Arthur Dent's Christmas

Arthur Dent's Christmas

Dear Readers,

I've never written any fan-fiction before, but I thought that, considering some of the fan fiction pieces I've seen, I couldn't do much worse.

Mercifully this one is not terribly long, and it's intended as humor.

I have long been a devotee of the HHG or Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy stories, and I would gladly argue that the movie should have received the same treatment as the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

I decided to explore what it would be like to explain to a non-human, what Christmas was supposed to represent, and what it had come to mean.

Many apologies to Doug Adams

So, I bid you a Merry or Happy Christmas here in the plural zones.    Jules Porter

Arthur Dent sat quietly considering the menu at ╔ҰӃӃ₼'∆. It rather reminded him of a chain of restaurants in the states before the Vogon's had completed their evil task. Bloody bureaucratic, blinkered, mindless idiots, he grumbled. This particular restaurant had been based on the chain he remembered eating at during a radio management conference that was so unbelievably, stultifyingly dull as to make BBC4 programming seem exciting. Through some felicitous event, a menu from the restaurant had slipped through a wormhole and ended up in the hands or pods of an entrepreneur in search of a gimmick.

Across the table sat Ford Prefect's semi nephew, who was absolutely enthralled by the choice of foods. Bozzy was a history student at the University of Maxillon Xeta, and recently he had begun to research the planet Earth. Guided mostly by his semi uncle's notes and entries in the guide, he was planning to build his career on his studies of extinct civilizations, and having one of the only survivors of the planetary destruction on hand to answer questions was extremely helpful. Those of you who are familiar with Arthur's travels are aware that Human DNA is not exactly unknown in the galaxy. The descendants of Arthur Phillip Dent were house pets in many a galactic home.

Arthur decided on his dinner and signaled the robot to take their orders.

The odd shade of yellow on the menu and the red lettering further reminded Arthur of the earth restaurant this one was based on. It also reminded him of the colours of the Vogon fleet. But the menu itself was very advanced. You only need to place a thumb, tentacle, or other protuberance  into a small black square; the menu read your DNA and gave you menu choices that did not conflict with your continued existence.

"So, did earth people have any religious beliefs or observances?" Bozzy asked, trying to pry more information from Arthur.

"An unbelievable number, we had three major religions or four depending on which type of Christian you were, but those religions were all based on different interpretations of the same book. I never really subscribed to any of them, but the front runners were in no particular order, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Catholicism, and Christianity; the last two were very closely related. As a matter of fact, I was in an earth restaurant very much like this one on the very last Christmas eve. But unless, like the menu, the Bible, Koran, or any of the Hindu texts fall through a wormhole, your chance of understanding any of them is pitifully slim. I can tell you what I remember about Christianity and Catholicism. They both believed that the prophet Jesus was the son of god…"

"Which one? Inquired Bozzy.

"Oh, just the one, that's how monotheism works. So, this God fellow causes a baby to be born who was to be the hope of mankind. He did several fanciful things if you believe the book, which, by the way, was written nearly three hundred years after his own people nailed him to a tree."

"So, he was martyred because of his beliefs?" Bozzy asked, scribbling furiously.

"No, I suspect that he was martyred because he made the established religious leaders uncomfortable. He allegedly performed miracles like healing, turning water into wine, and raising the dead, really seditious stuff. The guys who ran the main religion at the time didn't appreciate him making them look foolish or inept. He wandered around a place called Judea and encouraged people to be kind to each other. And if they were, his father would welcome them to a new kingdom. So obviously, he had to go.

"That's really fraunty," said Bozzy, indicating that it was not cool. Cool itself was no longer a thing except when referring to temperature, nor was whoopy but for entirely different reasons. "So, then what?" Bozzy pressed.

"Well, this Jesus guy wandered around Judea with twelve other guys and his disciples and hundreds of other followers trying to spread the word. This made the foreign rulers nervous, and they put pressure on the local religious authorities to act. I'm hopelessly ill-informed about Judaism, but apparently, this Jesus guy was born into the religion. That's why they were on the hook for his actions."

