Penny Remembers a childhood Christmas
For those of you who do not know our story, Bob was born in the Bronx and I in Brooklyn. We were city children who lived in a small town called a neighborhood. Customs from different parts of the world filled and permeated our little world. Often a neighborhood became like a little country unto itself, as members of families and friends from the “old country” moved close to each other. My family was originally from Sicily, Italy, as were most the people on our block. Many of our neighbors did not even know the English language, so out of necessity we were a multi-lingual society. But we were more like a big family, our traditions making us one.
Christmas, like all holidays and Feast Days was a neighborhood thing, a shared experience, what with doors open, the fragrance of sauce and pizza filling the air, the freshly baked Italian cookies on a plate by an open door for one to bring home to share with the family. We were all poor, but I never felt poor. I always felt like a princess in wonderful wonderland. Christmas in my life was filled with, you might say, two days of gift giving and receiving. I opened gifts on the morning of Christmas and again on the Feast of the Epiphany. My parents striving to be American, adopted all the customs of their new land and gifts were placed under the tree, Christmas Eve. But my grandmother, clinging to the customs of her people, exchanged gifts on the Feast of the Epiphany.
Early in the evening, Christmas Eve, we were told we had to go to sleep or Santa Claus would not stop at our apartment and bring us gifts. I never questioned why the Santa who visited us, early in the evening, looked different each year. I believed in Santa Claus and that was enough for me. Now, one of my brothers, a sophisticated giant, who was tall while I was petite, with six years on me, decided he would burst my balloon and expose Santa Claus as a myth. Needless to say, this brought about much wailing and torrents of tears in its wake. My mother, who plainly adored him, gently challenged him, “Oh, you don’t believe in Santa Claus. Well let’s see what he brings you!” Now, although there was no question about my mother’s open affection and preference toward her little boy, a lesson had to be given and brother received coal in his stocking and nothing else. Needless to say, the subject of Santa was never brought up again.
I never questioned why my Nana (grandmother) brought gifts on the twelfth day of Christmas, the sixth day of January, rather than on Christmas Day. No one told me about the Magi; they got shoved out of the way by Christmas Trees and Santa Claus coming down the chimney bearing gifts in his sack. Although in our cold-water flat, we had only a coal stove in the kitchen to warm us in the daytime and a kerosene space heater in the front room to provide heat in the bedrooms in the evening, I never questioned which chimney he was going to climb down.
To those of us who grew up in the North, Christmas and snow were synonymous. When I think about it now, how awesome and wonderful is our Father, to place that Bundle of Joy in our midst amid the gloom of winter. We speak of Spring as new beginnings and it is, especially with the new hope of Easter. But the new beginnings began at Christmas with the Baby Jesus. Our Hope was born into the world. Do you ever meditate on why God chose to come as a Little Baby into the world? Why not a grown Man? What was God trying to tell us? Was the Omnipotent God showing us the way, through His Son Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, that the way to know eternal happiness is in becoming as innocent and vulnerable as a little child fully dependent on the Father’s Will?
The Feast of the Child Jesus
It was not till I returned to Jesus and Mother Church that I learned about the Magi and the reason my ancestors gave gifts during the Feast of the Epiphany. They were truly reliving the days of the first Christmas! It was then that Bob and I began our long journey to understand the full meaning of Christmas. As we got closer to understanding the Treasures of our Church, Christmas became to us the Feast of the Christ Child, the Babe born to die for our sins, the Feast of our Heavenly Mother who said Yes and brought Our Little Savior into the world. The awe and wonder of that much love alone brought a touch of sadness mixed with great joy. We knew we were loved and we would never be alone again. This was a truth no one could take away from us. Jesus chose to be born a Helpless Little Child, He became One with us His creation in all things but sin. All for us, for you and me.
The time between Christmas and Easter seems to fly faster and faster, as we grow older. No sooner have the Christmas decorations been safely stored away, than the days swiftly pass till Ash Wednesday begins our forty days of Lent. I remember one year, at our parish, the children enacted a Passion Play on Good Friday in our church hall. The curtain opened up to the Crucifixion scene, which showed our little ten year old grandson playing Jesus dying on the Cross. Our eyes, fixed on this little boy, bleeding and wounded, were filled with tears.But it wasn’t until our eyes followed a dim light off to the side – Mother Mary and the newly born Infant Jesus – that the stark truth came to us that Our Lord, the Baby Jesus began His walk to Calvary the night He was born. Or was it the day Mother Mary said Yes to the Angel Gabriel and Incarnation came about!
The gloomy, rainy days of Lent pass and the sun comes out on Easter Sunday and with it new hope, new life and new beginnings. And if we are not careful we soon forget the price paid for our new springtime, by the One born in the cold of winter, the One Who would die on the Cross. Those who plant harvests and flowers know that in order to have new growth, a plant must die and produce a seed for life to go on. With our change of climate, the cold and rainy weather changing to sunny and balmy, we forget the One Who died that we might live.
