A Christmas reflection on the gleaming light of childhood
Christmas is almost here! If ever there was a holiday focused on children—this is it.
It seems a good moment to ask: why does childhood seem to be such a sacred, even holy time? When most of us look back at our childhood, why does that period always seem to be lit up by a kind of gleaming, golden light?
As the author of nine children’s books and someone who works full-time in the pro-life movement, I’m often asked that question. It’s too easy to say that children are pure and innocent and free from all the corruption and cynicism that sometimes make adult life so stressful. That’s a true enough answer, of course, but it’s cliché. Somehow we know there’s more to the story.
I think G. K. Chesterton provided the key to unlocking the mystery in a marvelous article he wrote called “In Defense of Baby Worship.” In it, he points out that for each child, all things are new—the stars, the sky, the grass, the trees, the shapes and colors of everyday objects, are all phenomena to be experienced for the first time. The astonishment children feel at the world is much more than mere innocence. Inside their tiny heads is a whole new universe—a universe as strange and unfamiliar as it was on the seventh day of creation.
That’s why adults are so delighted with even the simplest efforts of infants. We treat everything they do as marvelous—from their first feeble steps to their first garbled words. Case in point: my one-year old goddaughter is at my house for a visit and my wife—who is her godmother—is practically jumping up and down with excitement because the child is “helping” her wrap presents. As I write these words, my wife is telling her to “go help Uncle Anthony, too.” And to her utter amazement, the laughing child has come over to my desk and proceeded to pound her little hands on my computer keyboard as if it were a toy piano. As I rush down the hallway (to safety), I can hear my wife shouting: “Good girl! Were you helping Uncle Anthony write his Legatus article? My brilliant goddaughter!”
That pretty much sums up our attitude toward infants. And it is the proper attitude. As Chesterton observed, we reverence, love, and even fear children. We have nothing but affection for their limitations because they are so obviously limited. We treat any small victories of theirs as miracles—because they are miraculous. We recognize the supernatural quality of their actions—the fact that behind those tiny, bulbheaded bodies is an immortal soul made in the image and likeness of God—a soul utterly unique and greater than all the stars and planets put together. That’s the wonder of childhood.
And at the risk of again being cliché, may I offer a suggestion?
As Christmas approaches and we contemplate the Child in the manger—through whom the whole world was made—perhaps we should remember that adults, too, are miracles of creation. Adults, too, are astonishing and supernatural, unique and precious, human and divine. As such, don’t they deserve to be treated with a bit more indulgence when they make mistakes? Shouldn’t we view their shortcomings with the same tender affection and respect we have for the limitations of the young? That doesn’t mean we should ignore or condone any wrong they do — but merely that we should be compassionate, merciful, and charitable to all God’s children —even those who are grown-up.
Perhaps if we did that, it might bring some of that golden, sacred, holiness of childhood back into our lives just in time for the New Year.
ANTHONY DESTEFANO is a bestselling author of Christian books for adults and children, an associate director of Priests for Life, and a member of the Jersey Shore Chapter