Faith

A brief history of Christmas

While my church continues to search for a pastor, those of us in leadership are having to do all sorts of things a pastor normally does. It falls to me to bring the message during our Christmas Eve service tomorrow evening, which boggles my mind. I’ve been working on that message during my normal blogging time for more than a week now. I may try to cut down that message into a blog post for Christmas Day; wish me luck that I’ll find time. Meanwhile, the blog must go on, so I’m rerunning this Christmas post from December 23, 2015.


The Bible tells the story of Jesus’s birth twice: once in Matthew, once in Luke. But in neither telling, nor anywhere else in the New Testament, are we told to celebrate the event.

It is our choice to do this. God does not command it.

What's the Reason for the Season?

The closest the New Testament comes to telling us to celebrate anything is in Luke 22, when Jesus takes the last supper. After sharing the bread and wine with his disciples, he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

The Greek from which this is translated carries a connotation of repetition: keep doing this. Most churches interpret this to mean that we should do it, too.

I belong to a church that does it weekly. Some churches do it monthly or quarterly. I know of one that observes it annually. It has many names: the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Evening Meal, and communion.

Meanwhile, it might surprise you to know that several Christian groups don’t celebrate Christmas. The United Church of God doesn’t. Neither do Jehovah’s Witnesses or Seventh-Day Adventists. And neither do some Churches of Christ, which is where I became a Christian. There are probably others. These churches believe that God doesn’t authorize this celebration, and that we should celebrate and worship him only as he authorizes through his scripture.

I used to agree with them. But over time I’ve come to see that their view on authority is too restrictive. Imagine your five-year-old child drawing you a picture, perhaps one of your family, and giving it to you with a smile — and you rejecting it, because you didn’t authorize it. How unloving. I believe God welcomes and smiles upon our good devotions to him, even when he has not explicitly called for them.

However, those churches correctly contend that December 25th was chosen to celebrate Christ’s birth because nonbelievers already celebrated various pagan winter festivals at about that time. It’s not like anybody knew Jesus’s exact birth date, and they felt sure it would be easier to convert nonbelievers if the church had a celebration then, too.

Some modern churches that don’t celebrate Christmas say they won’t honor a celebration based on something that isn’t true, or something with roots in pagan celebrations. I respect their choice, but believe that those origins are so obscure and remote today that they no longer matter. We have infused this season of celebration with new, valuable meaning.

But that meaning has been strong only relatively recently. Christians didn’t celebrate Christmas at all for the first few hundred years of the church. When they did start celebrating Christmas, it wasn’t yet the central celebration is has become today. At certain times in history, religious leaders even forbade celebrating Christmas to avoid excessive revelry.

In truth, the traditions Christians follow in celebrating Christmas are only a couple centuries old, and have become widespread only in the last hundred years or so, especially since the great prosperity that followed World War II.

And so it galls me when I hear Christians speak of there being a war on Christmas, or insist upon greetings of Merry Christmas, or otherwise decry a perceived weakening of Christmas as a central national religious holiday. Christmas is a devotion and celebration of our own creation. We should celebrate it if we want — but we should not force it on anyone who doesn’t want it.

Show people love instead, the kind God gives you despite your sin.

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Personal

The Christmas experience

Before we got married, Margaret and her kids had their Christmas traditions and I and my kids had ours.

At Christkindlmarkt

Because our children are older — our youngest is almost 18, and our oldest is 33 — I hoped our families would blend their traditions and we’d have one giant Christmas celebration that satisfied everybody. That’s not how it has turned out.

I am surprised to find how strong my family’s traditions became. I always thought that we made them up as we went, as we flexed around frustrating parenting-time rules and my ex-wife’s holiday plans.

At Christkindlmarkt

But in the couple years Margaret and I have tried to blend our family’s traditions and get-togethers, I can see that the main flexibility my family had was in timing of our gathering. Sometimes it was Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, sometimes it was the weekend that worked out best before or after Christmas, and once it was New Year’s Eve (which was very cool). But we celebrated together in exactly the same way every year. Unfortunately, that celebration just doesn’t blend neatly with Margaret’s family’s celebration.

At Christkindlmarkt

So this year we decided to just honor each family’s ways separately, and have two celebrations. The Greys celebrated on Saturday. I’ll celebrate with Margaret’s family tonight and tomorrow morning. And I think everybody will have had a satisfying Christmas experience.

However you celebrate, happy Christmas to you and yours!

Ornaments photographed with my Canon PowerShot S95 at this year’s Christkindlmarkt Chicago.

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Photography

Chicago at Christmas on Kodak T-Max P3200

Christmas at Macy's

I loaded my Nikon F3 with Kodak’s resurrected T-Max P3200 film and took it along on our early-December trip to Chicago. It was to be a gray weekend, and we were going to be walking about a lot after dark. That seemed like a perfect opportunity to try this nominal ISO 800 film that cheerfully pushes to 3200.

Wooden soldier

It was so much fun to shoot anywhere and everywhere — indoors, after dark, on an overcast afternoon — at generous apertures and shutter speeds. I was too busy having fun to take notes, but I think I was shooting at f/8 anywhere I wanted with shutter speeds of at least 1/30 second. I never had to worry about camera shake. 

