Was there ever an age of innocence?

I often use this old Victorian Christmas card as a cover picture on my Facebook profile because I like the fiction of it, that there was once a time when children were innocent and approached holidays with a sense of untroubled joy.

Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning The Age of Innocence while on the surface purporting to be set in a more glorified time of wonder, portrays no innocence. Whatton considered the title to be ironic.

Even if we go back in time no farther than Charles Dickens work, we see that childhood, in general, wasn’t a sheltered time of grace. We hope, of course, that our children and grandchildren will remain innocent even into grade school. And depending on their circumstances, they may truly have no knowledge of the worst the world–or even their neighborhood–has to offer.

I’m glad that my two granddaughters don’t know what I know. Yet, assuming no catastrophe alters their lives, they don’t yet know anything about many evil things. Sadly, we must begin chipping away at their innocence to keep them safe: “Don’t get in a stranger’s car,” “Don’t wander away from your group on a school field trip,” etc.

Novelist Robertson Davies wrote that ““One learns one’s mystery at the price of one’s innocence.” Long term, that is true. Personally, I favor my own mystery over innocence, but I want children in general and my two granddaughters in particular, to have a few years of wonder and magic before they learn the harsh realities of the world.

These old Christmas cards make me believe that might be possible.








Allowing children to experience the innocence of childhood

These Victorian Christmas images are expressions of one of the greatest gifts we can give our children, the parental support within a happy home that allows them to begin their lives safe within the innocence of childhood.

Children will learn the harsh truths of the world soon enough. Some say, their kids have a better chance of survival when they’re reared from day one in a boot camp-style environment with Pop as the Great Santini and Mom as the Wicked Witch of the West. I don’t agree. A few years of innocence made me stronger because those years taught me that strength and honesty don’t require us to wear cynicism and brutal honesty on our coats like badges of honor.

Once lost, recapturing the magic of innocence lost too soon is more difficult than unringing a bell. Children, then young adults, and then adults can build on that magic forever regardless of the slings and arrows they see or experience as they grow older. Like all wonderful memories, the innocence that’s given time to grow can be drawn on later on in life as a talisman against everything that’s ugly and unjust.

The old question “when do you tell your kids Santa isn’t real in the way portrayed in Christmas cards?” seems to represent the dilemma most parents face about all kinds of truths they must ultimately explain to their children. Sooner or later, we’re all told not to take candy from strangers or accept a ride home from school by an adult we don’t know. It’s hard to say “why not?” without communicating the reason why not. Today’s parents have opted for postponing that explanation for a while by driving their kids to school when older generations of kids rode bikes or walked. A lot of variables come into play when deciding, for one’s own children, when to take away some of the magic and when to take away some of the freedom available when they slowly gain their independence from a parent’s smothering and watchful eye.

In a world where instances of child abuse and human trafficking are higher than many adults allow themselves to believe, some will ask how we can celebrate the innocence of any child by displaying Victorian Christmas cards or other positive messages of the season when many children are suffering. My response, is how can we not? We can’t solve the wrongs of the world by keeping quiet about what’s right with the world.

Every child, I think, deserves a chance to experience the innate goodness into which s/he is born. Then they’ll always have that strong magic do draw upon when confronted by those who have no magic or goodness.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s hero’s journey novel “The Sun Singer” and heroine’s journey novel “Sarabande” are based on the concept that that while the trials we survive can make us stronger, the magic each of us carries ensures we’ll survive those trials.