Friday, 14 December 2012

CELEBRATIONS ~ The Spirit of Christmas

Christmas has a complex spirit. It may seem simple. Put up some sparkly ornaments, light the fire, hang the wreath, and switch on the fairy lights. Gifts all wrapped in pretty paper and tied with bows, and love. Time spent on reflection of the year almost gone, merry making with family and friends, and counting our blessings over grand meals shared. But is that all that Christmas is?

Deep at the heart of Christmas are both pagan and Christian beliefs shared over several countries and centuries all of who have added images and tales to the vast tapestry of Christmas.

The star that guided The Three Wise Men

If we separate Christmas from the religious aspects, (and many do) something sacred yet remains. Something you cannot see, or touch. It's there, under the glitter, beyond the price of presents. Perhaps it is within us. Christmas has a heart.

Victorian Christmas illustration

The darkest time of the year is a time to look inward, to be grateful for the gifts we have, both material and spiritual.  To remember and thank those who have brightened our year, and not to forget those less fortunate than ourselves.

The Night Before Christmas
Arthur Rackham

The story of Christmas, in all it's variations is more than a tale for children, which adults will remember.

Something about it reaches out to our own childhood, that tiny remnant of us which has never, and will never quite grow up.

We take delight in all of it's pleasures,  expectations and possibilities. The excitement of the  night before Christmas, the possibility of a  White Christmas in the snow, centuries of songs played each year, the glow of fairy lights in darkness.

Every year I take out the same favourite ornamants and  images. Time does not ever dim them. Those storytellers who told and illustrated the tale live on in our hearts as we pass their words and images down to our children and grandchildren. It may mean something slightly different to each new generation but we can all learn from what came before.

As I said, Christmas has a compex spirit. Bright, but not all light. It is a mysterious magic how some of  the darkest tales can gladden the heart. The German and Allied soldiers who shared a Christmas truce are the perfect example of how Christmas changes our actions and emotions.

The Spirit of Christmas by Frank Adams

The classic Christmas story remains 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens. It has a happy ending, and yet, it depicts so much suffering which was common in those days. We see Victorian times as romantic but poverty caused great pain, and death for many.

Probably my very favourite Christmas story is 'The Little Match Girl' by Hans Christian Anderson. As a child I found the Arthur Rackham illustration and wondered who this child was whose face was so illuminated by the Spirit of Christmas. Rackham's vision of her transfixed me then, and still does, but she has been beautifully represented by many artists. 

Arthur Rackham's Little Match Girl

That Christmas I found the story in an old book and read it in a quiet place. I was surprised to find that my cheeks were wet. A sensation which was new to me. We had a shiny fake tree that year, all the rage in the 60s. It was white, covered in tinsel and on a revolving stand which played 'Silent Night' and other songs over and over as the tree and it's pastel ornaments went round and round very slowly. But no matter how modern or plastic our tree was, Christmas was still real. I waited until dinner had been served and crept under the tree to stand alone for a few minutes thinking of all the little match girls the world had known. In my 6 year old heart I knew that she was real and I vowed never to forget her. None of us should.

Illustrated by |Janet and Anne Graham Johnstone


“La cerillera / The Little Match Girl”

from “No tan felices”

by Manuel de los galanes

Kristin over at the wonderful 'Tales of Faerie' has captured her spirit and that of Christmas so well in this post. Take the time to remember her and all of those who live without Hope, yet still believe in it.

The Little Match Girl by Tales of Faerie


  1. Beautiful beautiful post. You said it all.

  2. Minerva,this is such a beautiful, thought invoking post. Thank you for sharing. For our family, Christmas remains a very sacred time, even though times are changing so rapidly, this is the time that as a family we carry the memories and the traditions forward into the next generation and hope that they too will remember it's not all about the tree and the gifts - oh and thank you so much for joining my new blog! Have a lovely weekend. Is it snowing where you are? Sharon xx

    1. Thanks you Sharon, lovely to see your new blog. No snow here yet, just a small flutter. Hope it arrives soon! x

  3. I have a vivid childhood memory of sitting on the floor in the public library with my back against the gigantically high shelves of books, hidden from all the world and sobbing my heart out reading The Little Matchgirl.
    The librarian had recommended it as a change from the normal horsey books I chose and, not wanting to show bad manners I'd opened the covers to read a few lines before I could say it wasn't for me, and return to my beloved "Pony Jobs for Jill" and the like!
    The story stayed so vividly with me for years and even now the thought of that book brings tears.
    This is a lovely post you've written, Christmas is indeed a blessing- but often a mixed one

    1. What a wonderful comment you have left us! We too were absorbed in horsey books, but found another world in fairy tales. It is a truly touching story and few could not be moved by it.

