Okay. In our last exciting adventure, I posed some questions and promised to provide my own answers in the next post. Because I try to make it a habit to keep my promises, here goes:
Question 1: What unhealthy habits would you like to break?
I have two related ones: Overeating, and lack of exercise. Of course my sister had to go and beat me to the punch in her comment, but that’s okay. It’s nice to know I’m in good company.
Many years ago, I joked that my mother-in-law had been on the same diet since I’d known her—it was the “Starting on Monday” diet. I’ve been on a similar one in recent years: the “Should Eat Less” diet. I love food, and many of the foods I enjoy are good for me. I seldom eat fast food, my taste for sweets has dwindled over the years, and I eat a healthy diet. I just eat too much of it! If I could form the habit of taking smaller portions and stopping before I feel full, I think it would be good for me.
Lack of exercise? I have a ready supply of worn-out excuses for that. I used to walk 3 – 5 miles a day, five days a week. But in the past few months, I fell out of the habit—until three days ago, when I discovered Rising Park.
Actually, I knew it was there, but I only just now made the effort to check it out. The trail to the top of Mt. Pleasant is a super-short trail, and it’s not much of a mountain by Maryland standards*, but it’s a better aerobic workout than doing nothing. And, you can do more walking than just up to the top and back. Three days ago I resolved to visit Rising Park at least 5 days a week to get my heart rate up on a regular basis, and I’ve done it now for three days straight. I hope to make a habit of it.
Question 2: Do you find it a continual struggle to maintain healthy habits?
Not too much. It’s a struggle to form a healthy habit, but once it’s ingrained, a minimum of effort is required to maintain it. That’s the case for simple habits, like brushing my teeth before going to bed. How that applies to taking that little uphill trail every day, though, remains to be seen. I’m still in the process of forming that habit.
Question 3: What habits enable you to fly?
It took many years to develop it, but my habit of spending time every morning in prayer and Bible study keeps me buoyant the rest of the day. (I’ll bet you thought I was kidding when I asked that question, didn’t you?)
After my last post, I was asked if my upcoming trip to Tasmania will be for a writers conference, to visit a fellow writer, or what. The short answer: To visit a fellow writer. But that’s not quite accurate. So in this post, I’ll answer a bit more completely.
How many years has it been since I was the contest coordinator for the Novel Rocket blog? I don’t remember, exactly, but that’s where this story starts. I believe it was the third year of Novel Rocket’s Launch Pad contest that we added a nonfiction category, by way of experiment. We didn’t have many entries, and we never included nonfiction again. We only tried it out the one year.
One of the submissions in that category was not as polished as some, but the content was amazing, the sort of thing that makes you literally sit up and take notice, gasping, “Oh, my!” The writer’s story was riveting and had a broad appeal—which makes it marketable. I was one of the two judges, and neither of us had any doubt which of the entries should be the winner.
As contest coordinator, I contacted the contest participants to let them know if they won and to give them the judges’ critiques. When I contacted the winner of our nonfiction category, I told her that both judges thought the book had wonderful potential but was a little rough, and I recommended she try to find an editor or someone knowledgeable who could help her smooth it out.
She responded that she would love to do that, but didn’t really know anyone. However, she particularly liked the critique by one of the contest judges, and she asked if I would inquire if that judge would be interested in working with her.
That judge just happened to be me, and so I answered yes. I’d love to help you with this book!
And speaking of “just happened,” let me tell you about how she “just happened” to enter the contest in the first place:
She is the first to tell you, she is not a writer, but for quite some time, the Lord had been compelling her to write about her experiences. Originally it was all in journal form, but eventually she began to compile some of her journal entries into a book. It was a struggle for her, though, and she sought help along the way.
At one time she had contacted a writer in the US, but nothing had been decided between them as to whether or not, or how, they would work together on the project. She tells me that one evening, feeling compelled to get moving on it, she tried to find this writer’s email address but couldn’t locate it, so she did an online search for her.
