Issue 343 – ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – December 10, 2016
Lest I forget, let me say to all of you that Peggy and I wish for our family and our friends, as well as our followers around the world, a blessed Christmas Day.
In this issue, I just want to share some Christmas-related poems, essays and cartoons. Happy reading.
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
(aka “A Visit from St. Nicholas “)
[A copy of the first publication of this poetic account of a child’s happy visit from St. Nicholas in the Troy (NY) Sentinel (1823) is reprinted and analyzed by English literature scholar MacDonald P. Jackson on the InterMedia Enterprises website. While authorship credit is debatable, some experts agree that the original poem was the work of a Mr. Henry Livingston (according to the Huffington Post).
[A later publication attributes the poem to writer Clement Clark Moore, who claimed to have written it in 1822. Unbeknownst to Moore, the poem was published anonymously in a newspaper in upstate New York in December 1823. Additionally, Moore, who was a professor of Oriental and Greek literature at General Theological Seminary in New York City, is thought to have written “A Visit from St. Nicholas” for his children, without any intention of publishing it. He first published it under his name in 1844 after others tried to take credit for it. So . . . the true authorship is debatable.
[Note: the following version is a modern English version, whereas the original was written in somewhat archaic English.]
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
On, COMET! on CUPID! on, DONDER and BLITZEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”
Santa Claus: Man or Myth?
by Stan Paregien Sr.
Here is the story of one man’s answer to be the classic childhood question as to whether Santa Claus is real or not. It is not the only answer, of course, and there are some who raise legitimate concerns about problems an answer like this might cause to children as they grow older. However, those issues are for another occasion. Right now we go back more than 100 years in time to see how one man dealt with the issue.
In September of 1897, a little girl wrote a letter to Mr. Francis P. Church, the editor of the New York Sun newspaper. She asked him to please answer an important question for her. And, after considering her dilemma for some time, on September 21, 1897, Mr. Church published the little girl’s question and gave his answer.
Here is what the little girl named Virginia wrote:
“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 [newspaper], it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus? — Virginia O’Hanlon, 115 West Ninety Fifth Street”
What the editor, Mr. Church, told her has become the most widely reprinted newspaper editorial in the entire English speaking world. It is an established part of Christmas folklore in many parts of the world. Here is what he said:
“Viginia, 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 external 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 you 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 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, 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 more real and abiding.
“No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
You may be interested to learn that young Virginia O’Hanlon later earned a doctorate degree and spent her life teaching and serving as a school administrator. She died at the age of 81. Mr. Church, the newspaper editor, died in 1906 at the age of 67.
So far this editorial written in 1897 by Mr. Church is the only one ever set to music. That happened in 1932 when NBC radio commissioned and broadcasted a “Yes, Virginia” cantata set to classical music. On Dec. 8, 1991 a made-for-TV movie titled, “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus” was shown. It starred actors Richard Thomas (“John Boy Walton” in the TV series “The Waltons”), Ed Asner and tough-guy Charles Bronson.
In fact, the expression “Yes, Virginia, There Is A . . . ” has become a common way of saying that a certain thing or person is real and does exist. Such as, “Yes, Virginia, there is an honest politician.” Well, okay, that may not be the best example but you catch my drift.
There remains the deeper question of how or when children should be properly educated about such “make-believe” characters as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny Rabbit, and fairies tiptoeing through the tulips. One rather sarcastic and know-it-all eleven year old told a questioning younger child, “Aw, heck. Santa Claus is just like the Devil. He is your old man.”
That is probably not the best approach.
Here is a better one, especially when they suspect that their mom or dad is really Santa Claus. Just relax and be honest with them. Here is my general letter to kids about ol’ Santa, a letter that would be appropriate for most families:
“You may be wondering whether Santa Claus is a real person under that red hat and long, white beard. Well, let me help you understand.
“First, your mom and dad are not Santa Claus. Oh, yes, they are the ones who shop for your gifts, pay for them, wrap them and put them under your Christmas tree. After all, a fat Santa couldn’t drag a big bag of gifts down a chimney. But when your parents do all of that it does not make them Santa Claus. And, you know what, their own parents and grandparents probably blessed them the same way with the legend about a wonderful man who was just full of love and generosity.
“The tradition of a Santa Claus is a wonderful experience for most families, but that doesn’t really make any of us Santa Claus. Playing like Santa is real, you see, is a fun way of reminding all of us — parents and children — that there are times when it is important to believe in things we cannot see with our eyes or touch with our hands or measure with a ruler. Things like love, God, trusting in others, cooperation in getting everything done, hope when life is hard, thankfulness for being together as family and friends, joy in giving to others and happiness in receiving gifts and best wishes from others.
That is really what the idea of Santa Claus is all about. Santa is an attitude, a happy and good way of thinking, rather than a person. The job of spreading cheer around the world is too big and wonderful for just one person to do. So most of us are part of “Team Santa.”
