Over 2,000 years ago a couple found it necessary to take a trip to the husband’s hometown. His wife was pregnant but, since there was no doctor telling her she couldn’t go, she dutifully climbed upon her husband’s donkey and together, headed off. After a few days journey they arrived and found all the hotels and motels of the town full. No one seemed to care this young, pregnant woman needed a clean room to stay, a comfortable and cozy place to think about the birth of her child.
Instead, the couple felt themselves lucky to get to share a stable with local livestock - probably a cow or two, a donkey with some chickens and a baby lamb. When the young woman began to go into labor, imagine the surprise of those animals. Yet, as the tale goes, a babe was born and laid in a manger - probably a hollowed out tree or some such container which normally would hold food for the various creatures.
By candlelight the babe would have seen his parents face for the first time. Imagine the joy at the birth of their first child, looking into his eyes, seeing his tiny little hands and feet. It seems a moment like that would have their hearts bursting forth in song with ecstasy.
But then they heard a song coming from the sky. As they looked out the doorway of the stable a brilliant star blazed down upon the stable, lighting it up like a modern day Christmas tree. Bliss seemed to fill any creature - human or non - the light shown upon.
For on that night - that holy night to the millions of Christians around the world - a babe was born who would change the world. Oh, it would take years. After over 2,000 years He’s still changing the world and so, a celebration is planned every year to honor that glorious night so very long ago and it is called, as all know… Christmas.
Over the years Christmas has become many things to many people. Even those of other religions have ways to celebrate the time. There are those, not Christian, who step up at work, giving their Christian co-workers the ability to take the time off to celebrate since it’s not a celebratory day in their religion. Other non-Christians, through love of family or friendship, jump in and join the fun because they simply care for those in their lives. Everyone has their own “meaning” of Christmas.
Mayor Richard Cortez
“As a Christian it reminds me of Jesus Christ,” said McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez. “We celebrate birthdays all the time and this is Jesus’ birthday. As a child growing up it was a time to receive gifts, but as you get older and become a parent it becomes more about giving to somebody else.
“At my age I find it’s a time to reflect and just say, ‘Thank you for a good life. Thank you for the blessings that we’ve had.’ Then I try to find things to help other people.”
As the Mayor of McAllen, it’s a time where he sees the great need for people of the city.
“As much as you want to help, there’s limitations to what you can do so the best we can do, as a city, is to promote a good, healthy environment, promote the spirit of family and community, try to keep costs down and provide as many community entertainment and services to all residents - especially to the elderly.”
Moving around the community others ponder the question of “What does Christmas mean to you.”
“Christmas, to me personally, means that God interjected himself into mankind,” said Steve Ahlenius, president/CEO McAllen Chamber. “We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and it’s a time to celebrate that - that we’re not alone. There is an end to the story and that God is victorious.
“From the Chamber perspective it’s a time of celebrations for the community - the Candlelight posada, our Christmas open house with the traditional tamales. It’s an exciting time, a festive time.
“For some businesses, especially the retail businesses, it’s a make or break time - whether they finish strong or weak for their fiscal year.
“For the community I think it’s a time for people to do things as a family, extending that out to the community. I see a very generous spirit with people especially working with United Way and the 12 Days of Christmas and people less fortunate. I like to think it appeals to the angels of our better nature. I’m amazed sometimes. People you think don’t have a lot end up giving a tremendous amount.”
Police Chief Victor Rodriguez
The safety of our community lies on the shoulders of Police Chief Victor Rodriguez.
“Police work is working with people and people problems,” he said. “Christmas is that time of the year that is set aside for family. It’s that time of year where I’m most hopeful that we have the least amount of work to do, we pray and hope for the least of people problems around the world, and certainly in McAllen.
“Christmas is a time of year that’s come to mean, to me, the time for family and the time for reconciling, the time for happiness, the time for kids. We all belong to a family.”
His thoughts go out to the victims of crimes - thinking of the families where someone’s not there this year that should be. Talking of those breaking the law it reminds him always of the imperfection of humans.
“Every time that someone does something wrong, every time that someone commits something so heinous that you wonder, it reminds us that we, as humans, are not perfect. We’re flawed.”
Does that deter his Christmas spirit, seeing those flaws on a daily basis?
“Not at all,” said the Chief. “I learned a long time ago - so long as there are more good stories than bad stories, it’s worth continuing the fight.”
Then there is Miriam Mendel, consul, press and border affairs, from the Mexican consulate.
“It’s a time which represents an opportunity to think very carefully about the values that guide my life, how I behave towards others, what I want to be giving to others and how I achieve those goals” she said.
As for the consulate, they work with others who are doing activities to give back to the community, with the local fire and police departments with their activities and the La League Masa - a soccer league - with their project.
“The consulate will remain open for the whole season except the 25th and the 1st of January. This time is an important time because many people are going back home for the holidays and need their passports, consular IDs or information.”
Hobby Lobby, who starts Christmas months before the rest of the community, has Richard Pena as co-manager.
“Christmas is a time to slow down and put things in perspective, to realize all the hard work from the last six months has been worth it.”
Wondering if he sees the Christmas spirit - what has become thought of as the Spirit of Giving to those in need - is still showing among his shoppers.
“I think every year that number diminishes somewhat. I think you see it more in people that make their own gifts, from the craft standpoint, those people who invest a bit of themselves,” he said. “Events like the death of a Walmart employee on Black Friday put a shadow over the entire season.”
On the other hand, he feels by offering classes to keep crafts and their handiwork stay alive helps foster the spirit, getting people to give of themselves, to participate fully in the season.
Major Dan Ford
From another standpoint, there is Major Dan Ford, corps officer of the Salvation Army.
“Christmas is about love and it’s a great opportunity for us to show the love of God, His love for mankind and the great gift he gave us in Jesus Christ,” he said. “Then we’re able to share that love and that gift as we share solutions and meet the needs of people who come to us, not only during the holiday season but year around.”
Busier than usual they have 150 more families than last year, 3,400 children this year as compared to 2,800 last year for their Angel Tree program.
“Instead of having two days of distribution, we’ll have three days,” said the Major. “A lot of the people feel very anxious. They’re anxious about what their Christmas is going to be or even whether they’re going to have a Christmas at all. They don’t know what the New Year’s going to bring as far as employment.
“The economy is hitting a lot of places and it’s bringing people here,” he said. “There’s a lot of people coming because of promises of jobs and they don’t work out.”
Even in the midst of despair for the needy who come to their door, they still spend time with the families.
“Without the message of Christmas, none of this is worth doing anything if we’re not sharing His love - the light He brings to the world.”
For the last person it seemed it would be interesting to hear another religious point of view. Fitim Imami, is an 18 year old exchange student - a Muslim - from Kosova.
“Christmas is an exciting time - even though I don’t belong to the same religion. I really enjoy it because many of my friends are Christians and I’m happy for them and enjoy Christmas with them,” said Fitim.
They celebrate sometimes by going camping in the Albanian Alps or at parties. He’s even attended Christmas Eve service with his friends and exchanged gifts. Since Jesus is one of his faith’s prophets, he is able to relate to his Christian friends.
“The community of the Christians is strong but we don’t feel the difference in our society. I can say that because one of my best friends is Christian and it doesn’t matter at all - At All!” Fatim said. “If you are a good person, it doesn’t matter what religion you are.”
During this Christmas season, imagine that family of three, looking up into the starlit night, love and joy filling their hearts. May the peace of that moment be yours for Christmas.