In the hope of reviving confidence in a new flourishing on earth of the sacral atmosphere of Christmases of yesteryear, Dr. Plinio recounts some facts from his later childhood.
After a year of struggles, sufferings and difficulties, we are approaching the feast of Holy Christmas, which, in my opinion, has the characteristic of making time stand still. Even in the most distressing situation, Christmas builds a wall, leaving on one side the misfortunes and tears, and on the other the bells that announce the joy of Christmas.
It is no ordinary joy, but a much deeper and more buoyant joy, which seems to be made of light. This light is the lumen Christi, which shone on earth on Christmas Eve and somehow shines again each year, bringing true joy and true peace of soul to even the most tormented.
The Christmas Eves of yesteryear
In order to transmit some sense of this grace, I believe it will not be out of place to recount some memories, in an attempt to revive the joys and impressions once felt on Christmas Eves.
What was Christmas like in 1920, therefore, in the last years of my childhood?
Someone might say that it was a matter of imagination, but I have the internal conviction that there was a grace given to me, just as to all the children of my time, at least those that I saw and knew. It was a generalized grace.
A few days before Christmas, the children were filled with expectation and joy, in the hope of the feasts that were about to take place. The earthly perspective of the feast played a role in the children’s joy. They knew that St. Nicholas, the affable holy Bishop, would come at night while everyone was asleep and leave presents for them: in the wealthy homes, large boxes; in the poorest homes, small boxes, but full of affection. Wherever there was a mother worthy to be called such, and a devoted father worthy of the title, some present would be placed by the child’s bedside, which represented something wonderful for the child.
Inundated by the joys of Christmas, children became better
Walking, running in the garden, playing, everything was done with a well-being proper to the innocence of childhood. To a large extent this joy was motivated by a higher factor, a foretaste of the strictly and definitely religious joy of the approaching Christmas. Something special was beginning to fill our souls.
Over the course of those days, children began to improve: those who lied, began to lie less; those who did not lie would censure one who lied; those who were not very observant of the schedule at home became more punctual. Everyone felt a greater sense of cleanliness of soul. And this joy of having a clean soul cannot be compared to any other throughout life.
A principle of purity, of limpidity, of honesty, of goodness and candour seemed to make itself felt on earth, acting in the souls of men. People began to be more kind to each other. Selfish children gladly lent their toys, crabby ones did small favours. And the elderly, even if they did not feel the same joy as the children, remembered the Christmases of their childhood and tried to give the impression that they were participating in the general happiness, becoming especially helpful and affectionate.
From joy to joy, until the apex of Christmas
In a certain room of the house, one could not enter because the Christmas tree was being prepared, as it was every year, with something new: a huge star, a new angel or other decoration.
When a child managed to see something of the surprise, he ran to tell the others, who received the news with an air of great importance. Amidst these joys, time went by until Christmas Eve, the day we went to midnight Mass. There the atmosphere was completely different.
As we lived near the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we went there on foot. All the houses were open and their lights were on. Walking through the streets you could see, in the modest as well as in the finest houses that were almost palaces, an illuminated Christmas tree. and you could hear an old gramophone playing Christmas music inside. One could feel the Christmas joy in each family. Everyone was finishing their preparations to depart for Mass, leaving only a servant to take care of the house. Soon the bells began to ring, announcing that Mass was about to begin.
The church was beautifully lit, and the altar was adorned with flowers. The Child Jesus was lying in a manger. When midnight struck, the priest entered and began the Mass, during which one felt something apparently contradictory: a mixture of recollection and an explosion of contentment.
Those who were old enough received Communion. Communion was the summit! I loved the idea that Our Lord Jesus Christ, who had been born in Bethlehem on such a night, was really present in me. It was a time for making requests, but above all for an indescribable feeling of intimacy. I had a prayer-card of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which represented Our Lord holding a child with black curly hair, with His hand around his shoulders, and pressing the child to His chest. Underneath was an aspiration which read more or less as follows: “O Good Jesus, have mercy on me!” I prayed it, thinking: right now, Our Lord is doing this to me…
After Mass, one had the impression that the graces of Christmas were spreading through all the houses. When we arrived at ours, it seemed that it was no longer the same one we had left. There was something religious, something sacred, something recollected about it that caused real wonder. Alongside this supernatural atmosphere, one could feel a joy dwelling in the house the like of which one had never noticed during the year. The greetings and felicitations began, and I was very sensitive to them, especially to the affection and greetings coming from Mama, which I counted on as a complement to Christmas Eve. It is impossible to describe the meaning of the kiss of a Catholic mother on a child whom she wants to be a Catholic too! After the greetings, the Christmas feast began.
Christmas Eve was, therefore, a luminous hiatus, full of an imponderable that cannot be described but that everyone felt, each one in his own era.
The day will come when true Christmases will re-emerge on earth
To what extent have those who are younger felt this? I fear that, at best, they only saw the end of it.
Televisions on all day, radios blaring commercialized Christmas carols, fluorescent and secular lights hanging on trees, in gardens of buildings and in apartments; empty churches. This is the modern Christmas!
The question arises: what remains of all that I have described? Is it only the memory that remains? Much more than that, there is hope! And it is with the aim of reviving this hope that I have narrated these facts. But is there only hope? No. We have a certainty, thanks to the divine promise: the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church (cf. Mt 16:18).
This certainty tells us that one day, after struggles, trials and battles, true Christmases will reappear on earth. And then, perhaps, someone will remember the description I have just given and will have the living conviction that the joy they will experience will not be born just then, but will be part of a long historical chain which will emerge from the depths of the waters of trial and will return to the light. It will be the authentic joy of the Blessed Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christmases more beautiful than those of yesteryear
Despite the decadence that is noticeable in Christmas celebrations nowadays, when compared with those of my time, I do not hesitate to affirm that the Christmases of those who, nowadays, struggle to remain faithful to the true Catholic spirit are even more beautiful than those of yesteryear. And if I, as a boy, could see what the Christmases I should spend in these days would be like, I would doubtless exclaim, “This is what I was born for!”
We must remember, then, that these joys of Christmas, under the smile of Mary Most Holy, will descend upon us, though we be in the most terrible affliction. We should also be encouraged by the confidence of seeing the promise of Our Lady at Fatima fulfilled: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph!” When this takes place, how sweet, harmonious and peaceful will be the feasts of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ! ◊
Taken, with slight adaptations, from:
Dr. Plinio. São Paulo. Year XIV.
No.165 (Dec., 2011); p.6-11