Happy Christmas? Merry Christmas? Which is right?

In England today, you say “Happy Christmas!” In the United States, you say, “Merry Christmas!” Why the difference?

Believe it or not, the “Merry Christmas!” greeting we use in the US originated in England, more than four hundred years ago. It is first recorded in 1565 in the Hereford Municipal Manuscript, The author offered good wishes that God would send a “mery Christmas” to the readers.

English author Charles Dickens popularized the greeting in his 1843 story, “A Christmas Carol,” the focus of this year’s movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas.

Man who invented Christmas

Christopher Plummer, as the fictional character Ebenezer Scrooge, inspires Charles Dickens, played by Dan Stevens, in this year’s “The Man who Invented Christmas”.


The very first Christmas card printed for sale, also in 1843, used the words “Merry Christmas” as part of its greeting as well.

However, Queen Elizabeth II broke with her own nation’s tradition. She began wishing her subjects a “happy Christmas” in her annual holiday broadcasts more than 60 years ago.

Queen Elizabeth II First RAdio Address 1952

Queen Elizabeth II made her first Christmas radio broadcast in 1952.


People speculate that the Queen substituted the word “happy” because for many centuries the word “merry” had referred to people who were “happy” as a result of drinking too much alcohol. The Queen is reported to have moral scruples about overindulgence of any kind. Therefore, she does not encourage her subjects to make “merry” at Christmas or any other time.


The Grammar Queen salutes all who are subject to words and their proper meanings.

Meanwhile, here in the US, we’ve completely forgotten that “merry” used to mean “intoxicated.” So, in the words of the song, “have yourself a merry little Christmas” – even if there’s no rum in the eggnog.

This post was first written on request of ESL teacher Cecelia Barker of Raleigh, NC, for use in her “Oral Production” class. The Grammar Queen was unfamiliar with “Oral Production” as an instructional topic and had to request an explanation.

The Grammar Queen learned that classes in “Oral Production” aid second language speakers in voicing a new language with the same nuanced sloppiness as natives — to elide words, for example, instead of pronouncing each separately and distinctly. Because the Grammar Queen speaks as a native, although writing as a professional, she withholds judgment about this casual verbal habit, to which she herself is not subject — the Queen is never subject — but is culturally habituated.

Posted in Carlene Byron, Christmas | Tagged , , , ,

Give What You Don’t Have This Thanksgiving

Does an empty table mean an empty life during the holidays?

empty-table-940x540Do you ever feel trapped by someone’s assertion that you “can’t give what you don’t have”? Sometimes it feels like a phrase designed to keep you from activities you enjoy. By this rule, you can’t give peace when you’re going through difficult personal times, so you shouldn’t expect to pray for others. You can’t give guidance when you’re personally confused, so you shouldn’t ask to teach.

I find the teeth of this trap bite especially hard as we enter the holiday season. I am, again, alone this Thanksgiving. A month before the holiday, I had received no invitations. Two weeks before the holiday, I discovered that my friends all have holiday plans — none is free to join me at my own Thanksgiving table. For 17 years, Thanksgiving was shared with my husband’s family, or with the disabled adults we cared for. Now he has divorced me, I live 900 miles away, and I can’t name anyone who wants to spend Thanksgiving day with me.

You can’t give comfort you don’t have, right?

And if I “can’t give what I don’t have,” then the fact that I am alone means that I must remain alone. You can’t give the comfort of being in company when you don’t have it, right?

Wait a minute. Is that really true?

We tell children who feel lonely that the way to have a friend is to be a friend. To be in company is simply to be with others. Is there any way I can be with others this Thanksgiving?

Last year, my church served a Thanksgiving meal for those who were away from home, so I helped serve that meal. This year, no such activity. So I emailed the pastor of another local church that is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner. They’ve got all the hands they need to serve. What they need is someone to drive Thanksgiving meals out to shut-ins.

Visit those imprisoned by ill health

In a state with good public transportation, older adults might be more able to get to the dinner at church. In a more densely populated state, someone might live nearby to give them rides. In a different time, they would be living with relatives and simply share the meal the family prepares.

Here in 21st century Maine, if you are even temporarily unable to drive, the four walls of the too-big house you live in all alone can start to feel like a prison. Last winter, when I had a broken foot, I spent almost all of the hours of every day and night in my own house by my own self. I was offered (and took) rides to a weeknight small group, but didn’t get calls offering to bring me to Sunday services. The only people who called asking if I needed practical help were one colleague and one nearby sibling. (My brother and his wife loaned me the little red scooter I relied on during that 6 weeks … my colleague drove me to the supermarket and then taught me it was okay to use the motorized “MartCart” to get around the store!)

