Category Archives: Christmas

Today is the First Sunday of Advent

Advent Wreath (1st Sunday)
Photo :Micha L. Rieser(Wikimedia)

What Is Advent?

Advent on the Christian calendar is a season of preparation for the birth of Jesus. It is a season of joy leading up to Christmas Day and also a time of preparation similar to Lent. Prayer, fasting and penance are part of the Advent season. The rules are not as strict as Lent but a time of self-preparation. The color purple is associated with penance. Each Advent Sunday is meant to ready oneself for rejoicing at the birth of Jesus that is to come. The Third Sunday of Advent is the anticipatory celebration and the color rose is used to represent joy.

The Advent wreath

Many homes and churches will have an Advent wreath to symbolize the season, and to mark each Sunday as it happens. The practice began by German Lutherans in the 18th century as a means of teaching Advent to children. The practice began to spread to Catholics and other Christian denominations as well.

Advent wreaths are circular to show that God’s love is infinite and is made with evergreen leaves. It used to be a family event to gather the leaves and make the wreath. The practice has resurfaced in recent years as many families now do this again. Advent wreaths made of artificial evergreens are available in a wide series of designs. Handmade ones can be made to last many years.

Advent: Dates, Traditions, and History(Infoplease.com)
The Catholic Encyclopedia

Today is Epiphany/Three Kings Day

Adoración de los Reyes Magos
El Greco (1541–1614)
Public Domain

Epiphany or Three Kings Day is January 6 and as the Twelfth Night officially ends the Christmas season. It is often celebrated on the nearest Sunday between January 2 and January 8.

It is a day to celebrate the baptism of Jesus and the arrival of The Magi (Three Kings or Wise Men). In the Middle Ages Christmas was celebrated from Christmas Eve to January 6. And Epiphany Day was a major celebration well into the mid 19th century when its importance diminished. The Catholic Church no longer requires January 6 to be celebrated as a solemnity on that exact day and celebrates it on the Sunday that follows it. Some Protestant churches celebrate the Epiphany season from January 6 till Ash Wednesday. Orthodox Christians celebrate it on January 19 as they follow the Julian calendar.

In many Spanish speaking countries, Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day)is celebrated with special foods and gatherings. Many European countries have their own unique observances as well. Children often gets treats or presents on this day. In Italy, La Befana flies through the night on January 5 on a broomstick to deliver gifts to good kids and give coal to the bad ones.

So who were the Three Kings? There is a lot of debate on this. Some doubt they existed and some consider it a pious fantasy. Much of what is called the Three Kings today are embellishments that have been added over time. The Gospel of Matthew, the earliest source of the story, is quite simple and only refers to them as Magi from the east. Nor does it say there were only three but three gifts were given. And it is possible they were actually Nabataeans, a trading people that lived in northern Arabia to the Southern Levant whose capital is known as Petra today. Dwight Longnecker in his book Mystery of the Magi examines this evidence. Worth reading if you want to learn more about who these Magi might really have been.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents

Massacre of the Innocents
Matteo di Giovanni (1435–1495)
Public Domain

The Feast of the Holy Innocents or Innocent’s Day is to remember the slaughter of male children 2 years and younger in Bethlehem and in its vicinity by Herod the Great. The story as related in the Gospel of Matthew (2:16-18). Herod was angered when the Wise Men did not return to him after locating the Messiah. No one can say with certainty how many were killed. Some have doubted it happened at all but it would be consistent with Herod the Great’s personality. He had no problems executing even members of his family if he thought they were betraying him. And since Bethlehem was a small area, the slaughter may not have been widely noticed.

Nearly all the Christian churches observe the feast day though not on the same day. The Catholic Church and most western churches observe it on December 28 but Eastern Orthodox celebrates on December 29. The slain children are treated as martyrs of the church. It is not certain when it was first observed. While the exact date of the deaths is unknown, it is kept in the octave of Christmas as followed after the birth of Jesus. However it is believed it took place 2 years after Jesus birth. Matthew says the Wise Men saw child with his mother indicating he was no longer a baby. And Herod had learned from the Wise Men the approximate date of the birth.

Sources:

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family

The Flight into Egypt (Albrecht Dürer 1471-1528)
Photo: Public Domain

The Feast of the Holy Family was instituted as liturgical celebration of the Roman Catholic Church to venerate the Holy Family–Jesus, Saint Joseph and Blessed Mary–as a model for all Christian families. The feast was first introduced in 1893 by Pope Leo XIII and set on the Sunday after the Epiphany. However in 1969 it was moved to the first Sunday after Christmas to make it part of the Christmas season.

Sources:
Feast of the Holy Family (Britannica.com)
The Feast of the Holy Family(ChurchYear.net)

Today is the Feast of St.Stephen (Boxing Day U.K.)

Saint Stephen by Carlo Crivelli (1476)
Source: National Gallery, London via Wikimedia Commons.
Public Domain in UK and US; may be restricted in other countries.

If you remember the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas , you heard the name. Stephen was a deacon in the early Christian church who was accused of blasphemy and put on trial by Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. After a trial in which he denounced them, Stephen was stoned to death. One of the witnesses to the event was Saul of Tarsus, who later converted and is known today as the apostle Paul. Stephen is considered the first martyr for the faith, the reason his feast day immediately follows the celebration of Jesus birth. All the major Christian congregations–Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Orthodox–all venerate him as a Saint and celebrate the feast day (Western churches on 26 December, 27 Dec Orthodox, and 8 Jan Oriental Orthodox). In some countries (mainly Western Europe) it is a public holiday.

