The Reason for the Season
Joe looked around. The bridge was much darker than it had been however long ago he had stood here. The sky was darker too and the clouds were low. Still, someone was close by.
“Donavan?” Joe called.
“At your service,” the figure called and stepped closer. Now Joe saw that he was dressed differently.
“Donavan,” he said. “You’re dressed as…”
“Dressed as,” Donavan said. “Not him.”
Donavan stood next to Joe dressed as Santa Claus. All at but the Santa hat that he held in his hand. He still had the aviator cap and goggles on his head.
“Santa Claus is like the vision of the future you created,” Donavan said. “Only as real as people’s imaginations and hopes.”
Joe looked around the bridge. It had warmed up since had stood here awhile ago. And now he noticed that the lights on the bridge were out. He looked at Donavan and shrugged.
“So, is this the end?” he asked. “Am I supposed to wake up now and dance for joy because I know the true meaning of Christmas?”
“You’re not supposed to do that Joe,” Donavan said. “And you’re not done yet.”
“But we’re back, right?”
“Not quite,” Donavan said. “This is the present, in the way that it’s just 20 years back from where we first started.”
Joe looked around the bridge again. The lights weren’t out, they just weren’t there.
“Okay then,” he said. “What now?”
Donavan smiled. He sighed and wrung the Santa hat in his hands. “Let me tell you a story, Joe. Let’s walk.”
The turned away from the railing and started off toward town.
“Twenty years back,” Donavan began. “I was playing the part of Santa Claus for Christmas party. It was in the town about 10 miles that way.” He pointed behind them. Joe knew the town.
“Kids were lined up and each would come up to me. They asked for popular toys, timeless things like dolls and cars and building blocks, the usual. Then a little boy climbed up on my lap. He was smiling and almost panting for joy, like he had waited all year for this. He threw his arms around me. Joe, that’s why I took that job, for those kinds of moments.”
They reached the end of the bridge and Donavan stopped and looked back over as if seeing the town he’d been in 20 years ago.
“I asked the little boy what he wanted for Christmas,” he said. “And he told me that he wanted his brother Brian to come back from Iraq. I asked him why his brother was there and… And the boy told me his brother had gone there two years ago.”
Donavan stood and looked at the hat twisted in his hands. “Mamma and Daddy had told him his brother wasn’t coming back,” he said. “But he was asking Santa Claus for his brother back. I didn’t know what to say. They train you for things like this, tell the child that this is something he needs to talk to a grownup they love about it. But they don’t train you for the shock and the heartache. I almost started to cry right there Joe.”
Donavan dabbed his eyes with the hat and nodded. Then he continued. “I told him that if Mamma and Daddy said Brian wasn’t coming back then he needed to talk to them about it. And then the little boy told me that he had. He said ‘that’s what you told me last year.’ I didn’t get it at first. But then I realized that the boy had asked Santa the year before. And the year before that. Desert Storm had been two years back. Joe, this little boy asked Santa Claus each year for his brother back. And each year it didn’t happen. And then the boy would faithfully ask again. His faith wasn’t shaken, he believed that he could just keep asking…”
Donavan’s voice broke. “And maybe this would be the year Brian came back,” he said.
Joe watched the old Santa Claus bow his head and take a long, ragged breath. Then Donavan looked back up.
“I took the boy off my lap,” he said. “And walked out. I left the building and just started walking. All I could think about was how I didn’t want to be the one who finally destroyed this little boy’s faith. The boy had been so full of hope and joy. Sooner or later he would get that his brother really wasn’t ever coming back and that his faith didn’t mean anything. I didn’t want a part of it. So I just walked away.”
Donavan looked over Joe’s shoulder in the direction of the bridge. Then he moved his hand in a beckoning gesture and started walking again. Joe caught up and walked next to him.
“I walked out of town,” Donavan said. “Just trudged along in my Santa suit, across the bridge and into the next town.”
They walked for a few minutes until they passed the gas station at the edge of downtown. And there was the church. Donavan stopped and Joe stood next to him.
“I got this far,” Donavan said. Then he started off toward the front of the churchyard. Joe followed him.
There was a small crowd of people around in a circle with a soft light shining. A few men were taking pictures. Donavan led Joe up to the crowd and they found a gap and looked through. It was a live nativity. Children were dressed as Christmas characters and gathered in a small open set that looked like a stable. The scene seemed to have everything. There was Mary and Joseph, shepherds, wise men and even children dressed as animals. A small choir of angels stood nearby singing “What Child is this?”