      Funny enough I always think of The Little Match Girl when I see a Big Issue vendor trying to sell their copies. The world can be a harsh place.

  4. I love ghost stories over Christmas and look forward to any offered on the telly! I think last year (or was it the year before?!?!) was a thoroughly wonderful modern take on MR James's Whistle and I'll Come to You. Wonderful!

    Take care

    1. Hello Old Kitty, Whistle and I'll Come to You is a classic! Very very scary. Was thrilled to see it on the air again. The original is the best, but the modern version was really good too. I think the best ghost stories are the ones where the haunting is merely implied, not graphically shown. x

  5. My favourite Christmas tradition is watching "A Child's Christmas In Wale". It's just so simple, but it screams Christmas for me.

    1. Kellie, Thank you for stopping by! Must pop over to see your blog too. Dylan Thomas is magical isn't he? I love this one too. x

  6. Such a lovely post.
    I read the Little Match Girl as a child - and have read it many times since. The stories of HC Andersen were a big part of my childhood and that of my children.

    1. Thank you! Hans Christian Anderson is dark, but I think it teaches and prepares us for the sorrow and bittersweet moments in real life. x

  7. What a nice story and beautiful pictures. I have read Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen. You may have a nice third Advent.


  8. Ooh such a lovely Christmas post! I had forgotten all about the 'Little Match Girl'so thank you for reminding me again....I don't think you can beat a little 'Scrooge', at this time of year too.
    In fact I would go as far as to say it wouldn't be Christmas with out it!
    Sending 'Twinkles' ***
    Love Maria x

  9. Very lovely post. I have never read The Little Match Girl. Now I will. Thanks, Deb

  10. What a touchingly beautiful, eloquently written holiday season post.

    From the bottom of my heart, I wish you and your loved ones a joyful, serene, endlessly special Christmas.

    ♥ Jessica

  11. Wonderful post. Full of such loving spirit. :) I love all those stories from the bottom of my heart! The Little Match Girl is one of my very favorites as well. No, we should never forget those who have less. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.. A joyful Christmas to you, Minerva!

  12. This is so lovely.
    Thank you for the reflections on Christmas.
    One of my favourite stories is The Little Matchgirl, as well, and I had a story book with these illustrations.
    There is still much that is holy at this time of year, in spite of commercialism, and our material culture.
    Thank you for these reminders.

    1. Hi, there,
      Just reading again today,
      There was so much interesting to read that I know I missed the first time. I just recently listened to a wonderful radio program on CBC (our public radio), and the commentator spoke of the same, how there is a wonderful blend of the secular and religious at Christmas.
      As well, I realize my overgeneralization regarding the illustration for "The Little Matchgirl"...the story I read as a child featured the illustration by Arthur Rackham,, from a wonderful collection of children's stories, "The Illustrated Treasury of Children's Literature, ed. Margaret Martignoni, Grosset and Dunlap, 1955. (I loved this book so much as a child, and managed to retrieve it from my mother', many years ago, s basement when she was moving, and so still now have this book. :)
      The illustration you share here by, Graham Johnstone, looks familiar to me, and is lovely. Is it from a recent book?
      I have just enjoyed reading your posts this evening as I cook supper for my son and I who is visiting.
      Merry Christmas, to you and your family, and as well sweet, little Mrs. Black,
      Brenda, Herb, and Art

  13. Knock, knock - coooeee - Custards calling for a mince pie. This is a lovely post that provides balance and respect for all of our differences. The mere mention of The Little Matchgirl brings a lump to my throat - my mother would tell me that story and I barely got past the first line without sobbing relentlessly...
    Best wishes for the festive season

  14. Merry Christmas to you, it looks like you're in for a treat.


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