Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas with Du Bois 5.0

Du Bois continued the theme of justice a year later, in a December 1911 piece titled “Christmas,” yet focused on children as the future hope of and for justice. (An interesting point to illuminate one context for this editorial: at the time Du Bois's daughter Yolande was 8, and Du Bois would go on to publish The Brownies' Book in 1920. Du Bois's first child, a son named Burghardt, died in 1899 at age 2.) Du Bois hoped that the struggled of today would yield the fruit of justice tomorrow. About Christmas, Du Bois refashioned John 3:16 and observed: “It is the day of the little Saviors of the World whom the Fathers so love that they send them to the world that the world may not perish but have Everlasting Life.”

In the following paragraph the shepherds from Luke 2 return and watch their flocks at night, “the long and dreadful night that lowers over the worlds’ darker peoples.” Such a state, Du Bois averred, prompts people to keep watch for a star or “strain their weary ears for the Voice of Angels with Good Tiding of great Joy which shall be to all people, with glory, not simply to other worlds, but on Earth Peace, Good Will toward men.”

From shepherds Du Bois moved to the 3 kings, “toiling heavily across the seas” in order to find the baby. “One King is black; on King is yellow; on King is white; all three are kings; all three see salvation in the justice, mercy and truth which will rekindle the worn and wicked earth.” Du Bois again emphasized that the Christ child represented universal justice and global equality. Some embraced this vision, while others resisted. “Must the Race Problem greet the cradle of the Savior of the World?," Du Bois asked, “It must; and upon the awful majesty of the three kings must dwell equal reverence and social equality.”

Du Bois continued with his Christmas queries: “But why should kings bow to babies in order to save the world? And if to babies, why to babies in mangers and tenements and rookeries? Why not bring this mighty embassage to the frilled and dainty babies of Fifth Avenue or Plaza Hotel?” Jim Crow created an unwelcome environment in places of white wealth, Du Bois replied, and
“[s]o the homage we pay to the low-lying Savior of the World to be is carried to the lower East Side and the upper West Side, to Black Harlem and yellow Chinatown, to the low, the despised…And there the Kings of the Earth shall bow and open their treasures and present unto the Babes three gifts: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.”

These gifts are neither items of ancient import nor twentieth-century consumable products, but for Du Bois blessings of life transcend the temporal realm yet are invariably intertwined with it. Gold meant raising children well and a modicum of stability, spending what is necessary for clothing, food, and shelter. Du Bois called frankincense “the ointment and balm of health,” by which he meant proper dietary habits, regular sleep, and warm and comfortable clothes to survive “the Hell of life in flats—all the Frankinsense on the alter of childhood.” As for myrrh, what Du Bois fashioned “the perfume and inspiration in the nostrils of a living human soul,” he intended “[k]nowledge and goodness—discipline and home life, reverence for parents, honesty, a hatred of lying lips, a love of honest work. All those are the gifts of kings on the alter of childhood.”

In customary fashion, Du Bois took biblical stories and found avenues for practical application whether it involved good deeds modeled on the life of Jesus, or allegorizing familiar Christmas stories. Du Bois believed religious ethics and spiritual morals far more important than claims to divinity or theological systems.

Du Bois closed this Christmas column with a meditation on childhood and its possibilities. Proper training of children might well bring the salvation of the world, since “[t]o childhood we look for the triumph of Justice, Mercy and Truth. As the children of this generation are trained, so will the hope of all men in the next generation blossom to fruition, and the song of the Angels above the Christ Child will be heard again in the old world: Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”

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