2018
December
24
Monday
Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

For this Christmas Eve edition, we offer you a special audio presentation.

Here’s how to listen:

If you’re reading the Daily in our email format, you’ll need to click through to the full web-based version. Do that by clicking on the headphones icon at the top, or click on any story in the email – and then scroll to the audio controls at the bottom. If you’re already on the web version, then you’re all set! 

Here’s the bonus you’ll find there today: Four of our editors read excerpts from their favorite holiday stories.

Please enjoy this offering. And Merry Christmas. 

Now, to our five featured stories for today.

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1. Haifa’s happy holidays: three religions, one giant block party

When the Oslo Accords were signed 25 years ago, it seemed Israelis and Palestinians might be headed toward peace. Haifa’s December festival began that year too, a reminder of a time of hope. 

Beit HaGefen Arab-Jewish Culture Center
Revelers throng the streets under billowing lights at the Holiday of Holidays festival, a yearly event that celebrates cultural and religious diversity in Haifa, Israel. This December marks the festival’s 25th anniversary.

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A rare celebration of religious and cultural diversity in the fractious Middle East, the Holiday of Holidays is the only event of its kind in Israel. The festival honors Christmas, Hanukkah, and Muslim traditions over three weekends in December for a part-block party, part-intercultural artistic extravaganza. It draws as many as 70,000 people a day to Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city. Haifa likes to bill itself the country’s capital of coexistence. Its lack of significant sites tied to the region’s three main monotheistic religions has contributed to its more tolerant ethos. “It’s more normal than other cities in Israel because Moses wasn’t here, Jesus wasn’t here, and Muhammad wasn’t here,” jokes Maher Mahamid of Beit HaGefen, the cultural center responsible for organizing the festival. Hila Goshen of Beit HaGefen says the example of the gathering, brief as it is, shows a concept of shared society, a place where Arabs and Jews can live together and lead equal lives. “I know all our issues are not being solved in this festival,” Ms. Goshen says. “But even having this kind of exposure to thinking a little bit differently is a seed we have to plant.” 

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Haifa’s happy holidays: three religions, one giant block party

It’s rush hour and news blares from car radios across Israel’s traffic-clogged roads about one overarching story of the day: Hamas militants in Gaza have fired 400 rockets into southern Israel over the past 24 hours. About 100 miles north up the coast, in the port city of Haifa, two young art curators, one Jewish and one a Palestinian citizen of Israel, are dealing with something decidedly less fraught: They are planning the logistics of an art installation that will include 88 pounds of white pepper, za’atar, sumac, and ginger. 

The piece is an exploration of what notions of “home” mean, a loaded concept in a land claimed by two peoples. It is planned as a centerpiece of a new art exhibition for the Holiday of Holidays, the only event of its kind in Israel and a rare celebration of religious and cultural diversity in the fractious Middle East. The festival honors Christmas, Hanukkah, and Muslim traditions over three weekends in December in a gathering that is part block party, part intercultural artistic extravaganza. It draws as many as 70,000 people a day. This year will mark the 25th anniversary of the festival. 

Dina Kraft
Haneen Abed and Yael Messer (r.), curators at the Beit HaGefen Art Gallery, select artists and works for the Holiday of Holidays festival.

Every year there is a different theme and this one is “the third dimension,” an invitation to look at what happens when different cultures and identities influence each other to create something new – a hybrid space – as Yael Messer describes it. Ms. Messer is curator of the art gallery run by the Beit HaGefen Arab-Jewish Cultural Center. Messer, who is Jewish, is going over plans with Haneen Abed, her deputy, a Palestinian Israeli, in their shared office. The staff of the center is made up of both Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. 

The story of the Holiday of Holidays is also the story of Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city. Haifa likes to bill itself – though not without criticism – as the country’s capital of coexistence, a place where Jewish and Arab residents live more integrated lives. 

Across the country, most Jews and Arabs live separately even in so-called mixed towns and cities, such as Haifa, where the two groups usually inhabit different neighborhoods. Social interaction is especially rare.

But the festival brings together people from both sides of the demographic divide to dance to music performed on outdoor stages, on streets festooned with holiday lights. Arabs and Jews together follow the path of food and literary tours through the alleyways and streets of the mostly Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas, eating local offerings like hummus and baklava at food stalls and attending concerts of liturgical music at churches. The massive undertaking is organized by Beit HaGefen and funded by the city of Haifa.

Upstairs from Messer and Ms. Abed, their colleague Hila Goshen, the cultural director of Beit HaGefen, has her laptop open to a color-coded schedule of the festival’s events. 

Beit HaGefen Arab-Jewish Cultural Center
People dance in the streets of the mostly Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas in Haifa, Israel.

“It seems like every year there is some war, or military operation, or suicide bombing that happens [during the planning season] and we ask, ‘What are we doing, bringing people together to hear music and hear each other?’ ” says Ms. Goshen. “And then the festival happens and this place looks like the most normal place on earth. The magic happens.”

***

Every December the festival spills out from underneath a Haifa landmark, the Bahai Gardens, a series of lush terraces built into a slope of Mount Carmel. The gardens were created by the Bahai on the site of one of the religion’s holiest shrines. A Christmas tree, a menorah in the shape of the Star of David, and an Islamic crescent are placed together at the foot of Mount Carmel to convey a message of unity.

The talk on this particular morning of possible war between Israel and Hamas feels strangely removed from the calm and – compared to the rest of Israel – integrated lives of Arabs and Jews here. But it’s also an unbearably familiar tension, says Abed. “What is awful about this [fighting] is that it has become normal in some way. Despite all the associated pain, it’s almost routine,” says Abed, who moved to Haifa from Nazareth, Israel. She’s part of a trend of young, liberal Palestinian Israelis who are forging a cultural and political home in the city. Many of them have moved here from more religiously and politically conservative towns and villages across the country. 

Messer is also a transplant to Haifa. Like Abed, she was attracted to the more tolerant atmosphere here. It’s a city they both refer to as a bubble, one whose long history of overall good relations between Arabs and Jews has endured. 

Yet even here, they’re quick to point out, some very real divides still exist. “There’s a tendency to forget within the 1948 borders,” Messer says, referring to the borders of Israel proper, not the Palestinian areas of West Bank and Gaza, “that we don’t live in a normal place, and unfortunately it has to come to a very kind of severe situation in other places in our area for us to remember that.” 

