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President Donald J Trump and First Lady Melania Trump gave a Christmas message on December 25, taking turns in relating the Nativity story and how this season brings out the best in the American spirit of giving to and caring for others. They also remembered those who serve in the military.

This is a very Christian message. I applaud them for it:

President Trump also participated in his customary Christmas conference call with selected military bases:

On Christmas night, America’s first couple travelled to Iraq to meet and greet US troops serving there. Contrary to what Big — Fake — Media say, this trip would have been planned weeks, if not months, in advance.

This is a superb video of their entrance:

This is my favourite photo:

Mrs Trump is the first wife of a US president to visit Iraq since 2003, at which time Laura Bush went:

Trump gave a short speech to the troops, discussing his foreign policy decisions in the Middle East:

He also said:

In a private meeting with military officers, Trump made this revelation about the trip there:

After the Trumps left Iraq, they flew to Ramstein Air Base in Germany:

Cameras were out in force:

Neo-con national security adviser John Bolton also made the trip:

However, it does not look as if Bolton was in this particular meeting aboard Air Force One:

Then it was time to return home:

Mrs Trump is wearing leather trousers, by the way — not a miniskirt.

In closing, everyone involved put together a painstakingly involved, whistle-stop overseas tour that, thankfully, went beautifully and brought all concerned home safe and sound. For that, we can thank divine providence.

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As ever, we watched the Queen’s Christmas Message when it was broadcast at 3 p.m. on December 25:

The choir of King’s College Cambridge opened with a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem.

The Queen then discussed the first ever service of Nine Lessons and Carols held at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. The service was 100 years old this Christmas Eve. The Revd Eric Milner White, who had served as a military chaplain in the Great War, devised the service as a means of conveying peace and goodwill so shortly after Armistice Day. As Her Majesty said, it:

spoke to the needs of the times.

She noted that the service, watched by millions around the world every year, begins with a chorister’s solo of the first verse of Once In Royal David’s City. The Queen’s Christmas Message ended with just such a solo. This video is well worth watching for the choral music alone — unsurpassed!

The Queen went on to speak of the great events of the past year, including the Royal Family, with its two weddings and two births that took place this year. She noted that the Prince of Wales celebrated his 70th birthday this year.

She had a spiritual message:

Through the many changes I have seen over the years, faith, family and friendship have been not only a constant for me but a source of personal comfort and reassurance.

The Queen also reflected on the number of Commonwealth nations, the strength of which:

‘lies in the bonds of affection it promotes’ and a ‘common desire to life in a better, more peaceful world’.

She also acknowledged the tireless work of the British Armed Forces stationed abroad at Christmas.

She concluded with a message about peace on Earth, which:

is “needed as much as ever” and also called for people treat others with respect, even in situations where there are “deeply held differences”.

I always look forward to hearing what the Queen has to say. This year’s message did not fail to impress.

Fifty years ago — December 24, 2018, to be exact — three American astronauts had a special Christmas message not only for their fellow countrymen but also for the world:

This is well worth listening to, as the astronauts take turns reading from the Bible.

Someone said in the Twitter thread that a university professor played this on the first day of term for a class on the Book of Genesis.

I vaguely remember this, as it was on the news that evening. Those old enough will remember it with me.

Retweet, share, whatever: this is a very moving two-minute audio.

This is, according to the young woman at the end of the following video, the second year in a row where Syrians have been able to celebrate the season of our Saviour’s birth:

The video was filmed in mid-December when the tree lighting ceremony took place in Damascus. This particular celebration was sponsored and organised by the Syrian tourism board.

What joy there is among the Syrians. Meanwhile, we in the West are less filled with cheer, even to the point of being embarrassed to celebrate Christmas.

When people’s lives have been affected by war, they really do appreciate what they lost during those years. This is something for us Westerners to reflect on during our largely peaceful era.

