By William Haupt III
“No matter where you are Christmas is not just about celebrating. Rich or poor, religious or not, Christmas isn’t just a season. Christmas is in your heart. It’s in your feelings.” (Ellen Elder)
World War II altered the social structure of the world forever. Before the ink had dried on the Paris Peace Treaty, a group of despots emerged from the embryo of the war’s ashes to terrorize Europe. From 1945 through the 60s, there was a gutting of local institutions, tactical maneuvering, lacerate campaigns and politically charged murders that subjugated Eastern Europe for four decades.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR, was derived from Communism, Marxism and Socialism. Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky were the architects of this demonic hell on earth. Eastern Europe was a war zone that crushed human rights, religious freedom, righteous dignity and liberty.
“The seeds of Communism are planted by a marauder who starts an unnecessary revolution.” (Leo Millzopre)
Since this exigent rule repressed all worshiping, religious traditions were controlled by the party. Church services not approved by the commies were condemned. Although Christmas remained sacred in the hearts of all faiths, they celebrated secretly in the shadows of their meager flats. This was “re-branded Christmas Communist style.”
Eastern Europe now lived under an atheistic Stalinist regime that intimidated even those wishing someone “Merry Christmas.” These anti-Christian tyrants ordered people to celebrate December 21st, and call it “A Celebration of Stalin’s birthday.” Those caught building a cardboard manger for a stick built baby Jesus were jailed or beaten.
“According to the Reds the only wise men were the party leaders behind The Iron Curtain.” (Andrze Greyziel)
Since the Jews remained the subject of desecration, they were petrified of celebrating Hanukkah, a holy Jewish holiday. Since the dates of Hanukkah coincided with those of Christmas they would go to Christian homes and light candles to praise God with their Christian brothers.
Shutterstock ImageTheir candles were no longer simply a Jewish menorah but a flame burning for religious liberation for men to worship freely. They exchanged beggarly gifts along with Christians; treasures like fruit, soap, toilet tissue, candy, and even a fresh fish or slice of meat if they were lucky. Communist rule did not destroy religiosity, but brought people closer together.
“To the party Communism was their religion.” (Lillian Zobosky)
During the most cloistered years Christians never lost hope someday they would again celebrate the birth of Christ openly. Many families received packages from the UN Relief Fund, supported by donations from Americans. Over 10 million tons of military food rations, including candy, kept their hopes alive. The elders would hide them to give as gifts.
Radio Free Europe, funded by the CIA and private donations, brought hope into the lives of all those imprisoned behind these tenacious gates of hell. Each Christmas they would turn up their broadcast towers, trumpeting holiday music and retell the story of how Mary and Joseph followed the shining star to Bethlehem and gave birth to the world’s Savior. Radio Free Europe assured them they would never be abandoned.
“It is not what you can do for your country, but what you can do for all of mankind that matters.” (M. Norton)
To obtain basic foods and household items, people would stand in enduring lines especially during Christmas. The average European spent 94 minutes a day to obtain the mere essentials to prepare a tawdry Christmas dinner. It was not uncommon to wait over five hours in sub-zero weather to get one holiday carp.
When they heard ships from other communist countries were arriving soon with oranges, almonds and bananas, they waited at docs for hours, to unload them instead of the army. Their reward was a few kilograms of fruit that made perfect gifts for loved ones.
“Communism is the fatal logic of protectionism. It is the dehumanization of every man on earth.” (Bishop Fulton Sheen)
During the Cold War, U.S. church membership increased by 30 percent. President Eisenhower petitioned Congress to add “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and later they adopted “In God We Trust” as the American motto.
Eisenhower said, “Religion is the foundation for democracy.” He dedicated his first White House prayer service to those behind the Eastern Block. Radio Free Europe played it all day. His prayers were answered. Stalin’s death ushered in Khrushchev who told Eisenhower, “It is time for “peaceful coexistence.” By the end of his 2nd term in 1961, celebrating Christmas in the USSR had become a reality rather than a breach of security. “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa!”
“The spirit of a man is more important than his mere physical strength.” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
This epic event opened the door for Christians and brought Christmas back to the Eastern Block! As their spiritual lives prospered, so did their courage. They rebelled each day they learned more about life in America and envied their religious freedom.
Photo: Reagan Presidential LibraryIn just a few years when Ronald Reagan told the Russians to dismantle the Berlin Wall, this earthquake shattered the USSR. Country after country forlorned them. This act of defiance was the fatal blow that restored the moral and spiritual strength they needed to reclaim their liberty. And Christmas regained its sanctimonious holy status throughout Europe.
“The only trouble with Communism is Communism.” (Bishop Fulton Sheen)
As life began to normalize retail shelves remained sparsely stocked, especially at Christmas. The basic necessities such as underwear, socks, flannel shirts, ball point pens and boxes of sweets were sought-after Christmas gifts. Children would decorate cutting boards and door mats for their mothers.
As economies improved, Western products appeared in retail stores. Each Christmas was better than the last. And families praised America for helping them survive the Machiavellian days of Communism. Churches resumed celebrations of our Savior’s birth, and it was this spiritual guidance that introduced them to the blessings and benefits of free market capitalism!
“Man is by nature a curious animal. You can hide the truth from him temporarily, but not forever.” (T. Flonta)
Once they discovered capitalism, there was no turning back! They knew “damned well” this was a better way. They bought, sold and traded freely on the open market. Everyday was like a festival.
No more chains to shackle them, no more rationing to share the misery, and no more isolationism.
“Capitalism on its worst day is better than any alternative I have ever heard of.” (Winston Churchill)
For those who lived under these onerous regimes that abolished their rights to worship, appreciate religious freedom more than any of us ever will. Although their gifts were exiguous it was their faith that kept the spirit of Christmas alive during the darkest days of Communism.
Christmas was more than a celebration. It was a feeling that nurtured their spirits. There are many abuses people will live with in order to survive, but when you take away their freedom to worship you take away their lives.
“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” (Buddha)
“On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ with prayer, feasting, and merriment. But, most of all we experience it in our hearts. For, more than just a day Christmas is a state of mind. It is found throughout the year whenever faith overcomes doubt, hope conquers despair, and love triumphs over hate. It is present when men of any creed bring love and understanding to the hearts of their fellow man. The feeling is seen in the wondrous faces of children and in the hopeful eyes of the aged. It overflows the hearts of cheerful givers and the souls: Merry Christmas!” (Ronald Reagan)
This article was written by a contributor from Franklin Center’s independent network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists, William Haupt III, a retired professional journalist, citizen legislator in California for 40 plus years, and author. He got his start working to approve prop 13.