The meaning of Christmas
Christmas Eve was always a special time for me as a child. It was when I dragged my younger brother out for one last round of caroling, ...
Christmas Eve was always a special time for me as a child. It was when I dragged my younger brother out for one last round of caroling, to replace the money we had earned in earlier forays and spent on family presents from Woolworth’s or other low priced stores. I played the king, and he the page as we chanted through Good King Wenceslas, or dribbled out the story of We Three Kings.
Smart neighbors rushed out with their coins before we had completed the first rendition. Others with stronger constitutions left us chanting in the frost until we reached the hardy chestnut which ended in “please put a penny in the old’ man’s hat, if you haven’t got a penny a ha’penny will do, if you haven’t got a ha’penny God bless you,” followed by a few desperate knocks on the door or a tug at the bell.
Some with good intentions, invited us in and made requests with the odd person who knew something choral singing (and who in Wales didn’t?) gave a few pointers on descant, pitch and tone.
All of which leads in to the fact that at the time of writing I was preparing for my annual carol outing and candle lighting ceremony at the Balboa Union Church. Not quite the street tramping and door knocking expedition of those distant days, but rewarding in a different way.
The thoughts bring me back to an editorial from the New York Times, that I clipped and filed away a couple of years ago. It contained some thoughts and sentiments that are worth sharing.
“What would you say if you had to explain Christmas to someone who knew nothing about it? You might begin with the shepherds in the field by night or Santa at the North Pole or even the Druidic appeal of a winter festival that comes just when the sun seems most meagre. Redemption and rejoicing, feasting and singing, humility and awe— these would be parts of your answer, as would the perennial cast of characters who people this turning time of year?. You would probably have something to say about the importance of family and the force of family and the force of a holiday whose strongest emotions center upon children, and upon our memories of being children.”
“And yet to really explain Christmas you would also have to try to answer the question that seems more pressing every year: how do those emotions and memories connect to the frenzied commercial machinery of the weeks that lead up to Christmas? What does all that retailing and wrapping paper have to do with peace on earth? There is no glossing over the problem— not to a puzzled stranger and not to ourselves. What matters is not just the disjunction between the majesty of those old hymns and the immodesty of this shopping season. It is that all those presents did not really catch the feeling we were looking for, did not say what we hoped to say.”
That’s why there was something closer to the Christmas spirit when neighbors listened to the warblings of streams of youngsters, clad in short pants alone or in twos and threes, making the frosty rounds before heading off to a midnight service. Occasionally there were more practized voices, collecting on behalf of charity or even the Salvation Army band and choir.
Somehow they all added to the season of peace, goodwill, reflection and childhood memories. Even Dickens had a lone caroler at work in The Christmas Carol.
Sadly, in these dangerous times, caroling on the streets of Panama would need a police escort.