"So the Roman emperor told Herod to get this taken care of, or it would be his wrists that were nailed to a tree next. Odd," mused Arthur. "I'm suddenly reminded of The Mikado."

"And did they?" Bozzy asked.

"Yes, but not before the man had planted the seeds of a new movement among the people. They charged him with crimes against God and asked the Roman in charge of the area to uphold their sentence of death. He did, and the deed was done. But three days after Jesus was entombed, it was said that he was resurrected and walked among his disciples once again before ascending to his father's house. Quite a story. It beats Zarquon, hands down, doesn't it?" Arthur chuckled.

"A bit fanciful, but is that the end?" Bozzy asked.

"No, actually, that's the beginning. The movement grew, and eventually, the Roman pantheon of gods succumbed to the growing popularity of Christianity. This would have displeased Jesus since it was an extremely violent and murderous process. But that's organised religion for you. Later, religious leaders of the various sects of Christendom got together to codify a standard book of liturgy as directed by Constantine, the Roman Emperor. They called it the "New Testament" and based it on the writings of people who were or claimed to be the disciples of Jesus or at least witnesses to events. They discounted all of the accounts that were written by women and added a bunch of twaddle to other accounts. Some accounts they mashed together to serve a purpose. Of course, nobody was completely happy except the Church of Rome. They got most of what they wanted and plenty of ammunition to use against anyone who challenged them. During that time, other religions and sects flourished and were eliminated. Later a religion called Islam based on the same Old Testament as Judaism gained popularity in Jesus' old stomping grounds. They called this the Holy Land and fought huge, costly battles to stamp out this upstart religion. They called them the Crusades, and thousands were killed in the names of Jesus and

Mohammed. Mohammed was the prophet of Islam, by the way. All this was done at a time when more than half the landmass was unknown to Europeans, Africans, and Asians. Kings ruled by divine right and exacted all manner of cruel punishments on their subjects. But you're familiar with that story. It has obviously happened all over the galaxy at one time or another. Also, during that time, the church of Rome decided to clear out the deadwood and purge itself of nonbelievers. Anyone who didn't adhere to their brand of Christianity was interrogated, forced to recant their beliefs, and swear allegiance to the one true church, Theirs. Anybody who didn't come around was tortured some more and then burned alive as a heretic. Fun stuff, eh?" Arthur asked.

"Fascinating; let's see if I have this right, they all basically believed the same things, but there was a disagreement about the exact wording? Is that it?" Bozzy probed.

"At the heart of it, yes. I think you've got it. Remember, this predates the existence of attorneys. But despite that, or perhaps because of the church throwing its weight around, some political concerns decided to found their own church, such as the one I was raised in. The Church of England was basically Catholicism with benefits. An English King was excommunicated from the Catholic or Church of Rome by the pope. The king decided that instead, he would abolish the Catholic Church in England and make everyone convert to his new Church. He seized all Catholic churches and monasteries plus all property associated with them. Many monks, priests, and other clergy were killed, as were stubborn adherents. Oh, and the Jews. They weren't really a factor, but they were killed by the cartloads. I never understood it myself. All of the Jews I Knew were decent guys, and I worked with a lot of them at the BBC. Perhaps if you track down Trillian, she might be able to make more sense of that for you. She sat several ancient history courses before moving on to physics and astronomy.

"Oddly, all of the religions on the planet had observances at the planting and harvesting times plus equinoxes, solstices, and other astronomic events. The Catholic church just took those festivals and transformed them into religious holidays. The biggest one in my time was Christmas. It was the one everybody looked forward to. It was an excuse to spend money like a drunken sailor in Amsterdam. We bought presents for family and friends that were far too expensive and poorly made to justify the expense, but this was part of the new religion that was co-opting Christianity. Consumerism is the label it carried, and video terminals all over vomited treacly stories about reindeer, fluffy kittens, and adorable children that needed medical intervention to continue living. For which you were meant to feel bad if you didn't donate more money than you could reasonably afford. Christmas was actually meant to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, also known as Jesus," Arthur paused for a sip of liquid, almost exactly unlike Coca-Cola.

