It was this man, early one December, who made the statement which has troubled me every Christmas season since then.
I cannot get it out of my head from the time I see the first Nativity scenes and cribs, and hear the first carols.
I don’t think I mentioned my problem to ye before in this space, but I know you all better now, and maybe there is somebody out there who can solve my dilemma.
I would be very grateful for that because, as a good old conservative Christian, what I am about to reveal could lead to some accusing me of blasphemy and heresy, and worse.
And that, for sure, is the pure truth.
My late learned friend, you see, had worked all over the world in his time, and had a sharp Munster mind with an inquisitive edge to it.
And what he told me, all those Decembers ago, was that the Holy Family became real millionaires, by any standards, shortly after that birth night in Bethlehem when the angels sang and the shepherds came in some numbers, and the ox and the poor ass could not get anywhere near their sweet fodder in the manger.
Millionaires they became, said my friend, the Holy Family were rolling in it after that impoverished beginning in a stable.
My old friend had spent time in the Middle East, and I have to say that he made a powerful case to support his argument, which hinges on the real value of the gifts brought to Bethlehem by the three wise kings who came across the desert on their big camels, guided by a bright star, and gave Joseph and Mary and the Child the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
That is in the Bible, and we all learned about it at school, so it is a holy fact.
It was the real value of the gifts back then in ancient times which my friend used to great effect for his millionaire story.
Gold has always been a precious product down all the centuries.
He said that the three wise men, being kings in their own country, would surely have brought a small chest of gold as a gift, rather than just a couple of coins.
At today’s market value, that chest would have been worth at least a half-million euros.
A mighty gift for any family starting off in life.
But that is not the half of it, at all.
Back in those days, because of the scarcity of spices, the frankincense and, especially, the myrrh, in any quantity, would have been worth four or five times as much as gold!
The Holy Family, on that basis, would have hit the jackpot, and Joseph would never have to hammer another nail for the rest of his working life.
My friend had more than that. He said the kings, known as the Magi, were called Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, and there is some ancient evidence in Syria that they did not arrive for the birth at all, but a couple of months later, when the family had already moved out of the stable and into a snug little house nearby.
I listened to him with great interest, did some checking later at home, and, dammit, his story checks out totally in relation to the value of the frankincense and myrrh away back then.
Check it out yourselves, and you are likely to end up as bamboozled as I have been every Christmas since.
If ye discover anything new, please let me know.
In the end, I hope that is the way it was for the Holy Family.
Given the testing times ahead, they were entitled, were they not, to a couple of Christmasses of peace, prosperity, and goodwill all round.