Charles Dickens’ diminutive character Tiny Tim said it long before there was a twinkling of political correctness in anyone’s eye— Merry Christmas, everyone! Oh I know the “C” word isn’t PC anymore, but at the risk of offending anyone, I will continue to use it. Look closely at any calendar and you’ll still see written in the tiniest print on the square white block of December 25 the words “Christmas Day.” You might have to grab a magnifying glass to detect it, but it’s there.
Of course, there are people who do not believe in or celebrate the Christian holiday, and I respect that. But I find it hard to believe that these folks are really that upset by others who slip up and wish them a Merry Christmas instead of the ever-appropriate Happy Holidays. Wouldn’t any rational-thinking individual simply accept the positive nature of the greeting as it was intended? Or would they view the phrase as fighting words– “Yeah, that’s right, I said Merry Christmas, you schmo. What are you gonna do about it?”
I celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, on December 25. Do I believe that He was really born on that day? Not necessarily. There are accounts that say the birth may actually have occurred in late September, but it doesn’t matter. Arbitrary or not, this is the day of the year that is and always has been Christmas to me.
At age 64, and a 9-year brain tumor survivor, I am incredibly blessed to have five grandchildren in my life— Ben, 9, Will, 6, Christian, 4, Olivia, 2, and Sam, 18 months, and I love buying presents for these pampered little hellions. I even like watching them rip into the packages like wild lions vying for a carcass on the Serenghetti. And I know that when the last gift is opened, even the youngest among them will pout his greedy little lips and say “More?”
Is all this commercialization of Christmas a good thing? Absolutely not. But the sad, senseless fact is that I enjoy it. This year, I once again wedged myself into a throbbing wasp’s nest of shoppers at the Disney store fighting over the last pair of Cinderella’s “glass” slippers.
I again dragged my oldest grandsons to the Enchanted Village with its refurbished Victorian “children” nodding their heads unnaturally with dead glass eyes. I pushed Will onto the fake plastic surface of the skating rink at Jordan’s Furniture even though he wanted to go home and play with friends. “Oh, you can do that anytime,” I said. “It’s Christmas. Get out there and have fun, and pay no attention to the fact that the ice you’re skating on is warm to the touch.”
Yanking his skates off after the session, I hauled Will and his brother Ben over to the green screen where we had our pictures taken against a later-to-be-superimposed Enchanted Village scene for a hefty price tag. And because this year’s elfin photographer had managed to shoot me with less than three chins, I bought the whole shebang with the ornament and refrigerator magnet thrown in for 40 bucks.
Then it was over to the Polar Express MOM ride to pay money to be tortured in a gyrating chair until a migraine started and I had to raise my hand to be unbuckled from the seat. The excursion ended with a stop at the Jordan’s Furniture bakery where I popped an Imitrex and purchased six old fashioned Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins even though the kids just wanted popcorn. “Popcorn is not part of the tradition,” I snapped, stuffing a muffin into Ben’s mouth. “Try these. They’re really good.”
The next day, I drove to the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square with my daughter and some friends to see It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen as we have for the last seven years. And I loved it just as much as the first time I ever heard Jimmy Stewart say to Donna Reed, “What is it you want, Mary? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.”
There is an aspect to the holiday season that is not pure, not holy, and definitely not significant, but I can’t deny that I imbibe in it. This year, however, I had a brief moment in time that was apart from all of that and was unforgettable.
My son Jay called on Christmas Eve to say he and Kim were bringing the kids to a Mass at St. Anthony’s in Cohasset that afternoon. “Why don’t you meet us there, Mom, it will count as Mass for tomorrow because it’s after 4:00. Another of the Roman Catholic rules I didn’t know or understand, but I jumped on the chance not to have to go to church the next day. I called Alli and she said she’d bring Ben. Will had slept overnight at my house, so I took him with me in my car.
I was almost at the church when my cell phone rang. “Mom, you may as well turn around. People are parked all the way down to Cohasset Village. You’re gonna have to walk a quarter of a mile and it’s freezing out.”
“Okay, I’m going home then,” I said. “I’ll never be able to breathe with my asthma.” From the back seat, I heard Will plead, “No, Nunny, I really want to go. Can we please go to church and meet Mommy?”
I looked back at this 6-year-old’s sweet face with his saucer blue eyes,” and said, “Ok, Will, we’re going, and you know what? We’re gonna find a space right in the church parking lot because we’re both going to think positive. I felt like I was reading the line from Peter Pan when the child is urged to say “I believe” to bring Tinker Bell back to life.
We drove into the St. Anthony’s parking lot, and as my daughter had predicted, cars were packed tighter than ice cubes in a frozen tray—some of them on the grass and a few blocking others at odd angles. But within seconds of our arrival, a blue SUV directly to my right put on its backup lights and pulled out of a spot. I drove my white Rogue neatly into the space as Will cheered and clapped from behind. Alli and Ben walked up just as we were getting out of the car. “Are you serious?” she said with a look of disbelief. “How did you manage this?”
The pews inside the church were overflowing with little girls in red velvet dresses, boys with bow ties and sweater vests, and hoards of people lining every wall. I caught sight of Jay and his family but they were standing way in the back and we couldn’t get to them. So we found an empty place to stand beside a stained glass window.
Halfway through the Mass, a young mother beckoned for me to take a seat left empty by her husband who had carried out a crying infant. I must really look old, I thought to myself, but gratefully slid into the bench. The din of wailing kids and harsh parental whispers drowned out the priest’s words, but I knew the closing was coming soon—“the Mass is ended, go in peace.”
As I slipped my jacket on, the sound of a clear soprano voice singing Silent Night suddenly floated down from an unseen place. As her soft but haunting verses continued, “Round yon Virgin Mother and child. Holy infant so tender and mild,” row-by-row, the lights of the church dimmed and went out until we were left in total darkness broken only by one lit candle at the altar.
A hushed silence fell across the room as no one spoke—not even the children— until the singer’s final words— “Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia, Christ the Savior is born. Christ the Savior is born.” I looked over at my daughter who was wiping a tear from her cheek, as were so many other people around us.
For those few moments in the quiet of an unexpected darkness, I was there, where it began, whether on December 25 or on any other night when miracles happen, and it was pure, it was holy, and it was significant.