Christmas is coming, heralded by one of the most vibrant, brilliant displays of fall color East Texas has seen for many years. Every fall trees and other plants stop producing green chlorophyll, revealing the red, yellow, and orange colors of fall that were hidden within the leaves. When the number of hours of daylight shortens enough, the color changes are triggered. Temperature and moisture both play complex parts in determining color intensity. Jack Frost, however, is only minimally involved and usually in a bad way. A frosty cold snap can actually stop the color symphony in its tracks, suddenly turning the leaves brown.
Homes decorated with sparkling lights, ornaments, stars, yard displays, and front windows framing brightly lit Christmas trees add to the colorful mix. The result, for me, is a wave of pleasant nostalgia from Christmases past and anticipation of Christmas yet to come.
When I was a child our home at Christmas was a complex mix. The sound of carols played from brittle 78 rpm records made of shellac. Not vinyl; shellac. Brightly wrapped packages, colored lights, scintillating lead foil icicles (yes, lead foil, EPA!) on our tree, sparkly reflections from real ice and snow. Spruce and fir Christmas trees, mistletoe and holly were all a part of it.
I lived in Michigan until I was eight. The cold, biting air of December was brisk and invigorating, adding to the spirit of the season, and recently it’s been that way here too. Snowflakes drifted lazily down or sometimes flew in a furious blizzard making castles, towers, and drifts that softened the appearance of everything. We built forts in the drifts, made snowmen, and had snowball fights.
Snow blanketed the earth with silence. A hush seemed to fall over everything as birds hardly stirred and seldom made a sound. Insulated by snow, the earth seemed to pause in reverent quietude. “Peace on earth” took on a very real meaning.
On Christmas Eve our fireplace was, and still is, a magical focal point. As the fire burned down to a mystical, glowing, shifting bed of orange coals, it hypnotically seemed miles deep. The only other illumination came from lights on the Christmas tree – strung with narrow, pointed bulbs. If one burned out, the entire string went dark until a search, one by one, finally revealed the faulty culprit.
Just before bedtime, my father would put Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on the record player, with Basil Rathbone as Ebenezer Scrooge. I listened with awe, terror, and a growing understanding as Jacob Marley’s ghost visited Scrooge, along with the wraiths of Christmas past, present, and yet to come.
My father then read from the Bible the story of Christ’s birth and the sparkling star that led the Wise Men. From both Scrooge and the Bible the message of peace and divine love was clear.
Those same traditions, now with a CD copy of the original Basil Rathbone records, have been passed on in our family to our sons, grandsons and granddaughters. Christmas for me was, and continues to be, a complex melding of intellect, emotion, and spirituality.
But, the true meaning of the season is far more simple. The Peanuts character Charlie Brown, frustrated and depressed, wondered, “Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus responds quietly, saying “Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about,” and he recites Luke 2:8-14.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
“That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”
I can only say Amen to Linus and wish you all a brilliantly beautiful, peaceful, blessed, quiet, introspective, sacred Christmas.
Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click firstname.lastname@example.org to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.