About a mile from where I live there is this house that Dennis Morelli, who was my age, used to live in when we were in high school. I don't know who lives there now, but I have noticed that they have a Christmas star on their roof above what looks like a breakfast nook. They leave it there all year around, which seems really smart.
Driving by Morelli's house, I am always intrigued by it. It gets me thinking about stars, especially the five-pointed variety, and where the image originated.So, last night I pulled out the handy World Book (my chief reference source for such curiosities) and was surprised to find nothing on five-pointed stars. There was a huge article on stars in the universe and some description of the hexagonal star of David, but nothing on the five-pointed star.
This surprised me, since it is such a dominant symbol in so many different cultures throughout the world. Not only is it often used as the star of Bethlehem, but it is the pattern on many prominent images: the stars on the flag, stars on generals' collars and hats, red stars over the Kremlin, etc. Both Americans and Soviets use five-pointed stars on their military hardware. The only difference is the color.
When I was a kid, I remember sitting at my desk in grade school drawing stars and trying to get the five points to come out even. They never did.
I did find some information on five-pointed stars in an older edition of the World Book in the public library this morning. Apparently, the editors of that time had the same problem as I had had in grade school, because they included a diagram entitled: "How to Draw a Star." It had all kinds of geometrical jargon on getting the five sides equal, but it said nothing of where the thing came from.
The longer I looked the more puzzled I became.
I have one of those compact editions of the Oxford Dictionary - the one with lettering so small that it comes with its own magnifying glass. After three infinitesimal columns of various meanings for the word "star," the closest I came was this: "6. An image or figure of a star - represented by rays diverting from a central point - or by a geometrical figure of five or more radiating points." Period. Nothing on its origin.
Another source, "Signs and Symbols in Christian Art," mentions stars by the dozen, but says nothing of the five-pointed variety.
Aha. My last resort: JUNG! For years I've had Jung's "Man and His Symbols" on my shelf. I bought it on one of those bargain tables at Sam Weller's at least 12 years ago. At last, it was going to earn its keep. I scanned through the index: circle, disk, dragons, phallus, psyche, pig, rose, square, tree, etc., etc. No star. Zip. Zero. Zilch. The word isn't listed in the index. A whole book on man and his symbols and no star. Amazing.
I know you are waiting with bated breath for a thrilling conclusion to all this. For the moment, I've simply run out of reference books.
This has not dimmed my curiosity, however, and I will keep searching. I hope, though, that I haven't caused a seething restlessness to surface. I can imagine some of you, through the next few days of Christmas flurry, thinking of this discussion every time you see a five-pointed star.
Picture a Norman Rockwellian scene, a Christmas Eve program at the school or church. The curtain opens on a manger scene with three or four shepherds in bathrobes and dish-towel headdresses. Above the manger on a stem of white PVC pipe is a 60-watt bulb with a five-pointed tin foil star. Why the five points? Why not three or six or 10?
I would appreciate some enlightenment, and I may share it with my readers if it sounds sensible.
Meanwhile, the people living in Dennis Morelli's house don't seem too concerned. Having a wire star on their roof hasn't seemed to affect them or the neighborhood one way or the other - most of the time. At Christmastime, however, it becomes a beacon of celebration, throwing beams of Christmas through peaceful evenings of quietly falling snow. And that's good enough for me.