Maybe this will be the year. Maybe this will be the Christmas that erases all the bad stuff that’s happened. Maybe the old year will disappear once the holiday arrives and all our troubles will be out of sight. You never know.

Perhaps some wonderful thing you’ve been waiting for is going to spontaneously occur this year. Maybe you’re about to be happier than you’ve ever been. Maybe a surprise will come out of nowhere.

Perhaps you’ll make a new best friend. Or you might get a new job that will put money in your pocket. Maybe the handsome guy in third period English will ask you on a date.

Maybe your cancer will respond to treatment. Maybe for once you will stand up for yourself. Maybe you’ll finally be pregnant. Maybe your father, who abandoned you when you were a kid, will call after 30 years and apologize. Maybe you will fall in love. Maybe this will be the year.

I know you think I’m full of it, but what if I’m not?

After all, this kind of stuff happens every day. So why couldn’t it happen to you? Tell me, why not? I am being serious, I would like you to explain why something wonderful can’t happen to you personally. Go ahead, I’m waiting.

See? You can’t do it. You can’t name one valid reason why an event that is life-changingly, unexpectedly awesome can’t take place in your life. Because the one thing we all know about this universe is this: anything can happen.

So, not to point out the obvious, but this means that on a deep level, you are aware that these miracles are always behind the gate. They can take shape as easily as clouds materialize in minutes. They can grow as simply as a sapling becomes a sycamore. As surely as a Buick burns oil.

Good things can happen as effortlessly as tragedies. And…


My friends and I are at odds right now and sometimes I think they are meaner than I ever remember them being. It’s never been like this. I just want to know if you think this pandemic is making us meaner?



I’m not going to say publicly that people are getting meaner because, for one thing, they might gut me and roast me over a shallow pit, thereby turning me into a rack of Christmas ribs. But I think people are definitely stressed out, and therefore they’re acting like it.

And if you think I’m exaggerating, just try this experiment: post something online. A picture of your cat. A selfie. A daily column that contains roughly 800 words. Give it a few minutes, eventually your doorbell will ring and a mob will be on your front lawn holding pitchforks and torches.

No, I’m kidding about the torches. They’ll actually be holding cellphone flashlights.

But the point is, yes, I think people are ticked off in general. Take me. I’m receiving

more ugly emails from readers than ever before during this pandemic. Just today, a guy in Virginia wrote, he called me a “lair and a deciever.”

I have friends who have also noticed this anger trend. One of my pals, I’ll call him Matt, is a great person, a super accomplished writer, and uses words like “ubiquitous” in conversations while keeping a straight face. Matt noticed meanness on his personal blog last month.

It started when his mother got COVID-19. She had intense symptoms. Matt wrote that he was frightened, his kids were worried, and he also asked his readers to pray.

Let’s pause here. You’d think people would’ve overloaded him with sympathy, right? You’d think little elderly ladies would have put his mother’s name on the First Baptist email prayer chain, right? Maybe sent a casserole? Wrong. People got out their pitchforks.…

One day, years in the future, when our names are forgotten, and our bodies are dust, people will remember today.

When future school children sit at desks, reading about the Great Pandemic of 2020, this Tuesday will be cited in their textbooks. And I, for one, really hope these kids will be forced to grudgingly memorize today’s date the same way we had to memorize stuff like: October 12, 1492; November 11, 1620; and the Pythagorean Theorem.

Because history was made this morning.

It happened in England, when an elderly Irish woman in a wheelchair was wheeled down University Hospital Coventry’s corridor. The hallway was lined with medical staffers, nurses, doctors, custodians, workers, journalists, and photographers who applauded her with uproarious cheers. And there were tears. Many, many tears.

The old woman’s name is Margaret Keenan, she will be 91 next week. She has red hair, a cherub face, happy eyes, a slight build, and she wore a Christmas sweatshirt with a cheerful penguin cartoon on it. Margaret smiled

so big that her grin knocked photographers backward and jolted major planets out of their periodic elliptical orbits. And she has reason to beam.

Because at 6:31 a.m., December 8, 2020, Margaret became the first woman in the Western world to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

As of this morning, the U.K. became the first Western country to start a mass coronavirus vaccination program. Health officials are calling this day “V-Day.”

Like I said. Tears.

To say that people in Britain are excited about this is like saying the Beatles were guitar owners. People have taken to spray-painting “victory” on the city walls. And the happy tears aren’t just in Britain, either, but all over Earth. In fact, one of these weepy fools happens to be seated behind my keyboard right now.

And I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. Medical director for the National Health Service in England, Stephen…

In Bethlehem last night only 50 people attended the annual tree-lighting ceremony. Thanks to new COVID restrictions, West Bank’s Manger Square looked empty with its small crowd. It was a humbling sight. Christmas in the biblical city hasn’t been this poorly attended since King Herod was in office.

The tree-lighting event was virtual this year. “Virtual” is the most popular buzzword of 2020. Everything is virtual now. It’s only a matter of time before we have virtual dating, virtual weddings, and Zoom delivery rooms with virtual OB/GYNs. Don’t get me wrong, virtual things are great, but there’s nothing like “real” stuff.

