Friday, November 25, 2011


Evolution. That’s a word we usually associate with biology. For example, some scientists believe that human beings evolved from apes. (That stretches the imagination until you consider some of the similarities in behavior!)

Wikipedia, however, says that the word "evolution" can refer to any gradual change that occurs over generations. With that definition, I think it is clear that there has been an evolution of Christmas. I mean, after all, originally it was just a day when a boy child – later named Jesus – was born in Bethlehem.

Many came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah (Savior) prophesied by the Hebrew scriptures. Persecuted by the Romans, they began celebrating his birth on December 25, the time of a Roman holiday celebrating the returning of the sun. Thus, their festivities escaped governmental attention. By 354 A.D. that date was fixed in the calender of the early church and soon became a day for feasting and celebration.

It was not until 1038 A.D. –700 years later – that the day was called Christmas. The word comes from the old English, Christes maesse, or Christ’s Mass. At that time, the seasonal holiday continued for twelve days, from December 25 till January 6,Three Kings’ Day (or Epiphany).

Decorations for Christmas have also evolved. It was traditional to decorate with evergreen branches for ancient Roman and Jewish winter holidays. In the 1400's England added holly and ivy to the holiday decor.

Artful miniatures of the nativity of Jesus had begun to be created in Italy as early as 900 A.D. St. Francis of Assisi was especially fond of these "nativity scenes" and popularized them in the 1200s. The tradition spread rapidly across Europe.

Christmas trees date back to Germany, perhaps to Martin Luther, in the 16th century. English royalty imported this symbol of the season by the 1700s and it spread to America with immigrants from Europe by 1870.

Music, especially composed for the Christmas season, was sung in Rome as early as the 4th century. France, Germany and other European countries developed their own Christmas carols beginning in the 1100s. In England, too, special seasonal music was composed and the custom of "wassailing" became a common part of the holiday celebration. Small groups of people singing carols walked from house to house. The gracious recipients of their music would invite them into the house for wassail, a hot, spiced fruit juice-based drink.

Not everyone has rejoiced in the celebration of Christmas, however. In England, during the brief rule of the Puritans from 1647 to 1660, Christmas celebrations were outlawed. Puritans who immigrated from England to America also opposed all festivities at Christmas-time, believing it was an invention of the Roman Catholic church against which they had rebelled. Their neighbors who had immigrated from Germany, however, celebrated the holiday lavishly with special foods, decorations, music and pageantry.

Perhaps the greatest evolution related to Christmas customs is the changing nature of the season’s major gift-giver. In various countries, gifts were brought by Father Christmas, the Christ Child, the Three Kings, St. Nicholas, Pere Noel, or Basil of Caesarea. But Santa Claus had begun to emerge in New York City by the early 1800s. In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem that described his view of Santa Claus. It was called "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and described the seasonal gift-giver as "round" and "jolly," dressed "all in red" with a white beard. He drove a sleigh pulled by reindeer, carried a sack full of toys, and came down the chimney to deliver gifts for children on the night before Christmas. This became the classic picture of Santa Claus which has now spread around the world.

Even within the half century plus of my lifetime, there has been much evolution of Christmas. In my childhood, celebrations of the season revolved around our church and our home. The religious nature of the holiday was emphasized by the singing of carols and the reading of the nativity stories from the Bible. Gifts were simple and often homemade.

But Christmas has now evolved into "the largest annual economic stimulus for many nations," Wikipedia reports. Christmas shopping season begins about the middle of October as the stores begin "decking their halls" with Yuletide trimmings and advertising "holiday sales" in newspapers and on TV.

Perhaps we could hasten the evolution of Christmas from faithful to financial by establishing October 15 as the beginning of the season. We could revive again the old English custom of "wassailing" so singing parents could accompany their "trick-or-treating" children!

