A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


There are a bunch of new stores in the new shopping development just a few blocks away from our house, and my teenage daughter Beth and I have been anxious to check them out.

I mean, if you're going to go broke at Christmas, you might as well do it at a brand new, state-of-the-art merchandising Mecca – am I right?  The way I see it, most of my money is going to end up here anyway.  It might as well get comfortable with the place.

So Beth and I were cruising through the area, perusing the various stores, sampling some of the fast food cuisine, trying on some “way cool” boots when all of a sudden she stopped, her whole face alive with youthful exuberance and excitement.

“Do you hear that?” she asked.  “It sounds like Christmas!”

I stopped to listen.  There was plenty to hear, all right.  Shoppers shopping.  Cash registers registering.  The department store Santa ho-ho-ho-ing.  Little children crying at the department store Santa’s ho-ho-ho-ing.  A mechanical moose singing “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” – over and over and over again.

“I don't hear Christmas,” I told Beth.  “I just hear a lot of noise and confusion.”

“I know!” Beth replied, her smile even broader and more jubilant.  “Noise!  Confusion!  Christmas!”

I remember that feeling.  When I was little it was as if Christmas turned me into one of those Fizzies soft drink tablets, and I bubbled and effervesced all season long.  I shouted my Christmas wish list to the department store Santa – just in case he was hard of hearing.  I sang Christmas carols at the top of my voice.  I ran screaming into the night at the sight of the first Christmas fruitcake.  I bellowed my line – “Fear not!” – during the church Christmas pageant so loud that the infant portraying the baby Jesus woke up and started crying.  I bounced off the walls at home and at school from Thanksgiving to . . . you know . . . The Big Night.  By the time Christmas Eve finally arrived I was usually so worked up I couldn’t sleep.  And if I couldn’t sleep, nobody slept.

Sure, my early Christmases were noisy and confusing.  But only because I was.

These days, however, I prefer my Christmases calmer.  I still enjoy the sounds of the season, but mostly the quiet, gentle sounds.  Snow falling.  Yule logs crackling in the fireplace.  Nat King Cole singing “The Christmas Song.”  A child’s voice reading the Bible Christmas story: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed . . .”

This change in aural preference is partly due to the fact that I am officially old and simply can’t tolerate the noise and confusion any more.  But it’s also due to the fact that I’ve learned a few things through the years.  And one of the things I’ve learned is that the sound of Christmas isn’t big or bold or brassy, no matter what you may hear at the department store.  The sound of Christmas, it turns out, is still and small.

It’s the sound of peace.

It’s the sound of hope.

It’s the sound of love.

Listen for it tonight.  After everyone else has gone to bed, turn off all the lights in the house except the Christmas tree lights.  Turn off the TV.  Turn off the stereo.  Set aside the pressures and stresses of the season.  Just sit in the stillness and listen.

There – do you hear that?

It sounds like Christmas!

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— © Joseph Walker

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