As my Buddy and I made our way to the big city, we listened to music on the radio. Frosty the snowman. Jingle Bells. Santa is Coming to Town. Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. And my personal favorite, Grandma got Run over by a Reindeer; Not! I didn’t know a single reindeer that would be that careless. The songs were meant to get people ready for the holidays, a word short for the Holy Days. Days that have lost their meanings. Become secular. The Holy left the days. I looked at my riding partner, a tear in my eye. He looked at me and nodded understandingly.
On the main thoroughfare, we passed several idle churches; they at least had their nativity scenes in prominent places on display. I was proud of my religion for not caving in with the public sentiments of taking Jesus out of the season. The Jewish synagogues we passed were closed with big portly, “No services tomorrow!” signs on the lawns. My friend smiled at these places of worship. He grew up in a very Jewish family and memories flooded his brain. He never became a Christian but had lots of friends and family who were.
We drove by several schools with “Happy Holidays” on their signboards. They were closed for “winter break” so the students could practice whatever truth their parents were teaching them this century. The yards in the neighborhood were littered with blow up decorations: snowmen, stout men in red suits waving black gloved hands as the wind rose and dwindled, lighted reindeers, enormous globes filled with animated creatures doing some cutesy Christmas-y things, all tied to the earth with rope to keep them from rising into the heavens and getting lost in outer space, and believe me, I was tempted to cut a few loose. To me they looked like air-filled trash. We only saw an occasional reminder of what was once called Christmas and for more years than it was not called Christmas. The growing population would soon not be able to recall the season’s origin. The past can easily be forgotten in one generation. Some folks bravely displayed a man, woman and child on their lawns without fear of popular opinion. A nostalgic smile visited my friend’s face. More memories flooded his eyes! Happy memories.
On some streets, we passed groups of singers gathered where the residents stood in appreciation, with hot cocoa and cookies ready to be distributed to the traveling entertainers, who first had to request permission to sing. Here we finally heard songs like Silent Night, Little Town of Bethlehem, Hark the Herald Angels; however, some of the neighbors were slamming their windows shut in passive aggressive disdain. Some even turned their stereos up full blast and encouraged their youngsters to run out and play to create distractions. You surely can’t blame immature behavior only on the young, they were taught to be rude by their elders. Teenagers drove by hurling taunts along with refuse at the choral groups. I cursed and Buddy looked sharply at me, his heart was big enough to make justifications for the errant youths. He was more forgiving than I was. I was righteously angry. Hurt. Disappointed. Embarrassed.
We eventually found the local mall, our goal, and parked way at the back. Not by choice, I wasn’t into exercise, but because it was the last available space. People returning to their cars were carrying loads of packages, grumbling about it in the process. I used to consider it a privilege to buy for those in need. These folks however were buying for themselves and those they…loved? I think. Cars that had “honk if you love Jesus”, were blaring at pedestrians who were preventing them from getting between two vacant white lines. I wasn’t ready for this. I had heard all the rumors and now I didn’t want to substantiate them. Ignorance was bliss as far as I was concerned. I wanted to remain blissful. I begged my Buddy to let me stay ignorant, to let me gracefully back out of my decision, I no longer wanted to investigate the scandals I’ve heard. I volunteered to wait outside for him. He smiled amused and nodded at the car door. It was time to go in, to face the music.
Inside I closed my eyes, reopened them and closed them again.. It was a nightmare. The nightmare before Christmas. This was Christmas Eve? All the faces that passed me looked anything but peaceful and serene. No one seemed enthused about the upcoming hours or their significance. I heard kids screaming obscenities at their guardians (were they really the parents? I would have knocked them into the next world if they had spoken to me like that!) The foul language was for not being able to snatch items from other shopper’s hands at cash registers. The poor darlings weren’t getting their Christmas wishes. Funny they use the word Christmas when doing their shopping. Despite the terminology of “Happy Holidays,” Christmas gifts are still called Christmas gifts.
