Reading about Christmas
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - December 19, 2019 - 12:00am

“If you find that many of the things you asked for have come and not perhaps quite so many as sometimes, remember that this Christmas all over the world there is a terrible number of poor and starving people.”

This quote is part of a letter in the book The Father Christmas Letter,  part of a collection of letters written and illustrated by J.R.R. Tolkien between 1920 and 1942 for his children from Father Christmas.  Tolkien was the author of several best selling fantasy books including Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and Silmarillon. When the book was first published, it was thought to be solely a children’s book. Like his other novels, “Father Christmas Letters” became known also as an adult fantasy  book.

The letters were written by Tolkien to his children from Father Christmas about his travels and adventures. They document the adventures of Father Christmas and his helpers including North Polar Bear and his two sidekick cubs, Paksu and Valkotukka. It has been suggested that Father Christmas may have been the basis for the character Gandalf in his Lord of the Rings novels.

It is not just their stories I enjoyed; but, the nuggets of wisdom and compassion in the stories. Here is the complete paragraph, written in the 1920s but still so relevant today:

“ I hope you will like the little things I have sent you. You seem to be more interested in Railways just now, so I am sending you mostly things of that sort. I send you as much love as ever, in fact more. We have both, the old Polar Bear and I enjoyed having so many nice letters from you and your pets. ... I have had to do some collecting of food and clothes and toys too for the children whose fathers and mothers and friends cannot give them anything, sometimes not even dinner.  Know yours won’t forget you. So my dears I hope you will be happy this Christmas and not quarrel.”

Every year, I read a lot of recommended Christmas books. One of the most interesting list comes from Professor Bruce Forbes who recommended five books. The first is 4,000 Years of Christmas by Earl and Alice Count. This book written in 1912 is about the pre-Christian roots of winter festivals with all kinds of traditions that Christianity borrowed or morphed for its own purposes.

Jesus was probably not born on the 25th of December. The Roman Empire celebrated the birthday of the “god of the unconquerable sun” Mithras on Dec. 25.

The next is the Origins of Christmas which looks at the origins of St. Nicholas, the Magi and so on. The legend of St. Nicholas started with a bishop in the 4th century in what is now Turkey who gained fame for his generosity to children. His saint’s day was June 6. Over time he became associated with Christmas. However, it was in the United States that he morphed into Santa Claus.

At the start, his image was that of a Dutchman who rides a wagon pulled through the air by horses on St. Nicholas Day. It was only in 1823 with the famous poem “ T’was the Night Before Christmas” that he moved to Christmas Day and flies with reindeer and not horses.

The book A Christmas Carol is actually a propaganda book by Charles Dickens. With the Puritan revolution in England in the 17th century, the Puritans tried to outlaw Christmas. In his book, Dickens is an advocate for Christmas and tries to bring back the old traditions. He is helping to restart and recreate Christmas.

Dickens’ book is not a religious book. He focuses on the Christmas spirit which is the concern for the poor and the less fortunate in society.

The Battle for Christmas by Nissenbaum shows that prior to the 19th century, there was a carnival atmosphere during Christmastime with wild parties and riots. In the 19th century the movement to domesticate Christmas and emphasize it as a family holiday started. Nissenbaum also discusses how Christmas became commercialized.

The book Encyclopedia of Christmas Books is primarily a resource book with lots of tidbits  about Christmas. Where did the Christmas tree come from? What is the nutcracker? Where did gift giving come from? In the Church we like to say that it has to do with the three wise men bringing gifts to baby Jesus which started the gift giving tradition. But I think it is the commercial interests that has maintained and expanded this tradition. 

A Child’s Treasury of Philippine Christmas Stories by Lin A. Flores and Annette Flores Garcia has been highly recommended by my wife Neni Sta. Romana Cruz. It is published by Tahanna Books. I especially love the book review:

“Christmas in the Philippines is like a tall glass of halo-halo with Filipino sweetened beans, pinipig, saba, Chinese gulaman, Spanish leche flan, and American ice cream – it is colorful to look at and delicious, too.

Mother and daughter authors Lin Flores and Annette Flores Garcia’s collection of original Yuletide stories, set in different parts of the Philippines, celebrate well loved Filipino customs and time honored traditions. Illustrated with zest and warmth by Albert Gamos, these tales of love, friendship, sharing and forgiveness are sure to delight young readers for Christmas and throughout the year.”

Merry Christmas and I hope for all of us – Peace on Earth!

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