Toree’s Tahoe Stories: What does Christmas really mean?
December 30, 2016
Now that Christmas is over, we can all breathe a sigh of collective relief. What fun the holidays are — the gifts, the parties, the cookies, the lights. With all the hoopla, it's easy to forget that this is a religious holiday, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, which occurred somewhere between 6 and 4 BC, in the fall.
Religious leaders decided to celebrate his birth in December in part as a compromise with paganism, which refers to any non-Christian religion.
Ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia in December, a festival in honor of Saturn, an agricultural deity who was said to have reigned over the world during the Golden Age, a time when humans enjoyed the bounty of the earth without labor in a state of innocence.
The Romans believed that generous gift giving during this time would bring them prosperity in the new year. Gifts were also symbolic of the return of light, after the passing of the winter equinox.
On December 23, 1823, the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was published in a newspaper in upstate New York and Santa Claus was forever vaulted to stardom.
Modern-day gift giving has its roots in winter-time pagan rituals and Christmas begging. In early modern Europe, bands of rowdy men would "wassail" the homes of the gentry, demanding gifts.
The Christmas we know today was domesticated in the late 1800s in the United States, when the focus on gift giving shifted from the lower classes to children and the legend of Santa Claus was created.
The origins of Santa Claus began in what is now Turkey, sprung from legends surrounding St. Nicholas, a kindly monk known for his protectiveness of children.
On December 23, 1823, the poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas" was published in a newspaper in upstate New York and Santa Claus was forever vaulted to stardom.
It was several years ago — I still had young children at home — when the commercialization of Christmas started to bother me. I suggested to the kids that instead we do things for people less fortunate.
I realized that we had everything we needed and pushing myself to the limit to "put on a Christmas" was not satisfying or necessary. It took a few years to fully make the break but I decided to "Just Say No to Christmas" and I won't ever go back.
Instead, I look for little things to do for others. Or for others who are doing things for others. For example, in the Reno paper last week, I came across a column by Katie Coombs. She often writes about young people who have overcome obstacles or who go beyond what a typical child normally does.
She answered her doorbell that day to see a small child, holding a plastic bag, collecting used eye glasses. She asked him why he was collecting glasses and he said, "A little bit of light takes out the darkness."
She was so taken with him she decided to write a column about him and what his mission was for Christmas. I was so taken with him and that statement, I decided I wanted to find out more so I contacted Katie and she put me in touch with the young man's mom.
The boy is named Parker and he is 6 years old. Thinking that was a profound statement coming from such a young person, I asked his mom, Sarah, about it. Turns out, that is something of a familial philosophy that is being absorbed by their children.
Spreading light, even in tiny bursts, can make a difference. Whether you smile at a stranger, help an elderly neighbor take his trash can to the curb, donate toys or clothing to a homeless shelter, or go around your neighborhood collecting old glasses, you're spreading light.
The family is following a world-wide challenge, sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as Mormons, called "Light the World".
Mormon officials created a list of ways to Light the World, beginning on December 1 and leading up to Christmas Day. Among the suggestions:
Call your mother right now
Say nice things behind someone's back
Collect winter clothing for your local homeless shelter
Leave only encouraging comments on social media
Sign up to be an organ donor
Feed the hungry
Whether you are a member of an organized religion or not, you can still Light the World. Not just at Christmas, but year-round.
Create your own list. Make a point of doing something on your list daily, weekly, or monthly. We are fortunate to live in a generous community. Seek out heart-warming stories of generosity and giving.
And perhaps give yourself a break by taking a small step away from the commercialization of Christmas and bring with you into 2017 a commitment to Light the World, one ray of light at a time.
Toree Warfield is an avid nature lover, and writes this column to teach and stimulate interest in the marvels that surround us. Visit saveourplanetearth.com to read columns and to find links to bird song recordings, additional photos and other content.