Happy New Year

Wishing You A Merry Christmas

Where did our Christmas customs originate?

by Susan Garland

The Christmas season abounds with holiday customs and traditions, but most of us probably never stop to wonder about their origins. We decorate our homes inside and out with lights, candles, and greenery. We stuff stockings and send Christmas cards to family and friends. But why do we do these things year after year? Of course, we’re celebrating the birth of Jesus, but did you know that many of our modern-day Christmas traditions have their roots in ancient cultures and practices, some of which actually predate Christ? Let’s take a closer look at a few holiday customs.

Christmas Greenery

Christmas festivities often include the hanging of the greens. Christmas trees, mistletoe, holly, and poinsettias grace homes, businesses, and churches.

Many traditions involving greenery originated in Druid, Celt, Norse, and Roman civilizations, which celebrated the winter solstice around December 21. Because the color green represented eternal life, plants that remained green throughout the year played an important role in these celebrations.

The Romans celebrated the solstice with a mid-winter holiday called the Saturnalia, honoring the Roman god Saturn. They lit candles in their homes, spent time with friends and family, decorated their homes with wreaths and garlands, exchanged gifts, and feasted.

As pagan cultures converted to Christianity, they continued many of their traditional winter solstice activities. Because the use of greenery had pagan origins, early church leaders often objected to its use. However, the traditions were so deeply ingrained that the customs continued – but from a Christian frame of reference.

The Christmas Tree

Although the Romans used spruce and fir trees decorated with lighted candles and trinkets during Saturnalia rituals, the Christmas tree as we know it is a German tradition believed by some to have originated in the 8th century with Winfrid, an English missionary later known as St. Boniface.

Others attribute the origin of the Christmas tree to Martin Luther in the 16th century. Luther, inspired by the beauty of the stars on Christmas Eve night, is said to have cut an evergreen and put lighted candles on it to represent the starry sky above the stable the night Christ was born. By the early 1600s, trees decorated with candies, fruits, and paper roses were a part of the holiday decorations in German homes.

In 1841, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s German-born husband, celebrated the birth of their first son with a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle. The English court adopted the custom, and soon it spread throughout England. In Victorian times, people decorated trees with candies and cakes hung with ribbon.

German immigrants brought the Christmas tree tradition to the United States. Settlers most often used the cedar tree as their Christmas tree because of its abundance. They decorated the trees with berries, popcorn, and Christmas gifts for the family.

Mistletoe and Holly

Ancient cultures believed bringing in green branches would ensure the return of vegetation at winter’s end. They used mistletoe and holly in pagan religious rituals and to decorate their homes. Romans exchanged holly wreaths as part of their Saturnalia festivities.

For several centuries after the birth of Christ, the Romans continued to celebrate Saturnalia. Christians began celebrating the birth of Christ in December while the Romans were holding their pagan celebrations. By decorating their homes with holly as the Romans did, Christians avoided detection and persecution.

The early Christian church associated holly with various legends about its role in Christ’s crucifixion. According to one legend, Christ’s crown of thorns was formed from holly. The legend claimed that the holly berries were originally white, but were stained red by Christ’s blood. So for ancient Christians, the sharply pointed holly leaves became symbols of the thorns in Christ’s crown and the red berries drops of His blood.

Mistletoe also played a role in various cultures. The Druids believed the plant was sacred and had healing powers. Mistletoe was an important element in the Norse legend of Balder, the sun god. The Romans considered it a symbol of hope and peace, so in the Roman era enemies reconciled under the mistletoe.

During the Victorian period in England, holiday decorations included an ornate “kissing ring,” which had sprigs of mistletoe fastened to it. The ring was suspended from the ceiling and girls were kissed beneath it.

Evergreen Wreaths

For centuries wreaths have represented the unending cycle of life and have been symbols of victory and honor. Ancient Druids, Celts, and Romans used evergreen branches in their winter solstice celebrations.

As early as 1444, evergreen boughs were used as Christmas decorations in London. In 16th-century Germany, evergreen branches were intertwined in a circular shape to symbolize God’s love, which has no beginning and no end.


