Later on we went to the Carrefour shopping mall, the French franchise in Indonesia. We looked at an artificial Christmas tree with an open umbrella as a stand--this in order to catch artificial snowflakes shot from small tubes at the top of the tree.
And I’m losing it now--minute by minute. Whatever happened to sleigh bells and mistletoe?
Whatever happened to the snow outside and the warmth of a crackling fire within. To the manger on the mantle, Jack Frost on the lawn, and the hoofs of tiny reindeer on the rooftop? This seemed a decidedly un-Christmassy sort of thing, the beating of one churchgoer, the stabbing of another. This story, and that also from Sumatra of Christian community members forcefully expelled from their homes because they were using these as places of prayer. God forbid!
And yet was it really so unlike Christmas, or had I merely misplaced Christmas in my search?
At Carrefour we looked at food--Christmas breads, sliced cheeses, crackers, pastries. Sugar plums and figgy puddings.
Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods . . .
“They have persecuted me,” said the Christ, “they will persecute you also. They will treat you this way because of my name.”
Whatever happened to the singing, the songs we used to know?
Whatever happened to Christmas, and when did it disappear?
On Christmas night a dinner was hosted at our housing complex by our neighbor, an expatriate Brit, and his Indonesian wife. Generally the man is drunk--and there was in fact no departure from this condition that night--and generally the couple scream and fight their way through their life together, but this night, Christmas night, was different. All was peace and joy. This is not to say, again in general, that the food was good, for there was much more of rice, and noodles, and suspicious looking snaky green vegetables than I had seen in Christmas feasts past. And yet the spirit seemed present, and willing, and the feast was enjoyed above all others--a true picture of Christmas cheer--by Pierre.
Now Pierre is a stout, burly yellow dog with a pink nose, who belongs to the owner of the housing complex where I live--a fact I feel compelled to mention by way of indicating that most of the dogs populating the immediate area belong to no one in particular. The relationship rather is of a communal nature, each animal being known unanimously by name--Jakey, White Dog, Suki, et al--yet neither by family nor rights. But Pierre as I say, of the ample body and pink nose--an ill tempered, rude, unpredictable sort of dog--finding himself in possession of a family and a house his own, and lording his good fortune over his lessers--had found himself in possession also, this night of night’s, of a large black plastic garbage bag containing all the discards of culinary opulence--a thing that was a joy to watch, for someone at least had received his fondest holiday wish.
Some drank from bottles, some picked at noodles and pigs feet on paper plates, but one alone--and that one Pierre--dug in with ravenous, well satisfied passion, minding not the mie goring that hung from his snout nor the rice that snowed his jowls like a beard--saving these only for later, a nightcap to cap the memory of it all.
Was this it then--as simple as this--a meeting of hunger and consumption? Is it possible for Christmas to be got from the bowels of a black garbage bag?
Or had Pierre merely misplaced the thing--a thing already misplaced--and this with perfection I could not myself have so devised?
Do we see, ultimately, best what is by the witness of what is not?
Or did it happen, or does it still, alone in this wise:
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.