Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Little Match Girl - Celebrating Christmas

My holidays are spent with my seven nephews and nieces ranging in age from one to nine so it can get very hectic. Sometimes we get caught up in the hustle of the holiday season, and lose our joy. This year we had a few melt downs not with the young children who were blissfully happy but the older kids.  The ones almost reaching tweens had a problem. They were not sure what they wanted but they were sure they didn't get it. Talking about gratitude did not help, they felt jaded.  Finally, I started to realize they were going through growing pains.  It is hard to give up the surprise, magic and wonderlust of childhood. So I decided to dispense with the lecture on appreciation and let them work through their feelings.  By the end of Christmas day, they were back to their golly selves.

Later when I was reading Christmas stories from an anthology, the story of The Little Match Girl kept popping up. This story by the Danish storyteller, Hans Christian Andersen is a tearjerker, the kind I avoid reading on the holidays to the kids. I remember as a child shedding a few tears reading The Little Match Girl. This time I decided to read them the story, maybe they needed to hear a story about the bitter sweetness of life. I grew up reading fairy tales by Mr. Andersen and as I recall many of his stories have a tinge of sadness, The Steadfast Soldier, The Pearl to name a few.  Forget the idea that fairy tales are sugar coated.  This is the story of a young girl left to die in the cold on Christmas night.  A good story can evoke empathy and remind us of our social responsibility.  There was complete silence while I read the story.  After the only questions they asked  were, Where were her parents? and Why didn't the families in the window invite her in?

In this age of corporate greed and personal selfishness a good story reminds us to look beyond our window and encounter a bigger truth. The younger children were happy with what they thought was a happy ending but the older children got the message. And that is the way it should be as we grow up.  So this was our story for the season.

There are many renditions of this beautiful story, a story for all seasons.  How do you handle telling children sad stories? Do you avoid them or do you think they are an opportunity for young people to express their deep feelings.

Merry Christmas!  Happy Chanukah!  Happy New Year!  Happy Kwanzaa!