July 10, 2020

Saturday Ramblings: Dec. 20, 2014

cd3600-santa-gal-in-rambler-christmas-cardSaturday Ramblings: December 20, 2014

The big week is here, and as you can see from today’s pic, the jolly old elf is warming up the Rambler for his long gift-dispensing trip. Are you ready?

The Mrs. and I are scrambling this weekend to get things ready around here. We have guests coming from the east and the north, and then we’ll be heading south to Nashville, TN for a few days after the big day. We’ll have kids and grandkids, aunts and uncles, cousins and grand-dogs bunking down here in the farmhouse for Christmas itself and we’re looking forward to the company. But before then, there are dust bunnies to be swept, guest rooms to be made up, groceries to get, stockings to fill and gifts to wrap.

Because things are hustling and bustling around here so much, I’m going to count on you to help with some of the ramblings today. We’ll be asking you to tell us about your plans for the week and some of the specific things you enjoy about Christmas time. There’s no time to waste — let’s ramble!

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Let’s start with a Christmas party ice-breaker. We’ll go around the room and ask you to pick one of these topics to share with the group:

1. Your top three Christmas music albums.
2. Your top three Christmas movies.
3. Your three favorite appetizers or snacks at holiday get-togethers.
4. The best gift you ever gave and the best one you ever received.
5. Your favorite spiritual or church memory from Advent or Christmas.

This is obviously focused on Christmas and Christian celebrations. If you are from another religious tradition and would like to share some of your holiday favorites, we welcome that too.

The-Hobbit-Battle-5-Armies-16

Christmas time in the U.S. is always a big time for movies. I took my grandson to see the final installment of “The Hobbit” series last night in IMAX 3D, and I loved it. “The Battle of the Five Armies” is definitely the best of the hobbit movies and I think it ranks up there with “The Two Towers” as among the best in Peter Jackson’s collection.

Those of you who have seen it — do you agree with my assessment? Let’s have some LOTR and Hobbit banter today.

And the rambling mustn’t stop there! What other movies are you looking forward to seeing during the season? I’m thinking there will be a group from the Mercer house going to see Unbroken on Christmas Day or shortly thereafter.

I have no plans to see Exodus: Gods and Kings. If God doesn’t sound like Charlton Heston, I might just as well give up on this religion thing.

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At RNS, David Gibson asks a question I swear I have never considered before: “Jesus certainly wasn’t a bottle baby. So what happened to Mary’s breasts?” He is referring to the fact that artistic representations of the Virgin Mother breastfeeding the infant Jesus were once commonplace but are now virtually non-existent in our Christian devotion.

BernhardClairvaux_Lactatio_SourceUnknownDid you know, in fact, that near the Church of the Nativity there is another sacred site, the Milk Grotto Church, where it is said that the Virgin Mary suckled her baby in an underground cave as she and Joseph hid during the slaughter of the innocents and before they fled to Egypt? That same tradition says that some of Mary’s breast milk dripped on the stones of the cave, turning them a milky white hue. Both Christians and Muslims believe scrapings from the stones in the grotto boost the quantity of a mother’s milk and enhance fertility. Mothers usually mix it in their drinking water; would-be mothers place the rock under their mattresses. There is also an old tradition that identifies this as the burial site of Herod’s young victims.

Despite this ongoing veneration, Gibson points out that the development of the printing press in the 15th century led to the rise of visual pornography and the sexualizing of women’s bodies, which made Marian breastfeeding images troublesome to onlookers. Also, a rise in anatomical texts demystified the body and undermined sacred depictions. Furthermore, Protestantism’s emphasis on the biblical text and the iconoclasm that often accompanied it discouraged the use of all images and especially those prompting devotion to Mary. This was a radical departure from earlier art. In fact, the earliest known fresco of Mary shows her breastfeeding Jesus. And St. Bernard of Clairvaux was even shown kneeling before the lactating Mary as she squirted breast milk into his mouth.

Can you imagine art like this in churches today? What a strange mix of over-sexed voyeurs and puritanical ascetics we are!

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Finally, on a serious note, I urge us all, in the midst of our celebrations this week to remember those who have no opportunity to be with their families or friends, especially those who are suffering for their faith. For two years now, there has been a movement to maintain awareness, for example, about Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith. Saeed has written a Christmas letter, which begins with these heart-rending words:

Merry Christmas!

These days are very cold here. My small space beside the window is without glass making most nights unbearable to sleep. The treatment by fellow prisoners is also quite cold and at times hostile. Some of my fellow prisoners don’t like me because I am a convert and a pastor. They look at me with shame as someone who has betrayed his former religion. The guards can’t even stand the paper cross that I have made and hung next to me as a sign of my faith and in anticipation of celebrating my Savior’s birth. They have threatened me and forced me to remove it. This is the first Christmas that I am completely without my family; all of my family is presently outside of the country. These conditions have made this upcoming Christmas season very hard, cold and shattering for me. It appears that I am alone with no one left beside me.

Pastor Saeed represents many people who are faceless and nameless to us, who nevertheless are our brothers and sisters in the faith of Christ and who are “the least of these” in the world — poor, naked, hungry and thirsty, and imprisoned. There is no better time than now, when we remember him who was rich who became poor for our sake, to lift up heartfelt prayers of supplication for God to bring relief to these suffering brethren. And to do whatever we can to support and help them.

