Category Archives: Christmas history

Which Story Are You Telling This Christmas?

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photo by Mike McCune

Truth

I’m reading a book right now (listening to it, actually) titled The Truth According to Us. This post has nothing to do with that novel, however. Just the title. It intrigues me.  From what I’ve observed, we may uphold truth, but only the truth as we understand it. And when you think about it, that makes some sense. We are leaning on our own understanding. But, as sometimes happens in the aging process,  the time comes when you realize you might not have an open mind when you lean on your own understanding. If you look, observe, take plenty of time, you might just see something you hadn’t seen before.

The Christmas Story

Take the Christmas story for example. The birth of Jesus.  I’ve been seeing some posts on social media claiming that we’ve gotten it all wrong our whole lives. Jesus was not born in a stable. Houses had a level where they kept the animals, and it’s likely Joseph and Mary stayed with one of his relatives on the bottom level of the house. There was no inn nor any innkeeper to turn them away, not according to the Bible.

What's True About the Christmas story? #whatsimportant Click To Tweet

When I was teaching kindergarten, and in charge of the Christmas pageant, I needed an innkeeper. There were not enough parts for all the children, and there was always one child who wanted a speaking part, but didn’t want to be an angel. And if we did not have the drama of Mary and Joseph being turned away on that cold night, with the birth of the baby drawing near, there wouldn’t be enough drama for the play. I’m sure the innkeeper was invented by a bedraggled Kindergarten teacher probably sometime in the 2nd century.

photo: Crosswinds Community

photo: Crosswinds Community

Wherever they stayed, it was probably awkward, and not Mary’s first choice of birthing locations. We are given the story of a homeless family, although temporarily homeless. We are given a story that tugs at our hearts. The son of God coming without any earthly fan fare. If it weren’t for the angels speaking to the shepherds, or the star leading the wise men from the East, no one would have noticed, save for Mary and Joseph. The lack of the people’s understanding of what had happened could make a series of sermons, and probably has now that I think about it.

The Truth According to God

But that’s not the whole story. When I took the time to step away from the pageant (I haven’t taught Kindergarten for many years now) I began to see another story entirely. The one I think is the point of the whole thing. In the Book of Matthew 1:23, during the dream that Joseph had where an angel told him what was about to happen, lies a phrase that is so miraculous, so incredible and difficult to understand that it is sometimes washed over.

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

I’m not talking about the fact that a virgin was going to give birth, which of course is miraculous, incredible, and difficult to understand. That is part of the Christmas story that we are very familiar with. I’m focused on the second part of that verse: Emmanuel, which means God with us. It’s incredible when you look at history. God had been silent for hundreds of years. And then….with us, in the flesh, to walk with people, eat with them, teach them, heal them, die, and rise from the grave. That is God being personal and intimate with his creation in a way he had not been for many generations.

What I Try to Remember

God is with us. We are his beloved children, members of his family. I ask myself if I have prepared my heart for his arrival. The people of his day had not. But I have the advantage of knowing the story. But then again, they had the prophecy.

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.~Isaiah 7:14

They were still not ready. I’m not sure I am either, not the way I should be. But I try. I try to remember all these things like Mary did.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. ~Luke 2:19

Mary and Jesus

photo by PROWaiting For The Word

Merry Christmas!

Christmas at Hawkins House (Ellis Island Series)

Creative Commons, Paul Townsend

Creative Commons, Paul Townsend

Christmas Past

As most people who enjoy learning about the past, I am intrigued by past Christmas traditions.  The Christmases of our ancestors were varied depending on the culture they came from. In book one of my Ellis Island series, Grace McCaffery, a recent immigrant from Ireland, must learn to prepare Christmas dinner for her American employees. Here is a excerpt from the book:

Grace muttered under her breath later in the day as she polished crystal glasses and placed them back in the dining room sideboard. Christmas Eve and she was expected to create such fancy dishes as she’d never seen before. “Spiced chutney and turtle soup and butter crème pie. How am I supposed to make those things? And why would anyone want to eat them?”

Thomson, Cindy (2013-05-17). Grace’s Pictures (Ellis Island Book 1) (p. 165). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Turtle soup BBC photo

Turtle soup BBC photo

Grace grew up in a poor house in Ireland. Her experience with Christmas traditions was limited.

“…We didn’t much celebrate Christmas in Ireland.” She stretched the truth a bit. Some Irish folks would expect visits from Father Christmas, but Grace held few memories of holiday traditions herself. Even before the workhouse, they’d had no time for it. They went to church and roasted whatever portion of lamb their neighbors could spare. Nothing more.

Thomson, Cindy (2013-05-17). Grace’s Pictures (Ellis Island Book 1) (p. 204). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

“Nothing more.” Observing Christmas was simpler in the olden days.

Is Christmas Different Today?

Christmas is certainly commercialized today, but even back in the early 1900s, people complained. They thought too much emphasis was put on toys, too many of them in store windows. Too many? Still to come was the Christmas catalogue and lines to sit on Santa’s lap and give him our wish list. But even so, those complaints seemed to sense what was to come. It’s easy to romanticize the past, but despite how different our versions of Christmas might be, people are not all that different. We still want peace–on earth and in our homes. All the rest is just glitter and wrapping.

Christmas Lights

Families still gather together. People go to church for candlelight services. Most people who don’t work in service essential jobs like fire fighting or nursing still have the day off because it is a special day, a sacred day. That was true back in the early 1900s. It is still true today.

Mary and Jesus

photo by PROWaiting For The Word

Grace, like the characters that follow in the next books of the series, learns that although people are different in their customs, their economic status, and social interactions, everyone wants the same thing: to be loved. As the Grinch learned in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, perhaps Christmas is about something more–something more than we tend to think it is. Perhaps, after all, it is about love.

