Thursday, December 31, 2020
One of the things I think we all have learned this year is how selfish and hateful many people are. After four years of a Donald Trump presidency, people have lost all sense of decorum and decency. That was never more apparent than when the pandemic began, and people were asked to wear masks, social distance, and not gather in crowds. While many of us followed these directives, many others did not. They protested the mask mandates and the temporary closures because it “violated their personal freedoms.” Yet, they seemed to not care about others' rights as they derided the Black Lives Matter Movement. Many people's ugly personalities came out over 2020, and they became so prevalent we saw “Karens” and “Richards” everywhere we looked. People need to understand that they are not entitled to deny someone else their life, health, or livelihood. We’ve seen a Republican Senate that has refused to offer aid to starving and jobless Americans. When significant problems arose, they abdicated their leadership responsibilities for partisanship, Trumpism, and denial.
I hope that 2021 will be a year of healing. I pray that we will see a return to kindness. I want 2021 to be a year of hope. The Trump presidency will end on January 20, and hopefully, the Senate will be in the hands of Democrats after the January 5 runoff in Georgia. If the Republicans retain control of the Senate, we will see at least two more years of inaction and hatefulness. This coming year could be a year of great change and finally be a time when the United States moves in the right direction and lives up to the words of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all
men humans are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The past year saw many people fight against the idea that all people are created equal, and they have done their best to deprive us of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This needs to change, and the United States needs to finally live up to its promise. We need equality and rights for all people wherever in the world they may be, and we need to be a world leader in making sure that comes to fruition. We need to put aside our differences and work together to make this world a better place before destroying it and becoming more akin to those dystopian novels of destruction where there is even greater suffering or injustice.
Let us pray that 2021 will be a better year. I pray it will be a year of hope and a year when we begin to work towards equality for all. I pray that we will work together to create a world that is devoid of discrimination on the basis of age, disability, genetic information, military service or veteran status, national origin, pregnancy, race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
I wish you all peace, good health, prosperity, and equality in the new year. May 2021 be a hope-filled year for all of humankind.
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
I was feeling a bit off last night, and I just didn't feel like writing anything. I had a very low-grade fever and an irritated throat (not sore, just some sinus drainage), and that always makes me feel like crap. I plan to write more tomorrow since it will be my final post of 2020.
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
Cento Between the Ending and the End
By Cameron Awkward-Rich
Sometimes you don’t die
when you’re supposed to
& now I have a choice
repair a world or build
a new one inside my body
a white door opens
into a place queerly brimming
gold light so velvet-gold
it is like the world
when I call out
all my friends are there
everyone we love
is still alive gathered
at the lakeside
my honeyed kin
beneath the sky
a garden blue stalks
white buds the moon’s
marble glow the fire
distant & flickering
the body whole bright-
with the hours
of the day beautiful
nameless planet. Oh
friends, my friends—
bloom how you must, wild
until we are free.
About This Poem
“‘Cento Between the Ending and the End’ is composed of language scavenged from the works of Justin Phillip Reed, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Fatimah Asghar, Kaveh Akbar, sam sax, Ari Banias, C. Bain, Oliver Bendorf, Hanif Abdurraqib, Safia Elhillo, Danez Smith, Ocean Vuong, Franny Choi, Lucille Clifton, and Nate Marshall. All of whom have made for me a world and for whom I wish the world.”—Cameron Awkward-Rich
Cameron Awkward-Rich is the author of Sympathetic Little Monster (Ricochet Editions, 2016), which was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. He is a Cave Canem fellow, a poetry editor for Muzzle Magazine, and his second collection of poetry, Dispatch, was published by Persea Books in December 2019.
Also a critic, Cameron earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University's program in Modern Thought & Literature, and he is an assistant professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Currently, he is working on a book about maladjustment in trans literature and theory.
Just a quick FYI: “Cento” is a piece of writing, especially a poem, composed wholly of quotations from the works of other authors. (I did not know this until I looked it up.)
