A Heartwarming Story for the Holiday Season
© 2021, David Dvorkin. All rights reserved.
It was the morning of December 25. The sun shone down from a cloudless sky, its light sparkling on the pure white snow that covered the town. Dogs barked, children shouted, giant birds with terrible talons circled above, looking for small animals to swoop down on and tear limb from limb for food and fun. It was God’s beautiful, perfect world.
Little Timmy Goldstein made his way carefully downstairs. His eyes shone in anticipation, while he held the banister tightly with his left hand and his crutch with his right. He couldn’t wait to get down the stairs, but he didn’t want another tumble like last week’s. That would truly ruin the holiday spirit.
For today was Chrismanukkah, the name his blended family had invented for their joint celebration of his mother’s Christian and his father’s Jewish heritage. To simplify matters, and because in America Hanukkah had long ago been transformed into the Jewish Christmas, Little Timmy’s parents had agreed to limit their observance of the Jewish festival to one day and to shift it to Christmas Day.
Little Timmy didn’t really care about those details. He just liked the special foods, the lights, the music, the family togetherness, and the gifts.
And there it all was, waiting for him when he finally struggled his way to the bottom of the stairs! A Christmas tree! A Hanukkah bush! A plastic Santa lighted from within! A plastic menorah ditto (with all its candles lit)! Piles of presents! Lots of lights! Shallow holiday music! Bleary–eyed parents! Food remnants everywhere! Innumerable siblings breaking their presents and stuffing their faces! The big morning celebration was over because poor, crippled Little Timmy was always last on the scene, but he didn’t mind. At least he was here, in the bosom of his loving Americo–Judeo–Christian–traditional family.
“Hello, family!” he shouted. “I love you!”
He ignored their distracted responses. His gaze had been caught by the two paintings that loomed over the living room from opposite walls.
One was a painting of a simpering Jesus with blond hair and beard, eyes raised heavenward. Across the room from him, a fearsome armored warrior glared at the family. This man was a bit darker, a bit more Middle Eastern. It could have been a gift from his mother’s side of the family. They were conservative Republicans and seemed to think of Jesus as an armed mercenary in the employ of America’s wealthiest classes, but Little Timmy had always assumed that this painting was his father’s property and that it depicted Judas Maccabeus, ready to smite him some Greeks real good, and perhaps the wimpy, flaxen–haired Jesus across the room, too, while he was at it.
Suddenly a new and disturbing thought struck Little Timmy. He wondered why he hadn’t thought this thought before.
“Say,” he said, thinking this thought aloud, “isn’t it odd that we spend so much time and money and brain juice and emotion worshiping Jesus, who probably never even existed, and at the same time making a fuss over Judas and the rest of the Maccabees, who attacked other Jews who worshipped foreign gods such as Jesus? Anyway, it all comes down to the idea of God, which is a silly idea to begin with, right? And what’s with all the lights and stuff? When you look at them objectively, they’re really very tacky. Also, most of the music is really bad.”
Silence fell on the room.
His parents rose from the couch, and his innumerable siblings stood up, abandoning their presents and food, and all of them began to advance upon him, hands held before them, fingers curling like claws, eyes blank.
“Kill,” they said in unison.
Moving as fast as he could, which wasn’t very fast but fortunately was faster than his suddenly mindless family, Little Timmy opened the hall closet, pulled out his heavy winter coat, his gloves, hat, and boots, and exited through the front door, slamming it behind him. His family lost interest in his existence and returned to their mindless holiday doings.
Little Timmy stood irresolute for a moment. Then the cold struck him and he donned the winter garb he had fortunately taken from the house. He felt it wise to put distance between himself and what had been his home. He went carefully down the icy front steps, once again holding the railing with his left hand and his crutch with his right, and then on to the sidewalk.
Again he stood still for a moment, wondering what to do next. Had he truly just lost the only home he had ever known? Where would he go? What was he to do next? This was the worst Chrismanukkah ever!
Nearby, a rabbit screamed as something ate it alive. Apparently, God’s eye, being on the sparrow, was too busy to watch the rabbit as well. Or possibly the Lord and Creator of the Universe was answering a prayer uttered by whatever it was that was tearing the rabbit to pieces. What a conundrum! If the fox prays for a rabbit to eat and the rabbit prays that it will not be eaten by the fox, how does God decide which prayer to grant? This is one of those mysteries that are beyond the ability of the mind of Man to comprehend.
That rabbit’s having an even worse Chrismanukkah than I am, Little Timmy thought. I shouldn’t stand here feeling sorry for myself. I know! I’ll go to Georgie’s house! They’ll take me in. They won’t mind what I said about Jesus and Judas. Not that Judas. I mean the other Judas.
Georgie and his family were atheists. Georgie had often invited Little Timmy to come to his house to escape what he called all that religious stuff. “If you ever get tired of it,” he would say, “come to my place. No one at my house cares about God or any of that silly nonsense.”
