While we all know full well that Americans in the Old West of the 1800s lived day-to-day lives that were completely different than ours today, our Christmas traditions, customs, and festivities are a lot alike.
Believe it or not, the Old West was not very different than what takes place today. In fact, many of our Christmas traditions and customs started with the flood of different people from around the world with almost everyone adding a little something that was unique to their place of origin. Over the years, during every phase of our history, especially after the Civil War, the vast majority of Americans have indeed created a specialness to how we Americans celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Over the years, Americans took to celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior as Americans do most things. We gave Christmas our own touch of American customs. One thing that made us different is that Americans over the years refused to observe Christmas as some ultra-solemn act that should only be observed by requiring formality and carried out according to certain pre-established rules -- all respecting strict protocol. Rules? Really, rules? Americans traditionally hate rules. That's part of who we are as a people.
So yes, we can all be extremely thankful that America's Christmas traditions and customs did not follow the English Puritan view of Christmas. To the English Puritans who established New England, Christmas was seen as being a "pagan ritual," a "corrupt religious ritual." They did not celebrate December 25th because they saw it as just another work day -- unless it fell on the Sabbath.
Americans instead viewed Christmas as a birthday party meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We have traditionally accepted Christmas with open hearts. And from this, even in the Old West, Christmas trees were decorated, gift-giving was already an old American custom, and Christmas stockings waited to be filled with goodies. There were dances, feasts, parties, and even plays to reenact the birth of Christ.
From sending Christmas cards, and enjoying family-oriented days of fun, games, reminiscing, and feasting, while celebrating the birth of Jesus, to noting the appearance of Santa Claus, Americans in the Old West were a lot like us. At the time, Americans also went to church and parents read the Bible to their children on Christmas Eve as many do today. Many read the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, just as many do today.
While in those days, it wasn't unusual to read a recent letter from a relative far away or share good tidings with everyone there, today we do email or maybe this thing called "face time." Yes, all for the same for all the same reasons, to share the joy and be close to those we love. Like us, Christmas was a day to live the closeness that comes with being with family and dear friends.
Now, before someone writes to tell me that we can't compare the comfort and gift buying of today with the mostly meager, humble, homemade Christmases of long ago, those who lived in harsh environments of years ago, I assure you that I'm not doing that. I'm talking about how we today, even after being slammed with terrible blizzards and savage frigid cold winds which are extremely similar to the Tragic Winter of 1886 that killed hundreds of thousands of cattle in the Great Plains, will still celebrate Christmas.
Today, thousands are fighting the elements and the frigid cold temperatures. In America, over 100,000 Americans die each year from the cold -- whereas, usually less than 3,000 Americans die from the heat per year.
Winter kills. And yes, while Christmas for many in the Old West was a difficult time, today we have millions of Americans stranded and spending their entire Christmas without heat to stay warm or power to cook. Like those in the Old West though, my bet is that Americans who are determined to keep the spirit of Christmas alive will do so.
That's what Americans do. For those without utilities and in need of help, I know that their Christmas may be meager and humble, a little more homemade, and maybe improvised. But, it will be Christmas. And to that spirit, that of the Holy Spirit, I believe that power outages and "once in a generation" blizzards can't stop even those Americans from feeling the Holy Spirit this Christmas.
And while my prayers are with those fighting the cold, I wish them and you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
I refuse to let Atheists dampen my celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. I won't let the Leftists who take every opportunity to attack Christians this time of year stop me from singing what's in my heart. I refuse to let the vocal few who want to spew their hate for my Christian beliefs get their way. I will not let anyone suck the joy out of my Christmas.
I refuse to let it happen. I simply won't allow it. No, just as I won't allow anyone to diminish the importance of the birth of Christ. I won't in the same way that I will defend his teachings against those who want to remove love and kindness for our fellow man and woman from the world around us.
I can do this as I have over the years through discourse with those who want widespread hate and discontent to reign supreme in the world. I can do this by explaining how Jesus Christ brings hope and makes us better people through caring for others.
Study after study, even those studies which are conducted to the dread of Leftists, all show that Christians are much more likely to donate to charities than non-Christians. Let me put it another way, those who accept Christ as our savior and believe his teachings are more apt to help others than those who don't believe in Christ -- we are more giving and a lot more caring than those who talk about helping others, but don't.
If you tell this to an Atheist, and he or she, or them or they, or it or shim, still doesn't understand it, tell them this: Followers of Jesus Christ demonstrate love and caring for others more than non-followers.
