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Discussion in 'Community Off Topic' started by Walt Oleksy, Dec 9, 2015.

  1. Walt Oleksy

    Walt Oleksy Beloved Grand Eagle

    Famous people from movie and television stars to Presidents of the United States and Popes and religious of all faiths remember Christmas when it was joyful or they were in need of spiritual help. For anyone, of any faith or none at all, but especially those approaching the holiday with TMS stress or anxiety, I will post a chapter a day from my new book, CHRISTMAS WITH THE FAMOUS, in the hope that they will bring some cheer to your holiday.

    Christmas with Dom DeLuise (1933-2009), entertainer, author

    Don DeLuise, born in Brooklyn, New York in 1933, he became a movie and television comedian and author of popular cookbooks. In 1992 he recalled his most memorable Christmas:

    “Christmas is at best a busy time for everyone, and even though we try to remember to keep the Christ in Christmas, very often we are overwhelmed with Santa Claus’s tinsel and Aunt Sophie’s scarf.

    “One Christmas about fifteen years ago, I was over-Christmased; rushing, shopping, and wrapping when I should’ve been snoozing, napping, and counting my blessings. In an unguarded moment, Michael, my seven-year-old son, came up to me and asked, ‘What do you want for Christmas?’

    “Thoughtlessly and rashly I responded to my impressionable child, ‘Happiness, and you can’t give it to me!’

    “My wife Carol looked to the ceiling and said, ‘Oh, Dom.’

    “Three hurried days later it was Christmas morning, and I found myself opening a very light present wrapped oh so carefully by Michael, who handed it to me with a big smile.

    “I opened the box, and inside I discovered a piece of cardboard upon which Michael had written with a bright red crayon the word HAPPINESS in big, bold letters.

    “Michael said, ‘See, Dad, I can give you happiness.’

    “Ever since that Christmas, Santa Claus’s tinsel and Aunt Sophie’s scarf have never gotten in the way of my seeing the Christ in Christmas.”


    Best ordered in paperback from CreateSpace e-store

    The book includes Christmas with Jane Addams, Louisa May Alcott, June Allyson,
    Cleveland Amory, Maya Angelou, Gene Autry, Lucille Ball, Drew Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Sister Wendy Beckett, Robert Benchley, Ingrid Bergman, Irving Berlin, HalleBerry, Joe Biden, Humphrey Bogart, Irma Bombeck, Pat Boone, George Burns,
    George & Laura Bush, Truman Capote, Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmy & Rosalyn Carter,
    Cesar Chavez, Bill & Hillary Clinton, Rosemary Clooney, Claudette Colbert, Ronald Colman, Joan Crawford, Walter Cronkite, Bing Crosby, Olivia de Havilland, Dolores Del Rio,
    Dom Deluise, Greek Archbishop Demetrios, Princess Diana, Charles Dickens,
    Placido Domingo, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Queen Elizabeth II, Myrlie Evers Williams,
    Pope Francis, St. Francis of Assisi, Clark Gable, Lady Gaga, Greer Garson, Lillian Gish,
    John Glenn, Rudolph Giuliani, Whoopi Goldberg, Barry Goldwater, Bob Hope,
    Billy Graham, Charlton Heston, Alfred Hitchcock, J. Edgar Hoover, Rex Humbard,
    Michael Jackson, Pope John XXII, Pope John Paul II, Angelina Jolie, Van Johnson, Garrison Keiller, John F. Kerry, John F. and Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy,
    Coretta Scott King, Charles Kuralt, Alan Ladd, Harper Lee, Vivien Leigh, C.S. Lewis,
    Marlene Dietrich, Madeleine L’Engle, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Lindbergh, Art Linkletter, James A. Lovell, Saint Luke, Peter Marshall, John McCain, Margaret Mead,
    Thomas Merton, Clement Clarke Moore, Mary Tyler Moore, Grandma Moses,
    Audie Murphy, Jay Robert Nash, St. Nicholas, Conan O’Brien, Barack and Michelle Obama, Maureen O’Hara, Dolly Parton, Norman Vincent Peale, Elvis Presley, Brad Pitt, Dan Rather,
    Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Oral Roberts, Norman Rockwell, Ginger Rogers, Mitt Romney, William Saroyan, James & Franklin D. Roosevelt, Robert H. Schuller, Charles Schultz,
    Pete Seeger, Rod Serling, Cardinal Francis Joseph Spellman, Dr. Benjamin Spock,
    Danielle Steele, James Stewart, W. Clement Stone, Ed Sullivan, Elizabeth Taylor,
    Shirley Temple, Mother Teresa, Studs Terkel, John Travolta, Harry S. Truman, Mark Twain, Dionne Warwick, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, John Wayne, Johnny Weissmuller, Lawrence Welk, Oprah Winfrey, Alexander Wolcott, and others.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2015
  2. Walt Oleksy

    Walt Oleksy Beloved Grand Eagle

    Christmas with Bob Hope (1903-2003), entertainer, actor, author

    Born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, England in 1903, he came to the United States with his family at the age of four. As Bob Hope the movie, radio, and television comedian he became one of the most popular entertainers of the past century.

