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6 things you may not know about Christmas

Published: Friday, November 10, 2017 @ 10:25 AM

Here are six things you may not know about Christmas Dec. 25 wasn't the day when Jesus was born Early Romans used evergreen branches to decorate their homes in winter St. Nicholas dropped gold into the first Christmas stocking People used to open presents on New Year's Day, not Christmas Coca-Cola didn't come up with a completely original look Celtic Druids viewed kissing under the mistletoe as something that could restore fertility

Christmas has many traditions that are so entrenched you probably don't give them much thought. But when you consider why things are done the way they are, you'll find that just about every element of Christmas has an interesting, evolving story behind it.

RELATED: Debate settled: This is the right time to put up your Christmas tree

Here are six things you may not know about Christmas:

Why is Christmas celebrated on Dec. 25?

Dec. 25 probably wasn't the day when Jesus was born, according to History.com. Since shepherds and their sheep were present, it was probably sometime in the spring.

The first record of a holiday honoring Jesus' birthday doesn't appear until after three centuries of Christianity's existence. Church officials decided to recognize Dec. 25 as his birthday, probably to coincide with the date of pagan festivals in an attempt to get pagans to accept Christianity as the official religion.

Close up of christmas tree with baubles and christmas biscuits(Tim Macpherson/Getty Images/Cultura RF)

Why do we put up Christmas trees?

Christianity Today says that early Romans used evergreen branches to decorate their homes in winter and ancient residents of northern Europe planted evergreen trees inside boxes in their homes. Early Christians frowned on these actions, but eventually loosened their view of the practice.

Germans and the Dutch embraced the idea of an indoor Christmas tree and brought it to the New World in the 1800s. The practice spread even more when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Germany, who brought the Christmas tree tradition to England. An American newspaper published a picture of the royal tree and the practice spread more widely in this country, which apparently was interested in news about the royals even back then.

What's the deal with hanging stockings?

This practice is rooted more in myth than fact, according to Time. As the story goes, St. Nicholas found a family in need, where a poor widower was trying to raise three daughters.

The man couldn't provide a dowry, which were money, goods or real estate handed over to a husband from a bried-to-be’s family, for his daughters to get married, so St. Nicholas dropped gold coins down the chimney. They landed in the girls' stockings, which were hung by the fireplace to dry.

Thus, began the practice of hanging stockings by the fireplace to be filled with treats, though if you're like most people, you're more likely to get candy than gold.

Why do we give and receive gifts?

People used to open presents on New Year's Day, not Christmas, according to Live Science. It was supposed to make them feel good as one year ended and another began.

Giving gifts moved to Christmas in the 1800s, and became more popular because of those trend-setting royals – Queen Victoria and Prince Albert again – who bought gifts for their children and also exchanged them with one another. Christians were thought to embrace the practice because they believed it tied in well to the gifts the Magi brought to Jesus.

Did Coca-Cola invent the modern image of Santa Claus?

The popular Coca-Cola Santa image may have helped popularize this "look" for the jolly gift giver – rotund, rosy-cheeked and with a red suit (because that's Coke's color) trimmed with white fur, but the company didn't come up with a completely original look, according to both Snopes and Coca-Cola.

Snopes says that by the time Coke started to use the now-iconic image in their ads, this type of image of Santa Claus was already present.

Are 'Marry Me at Christmas' stars Rachel Skarsten and Trevor Donovan underneath the mistletoe?

Why do we kiss underneath the mistletoe?

Ancient cultures believed mistletoe could cure many ailments, according to History.com. But it wasn't until the first century that the Celtic Druids viewed it as something that could restore fertility since it blossomed even in winter.

By the 18th century, mistletoe had become a part of Christmas celebrations. The kissing tradition apparently started among English servants. Men could get a kiss from a woman standing under the mistletoe, and refusing the kiss was believed to be bad luck. In addition, the kissing couple sometimes picked a berry from the mistletoe for each kiss, stopping when the berries were gone.

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Billy Graham's funeral to be livestreamed Friday: How to watch

Published: Friday, March 02, 2018 @ 6:24 AM

Billy Graham Dead at 99

The invitation-only funeral for influential evangelist Billy Graham will be livestreamed Friday to allow people he touched with his worldwide ministry to watch.

>> Click here to watch the livestream

Graham died last week at age 99.

Graham will be buried beside his wife, Ruth, at the foot of the cross-shaped brick walkway in the Prayer Garden on the northeast side of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina.

>> Billy Graham funeral arrangements announced, public viewing scheduled

Streaming will begin at 10 a.m. EST Friday on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website. The service at the Billy Graham Library is scheduled to begin at noon EST.

