It has been one heck of a day topping off one heck of a week. I left family Christmas shopping till the last minute, though I did pack away a few things while I was doing my Salvation Army shopping. Mostly gift cards. It is harder to buy for those you know than those that have nothing. My kids and friends have all the clothes, candles and luxuries they can handle, plus some to spare. I sat in my car deliberating whether or not I had the energy to get out and wrestle with the other harried consumers. Bargain hunters were coming and going, none seemed extremely happy, just tired and worn out...like me.
Eventually I made it to the inside of the shopping Mecca where a choir singing Christmas carols slowed me down. I took a seat to continue my energy conservation mode. The strains of "peace on earth, good will to men" seemed irrelevant to the season as I observed those scurrying by with no desire to slow down, muttering under their breaths about the unpleasantness of buying for so and so, the old drunk.
"It's a beautiful song, isn't it?" A new arrival with a coat covering a humped back asked. "Shame it's lost it's meaning.” Wow, was this guy reading my mind or what? "I feel like the angel's present on Jesus’ birthday are very disappointed that their message didn't stick."
The song carried on to it's third stanza, "And ye, beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow, Look now! for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing: O rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing."
"Nope, that has all become a pipe dream. This time of year there is no rest for the weary bent over forms of the Christmas shopper. I'm sure this wasn't what the angels' message was about."
I looked at the stranger. "You don't shop for Christmas?"
"I don't shop at all for family, we're too numerous, We just try to provide for the needy. My family doesn’t need anything, and overeating is just as wasteful as over owning. We celebrate Christmas peacefully, and respectfully, no strain on the emotions, just togetherness.”
Reflecting on this I realized the most joy I had was buying for the forgotten seniors at the Salvation Army. Turning back to the shopper I was amazed at how fast he had disappeared, nothing was left of him but a few feathers in his seat!
On I trudged through the mall, being pushed aside by panicked last minute spenders, till I came to the Winter Wonder Land. Santa was being plied with kids making their Christmas requests; no, demands. A few even complained about last years gifts breaking or not being received at all. It was so commercial it sickened me. One little boy even mentioned the brother he asked for came eight months late as a girl! He didn't count that as a Christmas gift and he wanted a refund! His mother looked aghast, holding onto her young daughter. The scene didn't encourage family domicity.
"Isn't he ludicrous?" A bearded man in jeans and a western hat questioned. "A red suit and fat belly! Give me a break! Any one spending that much time building toys, hauling them around and delivering them should be in good physical shape. He looks like a comic figure, it's no wonder the kids cry and scream as they're placed on his lap! Looking at him makes me want to shed tears! Just look at him! He's a poster child for obesity and diabetes!"
"I was just trying to recall which wise man appeared at Jesus' place wearing that outfit, and falling through a chimney!" I answered, giggling.
"You're right, Nicholas didn't appear till three hundred or so years latter, I don't mind saying he was a good looking guy, a bishop, who started off giving away his wealth to poor girls who would be sold into slavery without a proper dowry. I'll tell you right now, kids didn't cry when they saw him coming! And furthermore, he never expected to upstage Jesus."
"Is that so?" I asked. Again with the poor. "Why didn't you call him St. Nicholas?" I noticed the obvious omission from the lips of the trim, muscular gentleman.
"Because he didn't ask for special favors, being canonized, he just did what was expected of him as a servant of the Most High. All followers of God are saints." Boy, what a powerful statement; I’m a saint! I sure didn't feel like one right now. We listened while Santa queried if a youngster had been good or bad.
"Thank heavens Jesus came when were all sinners. If he waited till we'd had a good year...well we'd still be waiting for his first appearance." The stranger stated, his voice fading.
I turned to see an empty space between me and a young mother, who was staring at me oddly,as though she thought I was nuts. What was her problem and how did my temporary companion escape this crowd without displacing anyone?
I pushed my way through the barrier of bodies, stepping on several toes eliciting special suggestions for me; things I couldn't possibly achieve physically, how could they use words like that in front of kids. It's a wonder any child got a gift for being good if they followed their parents examples!
The next display in merchants heaven was a Nativity scene with live animals located next to a store selling...nativity scenes, what else? Great, even the most sacred event was reduced to a packaged item!
"What a peaceful scene." A rough looking man wearing a tool belt sighed. "Reminds me of my son's birthday so long ago."
"Was he born in a barn?" I joked.
"Yes, actually, we were on vacation and didn't make it to the hospital in time. We were pretty poor but we were together and healthy. The owners of the barn were surprised to see us there, the way they adored my son, you'd think they'd never seen a newborn before, and them raising animals!" He glanced around at the store‘s customers. "He never had a birthday as full of anxiety as this, truth be told he never had a birthday; one we celebrated anyway. He never asked for one, in fact, he was more into giving than receiving. A few years latter visitors from another country came who gave us some extravagant presents to help us get a new lease on life, but that only happened once." He paused, I'm sure to reminisce. "I taught him to be a carpenter like me but he had to constantly fight a strong aversion to hammers and nails."
"Your son sounds special, where is he now?"
"He died young. I never saw him grow up, his mother raised him right though. She watched him give his life as the ultimate gift to the poor and needy."
I stared at this unknown gentlemen in astonishment. He was pretty fixated on the stage in front of us. Reliving memories of being poor, aided by foreigners, separated from his son and yet happy and content about it. He walked away and vanished into the mob, humming Silent Night.
That was it. I made one quick stop for my gift list and headed home. As I pulled out of the parking lot I saw the three men I had conversed with walking...up. They were ascending some invisible stair case, or escalator. Looking over their shoulders at me they gave me the high five. On reflex I high fived back, then looked about sheepishly to see if I was being observed. Hump back took off his coat revealing a full set of wings. He soared off at such a speed it appeared like a comet had been flung through the heavens. The second guy jumped into a wagon that he had whistled for, as though he were summoning a taxi, drawn by some unusual looking deer that incredibly resembled Texas long horn (this is Texas after all!) The back of the cart was loaded with sacks filled with blankets, coats and food. The third guy was met by a lovely young woman with a shawl over her head. They slowly dematerialized, kissing and hugging. I blinked my eyes and hit the gas petal. I don’t recollect a recent head injury! Nor had I imbibed in any spiked eggnog....yet! Could this be the result of holiday fatigue?!
At home I labeled cards to family and friends explaining that I donated to various charities in their names. I couldn't have found better gifts for them than to help someone that didn't have everything they needed. Then, pouring some eggnog and settling into my lounge chair I pulled out my bible and read the Christmas story with new eyes.