January is the month favored for new resolutions. I choose December for remembrance. December remembers.
December and Christmas memories intertwine. My childhood creche had a chimney. I went through a phase of jealousy. If one of my brothers got to place the baby in his manger, I’d drop Jesus down the chute.
Thank goodness for maturity and grace. At age 8 I was Mary in a church Christmas play. It gave me a memorable foretaste of the intimacy of mothering. So it felt strange and intrusive to have an audience of eyes on me. No wonder Mary “hid things in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
Memorable, the live Christmas trees and colorful string lights of childhood. At night my parents turned off all lights, except for the lit tree. O the wonder!
Memories evoke a sense of wonder. They prompt me to explore my present world. For me, faith and Christmas are a light-drenched adventure, not a blind walk in the dark.
Writing historical fiction, I think about the Christmas traditions of the 1800s. Laura Ingalls Wilder In her stocking received simple gifts befitting the life and means of the Kansas prairie: a peppermint candy, a heart shaped cake, a new tin cup and a new penny. Some simple childhood pleasures don’t change: Like Laura and her sister, my sons got to lick the cake batter!
Speaking of 19th century traditions, I recall that in 6th grade the teacher picked me to recite the famous 1897 editorial “Is there a Santa Claus?” for the holiday assembly. In rehearsal, my “Yes Virginia” presentation drew cheers and applause. But during the assembly, I got no reaction! (The mic was turned off, nobody heard me.)
When Dan asked me, Is there a Santa Claus? it was summertime, he was 6 or so, and his older brother started chuckling. We had a good conversation about truth, fiction and the value of each. In the process, we sorted out other important questions like, What about the Easter bunny? And what about Jesus? The chat was something similar to that 1897 editorial by Frances Pharacellius Church, a former Civil War correspondent and editor of the NY Sun. His response is likely the most well-known and reprinted editorial ever. I pulled it up on nysun.com and include it here (photos from Wikipedia):
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.
We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
Only in York, PA: I love that on Christmas Eve you can hear the mournful yet weirdly sweet woo-woo of steam whistle Christmas carols. I love how a candlelight service captures the mystery & wonder of the holy birth, the “glorious impossible” as Madeleine L’Engle put it. I love the triumph captured by Handel’s music and Watts’ lyrics as we sing,
Joy to the world, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven & nature sing
I love that Hanukkah and Christmas are on the same day this year. (Hmm, where’s my dreidel??) So let’ light the candles, pray for peace & enjoy family. Happy Hanukkah! Merry Christmas! A blessed December to one and all!