As a small child, I learned the wonder – or magic – of Christmas from my parents and extended family. As an adult, I prefer to think of Christmas with wonder. Wonder is defined as surprise, mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.
Two Concepts of Christmas
I was raised with two concepts of Christmas – the Santa thing, and the nativity, the birth, of Jesus Christ. I remember going to Sunday school to learn, among other things, about the origin of Christmas and Christmas carols. At home, it was about the Christmas tree, Santa and presents.
My family moved several times during my childhood. Each relocation took us further from Vancouver, until we finally stopped moving east in Winnipeg and began a gradual swing back to Vancouver. It seemed to me that, the further east we moved, the further we moved from the traditions of the church too, until we reached a point where Yuletide celebrations were only about Santa and his trimmings. In my heart, however, I remembered the religious traditions. When I eventually married and began a family, I re-introduced the nativity. Every Christmas Day, before we began anything to do with Santa, including opening presents, my son and I would sing Happy Birthday as we placed baby Jesus in the manger.
Now my son is a father in his own right, and he and his wife have created new traditions for their child – a mixture of traditions involving Jesus and Santa.
Although my childhood memories of Christmas are sometimes tainted by the usual family conflicts that arise around grand celebrations because of some external – or perhaps internal – stresses, I continue to look on Christmas as a time of wonder. Not of magic or miracle. Just wonder.
My world has changed since I was a child. Back then, I was sheltered from the greater world and all of the struggles and challenges of which it was composed. I didn’t know that people were different. I didn’t know about different religions and other beliefs. I wasn’t taught to think that the colour of a person’s skin should make a difference. I was taught to respect each person for who they might be. I recall my grandmother telling me how my grandfather – a fireman – would go into town on Christmas eve and bring home folks who had nowhere to go, nowhere to have a decent meal. My other grandfather – a commercial fisherman – would bring fellows from the waterfront. Their tables were always full of friendship and welcome, whether the food was plentiful or not.
I have drifted away from a lot of the Christmas traditions that influenced me as a child. I no longer spend hours in church, or decorating my home for Santa, but I still embrace the wonder. I admire the beauty of an open heart, a broad smile, a warm embrace. I celebrate the generosity of others toward those who have less, of others who welcome strangers with inviting arms. My heart breaks for those for whom aid and welcome are denied, and I pray that sometime soon their circumstance will change. It’s an overwhelming thought, but I hope that one day, we will all find a place of wonder in our heart and in our world – and not just at Christmas time.