"It was a wonderful story of a magical pregnancy, a birth in a manger, and visits by three Holy men. They conferred gifts on the child to recognize his divinity. At least that was the gist of the story. The holiday grew from a solemn observance to a raucous, drunken spectacle, in which I lost interest. I went to the parties, smiled for the photos, and got on with my life, such as it was," Arthur paused at this point to sip his drink and eat a few of the very convincing chips on his plate. French fries the Americans had called them, what was the name of that restaurant?"

"How does the food stack up?" Bozzy asked.

"Not quite as bad as the original, but then they probably clean the cooking surfaces and utensils regularly. I've learned not to ask what's in the burgers. Where was I?"

"Something called Christmas, was that his name? Jesus Christ?"

"It would be easy to believe that it was. It was cited frequently whenever anything malfunctioned or didn't go to plan. For instance, Jesus Christ! What's it take to get a cup of coffee around here!" Arthur bellowed.

"You need only place the probes in your mouth and ear, and the replicator will read your brain to produce this coffee you have expressed interest in. Thank you for choosing Sirius Cybernetics to fulfill your needs, sir," The robot replied and then sighed happily.

"To answer your question, no. Christ is like a title. It's a Greek word meaning Anointed one; his people interpreted it as Messiah. I looked it up and used to win bar bets; I hardly ever had to buy a round. Even the name Jesus is a corrupted form of his original name. Eesos was his name in Aramaic, but the Greeks were the ones that came up with Yeshua, which became Joshua and in Latin Iesus. Later, when the letter

J was added to the Latin alphabet, it became Jesus. His actual name was Eesos ben Joseph of Nazareth or whatever the Aramaic equivalent was at the time. They didn't have surnames at that time. Ben simply meant 'son of'," Arthur explained.

"I could be wrong, but that's how I remember it. But just like here, the academics on Earth argued ceaselessly about trivial things regarding Jesus. They probably even argued about what size sandals he wore. I've only just realised that I'm the foremost authority on Earth religion in the entire galaxy. Do you think I could get a chair at your university, Maximegalon or Sirius Cybernetics would probably stump up for it; I never told anyone, but I always wanted to be a Cambridge Don. I just wasn't sufficiently psychotic or clever enough apparently," Arthur mused at length.

"So, where does this leave us with Christmas?" Bozzy pursued like a terrier on a rat.

"Well, much of the rancor surrounding it was based in the form of observance. A choice between gaudy energy consuming light shows to the devout lighting a single candle. I mean, surely there is dissention in the TGGA. Aren't there offshoots from the main body?" Arthur asked.

"Oooh, we shouldn't talk about the Temple of the Great Green Arkelseizure in public. They can be vindictive," Bozzy warned.

"You should have dealt with the Scientologists," sneered Arthur.

Many of the roughly humanoid life forms enjoyed the restaurant for its bizarre cuisine and furnishings. They had done an excellent job with those. The booths and tables all resembled the deliberately uncomfortable furniture so popular with chain restaurants. It encouraged customers to order, eat and leave quickly in most cases. At least until after the bars closed. Drunks can endure uncomfortable furniture longer than the furniture can endure them. Still, the name of the restaurant on Earth eluded him.

The humanoid life forms, Arthur no longer called them aliens as this was considered offensive, and it had been pointed out that he fit the category himself. Those life forms were beginning to take an interest in the conversation he was having with Bozzy. This made Arthur a bit more nervous than usual.

"Where was this Earth you speak of?" A bluish gray humanoid with a decidedly equine facial appearance inquired. Sarah Jessica Parker sprang to Arthur's mind.

"Ah, I know this, actually. It was in the plural zone zz9 plural z alpha. Whatever that means. And please, nobody needs to try to explain it. I wouldn't understand anyway," Arthur fairly barked, a bit perturbed at the interruption.

