The promise of Christmas: Why we still celebrate the birth of Jesus 2,000 years after it happened
By Mervyn The Hired Hand
When I was a kid, Granddad, whose name was Guy, was one of many dairy farmers in hilly middle upstate New York where milk was transported every day, or at most every second day, over dirt roads to a creamery. No farmer in the area had a cooler with storage capacity for more than one day’s worth of milk. Granddad had a large stake-back truck in which his and his neighbors 10-gallon milk cans were transported by my uncles to the creamery. Winters then were harder than today, often with a few feet of snow drifting across the hilly dirt roads, sometimes making them impassable. When this happened, the milk couldn’t get to the creamery, it spoiled and farmers suffered loss of income.
For many years there was talk of the need to pave these roads, so milk could be gotten safely to the creamery. Funds were collected and budgeted for this purpose. Plans were drawn up identifying roads that needed paving. There was general agreement this should be done, but when it came to deciding which roads would get paved first, agreement was lacking. Everybody wanted their road to get paved first, nothing got done, and the milk continued to spoil in bad weather.
Finally, Granddad got impatient and stood for election to the County Board of Road Supervisors. Well known in the county as a dairyman, he was easily elected. After determining how many miles of road could be paved with budgeted funds, at the last meeting before Christmas of the Road Supervisors, Grandad moved that one mile of each road be paved each year until they were all paved. This amounted to about 20 miles per year of new pavement, one mile at a time, on 20 dirt roads used to transport goods farm-to-market.
It quickly became evident at the meeting that nobody who wanted the roads paved could oppose this proposal without opposing paving the road they most wanted paved. After lengthy discussion, the motion passed unanimously.
Over the next six years, all the farm-to-market roads in the county were paved, one mile per road per year, and Granddad retired from the County Board of Road Supervisors after earning the title “Santa Guy” for bringing paved roads to the farmers that Christmas.
By Mervyn The Hired Hand
My mother’s Dad lived on a small dairy farm in the hilly country of southern upstate New York, and there was an old one-room schoolhouse on the farm where kids of all ages from nearby farm families were taught by my Grandma. Over the years, the schoolhouse fell into disrepair, and the local school board met repeatedly to try and figure out how to fix it.
As usual, the principal issue was money. Nobody wanted to spend any more than they had to, so when one of them proposed to build a new schoolhouse, that idea came in the front door and went out the window, as Grandma used to say. This happened repeatedly, until a vote was taken by the school board turning down the proposal to build a new schoolhouse.
Eventually, the school board had a showdown. Meeting in the schoolhouse on Christmas day, discussion among school board members was opened by one of them complaining that the roof leaked, saying it needed repairs. Arguing if they couldn’t have a new schoolhouse, at least they should keep the kids dry, Granddad made a motion to repair the roof. After lengthy discussion of the least expensive way to do this, a vote was taken and they agreed to shingle the roof.
Spying a glimmer of opportunity, Granddad noted many of the windows were cracked or broken, causing heat loss in winter and making it difficult to keep the kids warm. A motion was made to repair or replace all the cracked or broken windows. After lengthy discussion, a vote was taken and they agreed to repair the windows.
This lead to discussion of the inadequacy of the old wood stove used to heat the one-room schoolhouse. Noting the hinges on the door to the stove were broken, Granddad moved to replace the old wood stove with a new coal burning stove. After some discussion, a vote approved this proposal.
Looking down at the old, worn wooden floor of the schoolhouse, one board member noted the cracks between the boards were getting large enough to let bugs and mice in, and a lot of heat out in winter. A motion was made to replace the floor of the schoolhouse, and a majority voted in favor of it.
Next the wooden board and batten walls came under scrutiny, because the old newspapers that had been pasted across the gaps between the boards were peeling off as the wood shrank and the gaps got wider, allowing cold winter air in. A motion was made to insulate the walls and cover the insulation with drywall on the inside. After lengthy discussion, a vote of the school board approved this motion.
The entryway to the schoolhouse was through a small mudroom with an old, cracked wooden door hanging from one hinge so it was hard for kids to open and close securely. With kids coming and going, the door was often partly open, letting heat out and cold air in. Granddad moved the entryway be enlarged and a coat room added with a new double door, and the motion was passed.
The hour was getting late when Granddad reviewed what the schoolboard had done during the meeting, totaled up the estimated costs, and suggested all the repairs might cost more than building a new schoolhouse. Then he made a motion to build a new schoolhouse, saying it would be less expensive to build a new one than to repair the old one. The motion was passed unanimously. Eventually, a new schoolhouse was built. My grandparents and most of their kids are long deceased, but the little one-room Christmas schoolhouse where my Grandma taught my Granddad to read still stands.
By Michael Rielly
On October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789, a national day of Thanksgiving. In it, Washington called upon all Americans to express their gratitude for a happy conclusion to the nation's war of independence and the successful ratification of the United States Constitution. Especially this year, as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, we should reflect on the full meaning of the day. Let’s strive to be truly thankful in our hearts this Thanksgiving. What better way to enter the holiday season?
By the PRESIDENT
of the UNITED STATES of America,
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.