Christmas traditions can be made, remade, forgotten, remembered and reinvented. One of the traditions I used to love was reading from Tasha Tudor’s book Take Joy! as we gathered around the Christmas tree, just before we opened our presents.
I inherited my mother’s copy of the book and I still pull it out every Christmas, even though there is now no one at home to read it to.
It was always my role to read my favourite Christmas poem, Take Joy, which is attributed to Fra Giovanni Giocondo. The poem (picture from Tasha Tudor’s book), is taken from A Letter to the Most Illustrious the Contessina Allagia degli Aldobraneschi, Written Christmas Eve 1513.
Fra Giovanni, 1435 – 1515, was an Italian architect, engineer. He was also a collector of antiques and rare books. He was a Franciscan friar who has been credited with designing Verona’s Palazzo del Consiglio. I haven’t been able to find any information on the Countessina.
I don’t think it matters that the author of the letter has never been proven to be Fra Giovanni. What matters is the sentiment in the letter. There are a couple of paragraphs which didn’t make it into the Tudor book, but they are so beautiful I will share them here:
Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendour, woven of love, by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the Angel’s hand that brings it to you. Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty: believe me, that angel’s hand is there; the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence. Our joys, too: be not content with them as joys, they too conceal gifts.
Life is so full of meaning and of purpose, so full of beauty – beneath its covering – that you will find that earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage, then to claim it: that is all! But courage you have: and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country, home.
So, to paraphrase Fra Giovanni, my wish for all of you is that the sun forever rises to greet your day and all shadows take flight quickly.
 “Giocondo, Fra Giovanni.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 23, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/giocondo-fra-giovann