As December 26 is Boxing Day in Britain and parts of the Commonwealth, here is a bit of history about the day after Christmas:

Boxing Day – a history

In Ireland, this is St Stephen’s Day. Find out more about the Church’s first martyr below:

December 26 — St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day and more (the money box, details on St Stephen and Good King Wenceslas (2017)

For those who are still enjoying Christmas, have a wonderful day. May that joyful spirit carry on for a long time to come!

Just time for a short post today, to wish all of you a very Happy Christmas!

May your day be joyful, peaceful — and in the spirit of the Christ Child, the Light of the World!

May His light shine before men!

At the weekend, I saw two news stories about the Church which saddened me.

As we know, there is continuous persecution of Christians and destruction of their houses of worship. iCommitToPray has many stories about our fellow believers who are in trouble for their faith. One of the ways that governments can persecute churches is financially, such as this house church in Cuba (emphases mine):

Believers at a church in Cuba are making sure their church building remains occupied at all times to prevent authorities from demolishing it. The building, a garage that was donated to the house-church group years ago, cannot gain legal registration through the government. The house church has worshiped in the building for eight years, but the government has recently increased pressure on the church to close. Authorities fined the building’s owner the equivalent of two months’ salary and have repeatedly offered to purchase the property. On Dec. 2, government workers arrived to demolish the building, but they stopped when they saw that it was occupied by church members. The church members have decided to occupy the church continuously to prevent the demolition. Pray that believers in this house church will remain committed to Christ despite government pressure.

The second story says that there are more American followers of witchcraft than there are American Presbyterians! Kevin Shipp, a former CIA whistleblower, tweeted about it:

The accompanying news story, originally from The Telegraph in the UK, profiles the witch who recently put a hex on Justice Brett Kavanaugh:

“The hex centres on the notion that we live in a universe of chaos, entropy, destruction, death, decay with a final ending of oblivion – scientists are telling us. So the witch does everything for themselves – there is no other help in this universe of decay and chaos. If you don’t get in the driver’s seat things will just get worse,” the witch said.

The witch also alleges that the relationship between the Bible and witchcraft is close:

the Bible is a spell book, particularly the Book of Psalms.

Goodness me.

It seems as if those gravitating towards witchcraft have had dysfunctional childhoods — either involving church or family relationships. They have not been able to come to grips with those destructive experiences, which leads them to delve into witchcraft. Some also see witchcraft as a means of being able to get even with their enemies. They do not want to wait for the Lord to do that (Deuteronomy 32:35):

35 Vengeance is mine, and recompense,[a]
    for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand,
    and their doom comes swiftly.’

St Paul reminded the Roman Christians of that divine principle and encouraged them to live peaceably with everyone (Romans 12:17-19):

17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[a] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Please pray for the health of the Church this Christmas and pray also for those who left Her that they may return in faith via divine grace.

Below are past posts about the surprising history behind Christmas traditions.

I have also included Christian reflections on our Lord’s birth.

Some are bound to be eye-openers. For starters, historically, Christmas wasn’t always a pious time of year, and it is acceptable to write ‘Xmas’. In the present day, attitudes towards Christmas have been changing in the United States:

A Lutheran defence of Nativity scenes and crucifixes

The case for Xmas — yes, Xmas

Christmas prayer intentions

Martin Luther on the birth of Jesus

Carol services: ‘Christmas as secular entertainment’

Jesus’s nature as depicted in Christmas carols

Jesus, the ‘born leader’

What we can learn from Christmas — humility

Angel imagery in Christmas carols (Dr Paul Copan on how the Bible portrays them)

Jesuit astronomer discusses the Star of Bethlehem (2016)

The Christmas tree — a history (related to Christianity)

Christmas gifts — a history (and a Christian defence thereof)

Christmas feasting and revelry (the rehabilitation of Christmas)

British attitudes towards Christmas

Detail from Pew Research on Christmas celebrations and beliefs in the US (2017)

Take a break from gift wrapping and cooking to have a look!