Poinsettias are called the “flower of the Holy Night” because their red bracts are said to represent the flaming Star of Bethlehem. Native to Mexico, the plant was cultivated by the Aztecs.

Seventeenth-century Franciscan priests in Mexico used the plant as part of their Nativity celebration because it bloomed during the Advent season. Worshipers placed the flowers around a manger built at the church altar.

The plant is named after Dr. Joel Poinsett, an American ambassador to Mexico from 1825 to 1829, who was so taken with the plant that he sent cuttings home to South Carolina. The plants flourished in Poinsett’s greenhouse.

Credited with developing poinsettias for sale is Albert Ecke, a Swiss farmer who lived near Los Angeles in the 1890s. The Ecke family became the leading producer of poinsettias in the United States.


According to tradition, the original Saint Nicholas left gifts of gold coins for three poor girls who needed the money for their wedding dowries. One bag of gold coins is said to have landed in a stocking hung by the chimney to dry. Thus was born the tradition of receiving small gifts in stockings hung from the mantel.

For almost two centuries, American writers have reflected on this cherished reminder of childhood. Among them was Washington Irving, who referred to “hanging up a stocking on the chimney on St. Nicholas eve” in the Knickerbocker History of New York. In 1883, a tongue-in-cheek editorial in The New York Times promoted use of the Smith Christmas Stocking, an elastic stocking “suited to the circumstances of every family.”

Christmas Cards

The custom of sending Christmas cards probably began with the English “schoolpieces” or “Christmas pieces,” simple pen-and-ink designs on sheets of writing paper. The first formal card was designed by an Englishman, J.C. Horsley, in 1843. It was lithographed on stiff, dark cardboard and depicted in color a party of grownups and children with glasses raised in a toast over the words “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.”

Americans relied on expensive imported Christmas cards until 1874, when Boston lithographer Louis Prang offered a selection of cards featuring reproductions of contemporary paintings with printed sentiments on the reverse side. Within 10 years, Prang’s print shop was producing more than five million cards each year.

About the same time, Thomas Nast, a German immigrant, was an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly. In 1862, fascinated with Clement Clarke Moore’s poem The Visit of St. Nicholas (‘Twas the Night Before Christmas), Nast visually depicted Moore’s Christmas fantasy – including the first portrayal of Santa Claus as the fat, jolly, white-whiskered old man we recognize today. Nast is responsible for the first illustrations of Santa’s North Pole workshop, of Santa in his sleigh, and of Santa opening his mail and making a record of children’s naughty or nice behavior. Nast’s illustrations dramatically influenced the nature of Christmas cards in his day and in ours.

From those early beginnings, the exchange of Christmas cards has grown to astonishing proportions. Americans typically exchange more than 2 billion cards each year.

The Real Reason for the Season

This year, as you select the perfect tree and pull the holiday decorations out of storage, take time to reflect with your family on God’s gift of His Son. Regardless of the origin of our holiday traditions, we can joyously celebrate the truth that Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, has redeemed us and has delivered us from lives filled with darkness and superstition. We have a real reason to celebrate!

Reprinted with permission from lifeway.com

4 Ways We Promise To Show A Little Love

Earlier this year, CareerCast.com came out with their list of the most stressful jobs for 2012 (read here). Not surprisingly, soldier, fireman and police officer were all in the top 5.  What I definitely did not expect to see was event coordinator/planner at #6. After reading the article we responded by posting 5 stress relieving tips for meeting planners (read here), along with how to put together a meeting planner survival kit (read here). Hopefully you found at least one of these posts helpful!

At Ridgecrest we recognize how challenging and stressful it can be for the person planning their group’s meeting or retreat. Therefore we want to do everything we can to make planning an event with us a great, positive experience. To help make this happen, here are 4 ways we promise to show our event planners a little love:

  • Take the time to really listen – We know you’re busy and trying to juggle a boat load of details and a myriad of distractions. Whenever we talk, you will have our undivided attention as we discuss your meeting needs.
  • Be a problem solver- Let us know what problems you had with your last event and we’ll work closely with you to solve them. We want to help make you the hero!
  • We’ll offer suggestions/alternatives – We handle hundreds of meetings every year. This gives us the opportunity to see a lot of great and not so great event ideas. We’ll be sure to share ideas we think could positively impact your event and our feelings won’t be hurt if you choose not to take us up on a suggestion.
  • We’ll always say “thank you” – Your ministry is important to us and we’ll never take your business for granted!