Mini Monuments on My Christmas Tree

Thomson Christmas Tree 2014

Ornaments With Meaning

This is my Christmas tree this year. As with almost every year in my married life, I decorated it myself. Yes, it’s in front of a closet. It’s that kind of Christmas because our reno isn’t finished yet. But I promise you, next Christmas will look different. I did not put all my ornaments on this year. I left some of the most fragile in the box this year. I’ll look forward to seeing them next Christmas. But I still have several with special meanings. I’ll bet you do too. I’d thought I’d share the meaning behind a few of my “mini monuments.”

One of the Oldest

Musical Angel

This is one of the first ornaments Tom and I picked out together. I don’t think it was from our first Christmas, but definitely from early on. Angels are such an important part of the Christmas story that I have many of them on my tree. I love that this one is playing a violin. For years I thought it was breakable and always hung it near the top, out of the reach of little hands and pets. Then a few years ago I realized it’s plastic. It could still break, but it’s not as fragile as I thought. I still hang it near the top, however.

 

From My Home Church

Chi-RhoThis one is fairly old too. It’s the Chi-Rho symbol, The Greek letters for Christ (the first two letters of the name.) Sulphur Grove traditionally had a tree with these symbols. They might still. One year we were encouraged to include them on our own trees and I bought this one at the church Christmas bazaar. I hang it to remind myself to keep Christ in Christmas.

From Christmases Past

Cindy Thomson's childhood ornamentThis is certainly the oldest ornament I have. I snagged it from my mom a few years ago. It’s one of my favorites from when I was growing up. I loved decorating the tree when I was a kid. It’s something that did not get passed down to my boys. I guess some men are like that. Decorations? Whatever! But for me this one brings such happy memories.

Remembering Happy Times

There are lots of ornaments like this. Maybe for you too. This one is from a special vacation I took a couple of years ago with my sister Bev and my mom. We went into a Christmas shop and that’s where I got this one. While we saw lots of moose crossing signs in Vermont, we did not see any moose. But we are very familiar with them from the time we lived in Alaska. We loved Vermont.

Vermont Christmas Ornament

 

Ornaments That Remind Me to Pray

Our previous pastor always held an event where you brought an ornament with your family name written on it and hung it on a tree in the sanctuary. At the end of a service you went to the tree and picked a different ornament. Then you prayed for that family throughout the Christmas season. I have more than one of these but this one is for a couple that still need prayer because of the wife’s health issues.

Praying Angel Ornament

My Giving Ornament

Some of my readers have identical ornaments because I’ve given out a few of these over the last couple of years in contests and drawings. I will always think of them when I look at this on my tree. I believe I have one left to giveaway next year.

Irish Christmas Ornament

Remembering My Publisher

This one was included one year in a gift I received from my publisher. I am so grateful Tyndale House published Grace’s Pictures and Annie’s Stories, and this reminds me of the wonderful people I was privileged to work with there.

Star Ornament

 

From a Facebook Friend

Isn’t it amazing how you can make friends through Facebook? Kind of like pen pals. This ornament reminds me not only of the person who sent it to me, Cindy Z. from England, but also of all the wonderful people I’ve met. Cindy wanted to send me something authentic from her country. Isn’t this jester adorable?

 

English Ornament

My Celtic Heritage

This one was a gift from my son Kyle and his wife Kelsey. It reminds me of our Celtic heritage, and also how thoughtful they are!

Celtic Cross

 

From Ireland

This one I picked up on our last trip to Ireland. I kinda went nuts at the Belleek store, but you couldn’t buy these here for the price I paid. I just love this Santa and will always think about our tour of the Belleek Factory when I get it out to hang on the tree. Yes, this one is breakable, so we’re being careful. It’s the same on both sides so it doesn’t matter if it gets turned around. Isn’t that genius?

Belleek  Santa

Go Reds!

I mean, my favorite team has the right color for Christmas, so why not?

Reds SnowmanThese are just a few of my favorites. I have more so maybe I’ll do this again next year. Care to share one of your favorites with me? Post a picture or tell me about it in the comments. Merry Christmas!

 

What if Christmas Didn’t Happen Like We Thought?

Several years ago I attended a program at an observatory where I learned that Christmas, meaning the birth of Christ, mostly likely did not take place on December 25th. First of all, the calendars have changed over the eras. But more than likely the star the wise men followed appeared in the sky sometime during our month of March. So for centuries we’ve celebrated on the wrong date? Looking back it seems Christ’s birthday was not even celebrated for the first few hundred years after His death, according to this article.

If you are wondering how this happened, it’s not really that hard to uncover. From what I understand about church history, it was the practice of the church to take over pagan festivals and turn them into ones that have meaning for Christians. This likely happened with the observance of the winter solstice, the coming of light becomes the coming of Light.

So maybe Christmas is not really Jesus’ birthday. Does it matter? I don’t think so. What matters is that He was born.

My publisher gave me Ann Voskamp’s new book, The Greatest Gift, Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. It’s an advent devotional beautifully written with plenty of inspiring quotes I could pull out for you. Here is one: “Love had to get to you. Love had to come back for you. The Love that has been coming for you since the beginning…this is the truest love story of history…”

God With Us! Yes, the birth is important, life-changing, ground-breaking, startling. The actual date, not a big deal.

Why do we do it, then? Give presents, cook, wish every stranger a Merry Christmas (and really mean it, unlike the everyday “Have a nice day.”) Because of Him. Because God is with us. Because He lives in us and we see Him in the face of every stranger. That is the important thing about what happened when Jesus was born.

Merry Christmas!!