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|
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