Merry Christmas.

Comments

  1. 21:50 in Ca.

  2. #4, The Best Gift: In 1971 I was in Guatemala City with my former wife, members of a Christian cult group, living in a commune of about 12 people. My wife and I were in charge of the household and its activities, and since Christmas time was a difficult time for some of the young (we were ALL under 25 years of age) members, we decided to put up a Christmas tree and give out gifts.

    At the time it was illegal in Guatemala to cut down pine trees because the area was being deforested to make charcoal for cooking and heating, the main source for the poor, who were many. So instead of a pine tree we were able to buy a branch from a deciduous tree, painted silver and mounted on a board, instead. We made our own ornaments and decorated it in our common meeting room.

    The philosophy of the group was that no one person would own anything other than their bible and the clothes on their back, and this included money. Everything went into a common purse which was used to buy essentials, pay the rent and the utilities, and if anything were left over we could purchase some luxury item to be used by all, usually food.

    rWell, THAT year I went out and bought a bottle of rompopo, an eggnog type of alcoholic drink, to share amongst all of us. Usually this was not allowed, but since I was never much for strict rule keeping I indulged.

    Next, my wife and I rummaged through our personal belongings for gifts for the rest of the household. As the “leaders” we had a little more privilege (and a bit more STUFF) so we wrapped up the things in tissue paper for wrapping and called an evening gathering after dinner. After prayer and singing we decorated our tree and passed out small glasses of the rompopo and then distributed our gifts to the rest of the group.

    This memory is over 40 years old, but it still stands as my favorite Christmas memory and the greatest sharing of gifts that has not been matched since then. We gave from our hearts and we gave from our meager possessions. I wish that I could talk with some of those who shared this time with us to see if it meant as much to them as it did to us. We may never know…

  3. Vega Magnus says

    Does anyone have their family Christmas party planned for an odd day to accommodate weird schedules? My parents and I had ours on Wednesday because my brothers will both be spending Christmas Day with their in-laws out of state and Wednesday was the only day that worked for both of their work schedules.

    • I enjoy seeing Christmas as a season, and not a day. We celebrate this year on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

    • We have family in New England and Montana, so for Christmas we go to one region on even-numbered years and the other region in odd-numbered years. Usually that occasions celebration on the 25th. However, this year, we’re headed to Montana for Christmas, and my parents were able to come visit a week early. Meanwhile, some of our close family Montana are working on Christmas, so we’ll celebrate with them a few days late. As a result, by Jan, 1, something like Christmas will have occurred three times.

  4. senecagriggs yahoo says

    I have a good friends from church dying from cancer. Last night they moved him to hospice. He is in great pain. I find myself praying that he won’t make it to Christmas. A Christmas gift to him would be if he dies today. That’s for me makes for a sad and solemn Christmas week.
    Last year was the same, another friend died Christmas night in hospice. He knew the living Christ and his death witnessed to his worship of Jesus Christ. He too, like my dying friend, was a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

    • My heart goes out to you and your friend, senecagriggs. It’s a terrible thing to helplessly watch as those we love suffer and die; when this happens around holidays its even worse. May Christ be with you and your friend as you travel down this terrible path.

    • The past couple Christmases have been different for us, too. Last year was the tail end of a recurrence of breast cancer in a sister-in-law, who ended up passing in January of this year, and now my mother-in-law is in the midst of a cancer battle.

      We are in need of a savior.
      That savior has been born.

    • I’m sorry to read this, Seneca. Our prayers are with your friend tonight.

  5. What can one say about Pastor Saeed’s situation? It’s heart-rending. May he be freed quickly and soon, Lord.

    • He is being truly persecuted.
      All the Holly Lobby and Chick Filet fuss doesn’t amount to much at when you read what that good man is enduring for his faith. Perhaps some of our more blessed Christians in this country need to look at him and feel ashamed for their whining, complaining, and finger-pointing . . . all that hubris looks mighty like ‘pride’ in the face of his genuine humility as he suffers for Christ. May God deliver him soon from all harm and give his soul the peace of Christ in the meanwhile.

  6. I have no problem with traditional imagery of Jesus nursing at Mary’s breast, though I’ve never seen any. I think such an image could be deeply meaningful, expressing the reality and ordinariness of his humanity, and highlighting the mystery of the Incarnation.

    I do, however, find the image of Saint Bernard being squirted with Mary’s milk disturbing. And I’ll leave it at that.

    • According to the article cited:

      By the Middle Ages, the breast-feeding Mary was shown in every possible context, and “lactation miracles” and “milk shrines” proliferated across the Christian world. Mary was “the wet-nurse of salvation,” as one phrase had it, offering holy succor to communities exposed to the vagaries of war and disease. Some images of St. Bernard of Clairvaux even show him kneeling in prayer before a statue of Mary, who is squirting breast milk onto his eager lips.

      It was all deeply moving to believers of the day, though perhaps too much of a good thing even then. Miesel says that a century before the Reformation, St. Bernardine of Siena quipped that “Mary must have given more milk than a hundred cows.”

