While writing my last post I was reminded of a short story I wrote long ago, and decided that I was going to post it here. It took some searching to retrieve it. It’s that old! The title? “The Real Meaning of Christmas.” I wrote it in 2006. What a long way I’ve come as a writer since then! Yet, for the sake of posterity (or something like that!) I’ve decided to publish it largely as is, other than removing some annoying spacing issues. Because it’s nine typed pages long, I’ll share it in two parts. Look for part two next week!
Without further ado, here is an old story that’s short on style and long on meaning.
THE REAL MEANING OF CHRISTMAS
Not everyone loved Christmas, especially Toni. She shuddered every fall when the end of November approached because now, for six unbearable weeks, she would have to deal with all the things about Christmas that she hated. Her friends would be chattering about what new toys and gadgets they would be going broke to buy their children. People in their shiny SUVs would be stressed out and driving at breakneck speeds to the next shopping mall to whip out a plastic card and add to their already enormous debt. Christmas trees would be on the tops of cars and in the beds of pick-up trucks, only to be unceremoniously dumped in a hidden ditch in the backyard once the finest balls and light strings were removed and the expensive presents unwrapped. Some people would light up their homes until absurd dates, well past New Year’s in a silly, futile attempt to keep alive a holiday season that most people had forgotten the meaning of anyway. She refused to be a part of it all, falling out on the mania that surrounded the holiday that was supposed to represent the Birth of Christ. Instead, she longed for the Christmases of her youth when her parents were alive, when her sisters still talked to her, when people still cared about each other enough to know that love and happiness could not be bought. Still, she had to keep up some kind of front, because now Hannah was old enough to be excited about the holiday. Somehow, some way, regardless of how much she dreaded the season, she had to make it worthwhile for both of them, to make it special in some way.
“Why don’t you spend it in Aruba?” was the worldly suggestion of her friend Marcy, who thought all problems on earth could be solved through the spending of money and a call to Carnival Cruises. Toni did not know whether she was serious, being that Marcy was in a pile of Super Soakers and video game equipment when the suggestion rolled off of her tongue, likely without previous thought. In fact, Toni almost knew that Marcy wasn’t thinking by her harried, pre-occupied tone that accompanied a certain annoyed look.
Toni wished that Marcy had not mentioned Aruba. For a split second she wished, too, that she had not visited Marcy at all, as Marcy was one of those people who “loved” Christmas and equally “loved” to spend money on material comforts. Marcy had always been a bit pretentious and since marrying a self-made millionaire she had only gotten worse. But Toni knew that deep down inside, Marcy had a good heart and Toni still loved her dearly, even if she had to put up with a ridiculous comment every now and then.
“Actually, I was considering volunteering to feed the homeless,” Toni said.
“Oh, that’s nice baby. Hannah can stay and play with Amber and Jim-Jim,” Marcy grinned, speaking of her spoiled children.
“Oh no, I’m going to bring her with me.”
Marcy was stopped in the tracks of her Super Soakers.
“Baby, you’ve got to be kidding. You’re going to bring that perfect child to feed dirty, grimy homeless people?”
“Maybe you should come with me and bring Amber and Jim-Jim,” Toni’s tone was slightly condescending in that she pronounced the children’s names in the same baby-talk way that Marcy used whenever she spoke of them.
Marcy didn’t even notice. “You know I have a huge lunch to plan. I don’t know how I’m going to do it without going to that awful shelter.” Marcy rolled her eyes with silly self-importance. Toni knew that Marcy loved her role as town hostess and savored it when her guests bragged about her parties until the next one.
“Well, we’re going just the same.”
“You should give Hannah a choice. If she doesn’t want to go, she can stay here and help me cook. She loves to help her Auntie Marcy cook, you know!”
Toni was relieved that Marcy had finally said something that made sense. She was right: Hannah should have the choice. Toni would talk to her daughter.
She tentatively approached her flaxen blond daughter while she was in her room playing dolls. Lovely Hannah, who Toni was trying to lead through her first years of life with compassion for other members of the human race, looked at her expectantly. “Go ahead, Mommy. What do you want to talk about?”
Toni was comforted by the patience of her little girl. Sometimes, Hannah was so serene that she made Toni feel like she was the daughter. She began: “Christmas is coming. Next week it’ll be here.”
A shadow fell over the little girl’s face. “Mommy, do you have enough money to buy me presents? Because if you don’t, it’s okay. Some kids in my class aren’t gonna get many presents ‘cuz they don’t have no daddy like me and their mommies can’t ‘ford nothin’ for them.”
Toni didn’t know whether to be horrified that her daughter was thinking such thoughts or to be proud that she was so unselfish. Hannah had everything within reason that a child needed and wanted, and Toni would always keep it that way, but Hannah was not spoiled or unappreciative. Toni had simply taught her what her own parents had taught her: to not take anything for granted.
“No honey, it’s not that at all! I wanted to ask you if you wanted to do something special on Christmas morning.”
“I want to go and feed homeless people at the shelter downtown. Do you want to come with me? If you don’t, you can stay at Auntie Marcy’s.”
“You mean feed people less lucky than us?” Hannah’s eyes widened.
“Yes.” Toni had used that line on Hannah many times when they had passed the shelter and had seen people out front or on their way there.
“I wanna go Mommy. We can open presents after?”
“How about we open one before and the rest after.”
Hannah smiled widely. “Yeah!” She tossed her arms around Toni. “Mommy, I can’t wait to feed the homeless people that are less lucky than us.”
Look for the conclusion next week.
Thanks for reading!