It is time to recognize Christmas in the United States. We are divided between parties, we have some major problems to work out, but Christmas brings out the best in us and I would like to start there.
I have always loved the Christmas season, even though it takes place in a part of the globe, my part, that is largely dark early in the evening every winter. I have a recognized and prescribed problem with winter nights. I am supposed to be sitting in front of a group of flourescent lights designed to imitate the sun. I have never gotten them to work right, so I stay in the best lit area of the house, my library, and work my way through winter’s darkness. Christmas is the festival of lights and it is enhanced by gift-giving. I would much rather give than receive. That is not the way I was even a decade ago, but it is how I am now.
I have been reading a Dicken’s book called “Stories for Christmas.” I am currently reading a short novel on the “Holly Tree.” In it, a depressed, and Dicken’s was very good at being depressed in his writing, night before Christmas day. Dicken’s character is waiting at a tavern with overnight stays, a motel of sorts. He notices that the holly tree is outside the hostel, and he wants to write about it, so he does. Many of his observations are long paragraphs that lament his efforts to get to another town, and his forced, because of the weather, stay at the inn. He is going to live his Christmas amongst strangers and he is not pleased about it.
“The Holly Tree was fast reviving within me a sense of loneliness,” he laments. “I began to feel conscious that my subject would never carry on until I was dug out. I might be a week here, weeks!” “Whoever slept in this room…always turned upon the subject of suicide; to which, whatever kind of man he might be, he was certain to make some reference if he conversed with anyone.” (Page 141)
The occupant, he says, would come from that room sure of a dream that did not stick in his mind until morning. He remembers gentle times fishing in the summer at a wonderful inn. This would not be one of those times. The holly tree would keep him sane as he spent the night in a haunted room, but it was not powerful enough to make his night tolerable. He remembers his first Christmas tree, illuminated by balance candles lit dangerously on the Christmas tree. He also remembers that the Christmas tree is not indigenous to England. He calls it a German tree, which is where the first Christmas trees were started.
I remember seeing a good many pictures of an English-influenced home in the 1880’s, that had plenty of holly but no Christmas tree. The general public in England in the 1800’s did not have a Christmas tree in thos photos. They had a great deal of pine boughs and strings of holly, but no trees. I always wondered what Santa would have to say about such an omission. He probably was a bit confused but saw the holly and read Dicken’s book about The Holly Tree.
I love reading Dickens’ at Christmas. I bought this book used, but I keep it in the Living Room all year. I like to pick it up and polish off some great writing. I learned that Dickens visited my town of Lowell in Massachusetts in 1842 and he stayed for a day. He was pleasantly surprised to see people who seemed to enjoy their work, dressed well for the day’s work, and girls from the mills who were not hard on his eyes. He did not say the part about being hard on the eyes, but he did say that the millgirls were very pleasant to look at. When he visited Lowell, it was part of his tour to see how democracies in England and the United States were different.
Of course, the book has Dickens’ best work, “A Christmas Carol,” in it. I love some of the quotes in that book. Who can forget the word, “Humbug,” which is probably a word Dickens made up. He has other titles in the book, including the largely unknown “Somebody’s Luggage.” And “Tom Tiddler’s Ground,” which does not seem to be about Christmas but was included. He writes of Scrooge’s visit with the silent ghost of Christmas yet to occur or yet to come. He says to the spirit, “You are about to show me the shadows of things that have not happened but will happen in the time before us, Scrooge pursued. Is that so Spirit.” He observes a nod from the spirit. His legs are shaking despite the fact that he had already had time with two spirits, and was basically, according to the author, used to spirits by this point. This spirit scares him. It is implied that he does not want to see his future.
Of course, we all know the story of Scrooge. He repents and becomes one who observes Christmas with a hearty belief in it. In Isaiah 45 God says “I am the LORD, there is no other; I form the light, and create the darkness. (I guess I can take some comfort about winter darkness in that).
Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate so vibrantly, was tested once by two of his disciples and John the Baptist who asks, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus was probably a bit miffed because these disciples had seen him give sight back to the blind, cures lepers, and causes the deaf to hear. But, I try to understand that this person was the One.
So what is Christmas? It is little bits of all of these things. It is about Jesus, it is a time to look to friends and family for comradeship, it is a time to celebrate. But, I always try to conclude that it is a time to put Christ back in Christmas. Santa Claus is nice, but the real reason is Christ.