      The St. Bernard scene is a legend which allegedly took place at Speyer Cathedral in 1146.

      • from Anselm of Canterbury:

        “From the moment of her fiat,
        Mary began to carry all of us in her womb.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I would not be surprised to learn that St Bernard de Clairveau lived at a time of a Christian caste system where the life of a vowed Priest, Monk, or Nun were the only ones who REALLY pleased God. (Regardless if you were cut out for it or not.) And the more otherworldly and contemplative a Priest/Monk/Nun you were, the More Spiritual you must be.

        Part of these vows were Vows of Celibacy (entered in at, oh, age six) which forbade even thinking about anything sexual. (“Don’t think of a blue monkey” and all that.) Plus a Platonic Dualism where Soul trumped Body and Spiritual trumped Physical.

        Add these together and you have a fertile ground for sexual paraphilias. Paraphilias whose only “respectable” outlet was some form of Religious devotion.

        A similar combination among female saints was”Bridal Mysticism”, where meditations on Christ were expressed in highly-erotic language. Maybe “Lactating Mary” was St Bernard’s equivalent.

    • Mary nursing the infant Christ is such a common image, up to a certain point in time… it is an ordinary thing, or rather, was.

      As for the other incident (Bernard), not only is it disturbing, it’s one of *many* equally creepy things that crop up in mefieval hagiography and accounts of visions, though it’s certainly the only one I’ve heard of that involves breadt milk.

      • Yes, it’s creepy. Religious iconography, and popular piety, is sometimes unbalanced, unhealthy, and even pathological; I would count this particular image of Bernard as one of those times, perhaps along with some of the excesses that I imagine may have attended devotions to the breast-feeding Mary of the Middle Ages (though I admittedly know little about this, beyond what has been communicated in today’s post).

    • I have a fond memory of sitting a seminar at Oxford, when St. Bernard of Clairvaux arose in conversation. The professor (Mark Philpott) leaned back a little, and said:

      “That dreadful fellow Bernard! Never trust a man who claims to have been suckled by the Virgin Mary!”

      I have no idea if this is as funny in the retelling, as it was to me in the momnet. But it humors me so much, that I feel called to try the joke on unfortunate bystanders every few years.

      • Danielle – i hear you! Bernard’s innately hateful words in whipping people up to start the Crusades – yet another deeply disturbing image.

        • Yes. Bernard’s preaching of Crusade is an example of how mysticism and politics can make a deadly combination.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Like what’s playing out today in X-Treme Islam.

          • HUG, the people in ISIS (and other groups) are anything *but* mystics. Their version (s) of Islam do not allow for one iota of it – vigorously condemn it, in fact. If you don’t believe mr, check out the live webcams at the Kaaba during the Haj. The pilgrims are policed and expresdions of devotion that are seen as too emotional and/or originating in any form of Islamic mysticism (Sufism) are strictly forbidden.

          • numo, I think that ISIS, and other groups, practice a form of mysticism involving religious violence. Yes, it’s different from the mysticism of Bernard of Clairvaux and others like him, and yes, it does suppress many forms of emotional and contemplative piety; on the other hand, it embraces religious violence as a form of ecstatic piety and rapture, and embraces destruction and death as a path to purity and holiness.

          • Acts of violence in and of themselves can lead to forms of heightened awareness and altered states of consciousness; when this is connected with specific religious motivations and goals, the effect is even more pronounced. I think it would be accurate to call this mysticism, albeit of an evil kind.

          • I hate to differ with Robert F when it comes to mysticism, but I’m with numo on this one. Or maybe definitions need to be cleared up.

            As I see it, fundamentalism and legalism become less mystical, not more so. Legalism becomes its own religion, even its own god, and I know one author who would say that fundamentalism becomes its own strange form of atheism.

          • ” I know one author who would say that fundamentalism becomes its own strange form of atheism.”

            Mysticism can also be a form of atheism. Or fanaticism. Or irrationalism. I know that many have embraced an understanding of mysticism as something unambiguously positive, but I don’t.

          • “Mysticism can also be a form of atheism.”

            Thanks for pointing that out, Robert. With Buddhism and other forms that can be true.

            Also, I should have said, “Christian fundamentalism becomes its own strange form of atheism.” Or at least sometimes.

        • “Bernard’s innately hateful words in whipping people up to start the Crusades.”

          I don’t think Western and Eastern Christians saw his words that way. Muslims were taking over Christian lands and forcing people to convert. Most Christians saw the Crusades as a just war of self-defense not an offensive war. Western Europe also experienced attached from Muslims–there were attacks in what is now Spain, in Italy and in Eastern Christian Europe. I am not trying to justify the Crusades, but a blanket condemnation is as unfair as a blanket approval.

