Christmas Carols have been part of the tradition of Christmas probably as long as Christmas itself. I love this tradition. To conclude my 3-part celebration of my blog’s first Christmas, I’ve decided to pick some of my favorites. Before I begin, I will warn you–I’m not a fan of Frosty or Rudolph.
1) “Do You Hear What I Hear” Writers: Noel Regney (lyrics) and Gloria Shayne (music) in 1962. This song was actually written in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Sadly, in an interview Shayne said they could never perform the song together because they were so concerned of the threat of nuclear war.
2) “Good King Wenceslas” Writer: J.M. Neale
This is based ont he story of St. Wenceslas, the Duke of Bohemia (907-35). Neale wrote this in 1853. It is based on the legend of the king.
3. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” Writer: Rev. Charles Wesley
Wesley actualy wrote hymns for fifty years until his death in 1788. Charles had spent some time with the pioneer hymn writer, Rev. Isaac Watts (I’m getting to him later on), who inspired him to write. It should be noted that at the time this song was written, Wesley was somewhat disillusioned. Wesley was also the founder of Methodism.
4) “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”
This song dates all the way to the Middle Ages. A melody composed in the 1800’s. It is based on antiphons sung in medieval churches.
5) “O Holy Night” Writers: J.S. Dwight and Adolphe Charles Adam) This song was actually initially frowned on by Church authorities (perhaps it’s the difficulty in singing and playing the song?) Despite this, it became popular anyway.
6) “Joy to the World” Writer: Isaac Watts
Watts was a famous hymnast for his time. Another Christmas song he wrote was “Hush My Dear and Slumber”. The song was written in honor of David. It was believed in Watts’ time, that God stopped singing when David died.
7) “O Little Town of Bethlehem” Writer: Phillips Brooks
Brooks was a professor at the Boston Latin School. He entered the seminary in 1859. In 1865, he planned a trip to Bethlehem, which inspired the song. He wrote it because he was deeply saddened by the Civil War.
8) “Away in a Manger”
Although attributed to Martin Luther, the founder of Lutheranism, it was not written by him. It was actually collected by James R. Murray and was really “borrowed” from a Sunday School book. The melody came from the Scottish poem “Flow Gently, Sweet Afron”.
9) “Angels We Have Heard on High”
This song is sung to the tune “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” as arranged by Edward S. Barnes. Its origins are unknown.
10) “Silent Night” Writers: Fr. Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber
Mohr was an assistant pastor at the newly-built Church of St. Nicholas in Obendorf, Germany. The pipe organ for the church was broken, and a Christmas concert was coming. Fortunately, their organist, Gruber, was able to compose a song for guitar. This is the result. It is my favorite carol.
Born: c. 270 AD
Died: December 6, 343
Feast Day: December 6
Patron: Children, repentant thieves, sailors
Info: Nicholas was a Greek, and lived in Turkey. He was born of a wealthy family. When a plague killed his parents, he was raised by his uncle.
In 325, he was appointed Bishop and appeared at the Council of Nicea, where he signed the Nicene Creed (which we Catholics recite every Sunday. It’s similar to the Apostles’ Creed). Nicholas despised Arius, a council member who believed Jesus was simply a created being and not part of the triune God. He actually slapped Arius for not believing in the true Jesus.
Nicholas became the patron saint of children due to a legend in which a butcher slaughtered three children and hid their remains in a barrel. He learned of this and prayed over the remains. According to the legend, the children were resurrected.
Another famous legend concerns a poor man whose three children but could not afford a dowry. Nicolas intervened and went to his house and three three purses either through an open window or down a chimney (sound familiar?) There is also a story that says he hid money in their shoes or stockings (I have memories in elementary school of children putting out their shoes in front of the door to classes for him to fill on his feast day. But then, this was back when Christianity was more permitted than it is today, sadly.)
