This week, we’ll do a Christmas poem—a little early. In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a poem about children at Christmastime seems a good remedy for broken hearts.
I remember those church programs. We’d work for weeks on the rehearsal. The program was the same every year, and you’d move up from misc. angel (or. misc. shepherd or wise man) to Mary (or Joseph) to narrator as you moved through the grades. After hearing the gospel story of Jesus’s birth read so many times, I now have it memorized: In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled….
But only after reading this poem do I remember, too, the years that Alvin Quarne dressed up in a Santa suit to hand out brown paper lunch sacks filled with peanuts in the shell, hard candy, and oranges. I remember, now, thinking as a kid, Santa really shouldn’t be in church. Not yet knowing the word “secular,” I certainly understood the idea.
Christmas party at the South Danbury Church
we gather at the white Church festooned
red and green, the tree flashing
green-red lights beside the altar.
After the children of Sunday School
recite Scripture, sing songs,
and scrape out solos,
they retire to dress for the finale,
to perform the pageant
again: Mary and Joseph kneeling
cradleside, Three Kings,
shepherds and shepherdesses. Their garments
are bathrobes with mothholes,
cut down from the Church’s ancestors.
Standing short and long,
they stare in all directions for mothers,
sisters and brothers,
giggling and waving in recognition,
and at the South Danbury
Church, a moment before Santa
arrives with her ho-hos
and bags of popcorn, in the half-dark
of whole silence, God
enters the world as a newborn again.
from The New Criterion (Jan. 1995)