In the 2,000 years since the birth of Jesus, and since people learned the significance of his birth, they have declared their gratitude in diverse ways: prayers, paintings, novels, poems, rituals, musical compositions, dramas, shrines.
And not to omit the centres of observances, the churches: Christmas liturgies proclaim the essence of the event in its simplicity and its drama. The secure reference points of the liturgy and readings from the Bible invite the flow of creative interpretation.
In this connection, I think of T.S. Eliot's The Journey of the Magi, published in 1927 in which one of the Magi the recounts the hazards of their trip to Bethlehem. Puzzled by what they experienced there, he concludes, "We returned to our places, these kingdoms, but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensations."
And we yearn for a few more lines of his reflections.
'You will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.'
In 1941, Katherine Davis wrote an endearing interpretation of a legend whereby the Magi invite a boy to share their visit. He, The Little Drummer Boy tells his story: "Come they told me, pa rum pa pum pum . . . A new born King to see. . ."
The boy asks Mary if he could play for him on his drum. Mary approves, and he plays. Then the Babe "smiled at me, pa rum pa pum pum. Me and my drum."
The lack of the literal fact of the fable takes nothing from the truth it represents.
Thomas Hardy's short poem The Oxen expresses a similar yearning for the beauty of simplicity. The poet reminisces about a legend, made vivid in memory by the words of an elder recounting the story as they sat around a hearth.
According to the tale, the oxen fell to their knees at midnight on Christmas Eve. By and by, the literal meaning of these words would not stand. Even so, though disillusioned, he admits if someone said, "Come see the oxen kneel" he would go, hoping that "it might be so." I would join them.
Those writings, samples from a richest store, come to us from other days and other lands; what about here and now? Lest one might think, "Just so," I have news.
Southern Alberta harbours a gem, a town named Rosebud nestled in a shallow valley on the prairie, south and not far from Drumheller. Rosebud has become a centre for the visual and performing arts.
At this time of Advent, Rosebud Theatre offers the premiere of an original production, a folk musical titled May and Joe. It plays to sold-out audiences. Light in mood, reverential in tone; its resemblances to persons and events seem familiar.
May and Joe travel in a broken-down truck from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay where Joe has a job as a carpenter. May, it seems is pregnant – and without Joe's intervention. Joe "doesn't get it." He needs advice. Happily, he has help from an angel.
All in our own day. Christmas lives!
(Ralph Himsl: email@example.com)