I Celebrate Christmas – A Response

Earlier today, I read Matt Conlon‘s blog post Merry CHRISTMAS Whether You Celebrate it or Not.  Go ahead and read his post; it’s well worth your time.  I’ll wait here until you’re done…

Great!  When you’re done here, I recommend you peruse his site for his other well-written posts and his webcomic Stick I.T.!

To lay all of my cards on the table, I am a practicing Catholic.  I take my faith and its tenets very seriously.  Although I am far from perfect, I do my best to live my faith daily.  There was a time, during high school and college, when I had fallen away from the practice.  During that time, I had investigated other faiths, in an academic way, as opposed to conversion or practice.  So, I do have knowledge and appreciation for other faiths from an intellectual standpoint.  However, I felt Jesus’s call very strongly to return to the faith into which I was born.

Now, Matt’s post touches on a lot of topics.  So, without further adieu…

Matt writes:

I usually try to stay clear of religion as a subject, because those who are devout have made up their minds, and will never listen to a thing a secular person has to say. Not only have they made up their minds, but they sometimes want to make up your mind as well. Religion aside, my believes / opinions are my own, and I’ll share them if you like, but I’ll never force them on another person, thus I expect the same. I get very irritated when someone tells me their beliefs are fact, and that I’m wrong, so I don’t do it to others. I make sure to say things like “In my opinion” when saying things, or I just don’t say anything.

You know, I am exactly the same way when it comes to discussing religion – I don’t like to talk about it with anyone other than my closest of friends and family.  It’s such a touchy subject, and very personal, which I believe is why people react so strongly when disagreements arise.  However, I have to say that, in my experience, I get more harshly negative, even hostile, responses from those who call themselves non-religious, atheist or agnostic.  They tend to belittle me, my faith, my beliefs, and anything else that has to do with God.  On the other hand, religious folks tend to react with genuine curiosity about my faith and willingness to explain their own.  While disagreements do arise at times, we tend to either steer clear of those subjects, or deal with them respectfully.

However, I think Matt and I are cut from the same cloth here.  I don’t try to force my beliefs onto anyone because I hate when others do that to me.  Now, I have to point out that beliefs in this sense are fact to those who adhere to them, and that includes non-religious as well.  But, if we act respectfully with regards to another’s belief, we can avoid so much conflict.

Matt continues:

Christmas: The birthday celebration of Jesus, as least as far as the Christians are concerned. Originally, it had nothing to do with Jesus or Christianity, but it made for a hell of a marketing gimmick, so they changed it.

Now, before you start rolling your eyes at yet another “Christians stole pagan holidays” post (which I HAVE done in the past), I’m not going to bother here… There’s enough controversy around the fact (note, I didn’t call it an idea though… 😉 ) so believe what you will. The fact remains, there was a year end celebration long before Jesus. Jesus came (allegedly) and now there’s no year end celebration for the pagans… Coincidence??

Matt is correct: Christmas was originally a pagan holiday, which was then absorbed, if you will, into the Christian religious practice.  This only makes sense; when converting a people to your religion, you need not only to change their beliefs, but their customs and practices.  If a culture is used to certain observances of, say, the winter solstice, then they will most likely want to keep that tradition.  So, what would an evangelist do?  If you can’t change the tradition, change its meaning.  This is a common tool not only in Christianity, but other religions as well, both ancient and modern.

By the way, many biblical scholars think that Jesus’s birth actually took place in the spring, closer to Easter than Christmas.  I have no problem with this, either.  Many times I can’t celebrate my daughters’ birthdays on their actual birthdate because they fall during the week.  Just because I celebrate the birthday on a different date doesn’t mean they were born on that date; nor does it mean that I love them any less.  It is simply an observation of their birthday.

I assume Christians’ hostile reaction to the “Christmas was originally a pagan holiday” statement is that nonbelievers try to use it to discredit the faith.  As I said, I don’t find it a threat at all.

ANYWAY. My beef here is that MOST of the world recognizes Christmas at LEAST as a holiday where kids get gifts from a fat guy who spies on us when we’re sleeping. Everyone knows what Christmas is, and every one’s heard of the Christmas spirit, even if they’ve never shared in it. It’s the spirit if giving, good will, blahblahblah.

