Christmas

Festivals of Light

Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.

Josephus

I have always thought it fitting that Christmas and Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, are so close together usually on the calendar.  This year Hanukkah began on December 16 and will end on Christmas Eve.  Approximately 160 years before the Coming of Christ, the Jews revolted against the Seleucid Empire.  This was one of the most important struggles in all of human history.    It determined that the Jews would remain a people set apart, worshiping Yahweh, and not become, like so many peoples before and since, a lost people, blended into larger populations, their god forgotten.  It was this revolt, led by Mattathias, his name meaning “gift of Yahweh”, and his sons, known collectively as the Maccabees, that is told in First and Second Maccabees.  The revolt was successful, but ultimately, through civil wars and the overpowering military might of Rome, the Jews again fell under foreign domination, and Jesus was born into a world ruled by Rome.  However, the revolt established that the Jews would remain a separate people, worshiping their God and safeguarding their faith.  This was an essential element in setting the stage for the coming of Christ. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Patton on Prayer

 

 

“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.”

 

The famous “weather prayer” of General Patton was written by a Catholic Chaplain, Colonel James H. O’Neill, Chief Chaplain of the Third Army.   Here is his article on the incident written in 1950.

The incident of the now famous Patton Prayer commenced with a telephone call to the Third Army Chaplain on the morning of December 8, 1944, when the Third Army Headquarters were located in the Caserne Molifor in Nancy, France: “This is General Patton; do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about those rains if we are to win the war.” My reply was that I know where to look for such a prayer, that I would locate, and report within the hour. As I hung up the telephone receiver, about eleven in the morning, I looked out on the steadily falling rain, “immoderate” I would call it — the same rain that had plagued Patton’s Army throughout the Moselle and Saar Campaigns from September until now, December 8. The few prayer books at hand contained no formal prayer on weather that might prove acceptable to the Army Commander. Keeping his immediate objective in mind, I typed an original and an improved copy on a 5″ x 3″ filing card:

Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.

I pondered the question, What use would General Patton make of the prayer? Surely not for private devotion. If he intended it for circulation to chaplains or others, with Christmas not far removed, it might he proper to type the Army Commander’s Christmas Greetings on the reverse side. This would please the recipient, and anything that pleased the men I knew would please him:

To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I Wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God’s blessings rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day. G.S. Patton, Jr, Lieutenant General, Commanding, Third United States Army.

This done, I donned my heavy trench coat, crossed the quadrangle of the old French military barracks, and reported to General Patton. He read the prayer copy, returned it to me with a very casual directive, “Have 250,000 copies printed and see to it that every man in the Third Army gets one.” The size of the order amazed me; this was certainly doing something about the weather in a big way. But I said nothing but the usual, “Very well, Sir!” Recovering, I invited his attention to the reverse side containing the Christmas Greeting, with his name and rank typed. “Very good,” he said, with a smile of approval. “If the General would sign the card, it would add a personal touch that I am sure the men would like.” He took his place at his desk, signed the card, returned it to me and then Said: “Chaplain, sit down for a moment; I want to talk to you about this business of prayer.” He rubbed his face in his hands, was silent for a moment, then rose and walked over to the high window, and stood there with his back toward me as he looked out on the falling rain. As usual, he was dressed stunningly, and his six-foot-two powerfully built physique made an unforgettable silhouette against the great window. The General Patton I saw there was the Army Commander to whom the welfare of the men under him was a matter of Personal responsibility . Even in the heat of combat he could take time out to direct new methods to prevent trench feet, to see to it that dry socks went forward daily with the rations to troops on the line, to kneel in the mud administering morphine and caring for a wounded soldier until the ambulance Came. What was coming now?

“Chaplain, how much praying is being done in the Third Army?” was his question. I parried: “Does the General mean by chaplains, or by the men?” “By everybody,” he replied. To this I countered: “I am afraid to admit it, but I do not believe that much praying is going on. When there Is fighting, everyone prays, but now with this constant rain — when things are quiet, dangerously quiet, men just sit and wait for things to happen. Prayer out here is difficult. Both chaplains and men are removed from a special building with a steeple. Prayer to most of them is a formal, ritualized affair, involving special posture and a liturgical setting. I do not believe that much praying is being done.” →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Francis Pharcellus Church, the Little Girl and Santa Claus

(I published this last year, and I am going to publish it each year before Christmas.  It evokes sweet memories of Christmases past when my children were young.)

