You find Christmas and its spirit and meaning in the strangest of places. I was in a shopping mall one day last week. At first blush it is about as far away from the manger in Bethlehem as you can get. But even in a mall, that ultimate shrine to commerce and purchase, there are expressions of our better angels.
I usually take a day in December, as Christmas approaches, and go shopping with a vengeance. I’m there when the mall opens and I wade in and go to all of the shops and tick things off my shopping list. I know it is in vogue these days to be against the spread of shopping malls but I love them. They have all the stores under one roof and they have parking. They have book stores and clothing stores and music stores and you can get something to eat from a score of fast food outlets. It is not too much of a stretch to compare the mall to the ancient bazaars that still exist in some places in the east and whose origins go back well before the birth of the Christ.
The malls are a kind of gathering place for commerce but they are as well a place of social interaction. Just ask your kids. I’m all for malls.
I arrived just as the mall opened and made a quick trip to a book store and a sporting goods store. I spent lots. Then something caught my eye that gave me pause in my shopping haste. The Christmas business of getting your picture taken with Santa was opening for a day of work. There was already a line-up of about 10 parents with children as Santa arrived and got into place and the photographer set up his camera and put up the price list for 8X10’s. The Santa was pretty good as Santas go. He had the obligatory little glasses but he had a bell as well that he used to immediately attract the attention of each child as that was brought forward. In his other hand Santa had a squeaky toy. The bell and the toy caused little eyes to open wide and not be afraid. Santa can be a little startling when you are up close for the first time.
All of the children were young. They ranged in age from infants up to about four years of age. That was a little bit surprising but I think the Santa age is shrinking a bit. He was in all of my Christmases until I was at least 11 years old but that was in the pre-television days when the world was less complicated and the age of wonder was expressed in different ways. I have written before about Mechano sets as being on the cutting edge of technology when the only computer in the world was trying to crack the Enigma code. Times change.
I sat down on a bench and watched the children for a while. The wait for the moms and dads was a bit long. Business was brisk. Every parent tried to keep their son or daughter occupied. Without a bell or a squeaky toy they did just fine with a steady stream of talk or sounds accompanied by hugs and many kisses. There were some people there of means and there were some of no means. It’s like you can tell at a dollar store who is there to buy a bit of ribbon and who is there to buy actual Christmas gifts. The “Santa lineup” for pictures had some very young mums. I wondered what THEIR story was. I wondered about the dads as well. At 10:15 on a weekday morning how could they be at a mall for Santa pictures? Where they shift workers or offshore workers? Did they come in from Fort McMurray on two weeks off or were they simply unemployed? These are all the questions that present themselves at Christmas.
As I sat there watching I felt slightly sad. I didn’t understand it quite at first but it slowly dawned on me why this hint of sadness presented itself. It was the realization of time passages. I watched these children with their moms and dads and realized how precious and fleeting these Christmas moments are. Of different backgrounds every mom and dad in the line shared with their child that magic bond of love that is expressed so perfectly through Christmas. It was a reminder to me of my own children now grown into manhood. It was a reminder of once tiny hands that clutched mine so as not to get lost in the vastness of a shopping mall. It was reminder that the sheer wonder of Christmas, through young eyes, is not forever. It wasn’t forever for me or for my children. Nor is it forever for the children in the Santa line-up. While they are there though it is all so precious. Devoid of mortgages and bills they need only listen to the bell and sit on Santa’s knee and get their picture taken before going back into the safe arms of mommy and daddy and the special time of Christmas.
You can contact Jim Furlong at [email protected]