From Chicken Soup for the Christian Teenage Soul

Wise Guy

When I was thirteen, I found out that Jesus was not born on Christmas day. Billy Hollister, who was always reading history, told me that.

When I argued with him to the point of rage, he made me go into his house where he had a lot of books and look it up. Historians said that Jesus was born in the early spring, probably March, because that’s when the Romans collected taxes and that’s when his parents would have had to return to their native city to pay them. Billy Hollister’s book said that their native city was not Bethlehem at all, but probably Nazareth.

All of this confused me and made me sad in a way I can’t explain. I liked the idea of Jesus being born in Bethlehem and in the winter when it was cold and dark and everyone needed some good tidings of great joy. The spring just seemed wrong somehow.

I kept this information to myself until the Christmas when I was fourteen and Aunty Dan came to visit. Aunty Dan came to live with us for a while each winter because she was getting on and her own house was fast becoming a chore for a woman living alone. My mother, who loved her very much, wanted her to stay with us permanently, but Aunty Dan would not hear of it.

She always arrived looking very tidy. Beneath her small black felt hat, her white hair was braided and coiled in a bun at the back of her neck. She carried a very small black suitcase, worn at the handle, and always wore a dark blue dress with a white collar and her best black Chesterfield coat when she came for a visit. She had a very big laugh for such a little woman and liked to play word games.

One night at supper she reminded us all that it was about to be the birthday of Jesus Christ. “I think we should remember that when we give each other gifts,” she said.

I missed her point completely—presents were important to me, after all. Besides, I wanted to show off my knowledge of history. So I told her that December 25 was not the birthday of the Lord. Everyone looked up at me as though I’d crawled out from under a rock.

Aunty Dan lowered her eyes for a moment, fussed with her napkin and then looked at me with an expression of such sorrow that I wished I had kept my ideas to myself.

We were all sort of subdued that evening, and I went to bed early to think about things. After my parents came to kiss me good night, I read for a while by the light of my flashlight. Just as I was about to drift into sleep, my door opened and Aunty Dan came into my room and sat on the edge of my bed.

“You have a lovely and inquisitive mind, darlin’.”

I don’t know what I expected her to say, but certainly not that. I thought I was due for a lecture of some sort. What she said to me really got my attention.

“I’ve been thinking about the question you brought up about Jesus’ birth. You know, there are several months in which scholars believe that holy day could have happened. Many think he was born on January 6, in fact.” She patted my hand with hers. Her fingers felt soft and very warm.

That she knew such things astonished me. I figured she just accepted what everyone believed because it was the thing to do.

“The truth is that it doesn’t matter one bit. It only matters that he came to us. And the only important thing about that wonderful moment is that it divided time forever. There is the time before he came to teach, which was a brutal and forlorn world, and the time after, when he showed all mankind by his love that it was possible to live in grace and light and goodness of spirit. For most of the world, time itself has been divided ever since. Now we speak of the time before Christ’s birth and the time after he came. I think that is a mighty accomplishment, don’t you?”

I started to stammer out something, an objection maybe. Then she said, “Time and dates have nothing to do with important things like love and truth and compassion. You know that in your heart; I am sure you do. That is the message to remember, and it hardly matters on what day you remember it.”

And with that, she folded my hands into hers, kissed me on the forehead and left the room so quietly I did not even hear the door close.

Walker Meade

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