My family was not religious and we celebrated Christmas purely as a secular day. But curiously one of the things we did each year once we had a television in 1955 was to watch “Amahl and The Night Visitors.” This operetta by Gian Menotti was commissioned by NBC and was shown throughout my childhood at Christmas time. Though it eventually was presented in color, we had only a black and white television, so we always saw it that way.
The story centers around a very poor family of a mother and a boy with a leg injury requiring him to walk with a long cane. The boy, prone to exaggerating, has trouble convincing his mother that he has seen a very bright star. Then she is furious when he insists there are three kings at the door. But in fact these are THE three kings on their way following THE star to pay homage to the baby Jesus.
Because the role requires a boy soprano, every couple of years there was a new Amahl. We argued each year about which boy sang the role best. We never discussed the meaning of the play, nor did we absorb its religious significance.
This week I listened to the forty-five minute performance available on line. As an adult, I came to have Christian faith and the operetta moved me deeply. Still part of the emotional impact hearing it again came from remembering the experience of being at peace with my family together. I will always be grateful for that yearly respite from the usual turmoil at home. Thanks Amahl.