Paul  Kengor

It is a statement of the obvious-both trite and troublesome-to acknowledge that most children today generally receive more than they need at Christmas, especially compared to children of times past, and particularly in America. They know the joy of receiving very well-probably too well. It is the gift of giving that is altogether different, as they typically learn as adults. And it is that gift which is the spirit of this season.

Kids a century ago, who did not receive nearly as much in their Christmas stocking, were nonetheless ecstatic on that magical morning. This was a universal truth for children around the world. One such child was a boy named Joseph Pekara, growing up in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, where the Great Depression was taking its toll.

Joseph's family had meager means. One toy-any toy-received at anytime, was a thrill. Joseph's favorite gift was a wheeled, wooden horse given to him by his craftsman father. He cherished it, cradled it, played with it almost every day.

Life got difficult for the citizens of Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s, when the Nazis took and terrorized their precious young nation, a rare, glittering jewel of Eastern European democracy between the devastation of the two world wars. Just when it seemed hope was ready to return once the Nazis were defeated in 1945, Comrade Stalin and the communists took over, making many things even worse-particularly Christmas. The communists hated Christianity more than Hitler did, and their assault on Christians included the day Christians mark as the Creation of their faith.

Among the more egregious communist affronts on religion in Czechoslovakia was the state's notorious anti-religious indoctrination of school children, which was in full swing well into the late 1970s. Karl Marx was hailed as the new messiah. Vaclav Havel, who went to jail in protest of such nonsense, dubbed this unceasing campaign of mendacity "the communist culture of the lie." It was what Mikhail Gorbachev had in mind when he acknowledged that "atheism took rather savage forms" in the communist world.

As for Joseph Pekara, however, he lived to see better times. He watched communism's collapse, and lived long enough to import some of his own ideals to America, including a little something to remember fondly this special time of year.