Tag Archives: Tradition

The Reason for the Season

‘Tis the Season. This is a phrase that has been used to introduce what the media is euphemistically referring to as the “holiday season,” because the true name of the holiday in question is no longer considered politically correct. Stores have holiday sales, and people say Happy Holidays as a greeting to each other. Even the phrase “Happy Hanukkah” is more accepted. Congress has been admonished that they cannot express any salutations on official correspondence that refer to the holiday. There is a concerted effort to marginalize the holiday (a term referring to a Holy Day) that is significant to Christians, and this attack is coming from humanists, atheists, agnostics and muslims among others. These assaults are both direct in the loss of the saying “Merry Christmas” and indirect in the abandonment of the holiday traditions because of the commercialization. They use the very symbols of Christmas to argue against Christian observation. The enemies of Christianity’s victory will not come when Christmas is outlawed, but when Christians surrender Christmas.

Many Christians have decried the commercialization of Christmas which seems to be growing more blatant every year. Retailers set out their decorations earlier, sales get bigger and hyped with more enthusiasm as retailers look for the biggest profits, and people are bombarded with opportunities to donate to any number of charities. This year, Black Friday was actually Black Thursday as many retailers opened for business on Thanksgiving Day. Perhaps they do this to try to marginalize another Christian holiday in Thanksgiving.

Jesus was most likely not born on December 25th. The Bible doesn’t say it and a scientific study of the scripture indicates that it is more likely he was born in September or October, although it is still a matter of discussion and debate. Some claim that the December 25th date is set to coincide with the pagan ritual of saturnalia, but many Christian scholars hold that Constantine, the first Christian emperor, set the holiday date. To refuse to celebrate a Christian holiday because it may fall during a one-time pagan observance is to say that I should not celebrate my birthday because it also happens to be Adolph Hitler’s.

Santa has been attacked by many Christians as a false god or an idol that represents the commercialism that is distracting people from the true meaning of the holiday, that of celebrating Christ’s birth. Some shun Christmas decorations as a pagan ritual. All these reasons may seem a noble cause to shun the traditions of the season, but all that serves to do is to promote the commercialization, humanization and de-Christianization of Christmas. Santa Claus in his popular jolly form with the bright red suit and white fur trim is the creation of the Coca Cola marketing department and was introduced in the 1950’s. He is the quintessential marketing tool and has been one of the most successful in history. Kids wait up all night on Christmas eve looking for Santa’s reindeer to land on their roofs.

Beyond Coca Cola’s Santa Claus is the actual story of Kris Kringle. The name Kris Kringle actually comes from the German KristKindle, which translates Christ Child. According to Wikipedia, Kris Kringle was promoted as a gift bringer during the reformation to replace the figure of Saint Nicholas, a catholic priest known among other things for leaving coins in the shoes of children. So Santa Claus is not a pagan symbol, nor is he an idol or false god. He is the personification of Christ’s love and based entirely on Christian principles. Christians should continue to welcome Santa into their homes every year. The moral implications of telling children about the reality of Santa and the truth of the spirit of giving and its origins in history are an individual issue.

The tradition of decorating for Christmas is not based in the pagan rituals, although some would compare it to a Yule tree to try to remove any reference to the Christian holiday. Some accounts ascribe the origins of the Christmas tree to a representation of the paradise tree, honoring the tree that provided the apple that Eve gave to Adam. Other origins are associated with more modern interpretations in northern Germany of celebrating around the tree, then burning the tree at the end of the festivities. Granted, festooning one’s house in light bulbs and garland may seem garish and commercial, but it is an opportunity to enjoy and pass on a shared family tradition. This helps draw a family closer together.

