My brother Frankie was quite little for the first five to seven years of his life. In 1959, he was the smallest in his kindergarten class, so he was selected as one of the main characters for the Christmas play. I was 7 years old and remember even today how beautiful the stage was. The manger, children dressed as little animals and the taller children were the three wise men with jeweled boxes in hand. There were angels and, of course, in the center stood Mary and Joseph.
In a little wooden bed (center stage) wrapped in a blanket was my brother Frankie (baby Jesus). A spotlight from above simulated the bright star in the sky over Bethlehem.
The children didn’t talk; instead they sang Christmas carols “Jingle Bells,” “Oh, Holy Night,” “Come all Ye Faithful” and my favorite, “Little Drummer Boy” (pa rum pa pa pum).
It was so magical for me. Well at least until my brother sat up in the wooden cradle and loudly requested to one of the angels, “Please cover up my feet. They’re cold.” The audience roared uncontrollably with laughter.
I recall that vision of my little brother more than any other. Each and every Christmas we literally reduced ourselves to tears laughing and remembering that night.
In 1975 at age 21, Frankie was killed in an auto accident. Now, after all these years, we all remember that little boy in the manger, but just hold back tears because he is not here to laugh with us.
An unsolicited e-mail arrived this morning: “In stores and in corporate America, we have seen the changes: Christmas parties have become “holiday parties,” and images of Jesus are replaced with cardboard snowmen. Now, even with a festival that is specifically about Christmas, officials in Chicago are warning about offending non-Christians.”
If you feel like saying Christmas, say it. If you want to decorate your front lawn or your business with a nativity scene, do it. If you have dear friends who are Jewish, say “Happy Hanukkah.” It is the salutation that recognizes their traditional way of celebrating a miracle. The Menorah will be present. This symbolizes belief in purity and family, not the pagan ways of invaders to Israel centuries ago.
To those friends who are nonbelievers, call out, “Enjoy this winter season, let others enjoy Christmas or Hanukkah in peace.”
As for me, I should never have to erase the memories of my childhood or beliefs that I have about Christmas in order to not “offend” others.
I love to drive through the neighborhoods and delight in seeing snow-covered lawns with Santas, reindeer, snowmen or a Menorah with lit candles in a window. Yet I find myself always wanting to stop at the house with a nativity scene. It reminds me of Frankie and Christmas the very most.
Enjoy your beliefs and those you love and hold dear.
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