I meant to post all of this during the holiday season, but I simply never got the time to. You’ll probably read this in January, or perhaps during a future Christmas season, or whatever.
“Happy Holidays” used to be okay for everyone, but now, because businesses are afraid of offending someone, some don’t allow their employees to greet customers with “Merry Christmas.” Faithful Christians are so offended by this that when I say “Happy Holidays” in an effort to include New Year’s along with Christmas, I get corrected or “called down” by these people for not saying “Merry Christmas” instead.
Christians have long argued that to abbreviate “Christmas” as “Xmas” means taking Christ out of Christmas and replacing Him with “X” which is “the unknown.” But I think this is bunk, despite the fact that I myself am a devout Christian. First off, abbreviations are exactly that: a shortened way of writing something, and nothing more. Folks have been abbreviating Christmas as Xmas for a very long time. Second, to a student of New Testament Greek (or modern-day Greek, for that matter), it would be only natural to spell “Christ” with an “X” since the initial Greek letter Chi looks like our letter “X.” With that said, I used to abbreviate “Christmas” as “Cmas” instead of “Xmas” in an effort to avoid using an “X.” It looks funny that way, doesn’t it? Beginning this season, I have begun using the standard “Xmas” abbreviation with no guilty conscience over the matter.
Lack of festive atmosphere
The day after Thanksgiving in the U.S. is traditionally the busiest Christmas shopping day of the season. When I was growing up, it was fun and festive to shop on this day, but today it’s a nightmare. People wait in front of stores as early as 4:00 or 4:30 am, for stores to open at 5 am; then they push and shove to get into the stores and fight for early bargains. Some are very rude, even to the point of threatening each other, some have told me this year.
Most people are so busy and stressed out from shopping and other holiday preparations that there is, for most, precious little festivity, much less meaning, left in Christmas any more.
Some things we did to make the season brighter
Shortly before Thanksgiving, a neighbor gave us some sourdough starter to make Amish Friendship Bread. You may have tasted this or even baked it yourself. The starter consists of equal parts of flour, sugar and milk and is kept ten days at room temperature so it can rise and ferment before using it in the recipe. It yields extra batches of starter which are then passed on to friends or neighbors. And the bread is delicious! We gave away baked loaves to friends and family as well as giving away starters. We also have about 15 loaves of it in the freezer at this time.
The girls (Wendi and Chrissy) did some other baking also: sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies with nuts and chips in them, chocolate syrup brownies, chocolate covered pretzels and chocolate nut clusters.
Twenty years ago my wife, Wendi, and I recorded a tape full of Christmas music entitled “Songs of the Christ Child.” This year as we played the tape, we were surprised to hear how well the music sounded. Wendi suggested that I try to copy the tape over onto CD and give it to friends and family for Christmas gifts.
I found our original accompaniment tape (all piano music) and there were two tracks on it that we didn’t use on the original tape. So we set up the recording equipment this year and recorded both songs with fresh vocals, then added the two songs at the end of the CD program. Chrissy Lawrence, a young lady who lives with us, drew the cover art for the CD. We gave away 53 copies of the CD this year and received lots of thanks and compliments in return.
On Christmas Eve we attended the Candlelight Service at church; afterward we went to see the “Parade of Lights,” an annual tradition in Janesville.
Weather: made to order for Christmas
Snow fell from December 1 through 16, totaling 11.6 inches; this left us with a lovely snow cover throughout the Christmas season. The weather was cold but not severe. I even enjoyed shoveling the snow!
A warm spell beginning December 22 caused some melting, but there was no bare ground until the day after Christmas. It was simply weather “made to order” this year.
Music and fond memories
The “Festival of Lite” on Lite 107.3 FM radio was fabulous this year; the station played a very nice selection of holiday music 24/7. They have been doing this for a number of years, but this year they mixed in some older selections I hadn’t heard for quite a while, including some by Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Gene Autry, along with newer ones by Kelly Clarkson and others.
One of my favorite memories from this season was on Monday, November 28 (actually before the snows!). Wendi and I were eating lunch at a Chinese restaurant, and they were running Lite 107.3 for background music. As we ate our lunch in the quiet, romantic setting, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” played on the radio.
The Christmas music at church has been wonderful this season as well, and I was thankful to have a serious part in it. On December 11 our choir sang “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” a cappella. On December 18 I sang “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” as a solo, also a cappella (I had never done a solo a cappella before). On Christmas morning I played piano for the adult and children’s choirs as they sang “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”
Extended holiday season
People unwilling to relent to winter doldrums, are leaving their holiday decorations up a little longer each year. A lady at the grocery store gave me two little candy canes and wished me a happy holiday on January 4. I smiled back and noted that we were observing the 12 days of Christmas by leaving our decorations up until Epiphany, on January 6, when the visit of the Wise Men is celebrated (and it doesn’t appear on most calendars any more).
When Epiphany arrived (on Friday this year), I took my wife on a lunch date to a Chinese buffet and explained to her that because the day and the upcoming weekend would be busy, that perhaps we should wait until Monday or Tuesday to take the decorations down. She had no problem with it (Guess what? They’re still up! The girls plan to take them down this evening.).
One year we met with some friends to exchange Christmas gifts on January 12.
Last year I saw a Christmas tree in a house still standing and lit, as late as January 22!