I used to live in Narnia, Clive Staples Lewis’ magical, mysterious, sometimes frighteningly wonderful land somewhere between the lamp-post and the castle of Cair Paravel. Always winter. Never Christmas.
Akademgorodok, Russia, where we lived from 1993-97, is carved out of huge, dense evergreen forests. Numerous well-worn paths wind their way thru these forests intersecting and dividing to form a pedestrian walking path network. As we walked these by-ways to and from everywhere soft blankets of new-fallen snow dusted the paths and forests daily. The downy flakes reflected diamonds and stars, especially in the moonlight at night.
For 80 years prior to our coming, Christmas in Russia was forbidden. There were none of what E.B. White calls “Christmas wrappings” cluttering the true meaning of the holiday either because even though January 6 is Russian Orthodox Christmas on the calendar, the celebration was not allowed.
No tinsel or lights or Christmas displays or tree lots or a bombardment of ads for Christmas deals. No loudspeakers blaring carols or Nativity scenes or Santa at the mall.
It was illegal to listen to Handel’s Messiah or read C. S. Lewis’ Narnia Tales, or Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, or the Bible.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 freedoms of all kinds began to blossom in the former Soviet Union, among them, religious freedom.
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them the light has come.” Isaiah 9:6
At Christmas our Russian friends decided to give Jesus a birthday party. They wrote and acted a crude play of praise, read original poetry, and played instruments. We sang.
Тихая ночь, дивная ночь!
“Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright…”
In December of 1996 I was called out of Russia to come home to tend my ailing mother for a brief time. I wrote this poem entitled It’s My Birthday! in response to my renewed feelings about the true meaning of Christmas.
Are tinsel and glitter
My favorite things?
Are green and red
My favorite colors?
Do I like rum balls and Spritz cookies?
Will the Christmas tree bring Me joy
with its expensive, color-coordinated ornaments?
Do I like the carols? The Santas? Rudolph and the Reindeer?
Do I want a Nintendo-64 for Christmas?
Maybe a Tickle-Me Elmo?
A Barbie Doll? A bean bag chair?
Or a Porsche?
How will I feel if My stocking isn’t filled with just the right candy?
If Santa doesn’t bring Me everything on My list?
Do I get a list?
Will I care?
Will you care if I care?
I care about you.
You are so tired. Worn out. Heavy.
Burdened, not with packages.
Trying to be too busy to notice.
I see. I hear.
I feel the cold wind chill of your soul.
The money quits. The tempers flare.
Home isn’t here. It isn’t there.
Santa can’t fill your stocking.
He doesn’t know how.
I know how.
That’s why I came, I wish you’d know.
So long ago.
Before any of this stuff was, I was here.
You just didn’t know it.
I was born. It’s a big deal!
I entered your space
and your time
to set you free;
to make you an eternal evergreen glowing with white candles.
Please know, it’s MY birthday, yes, it is.
(Hard to believe you could miss it.)
I was born. I died. I live again. I AM.
I am here.
I will be here.
Not in your stuff.
I have stuff to fill me,
to fill you,
that you know nothing about.
when you get very tired,
very worn out,
Then, maybe, just maybe,
you’ll see Me watching you;
longing to have you smile my way,
longing to have you wish me a “Happy Birthday”.
Longing to give you Me
and to have you give Me you.
That’s the only gift exchange I want.
That’s the only one I need.
“Christmas Wrappings” from an essay by White, E. B. in The Second Tree from the Corner. New York: Harper, 1954. Print.
photo of lamp-post courtesy of: http://scedwards.deviantart.com/art/Narnia-The-Lamp-post-114417567
picture of no-Merry Christmas courtesy of: http://www.rellimzone.com/2011/12/christmas-a-forbidden-word/
picture of candle courtesy of: http://dioceseofegypt.org/2014/05/time-april-diocese-newsletter/
picture of birthday cake courtesy of: http://images.clip artpanda.com/birthday-cake-clipart-birthday-cake-clip-art-4.jpg
picture of wrapped present courtesy of: http://www.clipartpanda.com/clipart_images/free-clip-art-2935552
It’s My Birthday by Barbara A. LaTondresse – 20 December 1996 – ©1996. All rights reserved.