Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Donal Mahoney writes

Christmastime in America

You see the oddest things 
at Christmastime in America.
The bigger the city, 
the stranger the sights.
I was driving downtown 
to buy gifts for the family 
and enjoying bouquets
of beautiful people
bundled in big coats
and colorful scarves
clustered on corners,
shopping in good cheer
amid petals of snow 
dancing in the sun. 

One of them, however,
a beautiful young lady,
had stopped to take issue 
with an old woman in a shawl
picketing Planned Parenthood.
The old woman was riding
on a motor scooter 
designed for the elderly.
She held a sign bigger
than she was and kept
motoring back and forth
as resolute as my aunt
who had been renowned 
for protesting any injustice.
Saving seals in the Antarctic 
had been very important to her.

On this day, however, 
the beautiful young lady
who had taken issue
with the old woman  
was livid and screaming.
She marched behind 
the motor scooter and 
yelled at the old woman 
who appeared oblivious
to all the commotion.
Maybe she was deaf,
I thought, like my aunt.
That can be an advantage
at a time like this.

The letters on the sign were huge
but I couldn't read them
so I drove around the block
and found a spot at the curb.

It turned out the sign said,
"What might have happened
if Mary of Nazareth 
had been pro-choice?"
Now I understood 
why the young lady
was ranting and raving
and why the old woman
kept motoring to and fro.
At Christmastime in America
people get excited,
more so than usual.

When I got home 
I hid my packages 
and told my wife at supper
what I had seen.
I also told her that if Mary 
had chosen otherwise,
I wouldn't have had 
to go shopping today.
That's obvious, she said. 

Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus at the town of David called Bethlehem. Luke 2:1-7 -- Simon Dewey


  1. You got me thinking too 😁 Merry Christmas!

  2. Christmas ("Christ's Mass") is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus. The name is derived from the Ango-Saxon "Cristesmæsse," a phrase first recorded in 1038; "Christ" is from "Khristos," the Greek translation of the Hebrew "Māšîaḥ" (anointed), while "mas" is from the Latin "missa," the celebration of the Eucharist. Christmas is sometimes abbreviated as Xmas, based on the initial letter X (chi) in Greek. It is most commonly held on 25 December of the Gregorian calendar used almost universally in most countries' civil dating systems and has become an integral part of the holiday season even among many non-Christian peoples. However, some Eastern churches (including the Orthodox Church in America) still celebrate Christmas on the 25 December of the older Julian calendar, which would be 7 January in the Gregorian calendar (the day after the Western church celebration of the Epiphany (Jesus' baptism by John the baptist), which is 9 months after the Macedonian calendar's Passover; the Armenian church celebrates Epiphany as the birth of Jesus, but the Armenian patriarchate of Jerusalem conflates Christmas with the Epiphany while still retaining the Julian calendar, so "Theophany" is on the Gregorian 19 January). The Coptic church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church celebrate on January 7 or 8 because their calendar inserts a leap day in September. Jehovah's Witnesses reject its celbration, and various Protestant groups have banned it: the Scottish parliament abolished its observance from 1640 to 1690, and it did not again become a public holiday in Scotland until 1958; England's Puritan rulers abolished Christmas in 1647, but Charles II reintroduced it when the monarchy was restored in 1660; it was prohibited in Boston from 1659 to 1681 and not fashionable until the mid-19th century. Though Christmas continued to be popular in the other parts of British North America, it fell out of favor after the American Revolution, when it was considered an English custom; Washington Irving began the revival of interest in 1820 with his "Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.", and in 1870 it was formally declared an American federal holiday.

  3. The earliest known Christian festivals corresponded with Jewish holidays, especially Passover (14 Nisan), according to the local calendar, and all the major events of Jesus' life (including his conception, birth, and crucifixion) were celebrated then. In the Greek-speaking areas of the Roman empire, where the Macedonian calendar was used, Passover was on 6 April, while in the Latin-speaking areas it was 25 March; but in 165, pope Soter created Easter by moving the celebration of Jesus' resurrection to a Sunday, and thus the crucifixion on Good Friday, a Jewish sabbath. Although the year, month, and date of Jesus' birth are unknown, in 221, Sextus Julius Africanus considered 25 March as the conception of Jesus, thus implying a December birth, and Hippolytus of Rome, the most important 3rd-century theologian, identified 25 December as the day of nativity. Irenaeus and Tertullian omitted Christmas from their lists of feasts, and in 245 Origen of Alexandria wrote that only sinners, not saints, celebrated their birthdays, while in 303 Arnobius ridiculed the idea of celebrating the birthdays of gods, so Christmas does not seem to have been celebrated yet. The Donatist heretics of North Africa celebrated Christmas, so perhaps the feast was already established by 311. The first recorded Christmas celebration was in Roma in 336, and it was introduced to the Eastern Roman Empire as part of the revival of Nicene Christianity after the death of the pro-Arian emperor Valens in in 378; it was introduced at Constantinopolis in 379 and in Antioch in 380, but disappeared there after Gregory of Nazianzus resigned as bishop in 381.

