icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Where Were Joseph’s Cousins?

Where were Joseph’s cousins? I thought of that as I listened again this year to the familiar words of Luke, Chapter Two; Verses One through Seven:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed… And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

I’ve known those words since childhood, but never in all these decades had I thought the thought that entered my head this year: Joseph should have had dozens of relatives in Bethlehem. “The house and lineage of David,” of course, meant that Joseph was a descendant of King David, the Old Testament hero who began his reign about 1000 BC. Even centuries later, being a descendant of the royal family should have mattered. David and his son Solomon were of such overwhelming importance to the Hebrews that even distant cousins likely would have been proud of that distinction. In such a family-oriented society, the connection between descendants of the greatest king still should have offered a temporary cocoon for Joseph and Mary. Where were his cousins?

Or, for that matter, Mary’s cousins? Nothing is said about her lineage, but we know she had a cousin named Elizabeth, the late-life mother of John the Baptist. Mary’s mother was Ann, but even though many Catholic churches are named St. Ann, my Catholic Dictionary of Saints dismisses Mary’s parents with “nothing whatever is known of them.” In any case, the ancestral hometown of the woman didn’t matter for census purposes, as the Middle East already had adopted patriarchy (and polygamy, which disappears between the Old and New Testaments without explanation).

Patriarchy, in which lineage is traced through the father, differed from the matrilineal family structure of Africans and Native Americans at that time. Those societies did not conduct censuses nor impose taxes: they were small enough and communal enough that everyone knew who everyone was, and everyone got enough of the mutual property to provide for their needs without bureaucracy or taxes. The only exception was paying tribute (or taxes) to a conquering tribe after war.

Even in the case of war, though, women often had more power than Mediterranean woman. In our North America, women usually had the right to decide who would be executed and who would survive as a prisoner of war. More important to daily life, in virtually all “prehistoric” tribes, family lineage was traced through the mother. This highly practical system acknowledged that everyone knew who the mother of a child was, but that was not necessarily true of its father. This separation of property and sex not only resulted in a system in which no baby was a bastard, but also offered women greater freedom. And it bonded the maternal family, as uncles – the brothers of the mother – played at least as large a role as fathers in rearing children.

But ever since Adam played a more righteous role than Eve in Hebrew history, the father in that society outranked the mother. Except in the case of Joseph, who had a secondary, supporting role when he took his heavily pregnant girlfriend to Bethlehem, the city of David. The Bible (or, more properly, the New Testament) makes it clear that they were not married, so I guess it’s possible – even likely – that Joseph’s cousins rejected the young couple because of this obvious violation of the rules on marriage. If Joseph told them that Mary was pregnant by God, not by him, his family probably would have considered both of them to be crazy, perhaps dangerously so. That would explain why no one offered a respectable place to stay -- but still, was there no one at all who took pity on this very pregnant teenager? I’ll bet some of the women did, but their husbands overruled them and the baby was born in a manger.

And by the way, when we were on the Greek island of Corfu in 2002, people still were going to their ancestral hometown to vote. Some bureaucracies are really hard to change!

* * *

A week after Christmas, we celebrate the New Year. When many of us were kids, New Year’s Day was a second Christmas: it often was spent with whatever side of the family hadn’t been favored with our childish presence at Christmas. Black-eyed peas and pork were the focus of the meal in the South, while up North, the turkey or ham that had missed out as the star of Christmas dinner became the choice for the lesser holiday.

Visiting with family and friends was the point of the day. Indeed, a number of European ethnic groups and their American descendants – especially Scots – explicitly set aside New Year’s Day for paying calls. The elderly stayed home, and with servants to help, families held “open house” all day. Younger people bundled up against the cold and went out early, intending to stop at a dozen or more homes and enjoy a bit of refreshment at each.

