My Yuletide recollections go back to about my fourth year, but those memories are blurry. By the time I was five or six, the groundwork was in place and was enhanced annually through family traditions.
Christmas at our home was a complex mix. The sound of Christmas carols played from brittle 78 rpm records made of shellac – not vinyl – shellac brightly wrapped packages, colored lights, scintillating lead foil icicles on our tree – yes, lead foil – sparkly reflections from real ice and snow outdoors, the fragrance of spruce and fir Christmas trees, white-berried mistletoe, and red-berried holly were all a part of it. I didn’t know then that ancient Druids worshiped evergreen trees for an entirely different reason, or that mistletoe was a poisonous parasite spread in bird droppings. Kissing under it was way beyond my comprehension, or that ancient Romans picked a mistletoe berry for every kiss they received until they were all gone.
Until the age of eight, we lived in Michigan. There, winter nature meant the cold, biting air of December, which added to the spirit of the season. Snowflakes, nature’s special, crystalline gems, drifted lazily down or flew in a blurry, wind-driven blizzard drifting into castles, towers, and drifts that softened the appearance of trees, bushes, fences, and houses.
A hush fell over everything. Birds hardly stirred and seldom made a sound. Insulated by snow, the earth seemed to pause in reverent quietude. “Peace on earth” took on a very real meaning.
Our fireplace became a magical focal point, and as Christmas Eve wore on, our coal fire in the hearth burned down to a mystical, glowing, shifting bed that seemed miles deep. I didn’t realize or care that coal was the fossil residue of long-dead plants. The only other illumination in the room came from the lighted Christmas tree – strung with colored, narrow, pointed electric bulbs. If one burned out, the entire string went dark until a search, one by one, finally revealed the faulty culprit.
Just before bedtime, my father would put Dickens’ Christmas Carol, with Basil Rathbone, on the record player, and I listened with terror as Jacob Marley’s ghost visited Scrooge along with the wraiths of Christmas past, present, and yet to come.
My father read from the Bible the story of Christ’s birth and His sparkling star. From both Scrooge and the Bible, the message of nature, peace, and divine love was slowly forming an indelible, intermingled pattern, and traditions that have been passed down to my children and theirs.
Christmas was, and still is, for me a complex melding of nature, intellect, and emotion. But the true meaning of the season is far simpler. The Peanuts character Charlie Brown, frustrated and depressed, wondered, “Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus responds quietly to him, “Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about,” and he recites Luke 2:8-14.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
“That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”
I can only say Amen to Linus, and wish you all a peaceful, blessed, quiet, introspective, and sacred Christmas.
Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click firstname.lastname@example.org to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.