In the United States of America, Christmas was established as a federal holiday on June 26, 1870. It is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the man Christians believe is the son of God and the savior of the world. It has its roots in ancient times and is celebrated around the world.
For the first few hundred years after Jesus Christ, his birthday was not celebrated. Instead, Epiphany, when the three kings from separate places of the world visited Christ, was the focus of Christians. The visit of the Magi symbolized that salvation was open to the whole world, not just one select nation. Later, early Church Fathers promoted the idea that the birth of Jesus Christ should be celebrated. December 25, 336, marks the first day Christians officially celebrated the first Christmas on Earth, and it was in the Roman Empire.
The date of Christmas and some American traditions have pagan roots. In the Roman Empire, December 25th was the day of “natalis solis invict” (the Roman birth of the unconquered sun), and the birthday of Mithras, the Iranian “Sun of Righteousness.” Saturnalia, a Roman festival that honored the sun, lasted from December 17th to December 23rd. The winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, also falls a few days before December 25th and had been celebrated by pagans. Early Christian Church leaders believed that days that had been set aside to honor pagan gods could be changed to honor Christianity. It was thought that people would more easily accept Christianity and move away from paganism by replacing pagan celebrations with Christian ones.
The festival of Saturnalia honored the Roman god Saturn. Romans had a public banquet, gifts were exchanged, there was much partying, and servants were served by their masters. Singers performed in streets, and baked cookies shaped like men. While some Christians dislike any association with pagan traditions, Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430) wrote, “We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it."
In Great Britain, Christmas was celebrated until the Puritans, led by Oliver Cromwell, outlawed Christmas in 1645. Puritans believed that celebrating the birth of Christ was a sign of decadence and a disgrace to Christianity. In the English Colonies, the English separatists also believed in worshipping Jesus without ceremonies and made celebrating Christmas a crime.
In the 1800s, Americans' views on Christmas changed a great deal. One author, Washington Irving, wrote fictitious stories of how Christmas had been celebrated in England before the Puritans took over, and some of these stories caught on in American practices. German immigrants brought with them the practice of placing evergreen branches and trees in home during winter as a reminder of life during hard times. And, Catholic immigrants brought the tradition started by Saint Francis of keeping small nativity scenes in their homes. By the late 1800s, most Americans celebrated Christmas. In 1870, President Grant and Congress declared Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, savior of the world, a national holiday.
A few weeks ago, two radical Islamic terrorists murdered 14 and wounded over 29 in San Bernardino, California. President Obama responded by stating the U.S. Congress needs to pass stricter gun controls. A few days before his comments to Americans, in Paris, France, he stated that mass shootings don’t happen in other countries like they do in America. To have an opinion on gun control and mass shootings, it is important to know the facts and how the U.S.A. compares with other countries regarding mass shootings.
The United States of America is a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This organization is composed of 34 democracies with market economies, as well as more than 70 non-member economies. It makes sense to compare mass shootings in the U.S.A. with countries in the OECD, instead of using countries that are extremely poor, or those led by tyrants, or with countries that are in war.
Of the OECD member countries, the United States of America is sixth in the frequency of mass shootings from January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2013. These countries had a higher frequency of mass shootings: Norway, Finland, Slovakia, Israel, Switzerland. It is important to note that the five countries before the U.S.A. in the frequency of mass shootings have national restrictive gun control laws. In terms of total victims of mass shootings as a rate per 100,000 people, the U.S.A. is fourth behind Norway, Finland, and Switzerland.
Another comparison that can be made involves individuals committing mass murder with guns. Since 1982, there have been five mass murders with victims numbering at least 30. The following is the list:
A third comparison involving gun violence can be made involving all countries worldwide. One company, START, is a national consortium for the study of terrorism and responses to terrorism. These are some of its findings on “mass-fatality, coordinated attacks worldwide.” All of these attacks occurred outside of the U.S.A.