          Bernard is generally not considered anti-Semitic–even by Jewish scholars:
          “During the First, Second, and Third Crusades, there were misguided, misinformed, or cynical attacks on Jews. The Church actively opposed these attacks, and local clergy often came to the defense of Jews in their community. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, preaching the Second Crusade, told the soldiers of Christ, The Jews are not to be persecuted, killed, or even put to flight. When a fellow Cistercian monk began exhorting Germans to destroy the Jews before waging war on the Muslims, St. Bernard went personally to put a stop to it. As Rabbi Efraim of Bonn wrote:

          Bernard said to them [the Crusaders]: It is good that you go against the Ishmaelites [Muslims]. But whosoever touches a Jew to take his life, is like one who harms Jesus himself. When our enemies heard his words, many of them ceased plotting to kill us. Were it not for the mercy of our creator in sending the aforementioned abbot [Bernard] and his later letters, no remnant or vestige would have remained of Israel. Blessed be the redeemer and savior, blessed be his name.”

  7. That cheeky Rambler elf….

  8. I’ll respond to icebreaker #5.

    I grew up in Phoenix Arizona. My grandparents lived 2 blocks south of the Indian School, so as a kid I was around a lot of Navajos, Hopis, Zunis, Apaches, etc.

    My earliest memory of Christmas is attending, carried in my father’s arms, the Christmas Cantata at the Indian School. I was fascinated and excited by the dark faced Wise Men, Joseph, Mary, shepherds, and others in the drama. The singing was glorious.

    I am brought to tears while I type this memory.

  9. ShellOf XmasPast says

    My best memories: Warm home full of laughing family, good food, love, joyful giving, light display before mega lights were the trend that my daddy did for all to share.
    Now, my family is all dead, no one to give gifts to, even if I were able to work and have funds to buy them.
    My home will be empty, no one to share Xmas with, its all about loss and grief now….so for those who might complain about the hustle and bustle of preparations, be grateful instead – you could be like me.
    Meery Christmas, be joyful.

    • Shell, it’s sad and I feel such sorrow for your situation. Is there no one for you this holiday season? Is there no one from your church, groups, or even the hundreds of people here at imonk that can help?

    • The seasons of life can be very different, one from the next. Prayers going your way, Shell.

    • My situation is pretty similar to yours, Shell, though my remaining family is scattered/estrangewd, not dead.

      I was too proud to say anything about it to anybody until a couple weeks ago. But then I broke down and told some close friends that I was truly happy for their good situations, with lots and lots of family, but that sometimes I felt a little envious and bleak at the holiday season. It felt weird and uncomfortable to be that vulnerable, even to close friends. But I now have two invitations for Christmas day, and I’m going to travel to them both, and give thanks.

      Is there no one in your church family that you could be with? Well, I guess that’s none of my business. But you might want to also consider helping serve food at a homeless shelter; I did that one Thanksgiving and really loved it.

    • Shell of Xmas Past, God bless you this Christmas and always.

  10. My top 3 Christmas movies. Well, one is Blizzard, starring Whoopi Goldberg voicing the reindeer called Blizzard. Another is A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge. A third is Prancer, and there are many, many more. And thanks, Chaplain Mike, for introducing me to A Wish for Wings that Work. I just LOVE that Christmas short.

    • The Christmas Carol, or “Scrooge,” with Alistair Sim is by far the best edition of that tale I have ever seen. I watch it every Christmas.

  11. Favorite Christmas album: Behold the Lamb of God, by Andrew Peterson

  12. 5. Your favorite spiritual or church memory from Advent or Christmas.

    No contest. One year I was in a true and horrible fix of my own construction. I was in a TR church (which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent). Their views on communion and church life were slowly killing me, but since I believed they were Theologically Correct (and I believed I had burned my bridges leaving my prior church) I thought I was stuck there. I was absolutely miserable.

    As I normally did while I was still a bachelor, I went to my parents’ house for Christmas holidays. They didn’t attend church at the time, but my grandmother (who lived nearby) did, so I would usually accompany her. In my TR days I considered this a chore, because she’s a lifelong Methodist and any TR will tell you that the UMC is just slightly more orthodox than the Church of Satan. ;-). Anyways, that year the pastor on rotation (God bless that man) was a devotee of the Episcopal roots of Methodism, and the Christmas Eve service culminated in the celebration of Communion with the Great Thanksgiving liturgy. (Google it.)

    It was for me, literally, my “tower” moment. St. Martin Luther of Wittenberg described his grasping of the Gospel as “the gates of heaven opening up to him”. THAT’S how I felt. The guilt, the confusion, the distance from God, melted away, and I finally grasped the forgiveness of Christ deep down for the first time.

    Needless to say, my days at the TR church were numbered after that. 😉

    • Faulty O-Ring says

      Sorry, what is “TR”?

      • Code for “Truly Reformed,” the true Scotsmen of Calvinistic theology.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          More Calvinist than even Calvin himself could dream of.

          And then there are the YRRs — Young, Restless, and REFORMED.
          TRs fresh out of seminary, Ideologically Pure and with a reputation for pulling “Stealth Takeovers” of Insufficiently Reformed churches.
          I call them “Calvinjugend”. One of my writing partners (the burned-out preacher) has told me horror stories of his own run-ins with them.

          • I’m still baffled by the seeming push by some Calvinists to convert Christians to Calvinism. It’s like this belief, “You’re not REALLY a Christian if you don’t view God THIS way.”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I look at it as “Who needs Christ when We Have CALVIN”?
            (Based on a comment from somewhere: “He never knew Christ, he only knew Calvin.”

