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Today is Christmas

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, December 25 is Christmas. It is a state and federal holiday, so banks, schools, courthouses and other government buildings will be closed, as well as many private businesses.

The holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth over 2,000 years ago. Most Christians believe that Jesus is God made flesh. “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (John 3:16)

The story of Jesus’s birth is found in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, though there are differences in the two accounts.

Luke Chapter 2: “And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled. [2] This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. [3] And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. [4] And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, [5] To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child. [6] And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. [7] And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. [8] And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night watches over their flock. [9] And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them; and they feared with a great fear. [10] And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: [11] For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. [12] And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. [13] And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: [14] Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will. [15] And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us. [16] And they came with haste; and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. [17] And seeing, they understood of the word that had been spoken to them concerning this child. [18] And all that heard, wondered; and at those things that were told them by the shepherds. [19] But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. [20] And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God, for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. [21] And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called JESUS, which was called by the angel, before he was conceived in the womb.” (Gospel of Luke, Douai-Rheims).

The Gospel of Matthew tells of the visitation by three Magi who followed a star to find the child. There is some disagreement among biblical scholars on whether or not the magi arrived at the birth or actually two or three days later; but most people are familiar with the nativity scene that shows both the shepherds and the three “wise men” with their camels at the nativity.

The word for Christmas in late Old English is Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038, and Cristes-messe, in 1131. In Dutch, it is Kerstmis; in Latin, Dies Natalis, whence comes the French Noël and Italian Il natale.

The early Christians probably did not celebrate Christmas as we do today. Christmas was not mentioned by Irenaeus and Tertullian in their lists of feasts. It is actually a Roman tradition to honor and celebrate birthdays, not a Jewish one.

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The first evidence of the feast of Christmas is from Egypt. About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria, says that certain Egyptian theologians “over curiously” placed the day of Christ’s birth as May 20. Other early theologians placed it as either April 19 or 20. Other Christian communities celebrated it on March 28. Clement tells us that the Basilidians celebrated the Epiphany, and with it, probably, the Nativity, on 15 or 11 Tybi – 10 or 6 January. At some point, however, the celebration became established on 29 Choiak – 25 December. By the late Fourth Century, that became the standard in the western church where it remains to this day. Some Eastern Churches stuck with 6 January, and generations of theologians have debated whether the feast should be December 25 or January 6. By the time of St. Jerome, December 25 was established in the western church. From the Fourth Century, every western calendar assigns it to 25 December.

It is likely that the popular pagan festival of Sol Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, had a role in establishing the feast of Christ’s birth as December 25. In ancient Babylon, the feast of Horus, the Son of the goddess of nature, Isis, was celebrated on December 25. The holiday was known for heavy partying, feasts, drinking and gift giving. Elements of that older holiday likely influenced the Roman winter solstice celebration. Sol Natalis Invicti was the celebration of the birthday of the unconquered sun. The Christmas tree tradition likely dates to Germanic people bringing evergreen trees in their homes to celebrate the winter solstice, and in many cases, the birth of the god, Mithras, is generally celebrated on December 25. Christmas trees are not introduced into France and Great Britain until approximately 1840. Presents and gift giving likely dates to the pagan holiday.

Pope Leo I, delivering a sermon on Christmas Day in the middle of the Fifth Century said, “Our Saviour, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life.”
December 25 became a major Christian feast day.

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In 1223, St. Francis of Assisi made the nativity scene popular. It was an older, ecclesiastical custom, but St. Francis made it popular. The oldest known nativity scene dates to the Fourth Century. In the 13th Century, the manger scene with the holy family, the shepherds, wise men, camels, oxen, donkeys, sheep and angels became fixtures in churches across medieval Christendom and became the Christmas decoration of choice in public squares and private homes.

Christmas carols began as church hymns sung at Christmas mass and dates to at least the 11th Century.

The St. Nicholas and his “reformed” equivalent, Father Christmas, or later – Santa Claus, are probably borrowed straight out of the pagan tradition of the god, Woden, who, with his wife, Berchta, descended on the nights between 25 December and 6 January – later the 12 days of Christmas, on a white horse to bless earth and men. This was celebrated with fires on hills and blazing wheels – wheels were a pagan symbol for the sun – and feasts.

