Christmas memories: Honoring the Christ Child

It always happens. Christmas is suddenly here and we’re not ready for it – either because of all the things on the “to do” list or because we just can’t adjust to the fact that the year is nearly over! Where did it go?

Mixed in with the confusion in our brain is the fact that current society seems dedicated to trying to eliminate what Christmas really symbolizes. The goal is to rid the holiday of any religious context and make it one just for Santa Claus and gifts and, of course, shopping!

When I was young schools used to decorate the classrooms and commemorate the holiday. Actually, in those days, we celebrated lots of holidays over the year, and it was wonderful! As for Christmas, we didn’t outwardly “practice” any religion, but it was clear to the students what the holiday symbolized.

Keep in mind, this was in public schools. We had Christmas pageants and concerts and parties and gift exchanges – and it didn’t matter what your religion was. It was a national holiday that all Americans celebrated.

That certainly has changed, and we are all the less for it. Children want gifts; and parents deal with the budget. What used to be a day of prayer amd churchgoing has diminished over time. Whether because of COVID and many churches being closed, or just because of less interest in church attendance, may people stay home or go to private parties. Any thought of the Christ child and the religious significance of the day is too often gone.

What a loss. I have so many wonderful holiday memories of my childhood, even though my family wasn’t strongly religious. I still have the ceramic nativity scene that we placed under the tree every year. I don’t know how old it is, but it is a real antique. I do know that it was brought to this country by my great-grandmother when she was young and the family arrived here from Europe. It’s been under every family Christmas tree ever since.

I also have a number of statues of saints that have been part of numerous Christmas celebrations for my family. Many of those days I can remember; others were before I was born.

Those statues were made by a man from the old country who was a real artist and a friend of our family. I knew him when I was a child, but at the time I didn’t realize how talented he was. He not only made those figures, but his profession was to create the mannequins that were used in the window displays by the major department stores in New York City. In those days, those mannequins were individually made by an artist not in some plastic mold.

In my family, we decorated the tree on Christmas Eve and left it up until mid-January. We didn’t buy the tree. My dad, my brother and I – and the dogs of course – trooped into the woods on our property and found just the right one, chopped it down and dragged it home for a spot of beauty in our home. We lived on the East Coast, and in those days we had snow every winter.

We went to Midnight Mass at the church in our town, and it was always packed. The town we lived in was largely Jewish in population, and I always found it interesting how many of my Jewish friends and neighbors were at Mass with the Christians! They appreciated the beauty of the ceremonies.

Of course, those were the days of the traditional Latin Mass – a High Mass at that, with all the pomp and circumstance it involved. It was a beautiful spectacle, and it’s all gone now. The Church has made changes that, in my view, have robbed Catholics and others of the traditional beauty of the ceremony. Maybe it’s all part of stripping religion out of our lives by the “state” and those who have the power to make those changes.

So far, there is nothing we can do about it but lament the loss and, if we’re lucky enough, treasure the memories. Which I do.

The other memory I treasure is that of the beauty and silence in the woods as snow fell. It was a solitary beauty and one that cannot be replaced by any fake decorations. It was peaceful and glorious – the silence sometimes broken by a song bird or the sound of a deer crashing through the bushes.

Every year I lived there, I made it a point to walk thru the woods at Christmas, and I admit, I miss it. Yes, there is snow in California, but to experience it you need to be in the mountains, and I don’t live there!

But I still have Christmas – and for me that will never change. I love the religious aspect of the day and reverence the birth of the Christ Child.

My constant prayer is that our country doesn’t eliminate – as they say – the reason for the season. It’s too important for our sanity and safety.

Merry Christmas everyone.

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