Today's is the fifth article in this holiday series where we are looking at Denton through a lens similar to the one through which George Bailey saw his own life in the 1946 Christmas movie classic It's a Wonderful Life.
It is Christmas Eve. In this column over the years, I've often explored origins of various holidays and traditions surrounding them. In Christmases past, we've explored Santa's evolution and traditions like gift giving and presents in stockings from St. Nicholas. We've considered decorated trees, agricultural feasts and historical celebrations, fragments of which have slipped into aspects of our Christmastime traditions. We've talked commercialism and pressures of time, money, sickness and loss that sometimes take the jolly out of the holiday in ways similar to the Christmas George Bailey was having before he met Clarence.
One part of Christmas we've not delved into here is its origin: the story of how Christmas came to be.
In the movie, George Bailey contemplates jumping from an icy bridge into the river below to end what he thought was his sorry, failed life. Before he can jump, he sees someone else jump into the river. George then dives into the river to the save the person. That person is George's guardian angel Clarence. Later, as the two men dry off, George tells Clarence, "I wish I'd never been born."
Clarence is an angel, and George's adventure with him is a spiritual one. Angels have played a role in Christmas stories since the beginning.
Dictionary.com defines Christmas as, "The annual festival of the Christian church commemorating the birth of Jesus: celebrated on December 25." The etymology of the word itself predates 11th-century Middle English cristmasse, translated into modern English as Christmas, or Mass of Christ.
Jesus was indeed a historical figure. He is acknowledged by religions through the ages as a prophet, a teacher, a political figure. Christians believe Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, born of a young virgin named Mary. To the detail, circumstances of Jesus' birth were foretold in the Old Testament section of the Christian Bible. Christmas is the celebration of the day the prophecies were fulfilled as the Christ child was born, and the Christian Bible's New Testament began.
In the beloved 1965 A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles Schultz, Charlie Brown is distraught over Christmas commercialism. Linus lets him in on Christmas' real meaning.
"'And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'
That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."
Linus' speech is word-for-word from the King James Bible, in the book of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-14, where Christians believe is recorded the official account of the night Christmas originated.
So, what does any of this have to do with a wonderful life in Denton? Well, for starters, the fact that I can tell this story.
A couple of weeks ago, our city's array of colors and cultures was a distinctive characteristic called out as essential to our wonderful life, without which we simply wouldn't be original, independent Denton. Part of that diversity is faith.
Religions from around the world are practiced in Denton. Even among Christian churches are varying doctrines and nuances. Denton is proud of its diversity, which means we intend to accept one another's differences and live together peacefully in spite of them. I believe the way we do that is listening. Only by sharing our faiths and origins can we understand where each other comes from.
Linus' is the faith in which I grew up. It is the faith that George found while hanging out with Clarence. Your reasons for celebrating this holiday season may be different. Perhaps some of you don't recognize it all. The point is we live in a place where your way for you is OK. But then, so is mine. And so is my neighbor's, my co-worker's, my friend's, though they are yet different from yours or mine. This is how we embrace diversity like we claim.
So the origin of Christmas does relate to our Denton life. It's in the telling and the fact that we can that makes it wonderful.
KIM PHILLIPS is vice president of the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau at the Denton Chamber of Commerce. She loves promoting Denton's original, independent spirit through the city's sense of place and cast of many characters. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.