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Monday, December 23, 2013

THE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS

BRYCE ON CHRISTMAS

- It is certainly not about the commercialization of the holiday, or Santa.

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He arose in the morning groggy and disoriented. He didn't know where he was or recognized the surroundings. It was a small room, very neat and clean, with a sofa, desk, and big bed. Anyone would recognize it as a hotel with all of the amenities. He had no memory of how he had gotten there. Sunlight peeked between the curtains. The television was playing a Christmas gala, complete with classic holiday music. The entertainment was broken up by the occasional commercial where announcers were promoting everything from toys to clothes, jewels, and automobiles. Each announcer admonished viewers to hurry as there was just one day until Christmas.

"Christmas? Where am I, where have I been?"

He slowly stood up and went over to the window and opened the curtains to look outside where the grass and roads were covered with a thin layer of snow. It was cold, but not frigid. People could be seen walking on the streets carrying packages, cars moved quickly along a boulevard, and pine trees were adorned with tinsel, bulbs and lights. He didn't recognize any of it which confused matters further.

He washed himself in the bathroom and then spotted some clothes neatly folded on the sofa, complete with shoes and socks. The clothes fit remarkably well. The shoes, which were actually a set of leather and rubber boots, also fit comfortably. He combed his hair before putting on the jacket and wool cap hanging on the chair at the desk. He unlocked the door and stepped outside into the cold air and surveyed the area around the hotel. Nothing looked familiar; did Europe look like this?

A woman dressed in a heavy black coat passed by him and greeted him good morning.

It was English, but the accent wasn't recognizable. He replied, "Good morning," to the woman who hurried away before any other questions could be asked.

He watched her hurry down the street heading towards a large building where several cars were already parked. A sign in front read, "Springdale Town Mall." He was curious and thought people at the building might hold some answers. So He followed the woman to the mall, crossing the street carefully as it was busy with vehicles. The traffic lights seemed strange to Him, as well as the lines on the street, along with the the commotion of the cars and their horns. As He approached the entrance to the mall, He could hear the sounds of Christmas music coming from the mall's PA system in the parking lot. In between songs, announcers touted their products and admonished shoppers there was just one more day until Christmas. He really didn't grasp what was going on.

He entered the mall which was the largest structure He had ever seen. Inside was a cavernous multitude of lights, more music, and thousands of people circulating. There seemed to be hundreds of shops offering a variety of wares; toys, cutlery, sporting goods, jewelry, and many other goods. Virtually all had signs in their windows promoting sales and reminding shoppers there was now less than a day to Christmas. He paused by an electronic store where many television sets were displaying Christmas shows. The shows were mesmerizing and He became somewhat intoxicated by the sights and sounds emanating from the televisions.

He wandered the mall examining the various stores carefully. Each was decorated in red and green colors, with wreaths, and the smell of pine and sweet candy hung in the air. Electric lights, snowmen, and miniature railroads offered animation. Gifts were wrapped in a special type of green and red paper and ribbons. All in all, it was a feeding frenzy of shopping. He wondered what the purpose of all this activity. There were several signs mentioning "Christmas," but He didn't make the connection.

There was the smell of food in the air which caused His stomach to growl in hunger. He passed the mall's Food Court which featured several restaurants offering a variety of strange looking ethnic foods. He watched cooks prepare Japanese sushi and Chinese cuisine, none of which He recognized as something edible. The Mexican restaurant smelled of spicy hot peppers. The only restaurants which somehow resembled familiar food was the Italian restaurant, although He balked at pizza, and the Greek restaurant featuring gyros and souvlakis, both offered on pita bread.

He asked the clerk for a gyro as it appeared to be made of lamb. The young clerk prepared the meal accordingly, complete with French Fries and a cola drink.

"That will be $5 for the gyro special," she said.

He looked perplexed by her request but quickly figured she was asking for money of which He had none. He tapped his trousers with his hand and heard the distinct click of metal. He reached inside his pocket where He retrieved some coins valued at $2 each. "Will you take these?" He asked.