Monday, December 28, 2020
I am not making any New Year’s resolutions this year. As I wrote yesterday, “As 2020 ends and 2021 begins, I think we would be better off realizing that there is hope for a better future. Too often, we make careless resolutions that are never kept, and so one year blends into the next with little change.” In the past, I have resolved to lose weight, work out more, and be more organized. This past year, I have lost weight, which I am proud of, but I haven’t worked out more.
For one thing, there are no regular gyms in the area. We have a Planet Fitness and a Snap Fitness, but neither are particularly close. They are both in another town. When I was in graduate school, I used to enjoy working out. I had someone I regularly worked out with, and even when we didn’t go together, I liked going. To be truthful, it wasn’t as much about working out. I liked being able to use the locker room and the sauna. Usually, there weren’t many guys in the locker room, and rarely did anyone use the open showers but opted for the showers stalls with curtains. There were often guys in the sauna, most wore a towel, but others did not, especially the international students. This was the university's fitness center, so when there were guys in the locker room, they were all about my age or a few years younger, but they were all over eighteen. Faculty had their own locker room. There was always eye candy inside and outside the locker room, so I got to work out and check out other guys. It was fun. I don’t work out at our university fitness center because the cadets at our school are very fit and handsome, and I’d just feel out of place. Plus, it’s not a very attractive gym because it is in the basement of one of the buildings. I miss getting the chance to see hot guys in the locker room. It proved to be a good motivation.
So while I’d like to work out more and lose more weight, I will probably just do my best to get more organized. I may have become slightly more organized this past year, but not by much. The most organizing I have done was downloading an app called “AnyList” to collect recipes and make shopping lists. I have the app linked to my laptop, iPad, and iPhone, and I can add recipes from the internet that I want to save and create recipes of my own. It also allows me to choose a recipe and add the ingredients to a shopping list. It also has a feature for meal plans, which I don’t use as often. I also downloaded another app called “Glucose – Blood Sugar Tracker” to keep up with my morning blood sugar readings. You can keep track of numerous health-related things in this app, but I mostly use it for my blood sugar, weight, and blood pressure. It also allows me to save to a spreadsheet these readings. Since I downloaded this app, I have gotten much better at keeping up with my blood sugar and weight, and to a lesser extent, my blood pressure.
So, while I am not making any resolutions this year, I am hoping to accomplish a few things I want to do to better my life. I hope 2021 is a better year for all of us.
Sunday, December 27, 2020
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
—2 Corinthians 5:17
As I write this, I am sitting here thinking about how this year has been a tough year for all of us. Millions have lost loved ones. Many have lost their job. Others are worrying about where their next meal will come from. Some have lost all hope. There is no doubt that this has been a year of sorrow for much of the world, but God assures us that better things are to come. In Romans 8:18, Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” In Romans 8, Paul is continuing to develop his theme of Christian assurance, which he started in Romans 5. Paul elaborates on the Christian's hope of glory, based on the knowledge that God has determined to bring us glory in the next life.
As this year comes to a close and there is hope on the horizon for an end to this pandemic, 2021 will be a time for starting over and a new beginning. The end of this horrible year is a wonderful time to take stock of life and look for ways to improve and grow. In many ways, we have put life on hold for the past nine months, but 2021 holds so much hope and promise for us. The dictator-wannabe in the White House will soon be evicted, and president-elect Joe Biden will usher in an era of hope, healing, and renewal.
This time of year is when we usually make resolutions, but as 2020 ends and 2021 begins, I think we would be better off realizing that there is hope for a better future. Too often, we make careless resolutions that are never kept, and so one year blends into the next with little change. This year, we have seen a great deal of change in our lives. For example, we wear masks when we are out in public to protect others and ourselves from COVID-19. We practice social distancing. I think about how shocking it is to see someone out and about without a mask or how uncomfortable and aggravated I become when someone stands too close to me in line. We still have months to go before we return to any semblance of normal life, but we can look forward to a leader who will call for national unity and ask for all Americans to help each other out by following health guidelines.
