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Heavenly peace. Now there's a concept

"Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright, Round yon virgin Mother and Child, Holy infant so tender and mild Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.

"Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright, Round yon virgin Mother and Child, Holy infant so tender and mild Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace."

Josef Mohr

LAST Wednesday, still unsure about what I could write in a lighter seasonal vein, I decided to clear my mind of all thoughts political in favour of watching soprano Renée Fleming singing sacred songs on the Knowledge Network and some of André Rieu's Christmas concert on a different channel.

Listening to that familiar music together with a long-distance, pre-Christmas chat with my brother the following morning at last brought back some of the cozy traditional feelings - a feat that seems more difficult as each year passes.

Pondering why that is, I realized how commonplace it has become to hear people repeating the mantra, 'Christmas isn't like it used to be' - in the sense that it's no longer as meaningful or magical.

"And if there is truth to that," I wondered, "what part has each of us played in the change?"

It's not as simple as frantic shopping or losing the magic as we get older.

So does the email I received from Calgary-Southeast MP, the Hon. Jason Kenney last Wednesday offer one piece of the puzzle?

Addressed to "Friends", he forwarded a thoughtful letter from Fleetwood-Port Kells Conservative MP, Mrs. Nina Grewal. Recognizing that Canada has a long history of "tolerance and respect for the traditions of others", she then stated that political correctness is diluting Christmas.

"How can we as a society join together to celebrate Diwali, the Chinese New Year, Hanukkah and Vaisakhi but at the same time rob Christians of the true meaning of Christmas?" she asked.

With my sincere thanks for her kind thoughts, perhaps the answer is that no newcomer to Canada is to blame for robbing us of anything we have not already surrendered.

But Grewal's points also brought me to reconsider the question of "heavenly peace." Namely: How can millions of adherents to so many different religions pay homage to a loving god, and then set about destroying one another in his name?

That they do so betrays the meaning of one of the bittersweet stories of the First World War.

The poem we know as Silent Night was written by an Austrian priest in 1816. Shy about its value, it was two years before Josef Mohr gave it to German teacher and composer Franz Xaver Gruber who set it to the music we love so well.

The carol was first performed on Dec. 24, 1818 in St. Nicholas Church, Oberndorf - a small town near Salzburg in the Austrian Alps.

Ninety-six years later, it was to have an extraordinary effect on German and English troops early in the war.

On Christmas Eve, 1914, German soldiers quietly began to sing Stille Nacht; Heilige Nacht. When the English troops joined in, the fighting ceased and for almost two days the "enemies" sang, ate rations together and played soccer. brilliance of the stars in the blackness of clear December nights during the Second World War, that story and its meaning can still bring on the "if only" tears.

When my brother and I were children, our parents took us to Sunday school.

They didn't attend church themselves, so I'm not sure why that was made an important part of our lives.

As we grew older, our school days always began with a 10-minute assembly with prayers and hymns led by the school principal. There was nothing fundamentalist about the session; it was just a respectful way to begin our day.

Children of other faiths were excused to have their own prayers in a different hall. Unasked, no political agendas, Grewal's "tolerance and respect" was at work well over half a century ago.

There's no doubt in my mind that, believer or not, the grounding I received as a child has played an important part in who I am today and in my feelings about the meaning of Christmas.

So speaking of beliefs leads me to my final, perhaps unsolvable, conundrum.

The more we learn about science, the less easy it becomes to defend or to make sense of my early beliefs about the Nativity and the existence of a God - in any religion.

But if those inner faiths are all for naught, then what?

Surely, if there's enough left of the true generosity of giving, there must be something really good about our human selves for Christian traditions to have lasted more than 2,000 years?

Because as Dr. Seuss wrote - I am sure with the deepest of apologies to fellow columnist Kate Zimmerman - "[That gift] came without ribbons. It came without tags.

It came without packages, boxes or bags. . . . [And] the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. 'What if Christmas,' he thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?"

So cuddle up to your little ones and to the big ones, too. Merry Christmas to you all and, young, older or somewhere in between, may you always go to sleep "in Heavenly peace" - whatever that may mean to you.

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