Francis Pharcellus Church was a newspaper man to his marrow.  As a young man he had covered the Civil War for the New York Times and with his brother William he founded the Army and Navy Journal which dedicated itself to reporting news about the military forces of the United States, along with historical pieces on US military history, and opinion pieces about innovations or reforms in the military.  It is still being published today.

After the War he served as lead editorial writer on his brother’s newspapers the New York Sun.  He died in 1906 at 67, leaving behind no children.  Although he lived a full life, he would be all but forgotten today except for one incident.

In 1897 Virginia O’Hanlon was upset.  She was eight years old and some of her friends had been telling her that there was no Santa Claus.  Her father, Dr. Philip O’Hanlon, suggested that she write to the Sun and see what that newspaper had to say.  Virginia followed her advice and duly wrote the letter.  Mr. Church wrote the reply to the letter which appeared on September 21, 1897 in the New York Sun.

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. ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The Messiah on Mott Street

Every now and then, God remembers the tenements.

Buckner, The Messiah on Mott Street

 

 

In my early teen years I was a fan of Rod Serling’s anthology series Night Gallery.  Usually consisting of tales of  horror, on December 15, 1971 something different was broadcast for Christmas.  Edward G. Robinson gives a moving performance of the eternal Jewish longing for the Messiah, and how, whether we realize it or not, we are always in God’s hands.  The episode may be viewed here.

 

Who’s the Messiah? He’s the messenger from God. Any moment he will appear, looming big and black against the sky, striking down our enemies and lifting us up to health and wealth and Heavenly contentment… and fix our digestions, too. And supply me with a new set of teeth.

Abraham Goldman (Edward G. Robinson), The Messiah on Mott Street

Linus, and Saint Luke, Say It All

As an explanation of why we celebrate Christmas each year, the above video is superb and concise.

The words of Linus are of course taken from the Gospel of Saint Luke:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them,

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Theodore Roosevelt and the Christmas Tree

Santa Roosevelt 2

In the actual world a churchless community, a community where men have abandoned and scoffed at or ignored their religious needs, is a community on the rapid downgrade.

Theodore Roosevelt, 1917 interview Ladies Home Journal-Among his ten reasons to go to church every Sunday

 

 

 

Colonel Roosevelt, he hated being called Teddy and preferred being called Colonel, loved Christmas.  Whenever he was at home he would always appear at the local school in his home town as Santa, to dispense gifts he bought to the local kids, a fact highlighted in his local paper after he died:

He was a village institution as the master of ceremonies over the Christmas tree in Christ Episcopal Church, and in the role of Santa Claus at the Cove Neck School, near Sagamore Hill, where all of his children learned the A B C’s. Last Christmas was the first time that Colonel Roosevelt had failed to take charge of these functions since he left the White House, with the exception of the Christmas of 1913, when he was on his way to South America. His son, Captain Archie, took his place last Christmas as the Santa Claus of the Cove Neck School.

Roosevelt was a religious man with a deep love of the Bible and a strong faith in Christ.  It therefore comes as a surprise to learn that Roosevelt initially did not want a Christmas tree in the White House after he became President.

Matt Archbold at National Catholic Register brings us this story about President Roosevelt and the Christmas Tree:

President Theodore Roosevelt, an avowed environmentalist, banned Christmas trees from the White House during his presidency. The president was against real Christmas trees because he feared that Christmas trees would lead to deforestation. Mind you, at the time Christmas trees were very controversial with environmentalists. President William McKinley even reportedly received a letter in 1899 saying Christmas trees were “arboreal infanticide” and “un-American.”

Roosevelt’s action was intended to inspire Americans to just say no to Christmas trees. Clearly his bully pulpit didn’t have the effect he wanted, even on his own children.

In 1902, Roosevelt’s two youngest sons, Archie and Quentin, went outside and cut down a smallish tree right there on the White House grounds, snuck back into the White House, and hid it in a closet. The two boys decorated the tree in secret and even enlisted the help of an electrician on staff at the White House to help decorate it with lights. When Christmas morning came, Archie gathered his family outside the closet, turned on the switch, and opened the door to reveal the tree decorated with gifts for the entire family.

Roosevelt acknowledged the event in a letter in which he wrote:

Yesterday Archie got among his presents a small rifle from me and a pair of riding boots from his mother. He won’t be able to use the rifle until next summer, but he has gone off very happy in the riding boots for a ride on the calico pony Algonquin, the one you rode the other day. Yesterday morning at a quarter of seven all the children were up and dressed and began to hammer at the door of their mother’s and my room, in which their six stockings, all bulging out with queer angles and rotundities, were hanging from the fireplace. So their mother and I got up, shut the window, lit the fire (taking down the stockings of course), put on our wrappers and prepared to admit the children. But first there was a surprise for me, also for their good mother, for Archie had a little birthday tree of his own which he had rigged up with the help of one of the carpenters in a big closet; and we all had to look at the tree and each of us got a present off of it. There was also one present each for Jack the dog, Tom Quartz the kitten, and Algonquin the pony, whom Archie would no more think of neglecting that I would neglect his brothers and sisters. Then all the children came into our bed and there they opened their stockings.

