Xmas Heroes – Parents

Xmas Heroes – Parents

What would Christmas be without parents? As much as Christmas has become a child-focused affair, it really depends on the parents to bring the magic to the holiday. Having been on both sides of the spectrum, I can say this is completely true.

My parents did such a wonderful job of making Christmastime special for my sister and me. My mother spent weeks ahead of the big day baking cookies. It was a great time for togetherness. She put on the Bing Crosby album and stacked up the Chipmunks behind it and we began making and baking the cookies that would go into Tupperware containers until family and friends came by. My father got out the electric racetrack and we raced our little cars for hours on end. We all sat together and watched Christmas specials and holiday movies on TV. We all got together and played board games and cards. Weather permitting, we went out and had snowball fights and built forts. It was such a wonderful experience and gave me a lifelong love for the holiday season.

On the flip side, as a parent I get no greater joy than burying my wife and kids in presents and watching holiday movies together. Creating a place where my kids can enjoy the magic of the holidays is an annual challenge and goal for me. If you’re anything like me, the thrill of finding a 24×7 Christmas music station is a harbinger of marvelous things to come. I’m no Clark Griswold, but I do like things to be a bit over the top for the holidays. I like having decorations in every corner of the house. I like having all the tastes and smells of the season available throughout the month of December and even the weeks before and after.

Honestly, I miss the days of counting down the days until Christmas and having a mountain of presents mysteriously appear beneath the tree. That was a real treat. It made the holidays genuinely magical for me. That being said, I never cease to be amazed at just how the magic continues to apply. As the parents, it is our job to make those presents mysteriously appear for Christmas morning. The amazing thing is that we actually put it together. Having slowly gathered and wrapped the presents for our munchkins, we tuck them away to await the big reveal. Stepping back from our late night Santa stand-in, we’re nearly just as thrilled and amazed as if we were the ones receiving the presents. It is a truly enchanting sight. The twinkling lights of the tree cast a special glow over the stack of presents we’ve assembled for the kids. It’s enough to give me a chill of delight just looking at it.

I’m so pleased to have shared this week of Christmas Heroes with you. Thank you for following our series. For the Twelve Days of Christmas this year, I have assembled a variety of obscure yuletide entertainments. I hope you will enjoy them as much as you have our Christmas Heroes and Historical Grinches.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Xmas Heroes – Christmas Truce

Xmas Heroes – Christmas Truce

On June 28th of 1914, a Bosnian Serb nationalist assassinated the presumptive heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Due to a mad web of international treaties and cultural obligations, this began a horrendous conflict that lasted four years. The war ultimately cost the lives of 11 million combatants, 7 million civilian victims, 20 million wounded and countless families broken by the deaths and property destruction. Entire towns were wiped off the map. Ancient sites were demolished. Empires fell and countries ceased to exist.

The Christmas Truce in No Man's Land, 1914In the midst of all this, on Christmas Eve of 1914, peace broke out. Men who had been shooting at each other for months spent an unexpected night of friendship and camaraderie that began with a bit of Christmas spirit.

Trench warfare was a soul-sucking drudgery. Men on each side had dug a rabbit’s warren of trenches through which they could travel safely back and forth along the lines. Small makeshift barracks were dug among the lines as well as supply closets and ammunition depots. On top of the trenches, machine gun emplacements provided cover fire to keep the other men down in their tunnels. It was dreary and uncomfortable. After a summer of rapid exchanges back and forth across battle lines, the trenches created a sort of dreadful permanence to the battlefield that would persist for years to come.

On that particular night, it was time for the combatants to celebrate the season in their own ways. For the Germans, they chose to sing the song written less than a century before by Father Mohr and Franz Gruber. Stille Nacht rose over the parapets to reach the ears of their British adversaries. Before long, the Brits joined in with their own Silent Night.

http://christmasallthetime.com/xmas-heroes-franz-xaver-gruber/The song led to a conversation. The conversation led to men meeting in No Man’s Land, the wasted and bomb-scarred area between the trench lines. This was an area that was usually a guaranteed death sentence to any who entered it, but on Christmas Eve it became a gift exchange and even an impromptu football game. Unlike both World Wars, the Germans actually won.

