“That’s the last of them,” Greg pronounced as the palette slid past him and into the store. “I suppose I should sign the paperwork so you can get home for Christmas, huh?”
John shrugged. “I’d like to get home. Really don’t care about Christmas.”
“I thought you had kids.” Greg marked a few boxes on the pad and initialed lines A, D, and F.
“Sure do. Love ‘em.” John accepted the pad back, initialing lines B, E, and G before handing it over for his signature.
“Isn’t that abuse?” The manager signed and sent himself a copy of the form before handing the pad back a final time.
John faked a laugh. “Some people tell me that.” He walked to the front of his truck and stepped up. “Me? I just don’t care for the holiday. Too distracting.”
Greg shook his head. “Well, listen up, buddy, you take care of those kids. Start celebrating Christmas. It’ll be good for them.”
John shrugged as he climbed into the cab. “Relax, would you? Anyway, see you Monday. Hope you survive the rush the day after.”
Greg waved as John pulled away from the loading bay.
John clicked on his channel to see what programs it had selected for his enjoyment on the ride back to the depot. He grunted and switched to another channel, then another. Figures. Carols on each one. Chintzy music celebrating some fat guy who wears red.
A few hours of aggravation later he pulled into a truckstop. Time to stretch the legs. As he stepped out of the cab, he noticed another driver attempting to change one of his panels. Snow began to fall.
John strode over. “Hey, pal, want a hand up there?”
A face covered in stubble poked over the edge of the cab. “Sure, step on up.”
John climbed and saw the shattered black frame sitting atop the truck. The other driver gestured. “Some kid was dropping stones from a bridge. I think I got enough juice for the trip home, but I’d rather not risk it.”
John introduced himself and asked, “You got your spare?”
“Course. I’m Hendricks.”
They shook hands and John went about disconnecting the useless solar panel.
Hendricks chatted as he started prying the frame off the roof of the cab on his side. “It stinks. I probably won’t make it home for Christmas at this rate. I hate missing my kids seeing the presents from Santa.”
John shrugged. “I hate missing my kids, too. I’m glad I’m able to help get you on your way a bit faster. Where you from?”
“That ain’t far.”
“Nope.” John tugged. One of the cables was caught in a mass of grime.
“You’ll make it in time for Christmas.”
“I’ll make it home tonight, sure.” No, cable was still caught. John took out his handyman and flipped through the extensions until he found the heated prod. That should do the trick.
Hendricks worked on his side, seemingly with ease. “What did Santa bring your kids?”
“Nothing. Santa doesn’t visit our house.”
“Ah. Your kids must be teenagers, huh?”
“No. Emelie’s three and Kender’s seven.” There! Finally pried the gunk away to reveal the interface. John popped the cables free.
Hendricks stopped working. “You don’t look Jewish.”
John shook his head. “I’m not. You got the codes to release the frame so we can move it?”
Hendricks rubbed his jaw. “So, you’re not Jewish, and you ain’t doing Santa. Don’t you do Christmas?”
“Nope. Hey, you going to release the frame?”
“You don’t do Christmas.”
“That’s right. I do help other drivers change their panels, though.”
Hendricks shook his head. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I got other priorities than Christmas. I love my kids, I tell them every day, I take care of my wife. I don’t need some guy in a big red suit to give my kids presents when I can do it myself.”
Hendricks wrinkled his nose. “Get the hell off my truck.”
“You heard me. You don’t do Santa? You tell me that Santa ain’t good enough for you? You ain’t gonna help me. I don’t need that kind of help.”
Hendrickson fixed him with a rigid glare. John shrugged and climbed down. Apparently he’d had enough of a leg stretch. Time to get back to the depot.
As he pulled into town, festive decorations jumped from every building. Thousands of Santadroids danced on roofs as lit decorations advertised that each home was Santa’s favorite. He drove into the depot, parked his truck, and made his way to sign out with his supervisor.
“John! Good. We need you to take a load out again. One of the stores got shorted.”
John furrowed his brow. “Out again? I just wrapped up a load. Time to get home.”
“What do you care? It’s not like you celebrate Christmas. Might as well make a little extra cash.”
John shook his head. “Sorry, sir. My family’s still important to me.”
“Liar. If you loved your family, you’d celebrate Christmas like every other God-fearing family in our country.” The supervisor tried handing John a pad with the new route on it.
“I appreciate your concern for my family. I think I’ll just go and spend time with them, Christmas or no. I’m sure Cory or Rick can take the route; they told me they were visiting the bar to celebrate Christmas.”
The supervisor froze for a moment, processing, before shrugging. “All right, whatever. I’m just trying to help out.”
John huffed his laugh again. “Thanks for the thought, but right now I just want to get home.”
John took the bus to his corner and walked down the sidewalk. Red tinsel and bright blue lights decorated every home. Christmas trees filled front windows and presents were dispersed liberally under each festive tree. Very few lights decorated John’s home. He saw that someone had stolen the rest of their decorations again. The same person had apparently urinated where he’d set up the stable and the other figures.
He walked in the front door and smiled as his children rushed to hug him. His wife stood a few steps away. “The kids have been waiting,” she told him. “Think we can celebrate now?”
John nodded and took off his coat. The family stepped into the living room and John went to the single bookshelf. He took out a worn volume of paper and turned to the proper passage. He looked at his children and said, “Let’s celebrate.” He cleared his throat and read, “In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree…”
His family celebrated. There were gifts. There was joy. But it was not Christmas. No, it was something different from what the world celebrated. It was something that only a Christian could celebrate.
It was Nativity.
I originally posted this story December 20, 2010. I dusted it off to help celebrate the season… and maybe help some of us think. The story originally came about because of a nearly-violent reaction a family member had when I had the audacity to say that Jesus was more important than Santa Claus and we didn’t need Santa to give presents.