As a meeting planner, how else can we show you a little love?

How Do You Handle It When You Mess Up?

Let’s face it, we all mess up and drop the ball sometimes. No individual or business is perfect. At Ridgecrest, our staff works very hard to provide an environment conducive to life change, but we still make mistakes. Mistakes are going to happen so here’s the real question. How do you handle things when you mess up?

I recently had lunch with my family at one of our favorite places, Sam’s Sports Grill at The Streets of Indian Lake. Their hamburgers are awesome and I always look forward to having one.

Unfortunately, on this day, the burger was not so good. Without going into the whole story, suffice it to say there was a problem. The kitchen tried to fix it and only made it worse. Finally I politely told our server it simply wasn’t a good experience.

From there she turned it over to her manager (good training) and he did a great job handling the situation. In fact, here are 3 things he did right that anyone should do when they mess up.

  1. Own the problem – Being an old food guy, I knew they were having problems in the kitchen and appeared to be short-staffed. When the manager came over to apologize, he shared that it was his fault they were short-staffed. I have no idea if he was the one who actually made out the work schedule for that day, but he took full responsibility for not having enough help in the kitchen.
  2. Take action to fix the problem – After apologizing, he offered to bring me a fresh burger or anything else I wanted. He also let me know he was going to take the burger off my bill. I felt that was fair, so I was satisfied with the outcome at that point.
  3. Help me to forget about the problem – A couple of minutes later he came back by our table to let me know he appreciated our business and the way I had handled my complaint. He then hit me with his WOW factor, a $10 gift card to use on our next visit. Totally unexpected and definitely appreciated. As a result of this simple, low cost gesture, I walked out of the restaurant thinking about when I could come back to use the gift card, not the problem we had just encountered.

Problems are going to happen with your conference or event. The mistakes may or may not be your fault, but when they happen, do you ignore them or make excuses and pass the buck? Or, do you own it, fix it and overcome it? The choice is yours and people are watching to see what you do.

What do you do when you mess up?

Don't Get Stuck In A Classroom!

One of the numerous advantages Christian conference centers have over hotels is the natural setting that surrounds them. Not only does the natural setting provide your group the opportunity to get away from the distractions of the world, but it also provides your group with the opportunity to get out of the traditional meeting room setting.

Recently I read a blog post entitled “What I Learned About Leadership From A Low Ropes Course”. It was written by Michael Hyatt and in the post Hyatt talks about how beneficial he found going through an adventure learning experience to be. Here’s a quote: “I love reading books on leadership and attending seminars. But as helpful as these are, they are not the same as doing something together with a team. There are some things in life that are best learned by doing.” (Read full post)

I loved reading this post! See, I’m a big believer in adventure or experiential learning. As Hyatt points out, it’s one thing to read about a subject or sit in a classroom listening to a lecture, but it’s another thing all together to actually get out and learn by doing.

I think this is especially true in dealing with leadership and team-building. Getting a group out into an adventure setting helps to break down barriers and level playing fields. If facilitated well, this type of learning can have a huge positive influence on growing leaders and building teams.

When was the last time you incorporated adventure learning into one of your retreats? How did it work for your group? If you haven’t done this yet, why not? As you think about these questions, I’ll leave you with one last quote from Hyatt’s post…“Find a retreat center with a low (or even high) ropes course. It is well-worth the investment.”

Interested in learning more about adventure learning? If so, here’s a link to the Ridgecrest website where you can get more information (click here). Also, feel free to call 828-669-4844 and speak to one of adventure learning professionals.

