Saturday, December 18, 2010

MERRY CHRISTMAS! (With No Apologies)

It is time that I put childish ways behind me. I promise it shant last long. Give me a moment while I take off my dark glasses, headgear, pocket my cigar and grab the old soapbox and climb aboard. Ready, set, rant......OK enough with the "Happy Holidays" crap! I want to celebrate Christmas!

We are turning this season into a generic, one size fits all celebration of what? Can someone explain it to me? What are we celebrating? What is the meaning behind "Happy Holidays?" In the effort to be non-controversial, inoffensive, (insert favorite PC phrase here) we have not only stripped away the name of Christmas but we have also stripped away its meaning.

I acknowledge there are other beliefs other than my own and I do respect them. And in turn, I would ask that my beliefs be respected. I was brought up to say thank-you to anyone who prayed for my well being, and that of my family, no matter to whom they prayed to. Today, I am told I am offending someone when I pray for them in the name of the God I believe in. Diversity of ideas and beliefs are a gift not a curse. We should learn from this diversity not try to hide it away.

Christmas acknowledges the birth of Christ and through the story of his life and sacrifice, we see the person we should be striving to be--forgiving, compassionate, patient, and humble. Putting the needs of others before ourselves, treating others as we would expect to be treated. Traits, frankly, that run contrary to our human nature which means we have to work hard at it and must acknowledge that we will sometimes fail. And who wants to do that?

So today, we take the message out of the celebration so we don't have to be reminded of our human frailties and our obligations towards our fellow man. Instead we can feel good about ourselves by wrapping a few gifts for family and friends. Our only challenge is to sit in traffic a bit and suffer the inconvenience of standing in line at the post office. As for our obligation to the rest of humanity dropping some loose change into a kettle can cover that.

I know it's a lot of work and frustration when faced with being a better person. So how is acknowledging this message considered a celebration? We are celebrating a gift from God which inspires us to rise above our human frailties. And that we are forgiven if we sometime fail which should encourage us both to be more forgiving ourselves and not allow our own failures to divert us from our task.

In the spirit of the Christmas season I have posted the original verses of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem (and in edited form--a carol) "Christmas Bells" written in December of 1863 during the American Civil War. I would call your attention to the last three verses. As in 1863, so it is today, there is no "Peace on Earth." But with some effort, hope, and a little faith, each of us can help get us a little closer to achieving that dream....If we take to heart the true meaning of the Christmas season. Thus endeth the sermon.....

OK the soapbox has been stowed, the headgear and glasses are back in place and I'm taking my cigar back out of my pocket. Some photos of the season and a few fun Christmas facts you can amaze your friends with as you make the Christmas Party circuit..........Oh, and I almost forgot...from the Kelly family to yours we wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy, safe, and prosperous New Year........."God bless us every one!"

" Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts."

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

In 1850 Richard Stoors Willis introduced one of the first American Christmas carols, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." There soon followed other now popular carols--"Oh Little Town of Bethlehem", "Away in the Manger", "I heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and "We Three Kings."
"To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas."

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

The first documented Christmas tree sale was in New York in 1851. Catskill woodsman Mark Carr and his son sold them for a dollar a piece at the corner of Vessey and Greenwich Streets.
"Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful."

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

On Christmas Eve in 1822 Dr. Clement Moore who was known for writing, A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language, a biography of the King of Albania, and translated a French Treatise on Sheep Raising, wrote a poem for his children which began, "Twas a night before Christmas..." Embarrassed by its popularity he would not acknowledge writing it until 1838.
"The earth has grown old with its burden of care, But at Christmas it always is young...."

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

In the early nineteenth century, American slaves didn't have to work as long as the Yule log burned, so they would choose the biggest, greenest log they could find. If they did have to work while it burned their master had to pay them for the work.
"Greater love hath no man, than a man should give up his life for his friends. "

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Holly & Evergreens--Holly leaves represent Jesus' crown of thorns, while their berries represented the drops of blood shed for humanity's salvation. Evergreens represent eternal life.
"Christmas began in the heart of God. It is completed only when it reaches the heart of man."

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

In 1659, a ban on celebrating Christmas went into effect in the colony of Massachusetts. The General Court banned the celebration of Christmas and other such holidays at the same time it banned gambling and other lawless behavior, grouping all such behaviors together. The court placed a fine of five shillings on anyone caught feasting or celebrating the holiday in another manner. The ban would not be lifted until 1681
" I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

The first drawing done of Santa Claus appeared on the cover of the January 1, 1863 edition of Harper's Weekly. Santa was shown wearing a coat of stars on a blue field and his paints with red and white stripes handing presents out to Union soldiers. It was done by Thomas Nast who would also later give us the symbols of the donkey and the elephant for the Democrat and Republican parties. In 1866 Nast would draw Santa in his traditional red and white garb so that no nation could claim him as their own.