An excerpt from Sarvice a novel I hope to publish some day:

The God of hitchhikers let Junior’s spirit soar in the vast Saskatchewan prairie for as long as he could stand it and then caused a young seminarian, heading home from being a summer circuit-rider preacher, who already had two hitchhikers, to welcome more company.
They spent all day getting to Winnipeg. They talked the talk of young vagabonds of sports, politics, sex, philosophy and they talked of religion. Junior mentioned that it would be good to spend this Christmas at home, the others nodded agreement.
Joe, from Quebec started. “Christmas, what a farce. They can’t possibly know when Jesus was born or when he was murdered, there is no historical record and it isn’t in the Bible, either.”
“Jesus was murdered? I never thought of it as murder or that he was killed. In my mind he had always been crucified. But, yeah, it was murder.” Junior agreed.
Joe again: “How about torture and assassination?”
“Man, that too.” Junior liked it.
Joe was on a roll. “Think about what happens around Christmas. The days quit getting shorter and start getting longer. The so-called pagans celebrated the hope of more sunshine and since the Christians were just recently pagans they continued to celebrate the winter solstice, the winter sun stop, and tucked the little baby Jesus right in there.”
“But why is Christmas on the twenty fifth, isn’t the shortest day of the year a couple of days before that?” Junior asked the swarthy pagan.
“Well I figure the Christian bosses offered the twenty fifth as a counter celebration kind of like the Soviet Union substituted a New Year celebration for Christmas. Or maybe the Pagans waited a few days after the shortest day of the year to make sure it was really happening. To make sure there was still hope. Maybe the twenty-fifth was their day too. They probably partied for a week or two and the exact day didn’t matter too much. Can you imeagine? Early in human history they had no way of knowing for sure that the days weren’t just going to keep on getting shorter and shorter until all they had was darkness.”
The first day must have been a wonder
Nobody knew what came next or how long it was to last.
Everybody cried at Sunset the first time
And waited up all night to see if day was coming back
Ivan Norton Hunter

“Man!” Was Junior’s most consistent remark, with his mouth hanging open, his eyes wide and full of wonder like the first time he saw the northern lights or a jet fighter catapult off Storm Thurmond.
“When they decided that they were going to be saved from the shortening days, then my friend, they threw one of the biggest parties you ever saw. They had big feasts, invited all their friends, ate pigs and like pigs, got drunker than hoot owls, beat drums like crazy, danced to a frenzy and fucked anything that moved.”
Junior glanced at the seminarian who peered straight ahead, no reaction. There was a slight arc of a grin on his face.
Joe continued, “Lots of babies were born in late September and early October in those days. Paternity might have been a mystery.”
“The Christians stole it. It fit right in. Jesus was a message of hope, the days getting longer was a message of hope. Jesus was saving people from Hell, from burning alive forever in a lake of fire. The sun was saving people from eternal darkness and freezing their asses off. And buddy don’t you think that maybe Santa Claus was a preparation for Jesus? You get little kids to believe in someone they never see who rewards them if they are good and they slide right on into the Jesus myth as adults.”
The conversation cycle reached magic moments when everyone was silent for a spell. And it was a spell. Talking stopped. No one was uncomfortable with it. It just happened with no planning. It felt good and right for the moment. It was like light waves canceling one another and the result being darkness or sound waves out of phase opposing other sound waves, leaving everything silent. Any attempt at conversation rushed into the rarefaction and was dampened to less than a whisper. It was like a quiet time in the woods sitting on the Indian Rock looking over at beautiful Sarvice Mountain and the misty out of focus Christmas Tree Ridge.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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