Wishing you hope this Christmas

Publishing news and updates by K.A. Wiggins

21 Dec 2018

(first published in newsletter December 21 edition)

Christmas is next week. How are you doing?

I hope you’re having an awesome holiday season with not a cloud in the sky, but for many of us, Christmas is a tough time.

And maybe it’s because New Years looms—with all of its pressure to look back, reevaluate, and set those dreaded resolutions—that it also tends to be a season that shines a harsh light on the gap between reality and our dreams.

Christmas movies love diving into this stuff.

The endless flood of holiday romances, with or without kids in the picture, unpack the longing for love (and freedom from family and societal expectations) and a desire to return to a childlike place of belief.

We dream our prince will come . . .

Or our dead-end career will be replaced by something we love—that also makes us super-successful . . .

(The turkey will make itself . . . )

We’ll save the farm/family business/small town/ . . .

Estranged family members will reconcile . . .

Our enemies will repent from their wicked ways . . .

The ones we’ve lost will return to us . . .

(Peace on Earth . . . )

The true meaning of Christmas will transform our hearts . . .

Magic will return to our world . . .

It’s easy to read those lines with a cynical inner voice. How silly. How childish. We live in the real world.

Geez, those fantasy writers, amirite?

To be honest, I’m really not a fan of all those Hallmark-channel specials.

I don’t believe a prince will come and transform my world.

I already quit the terrible job, and while the new one is amazing, it’s still a tough slog and when it comes right down to it, work is still work.

Family is complicated and magic is hard to hold on to.

Peace on Earth and goodwill to men (& especially women) seems to get further away every year.

So where does that leave us?

While I’m all for escapist fantasies in whatever form of media you prefer, it’s also important to live in the real world at least some of the time.

But almost every woman I know is on depression and/or anxiety medication. Suicide rates are skyrocketing.

If right here, right now is all there is, people are opting out in droves.

And, without discounting the value of medication, therapy, and other treatments, I think there’s something about Christmas that can help all of us, wherever we’re at.

Before the song was the poem.

It gets crowded out these days by endless renditions of Jingle Bells and the controversy swirling around Baby It’s Cold Outside, but perhaps you’re familiar with an old carol: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

It’s a pretty tune, even if it doesn’t get that much radio play.

But take a look at the original text:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old, familiar carols play,

and wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


And thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


Till ringing, singing on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

It’s a poem about war and death and destruction.

Cheery, right? So festive!

Here’s the backstory:

In the mid-1800s, the dress of an accomplished artist, academic, art critic, mother, and wife named “Fanny” (Frances) caught on fire while she was with her children.

(Flammable women’s fabrics & dress designs were an epidemic of the time.)

Though she ran to her husband for help (and presumably to spare her children) and he sustained severe injuries trying to save her, she died the next morning.

Her husband had pursued her for over seven years prior to their marriage and would mourn her to the end of his days. Christmas was a particularly hard time after her death, as evidenced by his journal entries.

But the story doesn’t end there.

This widowed father of six was the famed American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and his home was the headquarters for George Washington in the early days of the American Revolution.

The year after Fanny Longfellow died, their eldest son ran away to join the Union Army during the American Civil War.

The following year he was shot in The Battle of Mine Run.

His father raced to his side in early December, learning that the bullet clipped his spine and paralysis was likely. Young Charley Longfellow survived, eventually recovering most of his mobility, but that moment had to have been devastating.

Henry Longfellow was nearly 60, widowed twice over, with six children under the age of 20, the eldest of whom was likely to be paralyzed for life.

And his country was ripping itself apart.

Longfellow wrote the poem Christmas Bells that December—but there’s one more verse that I didn’t include above.

He ends his lament against loss, death, and destruction like this:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”


Do you hear the triumph in that final stanza?

“The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail . . .”

What an absurd perspective. The world was a scary place in the mid-1800s.

It still is today.

There’s pain, loss, the small deaths of day-to-day miseries and the greater deaths of the ones we love.

War continues on, unrelenting. Oh, and we’re probably ruining the planet.

But Christmas reminds us to find and hold on to hope in the darkness.

It makes sense—the earliest baby-in-a-manger source of Christmas was about hope for a broken world.

Along the way, it’s picked up on other influences. Winter solstice—light returning to a dark, cold world. Legends of spirits and saints bringing some comfort into the harsh realities of winter.

Even the commercialistic modern Santa offers a kind of hope—if only for parents to be freed from shopping lists, for kids’ dreams to come true. For a last taste of magic in our prosaic, capitalist world.

Hope can make a difference.

It doesn’t deny or ignore yesterday’s mistakes and losses or today’s realities, but it validates dreams for a better future.

It doesn’t tell you you’re wrong or weak or foolish for the longings of your heart, but encourages you to continue on through whatever today may hold for you.

Hope frees you to keep living. To keep trying. To keep believing. To keep loving.

So this Christmas my wish for all of you is that you find hope that sustains you through this season and all your tomorrows.


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