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CHRISTMAS  BY  CANDLELIGHT

HEDWIG LEWIS SJ

 

"I love the Christmastide, and yet,
I notice, each year I live;
I always like the gifts I get,
But how I love the gifts I give!"

 

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Foreword

Christmas by Candlelight!
Sounds very romantic. It conjures up images of Christmas dinners in an atmosphere of intimacy and confidentiality. Or, for the more prosaic, it spells eventide, a time for mellow moods evoked by gentle glows from the Christmas Tree and Crib, the coming-to-oneself after an exuberant day. For the prayerful it suggests a time for solitude and silence, for communication with the new-born King in the depths of one’s heart.

The stories in this book are like multi-coloured Christmas candles that light up your life. Some stories have an air of intimacy and confidentiality, some produce moods of joy and enthusiasm, some lead to prayer. And the book, like a sumptuous Christmas dinner, provides appetizing food-for-thought, nourishment for the heart, and energy for the body. The stories inspire, inform, enlighten, transform and motivate.

Moreover, there is an important symbol attached to the humble candle.

"A Christmas Candle is a lovely thing;
It makes no noise at all,
But softly gives itself away;
While quite unselfish, it grows small."

Practically all the stories in this book highlight this significance of the spirit of Christmas as exemplified by the candle. The stories are all about self-giving – the most important and most genuine gift one can give anyone during this season and all through life. For did not the Son of God "empty himself" of his divinity and become a helpless child in the arms of humanity, so as to bring joy and healing to all God's children?

Readers who are familiar with my earlier works, particularly the ‘Mirrors’-trilogy, will know that I am an avid collector of stories, anecdotes, poems and quotes. I’ve been at it for over a quarter of a century and have built quite a repertoire. The materials, which I have collected from magazines, newspapers, books, posters, calendars, homilies, lectures ..., have been a great source of inspiration to me, in the first place, and have come in handy for my priestly ministries.

Christmas By Candlelight is not a comprehensive anthology of any sort. It is just a random collection of Christmas stories, some of which I had found over a dozen years ago (when I had not the least intention of writing a book) during my stay in the U.S. and London. Since I have not preserved the references to their sources, I regret my inability to make due acknowledgement, but I am grateful to the authors and publishers for providing the material used here. Almost all the stories have been ‘retold’, ‘adapted’ or compiled from different sources.

The book has two sections. The first contains stories from life-experiences or fantasy. Each of the stories has an inspiring Christmas theme. The second contains ‘stories’ that are based partly on fact, and partly on legends or myths.

Though these are ‘Christmas stories’ in the strict sense, they tell of universal values of caring and sharing, loving and giving. Christmas may be one day on the calendar, its celebration may extend a week, but its ‘spirit’ must be lived and experienced throughout life. This book is one of those rare Christmas gifts that come in handy any time of the year.

Read these beautiful, inspiring stories by ‘candlelight’– when your mind is stilled and your heart quietened. They will enhance the joys of Christmas. They will revive the Christmas spirit.

CHRISTMAS WARMTH

To appreciate fully the warmth of family and friends at Christmas, I am convinced that one, at some time in his or her life, must experience a Christmas without them. I remember such a Christmas Eve during the great Depression. Homeless and penniless, I was wandering the country searching for a job.

This night -- a cold one -- I was in the railroad yards of a midwest town I no longer recall. to escape the penetrating cold, four other men and I climbed to a boxcar. Soon the train began to move and as it picked up speed, the wind pushed through the cracks in the doors. The cold inside soon became as fierce as it had been outside. The car had been used for hauling flour and had some sheets of paper in it. We wrapped them around our shivering bodies, but we were still cold.

Then one young man with a Spanish accent said, "We make a star for warm. We sit on the floor back to back." He tucked the paper all around us and took a place for himself. We sat huddled there with knees drawn and toes pointed out. Gradually heat from our bodies spread from one man to another, warming us.

The young fellow began to sing Noche de amor, noche de paz. The rest of us joined in with the familiar words, Silent Night, Holy Night. We sang for a long time, cosy and warm, until I dozed off, dreaming of other Christmases. When dawn came, and the train stopped, we went our separate, lonely ways.

