Urban legends are sometimes used as dark vehicles for communicating the potential worst outcomes of seemingly unremarkable acts. In the hope that those regaled with the starkly unforgiving mental images they invoke will be inspired to exercise greater care in the presence of risks they hadn’t previously perceived, the creators of these tales use vivid imagery to make their points, painting in broad strokes gruesome pictures of hauntingly memorable tragedies. In this vein, the caution to not stick one’s head out a moving vehicle’s window becomes (in the canon of urban lore) a blood-soaked tale about a little girl on a school bus who is beheaded by a road sign, and misgivings about the relative safety of popular dance moves becomes a story about a boy who “leaned with it, rocked with it” a little too exuberantly, causing his neck to snap like a dry twig.
That genre of tragic horror legendry includes the following examples:
Several years ago there was a story told about this young couple who were going to have their little baby christened on a Sunday morning. And on the Saturday evening before the Sunday when the christening was to take place, they decided to invite some of their friends into their home for a party to celebrate the blessed event that would take place in church on the following morning.
It was a cold wintry day. And as the guests began to arrive, they were greeted by the husband and wife, the parents of the small child who was to be christened. As the couples entered they tossed their coats and scarves on the bed that was adjacent to the living area. Everyone arrived at approximately the same time. After a brief time of fellowship, the couple, who were anxiously anticipating the christening of their child on the next morning, announced to those who had gathered, “We want you to meet our little one who is the object of our celebration this evening.” The mother excused herself to go into the bedroom to get the little baby. And in a moment the guests heard a horrifying scream.
The mother had gone into the bedroom and discovered that the coats and the scarves had been carelessly thrown on the bed where she had placed the little baby. At least the first one who threw her coat on the bed did not notice that the child was there. The others followed her example, and within a matter of minutes the little child was literally smothered at his own party.
A wealthy Boston family held a christening party after the baptism of their baby. Guests and friends swarmed into their palatial home. Soon the party was in full swing. People were having a wonderful time, enjoying one another, eating, drinking, and being merry. Somebody asked, “By the way, where’s the baby?” Instantly the mother’s heart shuddered! In questioning panic, she left the room and rushed into the master bedroom where she had left her baby asleep in the middle of their large bed. There on the bed she found a huge pile of the guests’ coats. The mother rushed to them and began to fling them aside as she clawed down to the bottom of the pile. To her horror she found her
baby … dead …smothered by the coats of her guests. My friends, don’t let Jesus be smothered by the coats of guests as you busy yourself running here and there overcome by the stress of the season.
Although the stories recounted above of careless partygoers’ causing the death of a sleeping infant by unthinkingly piling their coats onto him are naught but legend, in a tragic instance of ostension (the realization in actual life of elements key to a
While at first blush the legend about a baby suffocated under a pile of guests’ coats would appear to be no more than a warning for parents to never to lose track of where they’ve laid down an infant for its nap (via the example of a grieving family’s experience demonstrating why this awareness is important), the tale espouses another meaning, one aimed not merely at parents but at everyone who celebrates Christmas.
The “baby smothered under a pile of coats” legend isn’t intended as a factual account of a neglected infant’s death but rather as a cautionary tale expounding upon a theme often voiced during the holiday season: that focus on the secular aspects of Christmas causes people to lose sight of the Christ child, or even to wholly forget the wee babe whose entrance into the world the festive season celebrates. The “smothered infant” is neglectfully left on a bed where thoughtless guests fling their coats in their rush to return to the main room and continue merrymaking, his absence from the festivity being held in his honor noticed only hours into the event, by which time he is dead. While the assembled horde remembers to party long and loud, they forget the reason why they’ve assembled, which is to celebrate the baptism or christening of an infant — events that, while they have their social aspects, are primarily religious. Yet the party itself eclipses its subject; in their haste to revel in the joy of the season, the thoughtless partygoers succeed with their pile of coats and casual indifference in putting the snuff on Jesus.
The legend is a rather gruesome communication of “Jesus is the reason for the season.” It uses vivid mental images of a grieving mother clutching to her bosom the lifeless body of her adored child to drive home its admonition to not forget the Savior amid all the holiday hubbub, excitement, and commercialization inherent to Christmas.