A Different Christmas Season

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Suddenly it is Christmas. In this strangest of years, we celebrate the birth of Christ in the midst of a pandemic that shows no signs of abating. Families face hard choices, especially those who are out of work. For some families, there will be an empty chair at the dinner table — if they choose to get together at all today. For front-line health care workers and first responders, today could be just another day trying to save lives in hospitals filled with patients who have contracted COVID-19. My prayers are with both the patients and the workers — who no doubt are exhausted after 10 long months of treating patients.

Yet, as always, we have hope, both through our faith and through science. Already, vaccines are being distributed, though it is likely to be several more months before most of the population gets inoculated. In the meantime, I hope we continue to be safe and follow the advice of scientists. Wear masks in public, wash hands often, avoid crowds. By now, we know the drill, the difference being there really is a light at the end of this dark tunnel that was 2020.

The older I get, the more Christmas becomes less about presents and more about time spent with family. You reach a point where more stuff feels more like a burden than a blessing. That makes this Christmas tough, as families, such as ours, choose to stay apart and celebrate through Zoom or other mediums. But we’ll get through this. So, as we celebrate today in whatever fashion we choose, here are a couple of Christmas stories I have told before.


It has become a tradition of mine to tell this story each Christmas. My earliest memory of Christmas is from 1959 or 1960. I can’t be sure if I was four or five years old. We always spent Christmas Eve at my maternal grandparents’ house outside of Concord, N.H. a tiny house crowded with cousins on that night. I was lying in my grandparents’ bed, looking out the windows, which were narrow and near the ceiling, so you could see the stars.

I saw Santa Claus streaking across the sky and realized I had better get to sleep, or the old man might skip this house. My cousins would really be upset with me.

Sure enough, in front of the fireplace the next morning were gifts from St. Nicklaus. The plate of cookies held only crumbs, and the carrots for the reindeer were gone.

I know. Probably it was an airplane headed to Boston, or perhaps a meteor shower. I prefer to believe it was Santa. Certainly, that’s what I thought back then.


In 2001, in the holiday season after the 9/11 attacks, I noticed a Christmas tree lot down the road from my house. About 50 trees stood on a concrete pad, the trunk of each tree nailed to a wooden cross of one-by-fours. The trees shimmied in the wind on that pad. Every day since Thanksgiving, I would check while passing by to see how many trees were standing. The flimsy bases couldn’t stand up to an East Texas winter wind. When a cold front blew through, the trees hit the concrete. One day, all the trees were down save one, standing right in the middle. I named it the hero tree. And each day, the lot’s owners put the trees back up, sometimes several times each day. It reminded me of an Elton John song, the refrain of which goes, “I’m still standing.”

This Christmas, we’re still standing, through hardship, grief and loss. Merry Christmas, my friends.

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