Christmas Mystery

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,” says my favorite Christmas carol. Doesn’t that sound like a great idea? The world could sure use a thrill of hope right now.

That carol, “Oh Holy Night,” is playing on my CD player while I put up my Christmas tree, and as usual, it makes me stop and reminisce. All the carols have the power to whisk me back in time. I’m three or four again, playing under our Christmas tree with the little metal train chugging around it; I see it as clearly as I see the artificial one I’m putting together now. I feel my cozy, soft flannel pajamas with the little red reindeer, I can smell my mother’s candles. But mostly, I’m bathed again in mystery. Wonder.

In church, after mass, we walked up to see the creche with the real-looking Baby Jesus. While no one was watching, I reached out, quickly, and touched the straw that stuck out all around the manger. It was prickly, scratchy. I never saw straw in my ordinary New York City life. It was magic.

The electric candles in our window smelled more flame-like to me, in my Christmas world, than any real candle. Every evening, after supper, I waited, excited at my new responsibility: when my mother said it was time, I climbed up on the stuffed chairs in front of the windows and flipped the switch on the tall plastic candelabras. Behind their brilliant colors, the street that was normally so dark on winter nights glowed white with snow. More magic.

When my children were small, they never saw a street transform slowly from wintry black to soft white, one swirling flake at a time. There was no mystery in their world. Everything was reasonable, explainable. Did they always know, or maybe suspect, that Santa Claus was Grampie?

It might be just the nostalgia of my own Christmases past that paints the memories with those glowing, primary colors. My Christmas memories glow with an intensity that time never seems to diminish, and each year, I find myself hoping that my own children have some memories as mysterious, as wonder-inducing and as lifelong as my own. Mystery adds depth to an ordinary life — and can help make anyone in this weary world rejoice.

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