Sadly, the truce was not observed everywhere along the lines. In many places, fighting continued. Afterwards, reactions were generally disapproving.

The French felt betrayed by the British who had participated. Being friendly with the army who had invaded their land and caused so much damage and death was considered to be a slap in the face.

Winston Churchill and Kaiser Wilhelm II-(1906)General staff was certainly concerned that this sort of fraternization could lead to open mutiny and collapse of order. Rather than viewing it as a grass-roots rejection of the validity of the war, it was seen as disciplinary matter. Threats of court martial and renewed propaganda to demonize the enemy changed the nature of warfare afterwards. The remainder of the war was a cold, dehumanizing slog to an ultimately pointless finish on the 11th of November in 1918. Millions dead and empires shattered. All of this could have been prevented in the summer of 1914 or staunched at Christmastime of 1914. Instead, they brutally stamped out the Christmas spirit and ordered the shooting to begin again.

Xmas Heroes – Francis Pharcellus Church

Xmas Heroes – Francis Pharcellus Church

A child asked a question that is of concern to so many children at one time or another. Virginia O’Hanlon asked her father, who referred her to their favorite newspaper. The family had often written to the editorial staff of the New York Sun to have matters clarified. Editor Frank Pharcellus Church took up the momentous task of addressing this most vexing of childhood dilemmas.

Frank was a graduate of Columbia College of Columbia University and a Civil War correspondent. In the post-war period, he saw a trend of losing hope and faith in the wake of great suffering. We commend him on his contribution to Christmas spirit and his kindness to Virginia in particular.

Here is the famous inquiry and the wonderful editorial response:

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be 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.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Xmas Heroes – Charles Dickens

Xmas Heroes – Charles Dickens

Charles DickensIn 1843, Charles Dickens published a novella that has never been out of print at any time from then until today. The story has also been presented in virtually every other form of media. Dickens was already famous for his novels The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist when he released this charming tale of a stone-hearted miser’s redemption. In saving the old man’s soul from eternal punishment, Dickens also revived Christmas.

As mentioned in Historical Grinches – The Puritans, Christmas was considered to be an unruly nuisance and a mainly Catholic celebration. As such, it was basically outlawed and made socially unacceptable. In England as well as America, Christmas had gone out of style. With the telling of this tale, Dickens did a great deal to change that. He felt that creating a nostalgic sense of an English Christmas would restore some semblance of social harmony and well-being in the modern world.

As with so many of his novels, Dickens wanted to cast a spotlight on the plight of the poor. He had originally planned on sufficing with a polemic pamphlet entitled “An Appeal to the People of England on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child” but decided to embed the message in a story instead. Well done, Charles. So much the better to let the Ghost of Christmas Present harangue the miserable miser, Ebeneezer Scrooge, as part of his reclamation than to lecture his readers directly.

In truth, Dickens had already used a sample of this story line in The Pickwick Papers. He presented an idealized Christmas at Dingley Dell that is reminiscent of nephew Fred’s Christmas gathering and various other scenes that the Ghost of Christmas Present shows to Scrooge. Also, Mr Wardle tells a story about a sexton named Gabriel Grub who undergoes a Yuletide conversion like Scrooge’s.

Dickens found A Christmas Carol to be an excellent vehicle to drive the conscience of his contemporaries and all subsequent generations toward the awareness of the needy among us and the awareness that one’s own success is an obligation to be generous as Christ commanded rather than as license to assume an air of aloof superiority. As the Ghost of Christmas Present admonishes,

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

Charles Dickens was the vocal conscience of his age. He sympathized with the plight of the poor in an increasingly industrialized world. Ultimately, child labor was eliminated in our society although it still remains a problem in the developing world. The welfare state is still a problematic issue. It’s good not to have people starving in the streets, but with charity comes a host of related problems that we still haven’t entirely worked out. Dependence is ultimately servitude of one kind or another. How wonderful that Dickens’ insight still speaks to us so poignantly today. How sad that we still haven’t learned all of the lessons he sought to teach.

