Christmas means so many different things to many people according to their associations, cultures and age; to some the word conjures up nothing at all.
When I was young, Christmas was a time I looked forward to because of all it had to offer; there was the Christmas Day roast dinner when the whole family would sit around the large table in the lounge; the glowing coal fire would cast its heat upon the one with his back to it; there would be much jollity after the main course was eaten and brandy was poured over the Christmas pudding to be ignited with a match; the blue flame did its magic so that each eater savoured the special flavour as he searched for a silver threepenny bit that had been hidden in the pudding. He who found it could make a wish that would be bound to come true, but the coin had to be returned to the chef for next year’s search.
Our Christmas tree was real with roots and all. Sometimes a tree would survive to grow again for the following year, but most of them shed their needles and died. The tree was always decorated with red candles which were lit for only a brief moment for the sake of economy and safety. Such a tree was a fire hazard, especially as the paper chain decorations criss-crossed the ceiling, but a hand’s breadth above.
The meal over, the table cleared, and the washing-up finished, it was time to relax and listen to the King’s speech on radio. King George V1 died in 1952 when I was 18, and for your interest I’ve found this 1951 Christmas Speech on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bO1k0Uuw7jg&feature=related .
My family were not church-goers, but in the late forties I was a member of the Wilton Church choir. I joined it for the ignoble reason of being paid a small sum at the end of each month which enabled me to buy comics, sweets, marbles, buns and all those delights of little boys. I remember buying a packet of bath salts for my Mum at Christmas, which kind act gave me a glow of inner satisfaction and brought about an outward visible halo because my face gleamed with delight. (It’s always more blessed to give than receive.)
Singing at the Carol Service was a great occasion, although I could never be in tune, but there was always something special about the festivity. Every Christmas the church was packed, and there would be a visiting preacher from the Franciscan Friary with a unique message barely understood by myself.
It wasn’t until I became a Christian back in 1984 that I really understood the significance of the story of the Magi presenting their gifts to the infant King. I believe it was from that event the secular world tradition of gift giving at Christmastide came into being, but much veiled by the myth of Father Christmas. The Wise Men were led to the Jewish King by the 'Star of Bethlehem' and the wisdom given to them of God. They recognised the One who had been born Immanuel, ‘God with us’. Their desire was to worship Him by the presentation of themselves and the giving of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. All of these were costly gifts symbolic in meaning: gold represented their worshipful tribute, frankincense stood for their honourable devotion to Him, and myrrh showed their respect and value of Him.
In secular Christmas traditional objects there are hidden symbolisms associated with the birth and death of Christ. The leaves and greenness of a Christmas tree represent eternal life, because of its evergreen characteristic. The angel at the top of the tree reminds one of the Angel Gabriel, who announced the birth of Christ to the Virgin Mary and the decorative lights speak of the Light of the World who brought light into the world when He was born in a stable at Bethlehem. A holly wreath that adorns the front door has cruel spiked leaves that remind one of the thorns that dug into the Lord’s head when He was forced to wear a crown of thorns and the red berries speak of the blood that was shed when nails held Him to the cross.
Perhaps the most traditional Christmas object is the ‘robin’ Christmas card. Never, it seems at Yuletide is there a mantelshelf which does not have one of these. The robin is always pictured against a pure white snowfall; white being symbolic of the purity of Christ and the red breast of the tiny bird tells of Christ’s blood that was shed. The robin is for all seasons, the most faithful of birds that never deserts, mindful of the fact that the Lord is for ever faithful.
To finish my homily I’ll wish you a Very Happy Christmas and invite you to view my Christmas card in Cyberspace: http://www.smallsailboats.co.uk/robin/robin.htm , and you yachtsmen don’t forget to hoist your tree to the mast top.