All that to say: I know what it feels like to be left to fend for myself at a time when I need and want the company of others.

So this Thanksgiving, I’ll be carrying dinner to some rural elderly who live about a half hour from their church. They live in prisons built by age, infirmity, and the structures of our culture. Like the apostle Paul, who was imprisoned for failing to fall in line with dominant Jewish and Roman religious traditions, their imprisonment is not due to any failing. They are “imprisoned” simply because they don’t fit into the culture they — and we all — live in.

God tells us to visit those in prison. And that’s what I’m doing this Thanksgiving.

How can I give what I don’t have?

How can I bring company when I don’t have company? How can I break their isolation when I live in my own solitude?

That’s where the rule clearly breaks down. Maybe I can’t give you confidence that you will never be left alone when my own life proves that people are often left alone. But I can give you whatever company I am able to offer. And in giving, I will receive your company.

God says: Give and you will receive

This is how God says it: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” (Luke 6:38). 

According to God, we give from God’s abundance, not our own. He tells followers who, to the best of our knowledge have never been raised from the dead or freed from leprosy, that they are to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matt. 10:8)

And God points it out again when two disciples tell a beggar that they can’t provide him money but can give what they have: the power of God as they invoke it to free him to walk (Acts 3).

I don’t need to have anything in myself or of my own before I can give to you. I don’t need to have the social life I want, to have the peace I desire, to be clear about what is coming next. All I need is to know that God is with you and me together.

Such as I have, I will bring to these shut-ins on Thanksgiving.

And that is more than enough for a plentiful feast.

NOTE: After I committed to carrying Thanksgiving dinner to shut-ins this year, a relative who lives more than 2 hours away invited me to join their family celebration. I am grateful for the invitation, but unable to participate. And for the sake of these shut-in elders, that may have been God’s plan.

NOTE 2: I just received a second invitation, this time via Facebook to “anyone who will be eating alone.” The invitation comes from a colleague who experiences many health difficulties that often limit her activities. “We have plenty of room at our table,” she wrote. And in their hearts, I might add.

Posted in Carlene Byron, character, charity, christian living, community | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

What the Blue Angels taught me about Christian living

God teaches in mysterious ways. Sometimes, the lesson comes in a still small voice. Today, it came in the roar of six fighter jets flying over my home town during the Great Maine Air Show.



Ed Whisenant’s video of a Blue Angels performance in Los Angeles is the source of this still. See the full video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WmR2_tnpR8

The US Navy’s Blue Angels, a precision flight team, performed here this weekend and between the air show and the rehearsals beforehand, they taught me some important lessons.


1. There’s no sleeping when the Angels are flying

The practices for this show started on a day I was home from work with the flu. I live close enough to the flight path that the roar of the six F/A-18 Hornets jolted me out of bed.

No way anyone can sleep through the overflight of a half-dozen Hornets. And I thought about Elijah on the mountain, waiting for God (1 Kings 19). We all know about the great wind and earthquake and fire that did not contain God. God came, in many of our traditional translations, in a “still, small voice.”

A Bible translator I once met said that the traditional translation might not quite accurately represent the verse (although it makes sense in context). This translator argued that God doesn’t come in a voice that is still and small. Instead, God comes to Elijah in a voice that makes things still and small. A voice like a flight of fighter jets.

If the translator is right, don’t have to worry about sleeping through God’s call. I might have trouble staying on my feet when God speaks. But I won’t miss it.

2. The Angels aren’t where the noise is

The Blue Angels fly so fast their sound trails them by a lot. If you’re watching from a distance, as I was during the show today, the only way to catch them emerging from behind buildings or trees is to look about 60 degrees ahead of where you hear their engines.

And even then, you might need to look back and forth across 180 degrees if nearby buildings are catching an echo, creating the impression of jets where there’s really just a resonant surface. Where the sound is coming from might not be where the Angels are at all.

Like lots of life, the noise isn’t where the real action is. You have to learn where to look. And be careful of mistaking a resounding gong for the real thing.

3. Look for the Angels, not their trails

Most of the time, I find jets in the sky by tracking the “con” trails of condensed vapor they leave behind. That won’t work with the Blue Angels. The Angels leave trails only when they want to — great cinematic puffs of vapor that shout “We’re here!” The rest of the time, they fly clean. You can’t find the Angels by looking for their trail. Look for the Blue Angels themselves instead.

