Christmas Is Coming

I sat on the floor near Jeremy, my three-year-old, and handed him assorted ornaments to put on the Christmas tree. He stood on a holiday popcorn can to reach the middle section of the tree, which was as high as he could reach. He giggled with a child’s pure delight every time I said, “Christmas is coming!” Although I had tried many times to explain Christmas to him, Jeremy believed that Christmas was a person. “Christmas is coming!” he would giggle. “And all of these presents are for Christmas when she comes!”

I was sitting back, watching him smiling to himself as he carefully placed each ornament on the tree. Surely he can’t know enough about Christmas to love it this much, I thought.

We lived in a small apartment in San Francisco. Although the weather was usually mild, this Christmas season it was chilly enough for us to need a fire. On Christmas Eve I threw in a starter log and watched my son sliding around the apartment, sock-footed on hardwood floors. He was anxiously awaiting Christmas. Soon he couldn’t stand it any longer and began jumping up and down. “When will she be here, Mommy? I can’t wait to give her all these presents!”

Again I tried to explain it to him. “You know, Jeremy, Christmas is a time of year, not a person, and it will be here sooner than you know. At twelve o’clock, Christmas will be here but you will probably be sleeping, so when you wake up in the morning it will be Christmas.”

He laughed as if I was telling a silly joke. “Mommy,” he said, “will Christmas eat breakfast with us?” He spread out his arms over the gifts under the tree. “All of these presents are for Christmas! All of them!”

I tickled his belly and laughed with him. “Yes,” I said. “They are all for Christmas!”

He scampered about the apartment until fatigue slowed him down and he lay on the rug by the tree. I curled up next to him and when he finally fell asleep I carried him into his bed.

I decided on a hot chocolate before bed and as I drank it I sat near the window looking down on the decorated streets of San Francisco. It was a beautiful scene. But there was one thing that disturbed me. Directly outside our apartment, in the spot where I usually left the garbage, was what looked like a crumpled heap of old clothes. But I soon realized what the heap really was. It was an old homeless woman who usually hung out near the corner store down the street. She was a familiar sight in the neighborhood, and I had tossed a few coins into her bag a few times after shopping at the grocery. She never asked for money, but I think she got quite a few handouts from passersby because she looked so helpless.

As I looked out on this Christmas Eve, I wondered about this poor old woman. Who was she? What was her story? She should be with family, not sleeping in the cold street at this special time of year.

I felt a sinking feeling inside. Here I was, with a beautiful child sleeping in the next room. I had often felt sorry for myself as a single mom, but at least I wasn’t alone and living on the streets. How hopeless and sad that would be for anyone, let alone a woman who must be about eighty years old.

I went to my front door and walked down the steps to the street. I asked the old woman if she would like to come inside. At first, she hardly acknowledged me. I tried to coax her; she said she didn’t want my help. But when I said I could use a little company, she relented and agreed to spend Christmas with Jeremy and me.

I arranged for her to sleep in the living room on our foldout couch. The next morning, I was awakened by Jeremy yelling at the top of his lungs. “Christmas is here! Christmas is here, Mommy!”

I quickly pulled on my robe and hurried to the living room, where I found a very excited little boy presenting a very surprised “Christmas” with gifts from under the tree. “We’ve been waiting for you!” he shouted joyfully. He giggled and danced around as she opened the presents he had given her.

I don’t think “Christmas” had known a Christmas like this for a very long time. And neither had I. I also knew that it would have taken more than just one special day to lift the burden from that old lady’s weary heart, but I was thrilled when she promised to come back the following year. I hope she will. And Jeremy knows she will.

© Deb Gatlin Towney 1997

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