"Oh, that backwater. I was told that it's very primitive out there," the horse creature opined snootily. And she had plenty of snoot to do it with, observed Arthur internally.

"Did you really eat this stuff on your planet?" Asked a small furry creature that would likely violate several copyrights held by George Lucas if he still existed.

"Not frequently, only when I went to California on business and once to see about the Dolphins," Arthur explained. "I was more of a steak and kidney pie or a pork roll type of person. Although I became very fond of the roast beast on Lamuella."

"California?! Really, just like in the guide?" pressed a small blue creature of no fixed shape. "Was it really as the guide describes it?"

"I'm not sure," Arthur replied. "I've never read the entry. Ford and I argued a lot about what he was writing about my planet," complained Arthur. "Apparently, he never passed through Southwark after closing; “mostly harmless indeed."

"This is all very informative," grumbled Bozzy, "but can we get back to the religious observances?"

"Oh yes, Christmas. Some of it was very nice and very tactfully done. Manger scenes, decorations, and lights if they weren't too brash and showy. Some of the housing estates looked like Brighton Beach Casinos.

"Even though I wasn't even remotely religious, I still celebrated a secular Christmas. I put up a tree and a wreath, plastic, mind you, never a real tree. I used the same tatty tree for twelve years, and then the world ended," Arthur shared wistfully.

"People cut down trees to put in their homes?!" Bozzy quailed.


"Were they sentient?" Bozzy demanded.

"I don't think so, but it's hard to tell. We humans thought we were the only sentient beings native to earth. But really, we were just apes with better tailors and press agents. I used to bristle at the aspersion that I was a monkey myself, but there's no point now. After all these decades and what I found out about who we really descended from, being an ape would have probably been better,``muttered Arthur. "I don't know which is correct now, and the damn mice won't say. Well, actually, they can't. I rather flattened them with a teapot. In my defense, they were about to dissect my brain."

"But what of Christmas?" Bozzy pressed.

"Oh that, well there were services. By my time, religious freedom was popular, and both of the main Christian factions had services in their respective churches. The Anglican service was quite nice. Very comforting. It was all about the birth of a savior who was meant to usher in the kingdom of God.  Of course, you're familiar with gods, aren't you? I should tell you that I have been to the Quentulous Quazgar mountains and seen the message.

It always struck me funny that the two major Christian faiths fought each other tooth and nail about a tiny dogmatic point in the liturgy. It all came down to whether it was literally the blood of Christ or the representation of the blood of Christ that was consumed during communion. It was a holy sacrament that both branches celebrated. Eventually, I decided that organised religion was all about controlling the populace. It had practically nothing to do with faith. They just aren't the same things. There may well be a god somewhere in the universe, but until someone jots down his address for me, I'm sticking with facts as I perceive them. Of course, there were Lutherans, Wesleyans and many others but to explain all that we would need a pub with very long opening hours. Of course, once you've had a few pints, the whole thing seems more convincing.

Arthur pulled out a small computing device and discovered it was still on his Earth calendar. The day's date was 24 December; nearly five decades had passed since his meal in Los

Angeles, California, at a greasy little restaurant filled with a frightening array of humankind. The memory seemed tame by comparison now.

Although he had intended on finding just such a pub, he switched over to the Sirius Cybernetics Galactic Standard translator and entered the characters off the menu. ╔ҰӃӃ₼'∆ was entered and the device quickly reported the results.

"Yes, that's it "Danny's!" Arthur shouted boisterously.

He passed his hand through the field at the center of the table and paid the bill.

"Let's go find a pub, and I'll teach you a few carols," Arthur exclaimed with great cheer.

♫Ding dong Merrily on high♪ Arthur sang merrily; Morning bells are ringing…..♫

Creatures of all sorts looked at him, scratched protuberances of all descriptions, and some, if only a few, repeated the music they had just heard. "Whoever that was," thought one, "he'll never hit the charts on the Zraqskisian mind channels, but I like the tune."