I got a letter from 8-year-old Anna, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who asked me what I believe Christmas is all about. This is part of a virtual school assignment. It’s not every day a kid asks ME such philosophical questions, which just shows you how bad off our educational system is right now.
To answer your question, Anna, I can only tell you what I once learned in fourth grade, which I am happy to share:
As a kid, our school had a nativity play enacted solely by children. Back then, every school in the nation had nativity plays enacted by children. There were no such things as a nativity plays with adult casts. In fact, the whole reason these pageants occurred was so that fundamentalist parents could experience the joy of seeing uncoordinated 6- and 7- and 8-year-olds wear fake beards and recite intricate passages of middle-English scripture while holding live screaming babies in swaddling clothes.
All I ever wanted was to play Joseph. I can’t remember wanting a role more, except during our church’s Fourth of July pageant, entitled “Heroes of American Faith,” in which my mother desperately wanted me to play the role of Oral Roberts.
But Christmas held my heart. More specifically, it was Mary I loved. The role of Mary was played by Christina Moss, the Farrah Fawcett of the fourth grade. Every fourth-grade boy was in love with her. Or, as my cousin Ed Lee often put it: “Christina’s so pretty that I would crawl across a sea of broken glass to hear her belch on the phone.”
He was a very gross child, Anna.
So it was shaping up to be a great year. We had a solid script. Mrs. Everheart wrote the screenplay. She also served as director, assistant director, associate director, producer, diaper-changer for the Christ Child, and she played King Herod during the slaughtering of the innocents scene.
It was Mrs. Everheart who made sure we knew the True Meaning of Christmas, which had something to do with “never use your shepherd crooks to sword fight.”
That particular year, I played Shepherd Number Two, so I did a lot of sword fighting with the other six shepherds. Two shepherds in our production had speaking roles. Shepherd One and Shepherd Two.
The big moment for Shepherd Two (me) came when the Angel of the Lord (Marcus Smith), shone about us (Peavler’s Filling Station Little League team), whereupon we shepherds were supposed to be terrified.
At which point the script went as follows:
SHEPHERD 1: Look! An angel!
SHEPHERD 2: I’m SORE afraid!
Admittedly, it was not my proudest moment, pretending to be afraid of Marcus Smith who was a notorious bed-wetter. But our roles in life are doled out regardless of merit. So whenever Marcus Smith “shone about” us, I would recite: “You don’t scare me!”
And Mrs. Everheart would yell, “CUT!” Then she approached us with psychotic eyes and messy hair and gently remind us that she was indeed married to a Taekwondo instructor.
The finale of our production was when the entire cast joined hands and sang “Silent Night.” First in German, since Mrs. Everheart was German. Then in Spanish, since our school had three Mexican missionary children. And finally, we sang in what sounded like a mix of Japanese, Swahili, and Pig Latin, since many of the kids were Pentecostal.
This pageant was the highlight of my year, Anna. And being a shepherd wasn’t too bad. It could have been worse, I could have been cast as one of the fruits and vegetables. Our school had the only nativity scene with fruits and vegetables present at the birth of Christ. We had bananas apples, oranges, and a cluster of grapes like a real-life Fruit of the Loom ad.
But I’m drifting from my main point. Which is that I learned the actual meaning of Christmas that year by accident. It happened on the morning of our dress rehearsal when tragedy struck the fourth grade.
Mrs. Everheart called my house in a frenzy to tell my mother about the emergency.
She said that Marcus Smith (lead angel) had been playing baseball in his backyard and fractured his leg sliding into first base. He splintered his tibia so badly that he was going to miss school for months. And so it was that Mrs. Everheart appointed me as lead angel.
My task was to memorize lines from the second chapter of Luke.
This was a huge undertaking, Anna. I practiced all morning, afternoon, and night in my granny’s living room with a Bible while she watched “The Facts of Life” on television.
I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the sound of the TV and commit the King James verses to memory. And well, those words have remained permanently imprinted on my brain, and here they are:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”
And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
BJ - December 4, 2020 6:52 am
Are you a Christian?
Gary Hartzog - December 4, 2020 12:14 pm
Sean….I am 62 years old and you made me laugh out loud while sitting alone drinking coffee…..God bless you
Sheila - December 4, 2020 12:23 pm
He seems to be BJ. He is not our pastor however. I agree with his take on what Christmas is all about. Not every encounter with scripture has to be delivered along with a ton of bricks. In fact this engaging story will cause a lot of people to stop and think. See 1 Corinthian 9:20-23.
