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Tax evasion goes a long way back, says Nury Vittachi The Christmas story: the first tax audit
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The Christmas story: the first tax audit

Nury Vittachi

 Hong Kong’s humorist on how tax evasion is, quite possibly, a 2000-year-old practice

Your humble columnist was commissioned to write a nativity play for a Christmas concert. “Make it fresh!” the organizer said.

Aiyeeah! How do you make the most told story in the world “fresh”? It’s like telling a chef to think of a new recipe for toast.

Everybody already knows the story: Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem, shave a baby, and visitors arrive – angels, shepherds and “wise men from the East.”

Cue music, roll the credits.

What to do?

I went back to the original text and found the answer. Roman chief Caesar Augustus wanted to know how much tax money and potential army recruits there were in the land. So he organized a census, the text says. On a certain day, all people were to go back to be counted at the towns of their birth – such as Bethlehem.

Aha! The nativity story is actually about an executive-level tax audit of a particular district. It’s right there in the text!

So I wrote the story from the point of view of the tax accountant and census taker assigned to the Bethlehem tax jurisdiction. It may not have been the best play since Shakespeare, but it was certainly… fresh.

Afterwards, this columnist got to thinking. The official Christmas story was written by a doctor named Luke.

What if archeologists found the notes of one of Caesar’s tax accountants, who must have existed?

And it came to pass that Caesar Augustus wanteth more money. “Let us raiseth up the taxes, even unto the level of the heavens,” saith he. 

“The nativity story is actually about an executive-level tax audit of a particular district.”

“Nay,” saith the present writer, one of Caesar’s tax accountants. “That would surely cause thy approval rating to fall greatly, even down to Sheol. Instead, let us counteth the people and identify which districts useth loopholes to avoid paying rightful tribute to their honest, hardworking oppressors.”

“Thine idea totally rocketh,”saith Caesar. “Make it so.”

And it came to pass that a census was announceth.

And when he heareth the news, Joseph the carpenter waxed wroth. “Right in the middle of the winter holidays! Why dost this always happeneth unto me?” 

He and his pregnant wife Mary travelleth to Bethlehem on a donkey. But there was no room at the inn so their baby was born in a stable.

And it came to pass that a group of shepherds came to Bethlehem to see the “newborn king.”

“I am a tax accountant for Caesar,” saith I. “Payest thou taxes?”

“Nay,” saith the shepherds. “We are part of the informal economy. Thou canst not touch us, guv.”

Then came a group of angels singing: “Glory in the highest.”

“Doest thou get one of these every year?” I said, showing the chief angel a green envelope. The angel was exceedingly puzzled.

“Well, you will from now on,” saith I.

Then came three wise men from the east, bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh.

“Aha!” saith I to Joseph. “Thou must pay capital gains tax on these gifts.”

“Nay,” saith the wise men. “These gifts are for the baby, and thus must be considered assets held in trust.”

“That seemeth to me like a tax dodge,” saith I.

But in truth, it had come to pass that my stony heart had been touched by the scene and I was moved to write tax exemptions for all persons present.

The following day, this official travelleth from morning even unto night to get back unto Caesar’s palace where all the tax officials giveth reports.

When it came to my turn, Caesar asketh: “Any news from Bethlehem?”

“Nay,” saith I. “But we need to increase the census number by one, since a peasant carpenter in a stable had a baby boy.”

“Well, that’s hardly going to change the world, is it?” saith Caesar, moving on to the next tax official.

I looketh out of the window, and in the evening sky, a tiny star twinkleth. 

Cue music.

Roll credits. 

Nury Vittachi is a bestselling author, columnist, lecturer and TV host. He wrote three storybooks for the Institute, May Moon and the Secrets of the CPAs, May Moon Rescues the World Economy and May Moon’s Book of Choices

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