Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Let Peace, That Ancient Splendor, Fling

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Let Peace, That Ancient Splendor, Fling

Article excerpt

Each year's Advent services give my husband the opportunity to remind me how much he dislikes the carol "In the Bleak Midwinter."

He relishes telling me this and then demonstrating why, droning like a grade-school clarinet: "Snow was falling, snow on snow, sno-ow o-on snow," he whines - and I join him, an octave higher, to vent my general Christmastime discontent.

I'm not a big fan of Christmas, and not just because of the insipid music or the exhausting preparations.

This year, so far, we've escaped the dreaded "Bleak Midwinter" carol but rediscovered another old one, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." It doesn't rank much better on the sap-o-meter, really, but its final verse happens to contain this gorgeous lyric:

For lo! the days are hastening on.

When peace shall over all the earth

Its ancient splendors fling.

What an image! Peace, not an "it" but in my mind a noble beauty like Justice, and instead of holding scales aloft as though to summon us to attention, she flings - flings! - a blanket of calm over our cities and plains.

Justice snaps our spines upright, Peace bids us rest in her lavish embrace.

And peace does seem "ancient" - long ago and far away. As another year of corrosive unrest draws to a close, a season of peace would be most welcome. But if Christmas itself is a silent night, the run-up to it is brash discord. The annual so-called "war" is dispiriting.

The materialism of Christmas has long been decried. My Depression-baby parents remember poverty so deep that getting some candy and an orange was considered a truly blessed Noel. If my mother occasionally received a new doll or toy, it was because she was lucky enough to have a wealthy, childless great-aunt.

The transition from simple, spiritual observance to orgy of acquisition happened in my lifetime. In postwar prosperity, our deprived parents were happy to give us baby boomers everything they'd never had.

Chatty Cathys, Barbies and G.I. Joes with all the accessories. Paint sets and puzzles and BB guns.

I'm sure the gift my parents most regret was the child-sized drum set they bought my brother when he was 8 or 9 years old. …

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