Abed and Messer share a sunny office in the downstairs of Beit HaGefen’s main building, a large limestone structure built at the end of the 19th century. Both have thick wavy hair they often wear pulled up into buns and on this day they are both in jeans. They joke that they often wear the same colors to work without planning to. But if anyone might mistake them for sisters, Messer teases it’s clear they are not – Abed is “much” taller, she says. 

Messer also doesn’t give much thought to the fact that, like the rest of the Beit HaGefen staff, they represent an Arab and Jewish work team. They both describe feeling as if they are creating what Messer calls a “mini-cosmos” through the gallery. “What is nice about this work is that we feel like we are doing it together,” says Messer. “We’re still very much connected to Beit HaGefen and the festival but also of creating something of our own within what is taking place.” 

Dina Kraft
A painting of a woman wearing a hijab covers a doorway in an Arab neighborhood of Haifa. An artist created the public work for the yearly festival that draws as many as 70,000 people a day.

***

The idea for the Holiday of Holidays began with a quirk of the calendar. A group of artists and activists in the city realized one year that Christmas, Hanukkah, and Ramadan would all be overlapping that December. So they decided to seize on the rare alignment and create a new tradition, a festival honoring the major religions represented in the city – and the country.

It was December 1993. The Oslo Accords had been signed on the White House lawn just three months earlier, consummated by the historic handshake of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat. A few months later the Nobel Committee would award the two of them, along with Shimon Peres, the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to ease hostilities in the region. It seemed Israelis and Palestinians might finally be heading toward peace after a century of conflict. 

Today the promise of Oslo – two peaceful coexisting states, one Israeli and one Palestinian – seems a distant dream, even among those who once championed the accord. 

In some ways the Holiday of Holidays is a relic of that period of hope. Its organizers and supporters say that Haifa is a model for the rest of the country’s relations between its Jewish majority and Arab minority even as the larger political situation remains stubbornly stagnant. 

When the festival was conceived, it was decided that Wadi Nisnas, a working-class Arab neighborhood on the doorstep of Beit HaGefen, would be the focus of the activities. Local artists, both Jewish and Arab, were recruited to create art installations in coordination with others in the community to hang on the homes and walls of its winding alleyways. 

“It was a time of great freedom for the artists who involved the community in this vision of creating a new shared holiday,” says Dan Chamizer, one of the original artists to work on the festival. “We set out to do what seemed at first impossible: to create a new tradition by getting to know each other’s cultures. We were Jews and Arabs working together and not shying away from talking about what was painful.” 

Beit HaGefen Arab-Jewish Cultural Center
A member of a traveling circus performs in a park-like area as part of the Holiday of Holidays festival entertainment.

Mr. Chamizer points to the work of one artist at the time who painted over the boarded-up windows of a home in Wadi Nisnas. The house was owned by an Arab family that had left Haifa amid the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1948, the year of Israel’s birth, and never returned. It was one of many Arab-owned properties in the city that the newly formed state labeled “abandoned” and in some cases left empty. The artist found black-and-white photographs of the original owners of the house and pasted them over the windows. 

After the war, Israel didn’t allow most Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, dramatically shifting the demographics of Haifa. At the end of 1947, the city had a split population of some 70,000 Jewish residents and 70,000 Palestinians. Just a few months later, in April 1948, only 4,000 Palestinians remained. Today about 10 percent of Haifa’s 280,000 residents are Arab citizens. 

Beit HaGefen Arab-Jewish Cultural Center
Red-bereted members of the Haifa Scouts march in a parade at the Holiday of Holidays event that celebrates cultural and religious diversity.

***

Haifa’s unusual mixed culture today is partly a function of its past. Nestled between the slopes of Mount Carmel and the Mediterranean Sea, it started out as a small port city in the Bronze Age. Haifa was ruled by some of the world’s dominant empires and peoples – from the Canaanites, Romans, and Crusaders to the Ottomans and British. 

Its lack of significant sites tied to the region’s three main monotheistic religions has contributed to its more tolerant ethos. “It’s more normal than other cities in Israel because Moses wasn’t here, Jesus wasn’t here, and Muhammad wasn’t here,” jokes Maher Mahamid, who is director of Beit HaGefen’s library and in charge of the Holiday of Holidays programming for children. 

The lack of religious connections, which has fueled political tension in Jerusalem, allows Haifa to do what it seems to do best: simply go about its business. An old Israeli saying goes, “In Jerusalem they pray, in Tel Aviv they party, in Haifa they work.” 

“There’s no magic here, just that economic considerations have always come first over political considerations,” says Mr. Mahamid. 

Modern Haifa cannot be understood fully without looking back to its time under British rule from 1918 to 1948, according to Motti Golani, a professor of Jewish history at Tel Aviv University. In other cities of that period Arabs and Jews lived near each other, but not usually in the same neighborhoods as they did in Haifa. Jews here often understood or spoke Arabic and Arabs often spoke Hebrew or even Yiddish. 

Both Arabs and Jews held prominent positions in the municipality and the public workforce was mixed, which set a tone of cooperation.

The British transformed what was just a town under Ottoman rule into a modern metropolis, envisioning it as the most important crossroads in the Middle East. They built the large, deep-water port that Israel still uses today as its main outlet to the sea, as well as a railway spur to Baghdad and oil pipeline to Mosul. 

“The British made Haifa a real city,” says Dr. Golani. Although Jews arriving from Europe tended to live on Mount Carmel and the Arabs near the sea, the British built up an area in between where both groups worked and some settled. 

A key to the economic success and political stability of the city was that there was a strong liberal middle class and a strong working class among both Arabs and Jews. The diversity of the community was so striking that it prompted the British High Commissioner for Palestine to pay a visit in 1946 to see what could be learned from Haifa’s example. 

But as the 1948 war played out, so did a mass exodus of Palestinians from the city. The Arabs assumed they would return when the fighting ended. According to Golani, Haifa’s Jews wanted their Palestinian neighbors to return, too, but the new government ministers of Israel decided otherwise. 

Beit HaGefen Arab-Jewish Cultural Center
Festival goers listen to a music concert, one of many held in churches during the Holiday of Holidays event that runs over three weekends in December.

