Charlie Funk
Charlie Funk

I'm 99% sure that you're reading this on a day other than when it came out. Since the publication date is Dec. 24, it's a safe guess that most agencies are closed today, and home-based agents are doing a lot of things, but selling travel isn't one of them.

That's because we are in full-blown winter holiday season. Whether it's Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or Yule, there are a lot of celebrations around winter solstice. My friends know I ponder curious things, such as if you are moving at the speed of light and the person next to you is moving at the speed of light, can you see them? Can people behind you see you?

But I sometimes wonder why there are so many celebrations at, near or on the winter solstice. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, pre-Columbian civilizations in Mexico and Peru and others worshiped the sun. Almost certainly, these practices stem from prehistoric times, perhaps even when humans lived in caves. The sun was really important, and keeping it happy was probably crucial.

I can see the cave council convening and Chairman Zarg telling the gathered members, "Y'all (this was a Southern cave council), I'm getting a little worried about this. Big light in the sky comes on later and goes out earlier every day. We need to take action if we're going to stay in office."

So they appoint Broddul to study the matter (he holds a BS degree from the local community college) and report to the council on his findings. He records data for several months and on Dec. 27 or so bursts into the meeting of the assembled council members and proclaims, "It's coming back!"

So Zarg declares a period of jollification and festivities.

And that's how we came to have so many celebrations around the winter solstice.

My formative years were spent in Greenville, S.C. My interactions were, in the main, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. That meant I knew little (actually nothing) about others and what was meaningful to them. All my friends celebrated Christmas. Businesses, newspapers, radio and television stations, even public schools celebrated Christmas.

It's curious to me that I have so few specific memories of individual Christmases as I grew up. When I was about 4, Santa brought me a spring-launched rocket that I really liked. I managed to shoot it into my grandparents' fireplace.

The next memory comes when I was 16 and in love for the first time. Even so, I mainly remember that Christmas because it was Dec. 25th and I was out roaming with my buddy Jerry Brubaker in 75-degree weather, wearing a T-shirt.

Over the following years, Christmas was a blur.

And then I met Sherrie. Well, actually, I met her dad, Jack. I have written about Jack previously ("Bon voyage to a special traveler," March 16, 2015).
I'll save you some web search time:

I met Jack, my wife Sherrie's father, shortly after Sherrie and I began seeing each other. She called one Saturday morning and asked me to come over and see why her car wouldn't start. Tossing a tool box in the trunk, I rode off to save the day.

Sherrie had called Jack to come over, as well, and soon we were diagnosing all sorts of possibilities. At some point, as I stared down into the carburetor, I asked Jack to pump the accelerator pedal, and nothing happened. The car was out of gas.

That day we enjoyed the first of what would be thousands of good laughs to come over the years.

Some weeks later, I was invited over for Sunday dinner to meet Sherrie's mom, Billie, as well as Sherrie's two brothers and their wives. This was getting serious. After exchanging introductory pleasantries all around, Jack looked at me sternly and asked, "What part do you sing?"

The reason I'm telling you all this is to underscore that family, music and Christianity were all important to Jack.

There were brothers and sisters on both sides of Jack's family, and they all had children and grandchildren, so when Jack's side got together for Thanksgiving or Christmas, there were at least 40 people gathered to celebrate. When we got together with Sherrie's mom's family ("Billie's final odyssey," Nov. 2, 2009), it was 40 more people, with the only constant among those gatherings being Sherrie's family.

My biggest fear was that they were all going to line up, and I would have to walk down the line and recite their names. The point is that these were all family functions associated with special occasions.

And once those parties were over, Jack and Billie's family (daughter, two sons, assorted grandchildren -- and growing over the years) all gathered at their home late on Christmas Eve for yet another round of opening Christmas presents. With one difference: Two of those present were asked to read the story of the birth of Jesus in Matthew and Luke.

It was a big deal, and it stands out in my mind. We did it every Christmas until Jack died, and then Sherrie and I picked up the tradition, and now we do it every year when we have our family together.

So what does this have to do with anything?

Just as I now have traditions I remember when those times of the year come around, so do others. Traditions sometimes become the glue that keeps everything stuck together.

I have been blessed to help others plan travel for special occasions at all times of the year. I have been blessed to travel to dozens of countries.
In the process, I learned about customs and traditions that others hold dear -- and I learned about traveling to get away from customs and traditions.

It seems harder to be biased or prejudiced against something you have come to understand.

I came to know that seasonal celebrations around the end of the year aren't all the same to everyone.

I've had clients who wanted to be away from home on Christmas because they did not celebrate the holiday. Some did not celebrate any holiday, even their own birthday.

Others had memories of holiday traditions past that were no longer celebrated because so many participants were deceased that it was too painful, and a change of scenery was the best solution.

Then there were those who created an entirely new tradition and took their family on a vacation or cruise for the holiday they were observing to celebrate with loved ones and perhaps 5,000 of their newest best friends.

I had a brief exposure to a European tradition, the Christmas market, on a river cruise in 2017 that ended in Budapest. It was so fantastic that Sherrie and I are taking a group on a river cruise in November that specifically focuses on Christmas markets. It's a new tradition for us, and I wish we had discovered it sooner.

Equally interesting in all this has to be the opportunity on more than a few occasions to address questions from clients who found it strange, almost foreign, that someone would want to be away from home during the holiday period. I am confident that taking the time to explain how cultural diversity led to celebration differences was enlightening.

It's like this: Each of us has an opportunity to open doors to others to learn about other cultures and traditions. As a result of our own travels, we learn how to address bias and prejudice and to be a part of better understanding and harmony -- and we get paid to do it!

Oh, and one more personal tradition. Several local radio stations play Christmas music beginning the day after Thanksgiving. I always listen to one particular station, and I consider it to not officially be Christmas season until I hear Burl Ives sing "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas."

It's a little over a mile from home to the office so, depending on traffic, I don't get to hear a lot of songs during the drive. The season finally launched on Dec. 5, so I'm good to go now.

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