From the newsletter of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Fairbanks, Alaska:
“But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
Remembering his parents’ red bell, which always hung in the house on Christmas, because it had always hung in his father’s childhood house on Christmas . . . and now has disappeared. maybe.
In those days . . . the trash furnace behind the School was a round contraption of rusted metal and a gimcracky teetering stovepipe. It hid behind the white frame buildings, away from public view. You could watch bright flames burning in the rusted holes of the metal. In the days after Christmas, the B.I.A. teacher was back there, tossing boxes through the opened door. I stumbled into him and watched the flames burning. Schools accumulate paper, and I assumed that’s what was in the boxes. Black and gray smoke up into the winter air; delicate ash falling fragilely down onto our snow.
Then I saw the boxes disappearing into the consuming flames were filled with Christmas ornaments and decorations. Santa Clauses and angels and candycanes offered into the conflagration.
The teacher was a creative soul. He had stunned us early in the Winter, when he walked into the Village Store, fresh from a school lesson on the Civil War, dressed as Abraham Lincoln. (“They must handpick these people for us”, said my brother-in-law watching, shaking his head). He had charmed us at Christmas, with the beauty and intricacy of his handmade Christmas decorations. Now they were all disappearing into the flames.
One of the understood Rules of Community Life is hardly ever do we interfere in someone else’s business. We will all watch what you are doing and we will all certainly discuss what you are doing, but hardly ever will we intervene. It’s your business. Nonetheless, I had to protest. “What are you doing?” I asked, “Those were wonderful”. As he tossed the decorations into the flames he said, “I make Christmas decorations every year; and then throw them away after. If I didn’t; I wouldn’t make new ones. Christmas is always new, not old.”
And away they went, turning all into delicate dark ash falling fragilely onto our white snow.
We construct the House of Christmas as a House of Memory. We hang childhood ornaments made by now adult children on the trees and remember. A familiar carol comes jangley over the store’s speakers, and we are snared in once upon a time moments. My friend sits at home on her couch remembering, I am sure, nearly a century ago - she and her friend Josephine lying in bed on that long ago Christmas night, whispering and eating Christmas candy. Candlelight whispers in the darkened Church and we are wrapped in other Christmases, other services. We crowd into the Church Christmas Eve, all of us, seen and unseen, with all of our memories – “the hopes and fears of all the years” - and they are sacred and real that Night, reminding us they are sacred and real all nights, all days.
And yet, and yet. Christmas is always more than memories, a once-upon-a-time, a Past. “Once in royal David’s City”, yes; but it is Christmas Present. Christmas Future. Christmas wine is always a new wine.
Quietly over there, hardly noticed, that young quiet couple, crowded shyly into the corner of the Church. He stands, protective. She sits, holding the Child, wrapped in its soft blue blanket. The Child sleeps, eyelashes soft on cheek. There are memories of the pregnancy, its wonder and terror, but now there is only This Child, This Holy Night, This First Christmas for them, for us.
Always New; Always Beginning.
“There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;”- “God’s Grandeur”, Gerard Manley Hopkins