About 2,300 invited guests are expected to attend.

>> On MyAJC.com: Georgia man worked with Billy Graham for nearly five decades

>> On AJC.com: Billy Graham is dead at 99

The funeral is expected to last 90 minutes and will be under a large tent in the main parking lot in front of the library, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

>> Watch more coverage on WSOCTV.com

The tent serves as a reminder of how Graham’s ministry launched under “The Canvas Cathedral” — a white canvas tent during a 1949 Crusade in downtown Los Angeles, where 350,000 people heard him share the Gospel over a period of eight weeks, according to a release about the funeral.

>> On AJC.com: How Billy Graham fought for civil rights

“It was Mr. Graham’s explicit intent that his funeral service reflect and reinforce the Gospel message he preached for more than 60 years,” said Mark DeMoss, spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

>> Read more trending news  

Franklin Graham will deliver the funeral message. Pastor Donald Wilton and David Bruce will speak at the interment service. Wilton was Graham’s pastor and a close friend in recent years. Bruce served for 23 years as Graham’s executive assistant.

Billy Graham - Through The Years

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It’s Lenten season: Why it’s not always good to give up things for Lent

Published: Thursday, February 08, 2018 @ 12:29 PM

What is Lent? Lent is the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. It started as a Christian commemoration of Jesus' sacrifice during his 40 days of fasting in the desert leading up to his crucifixion.  Mardi Gras is closely associated with Lent, since it falls right before Ash Wednesday. Today, many people have adopted the Christian custom of abstaining from certain foods, alcohol, etc., whether they affiliate with Christianity or not. Some religious leaders have said the practice of sacrific

Just as Mardis Gras has popularized the idea of partying on Fat Tuesday before Lent begins, many of the people who now observe Lent itself are not following strictly religious notions.

»RELATED: What is Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, and how do we celebrate?

Abstaining or fasting during Lent, the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, started as a Christian commemoration of Jesus' sacrifice during his 40 days of fasting in the desert leading up to his crucifixion. 

These days, no matter the religious affiliation, folks are giving up something for Lent, which lasts from Feb. 14-March 29, ranks right up there with donning beads on Mardis Gras or exchanging gifts at Christmas.

"The customs that surround the [Lenten] season have a quality to them that transcend religion," Time noted in 2015.

People can pick up advice on what to give up for Lent in many places on social media, with offerings from many organizations that are not rooted in any Christian beliefs. For instance, publications have commercialized the idea with listicleas like PopSugar's list of unhealthy foods to give up for Lent or the International Business Time's  list of abstaining suggestions like alcohol and meat.

But many of these sacrificial, difficult ideas making the rounds might have missed the boat, if you heed the words of modern day religious leaders. They're not objecting to the source of the Lenten suggestions, but to the idea that deprivation and guilt are the way to go. 

Below, religious leaders and others present perspective on why there’s more to Lent than just casual deprivation.

Sacrifice if it shows compassion.

In Time's 2015 "Pope Francis' Guide to Lent," for example, the Pope's bottom line was this: give up something for Lent only if it demonstrates compassion and enriches others.

The article's author, Christopher J. Hale, executive director at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, reminded readers the Pope often quotes the early Christian mystic John Chrysostom:"No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great."

Rev. Mark Buetow at Higher Things, the "Dare to Be Lutheran" blog, also preached the need for Lenten observances that don't draw attention to the practitioner. He advised people not to use Lent as a time to make themselves feel bad, make themselves suffer because Jesus suffered, or show others they've "got some religion" for a month or so.

"Lent has often morphed into a season that's more about us and what we do or give up than it is a season where we are immersed in the suffering and death of Jesus as Good News," he wrote. 

While Lent is an appealing time to curb selfishness and put others first, shouldn't you be doing that anyway? Buetow asked. "It's too easy to make Lent into a season about you," he noted. "Here's your problem and here's your 40-day plan to get over it. That's a 'you' Lent and doesn't have anything to do with Jesus."

Along with helping others at Lent, Buetow said that "Lent is all about meditating upon and learning more and more about what Jesus underwent for you."

Abstaining, sacrificing is not about guilt and suffering.

Abstaining can still be meaningful during Lent, noted Buetow, just so long as it isn't about "feeling guilty or trying to take away something you like so that you can feel bad about what Jesus did for you." Instead, like the Pope, Buetow prefers the type of abstaining that benefits others.

"Just think of what a joy it would be to others if instead of spending your time watching TV, you spent time doing something with them, like talking to your parents, or spending time with a little brother or sister who looks up to you," he noted. "Or maybe giving up fast food a few times a week and putting the money toward an offering at church."

