Globe Syndicate

for release Friday December 5, 2003

Another Way

by Melodie Davis

Huzzah! A King is Born

Ever since our daughter first experienced the “Grand Illumination” which takes place in Colonial Williamsburg, Va. in early December, she wanted us to come to Williamsburg for the annual tradition. This was when she was a freshman at the College of William and Mary there, and she was delighted not only with the fireworks and colonial surroundings, but groups of carolers informally entertaining on the streets. So we penciled it in on our calendar for at least two years, but it never suited. Finally when she was a senior last year, we made it to Williamsburg.

It was the highlight of my Christmas but not so much because of the fireworks or the historical setting.

The village was indeed enchanting: costumed workers from Colonial Williamsburg lit bright pitch pine fires in iron bowls on poles known as “cressets.” It was the only light for the massing crowd (estimated annually to be around 30,000-35,000). The cressets once served as a town’s only streetlights. Smoke curled up in the night air. It was easy to imagine Thomas Jefferson or Patrick Henry scuttling off to some meeting or tavern. Candelights appeared in most windows. Musicians, including choral groups from the College, lute players, and the fife and drum core entertained the crowds waiting for the fireworks from four different performance stages. The annual celebration, which began there in 1935, is also celebrated in other cities and is an adaptation of a common practice during the 1700’s.

But the truly inspiring aspect of the celebration was not just the wonderful atmosphere. From the stage near the location where we were standing, the master of ceremonies explained that the idea of a Grand Illumination came from long ago times when a king would have a fireworks display at the birth of a new king. It was a way for ordinary working people to celebrate extraordinary events. The master of ceremonies added, “And this is a Grand Illumination for the birthday of the King of Kings!”—an unmistakable reference to the birthday of Jesus.

I quickly glanced around me. This was your typical secular milling crowd of townspeople, tourists, college students. I batted back a tear: Yes, happy birthday, King of Kings! What a celebration. I’m told that sometimes the crowd is coaxed into yelling “Huzzah!” which in colonial times was a way of saying “Hooray!”

The musicians got the crowd near us to join in singing, “Joy to the World” and “Amazing Grace,” explaining the historical nature of both songs which originally had different tunes. The leader had us sing the different tune, too. Again, I was a little amazed when most of the people around us knew the words to both songs, even beyond the first verse. Yes, the songs are well-known, but so is our society’s religious diversity and our (commendable) inclination to not offend others’ religious views.

I mentioned this to my daughter and she replied, “Well, the early Williamsburg society was quite Christian. There was little else in terms of religion. If they want it to be true to the times, then it is appropriate.”

It is also appropriate to keep Christmas as a Christian holiday, even though it has been so secularized that it is difficult for many people to sort out the secular from the Christian.

Is it about Santa or Jesus? I know there are arguments and reasons to keep the Santa story alive for children as a way of encouraging a giving heart and reminding us of God’s generous gift to us in the form of baby Jesus. But the Santa story can feel cruel to children who don’t understand why their friend got 10 gifts from Santa and they only got three, or one. One single mother who was struggling mightily with money, was confronted with this question by her son. She tried to console him with, “Well, parents have to pay Santa for the gifts and we just didn’t have enough money.” Each family can decide how to handle Santa, but make sure children know it all started with baby Jesus.

Someone has pointed out that it can be hard to find Christmas cards that talk about the nativity event, rather than a generalized “Christmas Cheer” or the even more innocuous, “Seasons Greetings.” Again, while it is laudable to try to avoid offending others by pushing Christian beliefs on them, Christmas is a time to say, “This is a Christian celebration and holiday and we would like to keep that focus.” Huzzah! We can at the same time send others good wishes on their appropriate holidays

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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.

NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 780 words; end material = 105 words

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