According to the website White House Christmas Cards Teddy was “amused by his boys’ ingenuity” but took him to see his friend and environmental advisor, Gifford Pinchot, to explain to horrors of chopping down Christmas trees. But a funny thing happened.

To his surprise, Pinchot went into a lengthy explanation regarding how sometimes, cutting down some larger trees was in the best interests of forests, as it allowed a larger number of smaller young trees to receive the sunlight they need to flourish. While there is no public record of any other Christmas tree being displayed in the White House during Roosevelt’s presidency, a number of environmental acts and reforestation laws had been passed by the end of his term, and the public controversy over the use of live trees for decorative and traditional use had subsided for the time being.

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Keeping Wounded Vets Safe From Christmas Cards

Obama Deity

 

 

The madness and silliness that is the Obama administration continues apace.  Father Z gives us the details:

From FNC (where there is also video):

Boys and girls at Grace Academy in Prosper, Tex., spent most of last Friday making homemade Christmas cards for bedridden veterans at the VA hospital in Dallas. Fourth-grader Gracie Brown was especially proud of her card, hoping it would “make their day because their family might live far away, and they might not have somebody to celebrate Christmas with.” “I’d like them to know they’ve not been forgotten and somebody wanted to say thank you,” Gracie told Gracie’s card read, “Merry Christmas. Thank you for your service.” It also included an American flag. But the bedridden veterans at the VA hospital will never get to see Gracie’s card. Nor will they see the cards made by 51 other students. [Get this…] That’s because the Christmas cards violated VA policy. “It really didn’t occur to me there would be a problem with distributing Christmas cards,” said Susan Chapman, a math teacher at the academy. [Nor would most normal people think that children’s cards for Christmas were double-plus-ungood in the eyes of the Obama Administration.] She’s married to a veteran and volunteers with the American Legion and other veterans’ organizations. On Monday morning the boys and girls were planning on hand delivering the cards to the wounded veterans. [I’ll be the vets would have liked that.] Chapman called the hospital to make final arrangements and that’s when she learned there was a problem. “I told him my students made cards, we’d like to bring them down for the veterans,” Chapman told the television station. “And he said, ‘That’s great. We’re thrilled to have them, except the only thing is, we can’t accept anything that says ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘God bless you’ or any scriptural references because of all the red tape.’[VA: GOD NOT ALLOWED.] A VA official quoted the policy which is in the Veterans Health Administration handbook: “In order to be respectful of our veterans’ religious beliefs, all donated holiday cards are reviewed by a multi-disciplinary team of staff led by chaplaincy services and determined if they are appropriate (non-religious) to freely distribute to patients. We regret this process was not fully explained to this group and apologize for any misunderstanding.” Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for Liberty Institute, said it was a new low “even for the Scrooges and Grinches at the VA.” “Targeting the benevolent work of little children for censorship is disgusting,” Sasser told me. “Do the Grinches in the administration of the VA really believe our bravest warriors need protection from the heartfelt well wishes of small children saying Merry Christmas?” [No, its the Obama mandarins who cannot bear that any views smacking of religion be permitted in the public square.  This is all of a piece.] Andrea Brown, Gracie’s mom, was dumbfounded by the news. “This wasn’t the country I grew up in, when you couldn’t say ‘Merry Christmas,’ you couldn’t say ‘God bless you’ or reference any scripture,” she told MyFoxDFW.com. She told the television station the boys and girls were heartbroken that the military personnel would not be able to receive their cards. “They couldn’t believe the people that these people they wanted to honor weren’t going to get the chance to see what they had done,” she said. The cards will not be thrown away — they are being shipped to Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio and to a private facility for veterans in Louisiana. Sasser said at some point, “does the VA have no shame?” “Mr. Potter from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ wouldn’t even ban little children from wishing our veterans Merry Christmas,” Sasser said.  [But this is Mr. Obama’s VA.] ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Something for a Christmas weekend.   Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  Written by Charles Wesley in 1739, the hymn we enjoy today developed and changed over a century with input from many hands.  No hymn I think better exemplifies the sheer joy that the coming of Christ should awake in the hearts of all Christians. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Larry’s First Christmas in Heaven

Larry McClarey

But, as it is written: That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.

