Roger Barbee: A lesson from Down Under
This week, Joy, a friend who lives in Washington, D.C., sent a video that has been on YouTube for a few years, but new to me. In it a group of children from St. Paul’s Church in Auckland, New Zealand, present “The Christmas Story” in just 3:53 minutes. The cast is all children but for the donkey that carries Mary to Bethlehem. It is a charming, refreshing, and accurate look at a story which has influenced many people for centuries. As I watched it over and over, I kept wondering what drew me to this very simple presentation from the other side of the world of a well-known story.
In the poem ‘My Heart Leaps Up,’ William Wordsworth writes that “The Child is father of the Man.” As I thought more and more of the short video, I recalled this oft-quoted line of the Romantic poet and what it means. In the poem, which is only nine lines long, Wordsworth celebrates living and growing old and wishes for a life bound by “natural piety.” For me, the poem’s thought that “The Child is father of the Man” is supported by the video from Auckland because we adults are what we came to be in our formative years. Like the thought or not, we are mostly molded by the age of 8 years or so. And that is why, I think, I find the video so charming and refreshing. The children know.
I understand that the video most likely had to have the hands of adults in it. Perhaps the adults did the filming and loaded it onto YouTube, but perhaps, I like to think, it is all child done. However, regardless of adult involvement, the video has a certain simplicity that says to me that the children were given “free rein” to offer their interpretation of this well-known story. It is not a “slick” or particularly well-done video, just an honest one in that it is told by children from their perspective of simplistic honesty and trust and good cheer.
The just short of four minutes video by the children of St. Pauls is a no-frills accounting of the Christmas story. No retailer has arrived, taken over, and made the event one of merchandise. No producer or director has come onto the set to romanticize the 10-day trip forced on Mary and Joseph. No costume manager has been employed to make the clothes look realistic, and no property manager has created a set to awe the viewer. The simplicity is what I like about the video. It is, after all, a story that one accepts or rejects on the merits of its own. However, it seems to this viewer that we have created a complex, wrong-sided view of this event. But, we are not the first who want to use a religious occasion for our own use. In one of his books, the great physician Luke tells of Peter who desires to build three tabernacles to celebrate what he had just seen.
Harper Lee’s novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” has sold more than 30 million copies around the world. It is a story told by a young girl, Louise “Scout” Finch, and has remained popular with readers of all ages since its publication more than 50 years ago. Perhaps one reason for its popularity can be attributed to the innocent voice of its narrator, Scout. Truman Capote, a friend of the author, is sometimes quoted as referring to the novel as, “That children’s story by Harper.” While his words do not strike me as having been uttered in a friendly manner, I think he has a point explaining why the story continues to attract readers — it is a complex story of the adult world told in a simple manner, through the eyes of a child who has yet to be jaded by that adult world.
I long for a more simple, child-like, way of celebrating the story of Christmas. It seems to me that we have become such a consuming culture of “stuff” that we now have merged one Christmas into the next. We so thirst for happiness that we move from one “holiday” to the next. Gosh, we even have a religious holiday where we have blended a rabbit with eggs. And the merchants love us for it. But I wonder if it makes us any more joyful or content?
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.