8 Quick Tips For Creating A Successful Event

Retreats and meetings matter.  Whether you are booking a staff retreat or your organization’s annual conference, remember these 8 quick tips to help you create a successful event:

  1. Pick a destination where your attendees WANT to go. While you would hope they want to attend because you’ve planned a great agenda, it doesn’t hurt to hold the meeting in a location where people want to go.
  2. Create a sense of anticipation. Help them see this is a retreat or conference they simply don’t want to miss.
  3. Enhance your evening gathering by creating a theme to provide a unique experience. Try to give them something they will remember when they get home.
  4. Build a little free time in the schedule. Hopefully you’ve chosen an interesting location so be sure to give them some time to enjoy the local area. It amazes me how some groups that come to Ridgecrest don’t allow time for their folks to enjoy all the areas of Asheville and Black Mountain have to offer.
  5. Use technology to your advantage. Look for ways to provide information and allow registration via technology. Many of your attendees are packing smart phones and want to use them. Let ’em!
  6. Don’t plan every meal. Give your attendees some private time and opportunity to check out the local dining scene. It will save you money too!
  7. Give attendees easy to read information. Be sure to tell them the who, what, where, when and how.
  8. Offer a variety of activities to better meet the varied interests of your attendees. Not everyone enjoys a screaming run down the zip line!

What about you? What are some tips that have worked for you? Please feel free to share them with our readers. Thanks!

7 Steps for Building Your Ministry

I just read an article about one of the workshops offered during LifeWay Worship Week at Ridgecrest Conference Center and although the speaker is referencing Worship Ministry I thought the principles could be applied to all ministry.   I hope you find this helpful to you and your ministry.

A lack of cohesiveness and focus is one of the greatest challenges for worship leaders. But following seven steps can help get the ministry on track, according to Lavon Gray, minister of music and worship at First Baptist Church, Jackson, Miss.

1. Have a clear and biblical understanding of your calling. Your calling and how you view it will impact everything about your ministry.

“There’s nothing we can do that qualifies us to be ministers of the gospel,” Gray said. “You have to be called to do this ministry or go do something else.”

2. Develop a lifestyle of worship. Authenticity comes from the worship that spills over from your own personal worship.

“You’ll never be satisfied in your ministry if you don’t ground yourself in the Word,” Gray said. “Devotional readings are all fine, but you need that time of Bible study.”

Gray offered a tip from his own life: He chooses the songs and hymns for the church service well in advance and then each day of the week prior to Sunday, he prays the lyrics of the songs. By Sunday, he has saturated his spirit with the words the people will be singing.

3. Focus on relationships. The key to a successful ministry is developing great relationships.

“If you are struggling with people not liking you, get to know them,” he said. “Visit them in their homes.

“We aren’t in the music business; we’re in the people business,” he said, adding that it’s important to laugh and have fun.

4. Have the courage to empower your team. Be confident enough in your own abilities to empower others to do their own ministries.

“The people’s capacity to achieve is determined by the leader’s ability to empower,” he said.
“Worship ministers are … how do I say this … getting younger,” he said with a laugh. “I have to ask myself how I can stay relevant. The key, I believe, is to be faithful to what God has called me to do. You have to realize you can’t have every skill set that is needed to do the job. Bring in people around you that God has gifted.”

5. Know how to take advantage of momentum. Momentum can be a leader’s best friend. Leaders create momentum and followers catch it.

“It’s important to follow the natural ebb and flow of your ministry,” Gray said. He said that at his church, the annual Christmas pageant is huge. They work on it for more than six months. Knowing this, he chooses to alternate having another large production between Easter and the Fourth of July so this people aren’t worn out. In addition, the entire choir takes off the whole month of July. This gives people a needed break and helps them be ready to come back in August refreshed and ready to go again.

He makes it a point to write personal, handwritten notes and phone calls to his choir members and musicians, thanking them for their commitment, saying he looks forward to seeing them again, or whatever else is timely and appropriate.

6. Have a clearly defined vision for your ministry. No matter how much you learn from the past, it will never tell you all you need to know about the present. See the vision God has given you and go toward it.