The commercialization of Christmas is rampant and not just for commercial reasons. Granted, businesses want to make as much money as they can. The term black Friday is a reference to the fact that many retailers operate at a loss (negative ledger balances are usually written in red ink) for most of the year and their ledgers finally run in the black (positive balance) for the first time the day after Thanksgiving when more people head out to begin their Christmas shopping. Retailers have marketing companies working year-round to help people find gifts to give. Man’s greedy nature has reversed the onus so that more people make wish lists of wants rather than lists of gives. The practice of giving gifts may seem disingenuous to the solemnity of the Holy Day, but it is based in the historical Christmas story. The magi brought the baby Jesus gifts befitting a king; gold for its value, frankincense, an incense symbolizing prayer and myrrh, an oil for anointing. Christians give gifts at the holiday in honor of that spirit of giving.

Opponents of Christianity want nothing more than to strip America of all things Christian. They try to purge our history books of any Christian references from our founding fathers. They try to twist the first amendment—the one right that guarantees our right to our Christian faith—to silence us as separation of church and state. They try to strip our recognition of our savior’s birth by making it a commercial celebration.

When Christmas is no longer a Christian celebration, then it is nothing more than a 2-month long advertisement and sale with no significance other than how much people can buy for how little money. It is imperative that Christians remember not only the origin of the day—Christ’s birth—but also the traditions of the holiday. Put up a tree, put up a Santa, tell your kids the story of Christ’s birth. Once we surrender our claim to the traditions, we surrender our claim to the season. Keep Christ in Christmas, keep Christmas in your heart, and keep the traditions alive. Tell everyone you meet “Merry Christmas” eschew saying Happy Holidays and worry not about political correctness. The first amendment gives every Christian the right to say Merry Christmas. Use it at every opportunity.

Christmas is a Christian holiday; may it always be so.

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The Secret is in The Planning

In the time-honored traditions of middle-class America, we are on vacation this week. This is Spring Break for Houston-area schools, so we decided to take advantage of the time and get back to nature to unwind. There is nothing like communing with God’s creation to put one in touch with the basic joys of life. Yes, relaxing in the great outdoors can change one perspective, alright. Camping, hiking and fishing are such simple joys. Simple. Joys. It just takes a bit of planning.

We started planning this trip several weeks ago, having altered our original plans of a trip to New Orleans. In fact, my wife and I love to travel. In the three years we’ve been together, we have been all over the country and to Europe. We love nothing more than a spontaneous road-trip to some out of the way, small, historic town. We have even been camping a time or two.

Now, I come from a long line of campers. My grandfather and granny were both outdoors types. They raised my mother to be an outdoors type; and she, in turn, raised me and my siblings to be outdoors types. Some of my earliest memories are of camping. When my father, an Army officer, was transferred to a new command, we camped en-route. When we visited Disneyworld, we stayed in Frontier Land instead of the fancy new Contemporary Hotel with the Monorail going through it. That would have been such a cool place to stay—but no, we stayed in the Hotel Starcraft, the pop-up tent camper my parents bought. Not that I’m bitter or anything, I thoroughly enjoyed Frontier Land. Movies and cartoons in the amphitheater every night, listening to my mom real us to bed from the classics of literature like Moby Dick and other camp related activities are some of my most fond childhood memories. But to a 10-year-old—who loved science fiction—a hotel with a monorail is hard to beat. I was also in the boy scouts and went on every camping trip they had planned.

When I was in my twenties, I decided that minimalist camping was the truest nature of camping. Planning was simple: I took a tarp, a sleeping bag and a cooler and cooked over a fire. This served me well in the military, where they bivouacked in similar fashion. Now that I’m well into my 40’s, camping takes on a whole new dimension. I need an air mattress, a nice sleeping bag, a cabin tent, Coleman stove, cook table, lanterns, axe, flashlights, etc etc. Basically, I’m talking about a portable version of home. This involves logistics. This involves planning. This involves…stress.

My brother and I have planned several camping trips for our traditional male bonding expeditions. In fact, we are currently planning another one for this summer. I have also taken camping trips with my wife and others with my sons. Sadly, I haven’t been able to go camping without at least one trip to Wal-Mart at some point during the venture to pick up some forgotten supply. You know what they say: if you can’t get it at Wal-Mart, you don’t need it. One time, my brother took us an hour drive to another county to buy beer.