Lesson 4 came courtesy of Pathway Vineyard Pastor Kyle Gabri this morning.

4. The more you practice, the tighter the formation

Blue Angel formations look tight from the ground. They actually are much tighter.

A F18 is not quite 45 feet wide. In formation during performances, the Blue Angels maneuver as close as 6 inches apart while flying at remarkable speeds.

How do they dare?

They begin, Kyle said, by practicing the formations much further apart. Same moves, just more distance. Then, as they become more skilled with the maneuvers, they begin running them closer together. Eventually, they fly with wings all but touching.

Kind of like us in our Christian lives. We don’t dare maneuver in close proximity with others until we’re pretty well practiced in the moves.

And one more thing I learned after church today: there actually have been “paint scrapers” — the aerial equivalent of a fender bender — among the practicing Angels. These incidents don’t knock the fighter jets out of the sky. They just remind the pilots to get back on course. Like immediately.

God came to me today in the roar of six fighter jets with 4 lessons about Christian living. How is God speaking to you right now about your Christian life?







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Speak? No, don’t speak.

Speak? No, don’t speak. Seriously. Don’t speak.

Here’s what I learned about open communications over 40 years of adult living:

First I was a newspaper reporter during the time when reporters were expected to maintain “objectivity” about the news. Don’t speak.

Then I was the former anti-nuclear protester who walked into a Boston church where all the women plucked their eyebrows and wore nylons. Don’t speak.

I was the Northerner who walked into a consulting firm of (very smart!) Southerners who were also church-goers and very politically conservative. Don’t speak.

Then I was the local resident who opposed development plans my company prepared. Really, really, really don’t speak.

“Authenticity” is the last thing we allow.
We “curate” our lives as if we are
precious personal museums of me

I was the elder’s wife in a marriage where truth fogged away, and accusation, misinformation, and silent treatments took its place. Don’t speak.

I was the charismatic Christian in a business leadership forum organized by a Pentecostal “health and wealth” teacher. Don’t speak.

Everything in 40 years of adult life says “Don’t speak.” Don’t speak my opinions. Don’t speak the truth about my life. Don’t acknowledge differences with the people around me.

We’ve (ironically) determined that “authenticity” is what we want from each other. And at the same time, “authenticity” is the last thing we allow. We “curate” our lives as if we are precious personal museums of me.

And yet, we’re just being realistic. Employment contracts limit our civic engagement. Online communications are monitored for signs of emotional distress and political extremism.


Don’t speak.

It’s the new authenticity.

This post was written in response to the Five Minute Friday prompt “Speak.”


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Spiritual Transfusions for Bad Blood: Charlottesville, Tulsa and My Ancestry

If family history research teaches anything, it is that none of us is without some fundamental sinfulness that tarnishes our family line across many generations.

So while I can join those who are reeling in horror at the weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia, I also remember the shameful place my family apparently took — and almost entirely denies — in the 1921 riot that destroyed middle-class black Tulsa, Oklahoma.

A Good Christian Woman

My father’s great aunt Ila — or Mrs. S.A. Gilmore, as she was known in Tulsa society — was a respected, if not particularly important, member of that community in the early 1920s. The only time we know that her photograph appeared in the Tulsa Daily World is this image from June 8, 1923. She stands in the second row of “this unique Bible class,” made up of women from more than one of the city’s Protestant congregations.


At the time, the idea of a multichurch Bible study was remarkable, let alone a Bible study that crossed denominational lines. The Bible study grew from an evangelistic crusade held in Tulsa in late 1921 by the enthusiastic Billy Sunday. Nonetheless, the newspaper reports, “none of the class members believe in religious fanaticism.”

Indeed, the span of views represented in the class included Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Church of God, Church of Christ, “both branches of the Methodist church,” a couple kinds of Presbyterian, United Brethren and members of the local Christian Science church.

When the photo was taken, the class had just finished its second year together. They had studied Acts, Romans, and the life of Christ as depicted in the four Gospels.

Shot by ‘Negro Rioter’

Six months before Billy Sunday got to Tulsa, Aunt Ila appeared in the “social news” report of another newspaper, in her brother’s home town of Twin Falls, Idaho.


The breathless and solicitous social news columnist reports that the Hill family had received a telegram notifying them of Mrs. SA Gilmore’s injuries during the riot. This report, and another in the Tulsa paper, describe her as having been shot by a negro “sniper” stationed in a church while she stood on her own front porch.

