea crucial to stopping feticide and infanticide.
Among other legends about him: Nicholas forced Governor Eustathius to admit he was bribed to condemn three innocent men to death. He appeared in Emperor Constantine’s dream to say three imperial officers, condemned to death at Constantinople, were innocent. Constantine freed them the next morning. So Nicholas became, among many other things, a patron saint of prisoners.
His parents were wealthy, which is why he had the wherewithal to be so generous. But legend has it he inherited the money quite young, because his parents died of the plague; the timing was not long after the height of the Plague of Cyprian (perhaps similar to Ebola or maybe smallpox).
From “Christianity Has Been Handling Epidemics for 2000 Years: Practical theology says care, sacrifice, and community are as vital as ever”:
During plague periods in the Roman Empire, Christians made a name for themselves. Historians have suggested that the terrible Antonine Plague of the 2nd century [165-180 C.E.], which might have killed off a quarter of the Roman Empire, led to the spread of Christianity, as Christians cared for the sick and offered a spiritual model whereby plagues were not the work of angry and capricious deities but the product of a broken Creation in revolt against a loving God.
This is a list of holiday editions of our weekly e-newsletter, Peace & Life Connections.
In 2010, we showed “It’s a Wonderful Movement” by using the theme of what would happen if the peace movement and the pro-life movement hadn’t arisen. We also had quotes from Scrooge (against respect for life) and a Martin Luther King Christmas sermon.
In 2011, we covered the materialism-reducing “Advent Conspiracy” and offered two pieces of children’s literature: a 1938 anti-war cartoon called “Peace on Earth,” and the anti-war origins of “Horton Hears a Who,” whose tagline – “a person’s a person, no matter how small” – is irresistible to pro-lifers.
In 2012, we had a couple of quotes showing the pro-life aspects of two prominent Christmas tales: A Christmas Carol with Ebenezer Scrooge, and the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. We also quote from John Dear about Jesus as peacemaker and Rand Paul about the 1914 spontaneous Christmas Truce; he then related it to the culture of life.
In 2013, we shared several quotations reflecting on Christmas.
In 2014, we offered a quotation from a lesser-known Christmas novella of Charles Dickens and cited the treatment of abortion in the Zoroastrian scriptures.
In 2015, we had a list of good holiday movies with consistent-life themes – check it out for what you might want to see this season. We also had information on Muslim nonviolent perspectives.
In 2016, we discussed how “The Magi were Zoroastrians” and detailed how good the Zoroastrians were on consistent-life issues. The ancient roots of the consistent life ethic run deep!
In 2017, we covered Interfaith Peace in the Womb.
In 2018, we detailed Strong Women against Violence – Connected to the Holidays.
In 2019, we showed Christmas as a Nonviolent Alternative to Imperialism.