EDITOR’S NOTE: In no way is this article intended to advocate a particular political perspective. It is an historical view of events and commentary on an editorial from 1919.
If you read a fair amount of history, then you begin to see events and circumstances of history tend to be cyclical in nature over time. Not that the exact same event, such as Napoleon at Waterloo, takes place again; rather, events similar to others repeat over time. One hundred years ago, a Miami County news editorialist commented on this notion.
John Sylvester, Jr., who penned editorials for the Miami Union newspaper back in the early 20th century, contrasted Christmas with circumstances of other times. In his Christmas column for 1919, he stated the birth of Jesus Christ was the greatest event in the history of the world, but adds, it was unique by divine ordinance.
He acknowledges that millions celebrate Christmas for that very reason in 1919, but also recognizes there are also millions who do not accept the meaning of the celebration. With this, Mr. Sylvester launched forth with a challenge for readers to read the prophet Isaiah concerning the prophecy of Christ’s coming, which was written 700, plus, years before Jesus’ birth. He called on readers to notice that it was a very dark time; questions about the future of Israel and the Jewish people abounded. The time was not so dissimilar to the time when Jesus was born, or, as Sylvester suggests, “to ours.”
He goes on to state that if the reader gives due allowance for some advancements like science and education, then the world of Isaiah’s day, or the time of Jesus’ birth were not to different from one another, or ours. “The world in uproar, crimes of all kinds viewed, heard of, read aloud, and nothing but a great calamity seems to stir the people out of their self-centeredness.” Crimes, tragedies and even selfishness may be more sophisticated now than 100 years ago, but, basically, they are the same at the heart of the matter. He notes the positive perspective someone can have when they hold dear the reason for the Christmas celebration. It gives hope in a dark or sad time. There is hope to be found in the Christmas narrative and message. But, he also draws another picture for the reader.
Mr. Sylvester speaks of the “Attorney General’s report of 4,000 aliens who would, if dared, have a revolution in this country.” Many are to be deported because of their violent activities. At this time, following the Russian Revolution and World War I, there was an influx of many people from the Eastern European nations, and with them came those who carried with them the idea of anarchy or communism. It was a time of uncertainty, stress and upheaval.
The editorial also stated, “Legislators, both state and national have gone home for Christmas. They might just as well stay there for all the good they are accomplishing.” Does any of this sound familiar?
Names, specific events, etc., change over time, but many of the sentiments and broader events remain the same.
One of Mr. Sylvester’s points is that whether the time is 730 B.C. (or B.C.E., if you prefer), 3 B.C. , 1919, or, for us, 2019, it’s the human condition that hasn’t changed and which almost compels us to “re-live” similar circumstances through history.
The unique event of Jesus’ birth and the blessed message of hope is something to celebrate and remember in a day when life can be dismal or dark.
Patrick D. Kennedy is archivist at the Troy-Miami County Public Library’s Local History Library, 100 W. Main St., Troy. He may be contacted by calling (937) 335-4082 or sending an email to email@example.com.