Among the search results was an interview this writer had done on the Novel Rocket blog. My friend read the post but didn’t see anything there about how to contact her (which is surprising, because the Novel Rocket guests always provided that kind of information), and was just about to leave the page when the Contest tab at the top caught her eye.
Contest? What kind of contest? She clicked on it. Oh, look, there’s a nonfiction category! Let me see if I qualify. Oh, yes, my book sounds like just what they’re looking for. Now, how do I enter? Hmmm… Oh, my! The submission deadline is midnight tomorrow! So she hurried up and submitted her entry.
And that’s how this dear lady Down Under “just happened” to meet up with little old me on the other side of the planet. In the several years since all that transpired, we’ve been in frequent contact, both through emails and Skype. We’ve often talked about getting together in person, and now at last, everything’s coming together for that to happen.
And, in case you wondered, we’re still working on that book of hers. At a writer’s conference last summer, I spoke with some editors and agents about it, and they all suggested that it might be too short. Why? Because from a publisher’s point of view, it costs as much to produce a short book as it does a long one. You’ve got to pay editors, designers and formatters, etc., and you have all the same overhead as you do for a larger book. Yes, there’s a little less paper and ink in a short book, but overall, the costs amount to almost the same. However, consumers don’t like to pay the same amount for a skinny book as a thicker one. If a publisher prices a short book lower, they’ll lose money even if it sells; but if they price it higher, people won’t buy it. So publishers tend to be leery of contracting for short books.
When I told my friend that, she said she could easily expand it. And that’s what she’s been working on since then. I haven’t seen any of the additions yet, but our plan is get it all put together, polished up, and ready to publish—which I will then undertake to do on her behalf.
But that’s another story. For today, I just wanted to answer the question as to who I’ll be visiting.
I am making tomato soup even as we speak, with the intention of canning a few jars. I’ve never canned tomato soup before, but we have tomatoes ripe in the garden and have no need for any more canned tomatoes or tomato sauce.
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I like Campbell’s cream of tomato soup (made with milk instead of water). I think it’s the only canned soup I like. Making it from fresh tomatoes is a lot of work just for a bowl of soup, so I don’t do it very often. But I need to do something with all these tomatoes, so I decided to experiment. I’m not comfortable canning something with cream in it, though, so I’ll leave out the cream. I can always add it later, when I open a jar.
Yes, we have tomatoes in our garden despite the determined efforts of the neighborhood groundhog. The tomatoes in the photo at left are high enough off the ground that the The Beast can’t reach them. The one shown below is in a less fortunate location. I wouldn’t say we’ve lost half our tomatoes to groundhog predation (if herbivores can be said to prey on vegetables), but the critter is making a significant dent in the crop. No pun intended…
Fortunately, we planted more than we needed, so we still have plenty.
I needed more tomato puree, so I planted some San Marzano “paste” tomatoes in addition to the round “eating” tomatoes shown above. The plants are starting to die off, partly because of being grazed upon by The Beast and partly because it’s not uncommon for them to do that in late summer. The round tomatoes are still going strong, so The Beast should have plenty of good grazing for a few weeks yet.
We haven’t seen as many groundhogs here in Maryland as we did in Ohio. But where gardens are concerned, it only takes one! And here’s the problem: we live in town. In a neighborhood surrounded by houses and people. Which means we can’t handle the problem the way we did in Ohio. There, we had some occasional damage from groundhogs, but let’s just say that the same hog never visited us twice, if you get my drift.
We could legally trap this critter in a live trap, but what well-fed beast, for whom the whole world is a salad bar, would go into a box to get food? We borrowed a live trap for a while, but the only thing we caught was a possum. Don’t care about possums. And I’m pretty sure I heard the groundhog laugh as it passed the trap on its way to eat all my green beans.
Excuse me while I go stir my soup… Okay, I’m back. One more thing about that, and then I’ll move on: I like this tomato soup because, besides being yummy, it allows me to use tomatoes and carrots from my garden, basil from my herb garden, and chicken broth I made this spring and put in the freezer. It irks me that I had to buy onions, considering the fact that I used to grow marvelous onions in Ohio. But it’s still satisfying to make something yummy from things I have on hand, and to be able to preserve the result for use in the cold months to come. I can anticipate only one down side: I’ll probably never want Campbell’s tomato soup again.
