Commentary: And So This Is Christmas

Buffalo, NY – And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, and a new one just begun.

The December rain is comforting. My winter coat is warm for once and the evening mist on my face feels cool and green. There is no snow not even in the shady places under the trees and along the metal fence.

A man in a tan raincoat carries shopping bags of wrapped presents to one of the pretty houses sitting politely on my street. The open trunk of his mini-van is a glowing treasure box of gifts he'll have to make two trips. The front door opens onto the porch, a woman's voice gushes, "You shouldn't have " and two children barely hold back their screams of delight. Inside the foyer, the stairway is draped with garland and tiny white lights. Layers of warm cooking smells bite at my heels as the front door shuts.

On the porch next door, one man hands another a large brown paper sack "Now don't look inside it'll ruin the surprise." A woman laughs nervously. From the sidewalk, I watch through the window as they hand off their coats and bags and tin foil wrapped dishes in silent slow motion.

A very Merry Christmas, And a Happy New Year. Let's hope it's a good one, Without any fear.

As I turn onto Elmwood Ave, the rows of neon lit shops are awkwardly silent. The neighborhood's "Jewelry Man" is standing on the corner--without the usual display of necklaces and earrings hanging from his neck. He is walking in semi-circles. He repeats over and over "Blockbuster is the only place open tonight. Blockbuster is the only place open tonight." I feel the rhythm of my walk keep beat to his words like a Christmas carol stuck at the back of my head "Blockbuster is the only place open tonight." In the distance, a man playing the harmonica sits alone against the brick wall in front of the closed grocery store. He plays a song that I've never heard before, yet somehow recognize.

And so this is Christmas, for weak and for strong, For rich and for poor ones, the road is so long. And so happy Christmas, for black and for white, For yellow and red ones, let's stop all the fight

A bit farther down the street, in front of Blockbuster, two men huddle over a pair of brand- new-in-the-box, black and white Western boots. They are both peering inside one of the boots, fawning over the elaborate detailing as if touching a rare and fragile artifact. "What size are they?" one says. "Will they fit?" the other says. They turn to look at me as I pass I am caught looking back at them. One of the men holds up a gleaming boot over his head and with a large grin loudly says, "Hello lady. Look what we just got!" I've grown accustomed to ignoring these men when they ask me for spare change and I hesitate before I return the greeting. It is Christmas, after all.

I'm certain that there is a story behind the black and white brand-new-in-the-box Western boots Did somebody leave these boots in the trash? Were they a gift from the shelter? Perhaps a re-gift from a lonely stranger walking into Blockbuster on this rainy night? In the gleam of the Blockbuster window, I catch my own reflection backlit by shining green lights in the trees. I too, hope that the boots will fit.

The Jewelry Man has followed me to the corner near the bus stop. He paces there, bouncing at his knees as if holding back an urge to jump with joy. He smiles knowingly, as if he is about to give me a spectacular gift: "Merry Christmas" he says, followed by "Did you know Blockbuster is the only place open tonight?" I tell him "Merry Christmas" and continue to walk the rain insulating a part of myself wrapped ribbon-less and tight.

A very Merry Christmas, And a Happy New Year. Let's hope it's a good one, Without any fear.

Listener-commentator Lisa Forrest is a poet and a librarian at Buffalo State College.

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