We are approaching the Christmas 2020 holidays with misgivings because much about it this year is so un-Christmassy. With the COVID-19 pandemic running wild in our midst, along with bruised feelings in the aftermath of our national election, it certainly isn’t getting to feel a lot like Christmas. Perhaps we can make things have a little more of the “joy to world” spirit by laying aside today’s constraints and looking back–getting a little nostalgic, going back to a time when there was no pandemic, no quarantine, no social distancing, and no political malice.
I was revising the manuscript of my follow-up book to Dark Days on the Fairest Isle a few days ago when I came to a scene in which it is Christmas morning and Claire, back on the island for a visit, steals into her very sick Granny Belle’s room just to take a look at her. But as soon as the door opens and a streak of light falls across the bed, the old lady snaps, “Who dat!” surprising Claire who thought that the now weak, bed-ridden Granny Belle was asleep. Claire darts over to the bed, kisses her grandmother’s wrinkled cheek, and whispers “Merry Christmas.” Granny Belle doesn’t know it’s Christmas. Claire begins to remind her about a Christmas past in which the two of them went to Christmas Market in downtown Kingston when Claire was ten years old. Claire gets wrapped up in her excitement, telling about getting a fifi and a balloon in the shape of rabbit with long, pointed ears. She carries the balloon high on its string and blows her fifi, making noise with the milling crowd in the street blocked off for shoppers only. It’s a warm Christmas memory for Claire, although Granny Belle hasn’t heard a word.
After reading what I had written, I thought it would be good if this Christmas we could raise the curtain on the past, look back to our childhood, and bring forward a Christmas memory to cheer our hearts and help stabilize us in these unsettling times. So dust off your childhood memories of Christmas. Indulge in a little nostalgia. I have one incident that has stayed with me. I even wrote a short story about it called “Miss Clemmie and Me” and had the privilege of reading it on the radio one year at Christmastime. In the gray dawn on Christmas morning when I was about nine years old, my neighbor, Miss Clemmie, took me to the Christmas service at her church. The service over, I thought we would be heading home, but no. Miss Clemmie led me to the bus stop and we boarded a different bus from the one that would take us home. We ended up at a race track. Was Miss Clemmie a betting woman? We did stay at the tracks for a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the horses bolt out of their starting gates and charge off down the track. The crowd cheered and people jumped up and down. I had a great time. The love and excitement I now get from watching horses race was born on a Christmas day.
One childhood story that is rememberd every Christmas is poet Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” It’s a simple story of a young boy’s romanticized recounting of the unpretentious, innocent days of Christmases past. He says, “I can never remember whether it snowed six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” His story has some beautifully captured word pictures of snow, such as “snow that came shaken from white wash-buckets down the sky.” He remembers the jolly time with his family and with his friends tromping through the snow-covered streets. “Always on Christmas night there was music,” he says, and “it was warm in the little house ” where “there are uncles at Christmas. The same uncles.” Like many other children, he remembers “the useless presents.” The child’s narrative voice is sweet and sincere in this yuletide classic which shares his recollections of the companionship of friends and neighbors and the extended family at a most enjoyable time of the year.
Some may be quick to point out that December 25 is not Jesus’ birthday. We all know that, but it would be the height of ingratitude and thoughtlessness to have a momentous birth such as His–a birth predicted centuries before it occurred–go uncelebrated. His was a birth with a purpose. A well-known carol strikes this important theological note:
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Shepherds out under the night sky on the Judean hills rejoiced when they heard the news of the birth of the Christ Child. We, too, can rejoice at the news that is still new, still “good tidings.”
And the Child grew “in favor with God and man,” and “when He was come to years,” He took note of the little ones and welcomed them into His presence with a message for us older ones when He said, “Let the little children come to me. . . for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mark 10:14 NKJV).
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in;
Be born in us today.