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The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be 82 today if he hadn’t been tragically shot down on the fourth day of April, 1968 at 39-years-old. Dr. King has been a huge influence in my life; his commitment to peace and justice through his faith is something I find to be incredibly moving and inspiring.
One thing I find it important to remember on this day, and on Monday when many have no work or school in observation of the holiday, is to take the opportunity to honor the spirit of change by finding some way to give back to your community. Mahatma Gandhi had a huge influence on Dr. King, so I think it’s fitting to remember what Gandhi said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” I think this quote has the ability to be both incredibly powerful in the straightforwardness of the message, but also humbling when you realize how often we stray from that ideal. To find a place to volunteer and help be the change you want to see, visit Volunteer Match to find a volunteer opportunity that’s right for you.
A year to the day before Dr. King’s assassination, he gave a moving speech which showed just how his faith and his committment to do right was more important to him than his popularity. I can think of no better way to honor Dr. King than to listen to the words he speaks in this speech, to relate what he’s saying to today’s world, and to work to continue the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a dream of a more just world, a world where we can live together in peace and harmony.
Tomorrow, all around the globe, Christians and non-Christians alike will be celebrating Christmas. For many in today’s world, the holiday is celebrated several times around this time of year (as when a child from a divorced family spends Christmas Eve with his mother and Christmas day with his father, or when a young couple celebrates the holiday on one day with one side of the family while celebrating the same holiday on another day with another side of the family), but often similar themes can be found.
One common item you will often see is the Christmas tree – that iconic evergreen which sits in millions of living rooms covered in decorations and fire-hazard-inducing lightbulbs, and often littered with presents underneath. This strange symbol always confused me growing up; it seems like a strange tradition to me to cut down a tree and bring it inside, and it’s clearly not an ancient Christian practice, so where did it come from? Over the years I’ve often heard people say that the roots were pagan and it was one of the many pre-Christian traditions to be absorbed into the ever-expanding Christmas tradition as Christianity took over. Wikipedia tells a different story however:
The origin of the Christmas tree is obscured by uncertainties of oral histories of pre-literate European and Asian cultures. For example, according to Christian lore, the Christmas tree is associated with St. Boniface and the German town of Geismar. Sometime in St. Boniface’s lifetime (c. 672-754) he cut down the tree of Thor in order to disprove the legitimacy of the Norse gods to the local German tribe. St. Boniface saw a fir tree growing in the roots of the old oak.
The custom of erecting a Christmas Tree can be historically traced to 15th century Livonia (present-day Estonia and Latvia) and 16th century Northern Germany. According to the first documented uses of a Christmas tree in Estonia, in 1441, 1442, and 1514 the Brotherhood of Blackheads erected a tree for the holidays in their brotherhood house in Reval (now Tallinn). At the last night of the celebrations leading up to the holidays, the tree was taken to the Town Hall Square where the members of the brotherhood danced around it. In 1584, the pastor and chronicler Balthasar Russow wrote of an established tradition of setting up a decorated spruce at the market square where the young men “went with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced there and then set the tree aflame”. In that period, the guilds started erecting Christmas trees in front of their guildhalls: Ingeborg Weber-Kellermann (Marburg professor of European ethnology) found a Bremen guild chronicle of 1570 which reports how a small tree was decorated with “apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers” and erected in the guild-house, for the benefit of the guild members’ children, who collected the dainties on Christmas Day.
While an in depth article exploring the history behind all of the symbols of Christmas would be fascinating, it will not be done here – at least not for now, as like many others, this is a very busy time of year.
In Christmas spirit I would like to wish all who celebrate it a very merry Christmas, and may we all remember the age-old Christmas wish of peace on earth and goodwill toward manking.
Here is a teaser on my next post, but also appropriate for this post as well:
Travis Apollonius is a mystic, writer, interfaith minister, blogger, podcaster, seeker, lecturer, poet, spiritual guide, religious studies student at Marylhurst University, and a postulant in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans.