IVP - Strangely Dim - Two-oo Turtle Doves

December 23, 2010

Two-oo Turtle Doves

According to the Honolulu Zoo, turtle doves "are more slender and more graceful than many pigeons." And this doubtless explains why they are associated with true love and immortalized in poems by Shakespeare, Robert Chester and King Solomon, and why they're the second gift to the beloved in "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Because pigeons, I'm sure you'll agree, are among the most graceful birds you'll ever see.

Of course, such a an opinion is subjective, beauty and all being in the eye of the beholder. And I hope you know I'm being facetious when I call pigeons graceful. Because I think they're rather odd birds--with the cooing and bobbing and nesting close to the ground (unsafe for fledglings, I would think). But they are loyal partners when they pair up to mate, remaining monogamous and mating for life, which is the reason they have been the subject so often of loverly poems. But in addition to their place in poetry, turtle doves (the name for which is derived from the "turr turr" sound they make, rather than for their resemblance to the hard-shelled reptile) are associated with biblical sacrifice (in the old and new testaments), and loss.

Thus, the bird, in my mind, makes a rather strangely appropriate correlation with the Christmas season. This is a time of year in which we talk about Love itself coming down to dwell among us. Even as the Christian church celebrates the advent of Christ, we are mindful of the coming sorrow of his Passion and solemnity of the Lenten season. And we live even now in anticipation of the reminder of his victory over death at Easter. The humble turtle dove, associated with love, sacrifice and sorrow, is a fitting creature for a song that is both about a "true love" and the gifts of the season.

In addition, the turtle doves--indeed, the whole of "The Twelve Days of Christmas"--can also be a testimony to how small gifts and efforts add up more quickly and substantially than one might anticipate. Case in point: as nearly all the articles I've read about the "Twelve Days of Christmas" report, the beloved has 22 turtle doves by the time the song is over. Taken in this literal sense, by the time the song ends, the single partridge in its pear tree has become a menagerie in an orchard, comprised of 12 pear trees, 12 partridges, 22 turtle doves, 30 French hens, 36 calling birds and 42 geese and swans, respectively. And (if one counts the cows being milked by the maids) 40 bovine quadrupeds. Not to mention 12 drummers and 22 piping pipers leading the leaping lords (30) and dancing ladies (36) in what has apparently become quite a party, and not simply a series of sweet gestures.

Whew! Talk about a snowball effect! Let's take a breath here, shall we?

We've been talking a lot in this fortnight of blogs about the things we might give and the benefits of giving certain kinds of gifts. But it's easy for things to get out of control--with Christmas parties at the office, church, with friends and family. And shopping. And cleaning.  And packing, and all the rest. But simple is good, too. So for this second day before Christmas, I humbly suggest something simple: the gift of a story, or poem, or other simple series of moments to be spent with those you love. If you're inclined to write, I encourage you to do so. But here are some recommendations for stories and poems written by people kind enough to take all the heavy labor of wordsmithing upon themselves:

  • The biblical story of the Nativity can be found in the beginning chapters of Matthew and Luke.
  • Isaiah's fortelling of the savior in Isaiah 9
  • The Legend of the Three Trees (this is is more of an Easter book, but still very good for Christmas)
  • "The Night Before Christmas"
  • A Christmas Carol
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  • "Love's Martyr" by Robert Chester (a "turtle dove" poem)
  • "Christmas Eve" by Christina Rosetti
  • "Nativity" by John Donne
  • "The Phoenix and the Turtle" by William Shakespeare (also a turtle dove poem)
  • "Our Christmas Tree" by Wendell Berry (from A Timbered Choir)
Numerous other suggestions can be found here.

As Christmas Day comes nearer, let's mark all those little moments, kindnesses and simple gestures that so often surround us but go unnoticed. At the end of your reminiscences may you find your life has been much fuller and richer than you ever knew--and bless others in similar small ways, too.

Posted by Christa Countryman at December 23, 2010 8:15 AM Bookmark and Share | TrackBack

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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