The Catholic Church made the celebration of Christmas a major part of its liturgical year, second in importance only to Easter week.

Early Protestant reformers did not like Christmas at all, and many Protestant Churches did not formally celebrate the holiday for several centuries. Protestants in Scotland abolished Christmas in 1560. In England, during the English Civil War, Puritans replaced the “Book of Common Prayer” with the “Directory for the Public Worship of God” which completely eliminated all things Christmas from the English Church. Christmas was formally outlawed by an Act of Parliament in 1644. It was illegal for shops to close, and plum puddings and mince pies were condemned as heathen. Feasting on the day was denounced, churches were closed that day and December 25 was declared a day of fasting. The Puritans under Oliver Cromwell defeated the Royalists under King Charles I; but the common people strongly disliked the outlawing of their holiday, and a number of pro-Christmas riots were held in the 1640s. In 1647, pro-Christmas rioters protesting working on Christmas day actually seized control of the city of Canterbury, leading to a major insurrection that consumed much of Kent and became part of the Second English Civil War. The Royalists were finally defeated a second time, Charles I was executed and Christmas, again, suppressed throughout the remaining years of Cromwell’s rule as Lord Protector. In 1660, the English monarchy was restored under King Charles II, and with it, Christmas emerged from the shadows. Angry dissenters would call Yuletide “Fooltide” for years. Christmas in England would be sort of a drunken day of feasting for years afterwards; but would make an even more powerful comeback beginning in the 1830s and 1840s.

In America, anti-Christmas Puritans ignored the holiday as Catholic and/or pagan. Largely Anglican or Episcopalian Virginians had it as a day for parties, feasting and hunting. The Catholic Irish, who increasingly were moving to America in greater and greater numbers, treated the day as a religious holiday complete with mass, feasts and nativity scenes. German settlers brought the Christmas tree with them, and by the 1830s, that tradition began to catch on as a distinct American identity began to develop. Alabama was the first state to make Christmas a state holiday in 1836. By the 1850s, town squares all over the United States featured decorated Christmas trees. What had begun as a quaint German tradition was now an American one. By the 1850s, American printers were selling Christmas cards. The Civil War ironically increased the appeal of Christmas as the long time away from home and the brothers lost in the war made family even more important to the returning veterans. By the 1870s, Americans were embracing the ritualistic exchanging of gifts and were importing Christmas ornaments in large quantities from Germany.

Christmas with its emphasis on gift giving, carols, feasts, sentimentality and parties elevated family to almost a national religion unto itself.

Catholic Churches would fill as both parishioners and their non-Catholic neighbors would flood the church on the night of Christmas Eve to pray and celebrate the birth of the savior. Eventually, even the most Calvinist Protestant denominations added Christmas carols, Christmas decoration and even Christmas services.

Christmas today is partly a celebration of a savior born in a manger over 2,000 years ago during the height of the Roman Empire, partly a materialistic display of wealth and partly a celebration of all things family.

Previously published in 2017.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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U.S. Supreme Court rules Alabama can ban curbside voting

“The District Court’s modest injunction is a reasonable accommodation, given the short time before the election,” the three dissenting justices wrote. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision, allowed Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill to ban curbside voting, staying a district court injunction that had allowed some counties to offer curbside voting in the Nov. 3 election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Supreme Court’s majority in its order declined to write an opinion, but Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor’s five-page dissent is included.

The lawsuit — filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program — was brought on behalf of several older Alabamians with underlying medical conditions.

“The District Court’s modest injunction is a reasonable accommodation, given the short time before the election,” the three dissenting justices wrote. 

Sotomayor, who wrote the dissent, closed using the words of one of the plaintiffs in the case. 

“Plaintiff Howard Porter Jr., a Black man in his seventies with asthma and Parkinson’s disease, told the District Court, ‘[So] many of my [ancestors] even died to vote. And while I don’t mind dying to vote, I think we’re past that – We’re past that time,’” Sotomayor wrote. 

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill on Wednesday applauded the Supreme Court’s decision. 

