And so this is Christmas…

    The arrival of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November was once the starting point of the Holiday Season. In our era of constant indignation, “triggering” and explosive individual rights, I’m sure lumping Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year into the “Holiday Season” is more than enough impetus to propel the most vocal “victims” into a tirade.

    Despite the outrage, the holidays arrive each year, much as the one before. That’s the magic of Christmas and to a lesser extent Thanksgiving.

    We all have traditions, whether it be a formal civic affair like the arrival of the national Christmas tree in Washington, D.C., or strings of lights being installed on a city street, or it can be familial.


    We enjoyed the vast array of Christmas lights in Edinburgh and Glasgow last month, but surprisingly (ok, not so surprising) the Brits and Scots make no notice of our Thanksgiving at all. I suspect they don’t care much for fireworks on the 4th of July that celebrate our independence from them either.

    Christmas has always been a bright beacon in the midst of the darkest, coldest days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

    Christmas south of the equator takes on a different tone since it’s the height of summer in Australia, and much of Africa, and South America.

    As kids, my sister Susie and I didn’t have a white Christmas until I was 12 and she was nine. It took flying to Riverton from Rancho Cordova, California in 1968 to see snow on Christmas Day for the first time.


    You don’t get much snow in Louisiana, you don’t get any in Puerto Rico, and none in Central California either. We did get a half-inch of snow one day when we lived in Northeastern Arkansas. It was wet and there was enough of it to make a tiny snowman before it melted away later that afternoon.

    They canceled school at Gosnell Elementary in Blytheville that day because of the “heavy” snowfall.

    The winter of 68’ was memorable. We built our first snow fort, and an igloo out of chunks of heavy, crusted snow in my grandparent’s front yard. My dad built a sled out of plywood and my grandpa pulled us down the snowpack covering the gravel of what would become Gasser Road when it was named for him a few years later.


    Grandpa Gasser didn’t pull us by hand but rather towed us behind his 1958 Plymouth, the one with the push-button transmission to the left of the steering wheel.

    Christmas was not always the season of joy, snow, family gatherings, and celebration.

    In the late 19th century, particularly in Northern Europe, it was festive only in the amount of alcohol people poured down their throats on Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day.


    The drunkenness and debauchery of Christmas was epic in London, but equally decadent in Berlin. It seemed the Anglicans and Lutherans of the day had no problem celebrating the holiday with copious volumes of dark beer, gin, and rum. The French, Spanish, and Italians may have lifted a glass or two, but as Catholic nations, they were much more scripted in their religious celebrations.

    Enter Edward White Benson, an Anglican minister living in Cornwall in 1880.

    Benson was hard to pin down. An avid believer in spirits and ghosts, he was involved in seances and wrote of the demonic possession of children by the ghosts of evil men, who became evil spirits. He also served as the Bishop of Canterbury, the highest office in the Anglican Church of England from 1883 to 1896.

    He was a man of mystery, but one thing wasn’t mysterious at all, he was sickened by the drunks staggering through the streets of every English town and city each Christmas.

    In 1880, he wrote a Christmas carol service for his congregation in Truro, the largest town in Cornwall.

    The idea was to make the music so enticing that the drunks would leave the pubs and come to church. It worked. It worked so well that it became a tradition.

    We take Christmas carols for granted today. If you’re in a big box store, or in a large department store in a city you begin to hear Christmas music through the speakers soon after Halloween.

    What the good bishop tried to accomplish in getting the English drunks off the barstools and into the pews, is now marketing 101 for corporations large and small across the world.

    Scotland didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but they did have Black Friday sales at every store we encountered. An economic opportunity whether tied to a celebrated holiday or not, remains an economic opportunity.

    Christmas carols are a tradition, with each of us having a favorite.

    For me, it’s not Christmas until I hear Jose Feliciano belting out “Feliz Navidad.”

    My other two favorites are probably not in the Billboard Top 40 of Christmas songs, but do I care?

    “Mary’s Boy Child,” with just a hint of Calypso by Harry Belafonte comes to mind. If you don’t recognize it, here is a snippet, “Hark, now hear the angels sing, a king was born today, And man will live for evermore, because of Christmas Day.”

    My third choice is “The Little Drummer Boy” Bing Crosby’s second most popular Christmas song after “White Christmas.”

    The one Christmas song (not a carol) that makes every top-five list, at least in America, isn’t about Christmas at all.

    Sing “Jingle Bells” in your head and stop when you get to the word, Christmas. You’ll be singing for a long time since it isn’t there.

    Jingle Bells was a Thanksgiving song for children at one time, or a southern drinking song in another version. The debate is inconclusive, but what is known is that the son of the richest man to ever live in America, J.P. Morgan, wrote it in Massachusetts in 1850, and published it in Georgia in 1857.

    Pierpont Morgan’s original song was called “One Horse Open Sleigh” and had a few off-color lyrics for its time.

    Here is a sample.

    A day or two ago
    I thought I’d take a ride
    And soon, Miss Fanny Bright
    Was seated by my side,
    The horse was lean and lank
    Misfortune seemed his lot
    He got into a drifted bank
    And then we got upsot.

    Not the version you know, is it?

    In Salem, Massachusetts the bells were sleigh bells, but in the version sung in Savannah, Georgia, where sleighs, ice, and snow are unknown, those bells were the tinkling of ice cubes (also a rarity in the 1800s) in a glass at the bar.

    “And so, this is Christmas. And what have we done? Another year over. And a new one just begun,” John Lennon.

    Happy Holidays.


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