The Madison County Journal
December 22, 1999
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
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.
The Madison County Journal
December 22, 1999
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.
Margie Richards is a reporter and office manager for the Madison