I recently heard a story about a squirrel that almost stole Christmas.
Yep. A squirrel.
You see, there is a big fir tree in a small town that’s strung with Christmas lights from top to bottom. Every year the tree is lit the weekend after Thanksgiving in preparation for all the holidays of the season. Beneath this community tree the holiday committee places a manger scene to recall the story of Christmas, a menorah to remember Hanukah, and a kinara to reflect the coming celebration of Kwanzaa, among other religious and secular symbols and signs to mark the coming holidays.
The big community celebration is on Christmas Eve. Everyone gathers around this brightly lit tree for a variety of songs and readings, the sharing of hot cocoa and a visit from Santa Claus. But when the holiday committee checked the tree last month, the tree stood half dark – only the bottom half of the tree lit up.
The small group of volunteers ordered new lights and wrangled an electrician with a bucket truck to do the work of replacing the old strands with the new ones. The electrician started at the top, unwinding the loops of old lights when half-way down he discovered the problem: a squirrel had chewed through one of the wires halfway up the tree (fortunately for the squirrel, the lights hadn’t been plugged in). The lights below that nibble mark worked, but the lights above it did not.
With some savvy splicing, the electrician was able to reconnect the strands properly, and light up the rest of the tree with the original string of lights. The town’s Christmas Eve festivities will be able to go on as planned. Whew!
I love hearing these kinds of behind-the-scenes stories, don’t you? What did it really take to get that blow-up snowman on top of the fire truck for the Parade of Lights in our town? How was the holiday concert saved when the conductor came down with the flu? What really happened 30 minutes before the Christmas pageant? Where did Mom find the ham for the holiday dinner when every grocery store was sold out? I’m sure you too have stories you could tell!
The truth is that most people will never know about that squirrel who almost stole Christmas, or what it took to light the holiday tree in some small town this year. And that’s the point: not everyone knows the whole story. But these behind-the-scenes stories remind us that there usually is someone (or likely even several someones) working behind the scenes to ensure good things happen.
As the Grinch in the popular holiday movie even discovered, “It came without ribbons, it came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags … ‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.’”
This holiday, I invite you to take a closer look around you, to discover what – and most especially who – really is behind the scenes.
Who are the helpers? The workers? The heroes?
Who are the ones behind the curtain, whispering the pageant lines to the scared little angel standing at the foot of the manger?
Who are the people behind the random acts of kindness, the ones who humbly skirt the limelight?
Who are the people who ensure the shelves are stocked, the tables are set, the packages are delivered on time, the restrooms are mopped, or the beds are freshly made up?
Who are the heroes when the chimney catches fire, Grandpa awkwardly swallows a fishbone, Aunt Judy is hospitalized with the flu, or the tire goes flat on the way to the family Christmas party?
There is always someone working behind the scenes (maybe you are one of them!). This is part of what makes this season so special, even magical. And this year, with the shortage of staff everywhere, many of our workers, helpers and heroes are tired, overworked, and underappreciated.
Really, we all could use a little more kindness in our lives, and sometimes it’s a simple matter of being seen, sharing a smile, and saying “hello” and “thank you” that makes all the difference.
For those of us who celebrate Christmas, we’re further reminded that God comes to us as baby Jesus, Emmanuel, “God with us.” It’s God’s way of seeing us up close and personal, embodied and in all our humanness. By the miracle of Jesus’ birth, we are reminded that the most vulnerable, the unheard, the unseen, the smallest among us, are deserving of our love, support, and care too. Seeing one another and sharing kindness and mercy, compassion, and graciousness – these are the true gifts of Christmas.
This Christmas, it’s my prayer, that each of us can find ways to open our hearts, our minds, our hands, and our eyes to notice and care for all our neighbors: the ones behind the scenes, the ones helping and getting the work done, and also the ones who are forgotten, the ones pushed to the margins, the ones shunned, demeaned, and left alone. They too are deserving of all our love, support, and care.
Opening our eyes and truly noticing one another is how the world will know real peace. Even the Grinch, who was left alone and, in his hurt, made his own judgments, learned that. Indeed, the whole town did, thanks to the kindness of little Cindy Lou Who, who noticed everyone from her mom to the postal worker to the Grinch who was hidden way up in the mountains and not so scary once everyone saw and met him.
Merry Christmas, everyone. May your eyes be open wide for all the wonders of the holiday and may your hearts be as bright as every lit tree this season!
(Rev. Char Corbett is pastor of The Second Congregational Church in Newcastle, United Church of Christ, where she has served since July 2017. Prior to moving to Maine, she served for 10 years as the associate pastor at First Church in Windsor, Conn. Before ordained ministry, Corbett worked in administrative capacities with Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity and the Connecticut State University system and as the youth director at South Church in New Britain, Conn. for many years. Corbett is passionate about social justice and is very involved in the local community, serving with the Ecumenical Homelessness Prevention Council, Healthy Kids, and as a volunteer chaplain on the LincolnHealth campus and the Bremen Fire Department. She and her husband, Jim, live in Bremen with their daughter and granddaughter.)