By Bruce Stambaugh
Christmastime is gathering time. The very origins of the holiday make it so.
Though we may not think about it, those who gather in celebration replicate the inexplicable cast of characters that assembled for the first Christmas. Paying homage for this special birth, their lot represented a cross-section of social, political and religious backgrounds, not unlike today.
To be sure, they were a motley bunch, unassuming, even unaware of the tradition being created. Of course, we have no way of knowing the exact date or even time of year for the birth of the Christ child. We can only follow the story as it has been transcribed and translated for us.
Over time, the traditions of Christmas have been handed down and culturally adjusted to fit the changing times. There’s no documentation for tinseled evergreen trees or a jolly St. Nick in Bethlehem that ancient night.
An angelic troupe serenaded stunned shepherds huddled in a field, watching over their flocks. Astute individuals, long on the lookout for a messiah, offered praise and prayer. A ruler trembled. Later, wise kings traveled from afar to worship the boy, and offered precious gifts.
Mary and Joseph themselves were among the throngs reassembling in their hometowns on governmental orders of the day. Harsh as their journey may have been, they complied. History wouldn’t be the same if they had not.
Centuries later millions travel by modern means to celebrate Christmas, and not always on Dec. 25th either. That fits the Advent model as well. Perhaps, because of schedules or availability, you have already gathered for the holidays.
Here in the largest Amish population in the world, both traditional Christmas Day and the more reverent Old Christmas, always Jan. 6, will find families and friends gathering and sharing food, fellowship, and gifts. You might know Old Christmas as Epiphany or Three Kings Day.
Our own families will make merry on several occasions. Christmas Eve morning two kinships are blended into one for a festive breakfast, a holiday custom spanning three decades.
On Christmas Day, we’ll repeat the family ritual of enjoying a tasty holiday meal, and opening gifts. Those traditions have been toned down a bit from my childhood days when my good parents splurged beyond their means to make Christmas merry.
Some of us will eat tofu instead of turkey or ham, and the gift giving has been reigned in as well. We set a reasonable spending limit, pick a name out of a hat, and that’s that. Of course Santa still fills the stockings hanging from the fireplace mantel.
Later, the five Stambaugh siblings and any available family members will met at our little sister’s home to honor the season and our folks. After all, Mom and Dad instilled in us a fervent love for Christmas.
Myriads of global families will mirror my own, each in their own traditions and styles. Others have already gathered to bake cookies, or attended school programs, or a holiday concert. Still others packed food and clothing for the needy or served meals to too many homeless peoples around the world.
A curious collection of peoples was drawn to that original anointed Nativity scene. Once the event’s date was arbitrarily fixed as Dec. 25, families have been assembling ever since.
Centuries later, Christmas is still for gathering. The modes and means of doing so may have changed, but the reason has not.
In that, let us all rejoice and be glad that we can gather together indeed.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2013
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