A Time to Rejoice
Christmas Day Two
For many who celebrate and even for those who might partake of some of the celebration but not really the reason, Christmas has passed. After all, it was two days ago. However, for the religious for whom the holiday is based upon a religious tenet that it represents the birth of their prophet and messiah Jesus, the holiday should really just be starting. The season of Christmastide did not end, in olden times, with the stroke of the clock at midnight. It was just beginning and it continued for twelve days. Just as Kwanza has seven days, Christmas has twelve, ending with the church season called Epiphany.
Isaac Watts was something of a precocious child. As a young lad, he once was found to have his eyes open during prayers. When asked why he had not closed his eyes to pray, as was the custom and religious instruction, he replied: “A little mouse for want of stairs… ran up a rope to say its prayers.” Not really appreciating his talent for rhyming, Isaac received a spanking for what was seen as his impertinence. After his punishment, Isaac reportedly replied: “O father, father, pity take…And I will no more verses make!”
Living in England from the latter part of the seventeenth century to mid-eighteenth century, Watts declined the opportunity for an Anglican university education and was known as a Nonconformist. However, that moniker is not really accurate either since he was more interested in the universality of what having a belief system could offer a person. In many Anglican and Episcopal churches, the reading of the psalms is done as a type of partner song. It was Isaac Watts who proposed the metrical translations of the psalms from Hebrew into English which allows this to occur. Watts believed theology had two main divisions: emotional objectivity and doctrinal objectivity. The translating of the psalms was an example of emotional objectivity since it allowed the English-speaker to relate to them. The partner type of singing further enhances to emotional aspect of the religious experience being both give and take as well as communal.
A well-known carol, “Joy to the World” is another example of Watts’ emotional objectivity. While it is also an example of doctrinal objectivity since it does include the birth of the messiah, it really is evidence of Watts seeing the larger picture of why man has any spirituality at all. Written about just one word, the first word in the title, Watts realized that life is about finding the joy. Watts wrote a book entitled “Logic, or The Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry After Truth with a Variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences.” Watts divided his content about logic into four parts: perception, judgment, reasoning, and method.
The partner song type Watts made popular with his psalms translation is also used for another element of the period of Christmastide. The twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany is the basis for one of the most popular seasonal songs and is often used as an example of gift-giving at this time. We will discuss the song and its origins during this season of twelve days of Christmastide but perhaps the focus should really be on the act and reason of gift giving.
Gifts were once given only to those who worked for their living. Boxing Day, December 26th, was that day set aside for people to show their spiritual charity to others. Exchanging gifts between family members or friends came fairly recently to the world. As many are putting away their candles of which ever religious season they celebrated or perhaps are simply putting up their winter festive decorations, the gifts received and/or given are probably also on the mind.
We give gifts for a number of occasions, regardless of our spiritual or religious beliefs. It is one way we celebrate; we rejoice; we find the joy in our living. Most of us, though, have little need for essential things. Perhaps you might consider giving a gift that won’t be put on a shelf but will be used. The season for giving may seem to be over but really, with New Year’s Day just around the corner, it hasn’t stopped at all. In fact, a new season of giving, a new year of reasons to give is just about to begin.
There are agencies like Save the Children who offer an entire catalogue of gifts that keep the giving going and celebrate life. You can donate to start a library in a village in an underdeveloped nation for the cost of taking four teens to a fast food restaurant. You can give the gift of a sweater which will probably become one of many in someone’s closet or, for less money, you can go to Heifer, International and give a goat to a family to ensure they will have necessary dairy as well as wool. If you consider giving gift cars to restaurants a great gift option, consider giving a chicken to a family and feed them not just for one meal but for several years. In this way, your gift is remembered to the person in whose celebration you are giving it and the spirit of giving continues longer than the twelve days of the season. This is one way to continue the joy for a very long time and sometimes, is the giving of life to a very needy family. BOth agencies offer these gifts year round.
Watts recognized the universal appeal of believing and most of us do indeed believe in something. Whether or not you are celebrating the birth of one particular child or just the essence of life itself, it is also a season for finding the joy in your life, the joy in the world. There is the misery that exists in life and Watts was well aware of this. In his poem “Against Idleness and Mischief” written for children Watts wrote: “In books, or work, or healthful play; Let my first years be past; That I may give for every Day; Some good account at last.” In case that sound a bit familiar, you probably know the parody of this poem written by Lewis Carroll and included in his work “Alice in Wonderland”. The opening lines of this poem, though, are the real secret and the way we should all go about finding the joy and rejoicing in our living: “How doth the little busy Bee; Improve each shining Hour…”. Regardless of one’s spirituality or religion, we need to go about life seeking to improve and finding our own joy.