And what has this to do with the Child Jesus and Christmas? If we meditate on why He was born, and contemplate the price He paid, alone having to witness His dear Mother’s suffering at the foot of the Cross, we look at Christmas and we think of what the word means, Christ – Mass, the same Mass that is the ongoing Sacrifice of the Cross, the reenactment of the Birth, Death and Resurrection of Our Savior Jesus Christ.
We go full cycle. At the Annunciation, it all began and on the Cross it was finished. At Christmas, a Baby was born, Who would be the God-Man Who came to save the world, and at Easter we celebrate the hope He left us that we too would rise – Christmas and Easter interwoven – the ongoing circle of life eternal.
There is something about Christmas that changes men’s hearts, even for a day. It is truly a time of Joy to the world and Peace to all mankind. For a short time, out of our busy lives, we pause and think of others. We take time to try to bring happiness into the world. During war time, even battles cease during Christmas Day. Even those who do not believe in Our Lord Jesus respect the solemnity of Christmas. Or is it that our love and more importantly the Love of Our Savior somehow breaks through the tough, hard shell the world has formed on our hearts, and we take time to love, to care. And think of it, it is in the Form of a Baby that such metanoia comes about.
Take Christ out of Christmas
Two strong anti-Christ movements have been insidiously polluting our society and sadly at times our parish churches: One, Take Christ off the Cross and Two, Remove the Crèche and the Baby Jesus. Why has the enemy of God been so dedicated to removing these two life-giving symbols? It is said that one of the reasons Lucifer said He would not obey and took One third of the Angels with him, was that God was going to become One of us, One with those He had created – a Creature. And insults of all insults, he, Lucifer, top Angel, would have to have as his Queen another creature – Mary. His pride could not handle it and he left. But he was not satisfied with having taken one third of the Angels with him, to spend an eternity in the nether world. He has spent the rest of his time on earth trying to woo God’s beloved creatures away from Him. One way: The proud one who would fill our heads with Pride, would take away any reference to the Birth of our Savior, remove any evidence of Jesus choosing to be born under humble circumstances.
I still remember parking on Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica and walking past the living scenes of the Birth of Jesus, with live animals keeping watch with Joseph and Mary. Here in a town not far from downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood, Christ was remembered, Crèche and all. On every corner where there was a church, the Nativity scene was there, more often than not, a living enactment. Families made elaborated Nativity scenes on their front lawns. Then the enemy of God was able to use a few (it’s always a few) to end this awesome tribute to the Child Jesus. Now, it may be only where we now live. I don’t know what came first, but it appears after September 11th and that disaster, that there is barely a church or a home that does not have a Nativity scene on the front lawn. Along with our American flag that had been at best put away and worse burned, the Baby Jesus returned and became the Reason for the Season! After September 11th, you could not see one home or car without an American flag flying bravely for all to see. And so it was with the Crèche and the Nativity Scene. God was back for all to see, as was our love for our country.
The second movement Lucifer was hell-bent on eradicating was the Price Jesus paid for sinful man, His weak creation – take Jesus off the Cross. As we recall, Lucifer, right up to the last seven words Jesus uttered, did all he could to get Jesus to come down off the Cross. Why was this so important to him? He promised Jesus anything, he would do anything if He would only come down off the Cross. Why? Lucifer knew that the only way man could be redeemed was through the Cross. No Cross, no suffering, the Gates of Heaven would not be opened and we would be lost. Another reason Lucifer did not want Jesus to die on the Cross is that this One Act showed man how very loved he was, how very precious he was.
But man has forgotten how precious he is in the Eyes and Heart of Jesus. In the lunacy of the topsy turvy world we live in, where one can barely tell a man from a woman, at times; where often confusion reigns and sin spreads like the lava of an exploding volcano, a battle rages between God and Lucifer, all for our souls. That’s how very important we are to God and His enemy. There is nothing as angry as a person who has lost his soul. He will do anything to make you lose yours. He needs the company; he doesn’t want to go to Hell alone.
We saw a movie the other evening, and at the end, the soldier died because he wouldn’t allow someone to take the flag from him. His words were: “No one can take the flag away from us; it is our flag.” And with that he hoisted the flag on high, as bullets ripped through his body. No one can take our flag from us. It is our flag, the red stripes signifying passionately the price the generations have paid for that flag and the right to fly that flag over our land. Likewise, no one can take God away from us; He is our God. The Father sent His only Begotten Son to the world as a tiny Baby. They can take our Nativity Scenes from us; they can take Our Lord off the Cross; but they cannot take Him from us. He dwells in the deepest caverns of our hearts, His Love permeating our entire existence, crying out “I love you.”