In the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand it is celebrated as Boxing Day, a secular holiday that falls on the same day as Feast of Stephen. Traditionally it is the day in which servants and tradespeople receive the “Christmas box” from their employers. While that tradition may still hold true, it is either a second Christmas day for some or an extra shopping day (though in some countries it apparently is a day when a lot of returns to retailers takes place). It is also a major sports day as well.

Further Information

St. Stephen (Catholic Encyclopedia)
St. Stephen (Britannica)
Boxing Day (pauldenton.co.uk)

Leavenworth (Bavarian Village) on Christmas Day 2020

Christmas has finally arrived in Leavenworth. The morning started out cold with someone dispatched from the city to make an adjustment to the tree lighting. It had been pretty mild during the week with no snow until this afternoon. Kids have been tobogganing down the grass area in the park prior to that. Not much fun but at least the grass is stiff from the hard freeze. But with snow kids magically reappeared in numbers and happily tobogganing again in the park with real snow. Most retail places are closed and just a few eateries are open today. Still a wonderful place to visit on Christmas Day and with snow coming down magical. You can watch the livestream here.

The Bavarian Village (Leavenworth, WA) on Christmas Day afternoon 12/25/2020
Mark Taylor

 

Christmas Eve:Silent Night (Mannheim Steamroller)

Silent Night(Stille Nacht in German, Silens Nox in Latin) is perhaps the most beloved Christmas Carol. It was composed in 1818 by Franz Guber, an organist and schoolmaster, to lyrics by Father Joseph Mohr of the St. Nicholas parish in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. It was first performed on Christmas Eve in 1818 and since the organ was broken, the only musical accompaniment was the guitar. The popularity of the song spread and the version commonly used today comes from a translation in 1859. John Freeman Young, serving as an Episcopal priest at Trinity Church in New York City, translated and changed the tempo of the song. The original rendition by Gruber was more like a dance tune and sung faster. Young made into a slower lullaby style that is the most common version today. Because it has been so widely translated, it is the one Christmas carol that is known worldwide.

In Austria Silent Night is not heard until Christmas Eve, usually around 9 p.m. Then it is played on the radio once an hour and of course during church services.

There are many renditions of this simple tune from simple solo to full ensemble. Mannheim Steamroller made a version for their first Christmas album in 1984. And it still enthralls many who hear it for the first or perhaps the tenth time.

CHRISTMAS EVE: A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS

Image:public domain

A Visit from St. Nicholas

by Clement Clark Moore

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 our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my 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 a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he 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, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop 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 head, 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 pedler 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 on 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 bowl full 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!”


Christmas Lights: Leavenworth, WA (Bavarian Village)

Christmas Lights in Leavenworth, WA December 2020
Mark Taylor

I spent many summers and a few Christmas’ in Leavenworth, Washington or better known today as the Bavarian Village. In a different time, it was a bustling area with a sawmill, mining, agriculture(mainly apples) and an active railroad line. My grandfather came over to work in the local bank and would stay there for the rest of his life. My grandmother was helping out her brother, a mining engineer, and she met my grandfather either at a social event or at the bank. They got married and raised two kids in the bustling town.

The rail line had a major problem though: snow. Snow made it impossible to keep trains running during the winter. In  February 1910, a major storm hit so hard that two trains were stuck on Stevens Pass for a week and then swept off the tracks later by an avalanche. It would become known as the Wellington Disaster. It resulted in major changes for the railway and the construction of a new 7.8 mile tunnel that was completed in 1929. Then to avoid further avalanche danger, the railroad relocated the route from Tumwater Canyon to Chumstick thus moving the railroad out of Leavenworth. This was a crippling blow to Leavenworth as the sawmill closed, business and people relocated elsewhere.

Leavenworth faded into obscurity, a town you passed by on Highway 2 on the way to Wenatchee or parts east. The Great Depression hit it hard as well as stores closed. By the 1950’s, the future looked bleak for this small town,   During the 1960’s, city leaders worked with the Bureau of Community Development, at University of Washington, to see what options they had to revitalize the town. A study noted the town was situated in an area, surrounded by mountains, that resembled Bavaria. A decision was made to convert the town into a Bavarian themed village that would attract tourists. The other choice was slow oblivion.

So from that start in the 1960’s, Leavenworth began its transformation. I was lucky enough to see it at its start and see its changes over time. It has, despite some naysayers, become a major tourist destination especially during the Christmas season. A rating of winter tourist destinations on the Travel Channel had Leavenworth as one of the top ten to visit. And the railroad is back! The Empire Builder now stops in Leavenworth bringing tourists with them to this town year round.

Of course this year it is not quite the same. Covid-19 has shut down a lot of tourism but the city is still there-and open for those wanting to visit. Restrictions exist (right now you have to eat food outdoors, retail stores have to limit people, masks required etc). Since many cannot see the Christmas lights, they have set up a webcam that will run through the season (and possibly beyond). I read somewhere they plan to keep the lights up, perhaps as both a beacon and hopeful sign, until Valentine’s Day. You can visit the live stream on YouTube here.

Sadly the snow that was there a few days ago is gone (there were kids tobogganing in the park when there was lots of snow). But the Christmas lights really look nice and worth a look.