A Patriot Christmas
By Mark Alexander
The Birth of Jesus: "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.' Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.' When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.' So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them." (Luke 2:1-18).
However, the most hallowed religious observance for our family -- that with the most deeply rooted traditions -- is Christmas. It is not a commercial feeding frenzy for us, but a quiet and reverent time of rest and celebration of the birth of Christ, punctuated by extended family festivities.
Christmas Through the Generations
Historically, the actual year of Christ's birth is thought to be between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C., at the end of Herod's reign. The first mention of Christmas as a formal Nativity feast occurred in a Roman almanac dated A.D. 336. The day we celebrate Christ's birth, December 25th, was not chosen on the basis of historical evidence but rather to replace the pagan festival natalis solis invicti, the birth of the sun god Mithras, at winter solstice.
The Christmas star that guided the Wise Men to Bethlehem may have been any of a number of recorded astronomical events coinciding with the likeliest dates of that first Christmas. Halley's Comet appeared in 12 B.C., and ancient Chinese texts note "exploding" stars, or novas, observed in both 4 and 5 B.C. Exceptionally bright planetary conjunctions occurred in 2, 6, and 7 B.C.; among these, the most promising candidate for the Holy Star was the triple conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in 6 B.C.
The prophet Isaiah wrote of the coming Messiah, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." Clearly, well before the birth of Jesus, humans longed for light in the days of greatest darkness. Early Christians selected December 25th for the Nativity feast to proclaim that Jesus Christ was the real Light of the World, the true "Sun of Righteousness," as well as the Messiah foretold in Jewish faith. As Jesus later said, he had not come to destroy the law and the prophets of Judaism, but to fulfill them, and so he also fulfilled the deepest human longings expressed in other traditional celebrations. And we Christians believe these aspects of our human nature are not merely enduring, but eternal -- because we humans are all created in the image of Eternal God.
Our American Christmas heritage derives from the mingled Christmas traditions of immigrants from many lands, with differing religious beliefs and customs of worship and celebration. Our name for this holiday, itself a word derived from "Holy Day," arises from the old English Cristes Maesse, or Christ's Mass. Christmas is sometimes abbreviated as Xmas, which is derived from combining the Greek letter "chi," denoting "Christ," with "Mass."
Christmas was first observed in Early America among the Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Moravians who settled predominantly in the Middle Atlantic colonies and the South.
Influenced by Puritanism and Calvinism, the New England Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists looked askance at a celebration they deemed based on "heathenistic traditions." New England colonial authorities outlawed Christmas from 1649 until 1658. The General Court of Massachusetts in 1659 set a fine of five shillings per offense, punishing the observance "of any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forebearing of labour, feasting, or any such way." Contemporaneously, the Assembly of Connecticut forbade the reading of the Book of Common Prayer, the keeping of Christmas and saints days, the making of mince pies, the playing of cards, or performing on any musical instruments.
Peter Kalm wrote on Christmas Day 1749 about Philadelphia's holiday: "Nowhere was Christmas Day celebrated with more solemnity than in the Roman Church. Three sermons were preached there, and that which contributed most to the splendor of the ceremony was the beautiful music heard to-day.... Pews and altar were decorated with branches of mountain laurel, whose leaves are green in winter time and resemble the (cherry laurel)."
Philip Fithian, of colonial Virginia, recorded in his diary entry for December 18, 1773: "When it grew to dark to dance ... we conversed til half after six; Nothing is now to be heard of in conversation, but the Balls, the Fox-hunts, the fine entertainments, and the good fellowship, which are to be exhibited at the approaching Christmas."
Fithian's Christmas Eve 1775 diary entry from Staunton, Virginia, described other common pastimes of the holiday celebration: "The Evening I spent at Mr. Guys -- I sung for an Hour, at the good Peoples Desire, Mr. Watts admirable Hymns -- I myself was entertaind; I felt myself improvd; so much Love to Jesus is set forth -- So much divine Exercise." But his 1775 Christmas Day entry noted the vastly different observances of the Scots and Scots-Irish Presbyterians: "Christmas Morning -- Not A Gun is heard -- Not a Shout -- No company or Cabal assembled -- To Day is like other Days every Way calm & temperate -- People go about their daily Business with the same Readiness, & apply themselves to it with the same Industry."
The first state to declare Christmas a legal holiday was Massachusetts in 1856.
By the first battles of the War Between the States, most of our shared Christmas traditions were set, and the January 3, 1863, issue of Harper's Weekly featured a drawing of encamped soldiers receiving Christmas gifts from home.
