Photo by Jonathan McIntosh (Own work) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

A Fr. Raby Christmas

By  Fr. Thomas Raby, Catholic Register Special
  • December 23, 2014

Editor's note: for nearly 50 years the late Msgr. Thomas Raby penned his The Little World of Fr. Raby column for The Catholic Register. The following, Christmas lights in September, is a Msgr. Raby classic, along with one of the Christmas poems he wrote annually.

“Things will be different,” I said. And they were.

I mightn’t get my Christmas shopping done any earlier this year — I am usually rooting around stores the day before — but I’ll have those Christmas lights hung a lot earlier. Would you believe a warm, sunny day in September?

I even thought of stringing the lights in August. Matter of fact, I thought of it every day since last spring, every time I looked out the office window and saw those two spruce trees standing like permanent Christmas trees on the lawn. I just might have gone out and hung the lines of coloured lights too, but I was afraid the neighbours might think I had gone... well, just gone.

But if they could have suffered with me when I decorated those trees last winter, they wouldn’t have thought it strange to see a man in a t-shirt and dark glasses stringing Christmas lights in September. The t-shirt was an effort to keep cool in the 75 degree weather that had hit us, and the dark glasses were an effort at disguise, to give passersby the chance to think somebody else besides the pastor was crazy.

The whole thing was the result of a promise that verged on a vow, mumbled through blue lips as I tried to hang the long, hard line of lights just two days before Christmas last year. “Never, but never,” I vowed, “will I try to do this in cold weather again!”

It all started innocently enough. I had to have my own “wait-until-tomorrow” way. “When are you going to put the lights up on the trees?” the housekeeper asked on the first day of September, and every day thereafter. On nice, sunny days, she would ask twice.

“Lots of time!” I kept saying. “Besides, put them up early and kids will only swipe the bulbs.”

About Dec. 22, she tried some reverse psychology. “Look,” she said, her voice filled with compassion at the thought, “it’s pretty cold trying to handle lights outside, and there’s a foot of snow under the trees. Suppose I just run those lights around the inside of the porch? They’ll look nice from the street.”

Well I couldn’t fall for that and admit defeat, even though we do have a closed porch with windows half way across the house that would really light up with all those coloured bulbs.

“Why, gosh, no! Those are outside bulbs,” I cried with all the conviction that they would blow up if used inside. “Besides, the caretaker and I were going to put them up today. This afternoon, maybe even this morning!"

“Well,” she said, “it would be a lot easier inside....”

“Nonsense!” I laughed, and went in search of Bill our caretaker to tell him what we were going to do, before the housekeeper found out he didn’t know.

I lugged the box of lights up from the cellar and found them in the same tangled mess they were in when I put them away last January. I put them out on the verandah and waited for Bill to bring the ten-foot ladder. It was bright and cool, just nice to work in. It was also lunch time. “Right after lunch,” I told Bill when he arrived with the ladder. “Right!” he said.

We started right after lunch too. So did the wind and the snow. The temperature hadn’t bothered to wait. It had been dropping for an hour. One thing though, the housekeeper had been wrong about the foot of snow under the tree. It must have been two feet. And by the time I got the first string of lights untangled, they were frozen stiff as boards again... and there was three cold feet of the stuff! The weather was frigid. Not just zero, but way below freezing. I could tell because my fingers were numb.

I know when my fingers are frozen. They are like rigid clothes pins, unbending and unfeeling, like mine were then. My feet, as I tried to climb up and down the ladder, were like two blocks of wood.

It didn’t help to see the housekeeper grinning at us through the window. “Look,” I cried to Bill, who was moving around like a frozen corpse, which he was, “try to smile and look like we’re having fun.”

We tried. But nothing on our faces moved except eyelids. Our cheeks were stiff and motionless. One thing did bend however, and that was our pride. We finally gave up and went inside leaving the Christmas tree lights a frozen heap behind us.

“It will be different next year!” I mumbled to myself, silently suffering the smiles and unspoken taunts of the housekeeper.

And so it was! 


A Child is Born in Bethlehem:

I saw the snow fall gently down Whitening all the darkened land, Smoothening out the bumpy paths Spread as though by unknown hands.

I heard the Christmas story Sung as only children can, Tell how this Christ child’s coming Levelled out the ways for man.

Their song recalled a story Recorded deep within,
A child is born in Bethlehem To save the world from sin.

Etched clearly in my memory, Enfleshed in human form.
I see the poverty in which Divinity is born.

A shelter sought by animals

Now serves as place of birth For Him who is the promised one, Messiah come to Earth.

No trumpets this event announce, But angel choirs singing,
Tell us of Heaven breaking through To give a new beginning.

No golden cradle, silken lined Awaits as His first bed.
A straw-filled manger stands to serve As His first crib instead.

In all the joys of motherhood And wonder at its mystery,
Was ever thought that this child could, Forever change all history.

O tell us Mary, could you see, As you gazed on this helpless one, A future cross and feel the pain Of standing by your dying son?

Who looking from disciple John, Now hear him say: “Behold thy son!” And thinking of your first “Fiat” Once more reply: “Thy will be done!” 

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