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Monday, December 24, 2007

The true meaning of Christmas--hope and love

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Cheer up; the kids haven't forgotten the true meaning of Christmas.

I should say that at least my grandchildren haven't; I can't speak about all the rest. But then, the kids have time to contemplate the true meaning of Christmas, not having to lug in a Christmas tree and decorate it, shop for everyone who deserves or expects a present, figure out where all the money will be coming from, write Christmas cards, cook Christmas Eve and Christmas meals for the entire extended family and then clean up the whole mess.

So, if you can take a moment this Christmas Eve, take a deep sigh. And listen to the children.

What is Christmas, I ask Leia, 5, who is innocently ignorant of Black Friday and other corruptions. "Jesus' birthday." Who's Jesus? "God."

For days now, Lisa, 6, and Leia have been reviewing the material. Jesus lives in heaven. Heaven is "up there." Jesus is very old. They know the roles of the Angel Gabriel and the Magi. They know they were bringing baby Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, although they didn't know what the latter two were and I had to look it up myself to know that they were fragrant resin -- dry tree sap, in other words.

Of course, any kid can memorize this stuff, but with Lisa and Leia, there's something different about it. They also can memorize the plot of a "SpongeBob SquarePants" episode. They can become excited about hearing a new story, seeing a new movie and discovering the sights of a far-away vacation. Except, says their mother, Kati, their interest in Christmas is somehow deeper. So is their curiosity. Somehow, it feels built-in, emerging from something innate. They needed no special prompting to kindle their interest in the Almighty. Having heard the story, they latched on to it, and one question led to contemplation and to another question, and on and on.

This is not to suggest that Lisa and Leia are somehow special. But it is to suggest that they may be representative of the childlike innocence that brings us all to contemplate the meaning of things almighty and our own existence. Someone once said that if God didn't exist, man would have to invent him, in response to that inner drive that seeks to explain the who, what, why and how we are.

That drive emerges early and the questions pop up often, one right after another, as children experience the delicious taste of something altogether new. Those universal questions, I'm certain, appear whatever the faith of the children's fathers and mothers. That they do is a tribute to the deeper, inquisitive and better sides of our nature.

Which is why this natural curiosity needs to be nourished, in the public sphere as in the private. No, this is not a pitch for prayer in public schools; I'm against it. But I'm for teaching children about all the religions and the eternal questions. Call it social studies, comparative religions, philosophy or metaphysics even. Teach them first, before their fascination is dampened by adult cynicism. Teach children about all the world's religions and alternative (secular) explanations to the deep and enduring questions. Even if I'm wrong about these questions naturally bubbling up into the consciousness of all children, the instruction will at least bring these questions to the fore.

And this is why I find that all current scrubbing of the meaning of Christmas from the public sphere to be so disappointing and damaging. You know how it goes: "We can't sing Christmas carols in school because they are religious." We're taking a "holiday break," not a "Christmas vacation." I even heard of one principal who justified the banning of Christmas carols but permitted the singing of the Dreidel song, because the latter celebrated what he called a "secular" holiday. The principal himself could stand a course in comparative religions.

It's not just the gross commercialization and secularization that warps the meaning of Christmas. The festivities and rituals and nostalgia and good feelings, as welcome, positive and comforting as they are, also are slightly off the mark. For Christians, Christmas is the beginning of our redemption, carried out in the Easter rising. It's why Christmas is a time of hope and love. That's not a bad thing to know.

Merry Christmas.

2 comments:

Dennis Byrne said...

For another view read this post on the Chicago Tribune web site:

http://www.topix.net/forum/source/chicago-tribune/T7L6HCE33D00H43HU

Anonymous said...

Careful when you write, "his idea failed to get even a single legislator to vote for it." My understanding from a Tribune article was that when it was felt the bill wouldn't pass, those who would have voted for it, decided to vote against it - opting not to waste their clout, perhaps.