The journalist in me kicks in and remembers to ask: Who said that a “negro sniper” shot her? Who said that she was on the front porch?

Neither article answers. Which only piques my journalist’s curiosity further.

Critically Wounded by ‘Triple Through and Through’

According to the family story, Aunt Ila survived a “triple-through-and-through” shooting in the riot. The legend says that the bullet passed through her forearm, her upper arm, and her torso, making it entirely reasonable that the June 2, 1921 Tulsa World would report her still in “critical condition” on the afternoon of June 1, half a day after the injury.

What I found puzzling is how someone just standing on a porch could sustain that wound track. And I admit, at this point I’m playing amateur CSI like everyone else does. I’m holding my arms one way and another trying to imagine how a bullet could go through those three places. Am I leaning on a porch rail? Leaning on a porch support? I suppose if the “sniper” shot me in the back, the bullet could make that triple injury. Otherwise, the railing or porch support would get the bullet and I’d be safe.

Could a Bullet Have Traveled that Far?

But wait a minute. The Tulsa World also reports Mrs. Gilmore’s home address as 225 East King. That’s nowhere near the riot line.

In fact, although Aunt Ila’s house no longer stands, the address is about a mile and a quarter from the district where white Tulsa “held off” black Tulsa in a riot that white Tulsa fomented. And lest anyone imagine this was “defensive” action on the part of the white community, know that white Tulsa emerged almost unscathed. Tulsa’s middle-class black neighborhood, the Greenwood District, with its brick-built houses, schools, post office, shops, and cinema, was leveled. Thirty-five city blocks were left in smoking ruins.

Is it possible that in the midst of such race war, a “negro sniper” wandered more than a mile into hostile white territory to hole up in a church and from there shoot my aunt as she just hung out on her own porch?

I measure that possibility with the same credulity I gave the 8-year-old who once told me it was “possible” she might drink the school water fountain dry — “improbable,” she said, but “possible.”

So if it is very “improbable” that a “negro sniper” was anywhere near where Aunt Ila lived, how did she get shot?

The Tulsa World dated on the day the riot began gives me a clue:

Several hundred women armed themselves and were part of the crowd of whites that swarmed on Second street from Boulder to Boston avenue watching the gathering volunteer army or offering their services.

White Women with Rifles. Oh My.

Armed women. Oh my. I begin to retest my amateur CSI hypotheses. What if Aunt Ila had been on the riot line — ready to fire a rifle? That trajectory might work …

And so I find myself with a new hypothesis, based in part on the remarkable lack of attribution in two different publications in two states. Who says Aunt Ila was shot by a sniper in a church? I don’t know. Who says Aunt Ila was standing on her porch? I don’t know. Which means I can’t assume the source is trustworthy. In the end, looking back nearly a century, the injury pattern the family describes seems to tell much more truth than family legend and unattributed news stories. One address reported in the newspaper makes the whole story, as our family tells it, simply not credible.

Aunt Ila had to have been one of the armed women on the riot line. And just as I carry the original sin from the Garden, I carry this racial sin from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

A Nasty Spiritual Blood Line


Ben 22 Klan Charlottesville Toronto Star

The Toronto Star published this image of 22-year-old “Ben,” who identified himself as a member of the KKK, marching in Charlottesville.

I can be appalled at the neo-Nazis and Klansmen who marched on Charlottesville. But I can’t pretend that their DNA is not in my veins. Without a spiritual “blood transfusion” from Jesus, I’m doomed to repeat my family’s history.


A Spiritual Transfusion? I Can Only Hope

Did Aunt Ila get a spiritual transfusion during the Billy Sunday crusade? Almost a hundred years later, I can’t know. Someday, I can only hope, I’ll meet her in heaven and hear how God changed her heart. Someday, I hope, you’ll meet me in heaven and believe God has changed mine.

[Cited Tulsa World newsclips from June 1921 were reviewed and noted in 2012. Links are not provided because they are no longer available to non-subscribers.]


For those unfamiliar with this episode of history, a few resources include:


The Questions that Remain: Tulsa World, 2009 

This extensive multimedia publication includes information about the Klan’s rise in Tulsa beginning just months after the “riot” and events in the early 21st century aiming at reconciliation.

Tulsa Race Riot Overview: Oklahoma State University Library

1921 Tulsa Race Riot: Tulsa Historical Society & Museum



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