While I don’t have any specific resolutions this year except to look hopeful for the future, we all still have areas in our lives that could stand some improvement. As this new year begins, let us look at our lives with honesty, sincerity, and openness. Let us approach change with a positive spirit and work toward finding ways to become the people God wants us to be. Most importantly, ask the Lord for guidance and strength, for it is through His power that we can conquer our failings and turn them into strengths. God can see us both as we are and as we can be, and we need that sight to truly change and better ourselves. He has a great and abiding love for His children. Rejoice in the love of God. He has given us a new year, desires to provide us with a new life, and present us with new hope in the months ahead.
Saturday, December 26, 2020
Friday, December 25, 2020
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
For most of American history, Christmas was not a celebrated holiday, especially here in New England. In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Europeans celebrated Christmas. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and canceled Christmas as part of their effort. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him came the return of the popular holiday. The pilgrims were English separatists that came to America in 1620 and even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, Boston outlawed the celebration of Christmas. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident. After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday of the Middle Ages into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. The early 19th century was a period of class conflict and turmoil. During this time, unemployment was high, and gang rioting by the disenchanted classes often occurred during the Christmas season. In 1828, the New York city council instituted the city’s first police force in response to a Christmas riot, which inspired certain members of the upper classes to begin to change the way Americans celebrated Christmas.
In 1819, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., commonly referred to as The Sketch Book, is a collection of 34 essays and short stories. It was published serially throughout 1819 and 1820. The collection includes two of Irving's best-known stories, attributed to the fictional Dutch historian Diedrich Knickerbocker: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle." It also marks Irving's first use of the pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon, which he would continue to employ throughout his literary career. In the fifth installment of The Sketchbooks, Irving features Squire Bracebridge, who invited peasants into his home for the holiday. In the first story, simply titled “Christmas,” Crayon reflecting on the meaning of Christmas and its celebration. The second story in the collection, "The Stage-Coach," tells of Crayon’s ride with the Bracebridge children to their country manor, Bracebridge Hall, where he is invited to stay for Christmas. In the next story, "Christmas Eve," Crayon celebrates the holiday at Squire Bracebridge's home. It is followed by "Christmas Day," which details Christmas festivities—allegedly in the old tradition—continue at Bracebridge Hall. The third story about the Bracebridge Christmas is "Christmas Dinner," in which Crayon enjoys old English hospitality at the Bracebridge Christmas dinner table.
These stories portrayed an idealized and old-fashioned Yule celebration at an English country manor. Irving's stories depicted harmonious warm-hearted English Christmas customs he observed while staying in Aston Hall, Birmingham, England. In contrast to the problems faced in American society, the upper class and peasants mingled effortlessly. In Irving’s mind, Christmas should be a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing groups together across lines of wealth or social status. Irving’s fictitious celebrants enjoyed “ancient customs,” including the crowning of a Lord of Misrule. Irving’s book, however, was not based on any holiday celebration he had attended. Many historians say that Irving’s account actually “invented” tradition by implying that it described the season's authentic customs. Except for Pennsylvania German Settlers, who were enthusiastic celebrators of Christmas, Irving contributed to a revival of traditions in the United States. Charles Dickens later credited Irving as an influence on his own Christmas writings, including the classic A Christmas Carol.
Popular American customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, sending holiday cards, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends, and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. None of these traditions are uniquely American but are actually the adoption of traditions from the variety of cultures that make up the melting pot that is the United States. As Americans began to embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday, old customs were unearthed. People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how the day should be celebrated. In the next 100 years after The Sketchbooks were published, Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs. Although most families quickly bought into the idea that they were celebrating Christmas how it had been done for centuries, Americans had re-invented a holiday to fill the cultural needs of a growing nation.