At any rate, we are camping at this very moment. Lake Millwood is in the southwest corner of Arkansas and I have a history here. My grandfather and Uncles built a cabin on this lake a long time ago, and we used to have family reunions there. The cabin is long gone now, replaced by a subdivision or some other development, and the lake is a now state park. It is very beautiful here though. The sun setting through the trees reflects off the still waters of the lake. The crickets chrip, the geese honk, the frogs croak and you can hear an owl hooting in the distance.

We just finished dinner—one-man meals (also known as hobo meals) with hamburger steak, potatoes and carrots rolled up in foil and set on the fire—having eaten while watching that beautiful sunset. I am enjoying a bowl of my new favorite tobacco while I write this and Michelle is just enjoying the evening. Such peace. Not the experience we had last night.

We arrived yesterday evening around 6 pm just as the sun was dropping to the horizon. I planned to set up our camp kitchen so Michelle could prepare a wonderful dinner of campfire stew while I set up the tents. Everything worked like clockwork and the site was up before it got too dark to see. But with nightfall came the north wind. It was cold. I was in shorts, having left Houston with 72 degree weather and it was dropping into the low 50s here. I have camped in cold weather and I have a good sleeping bag and I have learned a trick or two from all those Boy Scout camps and military bivouacs about staying warm. The secret is to wrap in a cotton sheet inside the sleeping bag. Helps retain the body’s own heat. This works as long as you’re in the bag. The problem arises when something compels you to leave to bag. Something that makes you walk over to the wonderful facility the most experienced camper always sets up as close to as possible for just such an emergency.

But when it is 40 degrees, that walk is the last thing one wants to make. Going from toasty warm in a bag (OK, my nose was freezing, but I can deal with that) to a teeth chattering, shiver of a walk is a miserable experience. So last night was far from comfortable. Now, tonight, after a trip to Wal-Mart for more supplies, hopefully, we can make it through the night without chattering the teeth out of our heads.

We are looking forward to tomorrow with a hike in the morning (to warm ourselves after what promises to be a cold night again—just check the forcast: 42 degrees—with exercise to get the blood flowing) and canoeing and fishing in the afternoon. The weather says no rain all week, so at least we have that going for us.

Yes, getting back to nature is a wonderful time that everyone should enjoy. Plan carefully, make a list and pack warm and make sure a Wal-Mart is not too far away.

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Well, the year is coming to a close and 2010 is about to rear-end us if we don’t get out of its way. People everywhere are taking stock of their lives, measuring their accomplishments this year and making resolutions and plans for next year. Many will make the same resolutions this year that they made last year and probably every previous year as far as they can remember. One of—if not THE—most common resolution is to lose weight. It’s on my list to be sure; just as it was last year and the year before that. But resolutions aside, taking stock of the year is not a bad idea.

2009 would probably fade into nothingness for me but for the fact that this was my sister’s last year to be with us. I have a job that I enjoy and look forward to going to every (well—almost every) day. I have a lovely home with plenty of creature comforts to keep me occupied. I have a faithful dog who loves everything I do and even minds me when the mood strikes him. I have two sons who are making their own ways in the world; three grandchildren who light up my life when we get together. And I have a wonderful wife with whom I fall more in love each day. But these are everyday things. I feel grateful for them every day. They were wonderful in 2009 as well as 2008.

What can I say about 2009 that makes it stand out from past years? That is a good question, and one that I am struggling to answer even as I type this. Perhaps that is the lesson to take away from this exercise. It is not necessarily any one year that we need to remember. I mean, aside from birthdays and anniversaries, years run together in memory. What stands out are the moments, not the years. Every moment you have with those who love you and whom you love—well, friends, that is what defines you and that is what is worth remembering.

That is also what should model your resolutions. Resolve to keep loving your loved ones (maybe even love them more, if that is possible). Resolve to find joy in everyday life. Resolve to be productive in your work. Resolve to make life better; not just for you but for those whose lives you touch. And eat less. No, really, I mean it. We all eat too much.

