Once upon a time, Christmas sparkled. It glittered like new snow and winter stars. It whispered with secrets, and sang out with joy to the world, and smelled of pinecones and wood fires. It was as brilliant as red ribbons curling around unopened paper-wrapped packages. And it was filled with grace and truth, vulnerability and hope.
When I was perhaps eight or nine years old, I was lying in bed on Christmas Eve, with too many sweets and sweet anticipation tossing me about, and I began to calculate the Christmases that I would be able to celebrate in my lifetime. I must have only recently come to the conscious understanding that I was not an infinite being – although my family typically enjoys birthdays well into our nineties, often beyond.
That night, I happily decided I would live to be one hundred and five years old. And so, I would celebrate one hundred and five Christmases (with the great majority of them yet to come).
One hundred and five Christmases, I counted. And I was devastated. Only one hundred and five Christmases … in my entire lifetime! I wanted at least a thousand. How could a person be limited to just one hundred and five Christmas experiences? How could one truly appreciate all of the thrill and pure magic and wondrous love that Christmas had to offer – with a mere one hundred and five of them to celebrate?
Regardless of my concerns, year-after-year, Christmases came and went and came again – with slowly and subtly shifting joys and priorities and treasured remembrances woven throughout each of them.
The intertwining of the secular with the spiritual messages of Christmas also ebbed and flowed over the years in my experiences. There were years of sharing and years of solitude. Times of joy and those of loss. Yet each held its own particular sense of grace and wonder and awe – and belief in the unopened gifts of possibility and purpose of the season.
But there is one Christmas in particular – that happened long before I was even born – that forever humbles me and always fills me with great hope. It is the year of the historical Christmas truce of 1914, during WWI. All along the Western Front, French, German and British soldiers laid down their guns. And they crossed the trenches. And they shared their pitiful rations, their sympathies, their humanity, with each other. It had been suggested by the Pope, and it had been rejected by the Generals. But the men themselves spontaneously made it happen. They celebrated this holy time of peace, with peace, in peace – regardless of the consequences.
I suspect this remarkable act of Christmas was not simply out of an aching tiredness, but out of an aching hope for the future, and trust in the inherent goodness in humanity, and faith in each other – and something greater than each other.
I also suspect that I’m not alone in an increasing need to grasp hold of such good-will-to-all threads of Christmas. To want to hold them fast and wind them around and through the hearts of all the world. I want to celebrate the Christmas spirit that has at times defined love and created kindness among strangers. That has the power to feed the hungry and wrap blankets around the cold. That spirit that sings songs to one another and hopes all things are possible. That spirit that forgives. That spirit that once even stopped a war – if only for a few hours – when we as human beings brought Christmas to one another in the middle of a battlefield.
Perhaps that historic act of peace and grace and wisdom whispers to my own heart and soul with special significance this year. Perhaps it is because it took place exactly one hundred and five years ago this December. It happened one hundred and five Christmases ago.
Once upon a time, Christmas sparkled.