Things have changed, and instead of walking and talking through our neighborhoods, many of us cocoon in front of the television and watch hour after hour of football. Others will jam mall parking lots on January 1, with most shoppers having no real imperative to do so. Chances are that men are doing one of these activities, while women are doing the other. What children do is disconnected from any adult activity.

Thinking back to my own youth, the recollections are very different. The notion of open stores on New Year’s Day would have been inconceivable – and if they had been, my mother and her sisters would have considered it a sacrilege to go shopping on a holiday. While some of the uncles might have had a TV or radio with a ballgame running in the background, it was more likely that they were outside tossing a ball around or helping a kid set off a firecracker in celebration of the new year.

That, I think, was typical. Even after most households had television, New Year’s Day was far less dominated by football. Football-widow shopping was virtually unknown, as shown by an analysis of advertising in the Tampa Tribune on January 1, 1964. Like this year, the holiday fell on a Wednesday that year, but despite this mid-week placement, only four stores said that they would be open. One of these, Showcase Interiors in Sulphur Springs, justified its unconventionality by calling their 9 to 5 hours an “Open House Party.”

Stores aimed at Tampa’s more affluent were firmly closed. Prestigious Falk’s, “the store with a purpose,” urged customers to “Start the New Year with Wonderful Price Reductions” – but on January 2, not the first. Self Service Shoes, with flats at $1, was one of the few open stores, but Falk’s shoe department, with nothing lower than $6.88, began its sale the following day.

J.C. Penney’s, which had stores at Britton Plaza in South Tampa and Northgate Shopping Center near Florida and Busch avenues, advertised a “Giant White Goods Sale” for the next day (mattress pads for $2.66). Mass Brothers (“Tampa’s Great Store), which had stores downtown as well as at Britton and Northgate, spelled out clearly that its locations were “closed today” and urged customers to “shop tomorrow.” There were no malls in Tampa in 1964, and indeed most Americans were unfamiliar with the concept of an enclosed shopping mall, which was just beginning in the Northeast.

Nor did the Super Bowl yet exist. The Tribune did not have a separate sports section, and the three pages of sports in the January 1 edition was much more diverse than today. Football was mentioned, but other stories reported on fishing, hunting, jai alai, judo, tennis, track, wrestling, hockey, basketball, and the racing of both horses and dogs. The stories on football also differed then: they had a Florida focus and virtually all of the attention was on college, not professional, games. Even that coverage was indicative of much less public interest in football than today: Jacksonville mayor (later governor) Haydon Burns candidly said that his city’s Gator Bowl was “unsanitary and unsafe.”

The paper listed four bowl games for New Year’s Day – but importantly, three of the four ran in the same time slot. In an era prior to home recording, viewers had to choose between the Sugar, Cotton, and Orange Bowls, all of which ran at 1:45. WFLA carried the Sugar Bowl and WTVT the Cotton Bowl, while the Orange Bowl was broadcast on WSUN Radio and UHF television, the obscure Channel 38. Nor were there any remote controls to help manage this simultaneous action.

The only game that received singular attention was the Rose Bowl, which aired at 4:45 – or 1:45 in its California time zone. Perhaps it was this exceptional time slot that motivated WFLA to buy the only Tribune ad for a ballgame: the quarter-page ad lauded the Rose Bowl’s “50th edition of a football classic.” WFLA listed its radio dial location first, however, and the fact that the game would be broadcast on TV in color was secondary. Although most families had a TV by 1964, it was likely to be black-and-white, not color.

When the Rose Bowl was over at 7:45, there would be no more football – not that evening, nor the next Saturday, nor the next Sunday, and certainly not Monday night. These habits are new. Our fathers did not spend four or more nights a week preoccupied with football, nor did our mothers take credit cards to the malls on Sundays. Maybe both forms of adult liberation were overdue – but maybe not. In any case, these are significant social changes that should be noted in our debates over juveniles gone wrong. While their parents cheered the TV or walked the malls in the 1980s and 1990s, what were the kids doing on New Years Day?

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
Make a comment to the author