Giving up things during Lent isn't about doing something for yourself, or it shouldn't be, Buetow noted. "It's about learning from Christ to put all of our hope and trust in His word and to love and serve our neighbor in whatever ways they need us."

»RELATED: Ash Wednesday around the world

Suggestions for enriching Lent observances

Along with loads of the traditional "pick something hard and do without it for 40 days" Lent ideas, the folks at the Catholic youth ministry blog Life Teen also offered these suggestions that incorporate showing compassion or enriching others while being mindful of your own spiritual development:

Things to give up for Lent:

  • The phrase, "I can't even."
  • Rolling your eyes at your parents [or spouse or co-workers, for older folks].
  • Not smiling at strangers.
  • Trolling online.
  • Being sarcastic.
  • Using the word "bae."
  • Being embarrassed when you need help from a therapist in order to live a happy, full life.

Things to start doing for Lent:

  • Give away something every single day, be it time, money, or something you own.
  • Get help with your depression.
  • Volunteer once a week at a soup kitchen.
  • Give away 10 shirts, two pairs of pants and a pair of shoes.
  • Use your weekends to babysit for free.
  • Make a list of 40 people who have touched your life and write one each day with a letter of appreciation.

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Christmas message sparks controversy at fire station

Published: Monday, December 14, 2015 @ 3:27 PM
Updated: Tuesday, December 15, 2015 @ 9:43 AM

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The holiday spirit is normally alive and well this time of year in Oakville, Washington, a town of 700 people that is not accustomed to controversy.

>> Read more trending stories  

But when volunteer firefighters at Grays Harbor Fire District No.1 put a biblical message on their sign, someone complained.

The fire commissioner ordered that the sign come down and the Christmas tree be turned off. 

“This is just sort of asinine,” said Oakville resident Richard Hawkins.

When the fire station posted the story on Facebook, hundreds of people responded.

"They're all around the world: Australia, Sweden," said firefighter Shawn Burdett. “Merry Christmas is not a bad word.” 

The decision to put up the Christian message was made by five officers at the fire station. While the sign and tree are on public property, they were paid for with private donations.

"No tax dollars (were used), zero,” said Burdett. 

Residents became frustrated, saying that the voice of one should not speak louder than the voices of many. 

"I couldn't believe that one person could deny everybody Christmas," said resident Tim Newby. 

“The reason for Christmas is Jesus Christ, my gosh,” said community member Shirley George. 

On Monday night, about 200 residents met with commissioners.

"I would venture to say they would not get re-elected and I would actually venture to say they would struggle to get a vote," said Burdett.

The sign was restored after a 2-1 vote by the commissioners.

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U.S. military members comfort Muslim girl afraid of deportation

Published: Wednesday, December 23, 2015 @ 3:01 PM
Updated: Wednesday, December 23, 2015 @ 3:12 PM

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U.S. military members have a message for a Muslim child who is terrified that she’ll be deported: “I will protect you.”

 >> Read more trending stories  

Melissa Chance Yassini, founder of the Dallas-based Unity Movement, shared her daughter Sofia’s fears on a public social media post:

“Sad day in America when I have to comfort my 8-year-old child who heard that someone with yellow hair named Trump wanted to kick all Muslims out of America. She had began collecting all her favorite things in a bag in case the Army came to remove us from our homes. She checked the locks on the door 3-4 times. This is terrorism. No child in America deserves to feel that way.”

The post has been shared more than 23,000 times.

Talk show host Montel Williams shared Yassini’s post on his officially verified Facebook page and responded with a message of support.

"It's beyond tragic that this young woman worries about being expelled from her own country based on her faith. Let us never forget many of those who founded this country were fleeing religious persecution - for us to now engage in it, to make a child feel like this, is essentially spitting in the face of the Constitution and those who sacrificed so much so that we can be free," Williams wrote. 

U.S. Army veteran Kerri Peek responded to the post and launched a heartwarming movement.

“Salamalakum Melissa!” Peek commented with a photo of herself in uniform. “Please show this picture of me to your daughter. Tell her I am a Mama too and as a soldier I will protect her from the bad guys.”

Peek then wrote a post on her own Facebook asking other U.S. servicemen to show their support for Sofia.

Then #Iwillprotectyou went viral:

Click here to read more and view more tweets.

Sad day in America when I have to comfort my 8 year old child who heard that someone with yellow hair named Trump wanted...

Posted by Melissa Chance Yassini on Wednesday, December 9, 2015

I need your help my friends. Will you help me please?? I am asking all my friends in the Armed Forces, Active or...

Posted by Kerri Peek on Thursday, December 17, 2015

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