    Hope also became beloved of servicemen and women because of his annual Christmas trips to entertain GIs overseas and stateside starting in 1941 and continuing over thirty Christmases through World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and to the Persian Gulf in 1990-91 on the eve of operationDesert Storm. His numerous awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom and five special Academy Awards for his work in humanitarian causes. The comic legend died at the age of 100 in 2003.

    Hope said two Christmas presents he’ll never forget receiving were a big white Alsatian dog from his daughter Linda whom he called “Snow Job,” and a cigar box filled with white mice from Bing Crosby. “I closed the lid before they got out,” he recalled. In 1984, Hope told of two of his more traditional most memorable Christmases:

    “Each Christmas in turn seems to be my most unforgettable one. Each year carries an accumulation of memories of all Christmases past. Christmas is not just one day of celebration, but a season, a feeling.

    “To me Christmas means family. And with each Christmas my family is increased. During my childhood in Cleveland, my family included my mother, father, six brothers, and me. When I started traveling in my vaudeville and stage work and couldn’t get back home for turkey and plum pudding, I shared the memories of my family with audiences and other performers. And they all became part of my family. Christmases were always framed in tradition and remembrances of earlier times.

    “We didn’t have much money to buy each other any expensive Christmas presents when I was a boy, but we always had a lot of love. We were lucky, because my older brother Fred worked in a meat market, so we usually had a turkey at Christmas.

    “My mother, Avis, loved big dinners, so if we could afford it, she’d even invite other kids from the neighborhood who didn’t have a Christmas dinner at home to come to our house for dinner. After we ate, she’d play the piano, and we would gather around and sing carols.

    “Christmas or not, Mom always had a big heart, not only for her own children, but for other kids as well. If she saw a kid on the street with ragged clothes, she’d take him home and mend his clothing. That’s my idea of Christmas, old-fashioned or modern day: loving others. Come to think of it, do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”

    When asked how he could be away from his family at Christmas to entertain servicemen and women, he said that the trips represented a gift rather than a sacrifice, because they were an affirmation of family. His wife Doris understood. His visits to cheer up GIs meant he was embracing a larger family.

    Hope’s memories of Christmases entertaining GIs were many, but a few stood out above the others.

    Flying to Vietnam for some Christmas shows in 1968, he was in the cockpit telling the navigator an airplane joke. When he finished, the airman didn't laugh. He just pointed out the window and said one of the motors was on fire.

    Crewmen put out the fire, and the incident gave Hope some material for the show. He stepped on stage and announced, “One of our motors went out on the way in, and I had quite a laundry problem. But I was carrying a cross, a St. Christopher medal, and a Star of David. I figure when I go, I'm going to blame everyone.”

    Then Hope remembered Christmas Eve 1964 in Saigon. Vietcong bombs destroyed a hotel just 10 minutes before Hope and his group were to arrive. He and comedian Jerry Colonna went to the hospital and visited the victims. One GI was lying on his stomach on a table and a doctor was pulling glass out of him.

    Somebody yelled, “Bob Hope,” and the wounded soldier raised his head to see him. The young man smiled through the blood streaming down his face and said, “Merry Christmas.”

    Hope knew the soldier meant it. He said he always got a lump in his throat when he thought about the brave boy’s greeting to him.
  3. Walt Oleksy

    Walt Oleksy Beloved Grand Eagle

    Christmas with Placido Domingo (1941-), opera singer, conductor

    Placido Domingo’s parents were zarzuela (Spanish operetta) performers. He was born in Madrid, Spain, and moved to Mexico with them when he was eight. After extensive study, he became a leading operatic tenor, singing 114 different roles, more than any other in the annals of music.

    In recent years he also has gained fame singing in concerts and recording as one of “The Three Tenors” with Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras. He also is a symphony orchestra conductor and in 2000 became the artistic director of both the Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles opera companies.

