Early Christians believed that the only important holiday of the year was Easter, but in the 4th century, a heretical Christian sect started claiming that Jesus had only been a spirit, and had never had a body.The Church decided to emphasize Jesus' bodily humanity by celebrating his birth.
Most Christian theologians believe that Jesus was actually born in the spring, because the scripture mentions shepherds letting their animals roam in the fields at night. The Christian church probably chose December 25th as the official birth date because of competition with pagan cults, who celebrated the winter solstice on that date.
The problem with combining Christian and pagan traditions was that the winter solstice had traditionally been a time of drunken feasting and revelry, and many Christmas celebrations became similarly festive. Many preachers began to speak out against the celebration of Christmas, and after the Protestant Reformation, Puritans outlawed Christmas altogether.
It was only in the mid 19th century that Christmas became a domestic holiday associated with family. The transformation was due in part to government crackdowns on wild street parties. In 1828, New York City organized its first professional police force in response to a violent Christmas riot. Eventually it became more fashionable to stay at home with family than to go out to big parties.
One practice that endures from pagan traditions is the singing of carols. The word "carol" comes from the Greek "choros," which is a circular dance accompanied by singing, usually to celebrate fertility. After most Europeans became Christians, they began to write and perform folk songs at Christmas time to express their joy at baby Jesus' birth.
But the church often discouraged the singing of carols because they were considered too secular, and the practice of caroling almost died out under church pressure. When Christmas became a more domestic holiday in the mid-1800s, there was a carol renaissance, and many of the most popular carols were written in that period, including, "Away in a
Manger," "O Little Town of Bethlehem", and "Silent Night" written in Austria in 1818.
Thank you for lunch yesterday. It is always a treat to
see you, busy as we both are. Although we are in daily contact
through our project, somehow, when we have a face to face,
it is so pleasureable and unexpected, that it feels like playing
Hmm, I wonder what that says?
And the biggest treat was to see your daughter Melissa again
after all these years. And that you wanted me to join you,
for you to share her.
You have said elsewhere in our exchanges that Melissa and Josh, your
children and who they are as people, how they have trend out,
is one of your greatest sources of happiness. I want
to say, it is one of the things of which you are most proud,
if my recollection serves me correctly, at this writing hour
on a Saturday morning.
But I don't know if proud is the right word, as it connotes
a kind of ownership. So, I would like you to correct
me if I am wrong and to tell me again how you do feel
Here's how I felt: Delighted by the depth of her conversation,
especially around issues of social justice. Thrilled to think
that there are young people out there who have been seduced
by the increasingly shallow and materialistic culture we have
become. Excited to think about what she is going to do
in this world and who she will continue to become.
I was so happy, I can hardly describe it.
I was also a bit sad as well as curious.
The last time I
saw Melissa, she was a kid, helping you to paint the set
for my play, Love & Words & Other
Four Letter Words, in the basement of the St. Marcus Church.
It was 1991. She had fuzzy hair, maybe from some kind
of permanent that was all the rage then, and brace. She was
quiet and shy and barely said a word to me. Maybe she
couldn't say a word. Maybe she didn't have a word to say. I
And then yesterday, I meet this grounded young woman, self
assured yet not arrogant, generous,engaged with the
world. And so beautiful, Kim, you did not tell me she
was a knock out. And I am trying to think about why I
found her so beautiful.
The most immediate answer is that she has appealing features,
a pretty face, great skin. But that is not the real answer.
I think it is that she has a glow, about who she is and what
she cares about. About education and thinking and the possibility
of making things different. And a curiosity and commitment
to conversation. At least, to the one we were in. And
she was so open to me.
Add the fact that she is your daughter, and you and I have
our own intimate connection and you can see why I felt smitten
by who she has become and the special ness of the occasion.
I am so glad I rearranged my plans to jump on your last minute
Now here is the part that makes me feel sad and a little curious. Seeing
Melissa yesterday was also like seeing my friend Bonnie's son,
Jack Thursday night. The last time I saw Jack, I was directing
a commercial and he was a wild eyed hyperactive nine
year old that I was trying to contain to get through the shoot. Suddenly,
it is more than ten years later and he is a senior at Syracuse
University in upstate New York, all grown up in a
jacket and tie, towering over his mother,and playing
And I wonder, not so much where does the time go but about
the space in between my last and most `recent encounters with
Melissa and Jack. What happened in that space to create
the people they are today?
In my experience of them, it is as if there is an ellipsis. You
know, the classic dot, dot, dot that grammatically connotes
the movement from one point to another. And I have
missed out on that space in between. I will never know
who Melissa and Jack were for all those years on the way to
becoming who they are.
It's sort of wonderful. Like I get to happen upon a great
discovery. Look! O brave new world. It's Jack! It's
And it's sort of sad, too. Look! O brave new world. It's
Jack! It's Melissa!
And now I have to head to the airport, or else I'll miss my plane
on Christmas Eve.
Saturday, Dec 23, 2005