I just volunteered to cook Chicken Parmesan for dinner tonight, which means a trip to the store to get the needed ingredients, and a good amount of time in the kitchen cooking for the in-laws. Not that I mind cooking for my in-laws—I actually enjoy spending time with my wife’s family and I love cooking. That is my problem. I like cooking too much, I think, and by extension, I like eating. So with a meal of chicken parmesan and spaghetti topped off with either a chocolate meringue or lemon icebox pie for desert, I am setting myself up for my great resolution struggle.

But since it is still 2009, I can make this my last heavy meal of the year (no, seriously, I mean it…I really do) and kick off 2010 with my resolution to lose weight beginning anew. And to make sure I do this, I will create a blog specifically to track my progress; this way I can be held accountable by the two or three people who actually read this blog. So, my resolutions are the ones above: to love my loved ones even more, to find joy in every day, to be more productive, to make life better for those around me, and to lose weight. Hopefully, with diligence and support, I can make my rear-end small enough that 2011 won’t hit me on its way in next year.

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Is Santa here yet?

Christmas is just around the corner, in case you missed all the fuss. Commercials barrage us with Holiday sales, Stores drown us in holiday music, and the lonely Salvation Army ringers make us feel guilty as we walk past them. But for parents, those are not the surest signs of the approaching holiday. No, the most reliable indicator for any parent is the energy level of a child. Kids start bouncing as soon as Thanksgiving is over and the closer to Christmas, the higher the bounce. A chorus of “Is Santa coming yet? Is it Christmas yet?” is all parents hear for the better part of the month.

When I was a child, my sisters, brother and I would search the house for presents, eager to uncover the treasures we would garner on Christmas morning. Diane was particularly good at ferreting out the latest hiding spots. My skill was being able to unwrap presents just enough to see what was being covered up, then rewrapping them to hide the evidence of my espionage. Did we get in trouble? Of course. Many was the time we were threatened with getting no presents as Mom assured us that there were plenty of kids who would love to get our gifts if we didn’t shape up. Besides, Santa surely would know we had been dishonest and skip our house that year. We heard this threat virtually every year as kids. Once we grew into adolescence, snooping wasn’t as much fun.

But no matter the age, we found it difficult to sleep Christmas Eve. One year—I think I was 12—it was the middle of the night and sleep was eluding me. At least it felt like the middle of the night. My bedtime was 8 pm, so it may have very well been 10 pm. Anyway, it was late and I swear I heard jingle bells out my window. By my reckoning, Santa was due to be in our area (my reckoning figuring that Santa would be at our house at precisely midnight) so it seemed not only logical, but highly probably that those jingle bells were the very same bells that adorned Santa’s reigns! Surely he was near; probably over at someone else’s house, but he would soon be at ours!

I sneaked out of my room. My younger brother was sound asleep in his bottom bunk and I made sure not to jostle the bed as I climbed down from the top bunk. I tip-toed across the floor and opened the door; pausing to peer outside down the darkened hallway. No light was visible from my parents’ room next door or my sisters’ at the other end of the hall. I crept down the hall and looked around the corner down the stairs. I could tell the Christmas tree lights were still on from the colorful hues on the walls. I knew we set out milk and cookies for Santa, along with a carrot for the reindeer. If the cookies were still there, then I would know I hadn’t missed him. I started down the stairs as stealthily as a 12-year-old could. The staircase had walls on both sides from the second floor to halfway down on one side. The rest of the way was open to the living room aside from a banister. If I could make it to the banister, I could see the tree and the presents.

I was less than three steps from my target when my dad rounding the corner at the bottom of the stairs. He saw me. I was caught! His scowling gaze took control of my body and I turned around and climbed the stairs significantly faster than I had come down them. Santa got a reprieve that Christmas. I would have to try harder next year. The next day, all four of us were up and in Mom and Dad’s room at 5:30 to get them up to go down to open presents. Every year, we would wake them on Christmas morning long before the sun came up, and every year, they would make us wait until 6 and until they had the coffee pot going.

