Tiny Tim makes the most of Christmas in this 1870 illustration by Fred Barnard for Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic, A Christmas Carol. Wikipedia

Robert Kinghorn: A Christmas carol for our times

  • December 22, 2019

I’m sitting in the shadow of a Christmas tree weighed down with lights and finery, while a stuffed teddy bear with a beguiling smile sits patiently at the base watching me through button eyes. It could be one of countless Christmas trees anywhere in the world, but this one holds special meaning for myself and the young lady sitting next to me. 

As we chat, the ghost of Christmas past beckons her back to early childhood when she grew up in the city, waking up early Christmas morning to race her brother to find the hidden gifts scattered throughout the house. 

Stirred from their place of repose, the gifts were shaken and ripped open to the squealing delight of two excited youngsters. Innocent children in a world that was often tinged with addiction and anger. 

The true meaning of Christmas was only glimpsed at through the friendship of a neighbour who was allowed to take the children to the local church service to sing carols on frosty mornings. “She gave me my first Bible,” my friend reminisced. “It was a beautiful little Bible, and I treasured it.”

Only much later, in adolescence, did addiction and anger start to impinge upon the innocence of youth. 

Once again, her memory took her back to a Christmas past when she started to fall under the seduction of alcohol and drugs. 

For her it was an instant bonding which eventually led to homelessness and addiction supported by prostitution on streets which prey upon the weak. 

A darkness comes over her face as she said, “Christmas was a hard time. I would see happy families around me, and it hurt. It hurt so deeply, because no one should be alone at Christmas. But I chased these feelings away with more drugs. I remember one time when Jan Rothenburger from Yonge Street Mission found me and gave me a gift bag. It was the highlight of my Christmas.

“This is one thing I want to say,” she continued. “The shelter system in the city is a life-saver for many at Christmas. I knew that if I could make it to a shelter then there would be, in a strange way, a family surrounding me. Maybe all we had in common was our addictions and pain, but there we would get at least one present at Christmas, even if it was only a bar of hotel soap to wash the street existence off our backs for a few moments. 

“But I always missed my mom and dad. My dad was the one who always had the open door for me at home, but it was my mom I longed for and cried for at Christmas.”

The ghost of Christmas past slowly faded, to be replaced by the kinder, gentler ghost of Christmas present as she pointed to the photo of her two-year-old son.

“When I became pregnant, a friend took me home to see my family for a few days at Christmas. I remember much of the time hiding behind closed doors crying for what I had missed. I went to church that Christmas day and once again I cried all through the service. It was a mixture of joy at being home and grief at what I had lost. 

“The first Christmas after my son was born, I stayed at a shelter while they searched for suitable housing. The relationship with my mother was still strained because I had let her down so often in my life that it was difficult for her to believe that this time it would be different. Presents arrived at the shelter and I automatically passed them to my friends since they were never for me. One gift in particular caught my eye since it was larger and more beautifully wrapped than the others. I passed it to my friend who looked at it and said, ‘No, it’s for you.’

“When I looked at the handwriting, I bawled my eyes out. It was from my mother. From that day on the relationship has been restored and we see each other almost every day since she is a wonderful part of my son’s life. Other parts of my life are falling into place, and I am on the honour roll at college where I am studying to be an addictions counsellor. 

“Imagine, this is the first year with a Christmas tree of our own. My son looked at it when I put the lights on and said, ‘Wow.’ He is so cute, and all the empty space in my heart is gone. It is filled with the joy of having him in my life as a gift from God, as I prepare to celebrate the birth of God’s son Jesus this Christmas.”

For me, these words were the best Christmas present I could hear after the 14 years of knowing her. 

She has truly come home: home to her family, home to herself and home to Jesus. 

And it was always said of Scrooge, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!” 

– A Christmas Carol

(Kinghorn is a deacon of the Archdiocese of Toronto: robert.kinghorn@ekinghorn.com)

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