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A Christmas Story

The crackling fire danced in the fireplace. Nothing like the smell of a wood fire. I sat snuggled up in my favorite chair wiggling my toes to the beat of the Christmas Carols playing on the stereo. The decorations sparkled in the fire light. Pleased with what I had created and alone, I slowly sipped on my Hot Toddy. All is well I thought cards sent, Christmas shopping done and peanut butter cookies in the oven. I was lost in the magic of Christmas. Suddenly a sound ripped through my euphoria. The doorbell rang. I sat wondering if I should answer it, perhaps the person would go away. I wasn’t expecting company. The bell persistently rang. Its’ jarring sound clashed with the sweet sound of carols. Reluctantly, I put my drink down and headed toward the door. There was someone tall standing in the shadows. The Christmas lights were not quite bright enough to light the shadowed face. That strange feeling came over me. I felt fear of who or what was on the other side of the door. With great trepidation I slid the lock back and opened the door. 

He stood at the top of the steps. The hall light washed his face. He was another derelict. I knew from previous rings in the night that he wanted money for the bus. A bus I knew had stopped running two hours ago. “What do you want”? I said with little civility and before he could speak I said I didn’t have any money! Feeling relieved I started to close the door. A soft voice said, “Sir, I don’t want money. Could I have something to eat? I haven’t eaten in quite awhile.” I was suddenly aware of the smell of baking cookies. The rich aroma was swirling around me. It was one of those moments. A moment caused by years of prejudice. My mind was saying if you let him in he will stab you and steal your stuff. I was afraid. I couldn’t speak as I wrestled with my conscience. 

The word food fell out of my mouth. There was something about him, this tall man with shaggy beard. There was something about his eyes. From somewhere deep within me came the words, “Food, yes I have food. Please come in. He stated firmly that he was dirty and didn’t think it would be a good idea if he came in. I reached out and grabbed his sleeve saying the kitchen is this way. As we moved through the over decorated rooms his eyes seemed to be to be filled with sadness. As we passed through the dining room he said you have a beautiful home. I sat him down at the table in the kitchen. What ever you have will be fine with me he said. There was a big pot of soup on the stove. I set a place for him and brought a big bowl of soup. I brought him a glass of tea and what was left of the home made bread.

I sat watching him eat. At first the sips of soup were slow and his hand trembled as he lifted the spoon. Soon there was a rhythm to his eating. As he ate he told me he was on a journey home. Macon was where his family was from. As a young man he had set out after high school to make his way. Sadly he had become lost in the world. A journey which had started with such promise had ended so poorly. The fear I had felt in the beginning had faded ever so slowly away. I gave him another bowl of soup. He had eaten everything I had given him. He stood up and startled me. Thank you he said. I have taken up enough of your time. I’ll be on my way. Thank you he repeated. I asked him to wait while I made him a couple of sandwiches. I added a tray of peanut butter cookies and two diet cokes.

We walked together to the front door. I could still hear the Christmas Carols. Joy to the World was the Carol I remember hearing. It seemed like a very long journey to the front door. I followed behind the tall shaggy bearded man no longer afraid but sad that he was leaving. I opened the door feeling the cold night air rush around me. He stepped out on the porch. Thanked me for the food and turned toward the steps to leave. Surrounded by all the magic of Christmas, the fire crackling in the Library, and a choir singing Glory to God in the Highest it felt like Christmas. Then my friends, the miracle happened. The tall man with the shaggy beard turned to me and said, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat”. All the comforts and decorations behind me were not Christmas at all. In a blink he was gone. I stood in the doorway unable to move for a long time. Later as I sat in my favorite chair in front of the dying embers I dozed off knowing in my heart that miracles do happen. The strangest part of this story, my friends, is that it is true. Marry Christmas, Christ is with us.

--Philip Maniscalco