Everyone has a Christmas tale. Here's mine.
I wore my dinner jacket to Thanksgiving dinner last month. Because none of the laundries in town are equipped to deal with the process of properly starching the collar, cuffs, and front of a formal dress shirt, I took it (with a few silk shirts) to my favorite dry cleaner in Manzanillo. Mar de Colima,
When I walked in, the woman behind the counter saw me and immediately headed in the opposite direction. I know I have that effect on women. But she was not even subtle.
However, she was not running away. She opened up a large clothes bag, dug through it, and handed me what I recognized to be one of my green silk shirts. There was no name or cleaning tag in it. But she knew it was mine.
Here's the Christmas part of this story. That shirt must have been separated from the rest of my dry cleaning that I left there just after New Year's day. In the eleven months between January and November, she not only kept the shirt for me, but recognized me when I came in.
Some people call that good customer service. But good customer service is rooted in several Christian virtues. Honesty. Trust. Virtue. She had a trifecta.
Hold it one minute, Steve. You said this was a Christmas story. All of this happened a month before Christmas.
Well, that is why the title of this piece is vaguely provocative.
This time of year, someone will roll out another example of how secular culture is attempting to take Christ out of Christmas. The most obvious one is the unfounded belief that "Xmas" is an attempt to somehow take Christ out of the very holiday that celebrates Jesus' birth.
But, that is simply willful ignorance. Christians have long used "X" as a symbol for "Christ." It is the first letter of Christ in Greek. Despite being debunked for years, the "X" myth rattles along like a zombie Barbra Streisand.
To fight back, many a bumper will proclaim: "Keep Christ in Christmas." I always assume the car is driven by an agnostic, because keeping Jesus in the manger helps to perpetuate the myth that Jesus is some sort of genie that we can summon up to do our bidding. Keeping him as baby makes him very non-threatening. Think of John C. Reilly's paean to the baby Jesus in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
The adult Jesus, who decided to escape the confines of "Christmas" taught us what it means to be one of his followers. To feed the hungry. To provide drink to the thirsty. To welcome the stranger. To clothe the needy. To tend to the sick. To visit the prisoner. To love God with all of our being. To love our neighbor as ourself.
Christianity is not a religion of words. It is faith in action. And when Christians fail to live up to their own ideals, they will be rightfully criticized. Or when they get distracted by silly fights over words.
Having said that (and I just did), I cringe at the phrase "Happy Holidays." It is the type of phrase people use when they cannot think of anything meaningful to say. Like telling a grieving widow "He's in a better place."
If people do not want to take the time to know me well enough to know which holidays I celebrate, why bother with a hollow attempt at jollity? So, do not be surprised if you greet me with "Happy Holidays" that I respond "And a pleasant Labor Day to you, as well."
Or we could just join together and tend to the needs of the hungry, thirsty, strangers, unclothed, sick, and prisoners. If we made that the center of our lifestyles, we would not need to worry about silly "X"s and plain red coffee mugs.
Not to mention writing cranky essays.