Now, let’s talk about writing. I had the opportunity last weekend to go to a one-day “Writing to Inspire” workshop near Frederick, Maryland. Despite being a bit dragged down by a stomach bug that almost-but-not-quite kept me home, I had a good time. (Would have been a great time if I’d been feeling better!) Met some people I’m very happy to know. And hope to be able to go back next year if and when they do it again. This was the first year for it, and it seemed to be well received by all who participated, so I hope it will be the first get-together in a long tradition of them.
In the pic above, you can see a back view of me along the left edge. The picture at right was taken from the back porch/patio of the tea room. That white disk at the lower right corner is a table, in case you couldn’t tell. The view was lovely, but it was a hot, sunny day and only a crazy person would have sat out there.
Umm… okay, I guess I did sit out there for lunch. So I’m a crazy person, okay?
Anyway, here’s the thing about writer get-togethers. It wasn’t a place where everybody tried to sell their books. Actually, I did sell two of mine, but that’s not the reason I went. My purpose was to find a little inspiration/encouragement, and to encourage others. And I think both those goals were accomplished.
Nobody understands a writer except another writer. Being a Christian writer adds another dimension. If you’re a writer and a Christian, you’re a Christian writer, no matter what you write. A Christian has a higher standard and a greater purpose for whatever he or she does, and that applies to writing. So it’s helpful for those of us who are flopping around in this confusing land of Christian Writerdom to have a little company along the way.
So, speaking of “along the way,” what’s along my way in the way of writing? Well, now that I’m feeling myself again after the aforementioned stomach ailment (so wonderful to finally emerge from the fog!), I’m eager to move forward on three fronts:
1) My friend whom I’ve been helping with her project, Dancing on Stones: A Quest for Joy, is at the point where it’s time to actively pursue publication of this thing. This is huge– exciting–and a long story. But I won’t get into it all now. I’ll just say I’m actually looking forward to promoting this book when it’s available. (Did I really say that? Yes. I’m looking forward to helping her promote it, because it’s a book I’m wildly enthusiastic about.)
2) I’m negotiating with another individual concerning my helping him with a memoir. This is unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and it’s always good to expand our horizons and learn new things. Besides that, I think the guy will be fun to work with.
3) My friend Susan and I have agreed to hammer out new novels together next month — kind of like NaNoWriMo except less formally organized, and in September. Less pressure, too. We’ve just decided that it’s time we got cracking on these things, and a little determination, as well as accountability to someone one else, might help. I’ve actually already started this new novel — yes, I have written five sentences. So I’m well on my way, ha ha.
My soup is in jars and in the pressure canner now. (The acid in the tomatoes might make it okay to can in a hot water bath canner, but I’d rather err on the side of caution.) The kitchen is cleaned up, and I have some laundry going as well. Once I publish this post, I’ll be able to check off all the items on today’s must-do list. What a nice feeling!
And speaking of nice, I’ll share another photo I took a few weeks ago of the Rose of Sharons beside the driveway. This is a very popular shrub in these parts (they’re like belly buttons: everyone has one), and I’m glad, because I like them. They’re not only beautiful, but they also give me warm fuzzies, because my mom had one when I was growing up. But her one Rose of Sharon was nothing to compare to the ones planted along our property on two sides. When at their peak they’re just short of spectacular.
So there you go: a report of my situation this Saturday.
Yes, I know there’s no SEO value to either the title or the content of this post. I’m just going to tell you a story and not try to sell books, okay? (But if you want to hop over to Amazon and buy one or four, I won’t complain.)
On or about May 23, when our son Art and his wife Jennie were visiting us, we took a trip to the Paw Paw Tunnel. (I mentioned a visit there with the grandkids in a blog post earlier this spring.)
