The Other Christmas Lesson

If the “Twelve Days of Christmas” is the fun part of the last day before break, the hard part comes when I ask the students to analyze three different pieces of media stemming from post-war America during the height of the baby boom.  My goal is to get them to consider author’s message, as well as to compare and contract three works of art.

Despite its condemnation, depressing overtones, and heavy-handedness, we start off reading Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Christ Climbed Down.”

For those who’ve never even heard of it, it starts with:

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candy canes and breakable stars

and goes on from there to discuss how Bible salesman, Bing Crosby Singers, Radio Music City Hall dancers, relatives, and trees of every variety are in sharp focus, but all the while Christ is running away.

Needless to say, the kids were overwhelmed.  Their faces were blank, mouths open.  They couldn’t pinpoint what had happened, but they knew this was not a happy poem. Joaquin got that the bare tree was the cross.  They were disturbed at the idea that Christ would leave the cross (and maybe give up saving us) because we’d lost focus of what Christmas is all about.  Others felt that the poet was right, we did put too much emphasis on the external things, relegating Christ to the babe in the manger.  From there Natalee pointed out that the poet was a “Grinch.”

Which led nicely into our watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”  Now, I know they’ve seen it before, but they were actually quiet and mesmerized during the moving.  I stopped at a couple of points to ask about his character and whether they saw similarities with the poem.  Most did.  They were all annoyed to stop the film to go to PE.  That was short-lived.  They love PE and needed the break.

Once the film was done, Sam noted that it was very hopeful.  That the Grinch had to learn about the true meaning of Christmas.  I did ask the hard question, “What would you do or how would you feel if you woke up on Christmas and everything was gone?”

  • Isaiah: “I’d be mad, Mrs. Wynnell.  Just mad.”
  • Diana: “I would try to hurry up and make some things to fix it.”
  • Natalee: “I would be upset because I took a lot of time in picking the presents for other people.”
  • Gabriel: “I’d be mad at first, but then I would just go play with something else.”
  • Milina: (most heart breaking answer ever) “It would be like last Christmas.  We just don’t have any money.”

Most understood that it was OK to be disappointed.  I liked how quickly they embraced the idea that as long as they had people, they were blessed. Some wanted to fix Milina’s problem (OK, I WANTED TO). One (I can’t remember which) even talked about how they only play with new things for a while, then they’re bored again.  I discussed how many parents comb the malls and stores trying to buy the one or two gifts that will truly make their children happy.  When they asked me why, I pointed out that parents need reassurance that their children love them and this is a way that parents show love.  I talked about how parents will ask if you want to run an errand with them — not because they are going to get something — but to actually get some alone time together.  Isaiah said his grandma asked him to go to the store just last night and he said no.  I think, when he remembers this, he’ll answer differently.

Finally we watched, “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown.”  This was an easier piece to connect to the other two.  They got that, like the Grinch, Charlie Brown didn’t get the true meaning of Christmas.  They got, like both the poem and Grinch, that there was an obsession with commercialism (Yes, I had to define it.). They liked how, like the Grinch, the ending was hopeful and that they understood the importance of the birth of the Christ child.

(Side note: I had to define Christmas.  Most, even though they are all Christian (save for the Catholics — I don’t get that), were not aware that it means Christ’s mass. )

At the end, they felt that the authors were telling them to look not at the stuff of Christmas but the people.  They got that there was an expectation of behavior.  They even got why I was nagging them come up with 365 things they loved about their parents and make their parents little books for the holiday.  Most did.

And they are spectacular.

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