But the next year, something else happened. We went through the traditional routine on Christmas Eve: touring lights, reading the Nativity story in the Bible, singing carols; then off to bed with the long period of no sleep and trying to figure out how to catch Santa. The next morning, I awoke feeling refreshed and took a long stretch while I blinked open my eyes. The sunlight was filtering in through the curtains and I turned my head to see my mother opening my curtains and looking out the window.

“Good morning,” I said wondering why she was in my room.

“Good morning sleepyhead,” she answered. She had a bemused smile on her face as she watched me thinking. “I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” I automatically answered before it dawned on me. “CHRISTMAS! IT’S CHRISTMAS!”

I was out of the top bunk in a bounce, and out the door to find my siblings gathered at the top of the stairs looking quite impatient. Mom made them wait for me and wouldn’t let them wake me. This was the latest I think we ever got to open gifts.

From then on, we all slept in a little later and once I became an adult, I slept in on Christmas. That is—until I had children. Once my son was old enough to understand Christmas, he ensured we were up at terribly early hours. This was payback for all the years we rousted Mom and Dad.

Now I have no problem sleeping in on Christmas as my sons are out of the house. I actually miss the anticipation of a child yearning for Christmas morning; but I get to hear the stories of my grandkids rousting their parents, and that brings back wonderful memories. Memories of bouncing off the walls waiting for Christmas to come, waiting for Santa to show up, waiting for Mom and Dad to get up. I know that my parents never needed to ask when Christmas was coming.

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Decorating with History

I spent this weekend putting up the outside Christmas lights and finishing the indoor Christmas decorations after a week of procrastinating. While doing so, it occurred to me that decorating for Christmas is like enjoying Christmas in advance. Opening the boxes and totes of decorations is like opening presents; each one brings back memories of when it was first placed on the tree. This is particularly poignant with “first Christmas” ornaments—whether “baby’s first Christmas” or “Our First Christmas.”

When we pull out the decorations, we put on Santa Hats and play some Christmas music on the stereo so we get sufficiently jolly. Last year, I organized and labeled the totes so they were easier to find and sort. Of course, we still had a hard time finding some of the decorations that we knew we had; but the fun of discovery of the decorations we forgot we had made up for it. We started a tradition on our first Christmas of making an ornament from scratch each year; and we make a point of putting them on right after the base ornaments.

Base ornaments you ask? I know every family has its own way of decorating a tree and some people are quite adamant on their idea of the proper way of trimming the tree. Some say the tree topper goes first, others insist that it should be the last thing to go on and that dad has to be the one to do it. Some insist on garland while others prefer icicles. Well, our way of decorating is two strings of c7 lights first, then several strands of mini lights (including on musical twinkling strand) and then the three sizes of glass ball ornaments; big ornaments on bottom, mid-sized ornaments in the middle and smaller ones on the top of the tree. After the glass orbs, we put on the artistic ornaments, including the home made ones.

Each ornament has a story and a special place on the tree. The long sea shell was a gift from my mom after her Bahamas cruise. The Lionel train was given to me by my dad, a long-time model train enthusiast. The acrylic angel has to go in front of a white c7 bulb in the front of the tree. The mirrored cube has to be nestled in a bundle of mini-lights to reflect the most color. The angel goes on top after all the others are in place.

The tree is not the only decorations with stories. We have the hallmark singing snowman and snow dog that I won at a Christmas party at work. We have the cheap Wal-Mart nativity set that looks like the one mom and dad had for years while I was growing up. We have the Christmas bear that sits on the bookcase that one of my Aunts made. I cannot forget to mention the wooden Noel sign that Michelle gave me the first Christmas in the house. So many decorations that have stories and history of their own that they almost take on a life of their own.

Yes, Christmas means celebrating love and life and giving of one’s self to others. But it is also a great opportunity to celebrate family by opening the gifts of history that are our traditions. When opening your decorations this year, take a moment to remember when you got them and listen to the stories they tell you. They are your stories after all. It’s like an early Christmas.

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