These words, spoken by Sir Winston Churchill in a world broadcast from the White House, Washington, on the 24th December 1941 (some of the darkest days of World War II), are very relevant to the Year 2000 Christmas Lecture
by Pamela Timms, Chairman of the Society.
"Christmas - oh well, its nice for the children, isn't it?"
A remark frequently heard at this time of the year. There is seldom a mention of the real reason for celebrating Christmas - and what used to be, for children (and "grown-ups" too) the magic of Christmas, has almost completely disappeared. The jingle of sleigh bells has been drowned out by the ringing off the cash tills.
As soon as we reach the end of September the glittering, tinselly baubles appear in the shops and advertisements for expensive toys and games are boomed out from television sets, and the season of giving becomes the season for getting. As for "Father Christmas" - well he involves using imagination - and imagination is in short supply in this technological age.
Two very sad newspaper articles appeared recently - apparently toy shop owners are finding that unless toys 'do something', ie; move or squeak when a switch is pressed, they are not liked by children.
An earlier article (by a well-known observer of children) stated that, as a consequence of the plethora of electronic toys and computerised games, many of today's children do not know how to play because they rely on machines rather than their imagination. How sad that is - children ought to be able to make an island from a hearth rug or a pirate ship from an upturned table.
In 'The Conquest of Happiness' Bertrand Russell expressed this very neatly:-
"the pleasures of childhood should in the main, be such as the child extracts from his environment by means of some effort and imagination".
When I was a child (and that is a very considerable time ago) some of the magic of Christmas came from lying in bed on Christmas Eve listening for sleigh bells - and I heard them. Some years later I learned that the bells I heard were hand bells rung by a disabled ex-soldier, and I went to the front door with my mother to give him some money and to wish, and to be wished,
"A Happy Christmas".
So the sleigh bells became a symbol of the spirit of giving - and the real meaning of Christmas. (I still remember the sound of the bells).
The greatest wrong done to children by our present-day society is the near abolition of childhood by the substitution of technological gimmicks for imagination. Magic has been taken away from them.
Magic is every child's right - and not only at Christmas.
On behalf of the Committee may I wish you all a very happy Christmas and peaceful New Year.
Past Christmas Lectures
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