Thursday, December 24, 2009

Red Rubber Ball

It could easily have been the candle. Or even the figgy pudding. But I'll go with the red rubber ball.

We've come over the Sagamore Bridge and through the woods to Chatham, Mass. at the elbow of Cape Cod, to keep a rendezvous with Christmas.

It's Christmas Eve, which seems to me to be where the heart of Christmas beats even more than Christmas Day. (With the disclaimer again that as a Jew, I don't know bupkis, though as the rye bread ads used to say, you don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's.) This, after all, is the territory where Scrooge saw the error of his ways, where the narrator of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" saw Santa, and where George Bailey saw that he really does have a wonderful life. To say nothing of the magi seeing the star. Tomorrow it will be a fait accomplis: the gifts, the dinner, the closed stores and trafficless streets. But today is where Christmas stops first.

And I think I saw it. Not in a big revelatory way like Rusty seeing the white buffalo in "Rin Tin Tin." But in a quiet, oh, okay, way.

We're staying with my sister-in-law and brother-outlaw, Jacqueline Schwab and Edmund Robinson. Edmund is the minister of the Unitarian church in Chatham, and tonight we went to the 5:00 Christmas Eve service. It was a full house, and understandably so, because who doesn't like singing Christmas carols with their neighbors, a couple of hundred voices strong? And the evening was stuffed with carols like a scone with currants: "O Holy Night," "Angels We Have Heard On High," "The First Nowell," "Joy to the World," "O Come All Ye Faithful," and more. There were also readings. "If Christmas Eve Happened Today" set the scene under a Texaco star with three Hell's Angels in attendance. And of course Edmund read A.A. Milne's "King John's Christmas," in which King John, who "was not a good man" and who is regularly stiffed by Father Christmas, hopes once again for chocolate, nuts, a knife that really cuts, and if not those, then at least (and most of all) a big, red, India rubber ball.

The climax of the service is the singing of "Silent Night" while the congregants all hold lit candles in the darkened sanctuary. What is it about candles? The small but concentrated light? The obvious power of fire yet reduced to this personal, hopeful potential? And with "Silent Night," a song as peaceful as they come. This wasn't commercial Christmas or even charitable Christmas. This was just beautiful Christmas.

So it could have been the candle for the penultimate advent window surprise. Or even the mysterious figgy pudding that was invoked in the Christmas Wish after the candles were extinguished. But I'll go with the big, red, India rubber ball that comes sailing through King John's window just as he's given up all hope (and which Edmund reveals from inside his robes with a climactic bounce), because even bad guys need encouragement, maybe even more than good guys do.

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