That’s actually a funny way to phrase it: a fat guy who spies on us, etc..  I love it!

ANYWAY… actually, I agree with Matt here.  The Christmas Season (or, if you insist, Holiday Season) is definitely a secular observation.  Were it not, then only Christians would take off from work, school, and life in general on or around December 25th.  The fact that MOST of the world (actually, I’m not sure of the world, but certainly Western civilization) takes a week or two break at this time is a recognition of its religious origin.

The remainder of Matt’s post is disturbing to me.  To be forbidden from using the word “Christmas” on all cards due to one child’s faith is ridiculous.  Requesting that the students not use the word “Christmas” on cards to that one child is not only well within reason, but also simply courteous.  I vehemently disagree with removing all references to a religion due to one person’s objection.  I support an individual’s right to celebrate (or not) whatever their religion may (or may not) be.

Finally, as a religious person, I am very sensitive to others’ differing viewpoints.  Most often, I will wish someone a “Happy Holiday,” especially if I am unsure if they are Christian.  If I know for certain that they are Christian, I will wish them a “Merry Christmas.”  Likewise, if I am certain they are Jewish, I will wish them a “Happy Hanukkah.”  The point is, I wish everyone good tidings at this time of year.

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In Memoriam – Memom Perotti

My family is very close.  I guess it’s a product of our Italian heritage, but I know that’s not the sole reason.  There are so many things I love about my family.  But Christmas is very bittersweet for me.

You see, two years ago today, I got a call from my father, “Mark, I have *cough* terrible news.”  He didn’t have to continue, because I could hear it in his voice, and I knew.  “Grandmom’s passed away.”

I was decorating the tree with my daughters, but I had moved to the office to take the call.  As I listened to my father talk, and hearing the cracks in this usually-so-strong man’s voice, I felt my heart break.  The call ended, and I went out to the living room.  I told my girls what their Poppy had just told me, and I broke down.  The sweet, sweet treasures that they are, my daughters hurried to me and hugged me as I cried and cried.

My wife was at work at that time, so I called her cell and gave her the news.  She came home a little later.  I didn’t have the desire to finish the tree.  I went to my uncle’s house that night, like we do every year, and cried and talked and reminisced with my father, uncle and grandfather.

The next few days were a bleary blur as we celebrated Christmas and prepared for the funeral.  I was asked to deliver a eulogy for Memom.  Somehow, I did.

For you, Memom.  I know you’re in heaven, in a wonderful place, praying for us, but I still miss you every day.

Food is love.

I heard those words on a TV show about two or three weeks ago. When the host said it, I immediately was struck with not only its profoundness, but also its profound truthfulness. Providing food means to provide life; providing the best food means providing a joyful life; what better way to express your love to someone. It wasn’t until Christmas Eve when I realized that, although she never said those words, it was Memom Perotti who had taught me that.

From my earliest childhood, the connection between Memom and food was inseparable. Every day, she would cook or bake. Her unending supply of food symbolizes the abundant love in her heart. “You’re too skinny – here, eat this,” meant that you looked unloved, and that was her way of hugging you. “I made some cookies – here, take a plate with you,” was her way of reminding you later on that she loves you.

Every Friday evening, her call went out to all her family and friends, “Pizza’s almost ready, come over and eat.” She wanted her family and friends to be there, so she could share with them the love in her heart. And how could we possibly forget her Christmas Eve dinners, when she worked for days to make so much food that we could barely walk out the door. The joy that I saw in her eyes and her smile as the family ate was obvious; she loved watching her family enjoy her meal, because she put her love into every morsel.

I have seen her sons learn from her, and carry on that passion for cooking. And from them, I believe, each of us, her grandchildren, do the same in our own way. Memom will never, ever be gone from our lives. Yes, we have our memories, and what wonderful memories they are. But, for as long as we put our best into making our food, Memom’s love will live within our hearts.

I love you, Memom, and will miss you always, and I’ll do my best to make sure my family is well-fed.