At the risk of boring you and taking up too much space, I’ve decided to share some of the information provided by the national park people. The first sign is kind of hard to make out, but you should be able to read the history of the place in the other two, if you feel so inclined:
As shown by the sign below, there’s a trail that goes over the mountain instead of through the tunnel.
When we were there with the grandkids, we were a little concerned about that “steep and strenuous” bit, so we just walked through the tunnel, went a little farther (where the kids caught salamanders in the canal and climbed the rock wall and otherwise had fun), then turned around and went back through the tunnel again. But when we were there with Art and Jennie, we decided to take the trail instead.
I didn’t bring my camera that day. Yesterday, though, Craig and I went back and retraced our steps (some of them, anyway) so I could illustrate the story.
This is a national park, and trails and things are pretty well marked. From the parking lot, you go up a path to the C & O Rail Trail, and there’s no question where to go from there:
Because we wanted to go to the Paw Paw Tunnel rather than the town of Paw Paw, West Virginia, we went to the right and followed this trail for about half a mile:
It’s an easy walk along flat ground, nice and shady. You can’t see from this picture, but the Potomac River is on the right and the remnant of the old canal is on the left.
It was a hot, humid day, and entering the tunnel was a cool relief. In fact, the air temperature grew cooler even before we were inside.
Using flashlights, we walked through the 3,118-foot-long tunnel. We’ve made the trip often enough now that it felt familiar yesterday. It’s truly an amazing engineering accomplishment. I’m glad the park service has restored it and made it available for people to see.
Here’s a view of it from the other side (below).
After leaving the tunnel, you follow the boardwalk and then it becomes a regular trail again. A short time after that, the Tunnel Trail joins it.
There’s a sign telling you about the tunnel trail and pointing you in the right direction. So, last month, Art, Jennie, Craig, and I went up the trail, and yesterday, Craig & I did the same.
The tunnel trail took us back the way we’d just come, climbing to the top of that sheer rock face in the pic above, but it was a fairly gradual climb. Nothing “steep and strenuous” right off the bat.
Then we came to an intersection, and the sign was a bit confusing:
All four of us looked at it. All four of us said, “Huh?”
The trail continued on past this sign, and a wide gravel road joined it, going the opposite direction from what we wanted to go.
We were all in agreement: keep going straight.
The picture below left shows the trail we took last month; the one on the right is the road-like thing that went the wrong direction. Not only that, but isn’t the narrow path supposed to be the right path, and the wide road the one that leads to death?
I’m happy to report that neither trail lead to our deaths. However, the one we chose last month led to… well, it’s like this.
We followed it up and up and up and up (yes! steep! strenuous!), until… where’d it go? Oh, look, here it is! Take a zig to pick it up again. Climb some more, up and up. Pant, pant, pant… sweat, sweat, sweat. Brush away the gnats that get in the eyes, ears, and mouth. Climb, climb, climb.
Now, where’d that trail go? Anybody see it? Cast about in different directions.. Over here, guys! Climb some more. Where’s Dad? He’s back there resting. Who’s got water? (One of us, at least, had the presence of mind to bring some.)
Dad’s quit gasping quite so desperately, so it looks like he’ll be okay.
After losing the trail the third or fourth time, it dawned on us that we maybe should have taken the road instead. But we’d meandered around enough that the chances of finding our way back the way we came were pretty slim. Better to keep going and try to figure out how to get back to the car.
I won’t give you a step-by-step description, but we wandered awhile. And, I have to admit, I enjoyed it. I might be the only one of us who did — everyone else was a bit put out by the situation. On second thought, Art might have had fun too, but with him, it’s kind of hard to tell.
After awhile, we found what appeared to be a hunter’s four-wheeler trail, though it didn’t seem to have been used in a couple of years. After a discussion about which way to go, we decided to go the left and see where it took us.
At least it didn’t take us upward again. After awhile, Art & Jennie were a little ahead of us, and Jennie called back, “There’s a road up there — I mean, a real, paved road! But I don’t know what road it is.” I replied, “Any road is good enough for me.”