For a fourth comparison, we can compare the U.S.A. with one country, France, in 2015. In France in January, Islamic terrorists attacked the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical journal, killing 11 and wounding 11. Within two days of this attack, Islamic terrorists attacked other locations in Paris, including a Jewish deli. 20 were killed and 22 wounded in these attacks. In November 2015, Islamic terrorists attacked French civilians attending a concert and sitting at a café. They killed 130 and wounded 368. In the U.S.A. in 2015, in May 2015, two terrorists were shot and killed while trying to attack “Draw Muhammad” cartoon art exhibitors. In December, two Islamic terrorists killed 14 and wounded 21 in San Bernardino. France has very strict gun controls nationally and the U.S.A. does not.
On Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015, two Islamic terrorists attacked unarmed Americans at a County Regional Center for the disabled in San Bernardino, California. Fourteen were killed and 21 wounded. The two attackers, U.S.-born Syed Farook and Pakistani national Tashfeed Malik, were married and had a six month old baby. Before the attack, Malik had pledged allegiance to Islamic State and Farook had shared his pro-Islamic State sympathies with his father. This was the largest terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11/2001.
Syed Farook was an employee at the Regional Center he attacked and therefore knew the layout of the complex and his victims well. On the morning of the attack, Farook was at a training session that was followed by a holiday party and lunch. At 10:30, he left the party. At 10:59, Farook returned to the party with Malik. Both wore non-armored black tactical outfits, ski masks, and were armed with semi-automatic pistols, semi-automatic rifles, and pipe bombs. Within the next three to four minutes, the attackers shot and killed 14 and wounded 21. They left an explosive in the room and drove off in their black SUV. The explosive did not detonate.
Within minutes, police and medical professionals responded to the emergency. Because of the quick response, many of those injured were saved. Over the next three to four hours, police searched for the couple who perpetrated the act. Somebody reported a suspicious black SUV parked outside a home in Redlands. During the police response, the couple drove away, back to San Bernardino. Police chased them, engaged the couple in a gunfight, and killed Syed Farook and Tafsheen Malik.
Syed Farook was born and raised in the United States of America, and it is believed his wife, Tafsheen Malik, was born and raised in Pakistan. Authorities think they met two years ago, through an online dating service. Syed Farook married Tafsheen Malik when he visited Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Both were Muslim, and both strongly favored the ideology of Islamic State. Islamic State has declared war against the United States of America and Israel and targets civilians.
Authorities are investigating if the attackers were directed by a foreign terrorist organization. On the morning of the attack, Malik pledged allegiance to Islamic State. Farook’s father has reported that his son spoke strongly in favor of Islamic State. The attackers destroyed or hid all digital history, such as their cell phones and hard drives to their computers, to make it difficult for authorities to find answers.
The couple lived in Redlands, California, with Farook’s mom and their 6 month-old baby. They were prepared for an assault that had perhaps many targets. In and around their vehicle were found over 1,400 rounds for their rifles, and over 200 rounds for their handguns. At their home were more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition and twelve pipe bombs. Farook’s mother claims she had no idea of the plan to attack nor of the large amounts of weapons found in the house she lived in. Farook’s family also states they knew nothing of the attack nor of the couple’s intention to kill others.
All of the victims were employees who worked at the Regional Center that was geared towards helping the disabled. Some had fled countries where their lives were in danger because of oppressive governments. Tin Nguyen, 31, had fled Vietnam when she was 8, attended Adams Elementary, McFadden Intermediate, and Santa Ana Valley in Santa Ana, California, and later earned her college degree from Cal State Fullerton. Tin was engaged to be married. Classmate Phi Luong said of Tin, “She just had that personality, you know, that goodness about her.” Nguyen had become the sole provider for her mother and older brother and had bought the home for her family. One victim, 45-year-old male Shannon Johnson, placed his body in between 27-year-old Denise Peraza and the attackers, saying to the young woman, “I got you.” Johnson was killed and Peraza survived.
The American Response
As reported earlier, the San Bernardino police responded immediately to the terrorist attack, and eventually killed the two assailants. The federal government, however, has made no immediate change in the American response to terror because of the San Bernardino attacks. Immediately after the attacks, President Obama issued a statement explaining that gun violence was too common in America and called for stricter gun laws. After the FBI confirmed that this was an act of terror, President Obama gave a speech to the country on Sunday, December 6th. During the speech, President Obama reviewed how the federal government was combatting terrorism, he chastised Congress for not creating stricter gun control laws, and he warned Americans not to act in a discriminatory way against Muslims.