You can read the story for yourself at Project GutenbergA Christmas Carol (cover)

An Important Question

Merry Monday

An Important Question

In 1991, Mark Lowry wrote the lyrics to a popular Christmas song and the music was written by his friend, Buddy Greene. It has been recorded by a number of famous stars over the years. The question posed repeatedly throughout the song is “Mary, did you know?”. Let’s take a quick look at the lyrics:

Mary, Did You Know

Mary did you know that your baby boy will some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

Oh Mary did you know

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am

To put it simply, the answer is YES!!!!!

How did she know? Let’s find out.


The answer is given in the Gospel of Luke:

Luke 1:26-38 King James Version (KJV)

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.

32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.

38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

The Annunciation - Leonardo Da Vinci - Uffiizi Gallery

The Annunciation – Leonardo Da Vinci – Uffiizi Gallery

Basically, when an archangel comes to you and tells you that you will bear a son born of the Holy Spirit and destined to sit on the throne of David, you can consider yourself properly briefed on the details. It is also likely that Mary would have been familiar with the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. The high points are summarized by the genius of Handel’s Messiah in the oratorio HWV 56.

So, when writing a religious Christmas song don’t forget to check scripture to see if the answer is already there.

Epiphany and Shortbread Day

Epiphany and Shortbread Day

Like the wise men of old, we have finally arrived at our destination. Here we are at the official end of the holiday season. I hope you enjoyed the ride!

Epiphany

Epiphany It’s generally held that the magi didn’t arrive until Jesus was about two, but that would make for a really long holiday season (fine by me). We’d also have to wait another thirty years or so for Easter to come around, so it’s nice to be able to condense it down to meaningful liturgical seasons.

Another thing that I’m pretty adamant about (given that I created a site on the topic) is keeping the season in the season. I’ve seen a number of things over the years that try to drag the symbolism of Easter into the season of Christmas.

STOP IT!

There’s a reason why the seasons are separate. If you want foreshadowing, you only need to look at the lyrics of We Three Kings.

I guess I’m one of those guys who likes to keep his carrots from touching his mashed potatoes on the plate, but fair’s fair. Let Christmas be Christmas and let Easter be Easter.

National Shortbread Day

Is there anything more tasty than a rich Scottish shortbread? You can get so many variations of this classic treat online and from the stores, but you can go old school and make it yourself:

  1. 1 part white sugar
  2. 2 parts butter
  3. 3 parts flour

That’s the simple formula for a tremendous holiday treat that you can enjoy anytime.

Shortbread Day

National Bird Day and Whipped Cream Day

Bird Day and Whipped Cream Day

Today we celebrate our winged neighbors and a light sweet treat. It’s our last day of Christmas, so let’s enjoy!

National Bird Day

birdholly We don’t see too much of our feathered friends in Wintertime. Quite a few migrate to warmer climes. However, not all of them do and it’s good to have a special day to remember and care for them.

Something we like to do for the holidays is to decorate the trees outside with items that are edible to birds such as dried berries, cheerios, peanut butter, bird seed. Here are some ideas you can try to make a bird-friendly garland for your non-migratory birds.

Whipped Cream Day

Whipped Cream, also known as Snow Cream, was first mentioned in 1673. Early versions were sweetened and flavored with such things as vanilla, chocolate, orange, rose and coffee. They also used the term Chantilly Creme for these dessert treats.

The reason today is Whipped Cream Day is to celebrate the birthday of Reddi-wip creator, Aaron “Bunny” Lapin. He came up with the canned cream treat in 1948. Some people prefer the canned treat to the scoop-able stuff. Some people prefer whipping heavy cream by hand. Some people just eat it straight from the tub or nibble it off of a loved one (say no more, let’s keep this PG here). No matter how you take it, whipped cream is a tasty addition to any sundae, pie or whatever you’re hungry for.

whipped-cream

For the Twelfth Day of Christmas, it’s twelve drummers drumming. Not the Little Drummer Boy. Not gonna happen.
 