As Americans continue to embrace their cultural heritage, new traditions are continually being added. Christmas is a celebration of the Nativity—the birth of Jesus—but it is also a celebration of what makes America great: its vast diversity and amalgamation of cultures. This Christmas, let us not think of our differences but what we have in common. We have suffered a great deal this year, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Thursday, December 24, 2020
The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to a monk named St. Nicholas, who was born in Turkey around 280 A.D. St. Nicholas gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick, becoming known as the protector of children and sailors.
St. Nicholas first entered American popular culture in the late 18th century in New York, when Dutch families gathered to honor the anniversary of the death of “Sint Nikolaas” (Dutch for Saint Nicholas), or “Sinter Klaas” for short. “Santa Claus” draws his name from this abbreviation.
In 1822, Episcopal minister Clement Clarke Moore wrote a Christmas poem called “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” more popularly known today by its first line: “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.” The poem depicted Santa Claus as a jolly man who flies from home to home on a sled driven by reindeer to deliver toys.
The iconic version of Santa Claus as a jolly man in red with a white beard and a sack of toys was immortalized in 1881 when political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore's poem to create the image of Old Saint Nick we know today.
I like the version above a little better. I’d love a visit from this sexy Santa Claus tonight. His elves are welcomed too.
On November 30, 1955 (exactly 22 years before I was born), U.S. Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup was monitoring the skies above Alaska for Soviet fighter jets and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) that could deliver a nuclear weapon to the United States. He was stationed at Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), and suddenly the dreaded red phone rang in his office rang. The red telephone was the hotline that directly connected his command post in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to the Pentagon. Shoup knew that a call over the top-secret hotline wouldn’t be good news and thought America’s worst Cold War fears were about to be realized. Shoup feared the caller might be the president or a four-star general warning of an atomic attack on the United States.
He answered in his finest military cadence, “Yes, sir, this is Colonel Shoup.” Only silence greeted the colonel. So, he repeated, “Sir, this is Colonel Shoup.” Still nothing. “Sir, can you read me, alright?” Shoup asked before he received a most unexpected reply from the soft voice of a child.
“Are you really Santa Claus?”
Shoup’s eyes immediately scanned the operations center. Who could this prankster be? CONAD was the deadly serious heart of America’s defense against aerial assault and was hardly the venue for a practical joke. The colonel was not amused. “Would you repeat that, please?” Shoup barked. On the other end of the line, he heard the frightened youngster sobbing and realized this was no joke. Some mix-up had compromised the top-secret hotline. Rather than admitting he was not Santa Claus, the 38-year-old father of four quickly assumed the part of jolly old St. Nick and listened to a Christmas wish list before asking to speak to the caller’s mother.
The mother informed the colonel that her child had dialed the phone number listed in a Sears Roebuck advertisement in the local Colorado Springs newspaper. The advertisement featured an illustration of Santa Claus and an invitation to call him on his private phone any time, day or night. There was a problem with that printed phone number, however. It had one digit wrong, causing it to be Shoup’s top-secret phone number. The phone is ringing off the hook. Instead of reaching the Santa standing by at the Sears Toyland, the children of Colorado Springs had instead connected with one of America’s most sensitive military installations. Shoup called AT&T and said to give Sears that phone number and get him a new one, but in the meantime, he had to have servicemen answer the calls.
When President Dwight D. Eisenhower formed CONAD in 1954 to provide early warning of an aerial attack from enemies such as the Soviet Union, he tasked the joint military command with scanning the skies for “reds” flying bomber planes, not a man in a red suit. “There may be a guy called Santa Claus at the North Pole, but he’s not the one I worry about coming from that direction,” Shoup later told the International News Service. Still, the wrong number put the Colorado command post in a holiday mood and sparked a festive idea to soften its hard-edged public image.
Intending to make its mission a little less scary to the American public, CONAD issued a press release that appeared in newspapers around the country on Christmas Eve, letting “good little boys and girls” know that it was tracking a big red sleigh approaching from the North Pole. The command said that first reports from its radar and ground observation outposts indicated that Santa Claus was traveling at 45 knots per hour at an altitude of 35,000 feet. The release also contained a bit of propaganda that reassured children that American forces would “guard Santa and his sleigh on his trip to and from the U.S. against possible attack from those who do not believe in Christmas.” That was a clear allusion to the atheistic Soviets and their fellow Communists.
