My daughter goes to school in Pacifica. Last week, her class went to Sutter’s Fort for their long-awaited field trip. The class as well as the parent chaperones each become a Sutter’s Fort character. They have costumes, and they must learn all they can about their character. My daughter was Elizabeth Bays Wimmer. Little did I know Mrs. Wimmer was instrumental in the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Fort.
Elizabeth, I learned from many rehearsals, was born in Virginia in 1832. When she was 16, her family moved to Georgia where they were miners. She married her first husband there, and she and her little family moved to Missouri. There her husband died. On her way to California, she married Peter Wimmer and they arrived in Sutter’s Fort in 1845 when she was 24.
The story goes that James Marshall found what looked like a gold nugget in the creek near Sutter’s Fort sawmill. He showed it around, but everyone doubted that it was real gold. But, alas, Elizabeth, with her mining experience, offered to test the nugget in her pot of lye soap. If the nugget was just fool’s gold, it would have melted in the soap-making process. Now I quote from Eloisa’s paper: “’This is gold’, thought Elizabeth. ‘I will throw it into my lye kettle and if it is indeed gold, it will be gold when it comes out. I finished off my soap that day and set it off to cool. The soap cooled until the next morning. At the breakfast table, one of the work hands raised up his head from eating and said, “I heard something about gold being discovered, what about it?” I told him it was in my soap kettle. A plank was brought to me to lay my soap onto. And I cut the soap in chunks, but the nugget was not found. At the bottom of the pot was a double handful of potash, the ashy substance that is a by-product of soap-making, which I lifted with my two hands and there was my gold as bright as can be.’” Elizabeth, who remains rather anonymous in the Gold Rush history of California, was indeed instrumental at the inception of the gold rush at Sutter’s Fort.
So it is with Christmas too. Is all this merriment and celebrating fool’s gold or is there a nugget of real gold, true gold, under the ribbons, the wreaths, the wrapping paper and even the religious rituals? Sometimes we have to test the tradition and, like Elizabeth Wimmer, find out if what we are celebrating is the real deal. We must cut through the long blocks of traditions like Santa Claus, the Christmas tree and even gift giving, good and wholesome as they are, and check if there is veracity in this Christmas tradition we celebrate. We may even have to dig into some potash of varying accounts of history; but in the end, there will be, the nugget, the true gold. That, unwrapped of Christmas tradition and various cultural contributions over the centuries, there was born a child. The Child. A Baby….a little Baby Boy wrapped…not in glittering wrapper like a treasured present, but in swaddling cloths…a feeding trough, his bassinet; no stuffed animals surrounding him, but live animals grousing nearby….three kings, at some point, manage to pay homage not in Herod’s palace, but in a humble barn.
This is the nugget; this is the Christmas Gold in its purest form. When the magic of Christmas fades, as it inevitably does as we get older, we can always look to this truth that “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” That truth never fades, that truth always stands the test of time. Though the Church has misrepresented His mandate over the centuries and thereby tarnished His name, even then we must look to the true gold, to His life, His words and when we do, we realize that we’ve discovered gold, Christmas gold. He is the Mother Lode and from the Christmas Gold of His Birth, we can mine inestimable riches in the Gospels, the New Testament and the various writings of those spiritual miners over the centuries. This Gold Rush has been going on since the first Christmas. And from this Mine, He bids us to: “…store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Merry Christmas!