Opening the Present

You could call it a Hallmark card with bite.  In the midst of a silent night, wise men reached out with their gifts toward the Holy Babe … while from stage left, the walking dead were slowly closing the distance.

“Hey, it’s not my fault,” one of the Shoebox characters said, as he rearranged the crèche. “When stores start selling Christmas stuff in October, they gotta expect a few zombies in the manger.”

Um … amen?

It’s a chorus that’s become quite familiar, even without George Romero joining forces with Dr. Luke. Every year, from every quarter, I hear people lament how the ever-encroaching Retail Christmas Legions of Doom are laying waste to the calendar. Forget November – Thanksgiving surrendered its shelf space to the forces of Santa, Rudolph, and rooftop icicle lights a long time ago. Now, in parts of the holiday beachhead , it sometimes feels like the masks and jack o’lanterns are just barely holding the line.

Yes, Mr. Grinch, you can say it: “I must stop Christmas from coming! But how?”

But not too loudly, please.

You see, I’m not convinced we celebrate it early enough.

No, my brain has not been taken over by the forces of Neiman-Marcus. It’s true that in our home, our disabled ward Missy has been known to play Christmas carols in the middle of July, at a volume that leaves the halls well and truly decked. And yes, I’m currently in rehearsals for “A Christmas Carol” at the Longmont Theatre Company. (Set to open at the proper time, I might add, on the day after Thanksgiving).

So out-of-season holiday greetings aren’t exactly unfamiliar to me. But that’s not where I’m going. If the lights and merchandise stayed off the shelves until after Pilgrim season, I’d be as happy as anyone else.

It’s Christmas I want – not the retail.

Since I’m in the middle of Mr. Dickens, I’ll let him explain, in the words of Scrooge’s persistent nephew Fred:

“I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time when it has come round … as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time, the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

It’s not the stuff we’re lacking. It’s the attitude.

The real Christmas isn’t getting earlier. If anything, it’s been retreating. The spirit of “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men” has been getting outshouted by the opportunistic, the angry, and the suspicious. Hands that should be welcoming, giving, and healing are encouraged to double up in fists as neighbors are portrayed as strangers, if not outright enemies.

If this isn’t when we need kindness and generosity of spirit, when is it?

With or without carols, it’s always the right season for the hope that can find wonder in unexpected places.

Without a single pine needle, we can still be lights in the darkness, bringing joy to a cold night.

And without a single crèche in sight, we can still make the decision to open our hearts to others, instead of leaving no room at the inn.

Without that spirit, it doesn’t matter if we ultimately celebrate the holiday in December or June. No matter how bright the ribbons or how tall the trees, if the heart is missing, it’s just an empty shell.

A zombie, in other words.

Let’s leave that to the Shoebox cards, shall we?

 

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