Reflection: To me, the story of the real St. Nick is far more compelling than the created version of St. Nicholas. While I really have no issue with the concept of Santa Claus because there is some fact to it, I do take issue with the fact that at Christmastime the media seems to revere him more than the true reason for the season–the birth of Christ. I think the absolute worst example is the Nostalgia Critic’s character, Santa Christ. Here’s what I’m talking about:
Now, I must apologize to anyone who actually likes this character, but I am extremely offended by this sketch (and I’m actually a fan of Doug Walker). I find it appalling and blasphemous. I came very close to sending him a nasty response about it, but I’ve seen how troll-filled his comment section was, so I decided against it. And then he had the audacity to bring him back THREE MORE TIMES!
I see the real St. Nicholas a reminder of how vulnerable children and how we must protect them from evil. I see his defiance of Arius as a model for us all. Now, I don’t mean we should slap all non-believers, but I do feel we should courageously defend Christianity. There is no harm in celebrating Christmas, provided we, as the bumper sticker says “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Revering Santa over Jesus is pure blasphemy.
It’s that time of year. The time TV decides to churn out Christmas stuff. Although a lot of the new specials seem more centered around the secular aspects of Christmas, I’ve found some movies and specials that I always enjoy. Here are ten.
10) Tokyo Godfathers (2003) Based on the American movie Three Godfathers, this is an excellent film by the man I consider the Stanley Kubrick of anime, Satoshi Kon. He did a great job with this story. It’s about three homeless men who find an abandoned baby and decide to give him a family, by taking care of him themselves. I really like the feel of this movie, and for a culture that certainly is not Christian, it actually does Christmas justice. I should warn you, it’s not child-friendly–one of the men is a drag queen.
9. The Small One (1978) This Disney cartoon is the last one that Don Bluth did before he made his own studio and started making cartoons like The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail. It’s a story about a boy who has to sell his family’s donkey because it’s too old. Since it’s set in Bethlehem before Jesus is born, I’m sure you can guess who gets the donkey. It’s very beautiful and the ending is heartwarming. You can find this on the Classic Holiday Favorites DVD from Disney.
8) Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) This musical stars Judy Garland as Esther, the eldest daughter of a wealthy middle-class family. She is dismayed to learn that her family has to move to New York and that she will miss the 1904 World’s Fair. The best, of course has to be the scene where Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, which has become a staple of Christmas music ever since. Garland’s voice is still as beautiful as always.
7. The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus (1985) Based on L. Frank Baum’s classic book. This is the story of a boy cared for by a Wood Nymph named Necile. (The boy is named Claus. Get it? Necile’s Claus?) According to Baum, this is the boy who would become Santa Claus. Okay, it says nothing about St. Nicholaus but I still enjoy this story. It presents the Christmas spirit in a unique way and the stop-motion animation is spell-binding (this is from Rankin-Bass, the same studio that made the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town cartoons that still play every year. I looked on Amazon and there’s lots of DVD collections of their specials, including this one.
6) A Christmas Carol Which one, you ask? Yes, there’s been lots of movies done on this classic Dickens story, from Disney to even the Flintstones (which to me makes no sense when you really think about it). I think the best ones are: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), the one with Patrick Stewart (made in 1999 for TNT), and the one starring George C. Scott in the 80’s. There’s even a modernized version called Scrooged starring Bill Murray (it’s a bit darker than it should be, but I thought it was a nice twist).
5) The Polar Express (2004) This is just beautiful. Robert Zemeckis is a brilliant filmmaker, whether he’s doing cartoons or live-action (or maybe I’m just biased because I still think the Back to the Future movies are excellent). It’s a story about children who are taken to the North Pole by train before they become too disillusioned to believe in Santa. I love the way the movie addresses the issue of faith. Whether in 2-D or 3-D, this is a joy to watch.
4) How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) It’s just not Christmas without Boris Karloff as the Grinch. This is such a fun story and I just can’t stop watching it every year. And no, I will not watch that awful Ron Howard version.