            And most of the Hyper-Calvinists my writing partner has encountered fit a pattern: Under 30, On Fire For Calvinism, and Really Truly REFORMED. (Reminds me of the Young Communists League, sparkly-eyed and on fire to bring the Revolution to the entire world with their Purity of Ideology.)

            He told me some of them were so into Predestination Uber Alles that they’d crossed the line into “Socratic Atheism”, where even God was a puppet of Predestination, Willing only what He Hath Been Predestined to Will. (i.e. God was not God, Utter Predestination was. Eh, Kismet.)

      • I believe it means “Truly Reformed” — not a denomination but a mindset common across several groups.

  13. My favorite Christmas gift ever was our oldest son, who was born on Christmas. The realization of what Mary must have experienced was made clear to me that night, although it must have been much harder for her. I had a warm car to take me to the hospital, a clean bed and drugs. So every year Christmas has deeper meaning for our family and we have a different perspective than we otherwise might have.

  14. I went to see “The Theory of Everything” yesterday. The story of Jane and Stephen Hawking. I went into the theater with one attitude about Hawking and came out with another. Stunning performance by Eddie Redmayne.

    I printed out Pastor Saeed’s letter. Also forwarded it to several friends who think they are being persecuted if the sales clerk says, “Happy Holidays.” It reminded me so much of Paul’s prison letters and was a stark reminder of the cost of believing.

  15. My favorite Christmas giving/receiving took place a week before my husband and I were due to leave the Peace Corps in Liberia. We were going to be spending a month and a half in Europe on our way home, so he and I didn’t bother to exchange the sorts of presents we could buy in the local bazaar — flip-flops, okra, kerosene . . . Instead we invited over the Catholic priest, a German man with a hearty appetite who would otherwise have been at home eating reconstituted freeze-dried spaetzel. I found a canned ham at a store in the capital, as well as jello and Bird’s Custard Powder. I bought squash and other vegetables locally. Pater Hans came over that afternoon, armed with a bottle of communion wine, said the shortest yet most grateful prayer I’ve ever heard, then tucked in. Watching him eat is one of my happiest memories.

  16. The best gift I ever received requires some backstory.

    My folks came from something of a fundamentalist background. This very much influenced how they went about parenting, and some of the rules I grew up only make sense in that context.

    One such rule was that for every hour I spent reading a fantasy novel, I had to spend an hour reading the Bible. Even after that was relaxed, that kind of fiction bore special scrutiny. I started playing D&D in my freshman year of college, and this shocked my parents. We negotiated a cease fire on the subject after I gave them a Player’s Handbook to peruse, but they definitely worried about me.

    A year later I found the most amazing thing in my stocking – a copy of Simarillion. This was more than a book, it was true peace treaty, and an affirmation that despite my choice of hobbies I was doing okay.

    Their house later became the default place for gaming, so much so that when we moved out of state they said they missed hearing our gaming buddies’ voices booming from the basement ever week.

    • Great story, Tokah.

      I began playing D&D my freshman year in college, too, in the dorm. There was a group of about 8-12 consistent players. Great fun. A few years back, my semi-fundy sister-in-law, who knew I’d played D&D “back in the day,” came to me, worried about her daughter, because she’d begun playing. I had to alleviate her fears that playing D&D would send daughter on the path to Satan worship…LOL.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Old School D&D 1976-80, dodged the Satanic Panic like Threepio in the boarding scene that kicked off the original “Star Wars”.

        For about a decade afterwards, when I was in a church situation and the word got out that I was a gamer, I kept getting hit up to “do an intervention” for some kid who was “getting into D&D”, i.e. Dungeons & DEEEMONS. (Thank you, Mike Warnke. You total fraud. And you, Jack Chick.) They’d only put the pressure on me once, until they heard the answer they’d get.

  17. 1. Your top Christmas music album: Only one comes to mind, Andy Williams Christmas Album. Glorious crooning back before the days of auto tuning when only the truly talented made records.

    2. Your top two Christmas movies: A tie between It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story.

    3. Your three favorite appetizers or snacks at holiday get-togethers. Chex Mix, Kraft Marshmallow Creme fudge and Land O Lakes butter cookies.

    4. The best gift you ever gave and the best one you ever received. Gave: A beautiful pink dotted swiss dress I made for my daughter. It had puffy sleeves, pin tucking down the front, a pink satin ribbon sash, white lace collar and little pink bow buttons. Received: A stuffed Alvin the Chipmunk.

    5. Your favorite spiritual or church memory from Advent or Christmas: The year I was working as the musical director for a church and was given free reign to plan the Christmas Eve service. I added a few new elements and made it different and special.

  18. A favorite Christmas memory: we sometimes traveled from rural Alabama back to rural Illinois for Christmas. Christmas Eve always included midnight service at my grandmother’s Lutheran church. Huge pipe organ, bells, communion, candlelight, the whole nine yards. My grandmother, bless her soul, was the greatest, and had a particular compassion for kids suited up in uncomfortable clothes, late at night, sitting in church with adults they didn’t know. Wrigley’s spearmint gum was her way of keeping us occupied while the service moved along. To this day I think of her when I taste or smell spearmint. Anyway, this particular memory involved the collection plate, which had stalled at my location while I dug out the quarter grandma had given me and I had stored in my pocket for safekeeping. My mom, ever mindful of keeping things moving efficiently, and not making the usher wait, whispered to grandma what was taking me so long. My dear grandma told her that I was making change in the plate. The usher laughed, people looked, my mom was mortified, and my grandmother sat there with her usual taciturn German face hiding her droll sense of humor.

