It is only seven hours until Christmas. I am buying a last-minute present for my wife. And apparently I am not alone.
There are males all over this store, crawling on top of each other like hungry grizzly bears. Some men grasp for last-minute gifts in such desperation that they don’t even know which items they’re carrying to the cashier.
I overhear a conversation between a man and his teenage son in the checkout lane:
SON: Dad, I think you grabbed the wrong box.
DAD: What do you mean? This is a robot vacuum for your mom.
SON: That’s a deep fryer.
DAD: Well I’ll be a [non-family-friendly word].
While I wait in line, I read a magazine article entitled “The War on Christmas.” The article is about whether it’s culturally correct to say “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy holidays.” And don’t even get the article started on “God bless you.”
As it happens, most of the article’s multicultural experts say that these holiday phrases are non-offensive just as long as you never say them, write them, read them, or think them.
Another expert recommends using neutral alternative Christmas greetings in public such as, “Merry winter,” or, “Happy Solstice,” or “Here’s my wallet, ma’am, please don’t be offended.” So in other words,—and this is a classic example of today’s journalism—huh?
So I put the magazine down.
You should see the males in this store. They are going totally ape for gifts. There are hundreds of men elbowing each other, racing, panicking, and in some cases, biting.
An older man in my checkout line says, “This is madness, isn’t it?”
I smile at him and answer “Merry Solstice, sir.”
He frowns. “Merry what?”
He’s a nice guy. Tall. White hair. Slender. We have a conversation. He tells me his wife died six years ago. They were supposed to retire and do some intensive traveling in an RV. But ever since she died, the RV has been in the driveway.
Then he met Sharon. It was a blind date, last year. And to make a long story longer, they are now married. And tomorrow morning, after Christmas with his family, they’re taking the RV to Alaska. They’re going to see America.
Also in line is a man and his two sons. He is mid-forties, a big guy. His teenage boys smell pretty ripe, like they’ve been jumping rope in the attic. They have a buggy filled with pink boxes, dolls, and girly items.
“These gifts are for my daughter Sara,” says the man.
Sara is adopted. This is her first Christmas with the family. Sara will be five years old in a few weeks and has a long list of disabilities. For example, she will probably never walk.
But they knew this before they adopted her. The adoption agency told the family that nobody wanted to adopt Sara because of her problems.
“But she’s our angel,” says the man. “She’s part of us.”
The boys agree that Sara is the best thing that ever happened to their family, even ranking above their new Playstation. Then, Dad explains to me that Sara already has several gifts waiting for her at home. These last-minute gifts in the buggy aren’t coming from him.
“My boys are buying these presents on their own, they pooled their money after earning it by doing yard work all yesterday.”
One boy adds, “Sara’s our baby sister.”
“Yeah,” says the other.
So I end up standing in line for roughly the same amount of time it takes to complete a college doctoral program. And when it is my turn to checkout, I meet my cashier. She is a cheerful woman who I will call Rose—because I like this name.
Rose’s sister is moving in with her this week. This is a big deal for Rose, whose parents are both deceased. Her sister is the only family she has left. They haven’t seen each other since her sister moved to the U.K. eleven years ago.
“I can’t wait for Christmas,” says Rose. “I’m gonna cook all night tonight after I get off work. I have a turkey, sweet potatoes, it’ll be like old times.”
Her sister’s plane lands in a few hours. Rose can hardly wait to hug her sister’s neck.
I ask Rose if she has a problem with the phrase “Merry Christmas.”
“Yes,” she says. “I hate that I only get to say it once a year.”
And I can’t help but feel good inside tonight. Certainly, I know there are a lot of bad things going on in the world right now. There are horrific headlines, serious tragedies, and the evening news will make your stomach sour. A lot of people tell you that the world is one big, ticked off mess of angry people.
And well, maybe that’s true, what do I know? But the more they keep saying that, the more I keep seeing something else.
Like widowers who find love and travel to Alaska in RVs. And a cashier who loves her sister so much she cries when she tells you about it. And a couple of sweaty boys who spent their hard earned money on their new sister, Sara, who might never walk, but will have a wonderful life because one family was brave enough to love her.
Wherever you are this Christmas Eve, and no matter what your life looks like, I have something I want to tell you. I’ll try to be as culturally correct as possible when I say it:
And God bless little Sara.