Contribution Jörg Luyken
Jörg is absolving an apprenticeship at the Jerusalem Post since October 2006 where he has written many interesting
stories. Here he relates about his experiences at Christmas in Bethlehem.
Christmas in Bethlehem
Quite how the myth started I'm still not sure. One possibility is that a grand
game of Chinese whispers turned the news of the arrival in Bethlehem of a 'young
chap' who plays the bagpipes into the glorious entrance of one of Scotlands
youngest piping champions.
A more cynical interpretation is that Joseph, the pipemajor of the Terra Santa
Pipeband, whom I was to perform with as a guest piper at the Bethlehem Christmas
Parade, exploited my Scottish credentials to sow seeds of jealousy amongst
Bethlehem's other bands.
Either way it was very important that the myth was not dispelled. At our final
rehearsal Joseph told me with a mischeivous grin that most of the other scout
groups in Bethlehem now knew of Terra Santa's special guest. Therefore I was
under strict instructions not to play any tunes on request, for that would
undoubtedly give the game away. I was to apologise but say that sadly I was
suffering from a severe bout of the flu.
So, on a glorious Sunday morning in central Bethlehem, where thirty scouts
groups had gathered to perform for the Latin Patriarch, I found myself marching
at the head of the Terra Santa Pipeband in kilt and sporran, basking in the
adulation of the local crowd. All this to the envy of the other bands, who
believed that Terra Santa had a professional piper - and a champion at that.
Perhaps I should explain the reality of my modest piping career. I began on the
practise chanter when I was eight years old and at the age of 13 I won my
school's chanter competition. By my last year in High school I had been
promoted to the rank of Sergeant in the pipeband. But, to be honest, this had
much more to do with my powers of blackmail than my skill as a musician. So, I
am a champion... of sorts.
But why was it so important for Terra Santa to have a champion Scottish piper?
People in Bethlehem love Scottishness and the town's pipers take
great pride in their playing. A greeting that was especially common among the
older generation was "ah, Scotland, the land of whisky!"
In the centre of Bethlehem a new shop has just been opened called the Scottish
Centre. Given the dire state of the economy it is a minor miracle to find any
new franchise not selling luminous Jesuses, let alone one that specialises only
in selling and teaching the bagpipes and the snare-drums.
One of Terra Santa's senior pipers explained to me that in the 49 years that
pipebands had performed at the Christmas parade this was the first time that a
Scottish piper would be participating.
Not wanting to pass up my status of King for the Day I descided to go on a meet
and greet of the masses. As I strolled towards Manger Square with the two
bodyguards I had been given I could hear the word Scotlandia murmuring through the crowd.
Children ran up and touched my legs to make sure I was real. I was stopped
repeatedly for photo calls as brothers, sisters, great aunts and third cousins
twice removed posed beside a real scotsman. One particularly forthright woman
put her arm round my shoulder and begged me to take her back to Scotland.
As my ego skyrocketed and the trappings of fame began to suffocate me, like
Midas clutching at his throat, I dragged myself back to the safety of my
protected compound (also known as the scouts centre).
Little did I realize the trouble was just beginning. In the courtyard the Syrian
and Arabic Catholic bands were having a little argument over who was the best.
But when one of the Arabic Catholics claimed that without their best piper the
Syrians were too afraid to get up on stage their adversaries decided the time
for talking was over.
Bottles began to rain from the sky scattering the terrified and confused scouts
in every direction. The two bands chased each other down relentlessly, some used
flag poles as makeshift lances, others using drums as makeshift stones.
It was only when some heavies with machine guns arrived that order was restored,
even then with some difficulty. The aftermath was more remeniscent of an
explosion at a toy factory than the commemoration of the Messiah's birth. But
there was never any question of the parade being cancelled.
The Terra Santa band played our repetoir of arabic and scottish tunes
exellently, a remarkable acheivment given that the band had only been
reorganised a month before. We also played with commendable stamina for an hour
or so on the march to the Church of the Nativity, taking only one brake, for a
small fight, near the end.
One of the Christians whom I spoke to said that many of them do not really
consider themselves Arabs. He said that their ancestors had come to the Middle
East with the Crusaders. If you live here long enough apparently you will be
able to distinguish between Christians and Muslims just by looking at their
As I woke up on Christmas morning nursing a headache that had not come my way
during the fighting but much later in the night when the Scotch arrived, I
contemplated that potent triumvirate of bagpipes, fighting and whisky. Then it
occured to me. Is it time for a historical re-evaluation of the size of the
Scottish contribution to Richard the Lion-Hearts army?