Thursday, December 25, 2008

“Peace on Earth, good-will to men!”

"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!" 

-   Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What an impossible message. The hope of peace and good-will that echoes down through the centuries at this time of year is an aching one. If peace and good-will is what we all want, why is human-kind so horrible at this peace thing? It would seem that we love war more than peace because we spend so much time making it. We excel at hurting each other. As I write this Christmas day, there are dozens of armed conflicts going on all around the world. Why can't we all just get along?

Leave it to the Scandinavians to try, at least at Christmas, to enforce the peace. A remarkable, five hundred years old tradition continues to this day in Sweden and Finland. At noon on Christmas Eve, in the public squares of towns throughout both countries, a declaration is read out loud in the text of the middle ages. It's premise is simple: the twelve days of Christmas are to be a time of civil peace by law. In olden days, a person committing crimes during this time was liable to a more stiff sentence than normal. While the Vikings were long gone, I guess the villagers liked to carouse a bit more than was wise during the extended holiday period and what with all that Wassail flowing, some people forgot themselves. The nudge to seek peace is universal. The hope of mankind is that we can all learn, someday, to live together.

Today marks the first of the twelve days of Christmas; a season to give and receive good will, to spend time with family and friends, sharing in the light that has come to the world. Today my immediate family celebrates, aware that this is the last year before our family structure changes and our traditions will adjust as well. And I celebrate this first day of Christmas with a candle of gratitude in my window in memory of the kind and loving Mother I lost this year and my Father who passed to the light nearly four years ago. I am blessed to know personally the truth of these words:

“The best Christmas gift of all is the presence of a happy family all wrapped up with one another. “

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