Mobs of unsupervised adolescents wandered about, picking pockets, creating unsupervised havoc. Stuffing things in their overly baggy pants from counter tops and back shelves to present to some recipient of stolen goods tomorrow morning; not getting caught by the over worked, underpaid and non-interested security guards. A couple of wacky appearing “kids” looking more like trick or treaters, brushed past me. Did they think I was just born yesterday? Not even close. I did not check my pockets though; I knew they would be empty. I didn’t bring anything with me. I kept my valuables in a safe place, free from moth and rust. If I wasn’t careful, I’d be attacked for having nothing to offer. I had better not go down any lonely hallways. I looked about me. There was no chance of that. The holidays had worldly requirements and deadlines, and as usual, everyone waited until the last possible moment to fulfill their perceived obligations. I gathered no one was home now, except the burglars,(only, not at their homes.) this was their busiest and most rewarding night.
There he was. Who we had come to see. Who I had come to see. Rather, who I was hoping to not see. I was praying it had all been a malicious untruth! A line of crying, snotty nosed kids and their parents, that stretched into oblivion was formed in front of a tired, harassed, burly old man. No, he was in his twenties, just disguised to look old. Old and jolly. Only the jolly left hours ago while the aging had progressed. Plump Boy was asking his visitors if they had been good or bad. What difference did it make to him? Unless he was God, he did not get to be the judge. He was fragrantly lying to toddlers and their brothers and sisters. He was promising them things that wouldn’t be found under the tree. I hated to think of their disappointment. They might as well get used to it though, the world would continue to disillusion them till they day they died. I could see the sweat forming on faces of mother’s and father’s as they eavesdropped on the confidential requests. Clearly they shouldn‘t have waited until the last minute to bring their youngsters to the big fat liar if they had planned to use him for their shopping needs. It looked like they had more frenzied scavenger hunting to squeeze into the next two hours.
I’d seen enough. More than enough. I begged my Buddy to take me home but not before I attempted to stop a passing police officer.
“Arrest that man for identity theft,” I yelled. The officer shook his head at me in disgust. He was too busy with real crime to pay me any consideration! I couldn’t even get any consideration from the fashion police. This man should be arrested for something. Wasn’t lying to children a crime? I wanted out of this asylum of lost souls. My Buddy informed me that lost was a relevant term. Breathing still qualified people for a chance at redemption.
It took some time to make it back to our auto. Other vehicles tailed us, ready to pounce in the vacancy we would create. Cursing emanated from open windows urging us to walk faster. I think I deliberately slowed down. No, I know I deliberately slowed down. Passive aggressive. Patience was a learned trait and these jerks were going to learn patience tonight. Buddy grinned at my stubbornness. The driver that got our space even disgorged profanity at us for being so far out. As if we had a choice.
Retracing our path, we passed cars that swayed from lane to lane, coming dangerously close to us, and ran red lights. The occupants, wearing red hats with white fluff and bells, toasted us with beer cans or bottles when we got ahead of them before they tossed the empties along the road side.
On the way home I was once again humiliated at the absence of lines at the churches. Some weren’t even lit up for business tonight. Plenty of available parking in these lots. No lines at the churches but lines in front of a semi mythical obese character that lied for a living. What has the world coming to? This was not what I had in mind centuries ago when I began helping the poor. Besides most of the kids at the mall didn’t appear poverty stricken. I was given credit for some of the madness that had been shackled to my shoulders. My name had been sullied and Buddy’s name forgotten.
Way down the road, I pulled over and jumped out of the car. I had to pace. I needed to weaken my cynicism, lower my blood pressure. Oh, wait. I didn’t have blood pressure problems. I didn’t even have a pulse…anymore. Lowering my eyes, I apologized copiously to my Lord who now stood before me.
“Jesus, I’m sorry it has come to this. I never met to upstage you.”
“Nick, don’t worry about it. I’m a good judge of character. I know what your intentions were, and they have been rewarded. This generation will be judged on its own merit. You were a good and faithful servant. I’m pleased your generosity spread and lasted as long as it did. Receive your rest with joy.”
Cars passing us slowed down before they wrecked; astonished to see a man dressed in a simple red flannel cloak, trimmed with ermine, kneeling down in unabashed worship and adoration in front of a gentleman in a glowing white robe wearing a gold crown and holding a scepter, flanked by a royal host. This would be one Christmas those trekkers would remember for longer than a life time! What a shame it’s a story no one would believe as the truth seems to hold no value anymore.
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