  19. My top 3 favorite Christmas movies are: Love Actually, Die Hard and Elf.

    I figured out that I’ve covered the movie watching spectrum (except sci-fi and western – blech!) Please don’t judge!

  20. 5. Your favorite spiritual or church memory from Advent or Christmas.

    The time our church youth group adopted a family through a local radio station’s “Christmas Wish” program. We were given a list ahead of time of what the single mom and four kids (three girls and a boy) needed, and then went nuts with the help of a Sears store manager. We found the little street in a poor part of the city I’d never seen before and have never seen since. One of the group dressed as Santa and when a group of about 15 of us marched into their tiny living room, the little boy, asleep on the couch simply never woke up. We took a Polaroid of him with Santa. Imagine waking up to a room full of presents and a picture of Santa! We then marched around the neighborhood playing a variety of brass instruments and singing carols in a noisy, unrehearsed Christmas parade!

    I often wonder what the rest of the people on that street thought that night, though. A poor community, no doubt many homes with needs. And we only helped one family. But we did help one family. And there was this deep inner warmth of knowing we were doing something good.

  21. David Cornwell says

    Truthfully by the time Christmas arrives I’m a little tired of typical seasonal music, just wanting to stuff my ears, get out of the stores, and turn the radio off. This year I’ve found something different. It is “A New Joy: Orthodox Christmas,” by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir.

    I really do not know how to describe it other than by the words: rich, deep, powerful, and moving. Duke University Performances describes the choir as being “perhaps the best professional choir in the world today.” However the background of the music itself is what strikes me as being the most important element. From the product description the following:

    “Most of the music was suppressed by the authorities, and some of the composers represented – Kastalsky, Barvinskyi, and Izvekov (whose stunning “Christ Is Born,” the longest piece on the CD, here receives its first recording) were persecuted, imprisoned, or executed for their religious beliefs.”

    Sitting in our homes around family, friends, and piles of gifts I am persuaded we know nothing about a “war on Christmas.”

    When everyone else is in bed, lights are out, I will light some candles and listen once again.

    You can probably listen for free at Spotify.

  22. Favorite Christmas memory . . . Christmas at my Grandparents farm. . .my Grandfather picking us up from the main road with his horses and hay wagon on skis because the snow had close the road. . . A big fat goose cooking in the oven . . .my uncles singing “We Three Kings” . . .the children of which I was one acting out the parts while an Aunt read the Christmas story . . .my Grandmother pumping out “Joy to the World” on her organ while everyone found their place in the four part harmonies. . . . Sadly as the years went by so much changed as we grew up, moved, married, separated into our own family groups. I’m spending the day waiting for my own children and grandchildren to arrive after a 13 hour trip across the prairies and though our celebration will be much different, the roots are deep.

  23. My most spiritual and fulfilled Christmas was 1981….I was five months pregnant with a child I never thought I would conceive, and listened over and over to a John Denver song, “A Baby Just Like You”, written for his son. I felt such a connection with the Blessed Mother, and the sense of waiting for something (someone!) wonderful to arrive.

    We were waiting to change from a couple into a family, and the image of the Holy Family huddled so far from hom was magical and awe-inspiring to me….

  24. Great memory: my friend Doris, and I, on break while teaching in Germany drove to Rome from Munich. In Innsbruck we stopped to do touristy stuff, no time to ski, but just sitting outdoors and watching mountains, this charming town bedecked for Christmas was neat. I bought some boots and at the cafe found my wallet gone. We rushed through the streets crying. At the end of a block I could see a little knot of people yelling and waving their arms. It was the boot store people! We all hugged and cried, went to a cafe for something warming. Oops, they were waving my wallet! They wanted us to send the night with a gathering of family and friends but we were going to Florence the next day. We drove into Florence at 11;pm, accidentally wandering into the famous Piazza where the statue of David is standing, the Uffizi Gallery and very sadly where Savanorola was burned. A little group of carolers singing, plaza mostly empty, but the beauty of the moon illuminating the square made its rich history come to life. We went around touching buildings that so many had touched in the Renaissance.

  25. I don’t have one particular Christmas memory that stands out; the most different time I had, and very enjoyable, was being with my family in Italy the year I studied in Germany in college. Really, all the memories are sweet, no feuding family members or anything like that. As a child, Christmas was extra celebratory, as my dad’s birthday was the 22nd (which was usually the day we put up the Christmas tree, so for his birthday he got to get the tree into the stand and secure it to the wall by means of a long brown shoelace wrapped around the trunk) and my parents were married on Christmas Day 1941. When we lived in Montana, there was snow all around, delightful to this child. The figurine of the Christ Child does not go into our Nativity scene until Christmas Eve at bedtime.

    Movies: “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol” (A. Sim Scrooge version), “A Christmas Story.”