Kate - December 4, 2020 1:14 pm
Thank you for the reminder
Christine - December 4, 2020 1:14 pm
Amen Sean. This is the true meaning of Christmas. Jesus came to the earth for all of us. LOVE in the truest form.
Edwin G Staples - December 4, 2020 1:16 pm
It’s a pleasure to start my day with your sence of humor. Keep up the good work and let me be one of the first to wish you a happy holliday season.
Susan Ferris - December 4, 2020 1:21 pm
That was perfect, Sean. Merry Christmas. Thanks for making me smile this morning.
Susan - December 4, 2020 1:23 pm
Such a great way to start my morning, thanks!
elizabeth - December 4, 2020 1:25 pm
Can’t read that passage without thinking of Charlie Brown.
Beryl - December 4, 2020 1:26 pm
I leave you with a common yiddish exclamation…Oy Vey!
oldlibrariansshelf - December 4, 2020 1:27 pm
Yes, Sheila. God gave us brains to “stop and think” about how we live our lives here and in eternity. Those who thump their Bibles and weaponize particular verses from the Bible certainly do more harm than good. Memories of children acting out the Christmas story are precious to me, reminders that Jesus came into the world as a baby just as each of us did. BJ, try Luke 6:36-37 on for size. Then look at yourself in the mirror to see that the Lord surely has a sense of humor!
Kay Morgenthaler - December 4, 2020 1:37 pm
I was so uplifted by this post as I have been spending my days ordering gifts on line for children and grandchildren. I needed this reminder from a fellow Christian what Christmas is all about. God bless you, Charlie Brown, and even BJ….
MD - December 4, 2020 1:37 pm
What is wrong with you? He is talking to an 8 y/o girl. It is a delightful story.
Nana - December 4, 2020 1:42 pm
Bravo‼️ Splendid‼️ Thank you, Sean ❤️
Tom - December 4, 2020 1:49 pm
Yes, that IS what Christmas is all about.
allisvant - December 4, 2020 1:56 pm
Touche, Mr. Dietrich, Touche!
And while this might be a little much for Miss Anna to absorb, Christmas is, in reality, also the First Day of Easter!
And I echo the earlier comments of Mr. Hartzog – except I spewed coffee all over my grits & eggs😁.
Cindy S - December 4, 2020 2:10 pm
Merry Christmas, Sean! Thanks for putting a smile on my face this morning and bringing back a fond memory of Christmas past—the year my three young children were lambs in our church pageant and the director sheepishly (couldn’t resist that) pointed out that “the lambs had run amuck! Please keep spreading the faith as BJ is clearly a lost lamb.
Susan - December 4, 2020 2:13 pm
What a memorable story for Anna and your adult readers! She will never forget your time in responding to her letter in such a beautiful way.
My lines from my kindergarten Christmas pageant have never left me. “I said the cow all brown and white, brought Him the hay to pillow His head.” Yes, I was the cow! The angel part went to the perfectly behaved, sparkly-eyed Beverly.
Bah humbug to BJ. Sean does not profess to be a theologian. He is just a good person trying to bring a smile to people. In this piece, it was an 8 year old child he was addressing, not the SBC.
NancyB. - December 4, 2020 2:14 pm
Whether you are a believer or not, there would be Christmas celebration without the scripture Sean related to Anna. The celebration is centered on the birth of that one very special baby, Jesus, the Son of God. As a society we’ve done all we can to remove that Baby from the equation. But He will not be removed! He is there! I hope Anna takes Sean’s words to heart. They are Truth!
NancyB. - December 4, 2020 2:20 pm
Need an “Edit” button.
“There would NOT be a Christmas celebration without the scripture Sean was talking about.”
Sorry. Hadn’t gad my coffee yet!
Lynda Gayle Knight - December 4, 2020 3:10 pm
Loved that you read this letter in your wonderful performance last night. Really LOVED your response, coming from Bible which so many millions need to hear. America’s main problem is not politics, riots, a pandemic but sin! I’m COVID-19 POSITIVE and you certainly lifted my spirits with your humor, songs and common sense thoughts❣️
Amanda Joy - December 4, 2020 3:14 pm
This brought back so many childhood memories & made me laugh out loud! I always longed to be Mary, but to my dismay I was cast as the angel because of my blonde hair & had to recite these same lines – which I also still remember. Thanks for sharing joy in laughter & a great reminder of what CHRISTmas is truly about!
