Do you remember your first Christmas? Didn’t think so. I don’t, either. Not too many of us do.
I remember early ones, when my brother thought he heard Santa stomping around on our roof with his big boots and when we waited at the top of the stairs with my little cousins, eager to be allowed to come down on Christmas morning. And I remember the time I first started to question whether the Jolly Old Elf was real or not. But my first one? No.
I may not remember the first Christmas I was alive, but I’ll never forget the wonder of my first Christmas in Romania. It was one year exactly after the revolution of 1989. The first time people had a day off work for the holiday since the late 1940s. There were no lights; there were not even any streetlights. No decorations. No fanfare. No commercialism. People didn’t have money for presents. I remember students saving to buy their mothers a bar of soap for their gift.
And yet, the joy was palpable. The hope. The wonder.
In my novel, Adriana reads the line “Always winter and never Christmas” from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and asks her grandmother to describe Christmas to her. It is 1987 in Romania, and Adriana is fifteen years old when she first learns how the people in her grandmother’s village used to celebrate. Back before the world changed and nobody was allowed to celebrate Christmas.
At first, Adriana just wanted to know about the celebration. What they did on the holiday. She and her grandmother celebrate–in secret, of course–her very first Christmas. Later, her grandmother tells her the reason why there is a Christmas. She tells her about a baby being born in a stable on a star-filled night long ago.
Adriana is puzzled. She’s never heard anything about this before. She can’t understand why people are so afraid of a tiny baby. As her first Christmas draws to a close, she reads a little more of her latest novel, Heidi, and thinks about the words (written by Johanna Spyri ) that she reads there.
“The stars came out overhead one by one, so bright and sparkling that each seemed to send a fresh ray of joy into her heart; she was obliged to pause continually to look up, as the whole sky at last grew spangled with them . . . And the stars with their glistening eyes continued to nod to her till she reached home, where she found her grandfather also standing and looking up at them, for they had seldom been more glorious that they were this night.”
May you and I never become so familiar with the season that we lose the wonder and anticipation. The joy and hope. Maybe this will be the year we have time to ponder anew what Christmas really means to us. That could be one good thing that comes from this year’s holiday activities being cancelled or extremely scaled-down. After such a difficult and unprecedented year, maybe this time the stars will nod their approval to us as we reflect.
I’m hoping to have lots of undistracted time to do my favorite Christmas thing: to listen to soft Christmas music playing as I sit in the dark stillness of the evening, with all the lights turned off except the white ones on the tree. It’s my time to think and remember and be grateful. May the Prince of Peace reveal more about himself to you in the Stille Nacht.