They were on their way home from the Christmas Eve service at the little nondenominational church he had frequented since his graduate work … and that was years ago already, before the first few gray hairs had appeared in his still sandy–blonde hair. Jon Anthony turned down the main street of their town, which was home to the acclaimed Britteridge College where he now enjoyed tenure.
“Oh, the lights! Can you see, girls?” Mary, beside him in the front seat of their Honda Accord, asked, swiveling toward the back.
He saw Gracie was enjoying their tour of the light shows across town. Some neighborhoods did better than others, but Sheffield’s main thoroughfare was known for the work the town businesses put forward in a yearly contest of outdoing themselves and each other in a seasonal display of illuminated decorations. Her sister, however, seemed less enthused.
Jon glanced in the rearview to confirm Faith was strapped in her riser seat. No, she was not happy. “What’s the matter, honey?” he asked.
“It’s nothing,” Fay attempted in her usual stoic monotone that was a dead giveaway she was holding something back.
“Kiddo, you know that’s not allowed. We talk. Remember the rule?” Mary reminded their daughter.
Jon glanced at the mirror again. Faith was getting That Knowing Look from her sister; one they shared when busted.
“It’s not Christmas, Daddy.”
From the corner of his eye, he saw Mary cock her head and glance his way. This was his territory. For a decade, he’d been teaching Comparative Religion up on The Hill, not to speak of the books and speaking tours and regular television appearances as a commentator that were offshoots of this life he had somehow been gifted. To parent was to teach, and its return was tallied in a currency far beyond a salary. “What isn’t Christmas, sweetie?” he prodded in a gentle voice.
Fay pointed. “Look, on the light pole. It’s a penguin.” She picked out another decoration on the other side of the street. “And that’s a snowman. And there’s a wrapped present ….“
Yes. Jon saw the problem that was growing in his daughter’s young mind.
“At school you took us to a Holiday Party. “
Yes, I did. Mary had a look of concern on her face now, but this conversation was still his, and though he saw Gracie was paying attention as well, both of them were staying on the sidelines. “You’re not wrong, Fay.”
“It makes me sad is all.”
“And that’s okay, honey.” Jon drew a contemplative breath. His daughters’ questions about the season were answered early in their lives, as he and Mary made clear the hierarchy ordering their existence and the expectations their children were to follow through what certainly could be a maddeningly disappointing world.
Britteridge College, regardless of the lengths the institution had gone through to keep him on board after events early in his career, remained a liberal arts college. The hints of woke activism of a few years ago had blossomed into what was becoming a philosophical pathology Dr. Jon Anthony knew he would confront sooner or later on campus, if not in his own classroom. Yet, as ever, today’s the thing.
Jon glanced back to Fay again. “I have a question.” He met her eyes in the mirror when they returned, then gestured at the light displays hung up, down, and across the business district. “These aren’t always here, are they?”
“No.” his daughter answered in an unsure tone of voice.
“And even when they were hung up there they weren’t what they are right now, were they? What had to happen first?”
“It had to get dark.”
Not what I was getting at, but isn’t she right, though? Jon smiled. “And then what happened?”
Fay thought for a second as Gracie looked her way and smiled too. “Someone had to turn them on.”
“There you go.” They reached the end of Main Street and turned toward the Historical District, where the same little house they’d always known waited for all of them. Soon, the secular influences of practical people overly concerned with diversity and inclusion and avoiding offended seekers of lame advantage gave way … first to a star, then a creche, and then the bright red and white “MERRY CHRISTMAS” that always marked the house Dean Mills lit up for the season.
“It can be a dark world, honey. Be a worker in light,” he encouraged, checking the mirror and his daughters again. “And you both know how to do that, don’t you?”
“Yes, Daddy,” they said together. He knew they meant it. He caught Mary settling back to grant him another approving look, as one more lesson was deposited into his legacy. He knew—in the conscious awe of appreciation—how he and they had been blessed.
The world was what it was. It was the reason Jesus had been here, and remained here with them, just as He’d promised, even to the end of the age. For the Anthony family at least, Christmas was the gift.
Choose to love, and Merry Christmas! -DA