Every Christmas story has its seed in the very first one, told by Luke, a Gentile and Evangelist, who gives the most detailed account of the birth of an ordinary Jewish baby who grew up to be extraordinary indeed. It is found in the Bible, Luke 2:1-20. No matter what your beliefs, you can hardly escape knowing this story, which begins with a conqueror’s or-else demand: “A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a census of the whole world should be taken…” I first read these astounding words in the third grade, when I narrated my class’s Christmas play. It astounded me that a Roman emperor thought he had conquered the world. Christmas aside, it was my first lesson in political perspective.
I hope you’ll be reading a Christmas story or two during the holidays. Here are three of my favorites. I love them because their main characters run the gamut of personalities that can show us the way; lead us back; push us gently to think on the mystery that came to Earth in that little stable of Luke’s first Christmas story so long ago; a mystery we have yet to fathom, even after 2000 years of its retelling.
The first story is “Annabelle’s Wish,” a Little Golden Book, published in 1997, that is based on a story by Don Henderson. It was made into an animated film by Ralph Edwards Productions, and I envy you if you’ve seen it. I’m sure it’s a treat.
I won’t spoil the ending by telling you the story of this little calf, her friend Billy, and Santa Claus, but I was surprised to find in this rather obscure and humble Little Golden Book three profound truths that you may enjoy reflecting upon with a child at Christmastime:
First: When you’re afraid, doing a good deed for another may help you master your fear.
Second: Loving someone can make you forget your own desires, or at least send them to the back of your heart until a more proper time.
Third: If you have the patience to wait for it, a good deed from your past may come back to reward you with unexpected joy.
Annabelle the calf is good through and through from the start, unlike my second favorite:
Here he is, possibly the baddest, grumpiest, tightfisted meanie in classic English literature, Ebenezer Scrooge. Mean, yes, and it’s Christmas! So why can’t I wait for him to get into action in the book, on the stage, or on the screen? Why is this old story still popular with so many people? Well, I think it’s because if he can be redeemed, so can I. So can you. So can the meanest bully of a baddie in your life make a turn-around and bring out the good that is buried in his heart. Here are a few more truths I find in “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens:
First: No one is beyond redemption and forgiveness, no matter how awful, and the sooner we all behave as if we believe it, the happier, more merciful, and more just the world will be. Notice how quickly and warmly Scrooge’s nephew welcomes him on Christmas Day.
Second: No one is all good or all bad, and the sooner the goodies get down from their high horses, and the baddies stop reveling in the belief that they can never change, the better off we will all be.
Third: You can’t tell a book by its cover. Most frowns mask a pain of some kind. I always fall apart when Scrooge sees Fan, his long-dead sister.
And YES I KNOW! PLEASE don’t repeat for me the latest theory–that Scrooge was suffering from food poisoning or dementia–Bah! Humbug!
My third favorite Christmas story stars a protagonist whose mug is as ugly as the character he presents to the outside world:
I have loved this story ever since I first read it, soon after Dr. Seuss published it back in the 1950s. Who would dare consider such a dastardly deed? Who would ever forgive it? Well, the Who’s would. They’re better than we are. Here are a few truths I find in this story:
First: People’s behavior in the face of loss can bring out the best in others. Notice what the Who’s did that made the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes that day.
Second: Nothing is gained by holding a grudge. You may even get your stolen goods back.
Third: Forgiveness makes Peace and Good Will go viral.
Whatever you’re reading this season, MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!