Monthly Archives: December 2021

Pic of the Day

The Perfect Gift

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

—James 1:17

Many of us received gifts yesterday for Christmas, but our greatest gift came from above. Isaiah 9:6 predicted that gift, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” God sent Jesus to this earth to offer us salvation and to save us from the sins of this world. He taught a message of faith, love, hope, and charity.

Gift giving at Christmas is a Christian tradition that is widely practiced around the world. However, the practice is not something that is exclusive to Christianity, as several other religions mark the end of the year with a similar custom, such as the Jewish festival of lights Hanukkah or the Hindu celebration of Pancha Ganapati in honor of Lord Ganesha.

In many parts of the Christian world, January 6 is celebrated as Three Kings Day, also known as Epiphany. In Spain and Latin America, Three Kings Day is the day when children receive gifts, not Christmas Day. For many other Christian cultures, the gifts given at Christmas are also symbolic of the tributes made to the baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men, or Magi, after his birth during the story of the Nativity. Matthew 2:1-12 describes the Magi, who tradition gives the names as Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, journeying to the location of Jesus’s birth by following a star, and upon their arrival, presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

However, the tradition of gift giving extended long before the founding of Christianity, with roots in the festivals of the ancient Romans—in particular the festival of Saturnalia, where thanks were given to the bounty provided by the agricultural god Saturn. The festivities took place from the 17th to the 23rd of December, and were celebrated with a sacrifice and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continued partying, and a wild atmosphere where social standings were done away with. During this feast, slaves would be considered the equal of their masters and free speech was embraced.

The day that gifts were exchanged in Ancient Rome was known as Sigillaria and took place on the December 19th. As gifts of value were in contradiction to the spirit of the season, the Romans exchanged more modest items, such as candles, seasonal figurines, and ‘gag gifts’, which were designed to amuse or terrify the other guests. Etiquette dictated that the lowlier the gift, the stronger the bond of friendship it was said to represent. Some bosses often gave a gratuity known as a ‘sigillarcium’ to their clients or employees in order to help them purchase their gifts.

Unlike many of the more cultish festivals held in the Roman Empire, Saturnalia was widely celebrated throughout all of the territories of Rome at the end of the calendar year. As it was a much-loved festival thanks to its carefree atmosphere, generous gift-giving, and lavish entertainments, people were less inclined to give up its popular traditions. This made it a lot harder to deal with when the religious status quo changed in the Empire.

The conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity in AD 312 signaled the beginning of the end of pagan celebrations in the Empire, but early religious leaders couldn’t simply ban the popular Saturnalia, as there would be a backlash. There is a theory that they used many of the traits of the festival when establishing Christmas, a rival feast that would take Saturnalia’s place, but commemorate a Christian occasion: the birth of Jesus. The exchange of gifts was probably one of the traditions carried over from the old to the new.

The old pagan custom of gift-giving was rationalized into Christianity by attaching strong associations with the gifts of the Magi to Jesus, and was also likely influenced by the life of Nikolaos of Myra, a 4th century saint who was famed for his fondness of giving people gifts. When he was venerated as a saint, he became more widely known as Saint Nicholas, which is recognizable as the origin of the name Santa Claus.

Our greatest Christmas gift though, no matter the tradition’s origins, is the message Jesus brought with his teachings. He gave us the gift of salvation. To honor His birth, which was probably not in late December, we need to remember His message all year long. As James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” Jesus offered us a message of faith, love, hope, and charity, and the best way we can honor is birth is to spears that message. If we live our life in a way that honors the teachings of Jesus, not the teachings of man, we can live by example and show that the world can be a better place. If we honor Jesus’ teachings of love, hope, and charity, then we will have faith in the goodness of this world. It is the greatest gift we can give. Love is chief among those gifts, and love is always free. Give the gift of love today.

Pic of the Day

I think he’s all tuckered out from the Christmas festivities.

Christ Is Born (Luke 2:1-20)

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, 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, goodwill toward men!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Moment of Zen: Christmas Cooking

I love cooking for holidays whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, or the Fourth of July. You name it, and I love the food traditions on holidays. Usually, when I go home to Alabama for Christmas break, I do most of the cooking for our Christmas get togethers. My mama isn’t as able as she used to be, so I take up the slack. I usually stay through New Years to cook for that holiday as well. My grandmama always made a very traditional southern New Year’s meal, and after she died, I kept the tradition alive. This year will be the third year in a row that I haven been there to cook for New Years, but maybe next year will be different. My mother has assured me that I will be home next year for Christmas “come hell or high water.”