Those Arabs who did resettle in Haifa were mostly refugees displaced from towns and villages in Galilee. And the first and second generation tended to focus on making a living over politics. But the current younger generation in their 20s and 30s, who came of age during the second intifada, more openly identify with being Palestinian. They feel that they cannot rely on Israel to protect their rights, but have to claim them for themselves. They have been leaving an indelible mark on Haifa culturally and politically.

A growing number of cafes, galleries, and event spaces have opened in the city owned and frequented by young, liberal Palestinian Israelis. Some of the young people come from Haifa, and others, like Abed, were drawn here at first to study – about 40 percent of the University of Haifa is made up of Arab students – but have decided to stay.

“There is an ease of being here; it feels like a place one can start something new,” says Abed.

One often hears more Arabic emanating from the city’s spots that cater to Palestinian Israeli customers, but young Jews frequent the new venues, too. “It’s amazing to be there,” Abed says of Fattoush Bar and Gallery,  an industrial space in the style of New York’s Brooklyn borough, with a restaurant, long bar, and long lines to get in. “It’s like having another home in the city.”

While Arabs and Jews may mingle more easily here than in other Israeli cities, tensions do exist. Amjad Iraqi, who moved to Haifa for its liberalism and tolerance four years ago, faults the city for its neglect of poorer Arab neighborhoods and for attempts by authorities to muzzle those who assert their Palestinian identity too overtly. 

A Gaza solidarity demonstration in Haifa last May, which sparked clashes between police and protesters, was a reminder that relations can still be fragile. “There is an idea of coexistence here that means you are to silence your Palestinian identity, become Arab Israeli and not Palestinian,” says an Iraqi who is a contributing editor for +972 Magazine, an online publication that analyzes events in Israel and the Palestinian areas. 

***

Organizers of the Holiday of Holidays are well aware of the strains in the city. Asaf Ron, the director of Beit HaGefen, acknowledges that some Palestinian Israeli artists have chosen not to participate in the event. He understands, he says, why some would not want to be associated with a gathering they feel is linked to a state that discriminates against them.

The longtime educator, who has close-cropped silver hair and a ready smile, took the job at Beit HaGefen eight years ago. He grew up in Haifa, in a Jewish neighborhood where he did not have Arab friends. One of his first memories is as a first-grader placing sandbags and blackening out windows during the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1967. 

“The third generation [of Palestinian Israelis] after 1948 is going through a process of becoming more nationalist,” says Mr. Ron. “It’s not unlike the first two generations after the Holocaust. The first did not talk, the second did not know, and the third speaks out. These were two very different events, but the process is similar.” 

Outside his open window bells toll from neighboring churches. 

“The state tries to squash and forbid a Palestinian identity here because it threatens us,” he goes on. “But I say, on the contrary, the only way we can have a strong identity is to live with one another. Otherwise we keep on playing this zero-sum game.” 

Among the new art installations he is especially excited for visitors to experience is Emi Sfard’s “Cinderella” digital art series. It tells four different versions of the Cinderella story, each from the 19th century and each representing a different community in Israel, in this case Moroccan, Russian, Palestinian, and French.

“In the end it shows the beauty of each culture and how we can see them in an equal way,” says Ms. Sfard.

Ron sees the job of the center, and its flagship event, the Holiday of Holidays, as laying the infrastructure for Arabs and Jews to understand each other better, to listen and make room for both people’s historical narratives even as they debate and disagree. 

Goshen, the cultural director of Beit HaGefen, echoes that point. She says the example of the gathering, brief as it is, shows this concept of shared society, a place where Arabs and Jews can live together and lead equal lives. 

“I know all our issues are not being solved in this festival,” she says. “But even having this kind of exposure to thinking a little bit differently is a seed we have to plant.” 

Some critics believe this is gauzy naiveté. They argue that people really come to the festival for the food, not the message of unity. But Ron disagrees. 

“I don’t think people come for the hummus or the knafeh,” he says. “I think they come for the hope.”

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2. How news of US withdrawal reverberated across Syria

How deep was the US commitment to its allies in Syria? That question has been asked all along. The Kurds and others knew President Trump favored a US withdrawal. Still, the timing came as a surprise.

Ugur Can/DHA/AP
Representatives of some 150 Syrian tribes hold a conference in the village of Sajo, near the town of Azaz, Syria, Dec. 21, calling for the overthrow of the Syrian regime and for foreign militias to leave the country. Rebels say the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, following President Trump's surprise announcement, could result in an unstable vacuum in some areas.

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For rebel fighters in Syria, where the United States nurtured local alliances with the goal of eradicating the Islamic State (ISIS), President Trump’s announcement of a rapid withdrawal of US troops was confusing and devastating. “People are petrified,” says one Syrian Arab rebel, who has been fighting with the Americans against ISIS near al-Tanf, in southeastern Syria. “How is the United States dropping us like that? We stood with them, and we were basically under their protection. Now we are at the mercy of the regime and the Russians.” US troops entered Syria for the first time in late 2015. What began as a deployment of 50 grew into an official total of about 2,000 tasked with bolstering the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Syrian Arab and Kurdish fighters fighting ISIS. Experts here say the withdrawal will result in a power vacuum and a major shift in the balance of power. Says Leyla, an aid worker with a local charity in a northern, Kurdish area: “There is a lot of confusion, fear and worry here about the security and political implications of this decision.... If the Syrian regime came back that would be a disaster.”

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How news of US withdrawal reverberated across Syria

When President Trump turned to Twitter to announce the imminent withdrawal of American troops from Syria, he triggered the resignation of two top United States defense officials and surprised foreign allies and adversaries alike.

For many Syrian opposition fighters who had allied themselves with the US forces on the ground, the reaction was both swift, and emotional.

“People are petrified,” says one Syrian Arab rebel, who has been fighting with the Americans against the Islamic State (ISIS) near al-Tanf, a strategic crossroads in southeastern Syria.

“How is the United States dropping us like that?” asks the rebel, a local tribal leader who prefers to remain anonymous. “We stood with them, and we were basically under their protection. Now we are at the mercy of the regime and the Russians.”

For Kurds in Syria, where the United States nurtured local alliances with the goal of eradicating ISIS, the news was confusing and devastating.