    Despite a hectic schedule of performances around the world, each year during Christmas he and his wife try to gather the family to spend Christmas together. One year, they decided to spend Christmas in Hallein, a small village in the picturesque Austria Alps about 15 miles south of Salzburg, because they hoped no one would know who they were. His parents would fly in from Mexico City to meet them, and he hoped they could all spend Christmas enjoying themselves like all other families.

    But no sooner had they all settled in at a hotel in the village than three serious-looking men in suits approached them at breakfast in the dining room. One of the men introduced himself as the mayor of Hallein and said the other two were town officials.

    The mayor explained that Franz Gruber had been the organist in the Hallein church and had there composed the famous carol “Silent Night” in 1818. He asked if Domingo would consider being part of the village’s celebration by singing at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

    Domingo’s first response was to respectfully decline, since he had just sung Otello the night before and would not have enough rest. Eventually, however, he agreed.

    That night at Mass, the small church was without heat and very cold. Bundled up in coat, hat, and gloves, with steam coming out of his mouth, and everyone in the church sitting huddled together shivering, Domingo sang “Silent Night.”

    Immediately, he felt a sense of joy and inner warmth that seemed to transcend the cold. He experienced a serenity that is the true meaning of Christmas.

    Placido Domingo would always remember that Christmas and the three wise men who asked him to sing. Maybe they were not the Three Wise Men, but they were very wise indeed.

    However, the wise men of Hallein were a little off in their geography and history regarding the origin of “Silent Night.” It was not created in Hallein but about 25 miles north of Salzburg in the village of Oberndorf.

    Many tales have been told of the origin of the beloved carol, most of them untrue. Historians of “Silent Night” maintain that the original six stanzas of the carol were written as a poem in 1816 by Joseph Mohr while he was a young priest in a small Roman Catholic church in Mariapfarr, Austria.

    No one knows for sure what inspired the poem, but his grandfather lived nearby, and Mohr may have thought of a silent night while walking through the countryside to visit him one evening.

    A year later, Mohr was transferred to Oberndorf where he became assistant pastor of St. Nicholas Church. On Christmas Eve, 1818, Mohr visited the church’s choir director, Franz Gruber, who lived in an apartment over the schoolhouse where he taught in nearby Arnsdorf. He asked Gruber to add a melody and some guitar accompaniment to his poem so it could be sung at Midnight Mass.

    Gruber could not have worked long composing a melody for the poem because later that evening at Midnight Mass, he led Mohr and a small choir in singing the carol as Mohr accompanied it on the guitar.

    Although well-received that night by the small congregation, “Stille Nacht! Heilge Nacht!” remained virtually unknown over the next few years. Then a master organ builder from another village, Karl Mauracher, heard the carol while repairing the church organ in Oberndorf.

    Mauracher took a copy of the carol with him while he traveled repairing organs, and it became a favorite of two families of Austrian folk singers who sang in cities and towns throughout the country. One of the families sang the song in a concert in Leipzig, Germany in December 1832. Seven years later the Rainer Family Singers sang it for the first time in America. By then the carol had become world-famous.

    The wise men of Hallein did get part of their persuasive story right, however. The village did have a legitimate connection with the carol in that Gruber had been the organist at the village’s Catholic church, although he had not composed the famous carol there.

    Some years after composing “Silent Night” in Oberndorf, Gruber and his family moved to Hallein, now the site of the Franz Gruber Museum. Among other exhibits dealing with the history of the carol, it houses Father Mohr’s guitar. Gruber’s grave just outside the house is decorated with a Christmas tree each December.

    Joseph Mohr had been born in poverty in Salzburg in 1792. He died in 1848 in the small Alpine ski resort of Walgrain where he had become pastor of the church. He died penniless, having donated his earnings to care for the elderly and educate the children of the area.

    Gruber’s melody and Mohr’s words, translated into hundreds of languages, is sung by millions every Christmas in cathedrals and small chapels throughout the world. Christmas could never quite be Christmas without “Silent Night.”
  4. mike2014

    mike2014 Beloved Grand Eagle

    Thank you kindly Walt, that's very generous of you to share your book with us, at the forum. God bless you my friend.
  5. Walt Oleksy

    Walt Oleksy Beloved Grand Eagle

    Glad you enjoy the Christmas with the Famous, Mike and all. Merry ho ho!
  6. Walt Oleksy

    Walt Oleksy Beloved Grand Eagle

    Christmas with Princess Diana (1961-1997),

    British Princess of Wales

    Born Diana Spencer at the family’s estate home near London in 1961, she worked with children at a day school before her marriage in 1981 to Britain’s Charles, Prince of Wales, and becoming Princess Diana. The troubled marriage ended in divorce after fifteen years.