3) Miracle on 34th Street (original: 1947, remakes in 1955, 1959, and 1994) This is a classic story about Santa Claus that I feel it’s just not Christmas without. I actually like the 1994 version better, but the original is good too. I’ve heard people complain about Mara Wilson’s performance, but I’ve seen worse child actors. And besides, she’s adorable. Richard Attenborough is excellent as Kris Kringle. My favorite bits are when he does sign language for a deaf girl and the end, where the court scene is ended by someone bringing in a dollar bill. The idea is if we put “In God We Trust” on our currency (which I sincerely hope we never stop doing) to indicate a belief in God, then why can’t we believe that Santa exists.
TIE: 2) A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) I LOVE this cartoon! I still watch this every year, unlike Rudolph (which I’ve outgrown) and Frosty the Snowman (which I now despise). I find it so disappointing that this is the only secular special that actually quotes the Bible. (although I hear they tried to cut that part out originally, and Schulz insisted that it remain) Like every Charlie Brown cartoon or comic, it has a sense of honesty and innocence that I just love. And how can you not identify with Charlie Brown.
2) The Nativity Story (2006) It’s not a big budget movie but its heart is certainly in the right place. Everything about this movie is well-done. I love the attention given to Joseph’s dilemma, the performance of Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary, and the comic relief provided by the three Wise Men. I really can’t recommend this movie enough. It really deserves more attention than it initially received.
1) It’s A Wonderful Life (1945) Frank Capra directed this excellent movie. George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, is a loveable hero who discovers how much his hometown Bedford Falls would suck if he wasn’t around to keep the heartless Mr. Potter in check. I’ve not found one person who disagrees with me how great this movie is.
Born: May 8, 1746
Died: August 4, 1859
Patron: Parish Priests
Info: Vianney was a shepherd’s son and began studying to be a priest in his 20’s. He was drafted into the army in 1809, but deserters, allowing him to come home. The next year, Napoleon granted amnesty to all deserters, allowing him to come home. In 1813-1818, he began his service as a curate to Abbe Balley at Eully. The next year, he was appointed to Ars, where he stayed till he died. He had a remarkable reputation as a spiritual director and confessor, often spending 16-18 hours a day in the booth. He was canonized in 1925.
Reflection: Catholics are often criticized even today for confessing their sins to a priest. But confession is actually biblical. When Jesus gave Peter the authority to bind and loose, that included the forgiveness of sins. It is a sacrament that is unfortunately taken much too lightly in this age. Yes our sins are forgiven, but God cannot do so without our consent. It is advised that you confess your sins at least once a year (I go twice, once in Advent and then during Lent). I can attest that it certainly is therapeutic, because I certainly feel relief when I am done with my penance. In fact, my priest actually has his confessions scheduled an hour before Mass. Good thing, because if you do not confess your sins, you are not advised to take communion. To do so without confessing sins is a form of blasphemy. (We do have the Penitential rite, but that only covers venial sins)
Vianney is a symbol of the need to recognize our sinful nature. We must take care not to take this lightly because it puts strain on our relationship with Christ and we may condemn ourselves by this neglect.
This is another interview with a Pagan friend. This time, I have chosen my fellow anime blogger Sweetpea. I’ve known her for the last three years, and feel that, as Christians, we should respect and be knowledgable about other religions.
1. How did you become a pagan?
While my family is Christian, my parents weren’t church-going and felt it was important to let us experience various religions as we encountered them. My aunt, however, helped raise us, and she was/is Pagan, and since my mother didn’t really disagree with most of her beliefs, she taught me hers. And then I started delving into other (completely different from what my aunt taught me) versions of Paganism when one of my friends declared herself Pagan, and I became curious. I already believed a lot of the things that these books talked about, and had more than a few spiritual experiences that made me think about the world differently, so it was a natural jump.
2. Can you explain why you decided to give Christianity a try despite not believing in Jesus?
It was because I was at a point in my life where I wanted to know what else was out there, and since Christianity is the biggest religion in the world I thought I should give it a chance. I felt isolated in my community and among many of my friends because I wasn’t Christian, was in a very Christian community (and a lot of the students at the university were Christian), and wanted to try and feel a sense of community and fellowship. So I wanted to believe and tried my hardest. It just… didn’t work out in the end.
