Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas Eve, 2013

Christmas Eve, chromolithography

Christmas Eve, chromolithography (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is Christmas Eve, 2013, the day most of us choose to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  I say “choose,” because no one knows for sure on just what day Jesus was born.  In fact, even the year is disputed.  Getting right the day of his birth is not important.  That he was born is the single most important event is history.

For those of you who found time to read this humble blog entry, here are a few notable events that occurred on Christmas Eve in years gone by.

The first radio broadcast of both voice and music took place on Christmas Eve, 1906.  Sailors aboard vessels in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea were astonished when at exactly 9:00 p.m. they received over their ship’s radio in Morse code the message, “CQ CQ CQ,” a general call to all stations within range.  The “dots and dashes” message was followed by the voice of Reginald Aubrey Fessenden.  After a brief introduction, Fessenden played “O Holy Night” on his violin, followed by his reading from the Gospel of Luke: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will.”  [A dramatic recreation of Fessenden’s broadcast:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Elu0HF4a8yI ]

Sixty-two years later the Apollo 8 astronauts were orbiting the moon on Christmas Eve.  Mimicking Fessenden’s historic broadcast, the astronauts took turns reading the opening verses from Genesis 1.  They ended their broadcast with “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.”   [For live coverage of the Apollo 8 broadcast by CBS News:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aIf0G2PtHo ]

On Christmas Eve in 1818, a poem by Joseph Mohr titled “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,” set to music by Franz Gruber, was performed for the first time during midnight mass at St. Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, Germany.  On Christmas Eve, 1914, “Silent Night, Holy Night” was sung in German, French, and English during a spontaneous truce along the Western Front at the opening of World War I.  It remains one of the best loved Christmas hymns of all time.  [To hear the original German:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUb8ySdERKs ]

One of my most memorable Christmas Eves was that of 1968.  It was the 150th anniversary of “Silent Night, Holy Night.”  I attended midnight mass at St. Stanislaus Church in my hometown of Bay City, Michigan.  St. Stanislaus is a neo gothic church in what was earlier the Polish section of the city.  Outside everything was covered in snow.  The beautiful crowded sanctuary was not much warmer.  At the front of the sanctuary were fresh cut pine trees and a lovely manger scene. The smell of fresh pine mingled with the smell of incense drifting through the air, added to the ambiance of the moment.  Since it was the anniversary of the first performance of “Silent Night, Holy Night,” the church’s orchestra and choir performed it in numerous languages, including of course, Polish.

I wish to complete these thoughts on Christmas Eve, 2013 with two of my favorite Christmas poems.  First, the better known “Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCVnuEWXQcg

Second, the lessor known “Bethlehem BC” by Rod McKuen: http://www.rodmckuen.com/music/bethbc.mp3

Merry Christmas to one and all, and until next time, do good, be good, and always live under the mercy.

Celebrating Christmas: A Review of THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS

 I wish to state at the beginning of this review that THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS: BATTLES IN FAITH, TRADITION, AND RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION (Master Books, 2013) is a very attractive, beautifully illustrated, and interesting book.  It is a book that will no doubt find a warm reception among evangelical Christians.  All of that said I wish to voice a few words of caution.

First off, one should note that the book is a product of the Answers in Genesis ministry.  The logic behind this examination of Christmas traditions and the Bible, simply put, is that a Christian’s celebration of Christmas should be a celebration of the birth of Jesus.  That assumption goes without saying.  As those popular yard signs evident everywhere at Christmas say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

We celebrate the birth of Jesus because God entered into history as the God-man, a space-time historical event, in order to reverse the effects of the Adam and Eve’s fall, also a space-time historical event.  It is important that there was a historical Adam and Eve, and a historical Fall, if Jesus Christ is to make any sense at all.

Where I find myself at odds with the book is when it implies that in order to believe in the historical truth of Genesis, one must accept the idea that the earth is young, that the days of creation were twenty-four hour days, and that it is possible to somehow date those events.  The logic of those involved with Answers in Genesis notwithstanding, the simple fact is that what we have in Genesis is a series of historical events, not a chronology.  Not until the call of Abram (Abraham) does Genesis intersect with verifiable history.

Another area where I find myself at odds with the book is the implication that celebrating Christmas with Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and other traditional secular Christmas icons is somehow incompatible with celebrating the birth of Jesus.  Why cannot a Christian teach children about the birth of Jesus, while at the same time pointing out that Santa Clause is a fun game that people play at Christmas?  By denying children the fun of celebrating Christmas as do most Christians is much more likely to prevent them from accepting who Jesus Christ is than putting hot chocolate and cookies out for Santa and sugar cubes for his reindeer.

Still, despite my reservations, I find THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS a worthwhile read.  I simply urge the reader to keep in mind that it is authors’ opinions, not biblical truth, regarding that wondrous holiday we call Christmas.

The Real Meaning of Christmas

What is the true meaning of Christmas?  That is a question many, myself included, ponder every year when the holiday rolls around.  It seems that the real reason we celebrate is lost somewhere under all of the consumerism.  For those businesses that will either survive another year or go under depending on the season’s sales, buying the latest gadgets and widgets is what Christmas is all about.  But is it?  I think not.

