Lan O’Kun

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A time of loving recall

Yes, it began as a Catholic holiday, a celebration of the birth of Christ. But Christmas over the years (the centuries) has become more than its religious roots, more than a Christian celebration of the birth of a savior. It has become a universal celebration of innocence.

Christmas is, to so many, not a day at all, but a time-a time wished for; a time either remembered or lovingly invented. A time when the family was once together, maybe the kids were still young. Perhaps there was snow; there were presents, and wishes and songs. Christmas has become synonymous with love, often old love-re-awakened in the warmth of memory. We remember gifts we gave that made someone smile with surprise, or cry with amazement at the wonder in their hands. We’ve often carried that moment with us in our subconscious for years. Perhaps that moment was the birth of our realization that giving makes us more happy than receiving-and it follows that forgiveness of even the most flagrant sins seems right and do-able, for isn’t the power to forgive one of humanity’s greatest gifts?

Once upon a time I wrote a show for the Hallmark Hall of Fame called “The Littlest Angel.” Nine people starred in it, and I composed a score of nine songs for it, some of which were sung by a chorus of professional singers, the best in New York at the time. Those men and women made their living from singing, spending their lives in recording studios, often singing roles on Broadway. In other words, singing was their business.

The show wrapped about two weeks before Christmas, but on Christmas Eve my choristers called and invited me to accompany them caroling. These people to whom singing was a livelihood were going to relive the joy they had singing together on the show, and which had given them a joy they would not relinquish.

Of course I accompanied them singing in the streets of a suburb town, going house to house, as in an old English print of street carolers. I have never heard “Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night” sound as it did that night.

Christmas is a joyous celebration with colorful contributions from mankind all over our Earth. The idea of reindeer pulling a giving spirit of a man carrying a sack full of gifts comes from Lapland (where sleds are pulled through their snow by reindeer), and that man is a reinvention of Father Nicholas (who was later sainted), a priest in ancient Asia Minor who brought fruit to the poor, and the tree being carried in from the forest was a Celtic contribution to the celebration. Christmas carols? They come from everywhere. “Silent Night” is German. “White Christmas” is, of course, American, written by a Jewish man named Irving Berlin. The wise men came from the East, by tradition; at least one is purported to have traveled from Ethiopia, one of the Magi (from which the word “Magic” is derived), the priestly caste of Zoroastrian, a Persian religion that flourished at the time a star is supposed to have shone in the sky and whose light told of a child of God born in a barn-a manger. The gifts that were brought to this child, frankincense and myrrh, are spices that were rare and precious at the time, given by men of another religion completely, who held a different set of beliefs entirely.

Our children know nothing of those near Eastern spices, but toys have been substituted, and the old priest, Father Nicholas, has become Santa Claus (a Dutch corruption of St. Nicholas), a jolly old man dressed in furs with a home in the North Pole, who flies over the ocean in a sled pulled by reindeer (how else would he get here from Lapland) and who comes down the chimney to deliver his gifts, even when there is no chimney.

And who cares? Or questions?

Peace everyone. Throw down your anger. Embrace the love you were born with.

Merry Christmas.