“After four years focused on this region and after the establishment of bases in Syria, this decision comes as a surprise,” says Leyla, an aid worker with the local charity Civil Waves in the northeastern city of Qamishli on the Syrian border with Turkey. “The American decision to pull out troops will have negative consequences for Syrians in general and Kurds in particular.”

US troops entered Syria for the first time in late 2015. What began as a deployment of 50 grew into an official total of about 2,000. They built up the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Syrian Arab and Kurdish fighters, with the mission of terminating ISIS – although their presence also became a factor in efforts to contain Iran, which supports the regime.

“There is a lot of confusion, fear and worry here about the security and political implications of this decision,” adds Leyla. “People worry that World War III could get started if, for example, the Turks attack the region…. France said it will not drop the Kurds. Even if France is a great state, it is not that powerful.”

‘Syrians don’t want the regime’

The Kurdish area along Syria’s northern border has been beyond regime control for years.

In 2012, the Syrian regime pulled out of three mainly Kurdish inhabited areas of northern Syria. Two years later these regions rebranded themselves as de-facto autonomous cantons.

“If the Syrian regime came back that would be a disaster,” Leyla says. “After seven years of destroying the country and killing the people, what good can we expect to come of that? There will be arrests and more [human rights] violations. Syrians don't want the regime.”

Leyla has a son serving as a volunteer in the YPG – the (Kurdish) People’s Protection Units – a militia credited with being fierce frontline fighters and enabling major victories against ISIS, from the improbable defense of besieged Kobane in 2014 to the liberation of Raqqa, the capital of the so-called caliphate, which now lies in ruins.

The group is the dominant Kurdish force in northeast Syria and the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces – although it does not make up its majority in terms of numbers. In a televised interview, Mustafa Bali, the SDF spokesman, called Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria shocking.

Rodi Said/Reuters/File
A US military commander (second right) walks with Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) at the YPG headquarters that was hit by Turkish airstrikes in Mount Karachok near Malikiya, Syria, in April 2017.

“It came as a surprise to us and even to the American forces here on the ground,” he said. “The war on terror is not over yet.”

The withdrawal, he warned, will cause a large void that will be exploited by terrorist forces, chief among them ISIS.

“They will try to use this void to regroup and launch counter-attacks,” he said. “This is a very unfortunate decision, which is not in keeping with the American commitments, or even with the commitments of the international coalition.”

Kurds’ focus is on Turkey

For Kurds in northeast Syria, however, the largest concern is not ISIS or its sleeper cells, but Turkey. Ankara views the US choice of partners as an existential threat at its doorstep – an offshoot of the Kurdish insurgency that has destabilized Turkey for decades. Turkey launched military operations in Syria in the summer of 2016 to flush out ISIS and the YPG.

In the Turkish-controlled Syrian town of Al-Bab, Arab fighters allied with Ankara display an appetite for battle. “There will be battles in Kobane, Tel Abyad, Manbij, Ras Al-Ayn, Qamishli,” predicts Khaldoun, a Syrian fighter who earns a monthly salary of 400 Turkish lira ($75), which is not enough to cover rent. “We support the Turks because we have been displaced from our areas by Kurds.”

He believes that Turkey and the Syrian regime will strike a deal whereby the regime takes the rebel-controlled enclave of Idlib, and Turkey with its allies will take Manbij and other areas of strategic interest to Turkey. “It’s obvious how things will play out,” he says, eager to return to the border town of Tel Abyad.

Syria’s Kurds are also in the market for a deal. Senior politicians of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which played a major role in setting up the self-administrations in northern and eastern Syria, have been making the rounds in European capitals. They are also said to have sent representatives to talk with Iran, Russia, and the regime.

Kaniwar Hasan, whose work at the Qamishli-based Al-Furat Center for Studies focuses on Turkey, says that if a US withdrawal really materializes, the region of the East Euphrates will see a major shift in the balance of power.

“The Washington disavowal of its Syrian Democratic Forces and its allies opens up the door to new scenarios and alliances,” he says. “The most likely realistic scenario regarding the fate of the East Euphrates region is talks between Damascus and the SDF in order to fill the vacuum created by the United States and (neutralize) Turkish threats.” 

Hawas Sadoun, a Kurdish member of a Syrian opposition coalition that has engaged periodically in United Nations-sponsored negotiations with the regime, says all the possible scenarios raised by the US withdrawal are alarming, including a resurgent ISIS or an emboldened Turkey or Iran.

“The patterns of the Syrian regime, Iran, and their affiliated militias are well known,” he says. “They subject those who have not succumbed to their policies and criminal plans to repression and revenge.… We’ve witnessed how the regime has treated the reconciled areas and how it jailed people and forced them to join its ranks, despite promising not to harm them.”

Resurgent ISIS

At the same time, he argues, the regime no longer possesses the military ability to prevent ISIS and other terrorists organizations from regrowing and regaining their influence.

“All these factors make the future frightening for the people of East Euphrates, especially the Kurds because of their vital role in fighting the terrorist organizations,” he says.  “Anyone who has been following the statements of President Trump and the US administration could see that many of them were indicating a withdrawal, but the timing was a surprise, because it contradicted with many of the statements made by officials of the US administration.”

Only two days prior to Trump’s announcement, points out Mr. Sadoun, the special US envoy for Syria Engagement, James Jeffrey, had defined the objectives for the presence of US forces in Syria as follows: the elimination of ISIS, putting an end to Iran’s influence and expansion in Syria, and achieving a political solution that guarantees stability in Syria and the region.

“The decision to withdraw the forces came before achieving any of these goals,” notes Sadoun.

For the Syrian rebel fighter stationed near al-Tanf, the prospect of facing a resurgent ISIS fills him with foreboding, for himself and his family.

“As long as the US was present, we were not afraid,” he says. “Here I am not safe. What they don’t realize is that the next iteration of the Islamic State is going to be 10 times worse because the job is not done.”

The Americans “need to secure a way out for those who proved to be their allies on the ground,” he says. “I would work with them anywhere ... Afghanistan, Pakistan ... but I need my family to be safe.”

