A CHRISTMAS STORY

4 July 2021

  Early morning. It felt like it would build up to another hot, steamy day, but right then it was cool-ish, there was a light breeze, and it was pretty nice. Birds were calling[1] and you could hear the soft cooing of two turtle doves. Three French hens entered the picture.[2] They stopped under a huge tree, drooping under the weight of its fruit.

   “Magnifique!” cried one of the hens. “Ce poirier est incroyable!”[3]

   “Je suis d’accord,” said one of the others. “Mais regarde; quel genre d’oiseau est-ce avec le chapeau rouge?” [4]

   The oiseau in question answered for itself. “I speak a little French, but it would be better, mamzelle, if we could converse in English – Anglais.”

   “It is madame, not mademoiselle,” said the obvious spokesperson, “but oui – yes – we can speak in English.”

   “Well, your accent is a little thick,[5]said the bird, “But I think I can make it out. The answer to your question is that I’m a patridge.”

   “Patrige? P-a-t-r-i-g-e?”

   “No, patridge – P-a-r-t-r-i-d-g-e – patridge.”

   “Ah, oui. Partridge.”

   “That’s what I said.”[6]

   “And the chapeau – the red hat?”

   “It’s a Santa hat. Don’t you have Santa Claus where you come from?”

   “Ah, le père Noël. But this is July, n’est pas?”

    “Don’t you watch the Hallmark Movie Channel? It’s “Christmas in July,” Christmas movies every day in July, 24/7.”

   “Aah,” began the hen,  then paused. “But, why? Je suis embrouillée – I’m confused. Why Noël in Juillet?”

   It was the pat – partridge’s turn to pause. “I don’t know; maybe just to save us from reruns of those horrible ‘reality’ shows.”[7]

   A man – actually, the owner of the poirier … er, pear tree – had been listening from nearby, and now he entered the conversation. “Well, that may be partially true, but there’s more to the story.[8]

   “And what is the rest of the story?” asked one of the French hens.

   The farmer took a seat on an old tree stump (a sign that the story was a long one?). “It’s true that the ‘vast wasteland’[9] of television gets even vastier and wastier in summer. But remember that Christmas is supposed to be the happiest time of the year – full of fun, family, friends, decorations, giving of gifts, and generally having a wonderful time of togetherness. Can’t we praise Hallmark for wanting to bring some of those feelings into the doldrums of the summer season?”

   While the farmer was speaking, a small crowd had been gathering, eight young women and ten men.[10] “Oh, I loved Christmas when I was little,” offered one of the maids – er, I mean, women. “The tree, the decorations, the presents, and all the family together; it was a happy, happy time.”

   “I agree,” opined one of the men. “I especially remember the caroling – ‘Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat,’ and ‘Dashing through the snow’… Oh, those are good memories!”

   “But,” objected another man, “Did you ever have a Christmas – or did you ever hear about a Christmas – like Hallmark depicts – all the town-folks together for a tree lighting, a Christmas carnival with craft booths and goodies for sale, and the whole town singing and dancing together? I never did.”

   The farmer thought for a moment before responding. “Well, I like the idea, and I suspect it has happened – if not in America, somewhere else in the world. It wouldn’t be a city thing, or even a suburb thing; it would have to be something that occurred in a small town, I would think. I grew up in the country, and all the towns around were small, but I never remember anything quite like that.”

   “It would be pretty hard now,” said a woman, “because there aren’t many small towns like they show on Hallmark. I mean, every town they show has a nice city square, a bakery, a book store, and a toy shop. Where do you find that? All we have where my parents live is a Walmart, out by the freeway.” She sighed. “It would be nice, though.”

   Everybody pondered that for a bit, until the reverie was broken by a discordant voice. “I don’t remember anything very happy about Christmas,” said a man. “We had our traditions, all right – a tree, decorations, family dinner, presents – but it all came down to unwrapping our presents on Christmas morning. I either got something that I told my folks I wanted – big surprise! – or something that I didn’t care a whit, about. The colored paper went in the trash, and life went on.”

   Several started to protest, but the man hadn’t finished. “Not only that, but I lost both my parents at Christmas time – two years in a row – plus my favorite cat. I guess you know what I think about during the holidays.”

   That seemed to sober up the gathering, but then a young man with a very good imitation of a well-known someone started singing softly.

   “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you.

   “I’ll be so blue just thinking about you.”

   Many voices called out simultaneously. “The King!” “Le Roi!” “Elvis!.” The young man smiled. “Thank you very much,” he replied in a deep, Elvis-y voice.[11]

   As thing quieted down, the farmer spoke. “You’re right; the holidays aren’t happy times for everybody.”

   “No, they aren’t,” interrupted one in the crowd, “but we try to forget that, and we try to make everything wonderfully perfect. What about the song, ‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas?’ Everybody sings it as a happy salute to the season, but somebody had to change the words to make it into that. Did you hear Judy Garland singing it in the movie?[12] You might say that she was hopeful, but the lyrics are amazingly sad. ‘Next year, all our troubles will be out of sight.’ Next year, we’ll be together ‘if the fates allow. Until then, we’ll have to muddle through, somehow.’ Christmas is sad for a lot of us!”

   “But that’s what the Hallmark movies are about,” someone objected. “Somebody really dislikes Christmas – for any number of reasons – but in the small town, they find friendship and happiness…”

   “And true love,” someone interjected.

   “Yes, that too. But the idea is that they’re able to put their sadness, or dislike, or whatever, aside, and regain their perspective.”