The clerk took three of them and presented him with a $1 bill saying, "Here is your change. Thank you. Next!..."

He walked away from the restaurant with his tray and found an empty table to sit and eat. He studied the $1 bill carefully. He had never seen paper money before and didn't recognize Washington's portrait. He ate the gyro hungrily. He enjoyed the taste of cooked lamb as well as the pita bread. The French Fries seemed peculiar to him though. He picked one up and inspected it carefully. Nearby at other tables, people were eating them. He then broke one in half and tasted it, and it was good, even though He didn't know what it was. "A French Fry? Hmm...," and He ate the rest. He examined the cola drink suspiciously. He took a sip and found the taste medicinal in nature, and the bubbles tickled His nose. Spotting a nearby water fountain, He emptied the cola down its drain and replaced it with water which tasted remarkably clean to Him.

He saw others dumping the trash from their trays into the garbage and followed suit. The meal had served its purpose and He felt refreshed. He then returned to wandering around the mall. The music and hubbub was beginning to give Him a small headache.

It was mid afternoon when He came to the center of the mall where He sat at a bench on the second floor. He marveled at the immensity of the mall and as He looked down to the bottom floor He discovered a long line of children waiting for someone named "Santa Claus." Dozens of children waited patiently to sit with a fat man dressed in a red and white costume. He assumed the man was elderly as he wore a white beard with matching color hair.

An elderly woman came and sat on the bench to rest her feet. She was loaded with several packages and looked tired from her trek around the mall.

"Excuse me, but who is that man down there?" He innocently asked the woman.

She looked down to see the object of His attention.

"Are you kidding me?" she said, "It's Santa Claus and his elves talking to the kids of course."
He said, "I'm sorry, I am not from around here. What is a Santa Claus?"

She looked at him inquisitively but gave him the benefit of doubt. "He is actually called by many names, St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle, and many others around the world. He is considered the patron saint of Christmas and is best known for delivering presents to children on Christmas."

"Christmas, there is that name again," He thought.

He watched the children one-by-one visit with the old gentleman. Some appeared timid and scared, others enjoyed a good conversation with the man, others were loud and animated, demanding certain presents on Christmas Day. It was all rather unclear as to the purpose of the meeting with Santa other than it was an outlet to promote the purchase of more gifts. He was amazed by the length of the never-ending line and requests for more gifts.

The greed and opulence of the season was too much for him to stomach any longer. He took his leave of the mall wanting to head back to the safety of the hotel room. Unfortunately, He became a bit disoriented and couldn't find the same door from which He entered, and exited on the opposite end of the mall where nothing looked familiar.

He had spent considerable time at the mall and it was now late afternoon with long shadows and the sun beginning to set. All He could see were rows of neat wooden homes adjacent to the mall. He was unfamiliar with the architecture and wanted to take a closer look. He entered a subdivision and was amazed how orderly the houses were aligned and well maintained.

As the sun set, decorative lights were switched on and lit up the houses and the adjacent trees and shrubbery. Various statues of snowmen, Santa Claus, and angels were also lit and music could be heard in the air. There also seemed to be reindeer everywhere; on top of houses, pulling sleighs, or metalic statues on front lawns, some were animated appearing to be grazing. In was very reminiscent of the storefronts in the mall.

He walked several blocks in amazement as the houses turned darkness into light. Other people also walked the neighborhood in order to see the decorations. Cars began to enter the streets where they moved slowly so parents and children could admire the decorations. As pleasant as this all ways, He was at a loss as to what it all meant.

As He exited the neighborhood, He was presented with two large structures, one with a crucifix atop it, and another with the Star of David. He was appalled by the crucifix and began to wonder if people still practiced the tortuous custom. The large cross stopped Him in his tracks and He began to tremble. He noticed the other structure bore the Shield of David, a symbol He was familiar with through Judaism.

