Christmas past and present

Published December 1, 2011

What child doesn’t love Christmas? I certainly did. But in the midst of all the brouhaha, commercial and otherwise, it’s sometimes difficult to keep the true spirit of Christmas in our sights. It used to be that schools could help. As a youngster attending an eight-grade, three-room country school in 1959, I remember vividly all the students proudly rehearsing their parts in the Christmas pageant. We sang Christmas carols several times each day from the beginning of December until the holidays. “Silent Night,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and, of course, “Away in a Manger” were part of our collective consciousness, just as much as toboganning and Santa Claus. To focus young minds still reeling from snowball fights, my teacher, Mrs. Rorabeck, often had us begin the day with a carol or two. We all sang in good spirits (if not in key), right after we finished singing “God Save the Queen” and reciting The Lord’s Prayer.In today’s secular culture, folks are just as apt to channel the Christmas spirit in a mall as they are to reflect on and celebrate the birth of Christ. In schools across Canada, where a vibrant multicultural population is now the norm, Christmas has had to move over and make room for many different faith traditions from around the world. In the small town where I grew up, there were few Jewish families and even fewer African-Canadians. Thirty years later, my own daughter has grown up in a downtown Toronto school where more than 60 languages are spoken. She knows just as much about how to make latkes and observe Kwaanza as she does about Christmas. I call that progress, and in today’s global village, equipping our children from the very early stages of life with knowledge of world traditions is not just important, it’s essential. But singing Christmas carols had fallen off the school activity wagon by the time my five-year-old arrived, and that made me feel a bit sad. As Christians, and as parents and grandparents, a big part of our job now is to keep the true spirit of Christmas alive. Sometimes, the effort required can leave you feeling like a salmon swimming upstream. Church can lend a huge helping hand, providing a community resource for so many families seeking to bring a faith perspective to the hurly-burly of the holiday season. Service to others, always important, is particularly crucial at this time of year. For young carollers who visit a nursing home in Mary McIntrye’s A light in the dark (p. 9), the initial shock and dismay ultimately gives way to a lifelong appreciation of the power of their presence. And finally, as we prepare for Christmas this year, let us say a prayer for the First Nations people of Canada, many of whom celebrated the birth of Christ without ever celebrating their own. At this year’s Atlantic National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Halifax (p. 6), that fact was attested to in a multi-generational birthday party. Sparklers were lit and placed on 1,000 cupcakes, while the grandchildren, clearly delighted, held them and sang “Happy Birthday” (p. 1). You don’t have to look too closely to see Christ in their sweet faces. That’s what I call progress, too.

Kristin Jenkins is editor of the Anglican Journal.
email: [email protected]


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