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“I am proud to report the U.S. Supreme Court has now blocked a lower court’s order allowing the fraudulent practice of curbside voting in the State of Alabama,” Merrill said in a statement. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have worked diligently with local election officials in all 67 counties to offer safe and secure voting methods – including through the in-person and mail-in processes. I am glad the Supreme Court has recognized our actions to expand absentee voting, while also maintaining the safeguards put into place by the state Legislature.”

“The fact that we have already shattered voter participation records with the election still being 13 days away is proof that our current voting options are easy, efficient, and accessible for all of Alabama’s voters,” Merrill continued. “Tonight’s ruling in favor of election integrity and security is once again a win for the people of Alabama.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, expressed frustration after the ruling in a tweet.

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“Another devastating loss for voters and a blow for our team fighting to ensure safe voting for Black and disabled voters in Alabama. With no explanation, the SCOTUS allows Alabama to continue making it as hard as possible for COVID-vulnerable voters,” Ifill wrote.

Curbside voting is not explicitly banned by state law in Alabama, but Merrill has argued that because the practice is not addressed in the law, he believes it to be illegal. 

A panel of federal appeals court judges on Oct. 13 reversed parts of U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s Sept. 30 order ruling regarding absentee voting in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections, but the judges let the previous ruling allowing curbside voting to stand. 

In his Sept. 30 ruling, Kallon wrote that “the plaintiffs have proved that their fears are justified” and the voting provisions challenged in the lawsuit “unduly burden the fundamental Constitutional rights of Alabama’s most vulnerable voters and violate federal laws designed to protect America’s most marginalized citizens.”

Caren Short, SPLC’s senior staff attorney, in a statement said the Supreme Court’s decision has curtailed the voting rights of vulnerable Alabamians.

“Once again, the Supreme Court’s ‘shadow docket’ – where orders are issued without written explanation – has curtailed the voting rights of vulnerable citizens amidst a once-in-a-century public health crisis. After a two-week trial, a federal judge allowed counties in Alabama to implement curbside voting so that high-risk voters could avoid crowded polling locations,” Short said. “Tonight’s order prevents Alabama counties from even making that decision for themselves. Already common in states across the South and the country before 2020, curbside voting is a practice now encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It should be a no-brainer to implement everywhere during a pandemic; the Alabama Secretary of State unfortunately disagrees, as does the Supreme Court of the United States.”

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Last presidential debate is tonight

The debate will be on from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. CT and will be televised on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and C-SPAN.

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden, right, are running for president in 2020.

The last presidential debate between Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Republican incumbent Donald Trump is scheduled for tonight.

The debate will be on from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. CT and will be televised on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and C-SPAN. It will also be streamed live on YouTube via CBS News and other services like C-SPAN. The debate will also be streamed via Twitter’s U.S. election hub in the “Explore” tab and on CBSN, CNNgo, the CBS News App and the Fox News App.

Game three of the Major League Baseball World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays is Friday night so will not conflict with the presidential debate. There is, however, a football game tonight on Fox between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.

The moderator will be NBC News’s Kristen Welker.

The topics for the second presidential debate have been announced by Welker. Welker has selected: Fighting COVID-19, American Families, Race in America, Climate Change, National Security, and Leadership, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced.

The original plan was to hold three debates, but Trump, the first lady and many members of the president’s team tested positive for the coronavirus immediately following the first debate. Trump recovered from his bout with COVID-19, but when the Presidential Debates Commission announced that the second debate would be virtual, the Trump campaign refused to participate, leading to the cancelation of the original second debate.

“I am not going to do a virtual debate,” which Trump called a waste of time in comments to the Fox Business Channel.

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Trump and Biden held competing town hall events last week instead. Biden’s town hall drew higher TV ratings. The final presidential debate before Election Day will be at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. The debate format will be six segments of approximately 15 minutes each on the six pre-selected topics.

There will be no interrupting by the candidates in this debate after the raucous behavior in the first debate.

Both Trump and Biden will have their microphones cut off in Thursday’s debate while their rival delivers their opening two-minute answer to each of the debate topics. The open discussion portion of the debate will not feature a mute button, but interruptions by either candidate will count toward their time.