The fact is, in this part of the country, you can’t ever get seriously lost. It might seem like wilderness, but you can’t go too many miles without coming to a house, a farm, a road, or something. But it had been a long, hot walk, and I wasn’t disappointed to learn there was an end in sight.
So, we came out onto the road, and a sign on a tree across the street caught my eye. What? Does that say what I think it says?
Apparently we weren’t the first people to follow the wrong trail! I don’t know who made the sign, but I’m thankful to whoever it was.
We followed the directions, which were a bit vague, but accurate. Here’s a picture of the dirt road mentioned:
The directions said to follow it “to the top of the hill,” and, in fact, it started climbing immediately. Craig asked Art & Jennie if they’d mind going back to get the car for him. “This old man’s climbed enough hills for one day. You can come back and get me.” They agreed and took off up the hill. I waited at the bottom with him.
And waited. And waited.
Turns out it was quite a walk from there. They did, in fact, find the trail at the top of the hill, but it was a long hill, and it was along way back to the parking lot from there. By the time they finally made it back to the car, they were glad to sit down! And we were glad to see them when they came down the road toward us.
And it was the only vehicle we saw the whole time we waited. If we’d been looking for a kind stranger to come along to help, we might have been there till dark.
Craig and I wanted to try it again and do it right this time, so that’s why we went back yesterday. With a camera.
Go ahead and laugh at us for taking the wrong trail. When viewed with the benefit of experience, that horseshoe-shaped arrow on the sign makes sense. But all four of us were confused by it, so it wasn’t just me. Is there a lesson here? I’m not sure, unless it’s that the majority isn’t always right.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention that when you follow the correct trail, it lives up to its “steep and strenuous” reputation (if you’re old like us), but it was a very enjoyable walk. We’ll definitely do it again sometime when it’s cooler out.
Not long after we left the tunnel, though, we started hearing thunder in the distance. First a little, far away, then a little more, a bit closer. It started sprinkling rain before we got to the car, but we never got wet. Except for sweat, which pretty well soaked us — some rain might have felt good! But I wasn’t disappointed that we weren’t caught in the woods by a thunderstorm.
I’m uncomfortable writing book reviews. They seem so judgmental.
Yes, I want people to review my books (hint, hint), but I don’t like giving reviews myself. Is that inconsistent? Lopsided? Self-centered? Probably all of the above. But that’s the way it is.
In this post, I’ll discuss three books I’ve read recently, but I won’t review them. My intention is merely to share my thoughts/feelings/opinions about them as a reader.
(Umm… isn’t that what a review is? Yes, but don’t confuse me with unwanted observations.)
I tend to collect recommendations of books without noting who recommended a particular title or why. If someone mentions it as being good for a specific reason, I’ll write it down. Then, if I run across it somewhere cheap or free (’cause I’m always cheap), I’ll pick it up on Kindle or print and read it when I have a chance and/or am in the mood.
Not long ago, after finishing a stint as judge in a contest for unpublished writers, I felt the need to cleanse my mind of amateur writing and ingest something crafted with a bit more skill. So I picked a book off my shelf by an author who was recommended as being among the best in the speculative genre. I don’t recall if it was the book itself that was recommended, or merely the author. But at some point, I had acquired The Knight by Gene Wolfe and set it aside for a time when I craved a good fantasy.
The book presented an immediate appeal for two reasons (three, if you count the recommendation): the attractive cover, and author Neil Gaiman’s endorsement: “Gene Wolfe is the smartest, subtlest, most dangerous writer alive today, in genre or out of it. This book [is] important and wonderful.”
I’d read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (another one of those that was recommended by I-forget-who), and I thought it was very well done. Figuring his opinion was worth something, I found the endorsement rather intriguing. Dangerous writing? Important and wonderful? It made me wonder what, in fact, was within that lovely cover.
