Nov 25, 2012: A Promise to do Christmas Differently

Posted on : Nov 20th, 2012 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

OMG, I can’t believe people began “camping out” at area big box stores a week before “Black Friday.” They were there just to secure their place in line to guarantee that they would be among the first to enter the stores to buy stuff really cheap.  Is it really worth saving $200 on a flat screen TV to spend a week living on the streets?  Is this an emerging cult? Is Christmas about “cheap?”

Well, actually the connection between Thanksgiving and consumer spending comes out of the economic collapse known as the Great Depression.  According to the National Achieves, here’s how Thanksgiving and shopping got mingled:

Congress Establishes Thanksgiving

On September 28, 1789, just before leaving for recess, the first Federal Congress passed a resolution asking that the President of the United States recommend to the nation a day of thanksgiving. A few days later, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin” – the first time Thanksgiving was celebrated under the new Constitution. Subsequent presidents issued Thanksgiving Proclamations, but the dates and even months of the celebrations varied. It wasn’t until President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation that Thanksgiving was regularly commemorated each year on the last Thursday of November.

In 1939, however, the last Thursday in November fell on the last day of the month. Concerned that the shortened Christmas shopping season might dampen the economic recovery, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a Presidential Proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November. As a result of the proclamation, 32 states issued similar proclamations while 16 states refused to accept the change and proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November. For two years two days were celebrated as Thanksgiving – the President and part of the nation celebrated it on the second to last Thursday in November, while the rest of the country celebrated it the following week.

To end the confusion, Congress decided to set a fixed-date for the holiday. On October 6, 1941, the House passed a joint resolution declaring the last Thursday in November to be the legal Thanksgiving Day. The Senate, however, amended the resolution establishing the holiday as the fourth Thursday, which would take into account those years when November has five Thursdays. The House agreed to the amendment, and President Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, thus establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.  []

Believe it or not, the day after Thanksgiving is not a federal holiday.  “Black Friday” as it has now been named, was simply known as the unofficial “beginning of the Christmas shopping season.”  For many years, most people actually worked on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  To encourage shoppers, stores began offering sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and it worked really well.  In fact, retail stores did so well that the day after Thanksgiving got its name “Black Friday” because it was the first day of the year that retailers actually made enough money for their profit and loss ledger to go “in the black.”  i.e. not “in the red.”

But one has to ask, is this really what Christmas is all about?  Is Christmas a spending holiday or a giving holiday?  Is it about giving expensive gifts or about giving love?

I know you’ll never believe this, but historically Christmas was a very minor holiday in the life of the Christian Church.  Before electricity, it was a holiday clothed in darkness.  Thus, candles took on major importance in the celebration.  Our celebration of Christmas actually came about as a Christian alternative to the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the lunar year – Dec. 21st or 22nd depending on the lunar calendar.)

A number of years ago I was having a conversation with the Rabbis in our Interfaith Clergy group.  Because Christian kids get so many gifts at Christmas, Jewish kids want to celebrate Christmas, too!  That isn’t very “kosher” for Jews, so Hanukkah which is a very minor religious celebration is turning into 8 days of “nice” gift giving for Jewish kids – kind of a religious alternative to the commercialism of Christmas.  I said to my Rabbi colleagues, “Just be careful you don’t let Hanukkah become the mess that Christmas is for us.  Our celebration of the holiday is so far removed from its intent that is ridiculous!”  I still hold to that.  Our “secular” celebration of Christmas is actually counter to the religious celebration.  It’s quite a mess.

Every year I hear people complain that by Christmas day, they’ve had it with Christmas!  Broke, over-spent, burned out, exhausted, over-weight, tired, and partied out.  So, I thought, “Why not do something different this year?”  Why not begin the season with a promise to “do Christmas differently this year?”

One of the members of our church is in a support group for those going through major life changes.  One of the pieces of wisdom he has learned from the facilitator of his group is, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.” In other words, “If there is going to be change in my life, I’m the one who has to make it happen.”  Joseph, Jesus’ father, said something similar, a long time ago.  He said, “We’ve got to find a new way home.  The old way isn’t safe any longer, and it isn’t good for us.”  EXACTLY!  We need to find new ways to celebrate Christmas so that the joy of our religious celebration carries over into our secular celebration.

So this Sunday, we’ll look at some ways we can make Christmas merrier and more meaningful.



~ This Sunday’s Scriptures ~

Matthew 2: 13-23

After “the Wise Men” or “Three Kings” [or “Astrologers”] had left, an angel of God suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph with the command, “get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt.  Stay there until I tell you otherwise.  Herod is searching for the child to destroy him.”  Joseph got up, awakened Jesus and Mary, and they left that night for Egypt.  They stayed there until the death of Herod, to fulfill what God had said through the prophet:  “Out of Egypt I have called my Own.”

Herod became furious when he realized that the astrologers had outwitted him.  He gave orders to kill all male children that were two years old and younger living in and around Bethlehem.  The age of the children was based on the date Herod had learned from the astrologers.  Then what was spoken through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

A voice was heard in Ramah

sobbing and lamenting loudly:

it was Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be consoled,

for they were no more.”

After Herod’s death, the angel of God appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt with the command, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and set out for the land of Israel.  Those who had designs on the life of the child are dead.”

Joseph got up, awakened Jesus and Mary, and they returned to the land of Israel.  Joseph heard, however, that Archelaus had succeeded Herod as ruler of Judea, and Joseph was afraid to go back there.  Instead, because of a warning received by Joseph in a dream, the family went to the region of Galilee.  There they settled in a town called Nazareth.  In this way, what was said through the prophets was fulfilled: “He will be called a Nazarene.”


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