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The nonpartisan commission announced the rule changes on Monday. As late as Wednesday night, the parties were still arguing whether Trump will be allowed to make his unverified assertions that Biden assisted his son, Hunter Biden, in the junior Biden’s business interests in China, Russia, the Ukraine and other countries. Many Republicans, including former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee are urging the President to focus on the issues instead.

Election day will be on Nov. 3.

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Opinion | Former Sen. Brewbaker supports Montgomery tax referendum 

If we want Montgomery to change for the better, we are all going to have to start living in our community rather than off of it.

Dick L. Brewbaker

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I am in full support of the property tax referendum on the ballot this November. That may surprise some people because I have been critical of the performance of the Montgomery County Public School System in the past.

Until recently, student performance has generally been poor, financial management has been historically problematic, and there have been real and persistent problems with transparency. New Board leadership has worked hard to address these issues in a real way, but there is still work to be done.

However, whether we are talking about cars or public education, there is such a thing as trying to buy too cheap. Montgomery has been paying the legal minimum in property tax support for decades. It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone that our schools’ quality reflects our financial commitment to them.

Yes, it’s true that more money isn’t always the answer, but it’s also true that money is part of the answer. Sometimes the bare minimum isn’t enough, and this is one of those times.

Most people who vote on this referendum will not have children currently attending MPS. If you are one of those people, vote yes anyway.

Our public school population is declining because many young couples with children are leaving our city because they know their children can get a better education elsewhere.

This loss of young parents will eventually kill this city. We have got to turn the schools around before Montgomery’s tax base is eroded beyond repair. Whether you have kids in the system or not, if you care about your local tax burden or the value of your property, it’s time to vote ‘yes.’

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Need another reason to vote yes? Ok, here’s one:  Montgomery will eventually lose both our USAF bases if we don’t show the Air Force we are serious about improving our failing schools. Already less than half of the airmen stationed in Montgomery bring their families with them.

Many military families view MPS as so low quality that they won’t subject their children to them. If we don’t fix our schools, sooner or later we will lose Maxwell and Gunter. If you don’t believe that would be an economic nightmare for our city, ask around.

At the end of the day, passing this referendum is not only a vote to help children succeed, but also a vote to save the city in which we all live. It’s ok to be hopeful, it’s ok to be optimistic even about the future of Montgomery and its schools.

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If we want Montgomery to change for the better, we are all going to have to start living in our community rather than off of it.

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Alabama Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth tests positive for COVID-19

Ainsworth is the only state constitutional officer in Alabama known to have contracted the coronavirus to this point in the public health crisis.

Brandon Moseley

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Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth speaks during a video message. (LT. GOV.'S OFFICE)

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth on Wednesday said that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

“After being notified this afternoon that a member of my Sunday school church group had acquired the coronavirus, I was tested out of an abundance of caution and received notice that the results proved positive,” Ainsworth said in a statement. “Because I follow social distancing rules and wear a mask both in church and in my daily interactions, the positive result shows that even those of us who are the most cautious can be at risk.”

“State Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris has been informed about the results, and my office is taking the necessary steps,” Ainsworth said. “Though no symptoms have yet appeared, I will quarantine for the appropriate period and seek follow-up tests to ensure the virus has run its course before resuming public activities.”

“I appreciate the words of support that have already begun to be extended and am thankful for the prayers that are being offered for my recovery,” Ainsworth said.

To this point 174,528 Alabamians have tested positive for the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, including 1,043 on Tuesday. At least 859 Alabamians were hospitalized on Tuesday with COVID-19, and 1,265,575 tests have been given across the state since March. Some 74,238 Alabamians have recovered from their illness, and 2,805 Alabamians have died from the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Ainsworth is the only state constitutional officer in Alabama known to have contracted the coronavirus to this point in the public health crisis.

The state remains under a “safer-at-home” order, including a mask mandate, through Nov. 8. That is likely to be extended into December given the recent uptake in coronavirus cases. Citizens are urged to continue social distancing, wear their masks, wash hands and avoid shaking hands and hugging.

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