As for thanksgiving, new carols could be created for the Yuletide repertoire in order to "christmas-ize" that holiday. For example:

(TUNE: Over the River and Through the Woods)
"Over the highways and to the mall for Black Friday sales we go.
We know the way well, and we’ll be there a spell,
For we don’t want to be left out. Oh, no.
Over the highways and to the mall to fill up our shopping bag.
We won’t think twice about the price
Though our spouse will probably nag.

Over the highways and to the mall, to each store that advertises.
We’ll get there at 3 in the morning, you’ll see,
In our Santa Claus disguises.
Over the highways and to the mall. Oh, shopping’s such a lark.
We’ll shop ‘till we drop and still not stop,
If we can find a place to park!"

Other new Christmas carols could focus upon the economic emphasis that has developed around that gift-giving holiday. For example, a Christmas Theme song for merchants:

(TUNE: White Christmas)
"I’m dreaming of a green Christmas, with every purchase that is made.
As the cash drawers jingle and credit cards mingle
with overdraft letters from the bank.
I’m dreaming of a green Christmas, to turn my bottom line to black.
With each ad in print or TV, I count all my profits, don’t you see!"

Of course, the shoppers, too, need a theme song:

(TUNE: God rest ye, Merry Gentlemen)
"God rest ye, merry shoppers. May you find your heart’s desire.
Go, grab it quick and pay for it before the price goes higher!
The special sales are really grand; I’ve bought more than I planned!
Oh, tidings of lots of gifts for me; stuff I don’t need.
Whoops! And tidings of money woes indeed!"

Christmas customs and celebrations have changed over the years. From a babe in a manger to a diamond necklace in a velvet box, our holiday outlook has changed. Christmas has evolved. But, like the evolution from apes to humans, it’s too early to tell whether the change is for the better or not!

24 Nov 2011 - mshr

Thursday, November 24, 2011

American White Pelican

While we were riding bicycles in the Edinburg Municipal Park today we saw many American White Pelicans. There were 60-70 in one lagoon and perhaps 23-35 in another lagoon.
As if to protect their territory from the migrating pelicans, two Neotropic Cormorants sit atop a pole watching over the scene.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I’m at an awkward age again! Half a century ago, I survived the painful transition from teenager to young adult, an awkward age I had been warned about. But I never realized that there would be more times when my body felt like it didn’t belong to me!

This current awkward age I am experiencing is difficult to explain, let alone live through. The calender, my hair color, and my knees and my thumbs all tell me I am old. The calendar doesn’t lie, of course. I could change the color of my hair, but that would only hide the truth. My knees are unpredictable: sometimes they will hold me up, sometimes they won’t and my thumbs have trouble grasping anything. And, all too frequently, all four joints hurt. I’m adding wrinkles on my face (and in other body areas!) and age spots are "bustin’ out all over." My balance is no longer steady, and occasionally I’m surprised to find myself on the ground. I’ve fallen because my coordination has been replaced by the lack of it!

When I look in the mirror, I barely recognize myself! Who is that aged creature staring back at me? I struggle to accept the image in that mirror as being me. That’s because, inside that aching and wrinkled old body, there lives a joyful and carefree little girl. That child still likes to run, jump, turn cartwheels and somersaults. But the body in which she is imprisoned can’t do those things anymore. "It must belong to somebody else," she concludes sadly.

What is the answer to my chronological dilemma? How can I cope with this awkward age of being a young self in an old body? Perhaps the solution is to learn how to act old, out of respect for my body. Maybe I should practice walking slowly; trade in my bicycle for a rocking chair; begin using large print reading material; learn how to use a cane; learn the fine art of grouchiness; and refuse to try anything new, greeting all changes with a skeptical "Bah! Humbug!"

That might satisfy the needs of my body, make me more comfortable and keep me up off the ground. But what would it do to that happy little inner child? Surely she would quit laughing, joking, trying to learn new skills and experience new challenges. It wouldn’t be long until she would shrivel up and die!

‘Learning to act old’ might ease the tension of my current awkward age. It could increase the harmony between my body and my self, but it would also remove most of the fun and excitement from my life. I would become old all the way through, both inside and out!

