Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Thoughts

Many people seem to believe that Christmas co-opted the birthday of Jesus. I'd like to set that one strait. We don't really know what day Jesus Christ was born although some say it was in March. When the Christian church decided to select a date they actually co-opted the pagan winter solstice celebrations that had existed for years. In 1822 Clement Clarke Moore wrote "Twas the Night Before Christmas." This poem combined diverse old world legends of Saint Nicolas, some very scary, and defined the happy Saint Nick with a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Thomas Nast cartoonist and later Norman Rockwell gave Santa the grandfatherly red suit look and persona we now think of. The most enduring Christmas song, "White Christmas" was written in 1942 by Irving Berlin, a Jew. The Christmas we celebrate has many sources with common threads. Love, family, peace and goodwill are hardly inconsistent with the teachings of any religious faith with the possible exception of radical Islam which seems more based on fear and punishment than love and forgiveness.

The secular side of Christmas is best enjoyed with the innocence and wonder of youth, the mystery of Santa Claus and devoid of detailed expectations. My fondest memories of the Christmas Season are of when I was in a boy's choir that went caroling every year. I recall the pure joy of singing with friends in the chill of a winter's night and the occasional hot chocolate reward to warm us at houses decorated with Christmas lights. Caroling and other acts of Christmas sharing are rare these days. Even the Salvation Army bell ringer collecting in their hanging red pot said "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" -- how sad that is. How can we stand by as Christmas is renamed "Nondenominational Winter Holiday?" All I have to say is if atheists and Muslims don't want to hear "Merry Christmas" -- turn up the volume on your iPods. It's claimed that removing the word Christmas shows tolerance for non-Christians. That is pure BS. Renaming Christmas is really intolerance of the majority's culture. Even the choice of the generic word holiday demeans the significance of Christmas. The few are all to interested in removing God from our culture.

As we age, ghosts of Christmas past come to visit as so well portrayed in the Charles Dickens 1843 novel, "A Christmas Carol." The nature of these ghosts depends on both the happy and perhaps sad memories we have of life in general and Christmas past. This is the one time of year when reminders of the season are everywhere. Christmas can be that slap up the side of your head that gets your attention even when you'd rather it wouldn't. For most people, particularly the young, good memories outnumber those of sadness. As we get older the number of sad events in our past can build and become hard to ignore just as Christmas itself would be hard to ignore. It's everywhere for a month or more. I didn't have a happy childhood and every year in childhood innocence, looked to Christmas to somehow make it all better. Although there was a tree with presents it rarely did. Sad memories strive each year to dominate my thoughts but I don't let them win more than an occasional skirmish. Don't let Christmas become a mere joyless ritual. Savor each moment. It's not the presents, their number or their cost, it's the love and caring with which they are chosen and given. It's the love in the eyes of the giver when the recipient makes eye contact after unwrapping. That is the real magic of Christmas.

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