And really, why is the Left so obsessed with attacking Santa Claus? What is so wrong with some people that they cannot find goodness in a great example of someone who followed Christ with all of his heart and soul? What's wrong with anyone wanting to give gifts, being generous and charitable? Why is it that a man who lived almost 1700 years ago, a man who gave to the needy and rewarded the good, bother so many people on the Left today? Frankly, I can't understand the malice that the Left has for Christians or Santa Claus.
Santa Claus was a follower of Christ. Everything about Santa Claus is about being a follower of Jesus Christ. According to historians, the name Santa Claus is the English translation of the Dutch name for Sinterklaas. We know that the historical St. Nicholas Sinterklaas existed and that he was a godly man who was known for his generosity and charitable ways.
Nicholas Sinterklaas was born around 280 AD in the city of Patara (Turkey) in Asia Minor. He was the only child of parents who were wealthy Christians. They were devout believers. Because he arrived late in life, his parents saw him as a gift from God. And because of that, they devoted him to God and the teachings of Jesus Christ.
After he lost his parents to a plague, to his credit, he found himself drawn closer to God. And more so, instead of wallowing in self-pity at his loss, the death of his parents actually made him more aware of the sufferings of others. He became so much aware of the plight of others that he was known to use his substantial inheritance to honor his parents and further follow Christ's teachings by helping those in need around him.
He was chosen as Archbishop of Myra, a harbor city to the southeast of Patara in what is modern-day Turkey. Of course, that was about the time when extremely violent persecution of Christians began. Though serving as Archbishop, he was arrested, imprisoned, and he was tortured for his faith in Christ. The persecution that began during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian was carried on by his successor, Galerius, for eight long years.
Following Emperor Galerius, Emperor Constantine who was the first Christian Emperor became the undisputed leader of the West. By 324 A.D., Emperor Constantine claimed leadership of the entire Roman empire and declared Christianity a legal religion. At one point, Constantine recognized the need for unity among Christians, so in 325 A.D. he summoned bishops from all over the empire to meet in Nicea and discuss doctrinal issues. Nicholas of Myra (Nicholas Sinterklaas) is listed among the bishops in attendance at that gathering of bishops.
During his life, Nicholas Sinterklaas was a devout follower of Jesus Christ. And because of the stories and legends of several miracles attributed to him, he became known as "Nicholas the Wonderworker." Yes, long before he was canonized and became Saint Nicholas, his reputation for his legendary secret gift-giving was widespread.
So why does the Left pursue attacking Nicholas Sinterklaas who was a Christian bishop who lived in the 4th Century? Through all sorts of trials and hardships, he was still known as never wavering in his belief in Christ. He did not stray from his belief that living by the wishes of God was beneficial for all of us.
Nicholas Sinterklaas is said to have died when he was 63 years of age in about 343 AD. It's believed that he died either on or near December 6 of that year. After his death, the legend of his gift-giving grew. He became Saint Nicholas after being canonized. This all gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus through Sinterklaas. Saint Nicholas was transformed into the legendary character called Santa Claus, who brings Christmas presents to good children around the world.
Today, St. Nicholas Day is still observed on December 6 in many countries. Here in America, the practice of gift-giving associated with St. Nicholas was combined with our celebrating the birth of Christ which we know as "Christmas." Frankly, it's a no-brainer to Christians that a holiday celebrating gift-giving would merge with the birth of Christ.
Let's face facts, Jesus Christ is the greatest gift ever given to the world. And before someone decides to write to tell me that "presents" are not a part of Christianity, please remember that presents were brought to Jesus on the night of his birth by the three Wise men. But more than that, allow me to repeat myself, the greatest gift to all of mankind was given to us in the form of Jesus. The Christ child whose birthday we celebrate this time of year.
I know I'm repeating myself, but why do people on the Left see it wrong for someone to be generous and charitable, and kind? What's wrong with living the most fundamental of Christ’s teachings, "The first of all the commandments is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment." Mark 12:30
And as Christ goes on to teach, "And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love your neighbor as yourself. There is none other commandment greater than these." Mark 12:31
Christians are not perfect all the time, but Christians do their best to be the best person they could possibly be with the help of the Holy Spirit. Being a faithful follower of Jesus is not about living your life perfectly. It's about trying to abide by the teachings of Christ.
How do we do this? By doing as God has instructed us. The Holy Bible tells us that God does not care if we come to him with burnt offerings, yearling calves, thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of olive oil, or offering our firstborn for our transgressions. No, money, gifts, or sacrificing our firstborn on some sort of pagan altar is not what God wants.