    Music: As a child I played the Firestone Christmas Album with the green cover over and over – just about the best mix of traditional carols I’ve ever heard. Love Yon’s “When Blossoms Flowered ‘Mid the Snow.” Last year I discovered Alison Krauss’ rendition of The Wexford Carol with Yo Yo Ma – exquisite. Since I am in the choir at church, I get to sing all those lovely hymns David Cornwell references above, along with some new-to-me Carpatho-Russian carols.

    Food:
    Snacks: Baked cheese balls with a pimento-stuffed green olive in the middle of each, spinach dip made with Knorr leek soup mix, my mother’s fruit cookies (actually a Betty Crocker recipe).
    Breakfast: Fresh fruit with homemade Stollen, and an Italian panettone with mascarpone cheese to spread on it – a nod to both sides of my family heritage.
    Dinner: Tamales – I buy them from the Mexican grocery and only have to reheat, and add a vegetable. No all-day cooking, very relaxing. Persimmon pudding with whiskey sauce for dessert, made the day before – family tradition on my husband’s side.

    There is a traditional Orthodox icon of the Theotokos the Milk-Giver. No strange stories about the milk, that I’m aware of. In my parish, there is Liturgy on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; I attend the former. Christmas Eve is a “strict fast day” – no food until Liturgy, a light meal right after that, and then continue fasting for the rest of the day. Since I am diabetic, I have a blessing to eat small meals, but I avoid the snacky stuff. Anticipation!

    Buon Natale!

    Dana

    • Do you know this Serbian carol, Dana? There is a Pascha hymn done by the same people, too. Very beautiful.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rNIuPnPiCo

      • Thanks for putting up the link, Damaris. I’ve seen the video. Love the Pascha song – first heard it when Fr Stephen drew attention to it a few years ago. One of my favorite singers is Divna Ljubojevic; she is well known in Serbia and appears in both videos. I have 3 of her albums. There are videos of her on YouTube.

        Christ is born – Glorify him!

        Dana

        • I agree about Divna and am impressed that you can spell her name. I confess that I let youtube figure it out when I look up her Kyrie Eleison at work.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Ah, yes, Tamales. If your family hails from Mexico or Central America and is still kind of Old Country, December IS Tamale Making Month. Even non-family dropping by for a visit and get drafted onto the Tamale assembly line (and paid off with a bag of tamales when they leave).

  26. Can’t think of three for a lot of these
    Top music albums: snow angels, the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas
    Top Christmas movie: Muppet Christmas Carol (I know there are those who like to put “Elf” in this spot. They are prayed for.)
    Favorite food at holiday get-togethers: the Swedish meatballs at my Aunt’s Christmas Eve party
    Favorite memory: hearing the Bing Crosby (and others of that era) Christmas music that my Dad liked to play. I really miss him and wish I could see him again.
    Best gift? I have been sick this past week and a half and hope to recover very soon. Not sure if this would be a best gift for me or for my now long suffering wife…

    Merry Christmas iMonk-ers. May this time be a blessing to you. And if it is a hard season, may the Lord lift up your spirits and sustain you.

  27. My favorite Christmas movie is definitely Scrooge (1970) starring Albert Finney. I always cry when Finney’s Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning and embarks on his joyful orgy of repentance.

  28. soft snow falling . . . I’m resting on a sofa, hot tea in hand, beside a window with a view of the frozen lake across the way . . . visible also is the window looking out on a deck, now dressed in white, and beyond to the woods . . . the house by the lake was magical at Christmas when it snowed . . . so very peaceful

    that’s an effective ‘go-to memory’ in times of stress, yes 🙂

  29. The second picture down, which I would date about 1961, shows the ultimate icebreaker which is no longer available except in very limited cultures and circumstances. You offer the person a cigarette, a type of communion. I don’t have much to offer in the way of happy Christmas memories but for some reason Karen Carpenter comes to mind, not that her life story had a happy ending. She sang Christmas songs too, as does Amy Grant. I can sympathize with ShellofXmasPast at the same time I’m hoping for a quiet and uneventful Christmas day, ideally not having to interact with anyone. I’m not a grinch, just an introvert.

    Pastor Saeed’s letter definitely echoes many of Paul’s letters, tho Paul doesn’t go into such detail and Paul often had friends taking care of him. One of the most poignant of Paul’s details is when he asks Timothy to pick up Paul’s winter coat and to do his best to come before winter, a detail which convinces me Paul authored the letter. I’m sure Pastor Saeed understands the request much better than most.

    I am glad that so many people have warm and happy memories of this season. I look forward to the Solstice tomorrow when the days start getting longer again, my own little way of celebrating the season. Merry Christmas indeed!

  30. My favorite Christmas memory was from back in 1991, as I was Eurailing around the Continent while on break from my studies as an exchange student in Ireland. Boarding the train in Venice on the 23rd of December, I met a fellow American studying in Denmark. As we headed off to Rome on the overnight express, he mentioned that he had made some arrangements to obtain tickets to the Midnight Mass in St. Peter’s the following evening. Was I interested?

    Was I interested?!!!! I’d only (religiously?) watched the service on TV every Christmas Eve for about a decade, much to my decidedly non-Catholic parents’ bemusement. Of course, I was interested!

