| S.J. Pedde
Christmas, 2003 -- Reflections on the Meaning of it All
The Christmas season is usually a contemplative time for me. I often think of Christmases of my childhood, so many years ago, during the 1950s. I remember the magical quality of the season, the anticipation, the warmth of a loving family.
I remember my parents during those early years, my mother and father both still young and vital. They’re both gone now. I remember my brother, nearly five years younger than I, playing with his ubiquitous pets. He is now the father of four children with pets of their own. I remember my older sister, already married at the time, welcoming my brother and me into her home to watch the inevitable Christmas specials on TV.
Do you remember those Christmas specials of the 1950s and 60s? There were musical variety shows galore, with Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Andy Williams and other popular singers of the day. There were funny little skits, musical performances and grand finales where everyone would sing Christmas carols. Were the shows hokey and saccharine? Perhaps. I still miss them.
Do you remember when a family could sit down together to watch television sitcoms and dramas without the foul language and sexual innuendo that is so widespread today? I’m no prude, but is it necessary to expose our children to this stuff? I don’t believe in censorship of any kind, but if we all stopped watching drivel posing as entertainment, perhaps producers would create something better.
Do you recall when fathers in television families weren’t portrayed as ineffectual, clueless buffoons? Male parents actually played an important part in the rearing of their TV children, were responsible, had jobs, and were good role models. I can laugh at “Married With Children” reruns and at “The Simpsons” episodes but still wonder why every television show has to show the male protagonist as weak, confused, beer-chugging and morally rudderless.
I remember sitting in the living room of my childhood home, staring at the coloured lights and decorations on the family Christmas tree. I daydreamed about all manner of things and wondered what the future would bring. I wondered about the meaning of it all and why we exist here on earth. Was there really a Creator somewhere who made us all in His image? Did He really have an only Son named Jesus whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas and who would ultimately be sacrificed on a cross to buy salvation for humankind?
Well, here we are forty-plus years later. This is the future. I know what it has brought for humankind, at least as much of it as I have been privileged to experience so far. The future has brought us much that is good. It has also brought much that is bad. It certainly is a future that few of us might have expected to see.
Is the world a better place today? We certainly have more ‘stuff.‘ We have digital televisions, CD players, computers, cell phones, video games and fancy, air-conditioned cars. We live in big houses and take vacations in exotic places. We give our children all that we ourselves never had when we were their age. We give and give and give.
Are our children better off for all our giving? Are we giving them what they really need? Are we ourselves better off for all our giving? Are we subconsciously trying to bribe our children into giving us the love and appreciation we want from them?
Children need our love and guidance and discipline. They don’t need the very latest toys or the trendiest designer clothing. The need for us to teach them what is truly important and what isn’t. They need us not to give them things but to give them attention.
I wish I could say that I have always been the perfect father, but I fear I am far less than that. To make up for my inevitable failings, I try to follow my mother’s example. She told me once that although she and my father had always tried to do the right thing with me, she worried that I might have been punished unjustly or too hastily on occasion and that she apologized if that had ever been the case. That touched me. Now, I try to make my son understand that while I also do the best I can, I may err in numerous ways and that just as I forgive him for his transgressions, I ask the same consideration of him.
Christmas has changed too, over the decades. For us, at home in the 1950s, Christmas was always a religious event. We knew that it was a celebration of the birth of Christ and a time for personal reflection. Now, except in churches, Christmas is almost exclusively secular. I’m sure that millions of children have no idea what Christmas really stands for. To them, Christmas is Santa Claus, his elves, and Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer. The success of every Christmas is measured in the size of the pile of, or of the monetary value of, gifts received. I am not religious and am glad to point out to any willing debater all of the inconsistencies and past and present failings of Christianity. Still, to ignore the origins of Christmas and to deny public displays of the nativity scene and to prohibit the singing in schools of Christmas carols which have been sung for hundreds of years is foolhardy. Yet, that is exactly what is happening in much of the world, most notably in the United States, the last place on earth where one might have expected this to happen.
I don’t like to be forced to do anything. I don’t want to be told that I must worship Christ or that I must sing Christmas Carols. But I can’t imagine why, given the history of freedom in North America, recognition isn’t given to what helped make America great. Judaeo-Christian values created an environment in which anyone could prosper, in which we could all move about and associate freely, and where we could speak on any topic without fear of retribution.
I, for one, want to hear “Silent Night” on the radio at Christmas time, just as I might also wish to hear “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” or “Jingle Bells.” I want to recognize that the celebration of the season is Christmas, not Xmas. I think it’s time for every rational person to stop being so wishy-washy about everything. A thing is what it is. We are what we are. No apologies. Public displays of the Ten Commandments and of Nativity scenes are no threat to anyone. Failing to recognize exactly why we are free to have discussions and disagreements on the subject is the real threat.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Siegfried Pedde, December 23, 2003