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The Light of Thy Childhood Again

The 'little-kid' feeling can be kept at any age

"Mary and the Christ Child," by Robert T. Barrett
"Mary and the Christ Child," by Robert T. Barrett Photo: Courtesy Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

An acquaintance of mine once said, "There is nothing left to Christmas once the children are gone." This was no "Scrooge" speaking. There was no spirit of "Christmas humbug" in his voice. This was a grandfather who was voicing the disappointment that the magic of Christmas as it used to be had been lost or taken from him somehow. His grandchildren lived at a distance and were not able to spend Christmas with him.

Whether this magic was lost or stolen or just worn out, I think he did not know. But he voiced for everyone who is adult, I think, a feeling about Christmas and how it has changed since we were young. He might have added, "There is little left to Christmas once childhood is gone."

Whether mature in years or young age adults, you may feel such a disappointment at losing the feeling of Christmas past. I have wondered with concern that for some young adults Christmas means the least of all. Not only has that magic gone they knew as little boys or little girls at Christmastime, but perhaps skepticism has entered from their having "found out" about Christmas.

"Simeon Reverencing the Christ Child," by Greg Olsen
"Simeon Reverencing the Christ Child," by Greg Olsen Photo: Courtesy Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

It is a beautiful, fanciful story, isn't it? The one that begins at the North Pole and centers around the well-fed little gentleman with the red suit and the white whiskers. It includes elves in a special workshop, a year-long preparation, lists of names. You remember when it included the accounting of deeds, both good and bad? It tells of chimneys and stockings and presents and a sleigh drawn, of all things, by eight reindeer who miraculously enough can fly.

It is no wonder that we are reluctant to give up such a beautiful fancy.

I suppose every adult, if they were to admit it, at one time or another has felt that yearning: "Backward, turn backward, oh, time, in your flight, Make me a child again just for tonight."

Can you remember when you knew just a little bit less about Christmas than you do now? Do you remember when you still believed? If there is a feeling of disappointment in you at Christmastime, and if you suffer a longing for times as they were, it means you never really discovered Christmas at all — only the child's feelings about it. So once you have lost your childhood, you have somehow lost Christmas.

The Apostle Paul said, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11).

"Calling  of the Fishermen," by Harry Anderson
"Calling of the Fishermen," by Harry Anderson Photo: Courtesy Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

I once made a test with nearly a thousand teenagers. Early one fall (it had to be very early, before the Christmas advertisements and displays were in the stores) I asked them to react with the first thought that came into their minds as I gave them a list of words. Among the words was Christmas. Would you believe that 94 percent of them responded with words such as presents, snow, reindeer, lights, trees, Santa Claus? Two percent responded with things that did not relate to Christmas at all. One boy, for instance, responded "broken leg." That had been his experience for Christmas the year before. I was amazed that no one responded with "broken wallet." That somehow is everybody's experience of last year's Christmas. There were only four out of a hundred who responded with Christ, or words such as Bethlehem, Christmas carol, wise men, shepherds, or any word that might be connected with the story of the first Christmas.

"He Is Risen," by Del Parson
"He Is Risen," by Del Parson Photo: Courtesy Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The Christmas season, now so commercialized, has trespassed upon this holy day. We call it a holiday, but it is a holy day. We have trespassed upon it as did the moneychangers in the temple.

You may, as many do, resist giving up the "childish" things about Christmas because you see virtue in them. Perhaps you remember the admonition of the Lord, "Except ye . . . become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

But you cannot find it, this magic about Christmas, you cannot find it by going back to your childhood. Victor Herbert's famous Babes in Toyland includes these words:

Toyland, Toyland, Little girl and boy land,

While you dwell within it You are ever happy then.

Childhood's joyland, Mystic, merry Toyland.

Once you pass its borders, You may ne'er return again" (Victor Herbert and Glen MacDonough, "Toyland" in The Reader's Digest Merry Christmas Songbook p. 106).

There is really no looking back. We lose our bearing if we leave the Christmas of childhood disillusioned. It is easy thereafter to feel that "seeing is believing." If you are fixed on that, you do not have the hope of ever again finding Christmas as it once was and as it ought to be, because it works the other way around: "Believing is seeing."

"Healing at the Pool of Bethesda," by Carl Heinrich Bloch
"Healing at the Pool of Bethesda," by Carl Heinrich Bloch Photo: Courtesy Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

I have no quarrel with that well-fed gentleman with the red suit and the white whiskers. He was very generous to me when I was a boy. Now it is for our grandchildren and we still look forward with great anticipation to his visit to our home each year. The tree is always there, the holly wreath, the stockings hung along the fireplace mantel. When I was a boy we had no fireplace, so our stockings were hung on the back of the chairs. It worked wonderfully well for all ten of us. I know of few things on this earth quite so celestial as the face of a little youngster, happy, hopeful, and believing, with Christmas almost here. That is the gift that children give to parents at Christmastime. Those things about Christmas are good because they are for children — except, I suppose, the mistletoe.

