Tag Archives: Christmas

The First Noel

The dirty, slushy, wet city snow soaked my black wingtip dress shoes and the cuffs of my suit pants as I walked through downtown Boston towards the subway station. I had left work a little early to finish some last-minute Christmas shopping, but was now headed home, towards a Red Line train that would take me from Park Street to the Harvard Square stop in Cambridge where I was living, just outside of the Harvard University campus with my fiance.

It had been another shit day in a job that I was starting to hate. Christmas was on the doorstep and I was struggling to find any semblance of holiday spirit. I have always been a person who finds it difficult to compartmentalize my life, to shut one part off, while enjoying the others, and animosity and dissatisfaction in one part of my psyche quickly seeps through the rest of me, just as water will always find a level spot by creeping into the smallest crevices of wherever it’s flowing.

When I reached the station I walked from street level down the stairs into the cement abyss. The blast of heat and the usual stench of city life and homelessness and urine overwhelmed me. As usual, the station was packed full of people waiting for the next train, people headed somewhere, anywhere. Looking for an open place to stand on the train platform, I noticed a scraggly, young man, dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt, sneakers and a black, denim style jacket, standing against the wall with an acoustic guitar, hooked to a small amplifier. His guitar case sat open on the floor with a few coins and dollar bills inside. I didn’t think anything of it. He was just another hardened street musician trying to make a few bucks by performing to the masses in a stinky, smelly train station. I walked past as I’d walked past hundreds of these performers before, not realizing that this man was about to have a small, but profound effect on my life to this day.

The acoustic guitar notes coming from the small amplifier shouldn’t have been that crisp and clear, they shouldn’t have been that pristine… but they were. The man began singing a version of The First Noel and the song and the sound moved me for some reason in a way that I had not been moved many times before in the twenty-three years I had been alive. It was not the spirituality of the song, I was not and I am still not a religious person. It wasn’t necessarily the quality and talent of the musician either. But for a moment I was transfixed on this performance as if sitting in the famed Boston Colonial Theater listening to a Christmas concert. Something clicked and for a moment, I felt a kind of peace and happiness that has become so difficult to obtain amongst the commercialism of the holiday season.

The train approached as this man was playing the last few notes. On a whim, I reached into my wallet and pulled out a ten dollar bill and ran over to him and placed the money into his guitar case. The man smiled and said thank you and wished me a Merry Christmas as I turned to run back to the train. With a smile myself, I wished him the same blessings, not realizing that this would be one of those seemingly inconsequential moments in life that would somehow register in the front of my memory banks, easily accessible every December when Christmas Songs begin playing on the radio. I boarded the train and although I could no longer hear the music playing, I peered out the window and as this man began his next song, I wondered if anyone else standing on that platform had experienced anything magical, as I had.

Of course I never saw this man again. That’s life, especially in a large city with millions of people, where a fleeting, yet profound interaction with a complete stranger is always possible. As I contemplate my life these days, with the anxiety of a new career on the horizon, with the ongoing challenge of striving to find some level of success as a writer, with the persistent struggle to compartmentalize my life into those compact little pieces, and with another Christmas on the doorstep, I sometimes wish I could stand in the Park Street subway station and listen to that man play his version of The First Noel.

What seemingly inconsequential moments have you had in your life that you will always remember?


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The Snow Globe

A man once lived in a globe made of glass.
It sat on a base made of shiny new brass.
Inside of this globe seemed to always be snowing.
Snowing and sleeting and drifting and blowing.

He had a small house with some trees and a yard.
A family of four with a pet St. Bernard.
At the edge of the globe, a little old train.
Would circle the town, he couldn’t complain.

He loved when it snowed, he believed it a blessing.
The big fluffy flakes were so very refreshing.
Music would play when the snow would come down.
That came from the church in the center of town.

And in the town square on those cold snowy nights.
Was a large Christmas tree all covered in lights.
T’was peaceful and calm with the square all aglow.
With the tree’s lighted branches covered in snow.