    We arrived at the church with time to spare, and were able to take our seats an hour or so before Pope John Paul II made his entrance. As we sat waiting somewhere among the thousands, I looked one row behind me and immediately recognized several other American students I’d met several days before at a Thomas Cook office in Vienna, Austria! This strange coincidence was later met at the train station two days later, when two other American friends studying in Germany ran across me as I waited for a train to Switzerland. In related news, I do not believe in the Witness Protection Program.

    I never did become Catholic, but that whole experience, along with my entire year abroad in Ireland, completely broke me out of my American parochialism, and for that I’m forever grateful.

  31. i remember going to church on Christmas Eve-parochial school with the requisite “Children’s Program”. It seemed magical to me. After that, we’d head off to one set of grandparents and celebrate with aaaaaalllllll my aunts, uncles, & cousins. We must not have gotten home until midnight or so. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood and I and my siblings had kids that I understood why there was a very large bottle of whiskey in the kitchen where the adults seemed to congregate. We had fun, but it must have been very chaotic; thus the whiskey!

    I used to listen to those gas station Christmas albums over & over. I remember my shock when I discovered that Barbra Streisand is Jewish. How can this be??? She’s singing “O Holy Night”!!!! I guess that should have been an early clue about the commercialization of Christmas (Streisand did sing the heck out of the song)!

    I feel like I haven’t heard as much War on Christmas garbage this year, or maybe I just ignore it now.

    • Patrick Kyle says

      Suzanne,

      My family did not go to church, but we all congregated at my grandparent’s house where large numbers of Whiskey Sours were consumed. As kids we would quaff eggnog and eat some of my grandmother’s dozen different kinds of Christmas cookies. My grandfather would play Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole Christmas music on the new stereo.

  32. “Love Came Down At Christmas” by Christina Georgina Rossetti

    Love came down at Christmas,
    Love all lovely, Love Divine;
    Love was born at Christmas,
    star and angels gave the sign.

    Worship we the Godhead,
    Love incarnate, Love Divine;
    worship we our Jesus:
    but wherewith for sacred sign?

    Love shall be our token;
    love be yours and love be mine;
    love to God and all men,
    love for plea and gift and sign.

  33. Hi Travis…how lucky you were to participate in the Vatican service. My friend Doris and I (from previous post) tried, just too crowded. Holding candles was such a thrill, though. We heard about a Christmas Eve service at an American church in Rome where all the diplomatic service people and other expats went so we zoomed over there to a wonderful huge packed church of people speaking English!!! Afterwards we were invited to midnight coffee and buffets. Everyone so warm and friendly, such beautiful music, have never forgotten those sights and sounds of Europe during Advent.

    • Hanni,

      It was indeed pure serendipity. The young man I met (and whose name I sadly now forget) had talked to some Vatican officials in Copenhagen prior to the trip, so he knew what to do about getting in easily. I don’t know if they do it any differently these days.

      But I’m glad you were able to enjoy a wonderful Christmas Eve elsewhere when you were in Rome. When in Rome… do what you need to do.

      Pax

  34. chipandmybrothersnameisdale says

    Favorite Christmas music most recently any of the Christmas carols preformed by Future of Foresrty my favorite would be O Holy Night. As a child we always decorated the Christmas tree with the Perry Como Christmas album playing. Movie would be the A. Sims as Scrouge.

  35. Late to the party, as usual. But since no one mentioned this as their favorite Christmas movie, I thought I would throw it in the ring. The Fourth Wiseman, starring Martin Sheen. The movie, based on the book “The Story of the Other Wiseman”, by Henry Van Dyke, tells the story of a fourth wise man, who was late to the caravan to go see Jesus. In his quest for Jesus he keeps ending up at locations just after Christ has been there, and in fact continues to run into people who need the gifts he has actually brought for Christ.

    I don’t think I have ever seen a movie capture so well what it means to be a believer. Thought it does not have Hollywood polish, it definitely is watchable. Highly recommended.

    http://amzn.com/B00005JRIM

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      My old Dungeonmaster once commented about The Fourth Wise Man, “He’s always arriving a day late and a dollar short.”

  36. I remember years ago watching something I never see aired anymore. It’s Amahl and the Night Visitors. I loved that mini-opera. I can only find it on Youtube now.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Must have gone through its life cycle and faded away. In the Eighties, Amahl and the Night Visitors airing on TV was often the ONLY TV a lot of Fundy kids were allowed to watch. I remember someone on the radio talking about the TV only came out of the closet once a year, and only for that reason.

  37. just saw the beautiful St. Olaf’s College Choir . . . I look for it on television every Christmas season

    as for films, ‘Come To The Stable’ with Loretta Young is a great favorite . . . lots of laughs and tears . . . love it!

    gifts? memories of my children opening presents with joy when they were young . . . loved those days so much

    the nicest personal gift:
    when we were first married and had almost no money, I found a racoon coat at a thrift shop for ten dollars and brought it home . . . it was beautiful! . . . a little shabby, with the skins coming apart and a torn silk lining, but beautiful none-the-less . . . my husband got a tailoring needle (curved) and sat at our dining room table for many nights sewing the skins closed for me . . . I will never forget the sight of him sewing on that coat . . . a labor of love