The Day After Christmas

’Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the town
There were signs that the season had nearly wound down.
The overcast sky draped the city in gray
as if anxious to drive Christmas spirit away.

The sidewalks were icy and risky in places,
a challenge to any pedestrian’s graces.
The policemen at corners and drivers of buses
were cranky at being such unlucky cusses

that they were the ones who were back on the beat
after only one day spent away from the street.
The cars parked downtown in the holiday crush
were all spattered with mud and with goop and with slush.

’Twas the day after Christmas. The lights were still lit
Along State Street; they had not been altered a bit.
And yet this day, the day after Christmas, they seemed
To hang limp and unhappy where once they had gleamed.

* * *
It was into this scene that a gentleman came
as he had every day of the year just the same.
An older man stooped by his dozens of years
in a cap that pulled down to protect both his ears

and a scarf that had served him since Roosevelt’s day
and a coat made of wool in the old-fashioned way
and a pair of gray pants, slightly baggy, of course,
and a pair of brown shoes from some long forgot source.

And he shuffled along at a most careful pace
as he did every day on his way to the place
where he’d worked for so long. No one else could recall
if there had been a time he was not there at all.

At one place on the street, the old man turned aside
through department store doors, and he shuffled inside
to his window between Ladies’ Jewelry and paints
where for years he had handled Refunds and Complaints.

* * *
On this day after Christmas, the old man looked out
from his window and saw what the season’s about:
The wreckage of last-minute sales in the store
had strewn gobs of litter across the whole floor.

A ladies-wear mannequin lay in a corner,
her head broken off, and no family to mourn her.
The shelves that were empty were stark and forlorn.
Where goods did remain, they’d been wrinkled or torn

or broken or cracked or destroyed in some way
by stampeding shoppers on the last shopping day.
And the old man, he frowned at this world that had roared
for Christmas to him was the birth of our Lord,

a day when our Savior we pause to remember,
and not just the twenty-fifth day in December.
So sad, he observed, that this message was muffled,
and Jesus had gotten quite lost in the shuffle.

* * *
’Twas the day after Christmas, and precisely at ten,
the doors were thrown open for business again.
And now as the old man looked out from his place
the shoppers came in as if running a race.

For the day after Christmas, the sales are so good
that you must get there first like a good shopper would.
And for those who are smart and whose thinking is clear
these sale items can be good gifts for next year.

Two ladies fought over a tree ornament
that had just been marked down by some fifteen percent.
Unsold Christmas cards were reduced to a song,
and likewise poinsettias that wouldn’t last long.

The gift wrap and candles and cards were reduced
to give the year-end sales statistics a boost.
And all through the store, the consumers were crawling
like ants at a picnic ‘cause prices were falling.

And lost in the squeeze, overwhelmed by the din,
was the meaning and message that Christmas had been.

* * *
And before long the old man was busy himself,
almost as if he were the post-Christmas elf.
For many a person had come to complain
about Santa’s work with degrees of disdain.

A fat woman plunked down her box with a thud
and said, “This present turned out to be a real dud!
I bought my young grandson a Bible, but he
would rather get something more useful from me.

So let me exchange this and take him a toy
that would really be more apropos for a boy.”
The old man filled out all the paperwork, but
he was sad down inside as the cash drawer was shut.

* * *
A man came in blustering, muttering, mad,
saying, “This was the worst Christmas I’ve ever had!
My daughter was crying all night just because
she discovered that I was the real Santa Claus.

My kid lost his nerve in the school Christmas play.
‘I want to go home now!’ was all he would say.
Our Christmas tree fell on the dog, and besides,
I forgot to buy film, so there will be no slides.

My wife is just furious, so are the kids.
This Christmas has put my whole life on the skids.
And now, if you’d like to hear more, I’ll arrange it.
This diamond watch doesn’t work right. Please exchange it.”

The old man behind the complaint window sighed
for this chap had nothing of Christmas inside.

And then he prayed silently, watching him go.
“Oh Lord, where’s the Christmas that I used to know,
when your birth was recalled, when tears came to eyes,
as the sacrifice made was again realized,
and hearts full of joy turned to heaven in praise,
and the spirit of love filled the city for days?”

* * *
Abruptly a noise broke through the man’s prayer.
He looked up at a furious customer there.
“It’s broken,” she spat as she threw down the bag.
“I want a full refund. I brought you the tag.