See this globe, it sat on a little girl’s shelf.
On a wall that she’d decorated all by herself.
There were posters and pictures and photos and things.
Knickknacks and tchotchkes and dolls made of strings.

But her favorite of all was the globe full of snow.
She would wind up the winder to make the train go.
And in the town square she’d watch all the people.
While the music would play, like bells from a steeple.

She would shake it all up so the snow’d start to fall.
Then set it back down on the shelf on her wall.
She’d watch while the snow fell all over the town.
She’d watch ‘til the very last flake hit the ground.

She would make it snow five times or ten times a day.
Or whenever she wanted to hear church bells play.
And the man would be proud as his little town glowed.
He’d smile at the girl as she watched while it snowed.

Now this girl, she grew older, as little girls do.
Her tastes, they were changing to things that were new.
She began to show less and less interest in toys.
Instead she was focused on clothes and on boys.

Then one day the man, well he waited and waited.
He waited all day and he sure felt deflated.
Because the girl never came to shake up the snow.
The girl never came to make the train go.

The lights didn’t light and no music was played.
With the town all in silence the man was dismayed.
He walked to the square in the center of town.
Just to find it all empty, no one around.

So the very next day, well he waited again.
He waited outside until quarter past ten.
And he waited some more as he held back his tears.
While weeks turned to months and months turned to years.

Now with nobody making it snow everyday.
The globe it got dusty, covered in gray.
He figured the girl would never come back.
The dust on the glass became grayer, then black.

The snow, it stopped falling for many a year.
That music he knew he would no longer hear.
And that train that would circle his town now and then.
Was stopped in its tracks right where it had been.

Then one Christmas morning, the man felt a small rumble.
He heard very faintly a female voice mumble.
And he watched as the glass was wiped away clean.
He watched as the globe regained its old sheen.

Then he peered out the glass and who did he see?
T’was the girl, all grown up, with a boy about three.
She picked up the globe and the winder she wound.
The music, it played and the train drove around.

She shook the globe hard and the snow began snowing.
The sleet began sleeting and the wind began blowing.
And the townspeople quickly ran to the town square.
Where the tree with its lights was still standing there.

The girl turned to her son and she said with a smile.
“Here’s a present for you to keep for a while.”
“If you wind up this winder you’ll start the train going”
“The music will play and the snow will start snowing.”

She handed it over and the little boy smiled.
She said “it used to be mine when I was a child.”
When the boy took the globe, his eyes lit up with glee.
Like the center of town, lit up by the tree.

When the boy shook the globe it snowed harder than ever.
And the man, well he hoped it would go on forever.
Because although it was cold, he knew as a whole.
A snow storm on Christmas always cleanses the soul.


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The Intruder

This is a recycled story, published some time ago, that some of you have seen, but I thought it should be updated for the season and for the slew of new readers that have joined the fun since then. Enjoy!


“Steve, I think I hear someone downstairs” my wife said to me as she shook me and woke me up from a deep slumber.

“What… what’s going on?” I murmured still half asleep.

“Shhhh” she said. “I think I hear someone downstairs!”

Now I was wide awake. It was the middle of the night and there was an intruder in our house. I wondered why our dog, a 200 lb. St. Bernard, hadn’t woken up and barked. I quickly remembered though, all the times I had come home from work, walked into the house and not awakened him.

“Great watchdog” I thought to myself.

“Should we call the police?” my wife asked.

“Whoa there, hold on. Let me sneak down there and see what’s going on.”

“Okay, but what if someone’s down there?”

“I’ll be fine.” I crawled out of bed, adrenaline spiraling through my body, threw on some sweatpants and started heading towards the bedroom door.

“Be careful”, she said as I left the room.

I took a quick glance at the kid’s bedroom doors and both were closed. I had been hoping it was just one of them awake and downstairs getting a snack or something to drink. Two closed doors meant both kids were still asleep in their rooms. I continued to the stairs.