    She gained worldwide admiration for her charitable work and humanitarian causes such as helping AIDS victims. She also crusaded for an end to the use of land mines in wars because they injured or killed civilians afterward. Her death in an automobile crash in Paris in 1997 was mourned around the world.

    In 1984, her third year as Lady Diana, she told her plans for Christmas. The royal couple’s first son, Prince William, was two and a half years old, and their second son, Prince Henry (called Harry), had just been born three months earlier. The four of them would be among thirty-two members of the royal family who would gather with her mother-in-law Queen Elizabeth on Christmas Eve at WindsorCastle to start four days of holiday festivities.

    Two weeks before the royal gathering, the Prince and Princess would hold a royal buffet luncheon for about one hundred and fifty people, mainly those who had served them personally during the year, at their Kensington Palace home and as they traveled. Gifts would include sketches of her sons that Diana enjoyed making.

    Gifts for Prince William from well-wishers all over the world would be sifted through by the Princess. He could keep only a few, and the rest would go to children’s hospitals. His father planned to give him a pony. Charles was to give his wife jewelry for Christmas and also the gift of giving up shooting game birds, a sport she considered offensive. But what to give a man who had everything?, she wondered. A charming clock she had engraved with his own insignia, the Prince of Wales feathers, and a promise to take up his favorite sport, horseback riding.

    A few days before Christmas, Diana would drive her blue Ford Escort through London traffic with a private detective beside her, and deliver boxes of chocolates to women in the workrooms of shops where she had her hats and dresses made.

    The royal clan would gather at WindsorCastle by the afternoon of Christmas Eve. At seven-thirty sharp, they would be served a glass of champagne, then dinner. Afterward, gift-giving near the Christmas tree in the Red Drawing Room. A sturdy eighty-foot table held the presents. Each gift would be inexpensive, by the Queen’s insistence. Cosmetics for Diana, gardening tools for Charles.

    On Christmas Day morning, a family breakfast again would be presided over by Her Majesty. Then a short walk to St. George’s chapel for Christmas morning service.

    Lunch would be a cold buffet in one of the castle’s smaller dining rooms. At three o’clock, everyone would watch the Queen’s traditional televised Christmas broadcast, this year to a worldwide audience of about 28 million.

    Parents and children would gather at four to take part in the Children’s tea party, perhaps Diana’s favorite event of the royal get-together.

    After another glass of champagne at seven on Christmas Night, the men in their finest jackets and women in gowns would sit down at the great oval dining table and the Queen would preside over a six-course dinner. Always the same menu: seafood cocktail, roast turkey, plum pudding, mince pies and brandy sauce, fruits and nuts.

    Typical of most British families at Christmas dinner, the royals would all wear festive paper hats. After dinner, charades and dancing until late into the night.

    By December 28, the royals would head home. This year, Diana expected she, the Prince, and their sons would go to Highgrove, as they had the previous year. It had been the prince’s bachelor home and he still kept it open. They would spend the post-holiday together as a small family. Diana would enjoy playing with her sons and relaxing after four days of command performances.
  7. Walt Oleksy

    Walt Oleksy Beloved Grand Eagle

    Christmas with George Burns (1896-1996), actor

    Born Nathan Birnbaum in New York City in 1896, he began his career as George Burns, entertainer, as a singer in a children’s quartet in vaudeville. Later he had a roller-skating act, then turned to comedy.

    He met comedienne Gracie Allen in 1922 and they married four years later while becoming one of America’s best-loved husband-and-wife comedy teams. They appeared together on the stage, radio, movies, and television until her death in 1964. Afterward, in a second career as an actor, Burns won an Academy Award as best supporting actor in “The Sunshine Boys.” He died at the age of 100 in 1996.

    When I wrote him in 1979, asking his favorite Christmas, he sent me this delightful reply:

    "Even a Jewish person can have a Christmas he'll never forget. Actually, for our family, it was a Hanukkah.

    “I came from a very, very poor, and very, very large family. My family was raised as Orthodox, so Christmas was not our holiday. But Hanukkah was almost the equivalent.

    “The Hanukkah I’ll never forget is the one when for a present I got one roller skate. That’s right, just one skate. I think it fit either foot, and where my mother got it, I don’t know. Come to think of it, I never did get the other one."

    Christmas with Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997), humanitarian, Roman Catholic spiritual leader

    Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Albania in 1910, at the age of 18 she entered the Orders of the Sisters of Our Lady of Loreto in Ireland. Ordained a Roman Catholic nun as Sister Teresa in 1937, she then served as principal of a Catholic high school in Calcutta, India.