When Shoup visited his troops on Christmas Eve to distribute cookies, he looked up at the three-story-tall map of the North American continent that dominated the operations center to see that someone had sketched Santa’s sleigh descending from the North Pole alongside the unidentified objects detected in American airspace. The idea for the Santa Tracker was born as Shoup looked at that map on December 24, 1955. The colonel had a knack for public relations, so he arranged a phone call with a local radio station to report that CONAD had spotted an unidentified flying object that looked like a sleigh. Other radio stations then began to phone in to get the latest update on Santa’s location, and a Christmas tradition was cemented. The Santa Tracker grew bigger and better each year, and Shoup became known as the “Santa Colonel,” a nickname he embraced with pride.
In 1958, the Santa Tracker's responsibility was transferred from CONAD to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) after the United States and Canada joined forces for the continent’s nuclear defense. Now officially known as “NORAD Tracks Santa,” the operation has evolved with technology and the times. During the 1960s, NORAD mailed vinyl records to radio stations that featured pre-recorded reports on Santa’s progress and holiday music from its in-house orchestra. In the 1970s, NORAD took to the airwaves with television commercials.
I have to admit that reading this story brought tears to my eyes. I remember going to my grandparent’s house every Christmas Eve. We would eagerly watch the TV for updates on Santa’s arrival. The weathermen at WSFA (the NBC affiliate in Montgomery, Alabama) would update the track of Santa on the radar every so often that evening. Those Christmas Eves with my grandparents were always a special time for me. We would leave their house and go to the home of either my other grandmother or one of her siblings for another Christmas Eve celebration, where we would have a huge meal with all of the extended family from my dad’s side. My mother’s family’s Christmas was a smaller occasion, and my Granny usually only fixed finger foods, so by the time we go to my Grandmama’s family’s Christmas, we were starving for some real food. After we left that Christmas party, we’d go home, check the news one more time to see where Santa was, and then it was off to bed. The next morning, my sister would be up before sunrise waking my parents and me to see what Santa had brought us. My father’s parents and sister would then come over for breakfast and spend most of the day with us as we played with our new toys. Those are some of my fondest memories of Christmas.
In today's digital age, Santa’s real-time progress can be monitored on social media, on smartphones and tablets through the official app, and on the NORAD Tracks Santa website, which is available in eight languages. As of 2017, Amazon Echo users can ask Alexa for Santa’s whereabouts. According to Royal Canadian Navy Lieutenant Marco Chouinard, a NORAD spokesperson, more than 1,500 active-duty military and civilian volunteers from the United States and Canada, including Shoup’s daughter Terri Van Keuren, will spend this Christmas Eve in Colorado Springs fielding inquiries from around the world. “In some cases, three generations have been doing this. It’s part of their Christmas tradition,” Chouinard says. With more than 150,000 calls expected this year, the phones are sure to be jingling at NORAD just as they were in 1955. Only this time, the hotline won’t bring any surprises.
Beginning today at 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time as I am posting this, kids of all ages can call 1-877-HI-NORAD or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive updates on Santa’s location.
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
On Monday, I was reading a Washington Post opinion piece by Kay Collier McLaughlin, a leadership consultant, author, and retired religious journalist from Kentucky, titled “From a long ago sermon, a joyful message for this troubled season.” In the piece, she tells a story about a sermon by a good friend of hers. Here is the story the priest told as McLaughlin remembers it:
That sermon, as I recall (having failed to locate the cut sheets of newsprint containing the actual words), was about his friend Phil, an American priest who was serving in Guatemala. While the bulk of the story is no longer with me, the memorable line came after a vivid description of Phil climbing steep, narrow steps to the very top of a bell tower and finding there that local artisans had painted intricate designs “where only the pigeons would see.”
