To get into the spirit of the season, Cheryl had the idea of looking for You Tube videos she could play on our television. The goal was to find relaxing Christmas scenes accompanied by calming seasonal music in the background. We have found a plethora of alternatives. (A plethora? Yes, a plethora. (Never mind, it’s a line from an obscure movie…))
Our favourite by far is a computer animated village made alive with people moving around the sidewalks while our imaginary camera eye floats slowly overhead or along the streets at random intervals. There are a few variations of the same village, each with differing perspectives and each with Christmas white-music enhancing the mood.
In the animation it is nighttime and a large crescent moon rests on the horizon while large snowflakes float down, sticking to the trees and covering the village structures. It is an idyllic setting near enough to the ocean that a lighthouse is part of the character of the town while a wooden water tower stands at the other end of the settlement. A narrow river runs through the centre of the village with several people skating causal circles on the hastily shovelled ice.
Turn of the century lampposts and coloured lights illuminate the wet cobblestones while three stone bridges provide separate crossing points over the frozen water. One pedestrian bridge is in the middle of the village, leading from a colourfully decorated public square on one side to a spired country church on the other, its doors standing open. The streets of the community splay out randomly with brick century homes lining them, bright yellow lights glowing inside while implied families busy themselves with being families.
It’s filled with scenes an artist would put to canvas or Hallmark would make into cards. All through the heart of the village people of all ages are casually plying the streets (my favourite is an older, gentle-looking man with a puffy moustache and puffier coat). There are a couple dozen people moving about, bundled against the winter chill and pausing occasionally to chat with an acquaintance, take in the sights, or breathe in the night air.
It took a few viewings before I realized the hidden attraction it held for me. I began to see that there were no cars, no trucks, no bicycles. There was a post office, a bank, a town hall but no apparent shops, stores, or factories.
Seemingly in this charming village there is nothing mechanical to convenience life and there is nothing for sale to monetize it. No reason to hurry, no selfish agenda.
Another site we were drawn to presented us with piano music accompanied by dozens of paintings of Christmas life in the first half of the 1900s: horse drawn sleighs, wooden clad farmhouses, happy barns, thick woollen clothing, snowy evergreens, old pick up trucks. Different source, same effect.
See where I’m going here? Nope, you’re rambling again… Well, I love these throwback scenes because they are serene, idyllic imaginings of how I want to live. Dare I say, how we want to live? Simple, old fashioned ways usually serve to warm and reassure us.
It’s why we enjoy wrapping Christmas with Victorian scenes of top hats and scarves, cobblestone streets, melting candles, and stockings hung on stone fireplaces. Mind you I don’t remember the last time I ate roast goose, wore home knitting, or waltzed to 3/4 music from a harpsichord but I enjoy pretending somebody else did those things. Why even new Christmas movies inevitably include older traditions, town squares, sleigh rides, and gingerbread things.
But speaking of the old days, this is a reminder that they weren’t exactly perfect either.
Charles Dickens wrote his classic ‘Christmas Carol’ in 1843 to challenge Victorians to share their wealth with others who were in need. Why? Well, because it was a time of inequity between the upper and lower classes. An industrializing economy was changing life for many but there was still significant poverty. Life expectancy was barely over 40 years, childbirth was dangerous, and smallpox, influenza, cholera, etc. were a constant threat.
A century later life was better but many of the same issues remained: the Great Depression, world wars, hard physical labour, small middle class, and many of the same diseases still threatened the average family.
In the good ole days the average gift under a tree might only be a new pair of socks, maybe an orange or a candy cane. For most, Christmas was highlighted by a handful of people gathered in their church on Christmas Eve. Many of our Christmas carols were written during times of duress when hope was the only gift Christmas brought. Even Handel’s Messiah debuted with only a twenty man choir and a couple of instruments.
I just read an article about what Christmas was like for slaves in the south before their liberation. Basically, they often didn’t have time for their own Christmas because they were busied with providing entertainment and comforts for their owners.
This post isn’t a critique of the bad old days or the bad new days – every period in history has its own joys and sorrows.
Because life is filled with both benefits and troubles – we are all citizens of our time and place. Every Christmas is built on previous Christmases.
In spite of the great ideal that we can accomplish anything we desire, the truth is that we have been given much and we are no different than any generation before us. Tradition shows us that whatever we have is rooted in something else that prepared the way for us: God, country, economy, a time, a friend, a piece of luck, a family.
This is the ideal time of year to be thankful for the gifts we have been given.
Those people of Christmases past actually had difficult lives and experienced sorrow, trauma, loneliness – just like you and me. Even while we are enjoying the lights, gifts, and music it’s universally true that we have hurts lurking invisibly below the surface. Our celebrations may be poetry on our lips, but pain is prose in our hearts.
So this is also the ideal time of year to carry on the timeless Christmas tradition of simply being God’s child. The perfect time to both receive and give the kind of love Jesus showed us in his flesh.
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
– Philippians 2:1-7 (NLT)