Christmas is for children. How often have we heard that?
We learn, of course, that isn’t the case — that it’s only as we gain maturity and understanding that we come to appreciate Christmas’ significance, its singular importance for billions of the earth’s peoples for more than two millennia.
Still, it is in the innocence and wonder of children enthralled by the old stories, the lights, music, and symbols of Christmas, that we ourselves find a measure of joy in a world in which the long-ago promise of peace on Earth, goodwill to men, seems ever more elusive.
In an era when Christmas begins pre-Halloween (indeed, Christmas catalogs start appearing in the mailbox in September), we’re assailed on every hand by the commercialistic aspects of the season — we’re told that some 40 percent of the nation’s retail economy depends on us buying, buying, buying — and cynicism and jadedness too often creep in.
Not so, the awe and anticipation that brighten the faces of children and fill their dreams. We treasure these moments all the more, knowing childhood wonder will too quickly be relegated to the wistful province of memory.
Childhood is fleeting, the magic fades, and it’s often not until we have children of our own that we again experience the innocence and wonder of the season (and if we’re lucky, once more with grandchildren).
Among the ongoing pleasures of Christmas is the music — the old carols, “Silent Night,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”; the magnificent cantatas — Handel’s “Messiah” and its rousing Hallelujah Chorus, Bach’s “Magnificat”; even the silly ditties — “Rudolph, the Red-Nose Reindeer,” “I Saw Mommy Kissin’ Santa Claus.”
All, one way or another, have power to evoke memories of Christmases past, of people — many, alas, gone from our lives — places, moments treasured.
One is a simple little song we sang as children: “Away in a manger, no crib for His bed, the Little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head/The stars in the sky looked down where He lay, the Little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”
Perhaps because as children we could easily picture the scene it portrayed, that first verse became indelibly lodged in memory, easily recalled year after year. And the second. But for some reason, not the third.
Following the unimaginably horrible events a year ago this month at Newtown, Conn., the little song was part of a community service I attended. And as the un-remembered third verse was sung, a visible wave of emotion went through the audience at the concluding lines: “Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, and take us to heaven to live with Thee there.”
However far removed we may be from our own childhoods, may we this Christmas, if only for a moment, be children again.