In my book, Christmas Blossoms, an old Chinese craftsman has earned his living painting beautiful Christmas ornaments. His co-workers like to hear him explain what Christmas is about. He alone among them can tap into treasured Christmas memories, because he was born into a Catholic family before the Communist Revolution. After the Cultural Revolution in the 70s, Christmas was no longer considered a decadent holiday of the West. It had become business!
Something they didn’t talk about in my book, but of course would have in real life, was how ever did the West come up with all the stuff associated with Christmas? The artists knew there was an endless supply of subjects that lent themselves to a Christmas theme. Some subjects could be entirely new to the scene – like red pick-ups — and enjoy great success. Color combinations could be switched up, too. Still, the new subjects or new presentations, seemed to resonate with their buyers. Bells, candles, tinsel, deer, doormats, doorways, mantels, trees, birds, pups, sacks, stockings, caps, sleds, cradles, mangers, straw, gold, shepherds, kings, camels, pick-up trucks. The artist could add some flocking, or gold, or red bows or berries, and green holly, but they could not understand how all the images were connected. What did they all have in common? What did Rudolph have to do with Baby Jesus? What does St. Nick have to do with gifts? How are people, charmed by the quiet stillness of new-fallen snow, reminded of the Divine Child born in mild Bethlehem? They did understand some of the words they used on their ornaments, like ‘Merry,’ and ‘Cheer,’ and ‘Peace,’ and ‘Blessed.’ They also knew they were painting for more than holiday well-wishing. ‘Seasons Greetings!’ would do for that, or ‘Happy Holidays!’ But they crossed a line when they thought of peace or joy, because these were abiding things and of a higher order. Jian, my craftsman, would have said: The moon over new-fallen snow references the peacefulness of the Holy Family. Lovely mantles decked out reference the happy anticipation of the Christ child in the family home. Silly Rudolph references the mysteries of Christmas Eve when all the world is alert to gifts dropping from the sky. The red pick-up might reference the hard-working young father eager to get from field or factory to home. Jian saw the world at this time of year as sacramental. So many things pointed to Christ.
That’s the conversation I imagine they would have.
In fact, this is what I have come to see. For a short while, the world is full of signs and symbols. Just look around during this season: the Chanel building on New York’s 57th Street, decorated with a giant, gold-link signature belt and bow with enormous pearls, the over-the-top lights down a dark Connecticut road, tinsel and garlands on Main Street, creche scenes and Santa displays. All these things reference Baby Jesus. The sophisticated, the homey, the religious. Whether the secularists like it or not, they all point to the solemn festival of Our Lord’s birth. The Psalmist tells us to bring gifts and enter his courts; dress in holy attire. What better time?
That’s the way it is for me. There is an over the top quality about Christmas. Everything touched up a little by sparkle or color is enhanced and dressed for one reason. And isn’t it fitting that the whole world would celebrate the birth of a heavenly Child? That He transforms the world around us, just for a while, should not surprise us.
The Incarnation of the Christ Child touches the whole earth and we see it rejoice. That is the magic of Christmas, its charm, its enchantment. Little children see it. Religious people see it. Irreligious see through a glass darkly. They might find reflected the values of peace, generosity, merriment. I hope they do. Some don’t see anything, but long to. The longing itself is an Advent frame of mind and has its own blessedness.
Some people are irritated that there is so much junk, or, even if the decorations are in good taste, too much or too soon. I don’t like the excess, but for the sake of many, I think we should support a little license. I learned to exercise leniency towards Florida neighbors who had a giant blow-up of Frosty toasting in the sun. I can limit my shopping days at the mall. I can regulate when Christmas ambiance settles into my own home. I can make more of an effort to see my Christmas tasks as preparation for the Christ child. (Shush with the guilt of being busier than ever during this spiritual time.) I can have my Advent daily prayers at the ready. I can light my candles before the Christ child. (Probably made in China!)
Learn More About Christmas Symbols
Christmas Blossoms is an impassioned and imaginative tale that explores the fascinating irony of our most cherished Christmas objects, both sacred and secular, produced by the artists and craftsmen of Communist China. In their imaginations, in the depth of their hearts, what do these artisans think of the mangers, the shepherds, Santa Claus, and Mother Mary? Of the star, the bells, the holly, and the Wise Men? Most significantly, what do they make of the Holy Child Who exists at the heart of the West?
A story for young and old, parents and children alike, this beautifully illustrated novella captures how the Christmas spirit endures and stirs hearts despite the antagonistic forces of commercialism and oppression—and it will touch your heart as well. Prepare to be swept away as you witness the precious moment when Christmas returned to China.