Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Such a tough time of year for the non-believers, isn't it? I don't really mind the whole Christmas thing too much--a holiday that says "be nice and give things to people" is okay by me--but then again, I'm usually in control of my exposure to All Things Christmas. Don't want to hear Christmas music? Don't go to the mall. Simple. I wasn't expecting our monthly Civil War Roundtable meeting to turn into a church service, though. I guess I should have figured, since the presentation topic was "Christmas during the Civil War," but I'm so out of touch religiously that it never occurred to me I'd be hearing about the Baby Jesus.

Anyway, I learned a few things tonight:

1. How did I get to be this age without learning what "myrrh" is? I mean, I knew it was "an aromatic resin" of some sort, put into balm, but I didn't know it was used to *embalm* people. How creepy is it that the Three Kings brought a baby something to be used in embalming? What kind of message were they sending the kid? "Welcome, prepare to die." No wonder I'm not a Christian.

2. I learned a different version of "Away in a Manger" when I was a kid. The song we heard tonight I knew as "Luther's Cradle Hymn." Same lyrics, better tune.

3. The really interesting thing I learned today is that Longfellow wrote the poem/Christmas carol "Christmas Bells" on Christmas 1864 when he was particularly depressed about family tragedies and the Civil War. I'm sure I've heard or sung this song before, but I'm also sure the verses about the Civil War weren't part of the lyrics in the standard Baptist hymnal. Those stanzas make it an immensely interesting poem, much better than just a Christmas carol--not hard to see who he felt was at fault during the war:

"Christmas Bells"
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1864

"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!"

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