Continued from December 11th & 18th. Four characters are meeting in a church basement to lend each other emotional support. But the stresses of the holidays seem to be a little too much for them. Will anyone be able to remind them of the true spirit of Christmas?
Just then we heard the door open and someone running down the stairs. A young, round-faced boy with glasses and wearing snowpants and a stocking cap bounded into the hall. “Where’s the bathroom?” he asked.
I pointed to the back corner, but recommended he leave the bb-gun he was carrying by the door. He clutched the gun for a moment, but apparently decided we were trustworthy, because he left it propped by the door and went running toward the bathroom.
The four in the circle were now all staring at me, as if expecting me to share my own story about the holidays. I thought for a minute, hesitating to say anything. I wanted to offer help, but I’m not a minister and have only been on the receiving end of professional help from a therapist. But, I felt I had to say something, so I did my best to come up with what I thought would be some good perspective.
“I hear all of your concerns, and I won’t deny that its hard getting through the holidays, and sometimes even more difficult to see them come to an end, but surely you wouldn’t rewrite your Christmas stories if you could. Haven’t you all learned lessons more valuable than anything that could have come from a store?” I asked.
“Happy endings only last for so long,” said the Grinch. “Life keeps going after the Who’s sing their song.”
“Yes, life keeps going, and the bills and the challenges keep piling up,” said George.
“And people will keep talking behind your back, even if you’ve tried to prove you’re worthiness to them face to face,” said Scrooge.
“And every year, there are more children who stop believing in Santa, and more parents who forget that home and family are more important than anything for sale at Macy’s or any other store,” said Kris.
“So, what you’re saying is that you’re not sure its all worth it, if after all the songs are sung and presents are opened, all we’re left with is the blues?” I asked. “That you wish that there hadn’t been that high of Christmas if it means the low that comes after?”
“Are you crazy?” said the snow-suited boy, coming back from the kitchen. “Of course it’s worth it.”
We all looked at him in surprise. We hadn’t expected him to be listening to our conversation, and were even more amazed that he felt he needed to set us straight. But, clearly Christmas was something he felt strongly about. “Don’t any of you remember what Christmas was like that morning you unwrapped the greatest gift of all time.”
“Presents don’t last, those moments soon become the past,” countered the Grinch.
“And even the Greatest Gift can have unintended consequences,” said George.
“Well, duh,” said the boy. “Look, it hurt like anything when I almost shot my eye out – it hurt my eye and it hurt my pride. But I still think this Red-Ryder BB gun is the best present I’ve ever received. You know why?”
We all shook our heads, and he rolled his eyes at us, going on. “Look, it didn’t take too long for me to figure out who gave me this gun. It wasn’t Santa,” Kris nodded. “It wasn’t magic. It was my dad.” George seemed particularly interested as Ralphie went on.
“All December long I was so afraid that I wouldn’t get what I really wanted, and I thought nobody cared. But, the truth is, we all have someone in our lives that wants us to have the best Christmas ever. My dad and mom worked really hard so I could have what I really wanted. And, all over the world, people are doing the same thing for the ones they love. You think everyone drives all over, cutting down trees and spending hours in the cold stringing up lights because they want Santa Claus to deliver something just for them? They’re all just trying to make people happy.”
It made sense. That was the Christmas magic after all, the goodwill that drives people to great lengths to make their loved ones happy. And, even if many people today would be better off if we spent more time and less money, hearts are still in the right place with all that extra effort. “But, when Christmas is over, why do we all stop trying to make people happy?” I asked.
“It gets to be too much, doing all that extra work to make a nice meal, have special decorations, and be extra cheerful,” said George. “People aren’t up for that effort all the year round.”
“It wouldn’t be special if it was all the time,” replied Ralphie.
“So,” said Scrooge, “What you’re saying is just because we can’t keep up the Christmas pace all year round, it doesn’t mean we’ve failed. We have to work to make the holidays special, and we have to accept there is something of a let down when its over.”
“It doesn’t have to be a let down,” said Kris. “If you remember that you were trying to make a special time, not change your everyday. And, there are some parts of Christmas that CAN last all the year round, as long as you’re willing to put in that little extra effort that comes naturally in December.”
“Like remembering to give someone a smile, even if they don’t return it for awhile,” said the Grinch. “We toss the unwrapped paper and take down the lights, we get back to the grind and still have our fights. But Christmas will surely come in another year, then we’ll work hard again to spread our cheer.”
“It’s the cheer that’s priceless,” said George, “And for that matter, free. I guess I spend so much time thinking about money, that I forget what really counts. You’d have thought I’d have that lesson down pat.”
“That’s why Christmas comes once a year,” said Kris. “We all need reminders. And, even if most of the world doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, every day, we all have at least one person who believes in us.”
It was then I realized how fortunate I was to have heard these characters stories, both the happy endings I had heard before then, and the sequels they had just shared with me. Whether you call it Christmas, or solstice, or something else, we all need some light to get us through the darkest time of the year. And, Ralphie was right, it is special because we give a little bit more than most of the time.
The true meaning of Christmas is hard to remember, and even more difficult to honor year round. I’m betting a lot of you are pretty tired right now. All that effort you put into your holiday, whether it was traveling to see family, or preparing your own home for hosting a party, or even the shopping, can wear a person down. Then it all comes to a screeching halt, the lights come down, no one is out ringing a bell to remind you of the less fortunate, people don’t greet each other with reminders to be Merry. All that work is behind us for another year.
But that’s just it, we know its work at Christmas. Do we chose not to put in the effort to be festive or even to give goodwill toward men the rest of the year? Is that why marketers are allowed to stretch the Christmas season, so now it begins in September? Do we hope that somehow, the cheer will come with the commercialism?
Is it possible to keep the spirit of Christmas every day of the year, as Scrooge was said to have done? I don’t know. I do think that Dickens may have exaggerated a little bit, because the Ebeneezer I met yesterday seemed to have had some bad days now and then. But I do know that it would take work to do so, just like it takes work to make the most of the holidays. In the end, it is not just better to give than receive, but it is impossible to live without giving of yourself. Otherwise, we’re just taking up room like books on a shelf.
Maybe it’s impossible, but as Gailey said “Faith is believing in things…when common sense tells you not to.”