“Next year you can help us find the right gifts for other people, and you can enjoy wrapping them and giving them away. Maybe someday you will decide to bless your own children by passing on this tradition, but that choice will be entirely up to you.”
Well, friends, I hope that is helpful to some of you.
Some of my Christian brothers and sisters may seriously object to “playing Santa” and putting an emphasis upon a mythical man rather than on “the reason for the season” – the birth of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
Frankly, my wife and I went through a cycle of beliefs and behaviors when our children and grandchildren were young. Early on we observed a deep appreciation for this period as a time of celebrating the birth of Jesus and we included the Santa myth as something distinct from that holy celebration.
Then at some point we decided that the “distinct” part may not have been understandable at all by our children. So, much to the dismay of both sets of our parents, we went through one or two Christmases without Santa and without gifts. Then we returned to our normal practice.
So, . . . I would suggest adding this statement to the letter above for those Christians who are struggling with what to do:
“Kids, the reason we have this Christmas season at all is because of the birth of Jesus the Christ. Notice the spelling of Christmas: “Christ-mas.” We believe in Jesus as the baby born in Bethlehem, but we also believe in him as our savior, our hope for eternal life, our helper in this life. We have to tell you, because God wants us to tell the truth and not lie (1 Peter 3:10), that Santa is not any of these things.
“You see, when I was a boy we would play lots of games of make believe. Cowboys. Space travelers. Kings and queens. There were always good people and bad people in those kid games. But we knew they were not real or somehow magical. They were just for fun. That is how it is with Santa, too. So you can have fun with Santa, but God is for real and wants us to love him with all our hearts.”
Maybe that will help.
Now, for those who might be interested in reading alternative opinions about what to tell children about Santa Claus, here are some sources:
Brown, Laura Lewis. “Is It Okay to Lie About Santa?” PBS-Parents: http://www.pbs.org/parents/holidays/is-it-okay-lie-about-santa/
Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe? This is a 48-page booklet which is free upon request by writing to The United Church of God, P.O. Box 541027, Cincinnati, OH 45254-1027.
Johnson, David Kyle. “The Santa Claus Lie Debate: Answering Objections.”
Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christmas: A Journalist Investigates the Identity of the Child in the Manger.
1 Corinthians 13
(A Christmas Version)
by an unknown author
If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I’m just Another decorator.
If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another cook.
If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.
If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend myriad holiday parties and sing in the choir’s cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.
Love stops the cooking to hug the child.
Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.
Love is kind, though harried and tired.
Love doesn’t envy another’s home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.
Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.
Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust, but giving the gift of love will endure.
Christmas Is Only As Strong
As Its Weakest Link
By Curtis K. Shelburne
I don’t usually think of Christmas and chains as going together, unless I’m reading about the ponderously-chained Ghost of Christmas Past who so terrorized old Ebenezer Scrooge! But I believe this to be true: Christmas is a “chain” which is only as strong as its weakest link.
If Christmas deals only with lights and tinsel, egg nog and poinsettias (all of which I enjoy very much, I hope you understand), and the Yuletide joy and peace, love and good will, we sing about are just artificial twinkles and largely illusory light, then Christmas is a weak and pathetic thing which can’t possibly stand the test of life and time and which will fade a long time before the January sales (and credit card bills) end.
If Christmas has to do only with parties and good times, but nothing to do with hospital rooms and disgusting diagnoses . . .
If Christmas has to do only with smiles and “Merry Christmases” and nothing to do with hope at a graveside . . .
If Christmas has to do only with sales and not souls, presents and not His Presence, holiday cheer but not lifelong Joy . . .
If Christmas has to do only with Jingle Bells and nothing to do with “God with us,” well, then, Christmas is not up to the task of making a real difference in our lives, and it’s just one more momentary diversion for the despairing, one more false hope for people who know no hope, and it certainly won’t make much difference in life, or in death, or in anything at all very real or substantial.
But if Christmas, and all that is best about this good season, points to real light and hope, glimmering reflections from the Father of Lights, the Giver of Joy, the Sender of the very best Gift, then the Christ of Christmas can use this time of celebration to point us to light that truly is stronger than darkness, hope that is genuinely stronger than despair, and life that is ultimately and infinitely stronger than death.
Then we discover that the Light of Christmas is real indeed because He is real, and life is far more substantial than death.
Then Christmas means something beautiful and wonderful and real. And Christmas joy can and will last forever.
[Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice. You are invited to visit his website at http://www.curtissheldburne.com. ]
A Christmas Remembrance
By Carolyn B. Leonard
For people who are dealing with the loss of a loved one, the holidays are often a daunting and difficult time of year. The Holiday season will be not as bright for families who have lost someone or something precious. One of my writer friends who lost her husband in 2012 described it as a year of “unmitigated Hell.”