During my first ten years I lived in Michigan, not far from Bay City where I was born in 1944.  Bay City was once two cities, Bay City and West Bay City.  They straddled the Saginaw River where it empties into Lake Huron.   The two cities merged into one in 1905.  Sometime around 1910 they were connected by a bridge that looked like it had been constructed from a giant Erector Set.  If you crossed the Third Street Bridge, as it was commonly called,  from the West Side to the East Side and immediately turned right on North Water Street, you encountered a large furniture store with big display windows.    

I remember in particular one evening shortly before Christmas during the early 1950’s.  My father took us to Bay City to do some Christmas shopping.  It was very cold and everything was covered in snow.  Downtown was filled with shoppers hurrying about from store to store.  It seemed like there was a Santa Claus on every street corner standing in front of a red kettle, ringing a bell.  The “real” Santa Claus was no doubt very busy at the North Pole.  The many corner Santas were merely his helpers soliciting contributions for the Salvation Army.

At some point during the evening’s shopping, we found ourselves standing in front of that furniture store, staring at a truly amazing display in its big window.  There, seated on a large green chair surrounded by a cornucopia of toys, was a giant mechanical Santa Claus.  While a model train weaved its way among the many toys and between Santa’s feet, the jolly old man rocked back and forth as he told stories about his many Christmas adventures.  From the speakers mounted above the window I heard Santa tell of how he once got stuck in a chimney.  It almost ruined Christmas.  The stories were frequently punctuated by a joyful “Ho, Ho, Ho.”

My attention was riveted on Santa and the stories he was telling, not the many toys skillfully displayed around him.  After all, the model trains, Erector Sets, BB guns (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”) and other expensive gifts were for kids from more affluent families.  My siblings and I would have to make do with board games and other more affordable gifts.  I knew, as did most of my friends at school, that Santa’s generosity was directly related to a family’s income.  Some things never change.

Just a couple of blocks down from the furniture store was Wenonah Park.  There, on the most prominent corner of the park, the city had erected a Nativity scene as part of the city’s Christmas tradition.  I doubt there were any protests from the local atheists.  I am sure there were atheists then, as there are now, but that was a time when the majority did not tremble in fear of the lone fanatic.

Upon reflection these many years later, I think the presence of the Nativity scene and Santa Claus in close proximity was a good thing.  I am aware that not everyone agrees with me.   There will always be those who would like to kill off the Santa Claus myth.  Like Ebenezer Scrooge and his Puritan ancestors, they shudder at the thought of children enjoying Christmas.  Children and adults playing Santa Claus at Christmas, like all fantasy, is simply wrong to them.  

The anti-Santa Claus people seem to fear that the Santa myth is somehow a threat to celebrating the birthday of Jesus, as if a jolly old man in a red suit could ever be a threat to the one “by whom and for whom all things were created”.  They seem to live in fear of being incinerated for setting out a saucer of sugar cookies and a cup of hot chocolate for Santa, or merely reading to children that wonderful story, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas

Some of my more serious-minded friends do not approve of newsman Francis Pharcellus’ response to eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon’s plea that he tell her the truth about Santa Claus.  In his editorial response, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” Pharcellus pointed the little girl’s attention to the “spirit of Christmas,” a spirit of “love, and generosity, and devotion.”  A world without the magic of Christmas, Pharcellus wrote, would be a “dreary world” indeed:  “There would no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.  We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight.  The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.”

The truth is that the birth of Jesus Christ brought joy to a world that lay “in sin and error pining.”  Human beings no longer need live in fear.  That was the good news of great joy proclaimed by angels to the shepherds in the fields that night.  The promised Messiah had come.  God became man in order that the wrath of a righteous and holy God could be satisfied. That task, impossible for any human being, was accomplished by the greatest act of love ever.  God offered himself as a sacrifice to himself in order to give life back to us, we who willfully shun his love.

I especially love the twelfth chapter of Hebrews (18-24).  It is there that the meaning of Christmas is so clearly revealed:

“You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.’  The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’

“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.  You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.  You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (NIV, 1984).

Of course the birth of Jesus Christ must not be separated from his death on a cross outside walls of Jerusalem some thirty-three years later.  They are not two events, but really one event.  Without Christmas, there would be no Easter.  Without Easter, Christmas would have no meaning.

So, what has the birth of Jesus to do with the Santa Claus myth?  Are children likely to reject Jesus Christ later in life, because at some point early in life they discovered that Santa Claus was a game of pretend?  I think not.  Children learn quickly that there are “pretend” stories and there are “true” stories.  Stories that usually begin with, “Once upon a time,” are not the same as Bible stories.

When I was a child, I thought Santa Claus brought gifts to children at Christmas, because Jesus was God’s gift to us on the first Christmas.  Far from misleading a child into a life of decadent commercialism, a sin as common among evangelical Christians as among non-Christians, Santa Claus can actually be used to introduce children to the “real” meaning of Christmas.

Perhaps at this point, I should quote from C. S. Lewis on the distinction between myth and reality, or how myth can enlighten one’s understanding of the “true Myth.”  But C. S. Lewis is “used” too often by Christians to legitimate what they are proposing.  Quoting Lewis is much like quoting Shakespeare.  It adds a kind of seal of approval, or imprimatur of orthodoxy.  Therefore, I shall make no reference to the patron saint of Narnia.

What is the “real” meaning of Christmas?  In the Christmas classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” a very frustrated Charlie Brown asks the question: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas all about?”  And Linus answers saying, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pn10FF-FQfs

Merry Christmas to all!