‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…” You know the story.
Clement Moore wrote the famous poem as a Christmas gift to his children in 1822. He hoped it would entertain and amuse them and help to nurture a sense of wonder and excitement. ‘The children were nestled all snug in their beds while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.’
A sense of wonder and excitement is essential, not only for children.
Last Sunday the children were in the sanctuary and Manish talked with them about the season of Advent–getting ready for the great adventure of Christmas. He used little hand puppets and talked about ‘the gift to be simple,’ inviting them to talk about the word simplicity.
I simply sat and watched. One little girl in particular captivated me—an absolutely adorable three-year old who was sitting beside her father in rapt attention. Her big brown eyes were fixed on Manish and his puppets. She was both captivated and captivating; the picture of pure innocence, completely present and un-self-conscious. What a gift!
Watching that angelic face brought back memories of my own children, Susan and Jonathan, who loved listening to my stories, or my recitation of ‘the night before Christmas.’
Christmas during those years was filled with marvelous, mystical, magical moments—an adventure of and ‘into’ the spirit. Those memories are precious.
There was a time in Puritan Massachusetts when it was illegal to celebrate Christmas—the fine was five shillings. It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that Christmas gained status as an official public holiday in New England.
The December 25 date for the birth of Jesus was chosen in the fourth century when the Julian calendar marked the winter solstice. The early Christians borrowed pagan Rome’s celebration of the ‘return of the invincible sun,’ which they worshiped as a god. That’s why Sunday was chosen as a day of worship: sun-day.
Christmas, like Christianity itself, has had a fascinating history, based on a combination of Hebrew stories and Pagan nature-worship and deep psychological truths.
Our culture continues to evolve ways to celebrate Christmas. Unitarians in America have played a significant role in that evolution, including the use of a lighted evergreen tree indoors, lots of carols, like Jingle Bells, and Clement Moore’s poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas—he was an Anglican who eventually chose Unitarianism.
Each of us evolves ways of celebrating Christmas, possibly combining it with Hanukah. The holiday celebrations and birthday parties change as the children grow. I hope you get a chance to savor some moments, or take some cherished memories down from that box in the attic.
“He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle…I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, ‘HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT.’”