Tag Archives: Christmas

Looking back on an incredible journey

The world, or at least about a fourth of it — the Christians among the world’s people — is getting ready to celebrate the birth of a baby who would come to symbolize salvation, grace and victory over death.

My own thoughts at Christmas every year since, oh, 2009, have turned to an amazing journey I was honored to take through the Holy Land. I was given the honor in May-June 2009 of accompanying four young people on a Rotary International Group Study Exchange trip through virtually all of Israel. Fernando, Aida, Shirley and Katt have become four of my closest friends and I cherish them more than they know.

We spent four weeks there traveling from Nahariya to Eilat, to Tel Aviv, Sderot and Ashkelon, to Nazareth and Caesarea, the Dead Sea and Masada. It was an amazing time. Then, after the exchange had concluded, I spent another week with my wife who had flown over to join me as a tourist. We spent the bulk of our time in Jerusalem, visiting holy sites.

But I think of that journey now every year at Christmas time and remember the things we saw along the way.

* Nazareth and the Church of the Annunciation, where the angel told Mary she would give birth to the Son of God.

* Bethlehem, where my wife and I visited the Church of the Nativity and the Shepherds Field.

* The Temple Mount, where Jesus preached.

* The Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem and Via do lo Rosa where Jesus walked.

Easter, of course, marks the end of Jesus’s life on Earth and the resurrection we celebrate.

This day, though, is to remember his birth.

I’ve believed my entire life in all that is holy about this holiday. However, being able to see those places up close and to walk the paths trod by Jesus himself makes it special beyond all measure.

Christmas is time to suspend barbs

Let’s agree to suspend the barbs until after Christmas.

However, allow me this brief observation — sans criticism — regarding the ethnicity of Jesus Christ and Santa Claus.

The issue surfaced when Fox News talking head Megyn Kelly posited the notion that both Santa Claus and Jesus were white. My first thought: Who cares? My second thought: Why is Kelly even going there?

I have no answer to Thought No. 1. I frankly don’t care about Santa’s ethnicity, other than to remind Kelly and others who do care that the jolly old man — don’t let your kids read this — is a fictional character based vaguely on an actual man. Santa Claus is whatever we want him to be in our household. That’s the beauty of Santa. As Francis Pharcellus Church wrote in that wonderful editorial to Virginia O’Hanlon in the late 19th century, he exists in our hearts.

The stuff about Jesus, though, is a bit more substantial. Anthropologists looking for clues to Jesus’s appearance generally have concluded he was a dark-skinned man who looked very much the way men do in the Middle East. Having spent some time in Israel — five weeks in May-June 2009 — I can say without a doubt that the vast majority of Palestinians and others of Arabic descent have roughly the same look.

Israelis who descended from European immigrants are another matter. Some are blue-eyed blondes, some have dark hair and eyes, others have features in the middle.

And why did Kelly venture this notion — from which she retreated a little — that Santa Claus and Jesus are white men?

One word: ratings.