Macy's Christmas

The first two photos are from the Christmas display inside Macy’s on State Street. Here’s a shot of Macy’s exterior all decorated for the holiday. The P3200 needs just a little ambient light to make a plenty usable image.

Marshall Field & Co.

Macy’s bought the former Marshall Field department-store chain. I miss Marshall Field.

Christkindlmarkt

We also walked through Christkindlmarkt twice. The first time was on a busy Saturday afternoon and the second was early on a Monday when we had the place largely to ourselves.

Bulbs at Christkindlmarkt

I shot an ISO 100 film on our Chicago trip last year. That slow film gave me limited depth of field, which limited what I could do. Not so this P3200 — I could shoot up close and choose just how much blurred background I’d get.

Dragon at Christkindlmarkt

Christkindlmarkt offers so many subjects: the market itself, the individual booths, the wares in each booth, and the people enjoying themselves. 

Wooden toys at Christkindlmarkt

The P3200 let me photograph any of it in pretty much any way I pleased. I’ve never had so much flexibility in bad light with a film camera.

Christkindlmarkt

So many people wander Christkindlmarkt with their cameras out that I don’t feel as self-conscious as usual about photographing people. But I’m happy I didn’t notice until this roll was back from the processor that this fellow here spotted me in the act.

Selling nuts at Christkindlmarkt

One night we walked over to Millennium Park to take in the Christmas fun. The ice-skating rink was open late.

Ice skating at Millennium Park

The P3200 wasn’t fast enough to let me freeze the skaters as they sped by. I suppose you can’t have everything.

Ice skating at Millennium Park

We also explored the Great Hall at Union Station. It’s gorgeous; you should see it.

Polar Express, Union Station, Chicago

It, too, was all decked out for the holiday. You might not be able to make it out, but this Christmas tree is decorated with logos from various railroads, past and present.

Christmas tree, Union Station, Chicago

I had a ball shooting Kodak T-Max P3200. Anywhere I went, in virtually any lighting conditions, my Nikon F3 could get a solid exposure and I could make an image.

As you can see, the images I got have good sharpness (through my 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor lens) and decent tonality. I especially enjoy the rich blacks this film returned.

These images would make lovely snapshot-sized prints. I’ll bet they’d even make usable 5x7s. But the grain becomes more pronounced the larger you make these images. Click any of them to see them on Flickr, and then click the image there to see it at full scan size. You’ll see: the grain is giant. Fortunately, it’s also really pleasing — and subjects hold their definition.

I’ll definitely buy more P3200 and keep it on ice for gray-day and nighttime shooting. Shooting these two rolls and seeing the wonderful results was a real joy.

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Photography

Chicago all decorated for Christmas

Union Station, Chicago

On our recent long weekend in Chicago, the town was all decked out for Christmas. We’d never been to Union Station before, so we stepped in to see its stunning Great Hall.

Union Station, Chicago

I can’t imagine all the work the city has to put in to wrap so many trees with little lights. The trees are lit on street after street in the Loop.

Lit trees

We walked north across the Chicago River for dinner. The buildings along the river were lit in red and green, and terraces were strung with lights.

December evening on the Chicago River
December evening on the Chicago River *EXPLORED*
December evening on the Chicago River
Looking up at the Merchandise Mart

I live in a small Indiana town that seriously decorates its downtown for Christmas, and it’s charming. But it can’t touch what Chicago has done if for no other reason than its sheer scale.

Chicago Cultural Center

Come back Christmas Day and I’ll show you photographs of the giant Christmas tree in Millennium Park. It’s stunning!

Canon PowerShot S95

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Jimmy

Jimmy
Pentax K10D, 35mm f/2 SMC Pentax-FA AL
2017

I photographed our family Christmas celebrations with my Pentax K10D and the 35/2 Pentax FA attached. And overall it didn’t work out. The autofocus chose the wrong thing to focus on about half the time. Given that I was shooting with the flash off, my in-focus patch was always pretty narrow. If the camera didn’t nail focus, my subject was blurry.

I switched to manual focus late in the celebration. My eyes did a much better job of judging focus than the camera did.

But when the camera got focus right, it nailed everything else. Exposure and color were spot on. I shot RAW+JPEG, but I didn’t need to — my edits to the RAW images made them no better than the in-camera JPEGs. That is the way I like it. My stalwart Canon S95 can’t do that.

I didn’t know until the celebrations were all over that auto-ISO mode limits the camera to ISO 100-400. The camera is of ISOs up to 1600 — but, north of ISO 400, only if you hand select them. Kind of frustrating, as higher ISOs would have increased the in-focus patch enough to make probably half of the botched shots work. It would, probably, have also increased the noise in the photographs, but you can’t have everything.

The K10D may not be cut out for everyday duty. My Canon S95 gets focus right every time. Even though most shots are much improved with little quick editing in the RAW editor, I can use its photos straight from the camera if I must. And so the S95 is a better choice for family work.

Photography

single frame: Jimmy

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