Dec. 25, 2002


by George Herbert

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Poem: "Christmas-Day," by George Herbert.


ALL after pleasures as I rid one day,
    My horse and I, both tir'd, bodie and minde,
    With full crie of affections, quite astray ;
I took up in the next inne I could finde.

There when I came, whom found I but my deare,
    My dearest Lord, expecting till the grief
    Of pleasures brought me to him, readie there
To be all passengers most sweet relief?

O Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light,
    Wrapt in night's mantle, stole into a manger ;
    Since my dark soul and brutish is thy right,
To Man of all beasts be not thou a stranger :

    Furnish and deck my soul, that thou mayst have
    A better lodging, than a rack, or grave.

The shepherds sing ; and shall I silent be?
          My God, no hymne for thee?
My soul 's a shepherd too: a flock it feeds
          Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
The pasture is thy word; the streams, thy grace
          Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
          Out-sing the day-light houres.
Then we will chide the sunne for letting night
          Take up his place and right:
We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should
          Himself the candle hold.
I will go searching, till I finde a sunne
          Shall stay, till we have done;
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly,
          As frost-nipt sunnes look sadly.
Then we will sing, and shine all our own day,
          And one another pay:
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
Till ev'n his beams sing, and my musick shine.

Today is Christmas Day, the celebration in the Christian church of the birth of Jesus Christ. The first celebration of Christmas probably took place in Rome in 336 A.D. There had already been a number of winter festivals in place; the ancient Romans held year-end celebrations to honor Saturn, their harvest god; and Mithras, the god of light. Some people in northern Europe held festivals in mid-December to celebrate the end of the harvest season. So when the Roman Empire became Christian, they incorporated these celebrations into the new holiday. Christmas took on its secular, commercial identity in American cities in about 1880. The popular image of Santa Claus was drawn in 1862 by Thomas Nast, who also created the face of Uncle Sam and the political elephant and donkey images. Nast's picture appeared on the cover of the Christmas season Harper's Weekly issue, meant as a holiday comfort to the faltering Union army and the families of its soldiers. The image was based somewhat upon the Dutch figure of Santa Clause, although the Dutch figure was a bringer of justice and would sometimes put cinders, stones and sticks into the stockings of children. St. Francis of Assisi assembled one of the first nativity scenes on this day in 1223, in Greccio, Italy. In Germany and the surrounding countries, the tradition of a Christmas tree was born. The families would set up a tree in a prominent location of their home and decorate it with colored paper, small toys, food, and sometimes candles. As these people moved or immigrated to other countries, they brought this tradition with them.

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