Little Timmy had visited Georgie’s house more than once, but not to escape from religion. In the past, the very idea of escaping religion had seemed sinful. Now it didn’t. Now it seemed to be just what he wanted. Also, it was very cold outside.
He walked the two blocks to Georgie’s house, shivering increasingly, walking carefully because of his crutch and spots of ice, eager for a welcoming place, warmth, and the absence of all things Chrismanukkahish.
When he got to Georgie’s house, Little Timmy was surprised to see a wreath tied with a red ribbon on the door. It gave him an uneasy feeling. Nonetheless, he rang the bell.
Georgie opened the door, greeting him with cries of delight and pulling him inside.
Little Timmy said, “I had to get away from—”
That was as far as he got.
“Of course you did!” Georgie’s father said, laughing his wonderful big, booming laugh.
“You’re always welcome here, away from all of that,” Georgie’s mother said in her lovely, musical voice.
Georgie’s brother and sister chimed in with similar charming sentiments.
Little Timmy felt warm and comfortable and safe. He did have some questions, though. “I was surprised to see a Christmas wreath on your door. Why—”
“It’s not a Christmas wreath,” Georgie explained with an indulgent smile. “It’s just a holiday wreath, a decoration for the holiday season.”
Little Timmy pointed to the decorated Christmas tree in one corner. “What about that?”
“That’s just a traditional symbol of the time of year,” Georgie’s father said with a chuckle. “It’s originally a pagan symbol, you know. The Christians stole it, so we’re taking it back from them.”
“And all that music?”
“It’s cheerful,” Georgie’s mother explained with a condescending smile. “We like it. This is a family time of year, and the music helps with the mood. It’s not religious,” she said while “Adeste Fideles” played in the background.
“Axial tilt is the reason for the season,” Georgie’s brother said, looking down his nose at Little Timmy, which was easy to do because Little Timmy really was quite little. “We’re celebrating the solstice.”
“That’s pagan, too,” Georgie’s sister said, a bit impatiently. “The Christians stole that as well, and we’re reclaiming it.”
“But you’re not pagans,” Little Timmy said. “And paganism is also a system of religious belief, so it’s just as silly as the stupid stuff I’m trying to escape from. It’s all just a bunch of nonsense. If you just want to celebrate family togetherness, why are you doing it at the same time as all the religious people around you are doing it, and with the same symbols and music? I think you’re just not strong enough to truly break away and chuck all of this nonsense out the window.” He spotted a half–eaten cake on a nearby table and felt suddenly hungry. “You’re trying to have your cake and eat it, too.”
Silence fell on the room. Georgie and his parents and siblings started walking toward Little Timmy, hands reaching for him. Their faces were blank, and together they droned, “Kill.”
He fled, slamming the front door so hard behind him that the non–religious, purely holiday–season wreath jumped from the door and landed on the ground.
High above, inaudible and invisible to Little Timmy, a warplane streaked by on its way to bombing the bejesus out of some recalcitrant brown people, who would be having a very bad Chrismanukkah indeed.
Little Timmy hobbled away as quickly as he could. Where would he go now? He had no idea.
While he pondered, he was approached by a man dressed in wretched, torn clothes who limped badly. He looked like someone whose every Chrismanukkah was a rotten one.
“Could you give me a dollar or two, sir?” he asked Little Timmy. “Or three? Or fifty cents? In the holiday spirit.”
Little Timmy gritted his teeth in annoyance at the last few words, but he did reach into his pocket to see what was there. He found a few coins, took them out, and dropped them into the man’s outstretched hand.
“What happened to your leg?” he asked the man.
“I asked some guy coming out of church for money, and he kicked me.”
Little Timmy felt around in his other pocket, found a few more coins, and gave those to the man, too.
“God bless us, sir, each and every one!” the man cried in delight as he took the coins.
“And this,” Little Timmy said. “I no longer need it.” He held out his crutch, which was, after all, just a metaphor.
Little Timmy watched in satisfaction as the panhandler hobbled away, leaning heavily on the crutch.
Standing up straight on his two sound legs, no longer quite so little and no longer quite so cold, Little Timmy looked up at the cloudless blue sky. He knew that the appearance of a dome holding us in is an illusion created by the diffusion of sunlight. The sky is gas, thin and tenuous, and beyond it is the vastness of the universe: stupendous numbers of galaxies, stars, planets, and surely civilizations. The immensity of it all is incomprehensible to the human mind, but it’s all just matter and energy. There are no gods.
Probably, Little Timmy thought, there are a great number of silly religious ideas out there, just as there are here on Earth, but there must also be many sensible worlds, many intelligent species that have liberated their minds from the absurdity of religious belief and religious celebration or were perhaps never subject to any of it in the first place. How wonderful it would be to live on such a world!
If only I could visit them, he thought. I never will, but it’s wonderful to think that they’re out there and that there are probably many other Little Timmys, alien in form but not in mind, looking up and thinking the same thing, and all of us freed from silliness.
The future would be difficult. He had no idea what lay ahead. But he did know that he was free.