McLaughlin's primary focus is the holiday season during the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing mandates that are in place in most parts of the country. If government guidelines are followed, we won’t have any large family gatherings or holiday parties. No one will drop-in to wish us a Merry Christmas. On November 23, I wrote a post saying, “I won’t be going home. I doubt I will even decorate for Christmas here. I rarely do since I am not usually here for Christmas, but even though I will be alone in Vermont this year, I just feel it is a waste of money to decorate just for me.” After reading McLaughlin’s piece, I agreed with her sentiment of wanting to shout, “Only the pigeons! Only the pigeons!”
One of the commenters on the McLaughlin piece wrote that Notre-Dame Cathedral had been renovated numerous times over the centuries. During the Middle Ages, all parts of a cathedral were decorated or carved, including the roof. The roof was not decorated for those who could see it, but it was done because God could see it. On that November 23rd post, Patrick wrote, “You should put up a small tree for you and Isabella, and at least she will be happy you are spending Christmas with her.” VRC-Do You! also commented and said, “Yes, it is only you and Isabella but at least put up something that screams CHRISTMAS. Maybe a nice poinsettia. I love Christmas. Not the commercial aspect of it but the colors, lights, and decorations, and smells.” Chris commented as well to say, “As one who has spent many a holiday alone, I did buy a small tree (when I lived in Germany) that I haul out -- it is only decorated in fruit, but it is a small reminder of the holiday -- which you should celebrate in at least a small way. Issy will enjoy having something new around to play around.”
After the advice I received, I did put up a small tree. No one else will see it, though all of you saw it in a picture on this blog. It made my apartment a little more festive. Isabella has enjoyed it. She’s knocked off a couple of the balls I hung on the tree. Thankfully, the balls are shatterproof. She batted them around a bit and has spent some time sitting near the tree, admiring the lights. She does seem happy that I am home this holiday, though I’m not sure she understands the time of the year and that I am usually gone away at Christmas, but she’s always glad when I am here. So, Isabella and I have enjoyed the few decorations I put up, and I put the tree in the front window so that it’s lights can be seen from the street below.
On Monday, my boss stopped by my apartment. He didn’t knock, nor did he ring the doorbell. He just quietly set a Christmas present by my door and left. He texted me later to tell me it was there. It was very kind of him. I also bought a few presents for myself and wrapped them (the packages I wrapped are much prettier than the one he wrapped, but I am gay after all and love wrapping beautiful presents). I saw an interesting new way of wrapping gifts and wanted to try it out. Otherwise, I might not have wrapped the presents I bought. I think they look lovely under the tree.
Here are the gifts I wrapped. Here is a link to other videos with gift wrapping ideas.
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - 1807-1882
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
In 1861, two years before writing this poem, Longfellow's personal peace was shaken when his second wife of 18 years, to whom he was very devoted, was fatally burned in an accidental fire. Then in 1863, during the American Civil War, Longfellow's oldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, joined the Union Army without his father's blessing. Longfellow was informed by a letter dated March 14, 1863, after Charles had left. "I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave, but I cannot any longer," he wrote. "I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country, and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good." Charles was soon appointed as a lieutenant but, in November, he was severely wounded in the Battle of Mine Run. Charles eventually recovered, but his time as a soldier was finished.
Longfellow wrote the poem on Christmas Day in 1863. "Christmas Bells" was first published in February 1865, in Our Young Folks, a juvenile magazine published by Ticknor and Fields. References to the Civil War are prevalent in some of the verses that are not commonly sung. The refrain "peace on Earth, goodwill to men" is a reference to the King James Version of Luke 2:14.