It's not that complicated. In the Holy Bible, Micah 6:8 helps us to tie our following of Christ's teachings with our daily actions and our care for those in need. It simply states, "You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice, to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God."
So what's wrong with anyone wanting to give gifts, be generous, be charitable, spread hope and love, and show our love of God? What's wrong with any one of us trying to live a life based on acting justly, practicing goodness, having the strength to do what's right, and walking humbly with God?
I believe that there isn't a thing wrong with us trying to live such a life. In fact, I wish more people did. I wish more people were like St. Nicholas. I really truly believe that we all need to be more like Santa by following the teachings of Christ, having hope, showing kindness, remembering those who have less, helping those in need, and giving of ourselves without wanting to be acknowledged for doing any of it.
So now, here's my prayer for you. I want you to be more like Santa and get your friends to be more like him too. Let's all try to act justly, and remember who is good and who is bad. Let's all use the Common Sense that God gave most of us and not reward bad people for doing bad things. The fact is, they don't deserve it. And please understand, "turning the other cheek" is more a guideline than a rule. Being a Christian doesn't mean that we have to forgive, reward, or condone behavior that is considered morally wrong or offensive. We should never reward the naughty and only reward the nice.
So yes, while keeping in mind who deserves our friendship and love, and who doesn't, let's all practice goodness, and have love and hope and joy. Let's support our troops, support the police, and try to walk a little more humbly with God this coming year.
God Bless you all! From my family to yours, may you and yours have a very Merry Christmas.
As short a tale as it is, believe it or not, this is one of your most requested Christmas stories. So yes, I'm reprinting The Story Of The Christmas Nugget below because you've said you haven't been able to find it. I hope you enjoy it.
The story below talks about how Christmas was a huge celebration that was always looked forward to during the years of the California Gold Rush. And yes, as with other Christmas celebrations all having their own customs taking place in different regions of the nation, Christmas in the California Far West had its own customs.
Because the California Gold Rush was such an extraordinary event that brought people from all corners of the earth, many who participated in the Gold Rush were young and far from home. Many were from foreign lands, many religions, and many cultural customs. All were factors that added to the intense revelry, fun, and sense of fellowship during Christmas.
In its earliest days, the Gold Rush was almost exclusively male and the sentiment was usually a mixture of homesickness, horseplay, and revelry. Yes, Christmas celebrations in the mining camps were typical for the 19th-century American West.
A Gold Rush Christmas was usually an unassuming, often spontaneous affair that consisted primarily of eating, drinking, companionship and entertainment. Although in the mid-19th century, gift-giving was becoming fashionable, if there were presents in the gold fields they were practical in nature.
For example, clothing, hats, gloves, knitted socks, scarves, and mittens were always prized. In the towns where there were children, little girls received homemade rag dolls and miniature quilts while little boys received tops or other wooden toys.
Alfred Doten, who is well known to have chronicled the Gold Rush, was also a friend of Mark Twain during Twain's extremely brief stay in the California Gold Country. Doten was widely renowned as a leading "reveler," and he described Christmas in Amador County in 1853. In his account, Doten talked about how he threw a "Christmas Spree" which featured "a glorious game supper of fried deer tongue, liver, quails, and hares, washed down with barrels of cognac and accompanied by fiddle, flute, banjo, clarinet, and accordion music."
Andrew Hall Gilmore wrote about his California Christmas Day experience in 1851 in a letter to his brother in Indiana:
Thursday night - 25th
"Christmas Gift to You." Oh, I wish that I could be at home today. I think we would have a Christmas party. We would have the old gobbler roasted with a score of fat hens, pound cakes, pies, and lots of other good things. But the best of all would be the pleasure of seeing you all. Probably if we live we may be with you next Christmas.
I will tell you what kind of a day it has been and what we have been doing. It has been the most rainy day I believe that I have ever seen in this country. …
As we had no invitations to any Christmas parties: and feeling no inclination to go on a "bust", we thought we might spend the day as profitably by going down to our diggings and working like fine fellows, even if it was Christmas and awful rainy at that. So Aaron and I encased ourselves in our waterproof suits and went to work ….
We made $11.25 each, which was a tolerably good rainy day's work.
Just so my readers know, $11.25 in 1851 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $435.41 today (2022).
An elaborate California Christmas during the Gold Rush was described by Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe in 1851. Better known as Dame Shirley, Ms Clappe wrote a series of letters describing her life in the Gold Rush community of Rich Bar on the Feather River.
