Sunday, November 30, 2008

From Dec. 2004 column

There’s a lot of debate lately about “keeping Christ in Christmas.” Some people are dead set against saying “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas,” because they think “Happy Holidays” is too politically correct. The irony is that people started saying “Happy Holidays” in order to avoid offending people, but now, all kinds of people are terribly offended when you do say it.

I loved one Christian editorial writer’s point of view. He actually thought that we SHOULD take Jesus out of Christmas, because Christmas has become a shameless exercise in materialism and commercialism. This writer thought that we should just let it be the shallow, selfish thing-fest that it has become and make Easter more Spiritual, and focus on Jesus’ birth, ministry, passion, and resurrection all in the Spring. His point was that it was sacrilegious how blatantly we exploit Jesus’ birth in December.

That may be a little culturally extreme. I’d rather just wish people a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays interchangeably and not worry about who’s offended or who’s not. Why apologize for a good thing? Just because you don’t believe in a good thing, that doesn’t make it a bad thing.

I’m sure that if you shared any of the following greetings, someone, somewhere would probably be offended; Congratulations on your new baby. Way to go on passing that exam! How d’ya like your new car? I’m so relieved that you’re feeling better.

But in the interest of Holiday understanding, allow me to take you on a quick Christmastime tour:

Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of lights. "Hanukkah " is Hebrew for "dedication.” The first evening of Hanukkah starts after the sunset of the 24th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev.
Greek invaders wanted to stop Israelis from worshiping the true God, they wanted them to worship their gods instead. A Jewish family, the Maccabees, defeated an overwhelming enemy, and rededicated the Temple.

After the occupiers had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees took down the pagan statues and restore the Temple. They needed ritually purified olive oil to light a Menorah to rededicate the Temple. However, they found only enough oil for a single day. They decided to use it until they could get new oil purified. Miraculously, the one day’s oil burned for the eight days that it took them to press new oil and ceremonially bless and present it. That’s why Jews light one candle each night of the eight-day festival.

Kwanzaa is a celebration of life, family, and community based on the principles of African culture. Kwanzaa was established in aftermath of the Watts Riots, provoked by cases of police brutality. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Ron Everett, a professor at California State University, Long Beach. Everett wanted to preserve, continually revitalize and promote American culture through African rituals.

Kwanzaa celebrated by some African Americans for a week between December 26 and January 1. It’s not a religious holiday, but a cultural one, based on various elements of “first harvest” celebrations celebrated in Africa. “Kwanza” is Swahili for “first fruits. Each of the days symbolizes one of the Seven Principles: Unity, Self-determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith.

Back in my hometown of Phoenix, luminaries mark the route from house to house. Luminaries are small candles sitting in paper sacks filled with sand. In Mexico and parts of the Southwest, “Las Posadas” are nightly processions enacted the nine nights before Christmas. Each night, children dressed as Mary, Joseph, and shepherds knock on neighbors’ doors, singing a ritual song that begs entrance to the posada (inn), only to be turned away. Grown ups dressed as the Devil chase the children with sparklers and roman candles. On Christmas Eve, “El Bueno Noche” (the good night) the family at the last house sing a welcome song, and the whole parade enters for a party with fruit punch, tamales and piñatas.

And of course Clark W. Griswald (Chevy Chase), was the first American to light his house up like an airport runway so that Santa Claus could tell where to bring the presents. And so that the hoards of Vikings could know where the credit card customer lived, so they could bring the devastatingly high interest rates.

But, yes, the most important festival of lights will be the one that sheds light on the true meaning of Christmas. So may I suggest that the family that prays together, stays together. And a “Christian Nation” begins at home. Instead of worrying about how “un-Christian” Christmas seems to be getting, why not make your own Christmas a little more Spiritual and a little less superficial. Why not start reading devotions and praying nightly during the festival of Advent.

Advent means “coming.” It is a season when we prepare for Jesus’ arrival. There are five candles in an advent wreath. 3 purple or blue, and one pink, and one white. Purple symbolizes both His royalty and our repentance.

It is a circle, which has no beginning and no end. Pine is used because it is "evergreen," also representing eternal life. However, the wreath is also foreshadowing of Christ's passion. Pine needles and/or holly leaves represent the crown of thorns and holly berries and/or poinsettia flowers represent the blood He shed on the cross.

The first violet candle is the “Prophets candle” and symbolizes the hope that Old Testament Jews had that a Messiah would one day come.

The second violet candle is the “Bethlehem” candle and represents the peace that the new God/Man savior would bring, ending the long spiritual rift between God and mankind.

The pink candle is the “Angels’” candle (or in some traditions, the “Mary” candle) it symbolizes the joy of Heaven that a Savior was finally to be born.

The last violet candle is the “Shepherds’” candle and represents the love or adoration of those ready to accept the gift of the Christ child.

The large white candle in the center, often lit on Christmas or Christmas Eve is the “Christ Candle” and represents Jesus as the “Light of the world,” or the Epiphany, God on Earth.

I hope this column was enlightening. Merry Christmas.

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