No, thank you, I’m not ready for that yet! I’ll take the painful joints, the graying hair, and the facial wrinkles in order to keep my inner child happy and active! I’ll just stay at this awkward age for as long as possible.

As for my occasional falls, the day will come when I must leave this worn-out body behind and travel on in the hope of getting a new, heavenly one. When I go, the scars on my body from all my falls will make it so much easier for my loved ones to identify my remains! So, even in the midst of an awkward age, there are blessings!

9 Nov 2011 - mshr

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Yesterday, Bruce gave me a dump lesson. Actually, I’ve been dumping for years, but not that smelly kind of stuff that accumulates in the "black water tank" of an RV. 
From an early age I tried dumping guilt upon my parents, but my Mother, wise woman that she was, put a quick end to that. "Sorry, my dear," she responded to my guilt-dumping attempt, "I have enough sins of my own to answer for. I’ll not accept the responsibility for yours!"

I was no more successful in trying to dump guilt upon my husband-to-be. On a cold November day, he silently opened the car window, letting in a blast of wintry wind. "What are you doing?" I shrieked.
"Just making room," he replied calmly, "so that what goes in here (pointing in his right ear) and comes out here (pointing out of his left ear) can keep on going!"
 But the kind of dumping Bruce was teaching me yesterday involved stuff more tangible than guilt. He’s been trying to teach me for years and I’ve always watched carefully as he did it. But then, I’ve always found some way to be "busy" the next time it needed to be done.
This time he’s preparing for cataract surgery which will put restrictions on his bending over. So, I really did need to learn how to dump the "black water" (that’s an RVers genteel way of referring to feces or poop!).

We walked outside, around to the back side of the fifth wheel. There he stopped, folded his arms, and waited expectantly. Suddenly I realized that, unlike previous lessons, he wasn’t going to demonstrate for me how to do it. He was going to make me do it myself!

I looked down at the maze of handles – four of them – that need to be pulled and pushed at the proper time, and I froze! All I could think about was that scene from the movie RV when Robin Williams tries to dump the accumulation in the black water tank of the RV he has rented to take his family on vacation.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. He, too, did not understand the system of hoses and valves required for the task. He ends up getting sprayed by a geyser of the smelly crud when his sewer hose proves to be too short to reach the dump drain!

I knew I wouldn’t have that problem. Our sewer hose is securely mounted on one of those caterpillar-like sets of plastic legs that carries it downhill and directly to the drain. I don’t know what the proper name is for that little device, but I think it ought to be called a "craperpillar."

With a mighty effort, I pushed the images of geysers of liquid brown sludge out of my mind. I bent over and pulled a handle. It was the right one! Then I pulled a second handle, and I could see that the desired action was taking place. Just for good measure I pulled the other two handles – one at a time – and another gush of water, thinner and lighter in color than the first, poured forth down the sewer hose. I had dumped the "gray water" (dishwater, shower water, and stuff that’s not so contaminated), too.

Then it was time to push the handles in and close off the valves, in the proper order, of course. That part wasn’t nearly so scary, but another image flashed through my mind.

Several years ago, at a state park in Louisana, Bruce waited in line for his turn at the public dump station. As he waited, he couldn’t help but hear the booming voice of a man behind him in line. The loudmouth was bragging about how most people don’t know how to dump properly, but he did.

 Bruce completed his task, pulled forward out of the dump station and turned around just in time to see a disaster. The braggart had pulled up to the dump, connected his sewer hoses, placed the end down the drain, and pulled the release handle on his black water tank. Unfortunately, the hose connections were not tight enough and gave way under the pressure of the exiting fecal fluid! There was no geyser this time, but there was a wide-spread stinking mess and lots of quiet chuckling in the crowd around him.

So, I mentally patted myself on the back at completing the task in a clean and efficient way. Now, if I can just remember how I did it when I need to do it all by myself!