Take note that Gaiman also said Wolfe is subtle. And he certainly must be–so much so that I failed to get anything “important” or “wonderful” about his writing. And where that “dangerous” comes from, I confess, is way over my head. Apparently I’m as dense as osmium.
However, I do agree that the author knows his craft. The book is a top-notch Faerie story, complete with knights and sword fights, ogres, a dragon, a princess, elves, and intelligent animals. Yeah, it’s pretty much got it all insofar as the genre is concerned. And the writing is stellar. What I thought it lacked was purpose.
I felt no connection with the protagonist and didn’t give a whit what happened to him. I could discern no overarching theme, no illustration of fundamental truths, no believable danger to make my heart rate quicken. Yes, the protagonist was often in peril, but the outcome was never in doubt. And I had no curiosity as to how the story would end. Despite Wolfe’s writing skill, I simply didn’t care about any of it.
I cared so little, in fact, that although it’s actually a story in two parts (the whole thing is called The Wizard and the Knight, and it’s told in two volumes. The Knight is the first, and the story in concludes with The Wizard), I could hardly wait to finish the first just to be done with it. I have no interest in ever reading the second.
By the time I reached the end, I yearned to read something truly enjoyable.
A year ago or so, I thought about an old book I’d read as a kid that I loved to pieces. What I most recalled were the emotions it had aroused within the young me–an “unbearable lightness of being,” a delight that was almost painful in its intensity.
I didn’t figure I’d respond to the book the same way now, as an oldster, but I was curious to read it again to see how it did affect me. So I found it as a free download on Kindle and added it to my to-be-read shelf, where it languished for several months. Now, after finding little to please me in my recent fiction-reading adventures, I deemed it time to dust off the old friend and explore the world of the Limberlost once again.
The book is Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter. I don’t know if I’ve ever read anything else by the author. I do know I’ll never do it again willingly. And all the warm fuzzies I carried in my heart for this book have been scraped off with the coarse sandpaper of maturity.
How was this book disappointing? Let me count the ways.
One example: the protagonist was orphaned as a baby and raised in an orphanage in Chicago. That’s in Illinois, which, in case you’re not aware (which the author apparently wasn’t), is approximately 3500 miles from Ireland. The reason I mention this is because the character spoke with a thick Irish brogue. Thick as in difficult to read. Which I could forgive, if he’d been raised in Ireland–or raised by Irish parents who never let him out of the house–or had some other excuse to talk that way. How am I supposed to believe he spoke that way because his parents did, when he never knew his parents?
That’s just one of the many glaring impossibilities in the book. Apparently those things didn’t bother readers when the author wrote it in 1904. And they certainly didn’t bother me when I read it as a child in the 1960s. But now, I can’t get past them to enjoy whatever might be worthwhile in the story. If there is anything worthwhile in the story. To my mind, it was implausible from start to finish, riddled with inconsistencies and told in an unappealing style.
So, having gotten that book out of my system once and for all, I turned to a novel that came recommended by two sources. Funny that I don’t remember who the first one was, but the most recent person to recommend it is the friend I’m working with on a nonfiction project. I’d purchased it recently at her suggestion and decided to give it a try without allowing it to sit on the shelf for months or years as I usually do.
You know how, when you’ve been on your feet a long time and are weary and aching and yearning to sit down? or you’re wilting in the brutal sun and desperately need to get out of the heat? and you’re finally able to go in and rest in a cool, comfortable place, and you lean back and say, “Ahhhh….”? Well, that was my reaction to reading The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge.
The language is beautiful, and I often smiled in appreciation of the skill of it. The story is engaging and sweet without being cloying. Characters are multi-dimensional and lifelike, situations are wholly realistic, and it’s all rich with truth and purpose. My only disappointment was that it ended too soon.
That is to say, it’s everything a good novel should be. Everything I want my books to be.
And here’s the funny thing. When I went to put it on my shelf, I found I already had a copy. Apparently someone else had recommended it earlier, and I’d bought it, shelved it, and forgotten about it. Well, whoever was the first to suggest it has excellent taste.
