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Christmas Creep

November 12, 2014

I am a proud Christmas Creeper. I set up the Christmas tree Thanksgiving weekend, get the lights ready to go December 1st, and listen to Christmas songs in earnest November 1, if not earlier. It wasn’t always so. I was once like the rest of you Christmas Creep hating Scrooges. But not any more.

A few years ago I started researching the stories behind some famous Christmas carols, and they are, in a word, awesome. Silent Night and O Holy Night are a couple of the very first Christmas hymns, come from humble beginnings, and have fascinating and inspiring stories. It’s well worth your time to learn their histories.

A couple of years ago I decided to research another song and picked I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day. It was not necessarily a favorite of mine at the time, but now it’s one of the most poignant for me.

It was written by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day, 1864. Three years prior his wife had died in a fire. Longfellow still carried the scars from his attempt to save her. Three years later, and against Longfellow’s wishes, his 17 year old son joined the Union army to fight in the Civil War. In the months leading up to Christmas, his son was critically injured in battle.

For him, Christmas had become a time of mourning, writing in his journal, “A Merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.”

I think I can understand some of what Longfellow was feeling that day. When my daughter was just days old we rushed her to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. I vividly remember going to the hospital after work and school one day and breaking down upon seeing her covered in tubes and bruised from the countless needle pricks to draw her blood. I held her in my arms and sobbed. That was the first week of December. She spent her first Christmas with an IV infusion ball attached to her arm. She still has two little scars from it. Christmases have always had a tinge of melancholy for me since then.

Two years ago my father passed away. My parents split when I was young and I didn’t know him growing up. My mother remarried and I had a great step dad. I had only reconnected with him a couple of years previous, and it was a halting, at times awkward reconnecting. He had a big white beard and a jolly laugh, and he played Santa during the holidays, I think to make up for not having his kids with him for so many years. We once were in a restaurant in December and a little girl came up to us sure that he was Santa Claus. That happened to him all the time. The last time I saw him I cut our visit short in favor of other obligations. A month or two later he died all alone. I’m not sure I will ever not be sad about that. I think about it every time I see a Santa Claus.

For some reason Christmas makes our heartbreaking moments more poignant. I can imagine Longfellow waking up that morning and hearing the church bells ringing. I imagine he felt that same ping of melancholy. He must have been heartbroken when he wrote

“and in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said.”

But Christmas also turns our heartbreaks into faith. No man was more heartbroken than He was. So when Longfellow wrote about his despair, the Christmas bells pierced his broken heart, and mended it. He then wrote

“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.”

We Mormons believe that “the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me”, and when I hear Christmas songs I feel as Longfellow did. I like when the bells peal loud and deep. I like what it does to this time of year. God is not dead nor doth he sleep. Right will prevail.

So I let Christmas creep, even into November (or beyond). The more, and more often, we can feel as Longfellow did Christmas Day 1864, the better.

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One Comment
  1. Jen permalink

    It’s true, you are a creeper in so many different ways. But you also nailed this. I also have past Christmas’ that were trying. Greg was in the hospital in 2004. He didn’t come home until February. That was a hard year because my kids were so young, and I did not yet posses the strength of character I have now. 😉 I am also a bit leery of this year. The last Christmas married to Greg as the divorce takes 90 days. I don’t know. It feels….raw. And yet, there is a sense of peace that comes from knowing you aren’t alone in something. Others suffer too. They struggle through heartache and tragedy and still find joy and peace. When others, like Longfellow, suffer tragedy more trying than my own and still pull it together, it gives me hope. That’s why everyone likes songs like these. Trials, tragedy, and the overcoming of them is everyone’s story. It’ the reason we’re here.

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