Sam Burnham, Curator
Christmas Day is when we recognize the birth of Christ. And while many critics are quick to point out that Jesus would not have been born on December 25, we worship Christ and not the day. He is the focus and that we recognize the 25th as His day is the only thing that gives that particular day any significance over any other.
It is no no big secret that this is my first Christmas with my oldest son away from home. He is in a very cold and windy Illinois learning the ways of a sailor. This has been a long term goal for him and a sacrifice he has freely made. With him so far from home and with only minimal communication, it is a sacrifice our family shares with him.
And so on this Christmas, more than any before it, I am reminded of what Christmas truly is.
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
Over the last 18+ years, God has taught me more about Himself through my children than by any other means. Through being a father, I have gained that εριγνωσις, that experiential knowledge of all those Scripture passages about The Father. Words on the page have walked along beside me and I now know them as trusted friends and not just memorized ideas.
I have tasted, ever so slightly, of the pride and the pain of a father whose son has chosen to go far from home because he places the welfare of others before his own. I know the fear of a father whose son’s comfort, well-being, and very life now rest in the hands of a cruel world.
I don't say this to equate myself with God, my son with The Son, boot camp with the Incarnation, or Naval Service with the Crucifixion or Resurrection. I say it to show how I came to the realization of the true meaning of Christmas. While we celebrate the birth, we know what must come:
“And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:”
Christmas, for all its cheer and goodwill, is about the sacrifice of a son. It was that very sacrifice of the Son that created the redemptive forces that make the cheer and goodwill of Christmas possible. I’m not sure I would have completely grasped this until this year, this distance, this silence. But I have a much better understanding of it now.
I hope you spend this holiday with those you lave. If you can't, I pray for your peace and comfort as I pray for my own.
Sam Burnham, Curator
I shared some of the music that helps me to stir the Christmas spirit but there’s more. I thought I’d add a list of viewing - movies and television - that can help in the same way.
It’s A Wonderful Life - 1946
This movie is one of the mainstays of the season. I know it can seem like a cliche to include it but this movie is filled with the themes that we espouse at ABG. The small town of Bedford Falls, George Bailey and his locally-owned savings and loan, the relationships he and the business have with the locals, the ever present bigger bank breathing down his neck, and his earnest efforts to keep them from taking over his town. It's the power of relationships in a small town and how things can be set right The messages are timeless, Jimmy Stewart is a legend and this is some of his best acting. It’s a Christmas must-see.
A Charlie Brown Christmas - 1965
An animated classic but this one isn’t just child’s play. Charlie Brown is frustrated by the commercialized Christmas he sees surrounding him. So he sets out to find some real meaning in the holiday only to be harried and harassed at every turn by the flashy expectations the commercialized Christmas has given to his friends. I gotta say that Linus standing on stage and reciting from the Book of Luke is one of the finest moments in television history. So simple but so profound. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
A Christmas Story - 1983
For 24 hours each year, Turner Broadcasting puts this little jewel in the player and hits repeat. You can turn it on and then go on about your way. When you walk in the room you can stop and laugh a bit before you move on. It’s not nearly as profound as the previous two on the list, but this is the funniest Christmas movie ever made. It’s nostalgic and gives us a chance to recognize our own reality in the comical dysfunction of normal life. So many quotes from this movie have become common in our cultural jargon. “You’ll shoot your eye out!” “It’s a major award!” And even the maniacal adaptation of “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Used by the shopping mall Santa. When you hear one, you know where it’s from.
A Christmas Carol - 1984
Whichever version of this Charles Dickens classic you watch is totally up to you. I’m kinda partial to George C. Scott. Regardless of the version, this is a how-to guide to getting into the spirit at Christmastime. The crustiest curmudgeon to walk the Earth is transformed into a tender hearted benefactor in the course of one night. And if Scrooge can get in the spirit, surely you can.
Again, these are a few and I'd love to hear your suggestions. Feel free to share them with us!
Sam Burnham, Curator
We’re once again in the midst of the Christmas season. It’s a season that we look forward to and that I always hope to celebrate well but always struggle to engage. We’ve made our world so hectic and intense that it is hard to stop, to focus on what matters, and to truly be in the holiday spirit. I often find myself in a spirit more like Scrooge before his conversion. While I’m not hostile to Christmas, I’m not enjoying it until it has past and it is too late.
So I have to be intentional. I have to focus on things that matter - family and faith primarily. I thought I’d share some of what I do to get my mind and heart right.
Music plays a role in everything for me. While I don’t play an instrument and lack any semblance of a singing voice, I love music and my tastes are pretty broad. But at Christmas I’m pretty traditional. So here are a few of my go-to musical works.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Annie Lennox
a few years ago, Annie Lennox released a Christmas album. Lennox is incredibly gifted and the entire album is worth a listen but this one song stands out to me. The song focuses on the story of the birth of Christ and the announcement the angels made before shepherds, proclaiming the Incarnation - Messiah. In the video, Lennox ties many old Anglo-Saxon traditions and shows the way Christianity and Christmas would have been presented in Britain long ago.
Concerto Grosso in G Minor, Opus 6, Number 8 “Christmas Concerto” - Arcangelo Corelli
I first heard this piece played as an opening overture to a performance of Handel’s Messiah. I’ve always been partial to strings and while I don’t understand the technical merits of this work, I find it stunning. It's a shorter work, only about 14 minutes, but well worth the time.
Messiah - George Frideric Handel
This quintessential Christmas opus is really an Easter celebration that has been adapted to Christmas. It fits both. So I just enjoy it during two seasons instead of just one. This one is long. It makes good ambient music in the house while you're doing whatever but is also stirring enough to hold your interest as a concert.
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols - The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
This event was first held in 1918, after the dark spectre of World War I had finally passed. In the aftermath, the Festival was introduced as a “more imaginative approach to worship.” It was broadcasted for the first time in 1928 and is now available all over the world, including on GPB radio in Georgia. The broadcast begins at 10 am Eastern.
I know I have fancier tastes in Christmas music than a lot of Georgians. And that’s ok. I wanted to share some of what I love but I also invite you to share your favorites below. Tell us what music, or other traditions, help you get in the Christmas spirit.
Most of all, take time to stop, truly absorb some of the season. Take time to appreciate it. Share it with us, with others, with yourself.
(Click here for our suggestions for Christmas viewing - film & television)
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire