Merry Christmas! I hope you had a fruitful advent season and that you’re enjoying the beginning of the Christmas season. I hope you’ll be able to find a few minutes to unwind from all of the festivities and have a cup of tea with me and Tolkien today!
I was so excited when I realized Christmas day fell on a Tuesday this year because it meant I would get to record a special Christmas episode. Aside from being Christmas day of course, December 25th is actually quite the important date in The Lord of the Rings as well.
It is the date that the Fellowship left from Rivendell, officially marking the beginning of Frodo’s quest! (but you might not know it without the Appendices -- this date is in Appendix B!)
“Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea.
That house was perfect, as Bilbo had long ago reported,
‘a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or story-telling or singing,
or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.’
Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.”
Tolkien didn’t choose dates unintentionally, especially considering the date he chose for the destruction of the Ring on March 25th
In The Spirit of Liturgy, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) explained, “Jewish tradition gave the date of March 25 to Abraham’s sacrifice... This day was also regarded as the day of creation, the day when God’s word decreed: ‘Let there be light.’ It was also considered, very early on, as the day of Christ’s death and eventually as the day of his conception.." This date is also the officially celebrated Feast of the Annunciation, the celebration of the Incarnation, Mary's fiat.
Considering its importance in Jewish and Christian tradition, it feels natural that Tolkien chose for March 25th to bear such significance to the history of Middle-Earth. Three major events took place on March 25th: first and foremost, it is the date on which the One Ring is destroyed; secondly, on the same date the following year, Frodo returns home to the Shire; and the following year, Elanor the Fair is born.
So what does it mean that Tolkien chose December 25th as the date the Fellowship left Rivendell?
The journey begins on December 25th, the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, and ends on the date of his Crucifixion.
This strengthens any ideas we might have had about the Ring representing Sin in some way, or the different ways members of The Fellowship act as Christ figures.
Rivendell is a safe place, a place of refuge and healing, and it is in Rivendell that we see Frodo’s fiat -- he accepts the burden of the Ring no matter what the pains he may experience
So in leaving the safety of Rivendell, we are reminded of Christ’s birth.
Just as Jesus left the safety of Mary’s womb on Dec 25, Frodo is leaving the safety of Rivendell to begin the dangerous and difficult work of the salvation of Middle Earth.
When Jesus is born, he leaves behind the safety and warmth of his mother’s womb and join us in the cold, broken world. Almost immediately he is in danger, as the Holy Family is forced to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod. He has come into the world for a purpose, and he has a hard road ahead of him.
This kind of perspective isn’t really something I had ever reflected on before.
We often see Christmas a joyful occasion, and of course it is, but for Jesus himself it marked the beginning of his life of sacrifice. And I am so grateful to him for accepting this role.
So as we begin to celebrate the Christmas season, in joyous memory of Christ’s birth, we also begin to look forward to lent, Holy Week, to Christ’s crucifixion.
Just as The Fellowship embarks on their quest to destroy the ring, Christ’s birth marks the beginning of his quest towards the destruction of sin and all of the death and brokenness
I hope you all have a beautiful Christmas season!
PS I also wanted to recommend another Christmasy podcast series I think you might enjoy. My friends over at the Roman Circus podcast have put together a series of mini episodes for each of the twelve days of Christmas featuring different guests, and they invited me on for the 5th day of Christmas so I hope you’ll give it a listen.