Gray quoted Leroy Elms who said, “A leader is one who sees more than others see, who see farther than others see, and who sees before others see.”

He listed some of the major barriers to successful planning toward a vision include fear of change, ignorance, uncertainty about the future and lack of imagination.

7. Lead your ministry to become an Acts 1:8 ministry. This Scripture says: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (HCSB).

“Avoid leading your ministry to be exclusively internally focused,” he said. “Do local service projects as a choir. Go on mission trips together. Find out what God is doing and then, all together, join Him in His work.”

Help! How Do I Do This?

At Ridgecrest and Glorieta we are privileged to host hundreds of groups each year. While most of the larger events are planned by experienced meeting planners, many of the smaller events are not. Typically they are planned by a lay person who volunteers. Or, in some cases, makes the mistake of leaving the room at the wrong time! Has that ever happened to you?

Either way, the person charged with planning the event doesn’t have much experience and that can be pretty intimidating. Here at MinistryServingMinistry, our desire is to try and help relieve a little of that stress.

With that in mind, I asked two of our event coordinators at Ridgecrest (Lindsay and Stephanie) to share with us five tips for the first time meeting planner. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Do a site visit – If at all possible, go visit the place where you will be holding your event or retreat. There is simply no substitute for actually walking the ground where you’ll be meeting. This one thing will go a long way in eliminating much of the stress for a first time planner.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected – A pretty good rule of thumb for just about any event is that not everything will go exactly as planned. What happens if it rains/snows? What if something happens to one of your speakers? Just a couple of the questions you need to think about during your planning.
  • Know your attendees and their expectations – Remember, you’re not planning this event/retreat for you. It’s for those you want to attend. Make sure you have a good idea of what they need and expect to come away with.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to plan the event/retreat – Too often first time planners will underestimate the time it takes to plan a successful event/retreat. We suggest at least 6-12 months.
  • Utilize the property’s event coordinator – They are the professionals. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help!

Would love to get some additional help from our readers. What tips would you give a first time retreat planner?

A Little Insight into Site Selection

At Ridgecrest Conference Center we host hundreds of events each year. In doing so, we get the pleasure of working with many excellent Christian meeting and retreat planners. Over the next several months, we will be posting a series of Q and A sessions where we ask some of these planners to share a little of their meeting expertise with us.

Cathy Payne is the International Director for the Church of God of Prophecy and we asked her to give us her top 3 list for each of 3 questions related to selecting a destination and site for her meetings. Here they are:

MSM – What are the top 3 reasons you select a particular destination?

  1. Location
  2. Price
  3. Service

MSM – What are the top 3 reasons you select a specific hotel/conference center at that destination?

  1. Self contained/all under 1 roof
  2. Close to shopping
  3. Availability of fellowship areas

MSM – What are the 3 most important details to you when negotiating a contract with the event venue?

  1. Free parking
  2. Free meeting space
  3. Free sleeping room upgrades for staff

What about you? How do your top 3 differ from Cathy’s? Please feel free to share by commenting below.

Taxing Tourists To Promote Tourism?

Promote tourism, pay for new stadiums, make up for budget shortfalls… All of these are reasons more and more state and local governments are raising taxes on those who come to visit.

Taxing the tourist is not a new concept. Whether it be hotel taxes, rental car surcharges, or an additional 1% restaurant tax, governments have longed used these taxes as a way to pay for a multitude of projects. As long as they could somehow connect the project to bringing in more visitors, they could usually get the taxes approved. After all, impact was primarily on visitors, not their constituents.

What has changed now is governments are starting to look at tourism taxes to help make up for general budget shortfalls. This should be of significant concern to meeting planners as these new, or increased taxes, will only drive up the cost of meetings. Below are a couple of articles that are worth reading on the subject of tourism taxes.

Cities That Tax Tourists the Most/Least

Cities Raise Travel Taxes to Bridge Budget Shortfalls

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one way you can reduce or eliminate the impact of these taxes on your church or Christian group…hold your meeting, conference or retreat at a Christian conference center. Depending on the size of your event, this could be a significant savings to both your church/organization, as well as to the individual attendees.