    While there, she was moved by the presence of the sick and dying on the city’s streets. She asked for and was granted permission to begin a ministry among the sick and founded the Missionaries of Charity which over the years extended her work onto five continents.

    Called by many “a living saint,” she described herself as “only an instrument” of God. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and continued ministering to the poor until her health failed and she died in Calcutta in 1997.

    Mother Teresa wrote this Christmas Message to the World in her 1983 book, Life in the Spirit:

    “At Christmas, Christ comes to us like a little child, small and helpless, so much in need of all that love can give. Are we ready to receive him?

    “Before the birth of Jesus, His parents asked for a simple dwelling place, but there was none. If Mary and Joseph were looking for a home for Jesus, would they choose your house and all it holds?

    “Today there is so much trouble in the world, and I think that much of it begins at home. The world is suffering because there is no peace in the family.

    “We have so many thousands of broken homes. We must make our homes centers of compassion and forgiveness, and so bring peace.

    “Make your house, your family, another Nazareth, where love, peace, joy, and unity reign, for love begins at home. You must start there and make your home a center of love. You must be the hope of eternal happiness to your wife, your husband, your child, to your grandfather, your grandmother, to whoever is connected to you.

    “The home is where the mother is. Once I found a child on the streets. I took him to our children’s home and gave him a bath and some clean clothes, but he ran away. He was found again by somebody else, but he ran away a second time. After we found him, I said to the sisters, ‘Please follow that child and see where he goes when he runs away.’

    “When the child ran away a third time they followed him, and there, under a tree, was his mother. She had put some stones under a small earthenware vessel and was cooking some food she had found.

    “The sister asked the child, ‘Why did you run away from the home?’ And the child answered, ‘But this is my home, because this is where my mother is.’

    “That was home. The food that was found was all right because Mother had cooked it. It was Mother who hugged the child. Mother who wanted the child -- and the child had his mother. And between a wife and a husband it is the same...

    “Let us pray that we shall be able to welcome Jesus at Christmas -- not in the cold manger of our heart but in a heart full of love and humanity, a heart warm with love for one another.”
  8. Walt Oleksy

    Walt Oleksy Beloved Grand Eagle

    Christmas with Reverend Billy Graham (191:cool:, evangelist

    Rev. William Franklin (Billy) Graham, born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1918, was ordained a minister of the Southern Baptist Church in 1939. He began his career as evangelist for the American Youth for Christ movement five years later.

    He remembers many unforgettable Christmases, but one visiting GIs during the Korean War in 1952 is especially memorable to him.

    His first sermon on the front lines that Christmas Eve was on a newly-built platform graced by a soldier’s painting depicting Christ watching over an exhausted GI. It stood next to Rev. Graham as he preached. He felt the Spirit of God in that service. Men of every rank came forward, many in tears, to receive Christ.

    Rev. Graham flew in army helicopters from field hospital to field hospital. The copter pilots had to fly low and hide behind trees and ridges, in case of enemy gunfire. For some reason, he was not scared or think he might die. The more dangerous it was, the more he felt he was really doing something for the Lord.

    In the moonlight, he rode by jeep several miles to another camp. The password was ‘Christmas card,’ he later learned. If a guard said “Christmas” to anyone approaching, that person had to respond “card.”

    The temperature was thirty degrees below zero, and he was grateful for the clothing that the military had supplied: warm gloves, thick boots, a military hat with the chaplain’s cross, and even heavy longjohn underwear.

    In a field hospital about a mile behind the front lines on Christmas Eve, he went from bedside to bedside, bringing greetings and trying to encourage the wounded. One young soldier was so mangled that he lay face down on a canvas-and-steel cot. A doctor whispered to Rev. Graham that he doubted the soldier would ever walk again.

    The young man asked to see the preacher’s face. He said he and his comrades had been praying for him and looking forward to his visit. He would not be able to attend the service, so Rev. Graham got down on the floor beside him and prayed with him.

    Afterward, the GI asked a favor of the general who had come with Rev. Graham. He said he had fought for him, but had never seen his face. Could he see his face?

    The general got down on his hands and knees, slid under the soldier’s bed as best he could, and talked with him. Rev. Graham saw a tear fall from the soldier onto the general’s cheek.

    Rev. Graham recalled that when he left the field hospital that night and stepped into the frigid air of Christmas Eve, he felt sadder, older, and more aware of the needs and suffering not only in Asia but also in the entire world.
  9. Walt Oleksy

    Walt Oleksy Beloved Grand Eagle

    Christmas with St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226).

