Christmas Time is Here

My childhood memories of Christmas include well-decorated trees, wonderful gifts, turkey and trimmings with  immediate family at the dining room table (with good dishes and silverware), and large family gatherings on Boxing Day. And, my heart was captured by “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in 1965.

Don - "Love, Hope, Believe"

When I hear the music from Christmas Time is Here, with or without Vince Guaraldi’s lyrics, those fond memories from childhood arise.

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

My favourite people were other children. Early on, my cousins, whose company was scheduled for a full Boxing Day celebration, and gradually drifting closer to neighbours along Birkdale Road and friends from school. Maybe because my busy single Mum was working and had three children under her roof; my sisters being eight and ten years older had friends of their own and little time for baby brother. Or maybe it was just normal for a child to find his happiness in the company of other children.

My Mum worked for the Coca-Cola Company, creating another connection with the Charlie Brown Christmas special which Coca-Cola produced. There is much in life for which I am grateful to the Coca-Cola Company.

Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share

Carols everywhere. I now know that Christmas carols are not the same as twentieth century songs of Santa Claus and snowflakes in the air, but are in fact those ancient rhymes of love. Away in a Manger. Angels We Have Heard on High. O Little Town of Bethlehem. Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus. Silent Night.

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there

The Western imagination has been captivated by thoughts conjured up by dreaming of a White Christmas, Chestnuts Roasting by an Open Fire, Jingle Bells ringing while riding in a one-horse open sleigh or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer making sure Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Even in tiny apartments without chimneys, the mind drifts to yuletide by the fireside and joyful memories there.

Growing up, we sang both carols and songs in school choirs or impromptu gatherings throughout December. I knew more about the Santa tale than the Christmas story, but was struck each year when Linus answered Charlie Brown’s question, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Although that was the sum knowledge of what I knew about the Christmas story, at twenty-one I realized it is in fact the heart of what Christmas is all about. The trees and gifts have meaning. Turkey and trimmings with family and friends have meaning. The memories created are special. The truth shared by Linus, found in Luke chapter 2, verses 8 to 14, is what Christmas is all about.

There is no Christmas without Christ. No matter how much effort is put into creating sentimental images of which we may catch glimpses in moments of real-life celebration, there is something missing from Christmas if there is no Christ.

It may be old-fashioned to watch the news on television, but I do. In the days leading up to December 25 there seems consistently to be an increase in reporting of good news stories. They tend to echo the theme of Vince Guaraldi’s final verse:

Christmas time is here
We’ll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year

The spirit of Christmas is not in chasing shadows from Christmas past or imagined. It’s not attained in the efforts of men, women and children filling bags in shopping malls or dropping change into plastic bubbles on stands by the door as they exit. The spirit of Christmas is not even sealed by the aroma of turkey roasting and cinnamon-apple pie baking while the table is being set.

The spirit of Christmas is more than that. It’s more than memories, or moments of invention captured in song. The spirit of Christmas is the Spirit of Christ, present because the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger grew to be a man who gave His life on a blood-stained cross, then three days later rose from the dead.

Charlie Brown’s Christmas captured the tension found in an idealized vision of celebration sought after by Canadian – perhaps more broadly, North American or even Western – culture. But, the spirit of Christmas is not a flawless image that evokes the challenge to capture it. Charlie Brown, it’s not about the perfect Christmas tree.

The spirit of Christmas is found in the message that offers hope to the world; hope that God who created, God who knows the state of our flawed and broken humanity, has made a way for us to know His presence, His encouragement, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Oh, that we could always see such spirit through the year.