3. Does it bother you that you know Christians who find their religion more fulfilling than you did?
No. People believe what they believe. If I had believed as deeply as them, then I would have converted on the spot and still be Christian. I have a religion that’s just as fulfilling.
4. I’ve heard that many pagans have developed hostile attitudes toward Christians. Why do you not share this attitude?
This isn’t really true. Most Pagans do interact with Christians, both nice and not so nice, on a regular basis, and know that there as many diverse reactions and personalities as in any religion out there. It’s the same with me – I’ve met the crazies and the Jesus-esque Christians. You believe what you believe, and I have no right to say whether you’re right or wrong, since I can’t pull God out of hat and ask Him (or them, in my case) what the truth of the matter is.
5. What are some of the things you like about Christianity?
I like the message of peace and love. I think Jesus was very enlightened with a lot of what he said, and agree with a good amount of it.
6. What is your biggest peeve with Christians?
When Christians act as though they’re the only religion that has a right to worship. For instance, last November, a friend came on ranting about how the White House wasn’t putting up Christmas trees and only doing Holiday Trees. This wasn’t true, obviously, but the first thought that came into my mind was that they were acknowledging other religions existed. I don’t feel repressed because there isn’t a Solstice Tree at the White House, and firmly believe in the separation of Church and State. But it was nice to think that the government would acknowledge that there are multiple religions that happen to have celebrations around that time of year and that we all have a right to be acknowledged.
7. Let’s discuss your personal pantheon. Why do you mix gods from different pantheons instead of focusing on just one specific group?
To clarify to your readers, I consider myself an eclectic Pagan. This means that I personally don’t worship any one set of Gods. Instead I take traditions and Gods that work for me on a spiritual level – not because they’re convenient, but because I have prayed and feel that they are right – and mix them together. I mix gods because there isn’t a religion that covers all the things I feel I need to pray for. I feel better praying to Athena for courage and protection, and for learning and writing, I go to Thoth. There are many Pagans out there that will stick to one, singular pantheon, though.
8. How do you pray to these deities?
I do some research into what they symbolize and what their symbols were, and see if there are any records of different rituals that they had. I then modify them for my own lifestyle. For instance, to pray to Athena I will print off a picture of a deer from the internet – they were sacred to her – and place that on my altar (simply a space in my closet that holds two electric candles, a mirror, and a cloth of any color that I feel is appropriate for the seasons and ritual), and pray.
9. What advice would you give to any Christians who wish to interact with pagans?
Don’t immediately attempt to convert or act like we’re about to sacrifice your children. We’re really not into either of those things. We like to be respected for our beliefs and in turn we will totally respect yours. Besides, if you get to attempt to convert, then it’s only fair we get an attempt back.
10. What do you think is the worst misconception about paganism?
That we’re Satan-worshippers and sacrifice creatures/people. We don’t. Unless whoever you’re talking to defines themself as a Satanist (in which case they’re not Pagan) then we’re not worshipping anything really recognizable as Satan. There are only about 5 Pagan religions that ever sacrificed people, and none of them do it today.
11. You’ve told me that you have a problem with the hypocrisy that is in Christianity. But isn’t hypocrisy sort of a defining trait of humanity in general, regardless of religion (or lack of it)?
Christians often use their religion to paint themselves as moral paragons – automatically better than anyone else simply because they believe what they believe, even if they are hypocrites. This is what bothers me rather than the hypocrisy, because I know all people are hypocrites of some sort or another. Doubly so when they use this to get into positions of power. Most other religions acknowledge they’re just as fallible as everyone else, so it’s easier to stand behind the followers when they fail.
12. Do you have a favorite bible verse?
1 John 4:16 – “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
13. What do you think about the fact that Christians have actually adapted several pagan traditions and even their holidays, like turning Saturnalia into Christmas?
It’s happened multiple times over multiple religions. Quite often it’s hard to tell when one religion ends and another begins. Christian traditions are being co-opted into other ones as we speak, like in Japan where it’s considered akin to Valentine’s Day. Saturnalia isn’t the only Pagan tradition that got co-opted into Christmas, even, since there were many relgions that had solstice celebrations.
