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Skip Tucker: What the Dickens is Christmas Anyway?

Here comes Santa Claus and, boy, am I happy about it. I purely love Christmas. But those two things took their sweet time about getting together.

The first recorded date of Christmas on Dec. 25 was in 336 and like many if not most good things was the result of some really swell in-fighting. Nobody exactly was sure about the exact date of the birth of Jesus, and churchmen exchanged some great and heated namecalling. Then Roman Emperor Constantine said it was Dec. 25.

One cleric said something like, “That is foolish. I can make a perfect argument against it.”

To which Constantine said, “If you can make your argument while your body is in one cell and your ahead another, I will listen.” Suddenly, it was settled.

The date is on or about the vernal equinox, continuing mystically to do whatever it is that equinoxes do, and still without letting me in on it. Pagan Rome played with the holiday first, but it didn’t take on style and color until the early church quieted them, too, and grabbed it.

Santa Claus is a different ball of ribbon and string, so to speak. He was up and down for years. His origin is certainly the Bishop Nicholas, St. Nicholas. He might be the reason for the main Christmas course. He is Turkish.

Santa was sort of singular to the Dutch for a while. Lots of folks and countries and religions played with it.

Christmas – the Christmas we enjoy today, especially if we own a business – was established in Germany ages ago, took root in Victoria’s England where- she made sure it was no longer Secret. She adopted the Germanic tradition of a Christmas Tree.

Then it took wonderful wild flight through the genius of Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol. He created it to be a time of goodwill, and his Scrooge became a generic term for miser in the English language.

Few today read the original. There are many good movies of it, faithfully redone. Those who haven’t read the friendly little ghost story are missing a treat. It’s less than 30,000 words.

There were Christmas Carols, of course, of everlasting music and words. Dickens made them real, as real as Santa who is, after all, what one makes of him.

“Kindness and forbearance,” qualities the Ghost of Christmas Past chides Ebenezer Scrooge to embrace. Goodwill.

The Holiday of Holidays sticks it to our souls, or tries to. Most folks respond warmly, kindly.

Dickens, whose thoughts of America were neither kind nor warm, for he most part, still did this nation a lot of good with “A Christmas Carol.” He wanted his book sold here and it was, famously and well. He came here in the 1840s to promote it by doing readings.

After reading a goodly outtake to a big audience in New York, one of his assistants at the door heard a prosperous-looking gentleman say to his handsome wife, “You know, dear, I think I will close the factory Christmas, give the workers a holiday.”

Then Clement Clarke Moore knocked Christmas to No. 1 with A Visit From St. Nicholas, and things got rolling. Along came Dr. Zeus and gave the world Grinch, now alongside Scrooge, to describe miser. And to warn against them.

I’ve read many stories about struggling families at Christmas finding envelopes of cash from anonymous donors. That’s the best. Random acts of kindness.

One of my favorite stories comes from the halls of Carbon Hill High School. I doubt it originated there, but it might be one of those miraculous synchronicity things.

An elementary school principal, when classes resumed following the holidays, saw a kid coming down the hall. Like he did with the other kids, he said, “And what did Santa bring you, son?”

With just a small sigh of regret, the kid replied, “My dad told me that Santa couldn’t find our house.”

“You know,” said the principal, unblinking, “I’ve been looking for you. Santa called to tell me he missed a boy in this town, and he left an extra present with me. I’ll bring it tomorrow. I’m so glad I found you for him.” And so he did.

He also started a fund so that each Christmas, he and his other elves could learn beforehand where Santa might need a little help. What a blessing from and on them all.

Those who produce Random Acts of Kindness at this time of the rolling year, as Dickens called it, are the embodiment of Christmas spirit. Santa Claus in living flesh.

This is when, Bless all their Hearts, those struggling needy find an envelope of cash in their mailboxes or pushed under their doors. Bless also the Hands that do it. God Bless Us, Every One.

And that’s what Christmas means to me.


(Next week: More Christmas Stuff, If You Please.)

Skip Tucker: Old Pisgah

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