This year, like last year, I’ll be doing all the cooking just for myself, though I may take some cornbread dressing down to my neighbor. My plan is to have some turkey, dressing, and a few vegetables. I have some ice cream for dessert.


Pic of the Day

Glitzen, The Most Fabulous Reindeer of All

Early one May at the North Pole, one of Santa’s reindeer gave birth to a little reindeer. When the little reindeer stood for the first time, he fell forward, directly into a pile of glitter meant for Santa’s toy shop. Everybody laughed at the little fella when he stood back up on shaky legs and his nose was covered in glitter. His mother decided then that she would name the boy Glitzen a portmanteau of her father Blitzen’s name and the glitter he fell into. As Glitzen began to grow, everyone noticed that his nose continued to sparkle. It seemed he never could get rid of all of that glitter that was his first encounter in this world.

All of the boy reindeers used to laugh and call him names. Glitzen knew he was different. Instead of playing reindeer games with the other bucks, he preferred to prance and dance around with the does. He always had a great time with the young does, and he always felt more conformable with them. They never laughed and called him names, and he always seemed to have the best ideas on how to make the does more fabulous. Glitzen had a natural instinct for fashion and decorating. He knew just how to make anyone and everything seem more fabulous. The young bucks refused to have anything to do with him. His parents loved him, but his father was always a little embarrassed by his son. His mother knew her son was different, but she loved how confident he was in himself, even when the other reindeer bullied him.

One year, the world seemed especially gloomy. A pandemic had swept over the Earth. Santa’s elves just didn’t have the spark they usually had. The toys didn’t sparkle, and the wrapped packages were drab. Santa was so disappointed, but he understood that when the world was gloomy, the North Pole was always gloomy as well. Everything in Santa’s Village at the North Pole fed on the energy of the world. When the world was unhappy, Santa’s Village was unhappy too. Santa was blue too, but he tried to keep his spirits up for all those at the North Pole. Santa decided to walk around his Village to try to cheer everyone up and maybe get some spark back around the place.

As Santa walked around, he noticed that the reindeer were not playing any games, just moping around. The elves had no pep in their work making toys, and it showed with the toys they were making. As Santa continued to walk around he heard laughter and singing from somewhere. Santa immediately perked up because someone was obviously having fun. Santa followed the sound to see where the joy was coming from. He entered the barn to see a fabulous sight, a group of young reindeer were dancing and singing. It looked like they were being led by a young reindeer with glitter on his nose and a string of lights in his antlers. The young buck’s bells were making the most wonderous noise, and all seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Santa said, “Everyone outside and in the toy shop were so gloomy, what happened in here to make everyone so festive?” All of the reindeer just laughed and pointed to Glitzen. Santa said, “Glitzen, my boy, how are you able to be so cheerful when everyone else is so gloomy?”

Glitzen looked at Santa and said, “Santa, we can’t all be gloom and doom. Someone has to get the Spirit of Christmas in the air. A little glitter, some lights, and bells can make the world a bit merrier again. I just wanted to show everyone that we need a little Christmas right now.” Then, Glitzen began to sing:

Haul out the holly
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again
Fill up the stocking
I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.

For we need a little Christmas, right this very minute
Candles in the window, carols at the spinet
Yes, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute
Hasn’t snowed a single flurry, but Santa dear we’re in a hurry.

Santa joined in singing:

I need to climb down the chimney
Turn on the brightest string of lights I’ve ever seen
Slice up the fruit cake
It’s time we’ve hung some tinsel on the evergreen bough.

Before anyone realized what was going on, the cheer seen in the barn had spread throughout the North Pole. Everyone began to sing:

For I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder, grown a little older
And I need a little angel sitting on my shoulder
Need a little Christmas now

For we need a little music, need a little laughter
Need a little singing ringing through the rafter
And we need a little snappy, happy ever after
We need a little Christmas now.

When the song died down, Santa said, “Yes, we do need a little Christmas now. Glitzen thank you for bringing Christmas cheer back to the North Pole. We need to spread this through the whole world. Glitzen, can you do two things for me?”

Glitzen said, “I’ll do anything I can Santa. What do you need me to do?”

“Glitzen, I need you to help get the elves and the other reindeer in the Christmas spirit again,” said Santa. “Then, on Christmas Eve when I go out to deliver presents to all the boys and girls, I need you to spread this Christmas spirit around the world. People may be on lockdown or quarantined. They may be away from their family for the first time, but they need to know that the joy of the Christmas season can still be felt. We can’t let this pandemic get us down. Will you do that for me, Glitzen?”