And to everyone who is celebrating a birthday today — Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year — have a happy one. May your year ahead be merry and bright!

Christmas cards were not always aesthetically pleasing or spiritually inspiring.

My two posts below explain how the Christmas card evolved since the 19th century. You might be surprised to discover the earliest content:

Bizarre Christmas cards from the 19th century

Louis Prang — father of the American Christmas card

Our current card selection is much different in tone.

In closing, anyone who thinks he is being clever by sending a sarcastic or zany card isn’t at all. In fact, such a sender is going back to the spirit of the earliest days of season’s greeetings.

Below are the stories behind some of the most famous Christmas carols, complete with videos:

‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’

‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’

‘Carol of the Bells’

‘O Holy Night’

‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’

‘The Holly and the Ivy’

‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’

‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’

‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day’ (from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s ‘Christmas Bells’)

‘Good King Wenceslas’ (for Boxing Day, St Stephen’s Day)

Enjoy!

Before we get too far into Advent and Sunday School comes to a close until the New Year, I would like to point out that candy canes can be a useful teaching tool in telling the Nativity story.

The secular assault on Christmas might have lessened somewhat since President Trump was elected to office, however, there are probably a number of state schools in the US that forbid anything that even hints at the religious, e.g. candy canes and Christmas bell sugar cookies. A 2009 article from American Thinker, ‘Criminalizing Christmas Cookies, Candy Canes and Crèches’, has probably aged well. Please do read it.

So, it would seem that some children are left with learning about the Nativity story at home or in Sunday School. Enter the candy cane. Enterprising mothers and Sunday School teachers might like to make a meringue version for children.

One of my readers writes from the perspective of her golden retriever, Brodie. In 2016, she posted on the ever-popular candy cane:

and by the way here’s the history of the beloved ‘J’ shape like a shepherds crook…so the back story of the candy cane is spiritual and came in celebration of the nativity.

The link, on WhyChristmas?, explores the legend, history and symbolism behind this sweet December treat. There’s a lovely bit in the third paragraph for Sunday School teachers and Christian parents (emphases mine below):

A story says that a choirmaster, in 1670, was worried about the children sitting quietly all through the long Christmas nativity service. So he gave them something to eat to keep them quiet! As he wanted to remind them of Christmas, he made them into a ‘J’ shape like a shepherds crook, to remind them of the shepherds that visited the baby Jesus at the first Christmas. However, the earliest records of ‘candy canes’ comes from over 200 years later, so the story, although rather nice, probably isn’t true!

Sometime around 1900 the red stripes were added and they were flavored with peppermint or wintergreen.

Sometimes other Christian meanings are giving to the parts of the canes. The ‘J’ can also mean Jesus. The white of the cane can represent the purity of Jesus Christ and the red stripes are for the blood he shed when he died on the cross. The peppermint flavor can represent the hyssop plant that was used for purifying in the Bible.

So, although this symbolism is not a fact about the candy cane, it can be used to tell a child about the Nativity.

NoelNoelNoel elaborates on the religious symbolism sometimes associated with the candy cane:

Many people have given religious meaning to the shape and form of the candy cane. It is said that its shape is like the letter “J” in Jesus’ name. It is also in the shape of the shepherds’ crook, symbolic of how Jesus, like the “Good Shepherd” watches over his children like little lambs. It is a hard candy, solid like a “rock”, the foundation of the Church. The flavor of peppermint is similar to another member of the mint family, hyssop. In the Old Testament hyssop was used for purification and sacrifice, and this is said to symbolize the purity of Jesus and the sacrifice he made.

Some say the white of the candy cane represents the purity of Jesus and his virgin birth. The bold red stripe represents God’s love. The three fine stripes are said by some to represent the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Others say they represent the blood spilled at the beating Jesus received at the hands of the Roman soldiers.

