Many years ago (2003 or ’04) I wrote a Christmas story to share at the Seattle Writers Association holiday potluck. I didn’t think about it again until December 2018 when the organizers of an online author event put out a call for short stories to use as prizes. I remembered this story but couldn’t find it on my computer. Believe it or not, I turned up the hard copy! It was short enough to retype and update, and I enjoyed reading it again. I hope you will, too.
Christmas, Anna thought, was like a big cup of Diet Coke. It promised sweetness and abundance and refreshment, but when you finally took a sip, it was flat and artificial. That was the problem: all the stress and none of the sparkle. Christmas had lost its fizz.
Anna remembered Christmas magic from long ago, when she was a little girl. And as a mother, she had made the magic herself. Even after Will died and she had to go back to work at the hospital in order to support three children, all by herself with no help from anyone, thank you very much. Those children were now grown and too mature for magic. They still expected lavish gifts from their mother, though they had yet to present her with grandchildren. There was no one to make magic for.
To battle holiday blues, Dear Abby advised helping those less fortunate, and then the church bulletin had asked for shelter volunteers for Christmas Eve. Full of enthusiastic good intentions, Anna signed up. She pictured the hospitality and Christmas cheer she would offer, a hostess to the needy young guests in this, her second home. Their gratitude would warm her heart, and just like in a TV movie, she would rediscover the true meaning of Christmas.
Late on Christmas Eve, Anna sat on a metal folding chair, watching people sleep. Rather than joy at sharing, she felt battered by the invasion. They had tromped in, armored with piercings, grimy backpacks, and attitude. Anna soon gave up trying to converse. She didn’t know their families (did they have families?), disqualifying that small-talk staple. They didn’t care that this building was erected in 1927 and nearly lost in the Depression, or that the congregation had been organized over 100 years ago, or that Anna had had her wedding reception in this very room, long before anyone thought of running a thrift shop or hosting a homeless shelter in a church fellowship hall. It was like trying to communicate with members of another species.