Bethlehem’s scant crowd was mostly journalists, religious leaders, and various important people with names I can’t pronounce. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh attended. So did Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman, who said:

“We resorted to modern technology and to the virtual world to celebrate the lighting of the Christmas tree, wishing hope and optimism would flutter upon Palestine and the world.”

Normally at Christmastime, Bethlehem is overrun with non-virtual people. But

those days are gone for now.

The devastating thing is, the Christmas season is usually Bethlehem’s money-making season. The December holidays are to Bethlehem what spring break is to Panama City Beach. The profits locals make in the tourist season hold them over for 11 months. I know this because (a) I live 20 minutes from Panama City Beach, and (b) I once knew a man from Bethlehem.

The latter happened purely by chance. I was introduced to my Bethlehem friend in one of those serendipitous moments you never see coming. He owned a sandwich shop near a hardware store. He was a rotund man, with a white walrus mustache, and skin like bronze.

I was at the hardware store on a construction-jobsite errand, picking up wax O-rings for toilets—I wasn’t a plumber, I was a tile guy. But somehow we lowly tile trolls got stuck with commode detail…

This Christmas story was first told to me by an elderly preacher long ago. I do not know whether it was true. What I know is that pulpiteers can tell some good ones, and this old revivalist delivered his story well. I never forgot it.

The small, silver-haired clergyman hobbled before our full chapel and spoke quietly. I was 15 years old. He had us in his palm that night.

He told of an icy, white, Oklahoman landscape covered in snow. And a tiny bus, almost microscopic when viewed from a distance, crawling across a flat alabaster prairie. Inside the bus was a teenage girl, pregnant, and bound for Texas, looking for a clean start.

The bus rocked back and forth. Her hands rested on her belly. She watched the snowscape go by like a lead-white diaorama. This was an era when Americans were rejoicing that Hitler’s war was finally over, things were returning to normal. Except, things weren’t normal. Not for the girl. It was almost Christmastime and her life

was wreckage.

Midway through the journey the big vehicle stopped at a filling station located in no man’s territory. It was a pit stop with a general store, hot coffee, cold sandwiches, beer, and outhouses. It was the only structure around for miles. The passengers availed themselves to the facilities.

The young woman used the privy just like the others, but pregnant women are not quick in cramped lavatories, so things took longer than she’d planned. When she finally finished her business she discovered that the Greyhound was gone.

She almost couldn’t believe what she was seeing. This couldn’t be happening.

But it was. The driver had forgotten her. Her world was now a vacant highway covered in flurries. She cried. Namely because even though, yes, her life had been bad before, now it was bad AND she had no luggage.

The girl had a meltdown inside the filling…

It was only a matter of time. I woke up with a stuffy nose. I have been sneezing all morning and using mountains of Kleenex. My poor reddened schnoz looks like it belongs on the face of Jimmy Durante.

I keep reminding myself, “Don’t freak out, don’t freak out, it’s just a sniffle [ACHOO!], I’m gonna be fine. I’m gonna be [ACHOO!] dandy.”

I mean, come on, it’s just runny nasal passages, which is harmless, right? I’ve had hundreds of sniffles in my lifetime. No, millions. In fact I pretty much spent ages 1 through 25 with a drippy nose and a full diaper. So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that for eight months I’ve been reading internet news and watching network headlines about COVID, that’s the big deal. On many of these news channels they display odometer-style counters on the screen which represent death tolls. And you don’t forget things like mortality rates when you get a sniffle, believe me.

The irony here is that I’ve never been remotely concerned about catching a cold before.

After all, the common cold only lasts two weeks, although thanks to modern medications the duration has been cut down to 14 days. This nose issue could be mere allergies for all I know.

But it’s not allergies or common colds that concern me. What I’m worried about is, what if this sniffle isn’t a cold? What if it’s…?

I cannot bear to think about it.


“Be reasonable,” I’m saying to myself while wiping sneeze spray from my keyboard. After all, people in my family have survived COVID. Several of my friends have recovered from it. I even interviewed an 80-year-old lady who survived it.

So I’m trying to relax. But this is a pandemic, you don’t sneeze until your eyeballs dislodge then simply shrug it off.

There is a lot of fear swimming around in the universe right now.…

According to an article I just read, Christmas house parties have disappeared forever. The article also says that a staggering percentage of American millennials have never even attended a house party; most have no interest in them.

And now, thanks to a pandemic, experts believe that house parties are not just fledgling, but already resting in peace. The article named technology as the main killer of the American get-together.

Well, I don’t mean to be Debbie Depression here, but if this article is true, it’s sad news. Because no amount of video calls, text messages, or online hangouts can compete with the holiday celebrations of yesteryear. Yes, I realize that during the past eight months we’ve lost many things, not to mention our mental health, but please, Lord, don’t let us lose Christmas parties forever.

If you’re like me, you remember an era filled with grand Christmas parties. It was also an era without the internet, back when the most advanced technology in your home was the four-ton electric KitchenAid mixer

your mom used for making cookies.