That was long ago and my Christmases are comfortable and happy ones now. But I've never forgotten those fellows who shared the boxcar with me, and I give thanks for them often. Especially to the young Spanish man who showed us that no matter how bleak and difficult circumstances may be, it is always possible to be warmed by the light of the CHRISTMAS STAR.     Rod Dyer, A Different Kind Of Star

CHRISTMAS FLORA AND FAUNA

.... It is impossible to prove the veracity of legends, but Christmas is a time for mysteries, which provide the stuff of which charming tales are made. Let us take a few. There are many fables which attempt to explain why robins are red-breasted. A Christmas story tells of the robin at the stable in Bethlehem. The fire which Mary had lit to warm the infant Jesus was beginning to die, so the robin flapped his wings feverishly in order to revive the flame. He came so close to the embers that the glow was reflected on his breast where it has remained ever since.

There is a legend about a beetle which was nestled in the roof of the stable at Bethlehem when the choirs of angels poured out their hosannas at the birth of the Messiah. The beetle implored the angel that he be allowed to announce this good news to other creatures. The angel was so thrilled at this earnest request from such a lowly creature that he patted the beetle with his bright wings, and set it aglow. The beetle, commonly known as the glow-worm, never lost this light!

In parts of Britain tradition has it that if you listen outside the bee-hive at Christmas you will hear the bees humming their praise of the newly-born Christ-child. In William Drummond's The Shepherd's Song, "springs ran nectar, honey dropped from trees" during Christmas. And in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Marcellus invokes the seasons "Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated, The bird of dawning singeth all night long."

I think that I shall never be,
Sold on an artificial tree.
A Christmas tree with plastic limbs
Just doesn't stir me up to hymns;
A tree with needles made of foil,
That grew in factories, not soil;
And, though it will not burn nor shed,
Will neither be alive nor dead.
Perennial, yes, it may be,
And formed in perfect symmetry,
But only God can make a tree
To suit old-fashioned fools like me.
   
                                         Anonymous

... In another school Nativity Play, a small boy was bitterly disappointed when instead of being cast as Joseph he was given the minor role of innkeeper. During the rehearsals he plotted on how he could avenge himself on his successful rival.

On the evening of the public performance, an enthusiastic audience watched the Christmas scene unfold on stage. In the dark of the night, Joseph and Mary came to the inn. Joseph knocked on the door anxiously. The innkeeper opened it just a wee bit, eyed the couple with indifference, and turned up his nose.

Joseph recited his lines of entreaty: "Could you please give us board and lodge for the night?" He then stood back expecting the rebuff. Instead, the innkeeper flung the door wide open, flashed his pleasantest smile, and cried, "Of course. Do come in. You will have the best room available."

Joseph, with great presence of mind, turned to Mary and said, "Wait here. Let me take a look first." He scoured the scene over the shoulder of the innkeeper, shook his head disapprovingly, and said: "Mary, the place looks awful. Let's return to that stable we had seen before."

The play was back on track.
   


Perspectives

Excerpts from Reviews

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This is yet another delightful collection of stories from Fr Hedwig Lewis. All the stories have something to do with self-giving, self-emptying. You start reading the first story about Cobbler John and his singing kids, and you will not put down the book until you have read it all. Every story touches the heart. So not be surprised if an occasional tear trickles down your eyes as you read on.... This book will be a lovely Christmas gift you can give to anyone who reads. It is a little treasure chest full of wonders just like the author’s earlier collections... It is enthusiastically recommended to all categories of readers.    In Christo (January 1999)

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So ideally by candlelight we are invited to sit and read the stories in this good book, and recapture the spirit of Christmas. As we read it we will feel our emotions roused, and our mental faculties challenged. To discover the essence of Christmas.    The Examiner  (December 19,1998)

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A very rich fare for a quiet Christmas evening to let our minds be filled with the mystery of the celebration. For the stories have often an important point to make, that Christmas is not just a cozy holiday, but a message: it is a call to each of us to convert to a more human and more authentic way of life. It is a call to be to be present to others, to share, and to trust.... The presentation is pleasant and varies, and there are numerous designs that give variety and keep up the Christmas atmosphere.     Vidyajyoti (December 1998)

 

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