It was nighttime now and both buildings were active with people, the Temple celebrating a Bar Mitzvah, and the Church preparing to celebrate Christmas mass. Being more familiar with the Shield of David, He approached the Temple, where people were exiting for the evening. Still inside was the rabbi who was bidding goodnight to the attendees. He worked his way to the rabbi, a middle aged man who appeared to be of good nature.

He said, "Rabbi, I am a stranger to this area. As I have walked around the village I notice there is a fascination with 'Christmas' here. I would like to know more."

The Rabbi smiled and said, "Well stranger, you are actually in a good place to learn. I would like to sit down and tell you more, but the hour is late and I have another appointment. However, I recommend you visit the church next door where they are getting ready to celebrate Christmas. I am confident they will tell you the full story tonight."

He took his leave of the rabbi, who locked the Temple after He exited. Many people were entering the house of the crucifix, men, women and children. As it appeared to be safe, He overcame his timidity and reluctantly approached the church. At the door, He was warmly welcomed by greeters. The inside appeared to be a place for religious retreats, with several rows of pews, and an altar at the front.

As the service began, the congregation rose to its feet and began to sing, accompanied by an organ. He was startled by this, but found the music strangely comforting. He looked about and saw everyone singing in unison, along with a choir which sang as one. The pomp and circumstance was impressive. He looked on in horror as a small boy walked slowly down the center aisle carrying another crucifix with an effigy of a person nailed to it. The boy proudly presented the cross at the front of the congregation before placing it in a stand. He was bewildered by the display and was prepared to turn and run, but something inside him told him to stand his ground. After the entrance of the clergy, the music stopped and everyone returned to their seats.

The minister welcomed everyone to the evening's Christmas celebration. This was followed by a sweet celebration enacted by the children of the church who were dressed in colorful costumes. The minister narrated the story of the birth of Christ and the children acted out the story. He listened intently. He heard the names of Joseph and Mary, which were well known to him, as well as a place called Galilee. He listened to their story of the birth of their savior. Aside from the shiny costumes and some obvious literary liberties, it was a story He knew well, and his spirits perked up noticeably. He was no longer afraid but felt quite at home.

After the play, the minister asked all first time visitors to rise and be recognized. One-by-one he welcomed each visitor, asking who they were and where they were from. The minister finally asked the stranger to introduce himself.

"I am known as Jesus of Nazareth," He said.

The minister thought He was mocking the congregation and quickly confronted the stranger. Anger was in the minister's eyes but before he could utter a harsh word, He said, "I am a stranger to this area," and raised his hand in peace to shake the minister's.

It was only then the minister saw the scars from the crucifixion. There was something in the stranger's demeanor and eyes that made him realize he was now in the presence of something special. The minister froze until He placed his hands on him in comfort. The minister smiled and knelt to his knees. The congregation didn't quite comprehend the situation, but followed the minister's lead and knelt.

He said, "Please rise, you are all my children. I'm not sure why I was sent here but I believe it has something to do with the meaning of Christmas, something I didn't quite understand until I witnessed your pageant."

"Yes, this is your birthday, your eminence," the minister replied.

"I have been among you this day and have witnessed many things, most of which I do not understand, particularly the greed of this day. I hope they are not using this day to celebrate such a weakness."

The minister was embarrassed, "I am afraid a lot of people have forgotten its purpose. It is not about shopping, it's about You."

"In my time, we celebrated birthdays by the breaking of the bread. We didn't have opulent presents. Instead, we offered our love, fellowship, and trust to others. If this is truly my Birthday, let us celebrate likewise," and loafs of bread appeared in His hands.

Jesus moved to the altar and broke the bread into small pieces for everyone to consume. The minister assisted by pouring wine.

"Here, eat and drink. Do this for the remembrance of Me. My message is simple: I love you unconditionally. You may not believe in me, but have confidence that I love you. Do not dwell in hate. Practice love and do unto others as you would have others do unto you. It's really not that difficult, is it?"

As the last morsel of bread was consumed and wine drunk, He turned and disappeared into the ether with the exclamation, "Remember!"

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2013 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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