It’s a wind-up nativity scene that won’t run.
Besides, if it did, it would not be much fun.
I ordered a Santa, with wind-up reindeer,
but your store sent me this, and that’s why I’m here.

Look, I’m in a hurry, I really must dash.
Don’t make an exchange. Just gimme the cash.”
The old man reached in with a grasp that was sure
for the scene of Christ’s birth done in miniature.

He held it before him, his old eyes still keen
as they looked at that tiny nativity scene.
The wise men were standing just off to one side,
the reins of their camel had all come untied.

Their gifts had come open and spilled just a bit,
so the old man quite lovingly corrected it.
The shepherds who once had been kneeling were not;
They had fallen, so the old man put each in its spot.

The woman impatiently took in the sight
as the old man took care to make everything right.
She wanted to rush him, but she stood still instead
as she saw the warm glow ‘round the old fellow’s head.

His fingers replaced tiny Mary with care
And then stood tiny Joseph right next to her there.
And the customer watched him, transfixed by the love
that she saw in this old man but knew little of.

* * *
And then for a moment, his face clouded up,
his mouth tightened slightly, his brow wrinkled up.
His eyes were exploring the scene with great care,
for something was missing that should have been there.

In the place where the Christ-child normally lay
was a manger with nothing inside it but hay.
The scene was so tiny, the Christ-child would be
quite small anyway, and perhaps hard to see.

But the old man looked closer, and no, he was right,
there was no baby Jesus, no Christ-child in sight.
The customer waiting was watching in awe
as the old man set out to correct what he saw.

He drew the nativity scene to his face
and his eyes began searching each square inch of space.
His forefinger gently inspected the hay
to make sure that the Babe wasn’t hidden that way.

He drew back the robe of each figure to see
if beneath one of them the Christ-child could be.
The cattle were carefully moved and replaced
as he looked for the Baby who had been misplaced.

And just as his heart almost gave up the cause,
the lady observing him saw the man pause,
and then, ‘cross his face, a warm smile spread out,
the reason of which there of course was no doubt.

And as she looked on, the old man took the stable
and carefully then, he peeled off the price label.
And there in the grasp of the pricing tag’s glue
was the Baby called Jesus — and as good as new.

Then gently back into the manger he laid
the tiny Christ-child for whom it was made.
“They cover you up,” the old man whispered low,
“With all of their buying and selling, you know.

But there’s still some of us who are seeking your face,
and we’ll just keep on putting you back in your place.
The manger is empty for millions, I guess.
There’s no manger at all for most of the rest.

But Christmas is only a day off with pay
unless Jesus is born in your heart on that day.”
The old man looked up for the very first time,
and saw that the woman was still there in line,

and listening to the opinions he’d voiced.
And he noticed her eyes; they were gleaming and moist.
Where once she was hard, now her face was serene,
and she reached out and took the nativity scene,

and holding it close, like a treasure, she went,
for she understood now what the manger scene meant:
The manger is empty for millions, and yes,
there’s no manger at all for most of the rest.

And Christmas is only a day off with pay
unless Jesus is born in your heart on that day.

* * *
The old man checked out at the end of the day,
and as usual shuffled off, going his way.
But I have to believe the Lord Jesus looked down
from the throneroom of heaven upon the whole town,

And of course He could see all the holiday crush,
all the cars parked downtown in the mud and the slush,
and He saw all the cops and the drivers of buses
all cranky at being such unlucky cusses,

And I’m sure the Lord saw that on State Street, it seemed
all the lights hung forlornly where once they had gleamed,
And He saw all the people who wanted to fight
for the stuff that had been marked down overnight,

And I’m sure the Lord saw the gray sky overhead
that just made Christmas spirit seem totally dead.
But beyond all of that, I believe that He spied
that old man walking home through the weather outside.

And I have to believe that in all of the town,
the Lord Jesus singled him out and reached down
and touched the old man in a beautiful way
for the true Christmas love he’d expressed on that day.

’Twas the day after Christmas, but only a start,
for the Christ-child was born once again in his heart.

* * *
The manger is empty for millions, I guess,
there’s no manger at all for most of the rest.
And Christmas is only a day off with pay
unless Jesus is born in your heart on that day.

The end

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