It Matters to Me

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

From as far back as I can remember, the Christmas season has always been my favourite.  And it’s true even more now, in my mid-seventies, than it was as a child.

When I stop to think about the reasons for that, I suppose it has to do with the different meanings that Christmas has for me.  Although I can think of many, there are three significant beliefs that stick out.

…with the kids jingle-belling, and everyone telling you, “Be of good cheer…”

None of the three has anything to do with the endless sparring between the commercial and religious aspects of the season—where we find Santa Claus in every shopping mall, serenaded by traditional carols blasted over a tinny sound system.  Or coming to town on a huge sleigh pulled by plastic reindeer.  Were I to dwell on that, the whole season would be spoiled.

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Neither are my feelings affected by the view of Christmas as a pagan festival, the embodiment of which is old St. Nick, rather than as a true celebration of the birth of Christ.  For me, the two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

It’s the hap-happiest season of all…

As a matter of fact, Santa Claus is one of the things I like best about Christmas.  For the record, I still believe in him.  Every Christmas—under the somewhat curious stare of my grandchildren, who are all sophisticated now to the point of pretending to pretend—I hang up my stocking, just as I have for more than seventy years.

“Gramps, you don’t still believe in Santa, do you?” my youngest granddaughter asks.  She watches me closely as I frame a reply.

“Sure do,” I say.  “I mean, I don’t know if there really is a Santa Claus, but it’s more fun to act as if there is.  Believing in Santa is one of the things that make Christmas so much fun.”

stocking

I don’t know if she agrees with me, but it’s reassuring to note that she still hangs up her own stocking.

The second thing of significance for me about the Christmas season is the good feeling prompted by memories of Christmases past.  It’s always been a time for family members to come together.

With those holiday greetings and gay, happy meetings when friends come to call…

For years, my parents’ house was the destination on Christmas Day, eventually giving way to my home, where my wife and I raised our two daughters.  Grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, and friends would all drop in, often staying for the opening of the gifts, and dinner afterwards.  And, without fail, they would reminisce about their own childhood Christmas seasons, sharing their happy, nostalgic memories with us.

…tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago…

It’s different today, of course, because our daughters have children of their own.  Theirs are the homes we gather at now, with in-laws and friends of their generation.  And, to my everlasting surprise, we have become the old folks—observers rather than directors of the goings-on around the tree.

Worst of all—as the oldest one gathered there, I have to wait ‘til the very end to open my stocking.

…parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow…

christmas_carolers

But, regardless of where we are, the things that haven’t changed are the feelings of love and joy we all share at this time of year.

The third thing of importance to me is the fact that Christmas does mark the birth of Christ.  I believe the question of historical accuracy is irrelevant.  The very fact of his birth, whatever the actual date, is a symbol of our hope for peace on earth.  It stands as a beacon of the promise for salvation in a world fraught with danger and despair for many.

I have absolutely no difficulty in integrating these three different notions of Christmas.  For me, they come together nicely—the fun and excitement of Santa Claus, the love and laughter of times with family, and our renewing joy at the birth of Christ.

There’ll be much mistletoeing and hearts will be glowing when loved ones appear…

Perhaps the thread that ties the three together is the idea of faith, the idea of choosing to believe.  Christmas is my favourite time of the year, but for reasons that are neither irrefutable nor provable.  Faith doesn’t abide proof.

nativity_Bloch

My beliefs are valid only because I deem them so.  I want to believe in them, so I do.  And, therefore, Christmas represents a magical time for me—especially now, knowing I have more of them behind me than ahead.

Softly-falling snow, gaily-twinkling lights, the wonderful music, the excited laughter of grandchildren, and a peace that surpasses all understanding—all join to herald the coming of another Christmastime, a time to celebrate, to remember, to rejoice and give thanks.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

And it matters to me!

 

A Panhandler’s Christmas

After we retired to Florida some years ago, we discovered that Christmas there is as jolly a season as any we enjoyed up north, enveloped by snow.  It was especially joyous when our grandchildren come to visit.

One evening during our last Christmas season in the sunny south, we all went out to dinner—my wife, our daughter and her husband, and three of our grandchildren.  We’d spent the afternoon shopping at a large, regional mall, and were looking forward to enjoying the cheer of the season and the pleasure of each other’s company.

During dinner, we talked of our plans for their holiday with us.  Unlike the north, where tobogganing, skating, snowball fights, and warm fires were the order of the day, in Florida the beach, the pool, and the golf course were all on the agenda.  We were looking forward to an old-fashioned holiday with lots of singing, plenty of fresh air and exercise, good food, and family to enjoy being around the tree with.

By the time we finished dinner, sharing our happy plans, we were all feeling very fine—warm, full, comfortable.  We left the restaurant, chatting amiably, and began the walk back to the parking lot where we had left the car.

As we waited to cross the intersection, guided by flashing green and red traffic lights that added to the festive Christmas air, we were accosted by a stranger.  He meant us no harm, but his sudden approach startled us out of our contented state.

He was tall and quite thin, and his face jutted out from under a worn cap.  His beard was unkempt, his eyes red and rheumy.  He wore faded jeans, tattered and patched, and an old, plaid shirt with the collar turned up.  The children huddled behind their parents, afraid of being so close to such an apparition.

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When he spoke to me, I could hardly hear him in the hum of the passing traffic.  He mumbled through that scraggly beard, through missing teeth, his words coming in disjointed phrases.

“Hey, can you….you got anything….any change?  A bus ticket, maybe….got any…?”

He was clutching a misspelled sign on a scrap of corrugated cardboard that read:

Vetran  homeless everthing helps

“No, sorry,” I muttered, watching for the green light that would allow us to escape.  And we walked away, slightly embarrassed, but relieved to leave him behind.

“Who was that guy, Daddy?” one of the kids asked.

“Did he wanna hurt us?” another chimed in.

Their parents reassured them that he had meant no harm.  He was just a man asking for money.

“Is he sick, Mummy?  Will he be alright?”

None of us could really answer.

When we reached the car, we clambered in silently, each of us lost in our own thoughts.  The kids soon put the episode behind them, immersing themselves in their gaming devices.  As I drove back through the intersection, heading home, the stranger was still on the corner, huddling around himself, approaching passers-by.  He looked pathetic, and utterly alone.  I hoped he didn’t see me staring at him.

Later that night, after everyone was in bed, I thought of him again.  At first, I chastised myself for not giving him something to help him out.  From somewhere, the scrap of a Bible verse teased a corner of my mind—Whatsoever ye do unto the least of these, ye do also to me—something close to that, I think.

But then I rationalized that a token from me would not likely have helped him anyway.  He was obviously past the point where a solitary handout was going to make much of a difference in his life.  He’d probably have wasted whatever we might have given him on booze or drugs, I told myself self-righteously.  At one point, I got angry that he had put me in such an uncomfortable position.

Still, underneath it all, I felt a nagging guilt.  ‘Tis the season to care for one’s fellow-creatures; yet we, so full of the Christmas spirit, had kept on walking.  Because we were fearful, because we hadn’t known how to respond…or because we didn’t care.

Was it best to have ignored him and walked on, I wondered?  Or would it have been better to have given him something, in the spirit of Christmas and with the hope that it would have helped him?  I didn’t know.

As I think about it even now, almost a year later—sitting warm and safe at home at the onset of another Christmas season, surrounded by people who love me—I wonder where that stranger is and whether he’s okay.

And I wish I knew what I should have done.

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