Angie from Chocolate Candy Mall posted a story about the candy cane legend of the choirmaster and included a religious poem, perfect for children:

Look at the Candy Cane
What do you see?
Stripes that are red
Like the blood shed for me
White is for my Savior
Who’s sinless and pure!
“J” is for Jesus,
My Lord, that’s for sure!
Turn it around
And a staff you will see
Jesus my shepherd
Was born for Me!

Angie says:

In spite of the fact that the legend is more like folklore, the candy cane can be used in a beautiful way to represent the love and sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Short and sweet, isn’t it? Okay, back to the Legend of the Candy Cane story – Whether or not this tale is the true candy cane meaning, it presents us as believers with a simple opportunity to share a little bit of the Gospel story with those we meet during the Christmas season.

May the Lord bless you as you share your faith in Christ with others!

Let us now look at how the candy cane probably developed throughout history. They were likely to have been white sugary sticks in the 1800s, as NoelNoelNoel explains:

The use of candy canes on Christmas trees made its way to America by the 1800’s, however during this time they were still pure white.

In the United States during that time, Today I Found Out tells us that candy canes were part of Christmas tree decorations:

the first known candy cane that popped up in America was also supposedly thanks to a German immigrant, August Imgard, who used the candy cane for this purpose- decorating a Christmas tree in his home in Wooster, Ohio.

If he made crooks, he would have had to be very careful. Crooks became widespread only in the 20th century, for reasons stated below.

Therefore, I will work on the assumption that most of what appeared in this era were straight, white, sticks — possibly, although not always, flavoured with peppermint or wintergreen.

Old Christmas cards provide evidence of what shape and colour the peppermint sticks were. The familiar stripes did not appear until the 20th century:

Evidence, such as Christmas cards from the late 19th century, seems to indicate people were still going with the all-white candy cane at this point. Then in the early 20th century there started to be many instances of candy canes showing up on Christmas cards with red stripes.

Given candy canes were used as much for decoration as eating at this time, it’s not surprising that somebody got the bright idea to put a colorful stripe on them. It should also be noted that a little over a half century or so before stripes were known to be added to candy canes, there is a reference of white peppermint candy sticks with colored stripes added.

WhyChristmas? says that the candy cane we know today came about around 1920 when:

Bob McCormack, from Georgia, USA, started making canes for his friends and family. They became more and more popular and he started his own business called Bob’s Candies.

Today I Found Out has more about the stripes:

who first got that idea to make striped candy canes is still a mystery. Some say it was candy maker Bob McCormack in the 1920s. McCormick’s company by the late 1950s would become one of the world’s largest peppermint candy cane producers, selling about a half a million candy canes per day at their peak. But it may well be that McCormick simply popularized the striping practice, rather than invented it. One thing is for sure, this idea spread like a wildfire and soon a red stripe on a candy cane was near universal, as was peppermint flavoring …

As for the crook:

the cane had to be manually bent when it was still warm/soft coming off the assembly line, usually using a wooden mold or the like.

This proved to be problematic for Bob McCormack on the production line:

McCormack was having trouble at the time because about 22% of the candy canes produced by Bob and his crew were ending up in the trash as they broke during the bending process.

Fortunately, the good Lord blessed McCormack with a splendid brother-in-law. Not only was he a Catholic priest, he was also an inventor. WhyChristmas? says:

Bob McCormack’s brother-in-law, Gregory Harding Keller, who was a Catholic priest, invented the ‘Keller Machine’ that made turning straight candy sticks into curved candy canes automatically!

Today I Found Out adds:

Keller’s machine automated this process and shortly thereafter was perfected by Dick Driskell and Jimmy Spratling, both of which worked for Bob McCormack. This made it so the candy canes came out perfect nearly every time.

WhyChristmas? says:

In 2005, Bob’s Candies was bought by Farley and Sathers but they still make candy canes!

So, there you have the story behind candy canes, with a Christian twist.

If anyone has used the candy cane in a Sunday School lesson, please feel free to share your experience below!

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