The spirit of Christmas has a tendency to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. This year, as we speed towards a decidedly topsy-turvy Christmas amidst the worsening coronavirus pandemic, it’s more important than ever to reflect on the true meaning of the season. Like Longfellow in 1863, we are currently in our own war of sorts. We are in a war against COVID-19, but the vaccine is a powerful weapon against it. However, the main war we are fighting is that against Trumpism. Trump’s leadership of hatred has spawned a cultural war like nothing we have seen. Yes, there are comparisons in American history, but nothing come to the level at which Trump has politicized every aspect of American life. The divisiveness he has caused in this country has pitted families against one another, as the Civil War did 160 year ago. The 1860 election was another election that pitted half the country against one another. In 1860, though, the South did not see Abraham Lincoln as a candidate who won a fraudulent election, but as someone who stood for something they were against and feared it would destroy their way of life. Trump has pushed his claims of a fraudulent election and has played on those who fear Democrats will destroy their way of life. Trump supporters are complacent (at best) with their racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia. At worst, they are openly racist, classist, sexist, and homophobic. The combinations of complacency toward hatred and open support of hatred are mixed, but all Trump supporters follow the hatred espoused by Trump to some extent.
With 90 percent of Congressional Republicans refusing to acknowledge Trump’s defeat, they are actively destroying the fabrics of democracy and the Constitution they swore to uphold. Republicans who are not speaking out against Trump may think they are not supporting him, but their silence is support. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Sadly, with those who supported Trump and especially those who have supported his anti-scientific views about the pandemic, it is our friends and family who supported him who hurt us the most. Elie Wiesel, the author of Night, probably said it best, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
"Christmas Bells" tells of Longfellow's despair, upon hearing Christmas bells during the American Civil War, that "hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men". The carol concludes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among men. I live next door to an Episcopal church and a few doors down across the street is the Methodist church. Both churches ring their bells on Sunday mornings calling worshipers to service, and I assume they do the same on Christmas Day, though I have never been here to hear it. On Friday, I expect to hear their bells, and I will think of the four years of a national nightmare that has been the Trump presidency. I will think on the year of hardships suffered because a pandemic raged unchecked in our country. I will think of the fact that because of the mismanagement of the pandemic, I am not home with my family having Christmas breakfast that morning and watching my niece and nephew play with the toys Santa brought them. However, I hope that like Longfellow, I will remember:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
In 1872, the poem was first set to music as "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." The English organist, John Baptiste Calkin, used the poem in a processional accompanied with a melody "Waltham" that he previously used as early as 1848. The Calkin version of the carol was long the standard. Less commonly, the poem has also been set to Joseph Mainzer's 1845 composition "Mainzer." In the 20th century, Paul Mickelson recorded the John Baptiste Calkin version as an instrumental on the album "Christmas Bells" in 1955, and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir recorded a version with lyrics in 1957. Since the middle of the 20th century, the poem has been set to other musical arrangements, most notably in 1956 by Johnny Marks. Bing Crosby recorded the song on October 3, 1956, using Marks's melody and verses 1, 2, 6, 7. With Christmas just days away, I find more significance in Longfellow’s poem and the nearly 60-year-old song adaptation. Though decades have passed since the powerful poem was translated into song, the message remains one that we should all take to heart. It can give us hope. I prefer the Burl Ives version over the Bing Crosby one.
The Trump presidency will be over at noon on January 20, 2021. The Biden administration can then begin a recovery and reconstruction of the United States. Democracy and law and order will be restored. A vaccine is being distributed and soon we can put this year of 2020 behind us. As Elizabeth II said in 1992, this “is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis.” There is a lot to look forward to in 2021, but it will take a lot of work and cooperation among Americans. I pray that the damage done by the Trump presidency is not too great to repair. I also pray that Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock win the Senate runoff election in Georgia because it will make the recovery of American democracy go much smoother because we will be able to get rid of a Senate controlled by Mitch McConnell.
Let us remember on this Christmas Luke 2:10-11, when the angel said to the shepherds, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you.” Then a multitude of the heavenly host proclaimed saying:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
— Luke 2:14
Let the Glory of God be a sign to us that better days are ahead.
