By Ardain Isma
Since my childhood, Christmas has held a special place in my heart. In those early years, I resided in a close-knit community where everyone knew each other by name. The bonds formed among us children were natural and enduring, sharing a common thread of life experiences—sometimes monotonous, yet often vibrant. The Christmas season, in particular, stood out as a time when life felt enchanting and full of joy.
As October unfolded, signaling the end of the rainy season on the tropical island of Haiti, Christmas made its grand entrance once more. The airwaves echoed with familiar carols, such as Tino Rossi’s “Petit Papa Noël” and Lionel Benjamin’s “Se Mwen Arbre de Noël,” etching indelible memories into my childhood.
Haiti, devoid of snow but alive with the island breeze, transformed into a magical place illuminated by multicolored lanterns swaying in the evening air. At sunset, children, including myself, would gather on their parents’ front porches, captivated by the spectacle of others strolling with lanterns in hand, serenading the night with cherished Christmas songs.
As the years passed, I matured, embraced marriage, and became a parent myself. The tradition of Christmas not only endured but strengthened. Recently, as my family and I sat around the dinner table enjoying a delightful Haitian feast of fresh grouper, deep-fried plantains, rice, and beans, we delved into the exploration of Christmas in literature, art, and popular culture. This animated discussion inspired me to share this timeless experience with my readers.
Now residing in Northeast Florida, a world apart from tropical Haiti, the stark contrast is evident. Here, as the winter chill takes hold and the festive lights of Saint Augustine illuminate streets teeming with tourists from across the globe, the magic of Christmas is reignited. It thrives not only in our hearts but also through the diverse tapestry of literature, art, and popular culture.
Christmas, a celebration embraced worldwide, has perennially inspired creators. They have skillfully woven its spirit into timeless stories, iconic movies, and captivating paintings, creating a rich mosaic that resonates with the universal joy and magic of the season.
At the heart of the Christmas literary canon stands Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” First published in 1843, this novella has transcended time, becoming synonymous with the holiday season. The tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformative journey on Christmas Eve resonates with themes of redemption, generosity, and the true spirit of Christmas. Dickens’ vivid descriptions of Victorian London at Christmastime and the iconic characters like Tiny Tim have left an indelible mark on how we envision the holiday season.
Another beloved classic is Clement Clarke Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas” (also known as “A Visit from St. Nicholas”). This poem, first published anonymously in 1823, has shaped our collective image of Santa Claus, his sleigh, and eight reindeer. The poem’s whimsical and enchanting verses have become an essential part of Christmas Eve traditions, with families often reciting it before bedtime.
Christmas art spans centuries and continents, capturing the beauty and warmth of the season. One of the most renowned depictions is “The Adoration of the Magi” by Leonardo da Vinci. This masterpiece, though unfinished, portrays the biblical scene of the three wise men presenting gifts to the infant Jesus. The painting, with its rich colors and intricate details, evokes a sense of reverence and awe, emphasizing the religious significance of Christmas.
Moving into the modern era, Norman Rockwell’s “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” is a quintessential representation of small-town holiday charm. Rockwell, a master of capturing everyday moments, portrays a bustling Main Street adorned with snow and festive decorations. The painting invites viewers to step into a nostalgic winter scene, evoking feelings of warmth and community.
In the realm of popular culture, Christmas finds expression in a myriad of movies that have become cherished traditions for many families. Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) has endured as a heartwarming classic. The film, set on Christmas Eve, follows George Bailey as he contemplates suicide before being shown the impact he has had on others. It delivers a powerful message about the significance of every individual’s life and the true meaning of Christmas.
For a more whimsical take, there’s the animated television special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965), directed by Bill Melendez. Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters navigate the commercialization of Christmas as they search for its true meaning. The special’s jazzy soundtrack and poignant message have made it a beloved part of holiday programming.
No exploration of Christmas in popular culture would be complete without acknowledging timeless songs like “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin and the transcendent “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey. These tunes, played on the radio and at holiday gatherings, contribute to the festive soundtrack that accompanies the season.
In all, Christmas has always been a period of remembrance that brings my childhood in Haiti alive again. Each year, as we gather around fires, exchange gifts, and create new traditions, these cultural touchstones remind us that, at its core, Christmas is a celebration of joy, love, and the magic of shared moments.
Note: Ardain Isma is the Chief-Editor of CSMS Magazine. He is a prolific writer and author of several books, including Midnight at Noon, Bittersweet Memories of Last Spring, and Last Spring was Bittersweet. You can order the books by clicking on the links above.