These letters are considered one of the best eyewitness accounts of the California Gold Rush. Here, Dame Shirley recalls the "Saturnalia" of Christmas 1851:
The saturnalia commenced on Christmas evening, at the Humboldt [Saloon], which, on that very day, had passed into the hands of new proprietors. The most gorgeous preparations were made for celebrating the two events. The bar was retrimmed with red calico, the bowling-alley had a new lining of the coarsest and whitest cotton cloth, and the broken lamp-shades were replaced by whole ones.
All day long, patient mules could be seen descending the hill, bending beneath casks of brandy and baskets of champagne, and, for the first time in the history of that celebrated building, the floor (wonderful to relate, it has a floor) was washed.
At nine o'clock in the evening they had an oyster-and-champagne supper in the Humboldt, which was very gay with toasts, songs, speeches, etc. I believe that the company danced all night. At any rate, they were dancing when I went to sleep, and they were dancing when I woke the next morning. The revel was kept up in this mad way for three days, growing wilder every hour.
So now, as you can see, Christmas often represented the only time when some people, both adults, and children, received presents. As a result, Christmas held an important place in the hearts, minds, and memories of 19th-century Californians. There are many accounts of homemade Christmas gifts and celebration festivities in the gold fields. While most were modest, some were complicated, some planned, and some spontaneous, but all were heartfelt. Such a heartfelt account is that of the Christmas Nugget, a Christmas gift treasured by all.
The Story Of The Christmas Nugget
Yes, there is the California Gold Rush Christmas story of the "Christmas Nugget" which was recounted in William P. Bennett’s 1893 memoir of the California Gold Rush entitled The First Baby in Camp.
On Christmas Day in 1849, Mrs. William George Wilson delivered a healthy 12-pound baby boy at Canyon Creek, near Georgetown up near Hangtown which is modern-day Placerville.
Soon the news spread to a neighboring claim. Then before you knew it, the gold field grapevine had spread the news that Bill Wilson had struck it rich with a 12-pound nugget.
"News of the big find spread like wildfire up and down the canyon where hundreds of men were at work," wrote Bennett, "At once, there was a grand rush to Bill Wilson's cabin. Every miner was anxious to see the 12-pound lump."
Seeing that most took the news literally, the Wilsons thoroughly enjoyed the moment as the men lined up at the cabin door to get a look at the large nugget.
"Then a few were let in at a time to view the Christmas nugget." Bennett wrote. "Each of the miners loved being had."
For three more days, the joke continued throughout the area. Bennett wrote of miners who came from more than ten miles away to see the giant "Christmas Nugget."
For all, it turned out to be a very Merry Christmas. One that many talked about for months to come. One that few forgot. After all, it was a Christmas gift that spoke to their struggle and sacrifice, their hard work and search, the elusive prize they all sought, and their belief that it was something that they too would find. Such a nugget was a reminder that it was within their grasp to have those things that mean more than gold.
For as Bennett recalled, "As each squad came out of the cabin, the men solemnly asserted that the Wilson nugget was the finest ever seen."
Back in the 1990s, I was in New York City on a job. It was close to Christmas, and I made my way to Rockefeller Center to check out the famed Christmas Tree. Since it was something that I had only seen on television, I wanted to see it for myself.
For some reason, I've been thinking about what I learned that day. Talking with some folks in charge, I found out that the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is usually a Norway Spruce anywhere from 65 to 110 feet tall. The large tree is placed annually in the famed Rockefeller Center in Manhattan in the heart of New York City in late November, right after Thanksgiving or early December. And believe it or not, many Rockefeller Center Christmas Trees are given to Rockefeller Center by many donors.
For many years, the story goes that the late David Murbach, who was the manager of the Gardens Division of the Center, scouted the Northeast United States in a helicopter for the right tree. Fact is, Mr. Murbach would search the Northeast forests of Connecticut, Vermont, Ohio, upper state New York, New Jersey, and even into Ottawa, Canada looking for the right tree. Today, the Rockefeller Center's Head Gardner does the search.
It's said that once a tree is found, a crane is brought in to support the tree while it is being cut. Once free, it is moved by trailer transport to New York City. Besides beauty and shape, the only limiting factor to what tree is chosen by width because of the New York City streets heading to Rockefeller Center limit the height of the tree to 110 feet.