General Robert E. Lee wrote one wartime Christmas: "My heart is filled with gratitude to Almighty God for his unspeakable mercies with which He has blessed us in this day. For those He granted us from the beginning of life, and particularly for those He has vouchsafed us during the past year [of war]. What should have become of us without His crowning help and protection? Oh, if our people would only recognize it and cease from self-boasting and adulation, how strong would be my belief in the final success and happiness to our country! But what a cruel thing is war; to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world! I pray that on this day [Christmas] when only peace and good-will are preached to mankind, better thoughts may fill the hearts of our enemies and turn them to peace."
Christmas became a federal holiday in 1870, and today, nearly all Americans celebrate Christmas in some way, a uniformity that belies the variance with which, as in colonial days, Americans approach this holiday.
From St. Nicholas to Santa Claus
As holiday is derived from "Holy Day," and Christmas from "Cristes Maesse," the name Santa Claus is derived from St. Nicholas.
My colleague William Federer offered a brief history of the very real St. Nicholas, who is at the root of the modern Santa Claus.
"Greek Orthodox tradition tells of Saint Nicholas being born to a wealthy, elderly couple in Asia Minor (what is today Turkey) in the year 280 AD. When his parents died, he used the wealth he inherited to generously give to the poor.
"Upon hearing of a merchant who went bankrupt and that creditors were about to take his daughters, Saint Nicholas threw money in the window at night to provide a dowry for the daughters to get married, thus saving them from a life of prostitution. When the father discovered who gave the money, Nicholas made him promise not to tell, as he wanted the glory to go to God alone.
"This inspired the custom of secret gift-giving on the anniversary of Saint Nicholas' death, December 6, 343 AD.
"Saint Nicholas became Bishop of Myra and was imprisoned during Emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians. He was freed by Emperor Constantine. Saint Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea where the Nicene Creed was written.
"Just like the Apostle Paul, in Acts, chapter 19, Saint Nicholas preached against the fertility goddess "Diana" and her immoral temple prostitutes at Ephesus - the Las Vegas of the ancient Mediterranean world. The people responded by tearing down local temple to Diana.
"Saint Nicholas was known for courageously rescuing a soldier who was about to be executed by a corrupt governor, and for having many miraculous answers to his prayers.
"After his death, Emperor Justinian built a cathedral and named it after him. Vladimir the Great of Russia converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity and adopted Saint Nicholas as the patron saint of Russia.
"In the 11th century, Muslim Seljuks Turks invaded Asia Minor, killing Christians, turning churches into mosques and digging up the bones of Christian saints and giving them to dogs. For protection, in the year 1087, the bones of Saint Nicholas were shipped to the town of Bari in southern Italy, thus introducing Saint Nicholas and gift-giving traditions to Western Europe.
"Eventually, Dutch immigrants brought the Saint Nicholas traditions to New Amsterdam, which became New York, and they pronounced Saint Nicholas 'Sinter Claes' or 'Santa Claus.'"
Founding Fathers and Christmas
Unfortunately, there is a perennial societal tension now associated with Christmas. If not for its dire implications for the future of Liberty, the seasonal contortions over "non-offensive greetings" would be humorous. The Left insists the word "Christmas" violates the phony "Wall of Separation" doctrine if a government employee deigns to utter it within earshot, and that it is too ethnocentric for corporate use.
Some years ago, The Patriot Post coined the greeting "Happy Christmahanakwamadan." We did so in response to the fashionable PC crowd's ludicrous demands for "inclusive faith neutral" greetings. We also published our legal department disclaimer outlining the terms of acceptance for the greeting as a counterpoint to retailers vying for your business who have instituted policies discouraging or outright prohibiting any mention of "Christmas." We do not challenge private sector employer's right to dictate corporate policies on such matters.
However, the ongoing campaign to censor Christmas from public forums is another matter.
Ironically, it's often these same censors who take shortcuts such as wishing folks "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Xmas."
Despite some Americans preoccupation with the secularization of Christmas, our Founders, the framers of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, had no such concerns about public expressions of faith, as none was warranted. Conversely, they were bold about promoting Christianity and speaking about their own faith.
Historian Peter Lillback, author of "Sacred Fire," an exhaustive scholarly treatise on George Washington, notes that it is only in recent years, with the searchable digital publication of our Founders' writings, that we get an accurate picture of their faith, and expression of same.
Lillback writes, "Washington referred to himself frequently using the words 'ardent,' 'fervent,' 'pious,' and 'devout.' There are over one hundred different prayers composed and written by Washington in his own hand. He described himself as one of the deepest men of faith of his day when he confessed to a clergyman, 'No Man has a more perfect Reliance on the alwise, and powerful dispensations of the Supreme Being than I have nor thinks his aid more necessary.' Although he never once used the word 'Deist' in his voluminous writings, he often mentioned religion, Christianity, and the Gospel. He spoke of Christ as 'the divine Author of our blessed religion.' He wrote of 'the blessed religion revealed in the Word of God.' He encouraged seekers to learn 'the religion of Jesus Christ.' He even said to his soldiers, 'To the distinguished Character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to add the more distinguished Character of Christian.'"