14. Is there anything else you think should be added?
There are a lot of things I apply to my faith that aren’t universal to Pagans, but from my encounters and talking with other Pagans, I know that as diverse as we are, we all enjoy letting people know what we are really like and how we really worship. There aren’t any false fronts to what we show and tell people. So if you know any Pagans, don’t feel afraid of going up and being curious about their personal faith.
This time, I’m talking with Tracy O Quinn. She is a moderator at fans for Christ, a message board for Christians of all types. It also has a Facebook link.
1. How did you become a Christian?
My answer is kind of messy. It really seems now that I was called by God any number of times. I used to beg my family to take me into the ‘pretty buildings’ with the stained glass, I wanted to see inside there badly. I did not know they were churches or what went on in there. I was always interested in God and seeds were planted all my childhood and teen years. I went to Salvation Army summer camp, friends at school would invite me to their church with them. After I graduated high school I bought myself a Bible and started reading it. I said a prayer asking for salvation at home and then found a Christian church denomination, asked their pastor to baptize me. However I immediately back slid and looking back on it I think I liked the ‘idea’ of becoming a follower of Christ or perhaps I did not understand the reality of allowing Christ to make a permanent change in my life. Although I attended church off and on I did not really get become ‘born-again’ until I was dating my husband and he started taking me to church with him. It was at the House of Worship in Jesup, GA in September of 1994.
2. What reason would you give for believing in God?
I found that when I really opened my mind and searched myself, that indeed it was just like the preachers and teachers said- there was something missing, a God-shaped empty piece of myself that only He could fill. I felt God, in a tangible way at that moment. It was kind of like the Matrix and I took the red pill. I now could see everything prior to that moment with new eyes, that everything in my past was basically leading up to this moment and that I had not been alone. The Father and Son had been there all the time, patiently calling me. It may sound trite to someone else, but its true.
3. Is there anyone in your life who inspires you to be a better person? Why?
There have definitely been people that have influenced me and inspired me. It changes as time goes by, so I do not have specific people to name at this moment. Really I think the fact that I tend to be so inspired by hero stories, and characters willing to sacrifice for the good of others is why I am such a geek. I love movies about heroes, and I love super hero comics. I love fantasy like Lord of the Rings because of all the rich hero characters. I find it inspiring when heroes turn out not to actually be very heroic most of the time, but they are able to rise to the occasion and put the safety and well being of others before themselves when the time comes. That means there is hope for even someone like me to be heroic too! I cannot say which came first, my love for Jesus who is the ultimate hero or my love of heroes and hero stories. They are so intertwined and a part of me I cannot untangle them. Perhaps, somehow, it is both!
4. What’s your favorite Bible verse and why?
My favorite verse is Micah 6:8. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” I really feel like this is a very succinct way of explaining exactly what our Christian walk should be like. It is worded perfectly, includes everything. Once we read it, we can dissect it and pull out all the deep meaning in each word. But it covers it all, at least in my opinion.
5. What is your current profession?
I am an Operations Manager at the Atlanta dispatch office for a trucking company called Roadlink Intermodal Logistics.
6. Who’s your favorite Biblical figure?
I don’t really have one. It might be because I never went to Sunday School or anything as a child. Jesus is my favorite person in the Bible, his compassion, mercy, faithfulness and patience are things that continually inspire me. I will say that it does my heart good to see that in the Bible God is clearly able to use flawed individuals, because I am definitely one!