The stairs in our 120 year old house are terribly creaky. I’ve always thought that would be beneficial someday when the kids were coming home late at night. But not now! Not as I was risking my life to find out who was walking around our house in the middle of the night. I desperately tried to remember which steps made the loudest noise so I could avoid them, but other than the bottom three, which I knew were loose, my mind was drawing a blank. I gently took each stair, trying to be as silent as possible.

First step… okay.

Second step… okay.

Third step… CREAK!

“UGH,” I groaned quietly jumping down one more step to try to minimize the noise. I stood there quietly trying to catch my breath and get my heart rate down a little bit. In the deadly stillness of the night, I heard some rustling noises downstairs that sounded like it was coming from the family room. “This is absolutely nuts” I thought. “What are you thinking?”

But something drew me on, so I continued down the creaky steps, one at a time and thankfully, mostly quietly. Those last few steps could be a problem, but maybe a few loud creaks would scare off the intruder. I moved quickly… CREAK… CREAK… CREAK… and I was in the dining room, heart beating out of my chest, but still alive, and having not yet come face to face with anyone.

The rustling noise was still coming from the family room which was the room next door to where I was standing. I guess my plan hadn’t worked! With my back against the wall, like one of those cops you see in a Hollywood blockbuster movie, patrolling a house full of armed thugs, I peered around the corner. That’s when I saw him, this intruder that was invading the privacy of our house. His back was to me and he was working fast moving about the room with a bag packed full of stuff.

I stepped back behind the wall to reassess the situation. My heart was beating uncontrollably and I noticed that my hands were now shaking. “I’ve seen him before” I thought. “What is he doing here?” In just that brief glance I had recognized his grayish white hair and his clothes. I stealthily peered around the wall once again and he was still there, back towards me, but moving fast… so incredibly fast… doing his business rapidly so he could get to the next house, to the next job.

For a moment I just watched in stunned amazement, afraid to startle him, afraid to interrupt him. Finally I couldn’t help myself. “Pssst” I said, trying to gently announce my presence. He didn’t hear me. “Pssst” I said again, a little louder. This time he whipped around rapidly, surprised at being seen, his eyes wide open and his white beard and his traditional red suit now clearly visible.

“Oh, it’s just you” he said with a relieved tone. “For a second I thought it might be a kid.”

“No, I checked and they’re still sound asleep” I reassured him. “But what the hell are you doing here?” I scolded. “You scared the crap out of me. My kids don’t believe in you anymore. I thought someone had broken into the house.”

He smiled that familiar, big grin and laughed that familiar, jolly old laugh and tossed me a big chocolate snowman wrapped in silver and red foil. “Eat this and go back to bed” he said as the snowman flew across the room towards me. “Lots of kids say they don’t believe anymore. Most of ‘em still want to believe but there’s just too much peer pressure from their friends. I’m not ready to give up on yours just yet!”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense” I replied.

“Here, put this in one of the kid’s stockings, I don’t need it. I ate a bunch of candy before I turned in tonight.” I tossed the snowman back to him. “Guess I better get back to bed.” “See you next year, maybe?” I asked as I started to turn around to head back upstairs.

“We’ll see, that’s a long way off, let me get through this year first.”

“Yeah, okay… alright good night” I said and I turned back towards the creaky stairs. For a brief second I wondered if I was sleep walking and I stopped and glanced back. No, I was definitely awake, but our guest was gone, the dog was asleep on the floor gently snoring, and the rest of the house seemed deathly quiet. I grabbed a glass of water and poured it down my parched throat as I pondered this late night encounter.

A few moments later, up the stairs I went, back into the bedroom. My wife was asleep as if nothing had happened, but as I climbed into bed, the jostling of the mattress woke her up.

“You okay?” she mumbled, her now half asleep.

“Yeah, I’m fine” I said. “I just needed a glass of water… I haven’t been sleeping real well tonight. Must be all that chocolate I ate.”


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