  4. By the early-to-mid 4th century the Catholic church had decided on 25 December (though 6 January celebrations seem to have also continued until after 380); the Orthodox churches already celebrated Jesus' birth and baptism on 6 January, but John Chrysostom established 25 December in Antioch in 388 when he reintroduced a separate Christmas feast, and Alexandria did not follow suit until the next century. Various dates (including 2 January, 25 March [the vernal equinox], 28 March, 18 or 19 April, 20 May, and 17 or 20 November), had been suggested, but 25 December was the date the Romans marked as the winter solstice, with a celebration of the sun god Sol Invictus, and they had a series of pagan festivals near the end of the year, so Christmas may have been scheduled at this time to appropriate, or compete with, one or more of these festivals; it certainly includes elements of the Roman feast of the Saturnalia and the birthday of Mithra as described in the Roman cult of Mithraism. (However, in 274 emperor Aurelian instituted the holiday of the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the birthday of the sun god, perhaps to give pagan significance to a date that was already important to Christians.) Various Biblical passages linked Jesus to solar symbolism (for instance, John called him "the light of the world" and Malachi prophesied that "Unto you shall the sun of righteousness arise, and healing is in his wings"). According to St. Augustine, Jesus chose to be born on the winter solstice, "the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase." And it is exactly nine months after Annunciation, the 25 March (spring equinox) celebration of Jesus' conception, a holiday created in the 7th century. The Council of Tours in 567 declared the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany to be one unified festal cycle, "Christmastide." The 40 days before Christmas used to be known as the "forty days of St. Martin" since they began on 11 November, the feast of St. Martin of Tours, now known as Advent, and in Italy former Saturnalian traditions, such as gift-giving, were also attached to Advent, but ca. the 12th century, these traditions were transferred to Christmastide. In some Christian traditions Christmastide, like Easter, includes an Octave, an eight-day festal period commencing with the feast itself.

  5. The Anglo-Saxons and other Germanic groups referred to the feast as "midwinter," and their Geola (Yule) referred to the period corresponding to December and January, which was equated with Christmas after the introduction of Cristianity. In the late 14th century "Noel" (or "Nowel") entered English usage from the Old French "noël" or "naël," derived from Latin "nātālis diēs," (birth day). To Medieval Christians, the Epiphany celebrations, which focused on the visit of the magi, were far more important than Christmas, which was often a raucous, drunken, carnival-like affair, but by the late 19th-century they had evolved into tamer, family-oriented and children-centered occasions. The earliest specifically Christmas-themed hymns appeared in 4th-century Roma in opposition to Arianism. In the 9th and 10th centuries, the Christmas "Sequence" or "Prose" was introduced in North European monasteries, developing under Bernard of Clairvaux into a sequence of rhymed stanzas. Nativity scenes began appearing in 10th-century Roma. In the 12th century the Parisian monk Adam of St. Victor began to derive music from popular songs. By the 13th century, under the influence of St. Francis of Asissi, a strong tradition of popular Christmas songs in the native language developed, as well as nativity scenes. The first mention of English Christmas carols appeared in a 1426 work of John Awdlay, who listed 25 of them, probably sung by groups of wassailers who went from house to house. Martin Luther began the modern Christmas tree tradition in the 16th century, though German pagans had long included a reverence of trees in their myths and rituals; in the 7th century the missionary St. Boniface took an axe to an oak tree dedicated to Thor but praised a fir tree as a more fitting object of reverence because it pointed to heaven and it had a triangular shape symbolic of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, God the holy spirit). In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore wrote "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (popularly known by its first line: "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"). William Sandys' 1833 "Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern" began the revival of these songs, including the first appearance in print of "The First Noel," "I Saw Three Ships," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." In 1843, the first commercial Christmas card was produced by Sir Henry Cole. Beginning in 1863, American cartoonist Thomas Nast annually drew the new American invention, Santa Claus, which soon influenced the depiction of traditional, often interchangeable, figures such as Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, Père Noël, the Weihnachtsmann, Kris Kringle, Joulupukki, the tomte, Babbo Natale, La Befana, St. Basil, Ded Moroz, Ježíšek, Jézuska, Ježiško, and Christkindl, who are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season and have their own body of traditions and lore; in some Latin American countries, Santa makes the toys and gives them to the Baby Jesus, who delivers them to the children's homes.