Christmas parties were our fundamental forms of holiday socialization, and almost everyone considered these to be big deals. Adult men dressed in Santa hats and hideous neckties. Ladies wore hosiery and dresses. Elderly women wore tweed skirt suits with holly-berry brooches. Old men pulled their trousers up to their armpits and reeked of Old Spice.

Our mothers would spend weeks decking the halls with ACTUAL boughs of holly. This is not a figure of speech. Our hallways were literally festooned with plastic greenery.

Also poinsettia plants. Everyone’s mom had a minor poinsettia obsession. Our mothers were constantly reminding us kids not to eat these poisonous poinsettias because one bite could kill you. Which was a weird thing to be worried about if you ask me.

It was as though our moms thought poinsettia-eating was a serious temptation among America’s wayward youth. As though…

I got a letter from 8-year-old Anna, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who asked me what I believe Christmas is all about. This is part of a virtual school assignment. It’s not every day a kid asks ME such philosophical questions, which just shows you how bad off our educational system is right now.

To answer your question, Anna, I can only tell you what I once learned in fourth grade, which I am happy to share:

As a kid, our school had a nativity play enacted solely by children. Back then, every school in the nation had nativity plays enacted by children. There were no such things as a nativity plays with adult casts. In fact, the whole reason these pageants occurred was so that fundamentalist parents could experience the joy of seeing uncoordinated 6- and 7- and 8-year-olds wear fake beards and recite intricate passages of middle-English scripture while holding live screaming babies in swaddling clothes.

All I ever wanted was to play Joseph. I can’t remember wanting a

role more, except during our church’s Fourth of July pageant, entitled “Heroes of American Faith,” in which my mother desperately wanted me to play the role of Oral Roberts.

But Christmas held my heart. More specifically, it was Mary I loved. The role of Mary was played by Christina Moss, the Farrah Fawcett of the fourth grade. Every fourth-grade boy was in love with her. Or, as my cousin Ed Lee often put it: “Christina’s so pretty that I would crawl across a sea of broken glass to hear her belch on the phone.”

He was a very gross child, Anna.

So it was shaping up to be a great year. We had a solid script. Mrs. Everheart wrote the screenplay. She also served as director, assistant director, associate director, producer, diaper-changer for the Christ Child, and she played King Herod during the slaughtering of the innocents scene.

It was…

I just finished an informal rehearsal for our live Christmas show. The bluegrass band will be in top shape. So will the trained elephants, the trapeze act, the fire breather, and the guy juggling Broadman Hymnals. And if things work out, I might even do some clogging on camera.

No, I’m only kidding. There are no elephants. And I can’t clog, not unless I’m at my cousin’s wedding reception and the band starts playing Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” while I’m in line at the open bar.

It’s been a long time since we’ve done our live show. A long, long time. Almost a year now. I can hardly believe it’s been so long. Because at this time last year we were on the road. We’d done 160 shows that year, and my wife and I had crossed almost 40 U.S. states in our little plumber’s utility van. It was just what we did.

Don’t misunderstand me, ours was not a glamorous career. Many times I’d perform before crowds of four or five people who

often wore malfunctioning hearing aids and kept shouting, “What’d he say?!”

Like the time my elderly uncle attended one of my performances in Tennessee, and after what I considered a great show, in the theater lobby, my uncle’s first words to me were, “I forgot my hearing aids.”

So I hugged him and laughed, and I told him “I love you.” Then, in a brief moment of sincerity, which only shows you the affection between us, he answered, “What the hell did he just say, Eulah?”

But anyway, after all that performing in different places I had become exhausted inside and out, right down to my internal organs. Cheap hotel continental breakfast food had become the affliction of my existence. I was sick of riding in vans. There were definitely downsides to life on the road, but altogether it was a blast. And it’s a shame…

It seems like a hundred years ago. But it was only last year. I can’t forget it. There I am, at a restaurant. I am playing Christmas music on an accordion with a band. There is no virus, no social distancing, and everyone is happy. I am out and about in public. What a notion.

I play accordion because my granddaddy played it before me. This instrument is in my lineage. And it’s in our history as a civilized race. Thus, I believe that as long as we have young accordionists, there is still hope for humanity.

A few children approach our stage.

“WHAT KIND OF INSTRUMENT IS THAT?” asks the redhead.

“It’s an accordion,” I say.


“That’s not very nice...”



“Hey kid,” I say. “Santa told me you’re getting nothing but underwear and deodorant this year.”

This kind of accordion shaming is nothing new. I’ve been ridiculed since my childhood. I have heard

all the classic jokes.

Such as: What do you call a successful accordionist? A guy whose wife has two jobs.

Or: What are the first words an accordionist says after he knocks on your door? “Pizza delivery.”

But I don’t care. When I play accordion, I play for my mother’s father—the man who fought in Europe, and won a Purple Heart for his valiance. He was a farmer, a storyteller, a wood carver, a musician who could sing in Italian, German, French, Spanish, and Cajun. And when he played “Lady of Spain,” it was magic.

Of course all this accordion business can be embarrassing to admit at, say, dinner parties. Like a party I was at a few years ago. The attorney sipping gin remarked: “I’m learning guitar, I got one for my birthday this year.”

“Yeah,” added the…