December 17, 2023
So this is it. Christmas is here. As a young man, before I was married, Christmas shopping meant that after we got the chores done in the morning on Christmas Eve, a bunch of us brothers piled into the car and went Christmas shopping. People made fun of us, especially the early birds who boasted of being done Christmas shopping in October at the latest. There were also those who chided us because Christmas shopping was supposed to be a year round event where each gift was to be carefully thought out and purchased (or made) with great care especially for that individual.
Each his own. But there was something special about our tradition of Christmas Eve shopping. The shops were always full of happy-go-lucky people. There were always plenty of just-the-right-gifts for just-the-right-person. Half the fun of shopping on Christmas Eve was the weather and the coffee and/or hot chocolate and the food. It was always fast food but it was always the best! Sometimes it was balmy and warm for December in Wisconsin. Sometimes it was blisteringly cold and windy. I remember one Christmas Eve in particular when it was snowing all day - we probably got 6 inches of snow that day. It was great fun spinning our wheels around in the snow going from place to place or running from one shop on the square to the next. I remember the bells jingling on the doors as we opened them, stomping off our shoes in the entry, and then shopping for the perfect gift. To some, this last-minute method of shopping seemed ridiculous and careless. To us it was Christmas and in my mind, holds a special place in my special Christmas memories.
Later, when I became older and more responsible, my wife and I went Christmas shopping together usually between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those also were fun traditions and great memories. The joy of knowing the thrill each child would have when they opened their gifts on Christmas morning just added to the fun of it all. Those shopping escapades also included hot coffee and warm dinners in cozy, low-lit restaurants all decked out in Christmas cheer.
Nowadays, a major portion of our Christmas shopping is done online and includes my wife carefully thinking through each gift and the person it’s intended for and their personality and everything else. Then I get called over to the screen to give my opinion. Then she hits “purchase” and it’s done - except for the tracking and excitement of the delivery. This year we were gone for a few days during the Christmas rush. The delivery truck was dropping packages every day on our front step. My nephew collected them for us, stacked them in the garage, took a picture, and declared: “This year I’m doing my Christmas shopping in your garage.” Funny guy.
Some fun Christmas facts gleaned from social media …
The custom of bringing evergreens into the home began in the 16th century among northern and eastern Europeans, primarily Germans, as a means of cleaning up the Christmas tree and making it more uniform. Instead of throwing out cut-off greens, people wove the excess into wreaths.
“Jingle Bells” was originally a Thanksgiving song. Turns out, we first started dashing through the snow for an entirely different holiday. James Lord Pierpont wrote the song called "One Horse Open Sleigh" for his church's Thanksgiving concert in the mid-19th century. Then in 1857, the song was re-released under the title we all know and love and it's still among the most popular Christmas songs today.
Astronauts broadcast "Jingle Bells" from space. Nine days before Christmas in 1965, astronauts Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford aboard the Gemini 6 told Mission Control that they saw an "unidentified flying object" about to enter Earth's atmosphere, traveling in the polar orbit from north to south. Just as things got tense, they interrupted the broadcast with “Jingle Bells,” as Wally played a small harmonica accompanied by Tom shaking a handful of small sleigh bells.
"Silent Night" is the most recorded Christmas song. We all know the same few handfuls of Christmas songs played at stores and on the radio in a loop all season long. But "Silent Night" is actually the most-recorded Christmas song in history. It's had more than 733 different versions copyrighted since 1978.
Celebrating Christmas used to be illegal. From 1659 to 1681, anyone caught making merry in the colonies would face a fine for celebrating. The Massachusetts Bay Colony created the Penalty for Keeping Christmas. It was thought that "such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other countries" and were "a great dishonor of God and offense of others. The penalty for breaking the law was five shillings.
85% of Americans celebrate Christmas. Not all of those who partake in Christmas celebrate the religious aspects of the holiday, but you can bet that come December 25 most people are opening up presents under the tree.
About 51% of American adults attend a religious service on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
Christmas cards (literally) - During World War II, the United States Playing Card Company joined forces with American and British intelligence agencies to create a very special deck of cards. They distributed them as Christmas gifts to soldiers, but they also helped Allied prisoners of war escape from German POW camps. When wet, individual cards peeled apart to reveal maps of escape routes.
Finally, I invite you to dwell on this for a spell … St. Augustine, in A.D. 411 or 412 wrote this about the incarnation (God made flesh) of our Lord: “The maker of man, he was made man, so that the director of the stars might be a babe at the breast; that bread might be hungry, and the fountain thirsty; that the light might sleep, and the way be weary from a journey; that the truth might be accused by false witnesses, and the judge of the living and the dead be judged by a mortal judge; that justice might be convicted by the unjust, and discipline be scourged with whips; that the cluster of grapes might be crowned with thorns, and the foundation be hung up on a tree; that strength might grow weak, eternal health [might] be wounded, life [might] die.”
Merry Christmas everyone! See you next year!
(Kevin Cernek is Lead Pastor of Martintown Community Church in Martintown, Wisconsin).