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Briefing

3. What’s behind Washington’s Christmas shutdown

The latest government shutdown hinges on a single issue: border wall funding. But as Congress grows more divided and compromise becomes increasingly scarce, lawmakers may increasingly turn to shutdowns as a negotiating tool.

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In many Republican leaders’ eyes, Friday was the GOP’s last chance to take the lead on budget negotiations before the start of the new session under a Democratic House. And by midweek, a deal seemed imminent. On Thursday, however, a day before temporary funding was set to run out, Mr. Trump again doubled down on one of his key campaign promises: the wall at the Mexican border. This latest stalemate follows a series of similar deadlocks in the budget process over the past three months and has resulted in a partial shutdown of the government. Failed budgetary negotiations have resulted in 19 government shutdowns since Congress introduced the modern budget process in 1976. The Departments of State, Agriculture, Justice, Transportation, Treasury, Homeland Security, and Interior are all affected. About 420,000 or so federal workers who fall under “essential services” – mainly those involved with public safety, such as law enforcement, in-hospital care, and air traffic control – will work without pay until a spending bill is passed. More than 380,000 others – including about 80 percent of National Park Service employees – will be furloughed.

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What’s behind Washington’s Christmas shutdown

The government partially shut down at midnight Friday after Congress and the White House failed to agree on a spending package, the third shutdown this year. The sticking point: President Trump’s border wall.

Why did the government shut down?

In many Republican leaders’ eyes, Friday was the GOP’s last chance to take the lead on budget negotiations before the start of the new session under a Democratic House. And by midweek, a deal seemed imminent.

On Thursday, however, a day before temporary funding was set to run out, Mr. Trump again doubled down on one of his key campaign promises: the wall at the Mexican border. He announced he wasn’t going to sign any bill without $5 billion to begin construction. Democrats have opposed the plan from the start, saying that a physical wall is both too expensive and ineffective.

The House passed a bill that included $5 billion, as well as $8 billion for disaster relief. The Senate, however, didn’t have the votes Friday to pass a similar bill by the midnight deadline. So the government shut down.

This latest stalemate followed a series of similar snags in the budget process over the past three months. At the end of the government’s fiscal year on Sept. 30, Congress needs to pass annual appropriation to fund federal agencies and programs. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees each divide into 12 subcommittees that deal with different parts of the budget. Each chamber passes their own version of each bill, usually as part of a larger omnibus or "minibus" bill. A final bill is then approved by the House and Senate before going to the president to be signed into law.

This year, Congress was able to pass five of the 12 appropriations bills by the September deadline. Lawmakers then approved a temporary measure – called a continuing resolution, or CR – to fund the remaining seven at last year’s levels through Dec. 7, and then again through Dec. 21.

Who does this affect?

This is a partial shutdown, because Congress approved 70 percent of spending for the coming fiscal year in those first five appropriations bills. Those departments that are still on the hook include State, Agriculture, Justice, Transportation, Treasury, Homeland Security, and Interior.

About 420,000 or so federal workers who fall under “essential services” – mainly those involved with public safety, such as law enforcement, in-hospital care, and air traffic control – will still work without pay until a spending bill is passed. More than 380,000 others – including about 80 percent of National Park Service employees – will be furloughed. (The Senate passed a measure Saturday to ensure that these workers will receive back pay after an appropriations bill is passed. The House seems poised to follow suit.)

Core services such as Social Security, Medicare, and the military will still be funded, though some of their functions may be affected.

How many times has this happened before?

Failed budgetary negotiations have resulted in 19 government shutdowns since Congress introduced the modern budget process in 1976. Most of those, including the two that took place earlier this year, happened over very short periods – three days or less – or over the weekend, so government operations weren’t really affected.

There have been three major shutdowns in modern memory. The first two took place in the winter of 1995 to ’96, when a GOP-led Congress vowed to balance the federal budget through the Republican Party’s “Contract for America.” Then-President Bill Clinton agreed with Republicans about the end but not with the means – they wanted to cut social programs and repeal Mr. Clinton’s 1993 tax law. The conflict resulted in a shutdown from Nov. 14 through Nov. 20, 1995, then again from Dec. 16, 1995, until Jan. 5, 1996, for a total of 26 days.

The October 2013 shutdown, which lasted 16 days, happened after the House and Senate deadlocked over the Affordable Care Act. Republicans in the House secured enough votes to fold a one-year delay in the health-care mandate into the spending bill. The Democrat-led Senate refused to entertain the House provisions, while the House refused to go forward without them. Eventually both chambers managed to pass a resolution to fund the government for a few more months until they could resume the fight.

How long will this one last?

As of Monday there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Over the weekend, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky said the chamber wouldn’t reconvene until Dec. 27, and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday that it’s possible the shutdown could go on until after the New Year.

A few things make this shutdown unusual. One is Trump, who in a televised meeting last week with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said he would be “proud” to shut down the government in defense of his border wall. Shutdowns are unpopular, and politicians typically try to shift the blame for running out of funding to the other party. The president later backed off, and as the deadline loomed lawmakers seemed close to cutting a deal that he would support.

But this conflict is also taking place at the end of a congressional session. Democrats officially take over the House on Jan. 3 for the 116th Congress, and some Republicans see this as their last real shot at getting funding approved for the wall. Far-right commentators, such Ann Coulter, as well as members of the Freedom Caucus, called the president out on his campaign pledge as negotiations were taking place. Shortly afterward, Trump declared he would not sign any bill that did not have $5 billion for the wall.

Not much has changed since, except that Democratic leaders released a joint statement saying that if the shutdown spills into January, “the new House Democratic majority will swiftly pass legislation to re-open government.”

How do we stop this from happening again?

While shutdowns can be and have been avoided through compromise and dealmaking, the stopgap measure is unlikely to go away entirely. Shutdowns are often the result of political disputes tacked onto the budget process – a negotiating tactic that lawmakers have used for decades. Usually they can find some sort of compromise to keep the government running. But as Congress grows more divided and it gets harder to compromise on bipartisan legislation, legislators will increasingly use the spending process – a core part of their job – as a vehicle to push tough bills through. That’s only going to become more likely as each party takes control of one chamber. 

“The fact that it’s the only train leaving makes it a very inviting target for all kinds of shenanigans,” says Patrick Griffin, who teaches a graduate course on the legislative process at American University. “There’s nowhere else to have these fights, so it becomes more and more attractive as less and less gets done.” 