——

I’d like to read a poem that I found recently. It is called Christmas In Heaven, by Wanda Bencke

I see the countless CHRISTMAS TREES around the world below
with tiny lights like HEAVEN’S STARS reflecting on the snow.
The sight is so SPECTACULAR please wipe away that tear
for I am spending CHRISTMAS WITH JESUS CHRIST this year.
I hear the many CHRISTMAS SONGS that people hold so dear
but the SOUND OF MUSIC can’t compare with the CHRISTMAS CHOIR up here.
I have no words to tell you of the JOY their voices bring
for it is beyond description to HEAR THE ANGELS SING.
I know HOW MUCH YOU MISS ME, I see the pain inside your heart
for I am spending CHRISTMAS WITH JESUS CHRIST this year.
I can’t tell you of the SPLENDOR or the PEACE here in this place
Can you just imagine CHRISTMAS WITH OUR SAVIOR face to face
I’ll ask him to LIFT YOUR SPIRIT as I tell him of your love
so then PRAY FOR ONE ANOTHER as you lift your eyes above.
Please let your HEARTS BE JOYFUL and let your SPIRIT SING
for I am spending CHRISTMAS IN HEAVEN and I’m walking WITH THE KING.

 Merry Christmas.

Catching Sparkles

Some time ago, maybe a year and a half, I was in the kitchen with my youngest daughter.  I believe she was about two years old at the time.  I was at the sink, and had just opened the blinds to let in some sunlight.

It was at this time that she saw some dust motes floating in the sunbeam.  Her eyes lit up, she smiled, and said excitedly, “Daddy! Sparkles!”  I smiled at her excitement and replied, “Yes, sparkles!”

“I catch,” she exclaimed, and proceeded to jump up and down in the sunbeam, trying to trap a “sparkle” in her hands.  She laughed as she did this, perfectly happy in her own little world.  I laughed with her, basking in the joy her pure innocence.  The memory of this moment warms this father’s heart every time.

May we all find some sparkles to catch every so often.

The Blessing & Curse Of A Logical Mind

I consider myself to be strongly left-brained.  This means that I am much more logical and analytical rather than expressive and creative.  At least, I think this to be true.

Generally speaking, this was reflected in my elementary school and high school grades.  I always put forth minimal effort in my math and science classes, and brought home solid A’s.  On the other hand, my English, literature, writing, history and art classes were always a hassle.  No matter how much effort I put into them, I’d usually be lucky to get a B-.  Honestly, I didn’t really like these classes, probably because of my difficulty with them, which made the studies even worse.

While this changed at some time in college, where suddenly I couldn’t get enough history and literature, I still feel I am strongly in the left-brain camp.

See, with math and science, you only need to learn the basics.  From the basics, you logically extrapolate the intermediate material, the advanced material, and the master-level material.  It all builds upon the last layer, like a beautiful, logical, scientific pyramid.  Analytic geometry flows naturally from basic arithmetic. In my last post, I mentioned my love of math, in this case of prime numbers and factors of numbers.  I expect to mention this more in future posts.  Science is the same way…

Well, except for one science: Biology.  I had one heck of a time with biology in high school.  It was the only science that I couldn’t walk through and get an A; in fact, if my memory is correct, I got a C.  This bugged the heck out of me for years – I was used to my science grades being easy A’s.  But then, one day, I finally figured it out: Biology was less of a science, in the sense that the basic layers don’t form the foundation for the next layers.  At least for me, and my left-brain, I couldn’t extrapolate the more advanced topics from the less advanced.  It was all memorization of definitions, results, theory, and exceptions.  For me, rote memorization is difficult, tedious, and illogical.

Now, I’m not saying that biology is not a science.  I know it is a science, but it is a science I do not comprehend easily.  Because I don’t get it, I admire and respect those to whom it comes with less effort.  Way to go doctors, ecologists, biomechanical engineers and exobiologists – you folks rock!

So, I can read about biological issues, and comprehend them, but I don’t expect to make any breakthroughs in the biological sciences, ever.  I’ll leave that to the experts.

Just leave the logic and math to me.

Fixing The Alphabet

I have a beef with the alphabet.  Not all of it, mind you, but there are more than a few things that annoy the heck out of me.  Here, I will air my grievances about two letters.