1 Corinthians 2:9

I am choking back tears as I post this.  Some very kind anonymous person left a package on our porch that had a framed copy of a poem in it:

I see the countless Christmas trees around the world below

With tiny lights like Heaven’s stars reflecting the snow.

The sight is so spectacular- please wipe away the tear

For I’m spending Christmas with Jesus this year.

I hear the many Christmas songs that people hold so dear

But the sound of music can’t compare with the Christmas choir up here

I have no words to tell you the joys their voices bring

For it’s beyond description to hear the angels sing

I know how much you miss me, I see the pain inside your heart

But I am not so far away, we really aren’t apart.

So be happy for me dear ones you know I hold you dear

And be glad I’m spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.

I sent you each a special gift for my heavenly home above,

I sent you each a memory of my undying love.

After all love is a gift more precious than pure gold. I

t was always most important in the stories Jesus told.

Please love and keep each other as my Father said to do.

For I can’t count the blessing of love he has for each of you.

So have a merry Christmas and wipe away that tear.

Remember I am spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.

 The poem was written by Wanda Bencke.  Her 13 year old  daughter Lysandra Kay Bencke had cerebral palsy.  She had a seizure and went into a coma on Christmas Day, 1997, and died five days later.  During those awful five days her mother wrote the poem.

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One Solitary Life

All the armies that have ever marched

All the navies that have ever sailed

All the parliaments that have ever sat

All the kings that ever reigned put together

  Have not affected the life of mankind on earth

As powerfully as that one solitary life

From One Solitary Life

I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.

H. G. Wells →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

A Proclamation

 

The twenty-fifth day of December.

In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth;

the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood;

the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;

the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt;

the one thousand and thirty-second year from David’s being anointed king;

in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;

in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;

the forty second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;

the whole world being at peace,

in the sixth age of the world,

Jesus Christ the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,

desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,

being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception,

was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary, being made flesh. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Washington At Prayer

There is an old tradition that Washington prayed in the snow at Valley Forge on Christmas Day 1777.  Certainly the wretched condition of the Continental Army in December of 1777, with a hungry winter beginning, would have driven commanders less pious than Washington to their knees.  However, Washington was pious and prayed every day.

The tradition rests on this account of the Reverend Nathaniel Randolph Snowden, a Presbyterian Minister in Philadelphia who lived from 1770-1851 and who wrote the following: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The Bishop’s Wife

Continuing our look at Advent and Christmas movies:  The Bishop’s Wife from 1947.    David Niven is an Episcopalian Bishop of a struggling diocese;  Loretta Young (ironically one of the more devout Catholics in the Hollywood of her time) is his wife;  and Cary Grant is Dudley, one of the more unimportant angels in Heaven, sent by God to lend the Bishop a hand.  The film is a graceful comedy which effectively and quietly underlines the central importance of faith in God as we see in this little scene:

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The True Meaning of Christmas

A Charlie Brown Christmas was first broadcast in 1965 on CBS.  I was 8 years old and I was stunned at the time by the passage of Linus quoting the Gospel of Luke in explaining the true meaning of Christmas.  Apparently CBS executives wanted to cut this passage out, but Charles Schulz, normally a fairly non-confrontational man, was adamant that it remain in.

That was the most important battle Schulz waged and won over this first of the Charlie Brown specials, but there were many others.  The CBS executives wanted a laugh track, they didn’t like using kid voice actors instead of adult voice actors and they thought that the jazz music throughout the show was too unusual for what they perceived as a show for kids.  When the show was finished the executives were horrified and thought they had a major flop on their hands. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

One Solitary Life

All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life

From One Solitary Life

I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.

H. G. Wells →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Santa Roosevelt

Santa Roosevelt

Death had to take him in his sleep, for if he was awake there’d have been a fight.

Thomas R. Marshall, Vice President of the United States, on hearing of the death of Theodore Roosevelt

 

One of his worst enemies once said about Theodore Roosevelt that a man would have to hate him a lot not to like him a little.  It was hard not to admire Roosevelt for his courage, his enthusiasm and his obvious good will.  That last aspect of his character is illustrated by the fact that for many years he would go to Cove School at Oyster Bay dressed as Santa Claus, talk to the kids, and give them presents he had purchased out of his own pocket.  When he did it in 1898, after achieving renown leading his Rough Riders in Cuba, the little boys at the school mobbed their Santa hero!  →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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