Once at the Rockefeller Center, the tree is supported by four guide wires attached at its midpoint and by a steel spike at its base. Scaffolding is put up all around the tree to allow workers access to the tree so that they can put up over 30,000 lights attached to 5 miles of wiring.
From 1942 to 1944, the tree was left unlit during World War II because of the need to blackout cities to avoid attacks and bombings. In 1967, the tree was an opportunity for Canada and the U.S. to demonstrate goodwill. It was Canada’s 100th birthday and, in honor of the milestone, the Canadians donated a tree. In 1971, Rockefeller Center bowed to the environmental movement and agreed to recycle the tree. Yes, the crazies have been around for a long time.
The tallest Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center was a 100 feet spruce that was put up on Veterans Day, November 11, 1999. In 2007, the tree was lit with LED lights instead of incandescent bulbs to save energy. NBC covered the story very favorably, attracting criticism given that it was NBC’s parent company, General Electric, who manufactured and sold the bulbs.
In 2008, signifying its commercialization, a 10-foot tall, 550-pound star made with 25,000 Swarovski crystals topped the tree. It is called the "Swarovski Star" and was created by German artist Michael Hammers, who in 2009 additionally designed his own star lighting production. Rumor is that the Swarovski Star cost $1.5 million. A pop singer by the name of Fergie had the honor of helping unveil the tree topper.
Today the decorated Christmas tree remains lit at Rockefeller Center through January 6, the Christian feast of The Epiphany. Nowadays, once it's removed from the premises - it is recycled for a variety of uses.
Unlike these days, with anti-Christians running rampant in government and an Atheist minority telling the rest of the nation that "they" do not want to see any form of Christian tradition, the first Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center was put up for a bunch of workers to celebrate Christmas.
Although the official Christmas tree tradition at Rockefeller Center began in 1933, which was the year that 30 Rockefeller Plaza opened, the unofficial tradition began during the construction of Rockefeller Center during the Great Depression. They showed that even in the midst of the Great Depression, they did not lose faith.
Yes, during the Great Depression, when having a job and putting food on the table was considered a blessing; when families were going hungry and losing homes as never before; a small Christmas tree gave much hope in a time of despair. It took place when workers took it upon themselves to bring in and decorated a small 20 feet fir tree.
The story goes that they used strings of cranberries, garlands made out of old newspapers, and a few tin cans. Some say that the workers used the tin foil ends of blasting caps as well. That was on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1931, and yes, they were inspired because of the season. They simply wanted to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
We sometimes forget how grateful those men were to be working at all. They had jobs, and they knew they were the lucky ones. Low wages, no money, living was expensive, and times were tougher than the world has seen since. But even then, then in the midst of the worse Economic Depression ever to befall this nation, with more than a quarter of all Americans out of work, in an era of great despair, the workers there put up that tree as a sign of hope and a belief that their faith was important.
We should take a lesson from those men. Though we are today being attacked by anti-Christians in government, in the Mainstream Media, in Hollywood, and yes, even in our schools today, we can still take comfort in knowing that those who attack us are a very tiny fraction. We need to remember that America is still the largest Christian nation in the world. We are a nation where over 75% of us still affirm that we are indeed Christians.
Today, we Americans see our government attacking our rights of freedom of religion and free speech. The government is even attacking our right to arm ourselves in self-defense of our own lives. And yes, many of us see America as divided as never before. Sadly, our division plays into the hands of our enemies. What's sadder than that is how many of America's enemies are now deeply rooted within our own government.
During these times when we have a corrupt and abusive federal government, a time when the law applies to some all depending on one's wealth and political affiliation, a time when more and more jobs are being lost to government over-regulation and over-taxation, American families are having it tough to make ends meet.
Every day food prices, rents, and the costs of merely surviving are through the roof. While this is going on, our government wants more taxes while giving billions of American taxpayer dollars to foreign governments. Private businesses are now seen as an enemy instead of providers of employment, and the divide between the rich and the poor is becoming wider. Add to this despair and we have a nation looking at a bleak future.
Of course, as during the Great Depression, with great despair comes great challenges. One challenge for all of us is how we remain hopeful. For me, I focus on those things in life that matter to me. I focus on the love of my family, the closeness of a few special friends, my faith in God, and my responsibilities.
By holding such things dear to me, I find myself stronger and more hopeful. I find myself more willing to fight and overcome those adversities that seem to pop up these days. And yes, just as others have done before during other tough times, I know that Americans have to stay strong, have hope, and believe with all of our hearts that Christmas will be wonderful -- no matter what happens.