Fifty-two years ago, I was a sixth-grade student at Ashland Elementary School in Lexington, KY. Back then, Christmas was celebrated in the public schools without any protests or legal actions from the non-Christian community. I remember that my few Jewish friends not only respected our celebration of the birth of our Savior, they seemed to revel in the joy of the season. It wasn't unusual that they would have a Hanakkah bush in their home. Of course, to an 11 year-old, it looked just like a Christmas tree to me. My point is that Christmas was truly a community celebration. It was a special season for both Christians and non-Christians.
At school, the last day before Christmas break included lots of yummy treats brought in by the mothers of the kids and exchanging gifts in class. A few weeks before, we had drawn names to see who we would be bringing a gift to. Of course, our teacher's desk was covered with little gifts from each of us.
As part of this joyous celebration, the school had an assembly that included a living nativity and a chorus composed of both sixth-grade classes. The parts of Mary and Joseph were played by sixth-graders, the wise men by fifth-graders, the shepherds by fourth-graders, and the various other characters, including the animals, by the younger kids.
My sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Wilson, directed the chorus. One of our featured songs was O Come All Ye Faithful. Unbeknownst to her, one of the other teachers taught us one of the verses in Latin, so when it came time for us to sing the standard second verse, we instead, sang the first verse again, but in Latin. When Mrs. Wilson realized what she was hearing, she was so overtaken with emotion that she broke out in tears of joy. This was our Christmas gift to her that would long outlast the calendars, the jewelry, the candies, or the books that our mothers had picked out for her as our gifts to her.
For the last fifty-two years, whenever I hear the song O Come All Ye Faithful, my mind races back to that day when a bunch of 11 and 12 year-olds gave a wonderful gift to a woman that we loved. I can still see her face vividly as we gave her a gift that cost us nothing but had more value than any of us understood at the time.
Over the years, as I recounted that day, I learned that what we did wasn't just a gift to Mrs. Wilson. It was a gift to each of us from one another. It was a wonderful memory that we will enjoy each year when we hear that song. I don't know about the others from my class, but I usually end up adding the Latin verse whenever I hear it. Adeste fideles laeti triumphantes, Venite, venite in Bethlehem. Natum videte Regem angelorum. Venite adoremus (ter) Dominum. Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine, Gestant puellae viscera. Deum verum, genitum non factum. Venite adoremus (ter) Dominum. Cantet nunc 'Io', chorus angelorum; Cantet nunc aula caelestium, Gloria! Soli Deo Gloria! Venite adoremus (ter) Dominum. Ergo qui natus die hodierna. Jesu, tibi sit gloria, Patris aeterni Verbum caro factum. Venite adoremus (ter) Dominum.
May the season be joyous to you and allow your childhood memories to live forever by sharing them with friends and family. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)
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