Believe it or not, Washington did not need to consult pollsters or focus groups, as general or president, before issuing proclamations of faith. He spoke them from his heart, just as most of our Founders did.
Here follows a small sample of how other notable Founders expressed their faith.
John Adams: "The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God. ... The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity."
Samuel Adams: "I [rely] upon the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins. ... I conceive we cannot better express ourselves than by humbly supplicating the Supreme Ruler of the world ... bringing in the holy and happy period when the kingdoms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be everywhere established, and the people willingly bow to the scepter of Him who is the Prince of Peace. ... We may with one heart and voice humbly implore His gracious and free pardon through Jesus Christ, supplicating His Divine aid ... [and] above all to cause the religion of Jesus Christ, in its true spirit, to spread far and wide till the whole earth shall be filled with His glory."
John Hancock: "That the spiritual kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be continually increasing until the whole earth shall be filled with His glory."
Patrick Henry: "Being a Christian ... is a character which I prize far above all this world has or can boast. ... The Bible is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed. ... This is all the inheritance I can give to my dear family. The religion of Christ can give them one, which will make them rich indeed."
John Jay: "Condescend, merciful Father! to grant as far as proper these imperfect petitions, to accept these inadequate thanksgivings, and to pardon whatever of sin hath mingled in them for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Savior; unto Whom, with Thee, and the blessed Spirit, ever one God, be rendered all honor and glory, now and forever. ... The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts. ... Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."
Thomas Jefferson: "I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines in preference to all others. ... I am a real Christian -- that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ."
James Madison: "I have sometimes thought there could not be a stronger testimony in favor of religion or against temporal enjoyments, even the most rational and manly, than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and [who] are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent advocates in the cause of Christ."
And these words from that sage, Benjamin Franklin, we all need to consider: "How many observe Christ's birth-day! How few, his precepts! O! 'tis easier to keep Holidays than Commandments."
"Endowed by Our Creator"
Clearly, our Founding Fathers understood that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" could not be sustained in the absence of Light, that these rights are irrevocably endowed by our Creator, the inherent Rights of Man that are the gift of God.
According to George Washington, "Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. ... The Hand of providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations."
John Adams wrote: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. ... Statesmen may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People, in a greater Measure than they have it now, They may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty."
Benjamin Rush proclaimed, "[T]he only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments."
Likewise, Gouverneur Morris wrote, "Religion is the only solid basis of good morals and Morals are the only possible Support of free governments. Therefore education should teach the precepts of religion and the duties of man towards God."
Samuel Adams added, "Religion and good morals are the only solid foundation of public liberty and happiness. ... Religion in a Family is at once its brightest Ornament and its best Security."
Perhaps John Jay said it best: "The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts."
My point in listing these snippets of wisdom from our Founders is to make the case plain that the Left's proscription on the expression of faith, censorship that is antithetical to the very existence of our Constitution and Liberty, will not cease until such expressions have been expelled from all public venues and forums. Then, and only then, can the rule of men fully supersede the Rule of Law.
The Light of the World
When our children were young, Ann and I would help them comprehend how great God has always been and always will be, the Alpha and Omega, by using metaphors with tangible examples that they could grasp.
We wanted our children to understand that it is only the rare occasion, given the immensity of His universal plan, which affords us a perfectly clear view of God's plan for each of us. But we also assured them of the Truth we had learned: that through faith, we always know that He will use our circumstances, however corrupted by our own free will, to guide us to where He wants us to be.
As our kids have grown older, each has demonstrated a substantial interest and aptitude for science. Thus, I was captivated when one of my sons directed me to this elucidation of God's infinite domain from Dr. William Blair, an astrophysicist and research professor at Johns Hopkins University.
Blair wrote: "Today we know that galaxies are as common as blades of grass in a meadow. The Hubble Space Telescope recently completed a particularly deep (faint) census of a tiny 'pencil beam' extending far out into the Universe. This survey, called the 'Hubble Deep Field,' was targeted on a region of the sky that was nearly devoid of known objects, so as to be (hopefully) representative of conditions in the distant Universe. The resulting images are truly amazing. Strewn across this tiny piece of the sky are perhaps 1500 or more galaxies of all shapes, sizes, and colors! Because this survey pertains to such a small piece of the sky, the implications are staggering: if the region of sky demarked by the bowl of the Big Dipper were surveyed to the same depth, it would contain about 32 million galaxies! And the estimate for the entire visible Universe is that there are upwards of 40 BILLION galaxies, each containing tens to hundreds of billions of stars!"