In particular, I present my argument to remove the two letters from the alphabet completely.  What letters are they, you ask?  Good question!

First On The Chopping Block – The Letter X

It marks the spot.  It represents the first unknown number in algebra.  It tells you, “YOU ARE WRONG” on a test.

PHOOEY!  Who the heck needs that?!?  It can easily be replaced with “ks.”  Oh, no, wait, it can’t… if it’s at the start of a word.  What then?  Well, obviously it sounds like… um, well…

THAT’S THE PROBLEM! Nobody can say what the sound should be when X is the first letter of a word!  Does is make a “Z” sound?  Or do you say the name of the letter, followed by the rest of the word?  Case in point:

Xavier: zay-vee-air; or eks-a-vee-air?  NO ONE KNOWS!

My proposal: Remove X from the alphabet completely!  Replace it with “ks” when it’s at the end of a word; replace it with “z” or “eks” at the beginning.  Finally, we will know how to pronounce the damn letter!

Oh, what about in algebra?  No problem: use “w” for the new unknown.  It is the first letter of “what,” as in “what the heck this this number?”

Next Victim Of The Axe – The Letter Q

That’s right – the letter Q.  It’s not fooling me – oh, no, not one bit!  It’s in vowel drag, pretending to be an O, but everyone can see the little appendage.  Come on, now, Q, you’re not getting away with that!

You can’t even stand on your own.  You NEED a vowel after yourself to make any sense at all.  Even then, the two of you sound exactly like “kw!”  Seriously!  You have no unique sound!

What if you go without your little “U” companion?  Most of the time, you sound like a “K” anyway!  And if anyone is unsure how to pronounce you, they fall back on “U” and say “KW” instead.  How lazy can a letter get?!?

Here’s my proposal: Kill Q, and replace it with “KW,” unless it doesn’t have a following “U.”  In that case, replace it with “K.”  Now we all will know how to pronounce this useless letter.

End Result

 So, with the well-deserved death of these two useless letters, how does the alphabet benefit?

Well, besides the instant pronunciation clarification, we have the beauty of math.  If you stick with this blog, you will eventually see that I am a very mathematical person.  But I digress….

We rid the alphabet of two letters.  We now have 24 letters.  24 is a more beautiful number, for several practical reasons.

26 can be evenly divided into two pairs of factors: 1×24, and 2×13.  It causes problems if you have to divide it further – you’ll always have a few stragglers.

Now 24… THAT is a beautiful number.  How would you like to divide it?  1×24?  2×12?  3×8? 4×6?  Switch those numbers around for the rest of the options.

I ask you, how many teachers would benefit from this?  You can make eight tables of the letters of the alphabet in perfect rectangles!  Offices can have filing cabinets or filing systems without having to group letters together.  Add to that the confidence one will gain by knowing the proper pronunciation of a new and/or exotic word, and this is a winning proposal!

So, what do you think?  Will you join my campaign to remove the letters X and Q from the alphabet?  Can I ask for a pledge to write Oxford and Webster?  Will you promise to banish the use of these useless letters in your daily spelling?

I leave it to you, dear reader, to answer my kwestions.  Think outside the boks, and join me in my noble kwest!

Postscriptum

As a lover of math, I am fascinated by prime numbers.  Despite the beauty of the number 24, I might be persuaded to go with 23 letters.  In that case, I’d have to pick one more letter to kill…

C… I’m looking at you.  Make up your mind: are you a “K,” or an “S?”

You just watch yourself, C.

The Fence

10 PRINT “HELLO, WORLD!”

Here it is, folks – my brand new general-purpose blog.

I agree, not so earth-shattering, is it?  Well, not yet, at least.  We’ll see how things go from here.

I’ll try to keep things light, at least at the beginning.  I plan to use this as an outlet for thoughts that won’t fit in one or two 140-character Tweets, or for that which I want more exposure than my friends on Facebook.  At the moment, that’s a lot of thoughts.  Please bear with me as I organize them into somewhat coherent words, sentences, paragraphs and blog entries.

I hope you stick around long enough for me to do something worthwhile.  In the meantime, enjoy my missteps, mistakes and outright goofiness.

HELLO, WORLD!