It’s Christmastime!

I re-post this original short piece every Christmas. I hope when you read it you’re reminded of the magic of Christmas growing up. More importantly, I hope everyone remembers Christmas is Christ’s birthday. His virgin birth, life, death, and resurrection are the very building blocks upon which our faith rests. By no other Name can man be saved. God bless!

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Wow, only three days til Christmas Day. The year went so fast I almost forgot there were twelve months. Sometimes the days seem to run together. Partly because of the limited daylight. It’s typical for office workers this time of year to go to work in the dark in the morning and come home after work in the dark. Add to that all the rushing around as Christmastime draws near. Time slips without seeming to move the hands on the clock.

When I was young, time seemed to stand still on Christmas Eve. About six o’clock on WNEP 16 out of Scranton, PA, up-to-the-minute tracking of Santa Claus on radar would begin. It always felt like bedtime would never get here. And when it did, I would never be able to get to sleep. It’s Christmastime, I would think. Santa’s coming. If I go to bed. If I close my eyes and give in to slumber. Impossible, is what I used to think as I looked at the clock again and again, hoping it was time. Everything moves like a snail. Funny, but none of the adults seemed to notice this time problem. They would eat and drink and sing and dance around the living room, smiling and toasting one another. They were oblivious. But how is this possible, I would wonder? How can they be so calm?

Santa’s coming. Quick, everyone. Finish your merriment and put the dishes in the dishwasher. Clean up. Get a plate of cookies and a glass of milk ready for Santa. He’s coming! Straighten up the living room. Move those extra chairs out of the way. Santa needs to put my new bike there. Oh wow, this is taking so long. I can’t stand this. I really can’t. The excitement is causing me to nearly tremble. I have to pee, but I’m afraid to tell anyone. Maybe I can wait til I go upstairs to brush my teeth. It’s as though I think time will slow down even more than it has already. Oh, I have to go now! No waiting til bedtime. Well, what can I do? Nothing. I look at the clock. I don’t believe the hour hand has moved more than a half inch. You’ve got to be kidding me!

After what feels like half a week, it’s finally time to go to bed. I run up the staircase, nearly slipping and planting my face in the carpet at the top of the steps. I dash into the bathroom and head straight to the toilet bowl. I barely get my snaps open before the water works begin. Without having to be told, I grab my toothbrush and get brushing. I know Santa’s watching. I’ve known that for a long time. Have to listen. Have to be good. He is always checking. Sometimes twice. I’ve been nice. I’ve not been naughty. I finish up and sprint to my room to climb in my bed. I am thinking that maybe I should skip my prayers tonight and go straight to sleep. But wait, Santa will know if I don’t say my prayers. So I fold my hands and I get started. Short, but sweet. Done in ten seconds. I reach up and kiss my mom goodnight. She tucks me in and I squeeze my eyes shut real tight, hoping that will cause me to go right to sleep. It doesn’t. My heart is pounding. I can feel it in my ears and in the ends of my fingers. I can’t help but thinking, This is going to be a long night.

Believe it or not, before I know it I am opening my eyes. I look at my clock. It’s six o’clock. At first, I’m thinking the clock never even moved. That it’s still the same time it was when I looked at the living room clock. Then it comes to me. It’s morning. I can’t imagine what might be waiting for me downstairs. I scream out loud. I can’t help myself. I just can’t. Mom shows up at my door grinning from ear to ear. Dad is standing behind her. Good. It’s time. No more waiting.

I nearly tumble down the steps as dad calls out, Take it easy Sport. I am not even all the way down the steps when I see the handle bars. Yep! Handle bars atop a brand new shiny bike. The bike is surrounded by dozens of presents. I am speechless. I took at mom and dad, and then I go sit on my new bike. Mom already has her Instamatic up to her eye, taking my picture. Dad says, Well, what do you think? I just grin and lean in to the handle bars, pretending I’m flying down Race Street hill, leaving a trail of flames behind me. Then I remember, there are presents to open. Man, this is just fantastic. I dive in, ripping at the wrapping paper. Present after present, I am blown away. I stop for a brief moment and think, This was well worth the wait.

Merry Christmas to everyone. Stay safe. Be healthy. Be thankful. And above all else, be patient. Because sometimes the clock just doesn’t seem to move at all.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

© Steven Barto 2014

Have They Gone a Bit Too Far?

The University of Minnesota has distributed guidelines on how to celebrate the holidays in the most inclusive, bias-free way possible. They’ve gone a bit overboard in the process, unless you think there’s something innately Christian about bells or the color red. The guidelines – composed by the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences’ Diversity and Inclusion Office – ask that students and faculty respect the diversity of the University community by hosting neutral-themed parties such as a Winter Celebration. Lest there be any confusion over which decorations are sufficiently generic, the document includes a list of items and images that are not appropriate because they represent specific religious iconography.

That includes the obvious, such nativity scenes, menorahs, and angels. It includes semi-secular symbols, such as Santa Claus. It also includes some items whose religious content is hard to discern at all, such as red and green decorations (representative of the Christian tradition), blue and silver decorations (too Jewish), bows, bells, or wrapped gifts. The university said if students encounter one of these examples of religious iconography, they are encouraged to reach out to the University of Minnesota’s Bias Incident Website or contact its office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.

Karl Lorenz, director of diversity programs at the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, stresses that the guidelines are strictly voluntary. “The bullet points are offered for consideration,” says Lorenz. “They are not mandates.” However, because of the voluntary nature, most of the guidelines do not raise constitutional issues, according Ari Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The university, he says, can argue convincingly that parties put on by their units are university speech and it has the right to control the message. He does find it troubling that the guideline instructions indicate individuals should restrict expressions of their religious faith to their own personal space, a measure he says is overly broad. But while Cohn thinks the guidelines are largely legal, they also strike him as “rather ham-fisted and overly cautious.” Indeed. Rather persecutory as well! Perhaps you’d be interested in reading David Limbaugh’s Persecution: How Liberals are Waging War Against Christians. You can check the book out at Amazon. Here’s the direct link: Persecution by David Limbaugh

Indeed, while I have no doubt that the university is sincere about wanting to encourage diversity and inclusion – which is a great endeavor, and even somewhat Christ-like, in that Jesus met, dined with, and healed, literally everyone – this push for bland and generic events could have the opposite effect. The university is encouraging faculty and students not to celebrate campus diversity but to suppress any sign of it. Clearly, this should be an indication to Christians who are in a position of authority at the school that the guidelines have gone a bit too far.

HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS! HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS!

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