7. What was your childhood like? Did it influence your faith in any way?
My family were not church goers although all my older siblings went to Catholic School. We were originally from the Bronx NY. My parents were alcoholics and I was the last of 6 kids. My sister who was 11 yrs older than me took me in and raised me as her own when I was 8 years old. We moved to central Florida which was a huge change for me. I never really knew my parents. My father was gone most of the time and then he moved out. My mother was busy and out quite a bit, I found out later that she was probably drinking somewhere. When she was at home she slept a good bit. I was left on my own a bunch and my sister Linda and brother Tony (the other siblings were out on their own by this time) would get home from school and I would be there alone. The whole family seemed to be real bitter towards the Catholic church, but I guess that was because of their experiences at Catholic school. They were apparently traumatized by punishments that Priests or Nuns would dish out and by some of their behavior. It probably also had to do with the fact that life at home was awful for all the kids, and there seemed to be no help for them even at the church. I was born in 1967, so it was a different time in America then. I don’t think the same situations would be so patiently ignored as none of their business by any church or school today. I grew up being influenced against church mainly. Even the few times my sister would take the family to a church it would end badly, with her getting her feelings hurt or getting scared by the preaching that all us kids were going to hell because of things she did or didn’t do, then there was the Pentecostal church that got so loud and rambunctious we left shortly after it started and even as a kid I was traumatized by it! So it may be that all of this is what led me to taking so long to really fully open up to the power of God in my own life.
8. What denomination are you?
I have attended different churches over my adult life. As I felt led, in the different areas I may have been living at the time. Right now, I have been attending a Church of God for about 12 years. They are Pentecostal, but our church is very ‘mild-mannered’ for a Pentecostal denomination.
The Chamber of Secrets is actually one of my favorite books in the series. We get a glimpse into Voldemort’s childhood. Ginny Weasley, who made an early-bird cameo in Sorcerer’s Stone, becomes a full-fledged character. We also meet three new characters: Gilderoy Lockheart, Lucius Malfoy (Draco’s father) and his House-elf, Dobby. We love Dobby.
The Basilisk is an interesting creature. In folklore, the basilisk is the king of the serpents. They can be killed, but there’s a catch–if you look directly at it, you’re turned to stone. Thanks to the basilisk, we learn Harry Potter can speak parseltongue. When the basilisk begins petrifying people, everyone immediately begins to suspect Harry is controlling it because he hates his “muggle” (read: non-magic users) family and their suspicions are confirmed when they discover his secret. This secret also is one of the reasons the anti-Harry Potter crowd used in their claims that the books are demonic. But consider this: if Harry talking to a snake is demonic, then half the human population is evil–Eve also talked to a snake.
No, I think we can glean something else. Parseltongue is a talent. The Sorting Hat even tells Harry that this talent almost made it consider putting him in Slytherin instead of Gryffindor. In the gospels, Jesus relates a parable about three stewards given talents by their masters. (Matt 25:14-30) In Biblical times, talents were a unit of currency rather than a skill. If you were a steward in Jesus’s time, it would take you at least fifteen years to earn just one talent. In the parable, one steward gets five talents, another two, and the last only gets one. The steward who received five talents invested them and gets five more. The steward who receives two talents also invested them and got two more. But the one who only got one talent held on to it selfishly, and was punished by having to give it to the steward who now had ten talents. To put this into modern-day perspective, imagine that they were each given thousands of dollars. Now do you see why the person had only one talent was treated so harshly?
I believe what Rowling is trying to show the reader is that your actual talents doesn’t matter–what matters is how the talent is used. Voldemort used his talent to kill students born of muggle parents. Harry however, uses his talent confuses the basilisk and saves everyone.
Dobby the House-elf is one of my favorite characters, but he didn’t start out that way. His constant efforts to “save” Harry Potter from Voldemort and Lucius really did more harm than good. So why do I like him? Because when Harry frees Dobby, Dobby stands between him and Lucius. Lucius is too dumbfounded to react.
As a final point, there’s Gilderoy Lockheart, the new Defense against the Dark Arts teacher. Throughout the book, we hear him talk endlessly about the grand things he’s done. But Harry, Ron, and Severus Snape doubt him. When he quizzes pupils about his books, it’s always about inconsequential things like his favorite color or his favorite sweets. We later learn that Lockheart has actually taken credit for the works others have done. This is a violation of the Tenth Commandment, against bearing false witness. After re-reading this book for this post, I have to say this: I am SO glad we only had to put up with him for this book. If there were 5 more books with him, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to take it.
Our next part will deal with another one of my favorite books in the series, The Prisoner of Azkaban.