    The first Christmas creche or Nativity Scene was created by St. Francis of Assisi.

    Born Giovanni di Pietro Bernardone in Assisi, the duchy of Spoleto in Italy, his parents were wealthy, his father being a cloth merchant and owner of farmland. His mother was a beautiful Frenchwoman high in local society. As a young man, Francis became renowned locally for drinking and partying. At the age of 14 he left school and frequently broke the city curfew to devote more time to partying with wealthy friends.

    His only ambition was to become a Medieval knight in battle. A few years later, war would change his life. He eagerly became a cavalry soldier in a war between the local communities of Assisi and Perugia. In a furious battle, he and his comrades came under heavy attack and, vastly outnumbered by the enemy, took flight. The battlefield was covered with the bodies of his comrades who had been mutilated, and most of the surviving Assisi troops were summarily put to death.

    Francis was captured by enemy soldiers and along with comrades who wore expensive armor that signified they were wealthy, was imprisoned and held for ransom. He and the others spent nearly a year in a dank underground cell.

    Francis was ransomed after nearly a year and released from prison, returning to Assisi a changed man. One day while horse-riding in the local countryside, he came upon a leper. Before the war, he would have fled from the afflicted man, but now he viewed the leper as a symbol of Jesus, so he embraced and kissed him, feeling the kiss as a warm sweetness. The incident convinced him to give up his earlier life and devote it to Christianity.

    Now in his early twenties, Francis spent his time at a remote mountain hideaway and in old, quiet churches around Assisi where he prayed for direction to his new life and helped nurse lepers. While praying before an old Byzantine crucifix at a church in San Damiano, he heard the voice of Christ who told him to live a life of extreme poverty and rebuild the Christian Church. Francis obeyed and became a priest, soon joined by twelve followers which led him to found the Franciscan order of monks devoted to poverty and helping the poor and sick.

    To raise funds to rebuild the Christian Church, Francis sold a bolt of cloth he took from his father’s shop and sold it, along with his own horse.

    His father was furious and took him before the local bishop who told Francis to return his father’s money. Francis returned the money, then stripped off his own clothes and declared that God was now the only father he recognized. He and his father never spoke again to each other as their chosen lifestyles so differed, his father’s centered on accumulating wealth while Francis’ was devoted to poverty and helping the poor.

    The bishop gave the devout penetant a rough tunic to wear and Francis left Assisi. The Christian Church was very rich at the time and most of those at its head were like his father, focused on wealth. Francis set out to restore the Church to Jesus Christ’s original values. His priesthood soon dres thousands of followers who joined in his life of poverty and aiding the poor, becoming known as Franciscan friars. He preached to large congregations of faithful and also to animals, a practice for which he was called “God’s fool.”

    In 1224 Francis reportedly received a vision that left him with the stigmata of Christ, marks resembling the wounds Jesus suffered when He was crucified, making Francis the first person to receive such holy wounds.

    He died on October 2, 1226 in Assisi at the age of 44, and was canonized a saint two years later. He has become the patron saint for ecologists, honoring his boundless love for animals and nature.

    St. Francis’ creation of the first creche was in the year 1223, while he was a deacon visiting the town of Grecio to celebrate Christmas. It was a small town built on a mountainside over-looking a beautiful valley and vineyards. He knew that the church in town was too small to hold a large congregation, so he decided to hold Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in a niche in the rocks near the town square and set up an altar there. He had previously asked the Pope for permission to set up a manger and place in it a doll of the Baby Jesus. The Pope granted his request, so before Midnight Mass, Francis set up the manger with the symbolic doll, placed hay around it, and then brought an ox and an ass to the manger.

    The faithful came to the church and beheld the creche with wonder and reverence. Francis then said the Mass, his homily preaching about the birth of Jesus, but he was too humble to say His name, referring to Him as the Babe of Bethlehem. Witnesses later said the doll, that looked as if it was sleeping, came to life and Francis embraced Him in his arms. This and other miracles were later performed by Francis or in his name. Among those is that the hay in the first creche later miraculously cured cattle from all diseases, and many faithful were cured of their maladies.

    Through the ages, the Christmas creche has become one of the most revered symbols to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
  10. Walt Oleksy

    Walt Oleksy Beloved Grand Eagle

    My own Christmas memory:

    Christmas with Walter Oleksy (1930-), author, dog lover

    When I was a boy, I religiously set out a cup of hot Ovaltine for Santa Claus every Christmas Eve. In 1937 Chicago when I was about seven and my older brother and sister laughed their sides out telling me there was no Santa Claus, I fearfully asked, “Then, does that mean there’s no Easter bunny, either?”

