Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Steppin' Into a Christmas Story With Peanuts


The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful this time of year. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, with everyone telling you “be of good cheer”. After all, ‘tis the season to be jolly, perhaps because Santa Claus is coming to town.

More importantly, we celebrate the first Noel, when some folks asked “What child is this?”, and angels sang “Glory to the newborn king”.

It’s Christmas time again, when a reindeer named Rudolph and a snowman named Frosty become heroes, and we are reacquainted with scary villains with names like Grinch and Scrooge.

I always look forward to this time of year, to writing something about Christmas. This year in particular, the topic seemed so ripe for the picking. I would hang out under the mistletoe and drink eggnog with the other folks bashing the attacks on Christmas by secularists. I would take my potshots at liberal media and those who have gone overboard from the good ship S.S. Politically Correct. I would denounce those who dared utter “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas”.

And then it hit me. I don’t mind anyone wishing me a happy holiday, after all. I don’t need some corporation blitzing me with it in their ads. I don’t need some store-greeter shooting me a phony smile and a yuletide greeting. I am very well aware of what time of year it is, and so is the vast majority of the rest of America.

It’s Christmas Time, and nothing can stop that from coming.

I enjoy seeing “holiday” signs with snowmen, santas, snowflakes, reindeer and gifts highlighted. I like seeing “Christmas” signs with stars, trees, wise men and mangers highlighted. To me, it’s all good. I wish folks a “Merry Christmas”, and love when they say it back to me. But if someone says “Happy Holidays!”, I am sure not gonna shoot them a dirty look.

Rather than defend Christmas, and level an attack on secularists and blatant Christ-haters, what I decided to do in my piece this year was to tell you of the true origins of Christmas, and then touch on a couple of my favorite things about the holiday. For secularists and folks of other faiths beyond Christianity, it may be a little bit of a lesson. For believers, it’s a refresher, and some ammunition.

Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ that falls on December 25th each year on the Christian calendar. The word is a contraction of the term “Christ’s Mass” from the old English term Cristes Maese.

It’s celebration as a formal Christian holiday likely stems from the 4th century, when the emporer Constantine converted to Christianity and declared it the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Romans had celebrated December 25th as the winter solstice, part of a major celebration to their sun god.
There are many historical takes on the Roman and pagan traditions surrounding this time of the year.

The fact remains that no matter what exact date is celebrated, the actual birth date of Jesus Christ is not known with any certainty. The fact remains that the date of December 25th is when the majority of His followers have settled on celebrating this event, and that should be good enough for us.

So Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and we all know why He is important. Jesus was sent to us by God to teach us how to live, how to love, and to save us from our sins. The stories of Jesus at Christmas thus are nearly always about the “baby Jesus”. He was born in a stable in the town of Bethlehem to Mary, his virgin mother, herself specifically chosen by God for this role. The specific history of the holiday, and of the birth of Christ, is far too big to fit into a short article such as this, but those are the highlights.

In modern day America, the holiday of Christmas has been seen by some to have been taken over by secularists, or folks who don’t care about the religious significance and origins of the date. Fact is, in my way of thinking, all of the non-religious color and festivity have only added to the feeling of happiness, warmth and peace that is, at heart, exactly what Jesus brought to the world.

Santa, Rudolph, Frosty. Candy canes, mistletoe, stockings. Trees, wreaths, poinsettias. Garland, ornaments, lights. Wrapping, ribbons, bows. It’s all good, it all brings happiness, and none of it takes away from the joyous true message of the birth of Christ. In fact, when integrated with that message, these things bring the season to life.

Another thing that has put a smile on the face and warmed the hearts of many a modern child, and adult for that matter, at Christmas time is the release of tremendous songs, motion pictures, and television shows based on the spirit of the holiday season. Everyone has their own personal favorites, and here are mine.

There are many great Christmas songs, and I am not even going to pretend that my favorite is the most emotional, the most sentimental, or even the greatest musical composition. It is simply my favorite. “Step Into Christmas” by Elton John is a lively, uptempo, modern song released first in the U.K. in 1973.
In it we are welcomed in to the song, thanked for our contributions to the singers year gone by, and to eat, drink and be merry during this holiday season. We are then asked to take care into the new year. In total, we are asked to “Step Into Christmas” with the singer, to join him in revelry and celebration of this joyful and holy time. Elton never mentions virgin births, wise men, mangers, or stars. What he does do, seven times specifically in the song’s lyrics, is call the holiday what it is – Christmas, and in doing so recognizes Christ, and the reason for the season, and for all the merriment that the song implies.

Of all the great Christmas movies, my favorite has to be “A Christmas Story”, the Bob Clark-directed 1983 ode to the idealic America of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s as told in Jean Shephard’s original book and screenplay. In the movie, Peter Billingsley stars as 10-year old Ralphie, who tries to convince his overly protective mother (Melinda Dillon) and his tough-guy father (Darren McGavin), as well as his teachers and friends that a “genuine Red Ryder BB gun” would be his perfect Christmas gift. Of course mom fights him tough and nail, delivering the immortal line “you’ll shoot your eye out!”. Other lasting contributions from this timeless classic need no introduction for the fully indoctrinated: “Some men are Baptists, others Catholics. My father was an Oldsmobile man.”, Fra-gee-lay. That must be Italian.”,Meatloaf, smeatloaf, double-beatloaf. I hate meatloaf!”, They looked at me as if I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.”,You used up all the glue on purpose!”, “Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!”,My father worked in profanity like other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium, a master.”, “Flick? Flick who?”,It’s a major award!”,This isn’t one of those trees where all the needles falls off?”,Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra, ra-ra-ra-ra…”. The wars with the old furnace. The leg lamp. The name of the Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse. Classic.

Finally there is television, and perhaps the greatest single moment in one of the greatest animated classics of all-time, Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts” characters starring in “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!”, also known as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and released in 1965, when I was just 4 years old. It was both a critical and commercial hit that won both an Emmy and Peabody Award during the year of it’s release. In this one, Chuck and the gang attempt to find the true meaning of Christmas by putting on a Nativity play. Charlie Brown is sent out to find the perfect Christmas tree for the event, and returns with a tiny, decrepit evergreen branch. The many and varied amusing antics of Snoopy, Lucy, Sally, Schroeder and the gang all culminate in what may be the single greatest moment in Christmas television, when Charlie Brown frustratingly laments, “Can’t anyone tell me the true meaning of Christmas?”. Linus volunteers, and takes the stage to recite the true Christmas story, turning on the light in the mind and heart of Charlie Brown, the Peanuts gang, and anyone who has ever watched this delightful piece of true Americana:
[LIGHTS GO DOWN, SPOTLIGHT ON LINUS]

LINUS:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
[LIGHTS COME BACK UP AS LINUS WALKS BACK]

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Amen, Linus.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.

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