Christmas is now past and I have to admit it, I’m sort of relieved.
I enjoy many, many things about Christmas. Being with family, seeing the joy and wonder in the eyes of the little ones, the good food, and all the other traditions of the holiday make this time of the year special. Although it often gets lost in all the other aspects of the holiday, the emphasis on the birth of the Christ child during the Christmas season is important. The various programs at church and other venues are enjoyable and help remind us of the true meaning of the season.
But by December 25th, it gets to be almost too much. Those sappy Christmas movies that my wife likes on the Hallmark Channel, Lifetime, and ABC Family cable networks were kind of cute back in November. But by Christmas, they all seem to me to be the same movie, just with a different title. The Christmas songs on the radio brought back fond memories when you start hearing them once again in November. But now that one Christmas song is stuck in your brain and you can’t get it out. And trying to work out schedules so everyone can get together during Christmas is always a headache.
Back when I was growing up, Momma would start around the first of December saying, “Three more weeks and it will all be over.” Then a few days later, she would say, “Ten more days and it’ll all be over.” She would continue the countdown until Christmas Day. Momma really liked the Christmas season. But I realize now that the countdown for her was more about it being over, with all she had to do during the holiday, than the actual anticipation of the holiday.
There are probably many reading this column who are also glad that Christmas is over. It’s been a difficult time this holiday season. Events in your life have made this Christmas one you just as soon forget. You don’t care to hear people talk and sing about “Joy to the world,” and “Peace on earth.” There is no joy or peace in your life.
It was Christmas, 1863. The bloody Civil War rages on. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was in the midst of his difficult holiday time. Less than two years earlier, his wife had died in a tragic fire, leaving Longfellow as a widower with six children. Now he had received word that his eldest son, Charley, had been severely wounded in battle and faced possible paralysis.
On that Christmas Day, Longfellow heard the ringing of church bells and the singing of “peace on earth.” Within himself, there was a personal battle. How could they be singing about peace on earth, with war raging all around? How could he have peace with all he must personally face? He had written in his journal concerning the death of his wife, Fanny, “How inexpressibly sad are all the holidays.” The violence and injustice seemed to mock the words of peace.
It was in that setting that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The poem begins with a joyful salute to the holiday. But midway thru it turns dark, as Longfellow ponders the world around him. He wrote. “And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong and mock the song, of peace on earth, good will to men!”
But in the last stanza, Longfellow writes of a greater truth that counteracts all the despair that was in his world. He concludes, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”
It seems that there hasn’t been much peace around this Christmas. From worries about possible terror attacks to violent crime around us, peace often seems far away. And peace may appear to be far away in our personal lives. Yes, Christmas may be over, and many of us are relieved. But remember, as Longfellow wrote, God is still here, and He’s not sleeping.
Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.