   “Maybe occasionally,” said the first speaker, “But Hallmark is trying to make Christmas both the cause and the cure. I don’t think it usually works like that in real life.”

 

   As they were discussing, the crowd was growing around the pear tree. There were a bunch of people headed for the 4th of July parade, armed with musical instruments[13], who were attracted by those already present. One of the newcomers tossed out a question.

   “What do you think of all this commercial side of Christmas? I like giving and getting presents, but they start advertising in September or October, and it’s hard to tell if you’re hearing Christmas ads, or Black Friday ads.”

   “That’s for sure,” said someone else. “I really hate that side of the holidays.”

   Several folks began to sing the old Stan Freberg song:[14]

   “Christmas comes but once a year

    So you better make hay while the snow if falling.

    That’s opportunity calling you.”

   There was mild confusion and a little laughter as more folks recalled the song and its other lyrics. The farmer spoke up.

   “Yep, the commercial side of the holidays is pretty appalling, but just because sellers are overselling doesn’t mean that we have to over-buy. It’s still our individual choice how we choose to give and receive, isn’t it?”

   “But isn’t that just one part of the overall problem?” suggested another member of the throng. “Advertisements, Santa Claus. Christmas trees. Hallmark romance. Isn’t that all just detracting from the real meaning of Christmas? Aren’t we supposed to be remembering the birth of the Christ child?”

   “You can remember it if you want to, but why should I have to?” a man challenged.

   “But it’s a national holiday!”

   “But not a national religious holiday. It would be against the U. S. Constitution to have a federal observance for a specific religion. Christmas was made a national holiday at the same time as New Year’s Day, the Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving. There was no mention of religion.”

   “There’s more to it,” said another crowd member. “We call them national holidays but, really, they’re just days off with pay for federal employees.”

   “But we don’t get mail, and a lot of businesses shut down for the day.”

   “We don’t get mail because all the mail deliverers are taking the day off. Some states and some businesses recognize the day as a holiday, but they do that on their own, if they want to.”

   “That can’t be right,” said the first man.

   “Listen,” a woman said, as she stepped out of the throng. “What does it matter if it’s a national holiday, or a federal day off, or nothing at all? I’m a Christian, and I chose to remember the birth of Christ on that day. Why should I ask you to, if you don’t believe what I believe? I like the other parts of Christmas, too, including some dating back to pagan times that would have made my religious great-grandparents blush, and probably would have got me thrown out of the church. Christmas trees, Santa Claus, presents, family, friends, overeating – I love them all!”

  The crowd had been thinning out, as people moved off toward the July 4th festivities, and probably also because the discussion was getting contentious. Soon, it was just the farmer and the four birds. With some work to do before he was free to join his family at the celebration, the farmer soon took his leave. He bowed to the hens.

   “Ladies.”

   He saluted the bird in the pear tree.

   “Mr. Pat-ridge. I’ve enjoyed it.”

   And he was gone.

    Alone with the French hens, the pat… partridge thought about the gathering. “If, rather than a patridge, I was a wise old owl, I might say…

   “Hoot, hoot?” suggested one of the hens.

   The owl chuckled. “Maybe so, but what I was thinking was that humans sometimes make awfully hard work out of being happy and enjoying themselves. What if one likes Christmas trees, and another doesn’t? What if one wants to commemorate the birth of Jesus on a given day, and someone else doesn’t? Nobody’s making anybody do something, and nobody’s stopping anybody from doing something. Why not watch Christmas movies in July, or May, or August, or any time you want? I mean, it’s beyond me why anybody would want to sing a song about some old bird sitting in a fruit tree, and three very charming – but not necessarily Christmassy – French hens. But let ‘em sing. It’s fine with me.”

   The hens clucked in agreement.

   “I guess,” said the partridge, “there’s only one thing left to say.”

   “Joyeux  noël , said the hens, in unison.

   “Happy Holidays!” said the partridge.

A Partridge (but not in a pear tree)


=================

[1] It sounded like four different ones.

[2] Recent immigrants. Their background is interesting, but we won’t tell it, here.

[3]Magnificent! This pear tree is incredible!”

[4]I agree. But look, what kind of bird is that with the red hat?”

[5] He should talk!

[6] You’ll have to excuse the bird. He’s from New England, and his accent (!) is showing. He’s a ruffed grouse, known to New Englanders as a pat – as a partridge.

[7] You’re going to ask me how a pat – partridge knows so much about TV. Don’t, you’re just slowing down the story.

And, to anticipate your next interruption, a farmer and some birds can communicate (no doubt in English, French, and Birdtalk) because this is a story about Christmas, which everybody knows is a time for miracles.

[8] See Footnote 7.

[9] Newton N. Minnow’s 1961 description of much of television fare.

[10] The numbers of each are purely coincidental. The women were not “maids a-milking,” although two of them worked at the local Dairy Queen. The men were not lords, and they didn’t leap – although they did appear rather spontaneously - and while one of the men was not a “lord,” in the song sense, he was a landlord (owning five single-family homes and two apartment buildings. He did rather well for himself).

[11] Several women, and a couple of men, expressed real interest in hearing more from the young singer. I don’t know if they did.

[12] “Meet Me in St. Louis” (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1944; music by George Stoll).

[13] Yes, there were drummers and pipers, but it was just coincidental.

[14] “Green Christmas,” 1958. If you’ve never heard it, or haven’t heard it in a long time, you should listen. It’s easy to find on the internet.


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 © Sanford Wilbur 2022