Morgan Griffith: Christmas traditions
Christmas brings with it many traditions and memories. Whether a family gathering, an annual party, a song, a food, or something else, almost everyone has something they look forward to savoring at this time of year.
I recall from my childhood the delight my sister Betsy and I took for years in a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer decoration my mother made for her classroom and brought home from the school where she taught. It was a profile cutout with the body covered in white cotton balls and a red ball nose. From when we were three or four years old to about fifteen, we insisted that it hang on the door of our little house on Broad Street, even having it remade when the original one wore out.
Certain songs and books centered on Christmas still strike a chord, year after year, and I have used this column during the holiday season to dwell on some of my favorites, each with its own backstory making it especially powerful or resonant.
For example, to return to Rudolph, this story originated with a Montgomery Ward catalog writer named Robert L. May. He created the red-nosed reindeer for a coloring book the store gave to children, pouring himself into it after his wife passed away. With the help of his brother-in-law, a composer, May then fashioned the story into a song. Several high-profile singers passed on recording it, so the legend goes, but Gene Autry’s wife persuaded him to sing it. His version is the one most familiar to us.
In 2014, I wrote in my Christmas column about Charles Dickens’ first novel, The Pickwick Papers, which he published in 1837. One of its stories involved a lonely, miserable man, who on Christmas Eve was shown the past and the future by supernatural beings and reformed his life as a consequence.
If this story strikes you as familiar even though you have never read The Pickwick Papers, you may recognize it as the general plot to a book Dickens published six years later. A Christmas Carol, Dickens’ tale of the reformation of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge after his haunting by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, remains widely beloved, both as a book and in its various cinematic and theatrical adaptations. Just in the past few weeks, I enjoyed a play based on Dickens’ book with my family.
Each Christmas we revisit the traditions that mean the most to us. As other circumstances in our lives change over the years, the songs, stories, or other traditions of the holiday season maintain their familiar, timeless aspects. Even in the most horrific conditions, they can provide comfort.
This is what happened in 1914 along the Western Front during World War I, as I wrote in my 2016 Christmas column. On Christmas Eve, German soldiers in their trenches sang “Silent Night,” and the British responded with “The First Noel.” A few soldiers ventured from each side and met in “No Man’s Land” between the trenches, and soon hundreds met to swap gifts and play soccer in what is remembered as the Christmas Truce.
Whatever it is about this season that you most enjoy, I hope that you can spend this time in safety with your family and friends.
I will close with the subject of my first Christmas column, in 2011, which told the story of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. This carol began as a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called Christmas Bells. He wrote it in the 1860s after he lost his wife, killed in a fire that left him badly burned, and after his son was severely wounded in the Civil War.
Despite these twin tragedies, the bells of Christmas still offered hope to Longfellow, as well as his fellow men and women:
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men…
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!
No matter what your particular faith, peace on Earth, good will to men!
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.