Susan Parker - December 4, 2020 4:04 pm
You are so right, Sheila. Faith is best shared in ways that encourage people to draw near. Hoping that his witness here will impact many people!
Susan Parker - December 4, 2020 4:06 pm
Definitely, Old Librarians Shelf! Merry Christmas!
DiAn - December 4, 2020 4:30 pm
And all God’s children said, AMEN!
Thank you for this lovely moment & memory, Sean!
Wanna Singletary - December 4, 2020 4:35 pm
One of your best. Brought tears to my eyes. Oh, that we could go back to that simpler time that you and I grew up in. And, that our grandchildren could experience the joy and simplicity of growing up in that good “ole” southern life. Merry Christmas.
Dru Brown - December 4, 2020 4:51 pm
I love it. It reminds me of the Nativity play in the movie classic “The Bells of Saint Mary’s.”
Charles P. Wilson, PD - December 4, 2020 5:04 pm
Thank you for playing Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas. I read it was bought by a streaming company and will not be aired on network television. The public would have to subscribe to that company to see it. I always rejoiced that at least the real reason for the season was broadcast at least once during Christmas through this cartoon. I found myself looking forward to watching again each year. But now after 55 years a generation may not know of it. Signs of the times !?!
Charles P. Wilson, PD - December 4, 2020 5:15 pm
My daughter was cast as Mary when she was young. She had a baby doll under her costume so she had a bulge at her midsection. When it came time she reached under her costume and pull out the doll and laid in it the manger. I had mixed feelings at the time about the director. But of course now we laugh about it.
Gary - December 4, 2020 5:40 pm
Linda Moon - December 4, 2020 5:55 pm
Philosophical questions—the best kind for wise teachers from inquisitive students. Fourth-graders usually have to reach at least one more grade level in a long journey toward wisdom. Believe me, I know a lot about school-children, and I believe what Christmas is all about, Sean Dietirich!
Angelyn McCaullaAngelyn - December 4, 2020 6:29 pm
Thank you. This brought back wonderful childhood memories. I was an angel some 60 years ago.
Becky - December 4, 2020 9:13 pm
BJ, I’m so disappointed at the comment you posted. Most of us follow Sean because of his positive, uplifting work. While I expect to encounter negative, hurtful comments on Facebook postings, I’m surprised to see them here. In fact, I’m surprised you would bother being on his site anyway. Have a wonderful Christmas and may the words of Luke that Sean memorized so long ago find their way into your heart.
Brenda Gooch - December 4, 2020 9:42 pm
Thank you for the memories and for reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas. I pray you and Jamie have a Blessed day.
Phil (Brown Marlin) - December 4, 2020 11:55 pm
Wonderful Sean. Hilarious and meaningful at the same time. You are a master of the written word, but the Master has bestowed this gift upon you and graced you with love of your fellow man and the desire to mean something worthwhile to everyone you come in contact with. He has also surrounded you with many angels, like your mom and Jamie and others. Keep up the GOOD work, my friend!
Judy - December 5, 2020 1:12 am
Yes. In a nutshell… that is what Christmas is all about. A Savior was born.
elizabethroosje - December 5, 2020 6:02 pm
Ok, the end of this wonderful essay gave me goosebumps all down my legs and I already believe in the Nativity of Christ! It’s really amazing isn’t it? I love your description, narration and such. You know you could write Young Adult books? Some of your narration reminds me of Gary Schmidt (he’s really nice) and writes great YA books like _Pay Attention Carter Jones_, which part of this reminds me of, the remembering of of those years and bringing it to life. I am baking a simple yeast bread with fruit and nuts in it and I can smell it now, baking and that, too, seems like part of the joy; that all we do, write, bake, all can be serving. God bless you and Jamie!!!
lfry1220 - December 6, 2020 12:06 am
Jennifer Campbell - December 9, 2020 1:24 pm
Every time I hear that passage I think of Linus’s sweet voice reciting it in ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’! My favorite Christmas special of all time. I’m a child of the late 60’s/early 70’s, and I never tire of watching it and it’s simplicity of explaining the birth of Christ.
Julie - December 30, 2020 7:27 am
You’re in Good Company, Sean…right there with Charlie Brown💚❣️💚