Christmas with Our Founder

bobwhite_ornaments_250rAs the Christian world prepares to celebrate Christmas, I thought I’d devote this week’s article to a few reflections on our founder, Sir Robert Baden-Powell, and his wife on the subject of Christmas.

Baden-Powell was an accomplished artist who produced his own special-occasion cards. This Christmas card is a watercolor he made of the Franz Jozef glacier during his visit to New Zealand in 1935. Image courtesy of the The Scout Association of New Zealand’s National Scout Museum. [From WOSM]


In B-P’s writings The Chief Scout Yarns, a weekly Pow-Wow, his wife Lady Olave Baden-Powell wrote a Christmas greeting to the Scouts of England in 1918 as the World War was ending in Europe:

Dear Scouts –

Here we are round at Christmas time again, but this year it is a very different thing to what it has been in the last four years.

Then, though we were trying to be merry and bright, we all of us knew that our plucky fellows were suffering and dying away out there all the time, whilst we mothers and sisters were having troubles and sorrows here at home.

So our joy these last Yuletides was rather a sorry affair, and it isn’t always easy to keep the eighth Scout Law.

But this year we can fairly let ourselves go with delight, and you Scouts can do this better than most people because you know that you have all done your best and helped to finish the war in your own way.

I want to send a special message of greeting and thanks to the many Scouts I have seen at different times this year when I have been visiting Girl Guides at various places in the country.

I have been awfully struck and pleased over the friendly way in which Scouts have turned out to help the Guides at some of their parades and rallies, and I hope that next year will bring lots more opportunities for bringing us together still more.

My good wished to you all,

December 14, 1918

Baden-Powell set the tone for Scouting’s twelfth point when he established:

No man is much good unless he believes in God and obeys His laws. So every Scout should have religion.

Describing Scouting as “applied Christianity,” he also wrote:

….We aim for the practice of Christianity in their everyday life and dealings, and not mearly the profession of theology on Sundays…. The co-operation of tiny sea insects has brought about the formation of coral islands. No enterprise is too big where there is goodwill and co-operation carrying it out. Every day we are turning away boys anxious to join the Movement, because we have no men or women to take them in hand. There is a vast reserve of loyal patriotism and Christian spirit lying dormant in our nation today, mainly because it sees no direct opportunity for expressing itself. Here in this joyous brotherhood there is a vast opportunity open to all in a happy work that shows the results under your hands and a work that is worth while because it gives every man his chance for service for his fellow man and for God. [Scouting for Boys]

Baden-Powell was a Christian, as were many of the earliest Scouts. He seems to have created the Duty to God concept with Christianity in mind. However, as the movement spread around the world the concept evolved into an overall belief in a higher power, as we define it today. The tenets of a respect for nature and service to fellow man are present in many other religions; they are not exclusive to Christianity, so B-P’s observation of Scouting as “applied Christianity” could just as easily be “applied Judasim” or “applied Hinduism” were he of another faith. Every Scout should have religion, he wrote, but we now leave the choice of religion up to the individual.

Finally, this bit of trivia: How do you correctly pronounce Baden-Powell? We typically say BAY-din POW-ell when we refer to the first Chief Scout of the World. Others say pole instead of POW-ell. But Our Founder set us straight with a little poem:

Man, Nation, Maiden
Please call it Baden.
Further, for Powell
Rhyme it with Noel

Or at least he thought so! Since you can pronounce that last word no’ll (as in a knoll, small hill) or you can say no-ELL as the Christmas carol The First Noel, further disambiguation is needed. The majority opinion is with the former example, making pole the closest to the true pronunciation. Or you can say POW-ell. I’m sure B-P wouldn’t mind.

A Merry Christmas and festive holiday season from Bobwhite Blather to you, your family and your Scouts.

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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