Half-Hung Christmas Lights  

Posted by Brock Booher

I’m alone again on Christmas day. I’m sitting in a hotel room thousands of miles from my family waiting for their video call so I can watch the kids open their presents. It doesn’t sound like much of a Christmas, but in some ways, the solitude has helped me reconnect with the real meaning of Christmas.

When did we begin to expect so much from the Christmas season? When did Christmas become a time to outdo your neighbor with synchronized lights and oversize inflatable lawn ornaments? What happened to simply gathering around the piano with your family and singing Christmas carols? Nowadays simply putting up a tree and sending out a few Christmas cards isn’t enough. We have to decorate the house with hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of lights. We have to put up the perfect tree adorned with properly spaced ornaments of matching colors. We have to erect an entire Dickens Christmas village that takes over the entertainment center.  We have door hangars that make noise and jingles bells every time the door is opened. We have life-sized Santa dolls that dance and sing to popular Christmas tunes. We even have costumes for our dogs. Decorating for Christmas is an event unto itself.

Next, we bury each other in treats. We get plates of cookies, fudge, and toffee. We get cheese balls, popcorn, and homemade salsa. We get muffins, cupcakes, and fresh bread. We get candy, fruitcake, and hot chocolate mixes. We are inundated with scrumptious morsels of all types. Every time the doorbell rings, we all get excited to see what special treat our friends and neighbors are dropping off. Unfortunately, I can’t possible run enough miles to keep from gaining ten pounds from all the goodies.

In return, our family makes Christmas jelly, a bright red cranberry/raspberry spread that makes even the plainest bagel look like a Christmas treat. We have to start stocking up on jars in October, and buy several pounds of sugar just to meet the demand. We set aside a night or two on the calendar for production. We bring the mixture of juice and pectin to a rolling boil, and then add a mountain of sugar. We fill jar after jar with the hot syrupy mixture until we have cases of little red jars stacked and ready for delivery. Then we listen to the popping sound of the well-sealed lids. My wife puts special labels with holiday wishes on each of the lids. We have to guard the stuff so the kids don’t eat it all themselves.

Ah Christmas! It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?

This year the frenetic pace of things didn’t put me into the Christmas spirit. The Christmas season is always a busy time of year in the travel industry, and this season, I worked a lot. Because I was working a lot, and my wife was not at her usual superwoman strength, we struggled to get everything done. We put up the tree and a couple of nativity scenes, but passed on the Dickens village. We passed on the Christmas card because we could never find the time to get a photo of the entire family. I never could find the time to hang all of the lights and too cheap to hire professionals, I hired my fifteen-year old son to hang them. Due to several days of unusual rain, a myriad of broken lights, and his inexperience, the lights don’t quite look the same this year. I had to be satisfied with half-hung Christmas lights.

Since I was going to be gone Christmas Eve and Christmas day, I hurried to finish shopping, wrapping, and stuffing stockings before I left for a four-day trip on the 22nd. Instead of feeling a sense of sadness as I left the house, I felt a sense of relief. I was leaving behind the stress of Christmas.

Now, in the solitude of my hotel room, I miss my family, but I have had time to reflect on the story of Christ’s birth and its significance. I have put aside all the worldly trappings that worry us and make the season stressful. I have reread the Christmas story found in the Holy Scriptures. I have enjoyed a friendly Christmas breakfast with coworkers. I have quietly reflected on the love I have for my wife, my children, and my extended family. I have felt the spirit of Christmas.

When I drive home tonight I will no doubt see all the decorated houses aglow with fancy lights, blowup ornaments, and synchronized electronic displays. They will make me smile and fill me with sense of the season. However, as I pull in my driveway and look up at the half-hung Christmas lights it will remind me that Christmas isn’t in the decorations, the treats, the presents, the parties, or in the stockings hung by the chimney with care. Christmas is found in a lowly manger and the miraculous birth of the Son of God.

Homeless Santa  

Posted by Brock Booher

This is a revision and reprint of a story I posted two years ago.
Merry Christmas!

“Look Daddy, it’s Santa!” said my four-year old daughter. I looked up from serving soup in the homeless shelter and saw an old man with a bushy white beard holding a soup bowl.

I smiled and poured him a large scoop of hot soup. “Did anybody ever tell that you look exactly like - ”

“Santa Claus?” he said as he stroked his beard. “Yes, Because I am Santa Claus.” His face was blank. No jolly laugh. No twinkling eyes.  No ho, ho, ho.

“Don’t worry,” I said to my worried daughter. “He’s not the real Santa. The real Santa lives at the North Pole and is a jolly old elf.”

“Ho, Ho, Ho,” he replied without enthusiasm. He took his soup and moved on.

I continued to serve the other homeless patrons, but couldn’t take my eyes, or mind, off of the Santa look-alike. He sat alone in the corner like a forgotten man sipping at his soup. As soon as I finished serving, I sought him out.

I slid into one the cold metal chair across from him. “Feel better after the soup?” I asked.

“Like a bowl full of jelly,” he replied without smiling.
“You know," I started, "I’m sorry that life has been hard on you, but you didn’t have to burst my little girl’s bubble. She still believes in Santa Claus.”

“Well, I am Santa Claus.”

“I know you look like Santa, but - ”

“Santa Claus is just a fictional character to help make Christmas magical,” he mocked. “You don’t even believe in Santa Claus, and yet you lecture me on not bursting your little girl’s bubble?”

My face flushed with a touch of anger, and shame.

“Most people don’t believe anything they can’t see or touch anymore,” he continued. “How can you believe in the miraculous birth of the Son of God if you can’t even believe in Santa Claus when he’s sitting right in front of you?”

“I guess you’ve got a point,” I mumbled as I stood to go. “Merry Christmas.”

Over the next few days my conversation with homeless Santa haunted me. He was right. Like everyone else in the world, I had become cynical, even hypocritical. Everything in my life had to be proven or verified. I didn’t believe in Santa Claus, yet I perpetuated the story with my daughter because I wanted to believe.

When my boss asked for volunteers to organize the office Christmas party, I got an idea. I told everyone at my office about my encounter with homeless Santa and asked if we could sponsor him. We could take up a collection to buy him new clothes, and a few Christmas presents, and he could come play Santa Claus at our company party. I spoke with the director of the homeless shelter and made all the arrangements.

Homeless Santa came to our office party dressed for the part – traditional red suit, black boots, and bag full of toys. He gladdened hearts with his rosy cheeks and his hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho!” He had a magical touch with children, and my daughter beamed as she sat on his lap.

As the party finished, we gave him our gifts. He cried openly at our generosity, and we joined him, but they were tears of joy. By the end of the night, we all believed in Santa Claus.

That Christmas Eve, my daughter put out milk and cookies for Santa before she hurried off to bed. The next morning the cookies were gone and the milk had been replaced with a note –

“Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”  Thank you for believing in me!
Santa Claus
(P.S. I moved back to the North Pole.)