Before Thanksgiving 2015, my wife Zdenka and I thought it would be an excellent idea to travel with and visit one of America’s national parks, Death Valley, and then to proceed to Mammoth Lakes to play in the snow. We realized that it had been over a decade since visiting this national park, and our youngest children couldn’t remember the last time we saw this interesting landscape and hiked the sand dunes. Death Valley National Park is home to the lowest place on Earth, called “Badwater Basin,” situated at 280 feet below sea level, has majestic sand dunes, and interesting canyons formed by sand, wind, and rain. It is a very intriguing place to visit. During this second time my family visited this national park, we experienced a potentially life-threatening misadventure that only adds to the lore of Death Valley for the De Gree family.
A History of Death Valley
Native Americans lived in the area before the first European Americans came in the 1800s. In 1849, miners looking for a shortcut to California mining areas were stuck in the valley, and gave it the name Death Valley. Several mining towns started and ended quickly during the latter half of the 1800s. Boom towns quickly became ghost towns. Miners searched for gold and silver, but were more successful in mining salts, borate, and talc. Borax was successfully mined in the late 1800s. Borax is used to make soap, as a cleaning element for the kitchen, and in laundry. In the 1920s, Death Valley was the number one location in the world for borax mining.
Tourists first came to Death Valley in the 1920s. The area’s miners realized they could earn a greater profit from tourism and began to advertise the amazing and eerie scenery to other Americans. In 1933, President Hoover established the Death Valley national monument. For approximately 40 years, Death Valley was both an area of mining and tourism. In 1994, Death Valley was expanded, and it became a national park. All mining ended in 2005.
The De Gree Visit 2015
Everything was going as planned during our two-night stay. We hiked the sand dunes, that on picture look like they go on forever, but in reality are really a few square miles. We walked on the lowest point on Earth, Badwater Basin. We visited the Devil’s Gold Course and hiked the Badlands Loop. Both places are fantastic to see and show your children. After a stop at the Visitor’s Center, we headed out of Death Valley, to drive over two mountain ranges to get to Central California and onto to Mammoth Mountain.
Our current full-sized van is a Ford Econoline, big enough to sit 15. I like driving this car because it seems like everyone gets out of the way of what my kids’ friends call “Big Blue” (it’s color is dark blue). Driving in this car feels safe and protected. However, it is a machine and machines break down.
We had just driven by Panamint Springs Resort and had climbed five miles up a winding, one lane road. There were no street lights. The moon was almost full, so there were no stars and not yet complete light from a full moon. In front of us continued 25 miles of windy roads through desert and mountains. At this point, around one curve, the “ABS” warning light went on. I started to pray, thinking this might be the alternator. I immediately felt I might be responsible for putting five children and my wife in danger. Within 20 seconds, all electricity within the car turned off. Within another 30 seconds, the engine shut off completely. We were going uphill on a one lane road without power. Our side of the road hugged the mountain. Fortunately, there was one turnoff somewhat nearby, but it was on the other side of the road. I veered the car into the oncoming lane and we eased the first part of the van into the turnoff.
The first two drivers up the mountain road were tourists from Europe. Both stopped, helped us push the van almost completely into the turnoff, and drove us back to Panamint Springs Resort. What another blessing that no cars came down the mountain during the time our van jutted out onto the road.
At Panamint Springs Resort, we were treated to a good, home-cooked meal by wonderful waitresses. Fortunately there was room in the hotel. While this was not the Hilton, the care of the staff made up for the lack of overall convenience.
In the end, we managed to tow the car to the next town, it was repaired, and no one was injured. What was my initial fear for the lives of my family was an exciting adventure for my younger kids. Said my 12-year old son, “This is fun, Dad. I’m glad it’s happening.” Receiving his smiling face and analysis of the situation is one of the blessings of having a misadventure while on vacation with kids. We thank God for those little and not so little unplanned events.
John De Gree
John De Gree writes the current events with a look at the history of each topic. Articles are written for the young person, aged 10-18, and Mr. De Gree carefully writes so that all readers can understand the event. The perspective the current events are written in is Judeo-Christian.
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