What Does Christmas Look Like to You? :: By Frank Barrera

The Spirit of Christmas

I was standing in line some time ago at my local bank. There were several people ahead of me. They were all probably withdrawing their Christmas Club money. The line moved slower than usual. During my time of non-teller conversation, I scanned the scene to see what was up.

On the counter up ahead, next to the teller, was one of those little plastic display boxes. In it were little brochures trying to convince people to borrow more money than they were already withdrawing. It was a little Christmas candy-cane colored leaflet. On the cover it read: “WHAT DO THE HOLDAYS LOOK LIKE TO YOU?”

I grabbed one to see what “their” Spirit of Christmas looked like. In it were ways you could borrow more money than you need to buy more things you didn’t need, all with one low monthly payment, which was not due until several months after the holiday fever was in your rearview mirror.

This got me to thinking. What DOES the Spirit of Christmas look like? It set me to thinking about that old TV alien who came to Earth years back and saw life through different eyes. If we could transport ourselves to his first visit around late fall or Thanksgiving, or even Halloween — it hasn’t started around Labor Day yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if you started seeing fireworks stands selling Christmas trees to try and beat the rush — this is what he might report:

“Mork calling Orson; Mork calling Orson. Hello Orson, they have this amazing festival down here. Everyone seems to get into it, especially the stores and malls.

“What’s that? A mall?”

“It’s sort of an enclosed walkway where you go to meet your friends and smell cookies baking and buy ice cream to spill on the clothes in the stores. And they are all the same in every city. Actually, I think a big computer spits them out and drops them in the suburbs right in the middle of a sea of parked cars that can’t move. I don’t know how they get in there, but they can’t get out.”

“Oh yes, the festival.”

“It’s about a boy and a drum, and he is born in a sleigh with straw right next to some chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Yes – it’s a bit dangerous. But he is guarded by a big fat man in a red suit named Round Jon Virgin, standing by a tree with a Partridge in it. There is a lady kneeling by it with a light over her head. And she has some sheep and a donkey and a camel, and this really strange reindeer with a red electric, blinking nose, while a dog is sleeping on the top of his doghouse, and a crotchety old man hoists a crippled little boy onto his shoulders, who’s holding a turkey by the neck saying, ‘God Bless us all.’”

“No – the boy says that, not the turkey.”

“Well – after they all sing for a while, they take all these packages and wrap them in colorful paper, then rip off the same paper. And the little children play with the paper and the boxes, and the bigger kids say, ‘Is that all?’ And the father sits in front of the picture box, and the mother collapses in a chair. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. We should do this back home.”

“Well – that’s all.”

And speaking of gifts, I should remind you of a rule. It’s not my rule, necessarily. It came from a very grumpy-looking man at an office Christmas party – a man who came down with a full-blown case of Scrooge-itis. He just unwrapped his dinky little present from under the office tree, and in tones of amused sorrow he said to nobody in particular:

“You know, it’s not true that what counts is the thought and not the gift. It’s just not true. My mother was pulling my leg on that one. I have collected so much gift-wrapped trash over the years from people who copped out and hurriedly bought a little plastic cheapie to give under the protective flag of ‘good thoughts.’ I tell you, it IS the gift that counts. Or, rather, people who think good thoughts give good gifts. It ought to be the Brass Rule of Gift Giving.” And he stomped off toward the garbage can, carrying his little gift as if it were a dead roach.”

Well – maybe so. It’s kind of harsh judgment and a little close for comfort, but the Spirit of Christmas has been clear for a long time. God, who, it is said, started all this, cared enough to send the very best. On more than one occasion. And the Wise Men did not come bearing tacky knick-knacks. Even ‘Ol Santa, when he’s making his list, is checking it twice. And the Angels came bringing Good News, which was not about a half-price sale.

Christmas is about the wonder of a child, of long ago and far away. And it is about the child of now, in you and me, waiting behind the door of our hearts for something wonderful to happen. A child who is impractical, unrealistic, simpleminded and terribly vulnerable to joy. A child who does not need or want or understand gifts of socks or potholders.

The Spirit of Christmas is simple: He came down to my level when I couldn’t get up to His. A Light has entered the world to show us the way home. He came down so we can go up.