  6. The modern consensus is that Jesus was probably born ca. 6 to 4 BC (meaning that he was born some years before the birth of Christ), and events surrouning his birth seem to point to a spring date rather than one in the winter. The Julian and Gregorian calendars both used the terms "anno Domini" (Medieval Latin for "in the year of the Lord" and "before Christ" to label years. Around 400 the Alexandrian monk Annianus placed the Annunciation on what we would call 25 March AD 9 in the Julian calendar, a system that was often used during the early centuries of the Byzantine empire (and still is in Ethiopia); he dated the creation of the world to "25 March 5492 BC," though later Byzantine chroniclers decided on "1 September 5509 BC;" Eusebius of Caesarea began his dating system with the birth of Abraham, "2016 BC;" Spain and Portugal continued to date by the Era of the Caesars, which began in 38 BC, and Portugal did not adopt the AD system until 1422, the last Catholic country to do so. The church of Alexandria used the Era of Martyrs system, which numbered years from 284, the accession of Diocletian, the emperor who launched the last and most severe persecution of Christians; it was used by the Ethiopian church and still is by the Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholic churches. Another system was to date from the crucifixion of Jesus, which Hippolytus and Tertullian believed to have occurred in 29.

  7. Dionysius Exiguus of Scythia Minor introduced AD system in 525 to enumerate the years in his Easter table to replace the Diocletian enumeration, which was based on the names of the annual consulates. The last year of the old table, Diocletian 247, was immediately followed by the first year of his new one, AD 532. (Justinian I appointed the last consul in 541; beginning with Constans II in 641, the emperors were themselves appointed consuls on the first 1 January after their accession, and all of them except Justinian used consular years as well as their regnal years to name their calendar years; the practice was not formally abolished until 888.) The "Gospel of Luke" stated that Jesus was "about thirty years old" shortly after "the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar," so Dionysus probably just subtracted 30 years from that date, or he may have counted back the 532 years that the Easter dates were held on 25 March in Alexandria. Unfortunately, the consular year began on 1 January but the Diocletian year began on 29 August (or 30 August in the year before a Julian leap year), summations of emperors' regnal years were often confused, and the lists of consuls were inaccurate. The Anglo-Saxon historian the Venerable Bede used AD dating in his 731 "Ecclesiastical History of the English People," and, in effect, he introduced the BC nomenclature as well (though he used the awkward Latin term, "anno igitur ante incarnationem Dominicam" (so in the year before the Incarnation of the Lord); both Dionysius and Bede regarded Anno Domini as beginning at the incarnation of Jesus, and the distinction between his inception and nativity was not drawn until the late 9th century. However, the AD system was not widely used until after 800 (about the same time that Christmas itself began to be prominently celebrated, due to Charlemagne's coronation as Holy Roman emperor on that date). Charlemagne promoted its usage throughout his realm due to the efforts of Alcuin, though popes continued to date documents according to regnal years; AD became more common outside the empire from the 11th to the 14th centuries. Russia finally abandoned the Byzantine calendar in 1700, but other Eastern Orthodox countries only began to adopt the AD system in the 19th and 20th centuries.

  8. The BC system was much slower to become standard; it was not until 1627 that French Jesuit theologian Denis Pétau (Dionysius Petavius) popularized it (though he still used the Latin equivalent "ante Christum"). Even with the adoption of the basic framework, however, various jurisdictions used different Christian feast days to begin the year (usually Annunciation, Easter, or Christmas,although 1 March, and 1 September were also used), so a date for the same event could span over 3 separte years; one "Annunciation" style (based on the inception of Jesus, or 1 BC, appeared in Arles at the end of the 9th century and spread to Burgundy and northern Italy , though it was not commonly used, even though it survived in Pisa until 1750; another "Annunciation" style (based on nativity, or AD 1, may have originated in Fleury Abbey in the early 11th century, but it was spread by the Cistercians throughout France (and was adopted in Florence in opposition to Pisa) and was common in England from the late 12th century until 1752; the Easter style was bound to a moveable feast introduced in France by Philip Augustus in the 13th century, probably to differentiate the provinces reconquered from England, but it never spread beyond the ruling élite; the Christmas style was introduced by Bede and used in France, England, and most of western Europe (except Spain) until the 12th century (when it was replaced by one of the Annunciation styles), and in Germany until the second quarter of the 13th century. Although 1 January had been the beginning of a new year in Roma since ca. 713 BC, it was not until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1582 (only in Catholic countries at first) that it began to be standard. (Since 1856, the alternative abbreviations CE [Common Era] and BCE have sometimes been used in place of AD and BC to avoid secular connotation. Because both methods lack a year between 1 BC and AD 1, the astronomical year designates AD 1 as "1," 1 BC as "0," and 2 BC as "-1"), but the ancient dates are expressed in the Julian calendar.)


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