Over the past 24 hours it seems I must have brushed pixie dust, because I am feeling unnaturally festive.
In fact, I haven’t felt this festive in twenty years – unless you count my last trip to Germany in 2006, when my icy heart thawed under the warm smell of coffee, cinnamon, and pine-needles.
My abhorrence of Christmas as a commercial enterprise coincided with my arrival on British shores – Christmas, in Britain at least, is best demonstrated through tinsel, plastic illuminated figures (either Santa, Rudolf, or a snowman), and fibreoptic plastic trees. That sing. Or dance. Or both.
Growing up in Germany, Christmas was synonymous with snow, natural ice that could be skated on, immense Christmas trees (not a plastic needle in sight), stollen, lebkuchen, marzipankartoffeln, never too much chocolate, German coffee, more home-made cakes than you could shake a wooden spoon at, the plausibility of elves, and the inevitable squabbles with cousins.
Nevertheless, today I awoke imbued with a festive disposition that brought out some angels, bells, and jaunty table-cloths, and was sealed by the story below – because Christmas is, truly, all about human kindness:
Dusk is falling as a bearded man slips from a doorway near the bustling main street of Bethlehem and melts into the darkness. The streets are thronged with residents, pilgrims and tourists making last-minute preparations for Christmas.
As they hurry towards the Church of the Nativity, in Manger Square, which marks the birthplace of Jesus, they hardly notice the man slipping into one of the hundreds of yellow Palestinian taxis that roam the streets of this ancient town.
The taxi stops at an apartment in Beit Jala, on the western outskirts of Bethlehem. As the man slowly makes his way up the staircase, a shy young girl stands at the door expectantly and then lets out a piercing scream, as she stares straight into the face of Father Christmas.
“Ahlan W’sahlan! Welcome!” shrieks 12-year-old Nasreen, running to fetch her brothers and sisters.
Father Christmas brings clothing coupons for Nasreen, her sisters, Gianna, 18, Jihan, 17, and Jolene, 14, along with toys for their brothers, Nicolas, 6, and five-year-old Fahdi.
Watching in quiet elation, as the two young boys tear off the shiny wrapping paper, is their mother, Marlene. She lost her husband, a truck driver, nearly two years ago in a car accident. To make ends meet, the 36-year-old mother of six has been baking cakes at home and selling them to cafes in town.
As Christmas approaches, along with the anniversary of her husband’s death, she has been dreading the holiday. “We don’t have a Christmas tree or decorations this year, since with the children missing their father, it was all too hard,” she says quietly.
Earlier in the week, Marlene received a mysterious call, asking what her six children wanted from Father Christmas. She was told to expect a special visitor after 4pm. “At first, I thought it was a joke,” she says. “We’ve had so many calls from people promising this or that, and then nothing would happen.
“I refused to believe it. Until now,” she says, tears welling.
It is a scene repeated in dozens of the poorest homes across Bethlehem every year in the days before Christmas.
Few people know the identity of the man in the Santa Claus outfit. It’s the closely guarded secret of a Christian businessman who, in the past eight years of acute economic distress, has given away tens of thousands of dollars to the most impoverished families in the town. [Continues…]
I love these stories, and I love the people who make them possible.
Forget the tat – the tinsel, the plastic trees, and yes, even the table-cloths and home-made German cakes – it is stories like these that restore your faith and make you shine with ridiculous Yule joy.