I realize not everyone will agree with my assessment of these three books, and that’s okay. I know what I like, and can’t speak for anyone else. But if you have good taste like I do, I recommend that you grab yourself a copy of The Scent of Water and drink it in!
Hey, y’all – I thought it might be a good idea to let you know about the promotion going on at Goodreads. Between now and the end of the month, you can enter a drawing to win a free copy of The Last Toqeph, the fourth book in the Gateway to Gannah series.
Looking at the cover, do you wonder who those two guys are? Especially the one in the animal-skin skirt. Wouldn’t you love to see his face? Guess what color his eyes are… just guess.
I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to read the book to find out.
And what’s that in the distance, barely visible above the “S” in “Last”? It’s small in the picture, but significant in the story (which is why I asked the artist to make sure he included it).
Do you know why the guy in the hat looks so much taller than the shorter one? Because he is taller — by about a foot and a half. Do you wonder why they both have an aggressive stance? Well, you would too, if you were in either of their situations. What does the taller one have that the shorter one wants? Why is the tall one jealous of the little guy? Do the two remain at odds, or do they become friends by the end of the story?
Read the book to find out. To do this for free, you can, of course, enter the Goodreads giveaway (see the link in the first paragraph of this post, or click “Enter to Win” in the widget to the right). But only five people will win a book that way, and you might not be one of the lucky ones.
So go to your local library and ask them to order it. They might do it for you. If they don’t, I’ll be upset with them. (That prospect will not faze them in the slightest, but that’s beside the point.)
If you want to read it “on the cheap,” the Kindle price is only $1.99. Don’t have a Kindle? You can download a free Kindle app for your computer — Amazon has them for both PC and Mac.You could just bite the bullet and buy a print copy.Or, you could just forget the whole thing. But seriously, don’t you want to find the answers to these questions, one way or another?
The word “Christmas” is a contraction of the Old English Crīstesmæsse, meaning “Christ’s mass.” The term was first used in 1038.
Because the letter X in Greek is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ, the abbreviation Xmas is not, as some assume, part of a modern plot to “take Christ out of Christmas.” In fact, the abbreviation has been used since the mid-1500s.
This holiday season has been a tradition since long before Christ’s advent. Three Roman festivals were once the high point of the pagan year: Saturnalia (December 17 – 23), accompanied by partying and gift-giving; the Kalends (January 1 – 5), later celebrated as the Twelve Days of Christmas; and Deus Sol Invictus (Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun) on December 25. Though all evidence points to Jesus’s birth having occurred several months before December, the Roman Catholic Church chose this time of year to celebrate it — presumably because people were already in the habit of celebrating then.
Because of its pagan origins, the early Puritans in America banned all Christmas celebrations from 1659-1681. Those who favored Christmas were considered enemies of the faith.
Some traditions give Martin Luther credit for creating the first Christmas tree. As the story goes, he was so moved by the beauty of the stars shining between fir branches that he brought home an evergreen and decorated it with candles to share the image with his children.
The Yule log was an enormous tree trunk burned during the Roman celebration of the Kalends of January. The word Yule refers to the revolution of a wheel, symbolizing the cyclical return of the sun. A burning log or its charred remains was said to give health, fertility, and luck, and to ward off evil spirits.
The legend of Santa Claus arose from stories surrounding St. Nikolas of Myra, who lived during the fourth century in what is now the nation of Turkey. He became the patron saint of banking, pawnbroking, pirating, butchery, sailing, thievery, orphans, royalty, and New York City.
The tradition of hanging Christmas stockings is based on the legend of three sisters who were too poor to afford a marriage dowry and were, therefore, doomed to earn their living through prostitution. They were spared that fate when St. Nikolas, then a wealthy bishop, crept down their chimney and filled the ladies’ stockings (which they’d washed and hung up to dry) with gold coins.
When we consider the history of the holiday, it can be hard to see what any of it has to do with Jesus. But two things are certain:
It’s always the right time to celebrate Jesus; and
Christmas is a perfect time to proclaim the great tidings of the Gospel!