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By Frank Gillespie
The Madison County Journal
December 22, 1999

Frankly Speaking

Remember why we celebrate Christmas
In the past I have joined the many commentators who pointed out that the date chosen to celebrate the birth of Jesus is obviously wrong. The bible does not give a date for his birth, but it was not during cold weather. Otherwise, the shepherds would not have kept their sheep in the field overnight. When I realized this, I questioned why the date was chosen. There are several answers, most of them troubling to true believers.
For the first 300 years, the Christians had no celebration for Jesus' birth. To most of them, the only important factor was his death and resurrection. However, the gentile converts to Christianity continued to celebrate old pagan holidays that surround the start of winter. When church leaders failed to stop these festivals, they gradually converted them into the Christmas celebration.
Most of the activities we associate with Christmas today come not from Christian teachings. They are leftovers from the old pagan celebrations. For example: the lighting of the Yule log comes from the old Norse religion. Placing garlands of evergreens in the home for theseason comes from the Germanic tribes of Europe. The mistletoe traditions were featured in the festivals of the Celts.
The giving of gifts to the young and less fortunate was first done as a part of the celebration of the birth of Mithra, a Persian god whose religion dominated the Roman Empire before Christianity. The holiday feast also came from Mithraism, a carryover from their tradition of sacrificing a bull as part of their initiation ceremony for new members.
The purpose of each of these festivals was to prepare the community to survive the winter season. Families would put out their fires, clean their chimneys and fire places, then re-light them from the Yule log. Each family would give of their surplus food, clothing or wood to others who were not as well provided. They would use the time when it was not practical to work the fields to strengthen friendships, teach their children the basics of their culture and plan for the spring planting season.
In each case, the most important feature of the festivals was the sharing. Each family would give what they had, and receive from their neighbors the things they lacked. This way, each family had the best possible chance to survive and thrive during the sometimes deadly winter weather.
What better season is there to celebrate the One who gave himself to save us all? Christianity teaches that Jesus, called the Christ, took the sins of the world on his own shoulders, and gave his life as payment for our wrongdoing. His was the greatest act of sharing ever performed.
It doesn't matter when his actual birth took place. We can only guess about the date. And it doesn't really matter. We could celebrate his birth at any time throughout the year. But the traditional season of giving and receiving gifts, the start of winter, is more symbolic of his gift to us than any other time.
To all of you who chose to celebrate this time as the birth of Christ, and to those of other faiths who celebrate for other reasons, I wish all the blessings the season has to offer.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal.

By Margie Richards
The Madison County Journal
December 22, 1999

Margie Richards

The heart of Christmas
I only really begin to enjoy the Christmas season a few days before the big day.
I confess that I have caught myself saying "I'll be so glad when this is over" quite a few times in the last few weeks. The hustle and bustle of trying to get things ready for Christmas, added to the stresses and responsibilities of everyday life can begin to fray the nerves after awhile.
But this week, with most (but not all) of the shopping done, the Christmas cards mailed and plans made, I have really begun to enjoy what I have come to think of as the "heart of Christmas."
First of all, giving gifts to people I know and love is always a joy. Giving gifts to those I don't know personally can sometimes be an even greater joy.
I love to say the words "Merry Christmas" to customers, store clerks and Salvation Army bell ringers. It is a wonderful feeling to hug someone and tell them "I love you" "God bless you" and "Merry Christmas." It is also a joy to be hugged in return.
But the most wonderful thing about Christmas is seeing what people do for others - just because they want to bring them joy.
What a privilege it was for me to be present at the Helping Hands Clothes Closet Christmas party for kids last weekend. The children were joyous over the toys they received, but I believe the greater joy belonged to Mrs. Schmittou and the volunteers who saw the children receive the toys they helped provide them with.
Driving through Danielsville tonight I spotted "Santa Claus" out in our local forest ranger Gerry Bridges' front yard - where he has been every night for nearly a week. It was cold, but Santa was waving merrily to passers-by, Christmas music blaring from his boom box. Truck drivers honked, a pickup laden with carolers pulled over to serenade Santa, and parents made U turns to bring their children back by for another look.
Some stopped to let the kids sit on Santa's lap. One mom drove up to make sure the jolly old elf was for real, and once she determined he was, she hurried home to get her kids - and a camera. Although he had been planning on calling it a night, he waited patiently for their return. "Anything for the kids," he said good-naturedly.
Thursday afternoon, the day before Christmas Eve, volunteers with the Rotary Club will build their 50th ramp for an elderly lady. Roy Gandy, one of the volunteers, told me the ramp-building project started a few years ago when they were installing an air conditioner for a man stricken with polio since birth. When they heard that he crawled from his front door to get to his pickup, they decided to build him a ramp for his wheelchair.
I heard about a group of carolers who went from door to door last weekend in a local subdivision. They were invited inside everywhere they went, but the most moving experience they had was when an elderly man who lived alone cried with joy when they sang for him.
If only we can bear in mind that it doesn't have to be Christmas to give someone a hug, tell them you love them or do something just to bring someone else joy.
Merry Christmas.
Margie Richards is a reporter and office manager for the Madison County Journal.

The Madison County Journal
December 22, 1999

Traffic light needed in front of high school
Dear editor:
It has come to my attention that we (the parents and grandparents) who drive our kids to school need some help.
We need a traffic light or one of Danielsville's finest to direct traffic in front of the high school.
If you go there you know what I'm talking about. You sit in line working to get into the school driveway and you wait in line to get out.
Parents and kids trying to leave have almost been hit. I have seen this many times. (Sometimes they are hit.)
A light or an officer would help this problem greatly. No more near misses and the waiting time would be a lot shorter.
What is it going to take to get something done about this? An accident or the death of some of our kids? Something needs to be done!
Vickie Smith

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