Christmas 2016: A Carol for Children

Christmas 2016 arrives in the wake of the heartbreaking tragedy of Aleppo and the vicious attack on the Christmas Market in Berlin. We are very far away from the ideal of Peace on Earth, Goodwill Towards Men. Under the circumstances, Ogden Nash’s 1935 poem, “A Carol for Children,” is more fitting than ever, and it is posted again for the fourth Christmas of

As many will recall, the poem is not a “merry” one at all and the tradition of publishing it is one that I would like to find reason to discontinue. Yet despite its tone of melancholy, and even despair, the poem concludes on a note of hope for a better world for our children and generations to come. It is that note of hope readers are encouraged to take with them.

A Carol for Children

God rest you, merry Innocents,
Let nothing you dismay,
Let nothing wound an eager heart
Upon this Christmas Day.

Yours be the genial holly wreaths,
The stockings and the tree;
An aged world to you bequeaths
Its own forgotten glee.

Soon, soon enough come crueler gifts,
The anger and the tears;
Between you now there sparsely drifts
A handful yet of years.

Oh dimly, dimly glows the star
Through the electric throng;
The bidding in temple and bazaar
Drowns out the silver song.

The ancient altar smokes afresh,
The ancient idols stir;
Faint in the reek of burning flesh
Sink frankincense and myrrh.

Gaspar, Balthasar, Melchior!
Where are your offerings now?
What greetings to the Prince of War,
His darkly branded brow?

Two ultimate laws alone we know,
The ledger and the sword –
So far away, so long ago,
We lost the infant Lord.

Only the children clasp his hand;
His voice speaks low to them,
And still for them the shining band
Wings over Bethlehem.

God rest you, merry Innocents,
While innocence endures.
A sweeter Christmas than we to ours
May you bequeath to yours.

* * * *

While Christmas is a uniquely special day for Christians, the values it proclaims—peace, love and reconciliation—are not the exclusive province of one religion or indeed of all religions. Thus, one hopes that believers and non-believers alike might embrace the Christmas spirit and celebrate the occasion in a way that is meaningful to each. Indeed, as suggested a year ago, it would be a particularly appropriate time for those of us who are Christians to extend our hands of friendship to the millions of Muslims in this country and around the world who reject the violence of a few and who yearn for peace no less than we do.

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