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4. No room at inn: Mexican Posada tradition inspires US migrants

International traditions are commonly adapted to new environments via migration and globalization. In California, the ritual of La Posada, which reenacts Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter, has taken on new meaning in a time of increased of anti-migrant rhetoric.

Walt Johnston
The 25th annual La Posada Sin Fronteras took place Dec. 15 at Border Field State Park in San Diego. Musicians for La Posada Sin Fronteras process along the trail from the park entrance to the border fence.

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There’s a long history in Mexico and many Latin American countries of hosting Posadas around Christmastime. The nine-night ritual reenacts the story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay. It’s increasingly popular in some US cities and towns as well, particularly in places with large Latino populations. “Family is at the core of Mexican culture,” says Amy Kitchener, executive director of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts. “In the ritual of La Posada, people get to relive the story of the Holy Family within the context of their own lives.” In Madera, just north of Fresno, Calif., this year’s community celebration was not only a way to remember family and life south of the border, but an opportunity to draw attention to daily realities for migrants – farmworkers, border-crossers, and asylum-seekers. For Porfirio Hernández, an indigenous Triqui leader from Oaxaca, Mexico, now living in Madera, the Posada is deeply personal. “I believe that Joseph and Mary were also migrants,” he says, standing in front of a manger fashioned from palm fronds and dried grass.

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No room at inn: Mexican Posada tradition inspires US migrants

La Posada, a rich Mexican and Latin American Catholic tradition, took place after dusk in the humblest of settings on a recent evening here – a bright half-moon illuminated a plastic tent festooned with lights in a weatherworn mobile-home park.

Warmed by cinnamon-heavy Oaxacan coffee cooked on an open fire, the participants gathered for this much-anticipated nine-day Christmastime ritual were Triquis, an indigenous people from Oaxaca, Mexico, many of them fluent only in their native pre-Columbian language. They’d left their home some 2,500 miles away to become farmworkers in the fields of California’s Central Valley, picking blueberries, figs, table and raisin grapes, and asparagus, a particularly back-breaking crop. 

But the Triquis and other Latinos around the country find spiritual refuge and rejuvenation in the joy of La Posada – the Spanish word for “inn” or “shelter.” Part religion, part culinary extravaganza, the celebration originated in colonial Mexico and has since become a beloved Latino Catholic folk tradition ­re-creating the story of Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging on their journey to Bethlehem. It continues to flourish in cities and towns throughout Mexico – and increasingly in the United States.

At the celebration’s heart is a candlelit musical procession that moves from house to house (or the improvised equivalent). The lyrics unfold call-and-response style: Those singing outdoors represent Joseph requesting lodging for his pregnant wife, Mary, while those indoors sing the part of the suspicious innkeeper who closes the door because he believes the strangers might be thieves. Multiple stanzas later, a poor innkeeper takes them in.

This year, Posada season is particularly resonant, with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests of farmworkers throughout the Central Valley, the tear-gassing of migrants at the border, and thousands of Central Americans living in limbo in Tijuana while they wait to ask for asylum in the US. The Triqui Posada’s lyrics were reframed to tell the story of unauthorized migrants crossing “la linea” – the border – at night, with the threat of quick deportation by border agents, as the curt response.

And the pain of being permanently separated from their loved ones in Mexico is a constant presence. Fiestas honoring hometown saints and rituals like Dia de los Muertos and La Posada help assuage the loneliness by knitting families and community together.

“Family is at the core of Mexican culture,” says Amy Kitchener, executive director of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts. “In the ritual of La Posada, people get to relive the story of the Holy Family within the context of their own lives.”

‘I carry on that tradition’

For Porfirio Hernández, a Triqui leader, the Holy Family’s quest for an open door is deeply personal. “I believe that Joseph and Mary were also migrants,” Mr. Hernández says, standing in front of a manger fashioned from palm fronds and dried grass and reeds gathered along irrigation canals. In Madera, the population is more than 50 percent Latino, and ICE sightings are immediately posted on Facebook and other social media.

The city of about 65,000, just north of Fresno, has become a mecca of sorts not only for roughly 100 extended Triqui families but also for many of the state’s estimated 120,000 indigenous Mexican farmworkers. The Triquis come from one of the poorest regions in Mexico, with many first-generation parents speaking little to no Spanish, let alone English. Their linguistic isolation, along with barebones farmworker wages, and – for an unknown number – a lack of documentation, make them vulnerable to discriminatory practices, including wage theft, sexual abuse on the job, and bullying at school, says Marisa Lundin, director of the indigenous program at California Rural Legal Assistance Inc.

As a child in Mexico, Ana María Díaz, who hosted an elaborate Posada here last weekend, remembers the extra check that her father, a post office worker in Guanajuato, would receive every December. “He spent it to invite everyone to the Posada,” she recalls. “He’d buy tamales, buñuelos [fritters], oranges, peanuts, candy, sugar cane,” she says. “Without even thinking, I carry on that tradition.”

For Mrs. Díaz, who teaches catechism at the local church and has many Triqui students, it means a full-throttle cook-a-thon. Her kitchen is overtaken with an all-women tamale brigade in embroidered Oaxacan aprons who, the morning before this year’s Posada, somehow managed to prepare 275 tamales with three different fillings before 1 p.m.

Teresa Mendoza took the day off from the fields, her shirt splotched with tamale dough. “We’ll be together as a family,” she says. “It’s an important education for our kids.”

‘What is your responsibility?’

No two Posadas are exactly alike: At the Triqui event, Rosa Hernández, an accomplished Oaxacan chef, stood watch over a steaming pot of ponche, a thick hot punch filled with bobbing fruit and a stalk of sugar cane, to be savored later around a bonfire. Another vat brimmed with pozole cooked with yerba santa, a Mexican herb.

Josephine Ramirez, executive vice president at The Music Center in Los Angeles, hosts a neighborhood Posada every year, cherishing it in part for the creativity it inspires in people who don’t consider themselves artists. “What I especially like,” she wrote in a 2013 essay published in ReVista, Harvard University’s review of Latin America, “is the way a Posada can happen in complete independence of any formal institution, and how it physically and metaphorically weaves a story through streets and in homes.”