Glitzen nodded his head, and he and the girls began to go around covering everything with glitter and tinsel. They sang Christmas songs to get everyone back in the mood for a joyous Christmas. All of the young reindeer, including the young bucks who’d made fun of Glitzen, got into the spirit. The elves had their spark back and the toys shone with glee. The packages they wrapped under Glitzen’s direction were some of the most fabulous to ever come from the North Pole.

On Christmas Eve, Glitzen led Santa’s sleigh spreading glitter and joy throughout the world. While the world still woke up to a pandemic on Christmas Day and many were still separated from each other, there was a new cheer in the world, a fabulousness that it thought it had lost. The Christmas lights on the trees seemed to sparkle just a little more brightly that morning. The tinsel seemed to almost glow on the trees. People went to their windows and threw open the sash. They all sang in unison, no matter their language. They sang “Santa Baby,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “All I Want for Christmas is You.” It was a gay old time and the most fabulous Christmas anyone could imagine.

Santa and all the reindeer congratulated Glitzen on not only being the most fabulous reindeer of all, but for making it the most fabulous Christmas of all.

Merry Christmas, Everyone! 

May you all have a fabulous Christmas, too, and if you wake up with a bit of glitter everywhere, then maybe Glitzen has been with Santa to your house this year.

P.S. I know this is a silly story, but I was listening to “Rudolph, the Red Nose Reindeer” on the radio, and I thought of the words, “All of the other reindeer, Used to laugh and call him names, They never let poor Rudolph, Join in any reindeer games.” How many of us growing up as little gay boys had others laugh and call us names? How many of us were never allowed to join others in their games? Rudolph could have been many of us growing up, but instead of having a red shiny nose, ours was a metaphorical glittery nose. We are all fabulous in our own way, and it’s time we recognize just how fabulous Christmas is because of all the gay people out there.

O Holy Night

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees; oh, hear the angel voices
O night divine, O night when Christ was born

O night divine
O night
O night divine
Night divine

When I was a child, I had a Christmas CD, and one of the songs was Mahalia Jackson’s version of “O Holy Night.” I immediately fell in love with it, and it has been one of my favorite Christmas songs ever since.

“O Holy Night” (also known as “Cantique de Noël”) is a well-known Christmas carol. Originally based on a French-language poem by poet Placide Cappeau, written in 1843, with the first line “Minuit, chrétiens! c’est l’heure solennelle” (Midnight, Christians, is the solemn hour) that composer Adolphe Adam set to music in 1847. The English version is by John Sullivan Dwight. The carol reflects on the birth of Jesus as humanity’s redemption.

In Roquemaure at the end of 1843, the church organ had recently been renovated. To celebrate the event, the parish priest persuaded poet Placide Cappeau, a native of the town, to write a Christmas poem. Soon afterwards that same year, Adolphe Adam composed the music. The song was premiered in Roquemaure in 1847 by the opera singer Emily Laurey. Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight, editor of Dwight’s Journal of Music, wrote the English version in 1855.

Pic of the Day

Yes, Virginia 🎅

When I was growing up, we always had our family’s Christmas on December 23rd. We had other family obligations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so my mother always put out the fine china and silverware and made a really nice dinner that we ate by candlelight on the twenty-third. It was just my parents, my sister, and myself. We would exchange gifts with each other, and my sister and I knew that Santa Claus would bring the bulk of our gifts after we went to sleep on Christmas Eve. One of our traditions was that before dinner my sister or I read aloud Luke 2:1-20 (ironically, I always hear these verses in Linus’s voice from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”). We then ate our meal and after we finished , we opened presents. After we finished with presents, my dad usually went and watched TV, and my mother took a book from our bookshelves that contained Christmas traditions. She read us “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and then she always read us the letters that have become known as “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus.”

In 1897, eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial on September 21, 1897. The response was written by veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church and has since become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial. It has appeared in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps. As I read the letter today, it makes me think that what Church said about people in 1897 is still true today.

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus? VIRGINIA O’HANLON. 115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

As an adult, this letter hits very differently than it did when I was a child. I think the childlike belief I once had of Santa Claus’s existence imprinted on me a desire for open mindedness and curiosity. I may not believe in Santa Claus anymore, but I still believe in the essence of this letter. Maybe I still have a childlike belief in faith, fancy, poetry, love, and romance. I still hope that one day I will find love and romance, but even if I don’t, I still know it exists. Love, like Santa Claus, will continue to make glad our hearts, not only during the Christmas season, but all year long.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and I hope all of you remember to have faith in humanity’s goodness. Yes, there are those with no good intentions, but I believe that most of us are good at heart. So, have a very Merry Christmas!