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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Influences on the holiday

Sunday, December 11, 2011

If you read last week's column, you now know the basic roots of our modern Christmas holiday.

However, we now need to look at the influences that have made it into what it is today.

In the 1600s (time of the Puritans), Christianity underwent many reforms.

The basic viewpoints of religion became more strict and because of this, daily rituals were often reevaluated for their religious worth.

Most anything that was fun, was discarded for its lack in the glorification of God ... celebrations were no exception, and therefore, most were done away with ... because of the Puritans, we had a time where Christmas was against the law.

They, the Puritans, actually levied a 5-shilling fine for anyone who celebrated Christmas and was not working.

For them, Christmas décor graced the town only if you happened to be wearing red or green while you were in the stocks. Imagine the chaos if someone actually tried to outlaw Christmas today ... Oliver Cromwell did in 1645, and so did the city of Boston from 1659-81 -- and we talk about the lack of reverence for the holiday.

During the 19th Century, there was an expanding divide between the social classes -- sound familiar? New York actually had to institute a police force in response to Christmas riots since people were becoming so upset about the disparity between the social classes. Oh, and all the fine Congressmen we have today, who allegedly claim that there is a "war" on Christmas (check out the cable news channels for this one), and that Christmas has long standing traditions dating back to our forefathers? The old Congresses met and legislated on Christmas Day and did so for more than 60 years -- because it wasn't important enough for them to spend it in reverence.

Of course today, many people's biggest goals are to appear more filial, religious and patriotic than everybody else. I'm a little surprised that it hasn't been suggested to add "Christ" as a prefix to every holiday.

It was during the 1800s that the holiday changed from the raucous celebration to a family oriented holiday. Families realized that strict discipline was not the best way of raising children and instead, opted for love and affection.

The children took the forefront and the lavishing of gifts on the children was accepted during the holiday and was no longer considered "spoiling the child."

In my admiration for the power of literature, the Christmas card was born and contained these words: "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you."

This greeting is still the number one sentiment on Christmas cards today.

The soft glowing scenes of Christmas that are so familiar to us, are thanks, in part, of the Montgomery Ward Company and artists such as Norman Rockwell.

We may as well give a thank you to Washington Irving and Charles Dickens too for the endearing descriptions that helped to shape our current form of Christmas (can you hear all the middle school teachers saying, "I told you so," under their breath?).

Speaking of Dickens, I just attended Beef and Boards, "A Christmas Carol," with North Clay Middle School. What an amazing trip.

Aside from the opportunity for students to be part of an elegant cultural experience, they get to witness one of the best and truest moral lessons in literary history. It is so hard to not get choked up when you see the remorse and regret in Scrooge when he realizes that Tiny Tim isn't going to survive. It isn't the same as reading the book -- it's better; it's real; it's wonderful.

I would like to point out that I may have made a mistake in my previous column. According to Snopes.com, the "X" used commonly in Christmas is not an altered sign of the cross. They say that it stems from the Greek letter "chi" and this is represented by a symbol similar to the letter "X."

According to them, Xian is also sometimes used as an abbreviation of the word Christian. I have heard both explanations.

A professor of mine at ISU, and he studied at IU, claimed that it was the mark of the cross.

I prefer to believe him, but I apologize if I am wrong.