Donavan spoke quietly. “I stood looking at the nativity, knowing that somehow it had to make sense. That the meaning of Christmas was there somewhere. And then a young man came up and told me. He shared his heart with me, and that’s all it took. I got down on my knees right there and thanked The Lord.”
Donavan had the warmest smile Joe had seen yet. He turned and pointed to Mary and the baby she held.
“Of course Mary didn’t wear blue, the Magi didn’t appear at the birth, but what does that matter. Look at the joy those kids have.”
Joe saw a girl dresses as an angel smiling with utter joy.
And there Joe,” Donavan whispered. He pointed to the baby. “That is the reason for the season.”
“Baby Jesus,” Joe whispered back. “That’s what I’ve been saying…”
There was a commotion in the crowd and people moved back. Joe looked to see a man in a Santa suit stepping up to the crowd. It was Donavan, looking the same as the other Donavan next to him except for the aviator cap.
“That’s you,” Joe whispered.
Donavan nodded. “Twenty years ago,” he said. “You need to go talk to me.”
“He’s hurting. I’m hurting. It’s that time of year that people hurt and forget the reason for the season. Everyone here can see you, Joe. But not me, not this time. The me of twenty years ago needs someone to talk to him. I need someone to tell me what you’ve learned.”
“Donavan, I can’t do that,” Joe said. “I don’t have the magic that you have. I can’t travel through time with him.”
“Just talk,” Donavan said. “Tell me the reason for the season.”
Joe stood with his feet planted on the cold ground and looked from one Santa to the other. No. He was standing on a bridge contemplating his life. This man showed up and then what? Had he really traveled through time? Or was he at the bottom of the cold river right now hallucinating this whole thing?
“The reason for the season,” he said. “That baby Jesus Mary’s holding over there? Donavan, I don’t get it.”
Donavan was shaking his head. He looked at the baby and back to Joe. Then Joe saw it was a real baby.
“That’s a real baby,” he whispered. “Baby Jesus is real, is that what you’re trying to tell me?”
Donavan kept smiling. “Look at the smallest shepherd,” he said.
Joe looked and he recognized his brother.
“That’s Shaun,” he said. “Shaun at about 6 years old.”
Then Joe looked back at the baby in Mary’s arms.
“Donavan,” he said. “Is that me?”
Donavan nodded. “You were just three weeks old, but still a big healthy baby. They bundled you up good and let you be in an outdoor live nativity. Mostly for the photographers. But you were so good they let you stay here for a bit.
Joe looked at the girl playing Mary. She held him, the baby Joe, with smiling adoration.
“And there,” Donavan said. “Is the reason for the season Joe.”
Joe nodded. He thought maybe he was getting it.
Donavan turned and looked at him. “Joe, God sent his son for us. Jesus was born here on Earth to save us. Us, Joe. In the heart of God, we are the reason for the season.”
Joe felt a warmth shiver up through him as he looked at the baby in Mary’s arms.
“He came for you Joe,” Donavan said. “You are the reason for the season.”
Joe watched the children try to ignore the photographers. And he looked at the baby in Mary’s arms. That was him.
“You are the reason for the season, Joe.” Donavan said. “So am I. Just share the truth. Then you will be leaning on the railing again and no time will have passed.”
Joe looked at Donavan. “Did this really happen?” he asked. “Are you an angel? How did this all…”
Donavan waved his hand in dismissal.
“I’m a man like you,” he said. “And some things, we are just to take in faith and believe. You’ve been shown a lot. You’re a changed man. Don’t ever forget what you’ve seen and learned.”
Donavan stepped away from the crowd and began to walk toward the street. He held up a hand to stop Joe from following.
“Every person in that mall, every person in the past and future, they are all His children. They are all why God sent His son.” He pointed to the other Santa with the anguished expression. “Him too,” he said. “Now step out and share the good news.”
He smiled and waved. Then Donavan turned and walked away.
Joe watched him walk, not turning back. Then he toward the nativity. Through the crowd he could just see the baby. The reason for the season. He was the reason for the season. God loved him that much.
Joe took a few steps through the crowd and they indeed parted for him. They all seemed to be trying to ignore the Santa Claus who looked about to cry. Joe put an arm around the man and pulled him into an embrace.
“Hey brother,” Joe said. “Do you know the Reason for the Season?”
Not long after, the man dressed as Santa knelt at the manger with the children surrounding him. Joe stepped back and looked at him and every person around. They were all the reason for the season. Every child of God was.
He saw the bridge, lit up this time begin to fade into focus in front of him and finally he stood alone with his coat in his arms. Smiling, he turned and headed home with good news to share.