When I was young, Christmas wasn’t very much— a balsam culled from the edge of a field, colored balls in a tattered box, durable strings of colored lights, glorious music in local churches, long, slow winter hours.
Now that I am four fifths old, Christmas is so very much, so bought and sold in Christian bulk, carols slammed down secular streets— bad or worse in slipshod churches. What sea or landfill’s deep enough to hold the glitter-smash of all these broken ornaments?
. . . Who are you again?
I was a wise man, literate in stars.
Ancient and uneasy in America, wrapped in swaddling robes, wheel-chaired, parked beneath denatured swags of falsely berried nevergreen, I miss austerity. I miss desert travel.
I miss the naive Christmases when, four fifths young in my frugal father’s house, I wrote my hopes on a battered desk in a shadowy hall upstairs— the ceiling high and cold with draft on dragging winter evenings when there was no entertainment but my mind unentertained, yet knowledge of approaching holiday. Once I dreamed that I worked all night, forgetting— then woke in the downstairs room as warm as womb: the tree of light.
But most of all, I miss how every modest Christmas morning, disappointment in the presents faded quietly and wisely, gone by breakfast even for us children.
. . . but—who are you again?
Melchior, come back in another searching time.
Searching for what?
The light from the star that just now is arriving.
The astrologer? One of the three? Why here?
Too much room at the Christian Inn. And who would look for a Magus here among this wreckage of untreasured age and unmined memory? Herod is alive and well and killing babes for no reason at all. This is the manger of 2005 and the hay is eating the oxen.
I do not understand you.
What is it in this saturated, satiated anti-Midas age of yours that everything you touch, once gold, turns lead! Even the holy babe we found is new-born, yes! again this year, but four fifths dead.
Wait! Don’t wheel away—! Listen— Listen. I’ll tell you what I still can see on late-in-Advent evenings in my clearest memory: the true Nativity– my faithful father’s glowing tree reflected in the tall black window panes of living room, the colored lights imposed on bare and frozen trees outside, and that was it—the lead-to-golden bough, like Gabriel’s who imposed on Mary’s how.