The story’s teachings are both timely and universal. “It asks: ‘What is your responsibility when you answer the door?” says Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, director of the Labor Center at the University of California – Los Angeles, which researches labor and social movements. “It’s about fear of the other. And about welcoming strangers and being very careful to whom you deny help.” 

Outlet for social justice concerns

In recent decades, Posadas have increasingly been adapted as advocacy tools for social justice causes, from homelessness (Imperial Beach California), to a celebration of recent laws legalizing street vending (the East Side Development Corporation in Los Angeles), to an annual Posada co-sponsored by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network in Washington, D.C., that includes a moment of silence for migrants in front of the US Supreme Court.

The most high-profile of these is the annual binational Posada sin Fronteras – without borders – typically held on both sides of the US-Mexican border fence in San Ysidro and Tijuana, with a recitation of the names of people known to have died while crossing that year. This month, for the first time in its 25-year history, participants on the US side were confined to a new “special events” area away from the fence because of “security concerns,” says Rosemary Johnston, a longtime organizer.

At the Triqui Posada, the social justice lyrics were supplied by Sister Ana Rosa Guzmán, who ministers to migrants for the Diocese of Fresno. After prayers beneath the plastic tent, including one for migrants, the party started; the boiling hot ponche and pozole were wheeled carefully on a dolly across a bumpy dirt field.

Serenading the festivities was Banda San Martin Itunyoso, a lively brass band founded by Triqui youth. The trumpets, trombones, and oompahs from three sets of tubas were a fitting accompaniment to children swatting at a star-shaped piñata with crepe-paper streamers and suspended from a pecan tree.

The authentic “chilena” music is a way to strengthen the culture for a new generation and bring lightness to the lives of their hardworking parents and grandparents, 20-year-old tubist Leo Hernández says. 

“Posadas adapt to the needs of the community,” adds fellow musician Eugene Rodríguez, the executive director of Los Cenzontles, an acclaimed band and a nonprofit music and cultural academy based in San Francisco’s East Bay. “And we’re in a time of a lot of need.” 

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5. The hunt for the iconic Rockefeller tree

Like hanging treasured ornaments and decorating gingerbread, for millions of Americans the annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is a beloved tradition and a comforting symbol of the holidays. 

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Heather Gianfriddo and her mother Jane D’Alessandro are standing in the middle of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, waiting to fulfill a lifelong dream: to see, in person, the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas tree. “It’s such a tradition, and it’s such a symbol of Christmas,” says Ms. Gianfriddo, who made the trip with her mother from Toronto. They had come with tens of thousands of others on a chilly evening this holiday season to witness the 86th lighting of the tree, a 72-foot-tall Norway spruce from upstate New York, decorated with more than 50,000 LED lights and a nine-foot-wide Swarovski star. Each year, the center’s head gardener, Erik Pauze, scouts states from New York to Ohio to find the perfect tree. Mr. Pauze found this year’s tree five years ago during a drive in upstate New York. He kept his eye on it over the years, finally deciding this was the year to select the majestic spruce. As the tree is lit, 8-year-old Daniel, visiting with his mom, Nicole Gerena, jumps up and down in excitement. “It’s a Christmas miracle!” 

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The hunt for the iconic Rockefeller tree

Heather Gianfriddo and her mother Jane D’Alessandro are standing in the middle of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, waiting to fulfill a lifelong dream.

For the past 30 years or so, since Heather was a 4-year-old girl, they’ve been watching the lighting of the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree every year on TV – a long-standing holiday tradition that also marked the evening they trimmed their own tree at home in Toronto, Canada.

“It’s such a tradition, and it’s such a symbol of Christmas,” says Ms. Gianfriddo, who made the trip with her mother both to celebrate her 35th birthday and to check off an item on their bucket list. 

“I started the same tradition with my three kids, and they’re watching at home tonight – maybe they’ll see us! But we’ve always wanted to come see the lighting in person, and so, finally, we’re here.”

They had come with tens of thousands of others on a chilly evening this holiday season to witness the 86th lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas tree, a 72-foot-tall Norway spruce from upstate New York this year, decorated with over 50,000 LED lights and a 9-foot wide Swarovski star.

Perhaps the iconic tree doesn’t carry the same nostalgic cachet that it used to, and like New York’s other holiday traditions – including Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes – younger generations may view these traditions as bursts of a much wider kaleidoscope of American holiday customs.

But Veronica Rubio, a Millennial from Texas who is now a retail worker in Long Island, was excited to witness the lighting and share it with her 7-year-old son, John. “It’s my first year living in New York, so I just wanted to experience a little bit of a tradition we’ve always watched on TV, since I was a girl,” she says, standing with her friend Nicole Gerena, who came with her two young sons.

“It’s a Christmas miracle!” says Ms. Gerena’s 8-year-old son Daniel, jumping up and down in excitement. “Almost this whole town must like Christmas!” he exclaims, looking up at the skyscrapers surrounding Rockefeller Center, the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, and the looming unlit spruce in front of them. “Everyone likes Christmas, and I think this tree is really famous! Mom, how did it get here?”

Finding the perfect tree

In fact, another Rockefeller tradition is to tell the story of how the center’s head gardener, Erik Pauze, has the way-fun job of scouting out Christmas-worthy trees from New York to Ohio to Pennsylvania.

“It’s an all-year process, where I’m constantly looking for trees to put on the list,” Mr. Pauze told AM New York. “I go around and visit prospective trees.”

Pauze, who’s been working at Rockefeller Center for 30 years, took on the job of finding each year’s tree in 2010. That year, he spotted a majestic Norway spruce towering above surrounding trees during a drive to Pennsylvania to see his son play in a high school football game. He contacted the owner, and kept his eye on the tree for seven years, before deciding it was ready in 2017.

Pauze found this year’s tree five years ago during a drive in upstate New York. Glimpsing a grand Norway spruce in Wallkill, about two hours north of New York City, he turned around and hopped out of the car to get a closer look. He kept his eye on it over the years.

“This spring when I got out of the car I said, ‘Yup, this is the year to take the tree,’ ” Pauze told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s looking perfect.’’

The Rockefeller Center does not pay owners for the trees, according to officials. But Pauze has said that no property owner has ever turned him down after he’s inquired.