Twelve Drummers Drumming

Trivia Day and Spaghetti Day

Trivia Day and Spaghetti Day

Christmastime is quickly slipping away and we’ve only got a little bit of the magic left to share. So, why not sit the family down around a bowl of spaghetti and play some trivia games?

Spaghetti Day

Spaghetti Day Spaghetti is a wonderful comfort food for the chillier times of the year. You can enjoy the usual tomato sauce, alfredo sauce or garlic butter depending on your mood. You can also add proteins such as meatballs, shrimp, sausage or langostinos to fortify the dish. If you’re into vegetables, you can use a light broth and make a wonderful pasta primavera.

There are unresolved issues about the origin of spaghetti. Some say that it was created in Ancient Greece and others hold that Marco Polo brought it back from the East after dining on it at the court of Kublai Khan. Whatever the truth is, we’re glad we have this versatile dish to keep us warm and nourished.

Trivia Day

Is there anything more enjoyable for a family to enjoy than an evening playing a trivia game? From the classic Trivial Pursuit and all of its specialty variations (we really enjoy Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit) to the latest craze in trivia games, trivia games test your memory and teach you things you might not have known before.

If you want to tackle the latest trivia games, I’ve located 119 amazing facts that could help you in your next trivia challenge.

Click on this game to get your copy

Click on this game to get your copy

Click on this game to get your copy

It’s the Eleventh Day of Christmas and not a moment too soon. Who doesn’t love a band of pipers?
 

Eleven Pipers Piping

Boxing Day, Again

Boxing Day, Again

As we said back on the Feast of Stephen, Boxing Day is stated as the first weekday after Christmas. So, while Boxing Day is typically the day after Christmas, this year Christmas fell on a Friday so properly traditional Boxing Day would be the following Monday. Hey, that’s today!

Some more about Boxing Day

Boxing Day, Again Boxing Day used to be a day in which servants and tradesmen got their gifts. In earlier times, it was also a time for alms-giving and charitable deeds.

In more recent times, it’s a time for sales. Rather like Black Friday in the United States, Boxing Day is a huge shopping day in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The Fourth Day of Christmas calls for Four Calling Birds, awww, sweet.
 

Four Calling Birds

Make Cutout Snowflakes Day and National Fruitcake Day

Make Cutout Snowflakes Day and National Fruitcake Day

Winter’s off to a quick start and we’re going to help things along with some cutout snowflakes. After a fun time crafting our own snowflakes, it’s only fitting to sit down to a piece of rich, delicious fruitcake. Let’s get celebrating!

Make Cutout Snowflakes Day

Some of us get enough of the real things and may even have a yard full of them at this point. Just the same, it’s a fun holiday craft to engage in. Kids love to cut wonderful shapes and watch with wonder as the snowflakes unfold into individual works of art.

So, whether you live someplace where it snows or not, you can have a Winter Wonderland indoors with just a few creative clips.

National Fruitcake Day

I know, I’m one of the few people who actually likes fruitcake. Apparently, I’m not the only one since they’ve designated a national day for it. Wahoo! Makes my day.

First references to fruitcake date back to Roman times. Many would joke that the same fruitcakes have been passed back and forth as gifts since that time, but with proper preservatives and airtight packaging a good fruitcake will only last 25 years.

Two towns have long been battling for the title of Fruitcake Capitol of the World. Corsicana, Texas, is home to the Collin Street Bakery while Claxton, Georgia, is the home to two major fruitcake bakeries: the Claxton Bakery and the Georgia Fruitcake Company. While it hasn’t yet been finally decided, Claxton has claimed the title on their water tower.

Today is the Third Day of Christmas! Here are 3 French Hens
 

Three French Hens