    Although not considering myself to be famous, as editor of this collection I did not want to have my favorite Christmas memory left out. Still a trusting innocent at the age of 85, I call the Christmas I will never forget “Merry Christmas and Sei Gesund”:

    Snow was blowing around in a howling wind outside our second-floor apartment in an old Polish and German neighborhood on Christmas Eve. The temperature was dipping toward zero.

    Dad, out of work like several million others during the Great Depression, had not been home for days. Mom, who then earned a little money ironing shirts in a small Chinese laundry, waited as long as she could. Seeing no decent Christmas in sight for my older brother and sister and me, she told us she was going out for a little while.

    "But don't any of you go out tonight," she said from the doorway, wrapping her thin, black cloth coat around her and putting a scarf over her head. She looked tall and thin, almost frail, but so pretty. "Stay here and wait for your father. And keep the fire going in the stove, but don't put too much coal in."

    We were down to our last few bucketsful of coal for the potbelly stove in the kitchen. It was never able to spread its heat over even the small apartment.

    When Mom left, my brother and sister went back to listening to carols on the radio on top of the icebox. I hurried to the almost unheated parlor and tried to look out the front window. It was so frosted inside, I had to press the palm of a hand against the icy pane, to thaw it enough so I could see out. I saw Mom down below, all hunched up walking into the wind and snow.

    Not knowing where Mom was going, I wouldn't give up hope that Dad would come home before the clock would strike midnight. He would have presents and a tree and good things for us to eat. We would have a regular Christmas after all.

    Of course, I was the dreamer. I had cleaned out the fireplace for Santa Claus the Christmas before. So he wouldn't get his red suit dirty with coal soot when he came down our chimney. Even left a cup of hot chocolate for him!

    I didn't know that night where Mom went or why she had left us alone. I didn't learn until years later what she did and where she went that cold Christmas Eve. But this is what happened...

    Mom walked alone a dozen blocks, to the apartment of a woman friend with whom she worked at the laundry. She borrowed ten dollars. It was a small fortune in those hard times of many people out of work.

    A few small neighborhood stores were still open as it grew closer to midnight, and she bought some inexpensive toys. Then she found a grocery store still open and bought a duck which she would roast with the trimmings for Christmas Day. With only about a dollar left to buy a Christmas tree, she set out looking for one.

    She knew there were three strikes against her: One, it was almost midnight, and few tree lots were still open. Two, she had heard it was a bad season that year for Christmas trees, and even little ones cost more than a dollar. Three, the neighborhood she was walking through was predominantly Jewish, so there was little demand for Christmas trees.

    Mom carried her packages close to her for warmth and trudged through the snow from street corner to street corner, looking for fir trees. But the tree lots were closed by then and empty, the tree-sellers gone home to celebrate their own holiday.

    With midnight approaching, Mom reluctantly gave up on finding a tree. Chilled from the cold, and heartsick that we kids wouldn't have a tree that Christmas, she started back for our apartment.

    On the way, she passed a Jewish delicatessen still open. She thought she might warm herself a minute, and ask about a Christmas tree.

    As she entered the shop, a bell tinkled over the door.

    The proprietor, an old man with a bushy white mustache and white apron, leaned over the meat counter and asked why she was out so late.

    “I'm looking for a Christmas tree,” she told him. “I've looked everywhere, but all the lots are closed.”

    “I'm sorry lady,” he said kindly. “But we have no Christmas trees.” Then he added, almost apologetically: “It's a Jewish neighborhood, you know.”

    “Thank you just the same,” Mom said with just the hint of a smile. “I'd better go now. Merry Christmas.”

    “Merry Christmas and sei gesund to you, lady,” the man said.

    Mom shifted her packages in her arms and started to leave when a voice called to her from back in the shop. She turned to see an old lady peeking her head out from behind some curtains leading to the living quarters.

    “Excuse me, lady, but I couldn't help overhear,” the storekeeper's wife said. “A Christmas tree we don't have, but come back here and look. I'll show you...”

    Mom walked to the back room and looked at what the woman pointed to in a corner of the parlor. A tall plant with large shiny leaves stood in a wooden pot.

    “A Christmas tree it isn't,” the woman said. “But you're welcome to borrow it, for the holiday.”

    Mom gladly accepted the loan of the plant. The lenders helped adjust her load so she could carry it with her packages.

    With some of the dollar she had left, Mom bought a small bottle of Mogen David wine and again wished the kind couple a Merry Christmas. Opening the door to go back out into the cold, a swirl of snow blew into the shop and she heard the bell tinkle cheerfully again overhead.