This year’s tree was donated by Shirley Figueroa and Lissette Gutierrez, a retired married couple from the Bronx, a borough of New York, who purchased the property in Wallkill in 2017. The previous owner told them that Rockefeller Center had been scouting the towering evergreen on the property.

While it was kind of a dream come true, the decision to donate the magnificent tree on their new upstate property was not easy. “Shirley is more of a crier than I am,” Ms. Gutierrez said of her wife of six years, according to The Poughkeepsie Journal. “So she’s had some emotional moments. But we know it’s going to a beautiful cause for everyone to enjoy.”

A.J. French, an airline pilot from Atlanta was enjoying the tree with his 6-year-old son, Zack, who had clamored to return to New York again this year after an exciting trip last year.

“Zack just loves reading about the city now ... so this year, he wanted to see the ‘big Christmas tree,’ too,” Mr. French says, smiling as his son looked up at the tree. 

Since 2007, each Rockefeller Christmas tree has been donated to Habitat for Humanity, which uses it for lumber to build new homes, according to the center.

Linda Robbins and Mindy Brady, both from New Jersey, are here because their husbands were chosen to help hoist the tree in place and get it ready to be decorated and lit for the 2018 holiday season.

“We’d probably come even if our husbands weren’t working,” Ms. Robbins says on the morning the tree arrived on a flatbed trailer, and her husband helped put it in place next to Rockefeller Center's famous ice rink. “But now it’s official,” she says to Ms. Brady. “Merry Christmas!”

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The Monitor's View

When Christmas bells ring

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His wife had died in a tragic fire. The Civil War raged with no end in sight. His son, Charles, just 17, had been severely wounded in battle. Christmas 1863 wasn’t a happy time for poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Yet when he put pen to paper that December what came forth was “Christmas Bells,” a poem that became one of the most deeply inspiring American Christmas carols. In it church bells ring out “peace on earth, good-will to men!” But the writer finds himself doubting that could possibly be true. Much of today’s news isn’t pretty either. But for those seeking deeper meaning there’s much more to Christmas, even for those who don’t think of themselves as Christian. A heart-stirring message lies in the story of the lowly child, whose birth symbolizes innocence, purity, and fond hope for a better future. Some have seen a poignant connection between the infant Jesus and his parents, who fled to Egypt to escape his death at the hands of King Herod, and the plight of young refugee and migrant families around the world today. Peace didn’t break out immediately after Longfellow heard the Christmas bells ringing. But peace did come. Today it may take some careful listening to hear the bells’ message that “Wrong will fail, the Right prevail.” But people of goodwill anywhere can carry it in their hearts.

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When Christmas bells ring

He had a lot to weigh him down. His wife had died in a tragic fire just three years earlier. The Civil War had been raging for more than two years with no end in sight. Against his wishes, his oldest son, Charles, just 17 years of age, had left their Cambridge, Mass., home in March to enlist in the Union army. In November, Charles had been severely wounded in a battle. Now the boy was back living with his father, attempting to recover.

Christmas 1863 wasn’t a happy time for American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. 

Yet when Longfellow put pen to paper that December what came forth was “Christmas Bells,” a poem later set to music that was to become one of the most deeply inspiring American Christmas carols.

In it Longfellow hears church bells that ring out “peace on earth, good-will to men!” But he finds himself doubting that could possibly be true. 

And in despair I bowed my head;

‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;

‘For hate is strong, And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’ 

But as bells began to peal “more loud and deep,” his thought shifted, and his mood lifted: 

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men!

Much of today’s news isn’t pretty either: In the United States, the federal government is partially shut down and the stock market wobbles ominously. Elsewhere a surprise tsunami has created a major disaster in Indonesia; warfare drags on in Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere; and political uncertainties and tensions span the globe.

Long before Christmas became a Christian holy day celebrating the birth of Jesus, the ancient Roman winter solstice of Saturnalia had been celebrated in late December. The burning of bright lights pushed back the darkness of the long nights; decorations of wreaths and other greenery were a reminder that the rebirth of spring would come again. 

In the 21st century displaying bright and colorful lights and decorating evergreen trees are still part of the season, along with other ancient customs such as holding festive parties and giving gifts. 

Gathering with family and friends is still a welcome winter respite. 

But for those seeking deeper meaning there’s much more to Christmas, even for those who don’t think of themselves as Christian. A profound, heart-stirring message lies in the story of the lowly child, whose birth symbolizes innocence, purity, and fond hope for a better future. Some have seen a poignant connection between the circumstances of the infant Jesus and his parents, who had to flee from Bethlehem to Egypt to escape his death at the hands of King Herod, to the plight of young refugee and migrant families around the world today.

Longfellow didn’t find peace breaking out immediately after he heard the Christmas bells ringing. But peace did come, in the spring of 1865. Meanwhile, young Charles Appleton Longfellow, who never rejoined the army, recovered his health and spent the next several decades traveling the world.

Today it may take some careful listening to hear the bells’ message that right will prevail. But people of goodwill anywhere can carry it in their hearts.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

When the babe was born

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In this poem, the author reflects on the deep significance of that special night on which Jesus was born, heralding the redeeming activity of the Christ.

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When the babe was born

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Clear was the night
and the Magi could see
the bright star.

Quiet was the countryside
and the shepherds could hear
the angelic choir.

The atmosphere of pure Truth
is light and delight.

When the babe was born
the ever-coming Christ
   with its redemptive activity
was revealed
individually
universally –

the glory of expressing God’s might
given to humanity.

Originally published in the December 2018 issue of The Christian Science Journal.

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Viewfinder

A tree shines in Manhattan

Diane Bondareff/Tishman Speyer/AP
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree stands lit on Nov. 28 in New York. The 72-foot-tall Norway spruce is covered with more than 50,000 multi-colored LED lights and a new Swarovski star and will remain lit until Jan. 7.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Karen Norris/staff. )
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In Our Next Issue

( December 26th, 2018 )

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

We won’t be publishing tomorrow, Christmas Day. To bookend today’s readings – available in the audio edition of this Daily – the Monitor’s April Austin reflects on her own annual tradition: a re-reading of Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” See you Wednesday. 

Monitor Daily Podcast

December 24, 2018
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