Monday, December 21, 2020
It feels like winter has been here for a while, with -10 degrees as the morning low the other day. However, today is the official first day of winter. According to the Almanac:
If you were hoping for a reprieve from harsh winter weather this year, we have some news that just might make you smile. We’re predicting a light winter for most of us here in the United States, with warmer-than-normal temperatures in the forecast for a large part of the country.
Uncommonly chilly temperatures will be limited mostly to the western states and northeastern New England. Specifically, winter will be colder than normal in Maine; the Intermountain, Desert Southwest, and Pacific Southwest regions; and eastern Hawaii and above normal elsewhere.
On the precipitation side of things, expect “wet” to be a wintertime constant, with rain or average to below-average snowfall to be the standard throughout most of the country.
Specifically, precipitation will be below normal from Delmarva into North Carolina; in the southern Appalachians, Georgia, and Florida from the Ohio Valley westward to the Pacific and southward to the Gulf and Mexico; and in western Hawaii and above or near normal elsewhere.
Snowfall will be greater than normal in the Northeast, Wisconsin, Upper Michigan, the High Plains, and northern Alaska and below normal in most other areas that receive snow.
It looks like all of us here in New England are looking at colder than average temperatures and more snowfall than usual. Since we did not get the average snowfall here in New England last year, it would be an excellent year for Vermont's ski resorts if it wasn’t for the pandemic. Considering anyone entering Vermont from another state must quarantine for 14 days, I doubt the ski resorts will be very busy with out-of-staters. Many people would probably ignore the 14-day quarantine, but the governor is having undercover investigators checking up on resorts to make sure they are following the rules. If the resorts are repeatedly ignoring the rules, they will be warned first; then, they could face fines if they do not heed the warnings.
Suppose you want something more scientific than the Almanac as a predictor of winter. In that case, NOAA’s winter forecast for the U.S. favors warmer, drier conditions across the southern tier of the U.S., and cooler, wetter conditions in the North, thanks in part to an ongoing La Nina. Forecasters at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center — a division of the National Weather Service — are also closely monitoring persistent drought during the winter months ahead, with more than 45% of the continental U.S. now experiencing drought. Currently, large areas of drought extend over the western half of the U.S., with parts of the Northeast also experiencing drought and near-record low stream flows. With a La Nina climate pattern in place, southern parts of the U.S. may experience expanded and intensifying drought during the winter months ahead.
Sunday, December 20, 2020
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
When I think of Christmas, I often think of the joy of the season, my family, and good food and fellowship. Some of the most popular Christmas songs mention joy, such as “Joy to the World” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Others are about home and family, such as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “The Christmas Song,” and “(There's No Place Like) Home For The Holidays.” However, the Christmas season is only temporary, beginning in late November with Thanksgiving and ending in early January with New Year's Day or Epiphany.
It is important during this time to keep in mind the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is an emotion that comes and goes, as it is based on our changing circumstances. When life is going our way, it’s easy to feel happy, but when situations don’t go as planned, we often find ourselves unhappy, discouraged, or angry. The year 2020 has largely been an unhappy year because of the pandemic, but this will be temporary. Joy, on the other hand, is a choice. When we choose joy, we can have a joyful heart in even the most challenging of circumstances. We put on a brave face, no matter the circumstances, but that is not always the easiest thing to do. However, when we find our joy in Christ, He will provide us with the strength we need to live joyfully. If we follow Christ’s example, we will find infinite joy in helping others, especially those who need it the most.
So how can we embrace the spirit of joy this Christmas? While material things can bring happiness, they cannot bring us joy. So, while exchanging gifts is a great way to show love, it’s important to remember that gifts alone cannot bring us real joy. So, rather than focusing on the presents underneath the tree, cherish the time spent with your loved ones.
In addition, Christmas is a great time to give back to the community and help those in need. When we serve others and show them love, we reflect Christ. Acts 20:35 says:
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Ultimately, serving others can bring us joy. This holiday season, I encourage all of us to embrace the spirit of joy. Remember that by keeping Christ at the center of all of our celebrations, we can experience real joy and understand the reason for the season.