Thursday, December 2, 2010


A Christmas Reflection
It seems as recent as yesterday in time, but a century ago in custom.
Our little school was putting on a Christmas concert. Oh! you say – our school is putting one on next week. How can I tell you we are not talking about the same thing at all. What we did then, and what yours will be now, are worlds, perhaps constellations apart.
You could see every corner of our school from any spot in it. One room. That’s right – one. I suppose to be pickily accurate, we should count the two cloak rooms at the two entrances – one for boys – one for girls. Other than that, one room. Ok, perhaps there were two more rooms, again one for boys and one for girls, and they were outside, well away from the main building and used for quite a different purpose. So, for this narrative our school had one room. Ok?
At the front was a raised platform, but only by about eight inches. This was there to hold the teacher’s desk, and to make sure the teacher when standing on it was taller than her students. An old upright piano sat along the right side wall at the front.
So what does all this have to do with a Christmas concert? Well, you cannot understand what it was really like unless you can picture the place. Did I mention there was a box wood stove smack dab in the middle of the room near the back? Well, there was, and it could throw out a ferocious heat, but only for a few feet, so you roasted if you were near it, and froze if you were not.
We had less than 25 students, one teacher, and 8 grades.
How the teacher managed to create any order in the practices or the event itself still baffles me, but she managed it.
My family walked to the school that night. It was just a little under a mile and we were used to it.
It was cold. Cold and clear and crisp. It was the kind of cold that set the telephone wires to singing. It was the kind of cold that caused trees to crack with explosive bangs. It was the kind of cold that made your nose feel it was full of ice crystals. It was the kind of cold we kids loved. I don’t think my parents were quite as fond of it.
The stars were brilliant, and the snow underfoot crunched as we walked, and our breaths sent streamers of steam billowing out.
The concert had marching drills, a short skit, some sing along, and some solos and duets.
I sang “In My Adobe Hacienda” – which I hated. I thought perhaps an adobe hacienda was something Spanish, but I could not have said for sure. I did not think it was very Christmasy! Patsy Leavit and Rosemary Istead sang “Winter Wonderland”. They were older than I and beautiful. They sang good too. (It is possible that a memory from childhood can not be classed as strictly accurate).The Christmas story from the gospel of Luke was read and re enacted.
At the end,the audience clapped and cheered quietly. They were farmers after all and not given to robust enthusiasms. Still, we knew they were proud of us.
Santa came. Even the most naïve of us understood it was not the real Santa. It was one of the school trustees in a set of ratty red long johns and cotton batten pasted on his face. But we loved it anyway, and we each got our gift – a small bag with an orange, some nuts, a few hard candies.
Then we walked home again in that snappingly brilliant crystalline night.
What none of this tells you is the magic that was present that night, and every other Christmas when I was a child.
The stars that shone down on us from that diamond studded sky were the very same ones that shone on the shepherds long ago.
Joseph and Mary were about to have a baby that would be Jesus, the son of God.
The beauty and mystery and magic and holiness of that event of 2000 years ago was being recreated in our minds and hearts and souls.
We felt the soft breezes from the angels wings hovering over us.
God’s presence filled the universe.
So, it wasn’t really about a concert at all. Maybe that is the single big difference between then and now. It was about celebrating The Mystery of Christmas.
We were all childlike then, even the adults. Naïve some would say. Today we might be called worse things.
Six decades later and I am a cynical and somewhat world weary person.
Still, on Christmas eve, when all the hustle and bustle is over, and everyone else is in bed, and the lights are out, and I sit in a darkened room for a few minutes, and perhaps a beam of moonlight silvers its way through the window, and the blanket of snow outside creates an audible silence that is different from any other, and maybe Silent Night, or Little Town Of Bethlehem is playing softly, I feel the naivete and the innocence of those lost times permeating my whole being, and I am a child once again, and in the presence of God and his holy angels on this most magical of nights.

This picture is not from the same year of the concert, but it provides an image of the era. (click for a larger image)