WASHINGTON | Last Christmas while watching “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” with his son, Thomas Williams said it “suddenly hit” him that “nearly all the clever poetry surrounding Christmas has virtually nothing to do with Jesus Christ.”
“I love our most famous Christmas poem, ‘A Visit From St. Nicholas,’ but even that fails to convey the mystery of Christmas. I searched and searched for a great Christmas poem, and not finding one, decided to try my hand at crafting one,” Williams told Catholic News Service.
Known by many as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” from its first line, the popular poem is attributed to writer Clement Clarke Moore, who like Seuss had a “lighthearted lyricism,” Williams said, which he wanted to emulate “while offering the true Christmas message.”
The result is “The First Christmas” from the Catholic book publisher Sophia Institute Press in Manchester, New Hampshire, and found online at https://www.sophiainstitute.com. The book is illustrated by Frank Fraser.
“For adults, the Nativity story is so well known that it can sometimes lose its charm and wonder,” he told CNS in an email, “but children are able to enter into the story in all its captivating splendor and simplicity. Poetry can facilitate this process by delighting the ear as well as the mind and heart.”
Williams said Fraser’s “masterful illustrations were the icing on the cake!” There are drawings of angels, kings, shepherds, “indifferent townspeople” and animals — all of which figure into the story of course — as well as Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, born in a humble stable in Bethlehem.
A U.S. Catholic theologian based in Rome, Williams is the author of several books, is a consultant and international speaker, and has been a contributor to Crux. All he wants is for “The First Christmas” poem, he said, to take “its place among so many other aids the church offers us to return our focus to Jesus and his birth.”
“I would like my book to provide another option to families who want to commemorate the feast in a way that is both delightful and uplifting,” he added. “I meant it as a fireside book, an around-the-table book, a bedside book for children young and old.”
These days, “if there is indeed a ‘war on Christmas,'” he said, the best way to fight it is by finding “alternatives to this commercialization” within our own Catholic tradition and look for ways “to re-propose the glorious message of salvation.”
“No one can suggest that the story of Christ’s miraculous birth is less enthralling than Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer! We just need to find the tools to let the Nativity story shine,” he added.
The “sheer volume of secular ‘holiday’ material is somewhat overwhelming, and offers countless alternatives to the true story of Christ’s birth,” he told CNS. But “our Catholic tradition offers us a panoply of practices to remember who we are, what we are celebrating, and Who it is that is coming. We are blessed to have this glorious preparatory season of Advent to prepare our hearts and souls for the arrival of the Christ child.”
The key to keeping Christ in Christmas, Williams advised, “is to not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the externals of the holiday — the gifts, the parties, the visits, the myriad tasks to be accomplished.”
“Like Mary of Bethany, we must seek the ‘better part,’ looking for ways to spend at least a little time each day in silence, prayer, and contemplation” during this season. “It is so easy to lose ourselves in the frenetic pace of activity that we crowd out the spiritual core of the season: Jesus!”
While the secular world “packs up Christmas” Dec. 26, “immediately moving on the next big thing,” Williams said, “as Christians we like to linger in Bethlehem, to spend time with the Holy Family, to await the visit of the Magi, and like Mary, to store up all these things, pondering them in our hearts. I hope this little book will help.”