    By the time Mom got back home, we kids were asleep. It wasn't until morning that we saw all that Santa Claus had brought us. There was a small pile of boxes I hoped contained toys and games. It was like the miracle of the loaves and the fishes in the Bible, how far Mom’s few dollars went that Christmas.

    Mom was in the kitchen basting a duck whose delicious aroma was wafting through the apartment. In the living room stood the strangest Christmas tree we had ever seen -- and the most wonderful.

    Colored lights criss-crossed it many times, and it was trimmed with tinsel. From the branches hung the small spun-glass zeppelin and umbrella and all our other favorite ornaments from Christmases past.

    Mom didn't tell us it was an India rubber plant. To us it was some strange and exotic Christmas tree from an Eastern land where Jesus was born.

    We kids were so excited, we hardly realized it when our father suddenly appeared in the apartment later that morning. He looked tired and despondent. We knew he hadn't found a job and hadn't any money.

    Mom ran to Dad and hugged him. We kids circled them and hugged them both, and knew it was going to be a wonderful Christmas after all.

    Then, while we were all in the kitchen looking into the oven at the roasting duck, Dad, who was a big man, tall and built like a wrestler, backed up. He stumbled and sat down on the flat top of the low-standing potbellied coal stove. The sides of the stove were glowing red from the roaring fire inside.

    Steam sizzled off the top of the stove as the seat of Dad's pants met it.

    He sat on the hot stove only a split second, but his face went as red as the stove’s sides as he shouted and leaped up, reaching for the ceiling. Then he ran for the kitchen door leading downstairs to the back yard.

    We all followed on the run as Dad scrambled swiftly down the long flight of wooden stairs. When he reached the yard, Dad sat in the cold, wet snow, moving his bottom back and forth. His eyes wide and his lips pursed, he kept saying, “Ooh, Ooh, Ahhhhhh!”

    We kids stood on the bottom stairs and watched, then heard Mom behind us laughing happily, as if all her pre-Christmas cares had suddenly vanished. My brother and sister and I, in our pajamas and bathrobes and house slippers, ran out to Dad, dropped to our tushes, and rolled in with snow with him.

    Even before we opened our presents, I knew it already was the best Christmas ever.
  11. Walt Oleksy

    Walt Oleksy Beloved Grand Eagle

    This will be my final post on CHRISTMAS WITH THE FAMOUS,
    St. Luke's telling of the birth of Jesus which we celebrate this Christmas Day.

    Merry Christmas to all! And Happy Hanukkah!

    Christmas with Saint Luke

    Luke the Apostle, who authored The Holy Bible’s third Gospel and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, was born in Antioch, Greece, of pagan parents and possibly had been a slave. A Gentile, some believe he was a painter, but it is more accepted that he became a doctor.

    St. Peter called him “the most dear physician.” If Luke had been a slave, he could have studied to become a doctor because it was not uncommon for wealthy Greek owners of slaves to have one educated so as to become a physician on the household staff.

    Luke accompanied the apostle Paul on his second missionary journey, helping him evangelize Greece and Rome, where Paul was imprisoned and later killed. Biblical scholars differ on whether Luke also died a martyr or lived to his eighties and died in Greece. His name means “bringer of light,” and Luke is the patron saint of physicians and surgeons, painters, bachelors, brewers, butchers, glass-workers, goldsmiths, and lace makers. His feast day is October 18.

    The Gospel According to St. Luke, the third book of the New Testament, was composed in the latter part of the 1st Century A.D. and has been ascribed to St. Luke since the 2nd Century. St. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus apparently was influenced by his friendship with St. Paul, especially with regard to the equality of men and the universality of salvation:

    Now it came to pass in those days that a decree went forth from Caesar Augustus that a census of the whole world should be taken. This first census took place while Cyrinus was governor of Syria. And all were going, each to his own town, to register.

    And Joseph also went from Galilee out of the town of Nazareth into Judea to the town of David, which is called Bethlehem -- because he was of the house and family of David -- to register, together with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child.

    And it came to pass while they were there, that the days for her to be delivered were fulfilled. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

    And there were shepherds in the same district living in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them and the glory of God shone round about them, and they feared exceedingly.

    And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all the people; for today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

    And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good will.”

    And it came to pass, when the angels had departed from them into heaven, that the shepherds were saying to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”

    So they went with haste, and they found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger. And when they had seen, they understood what had been told them concerning the child.

    And all who heard marveled at the things told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept in mind all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, even as it was spoken to them.

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