If you would see what you get in exchange for giving up the childish illusion of Christmas, you could look forward to the greatest of all discoveries. No matter what your age, you can find and can keep that "little-kid" feeling about Christmas. A good beginning, I suggest, is the second chapter of Luke:

"And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; … To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. … And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:1–11).

The Christmas story in the second chapter of Luke takes, I suppose, a minute and a half to read. It might take a minute more to ponder on it. Yet how infrequently, how remarkably infrequently, does the reading of this sacred account find its way into the family festivities at Christmastime.

The Christmas story does not end there. It is only the beginning. When we, as adults, accept a new status as children of our God, our Father, we may humble ourselves and believe again and in so doing begin to see that in exchange for the fanciful poetry of "The Night Before Christmas" comes the miracle of the first Christmas that grows in every season.

The whole account — from Bethlehem to Calvary — is the Christmas story, and it takes simple, childlike faith to find that out.

It is sophistication that makes Christmas bells ring discordant notes to some, but it is humility that causes others to become as children. Believing is seeing!

A spirit does envelop the earth at Christmastime, and we can be changed by it. Charles Dickens in his A Christmas Carol said of Scrooge: "Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have to have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind any way, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him."

"Christ Healing a Blind Man," by Del Parson
"Christ Healing a Blind Man," by Del Parson Photo: Courtesy Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

And Dickens closed his story with these words: "And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge."

The fanciful, beautiful story of the well-fed man in the red suit and the whiskers isn't much to give up if we replace the fancy of it with the fact of the true Christmas story. In the true account are things much more miraculous even than reindeer that fly.

This is the story of opening the eyes of the blind:

"And when he was come near, he asked him, Saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee. And immediately he received his sight" (Luke 18:40–43).

And it is the story of cleansing the leper:

"And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed" (Mark 1:40–42).

And of walking on the water:

"But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea" (Matthew 14:24–25).

And of stilling the tempest:

"And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm" (Mark 4:38–39).

And of raising the dead: "Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.

"Stilling the Storm," by Ted Henninger
"Stilling the Storm," by Ted Henninger Photo: Courtesy Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

"And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.

"And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go" (John 11:41–44).

And there was the blind man of Bethsaida; the Syrophoenician woman; the centurion's servant; the blind and dumb demoniac (Mark 8:22–26; Matthew 15:22–28; 8:5–13; 12:22). There was Peter's mother-in-law; the one with palsy; the one with the withered hand (Matthew 8:14–15; Mark 2:3–12; Luke 6:6–10). It is the story of the lunatic child; the ten lepers; the miraculous draught of fishes; the multitudes that were fed (Matthew 17:14–21; Luke 17:12–19; 5:4–11; Matt. 15:32–38). And there were others raised from the dead: the widow's son at Nain and Jairus' daughter (Luke 7:11–18; Matthew 9:23–26).

Indeed it is a bargain, trading the fanciful poetry of "The Night Before Christmas" for the factual account of the actual Christmas story and then learning that you may keep them both. And you never need fear, in this life or the next, nor ever be disillusioned about what is really Christmas.

Alma spoke about believing and about seeing:

"But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words" (Alma 32:27).

Then you can believe and can see. The "little-kid" feeling about Christmas is for children of all ages. It has been that way all these years. But, with many there still is no room for Him in the inn. He has said:

"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20).

"Jesus Shows His Wounds," by Harry Anderson
"Jesus Shows His Wounds," by Harry Anderson Photo: Courtesy Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Of all times of the year, at Christmastime Latter-day Saints ought to be the most joyful, ought to have greater cause for festivity than anyone, ought to enjoy the Christmas tree and the holly wreath and the stockings and the mistletoe and gifts and toys and children and even reindeer that can fly! When you accept the true account of the birth of Christ, it will indeed "Bring thee the light of thy childhood again."

I bear witness that the Lord Jesus Christ lives. I know that He lives. He was born a babe in Bethlehem; He grew and fulfilled His ministry; He was crucified on the cross; He was resurrected; and He lives now, directing personally the operations of His Church upon the earth and manifesting Himself personally to His servants, that belief might be swallowed up in knowledge, that His work might go forth.

I bear this witness to you in the name of Jesus Christ, and say Merry Christmas!

President Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve, gave permission for the Church News to excerpt this from an address he gave at Brigham Young University on Dec. 19, 1962.

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