Walking with the Grandchildren into the Light of Christmas
by Virginia M. Kimball

Let me tell you a little story.  This year we began a new tradition with our grandchildren and took them one snowy night in early December to see the lights at La Salette Shrine in Attleboro, Massachusetts.  It was a sixty-mile drive from home, north of Boston.  The little ones, ages eight, seven, four, and one, knew what they were expecting--Santa, Rudolf, elves with toys, and lots of pretty lights.  After all, it was a "Christmas trip."

On the way, I sat in the back seat of the SUV next to my granddaughter who is a most curious and talkative young lady.  "Why is it called La Salette?" she asked. And, I, the professor of Marian theology at a Catholic college was brought humbly to my proverbial knees.  "Well, let me tell you the story," I began tentatively.  I set the stage in the French Alps in 1846, "a long, long time ago."  But when I got to the detail that "the Lady" came to the children, knelt and cried, and then asked them to help bring people back to faith in her Son, my granddaughter’s eyes got huge.  She sputtered out; "Does that lady show up anywhere else?  Why did she come to them?  Were they bad?"  I can tell you now, the more I tried to "explain," the less she understood me.  "Did they see Mary’s ghost?" she asked, trying to deal with the reality.  "No," I told her, "it was a beautiful vision of Christ’s mother coming from Heaven."

These were tough, tough questions. Fortunately, sights and experiences offer more “explanation” and hope to such inquiring little minds.  When we arrived at the Shrine, the sign for this year’s theme proclaimed: “We are the light of the world.”  Only as we walked together, bundled up against the blowing snow and cold beneath our feet, my son and his wife, four artic-clad children, and their uncle, did the truth begin to emerge. We made almost a Dickens scene as we made our way along the paths of color and faith.  There are no santas, no reindeer, no little elves and toys.  There are ten acres of Christian faith, laid out in tree lights and lighted displays.  Not only little eyes but big eyes were filled with wonder.

No one can count exactly. The estimate is 250,000 lights or more.  We began by walking the rosary path around the frozen little pond.  The questions came from my faithful CCD-attending grandchildren.  "What is the rosary?"  "Can we say some prayers?"

When we came to the heart of the grounds, and saw the life-size nativity, we felt as if we had walked the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Questions ceased.  They knew the story of the angel coming to Mary.  But the fact that hundreds, literally five thousand people a night, came to view the Christmas setting, spoke faith and hope to all our hearts.

Deep in snow we found Our Lady of La Salette, too.  "Why is she crying?" my granddaughter asked persistently.  "Because of our sins," I tried to answer.  "But you said she didn’t come because they were bad."  Fortunately, the scene offered her better "answers."  She could see, also, that the Lady was teaching, assuring the children.  That made her happy.

We walked the path of beatitudes.  Again, simply walking along together, as a family on pilgrimage, the lights and walking spoke a powerful message.  My daughter-in-law carefully read each sign to the children.  They seemed to "understand."

There was respite from the cold when we visited the collection of Christmas crèche scenes.  Father Tim Goldrick of Assonet sets up the display of more than two hundred nativity sets representing faith in Christmas around the world.  Here, I found others answering questions to their own children.  "You know this story," one parent attempted to give her son. "No, I don’t," he quipped. "Can you tell me now?"

This collection of crèche scenes are not antiques, not valued art pieces, but expressions of faith from people where they live.  Fr. Manuel Pereira, from Portugal, stood guard over a collection of Portuguese figures. It was his message of light to the hundreds who gently pushed along in line to see the many visions of the baby Jesus and his birth in Bethlehem.  I heard someone else’s daughter, maybe ten years old, comment to her parents, "Wow, this is about the real Christmas."

We had our cocoa and visited the gift shop.  My grandchildren were unimpressed with those moments.  However, my seven-year old grandson pledged quietly in my ear, as a shared secret, that now he was going to be "best friends with Jesus."

It was an evening together.  But more, it was an event I now value more than when we first planned to go.  We wanted to be in the "Christmas spirit," and such a display would do it, we thought.  We were tempted, instead, to pay high price and take the little ones on the Edaville railroad. They also have acres of lights and display.  But this free pilgrimage into the "Light of the world," was sharing a tradition that has continued for  forty-four years at the shrine. This year it provided our family with an insight into the experiential power of faith and the glory that is Christmas.


With love and joy,
Grandma Kimball, 2005

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