To put the vastness of creation into perspective, Blair uses a sheet of paper: "Imagine that the distance from the earth to the sun (93 million miles, or about 8 light minutes) is compressed to the thickness of a typical sheet of paper. On this scale, the nearest star (4.3 light years) is at a distance of 71 feet. The diameter of the Milky Way (100,000 light years) would require a 310 mile high stack of paper, while the distance to the Andromeda galaxy (at 2 million light years one of the most distant objects visible to the naked eye) would require a stack of paper more than 6,000 miles high! On this scale, the 'edge' of the Universe, defined as the most distant known quasars some 10 billion light years hence, is not reached until the stack of paper is 31 million miles high -- a third of the way to the sun on the real scale of things!"
Pondering this vastness is a humbling experience indeed.
Knowing quite a few professional physicists who are men and women of faith, I wrote Dr. Blair and asked him, "Are you a person of faith in God as our creator?" and, "If so, what does your analogy reveal about the creator of our universe?"
As to the first question, he answered, "Yes, I am."
As to the second, he replied, "In short, 'God created the heavens and the earth.' Understanding more about the 'heavens' and the scale of the Universe only magnifies my personal impression of what it is that God has created. Having a personal connection to that same God is a defining aspect of my faith."
According to Blair, who heads a NASA project looking into deep space, "Some people can look at the spirals of our galaxy and not see the hand of God, but I beg to differ."
Sometimes our idolatry of self or materialism obscures the hand of God while some other times it is the trials of life that obscure His hand. Too often, we simply do not look for God's hand in our life.
In the winter season, our East Tennessee mountaintop can be shrouded in clouds that settle in for days, and that fog can persist for a week or more. The absence of sun and blue sky, or crisp and clear nights under bright stars, can take its toll on the spirit. However, my spirit is lifted high when I recall with certainty that above the fog and clouds, all the heavenly bodies shine bright. Eventually the weather will break and light will avail itself again.
I reminded my children that bleak winter weather obscuring the sunlight is an apt metaphor for the trials in our life, which can obscure the Son light.
Life itself can, at times, seem shrouded in fog and darkness. That is especially true if, like me, you bear a lifelong burden to support and defend our heritage of Liberty, which is now being assailed from many sectors. Occasionally I forget that this burden I bear on behalf of Liberty is also borne by tens of millions of fellow Patriots. But our Creator, who irrevocably endowed us with Liberty, is always there, even if temporarily obscured by the fog of conflict.
These are difficult times for Patriots -- as in times past. We face daunting challenges from enemies foreign and domestic. But, I hold close these words from George Washington written early in the first American Revolution: "We should never despair, our Situation before has been unpromising and has changed for the better, so I trust, it will again. If new difficulties arise, we must only put forth new Exertions and proportion our Efforts to the exigency of the times."
So, on the darkest of days, how do we find our way to Him?
The answer is obvious to all who have opened their eyes -- just follow the Light.
Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12) Thus, if we want to see our Creator, we have only to turn toward the Light, and, as implicit in our motto: Veritas vos Liberabit -- "The Truth will set you Free" (John 8:32).
It is the dawn of the Light and Truth that we celebrate at Christmas, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. It is no coincidence that as the story of His birth is recounted, it is a star that guided wise men to his side.
In the Gospel of John (1:5), it is written, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."
Now, a physicist will tell you that darkness doesn't exist except for the absence of light, which isn't to say that we can't live in darkness: Given the degraded state of our nation, many among our countrymen have chosen to reside in moral darkness, or worse, have been abandoned there.
As for my family and me, Dr. Blair and his family, and hundreds of millions of our brothers and sisters around the world, Jesus Christ is the Light, our personal connection to our Creator. He is that for anyone and everyone who will just turn toward Him.
The Gospels, which attest to the life of Jesus, reveal what we most need to know about God as our Creator, and His purpose for us.
We live in a world today that is no different from yesterday or tomorrow, in the sense that we have and will always have a deep desire to understand our Creator. Unfortunately, we tend to complicate the fulfillment of that desire by satiating it with all manner of false gods. I am no stranger to false gods, which, ironically, helps me to distinguish between those idols and my authentic Creator.
George Washington wrote, "May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths." (1790)
Patriots, in keeping with the Spirit of this Christmas season, it is my fervent prayer that on this and every day of the year, we turn to the Light of our Creator for wisdom and peace. Remember that attitude is a reflection of gratitude -- a grateful heart leads to a joyful spirit!
Happy Holy Days and Merry Christ's Mass! May God's light shine bright upon you, your family and our great nation in the coming year!
Pro Deo et Constitutione -- Libertas aut Mors
Semper Fortis Vigilate Paratus et Fidelis
Publisher, The Patriot Post
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)
Publisher's Note: To our Patriot readers of faiths other than Christianity, we hope that this serves to deepen your understanding of our faith -- and the faith of so many of our Founders. Permission to forward or reprint is granted.