When I was little, Christmas was all about hockey and holidays.
The first day of Christmas vacation was invariably spent at the local Pentecostal church. Not to pray, but to play. They had a huge, flat parking lot and all the neighbourhood kids would gather there for endless hours of road hockey. Then at night, mom and dad would let me stay up late to watch Christmas movies.
I’d never really thought much about the deeper meaning of Christmas until the year I turned nine. As usual, we were playing road hockey and I was one of the top scorers on my team. One of our players, I’ll call him Dwayne, was simply the worst road hockey player in the world. In fact, Dwayne had never even scored a goal.
That afternoon fate intervened. The ball was in front of our net and Dwayne took a wild whack at it. To our utter amazement he made contact. The ball inexplicably loped over the heads of the attacking players and began rolling lazily toward their empty net.
One of their defensemen turned and chased after it. I took off in hot pursuit. If I could stop him, it would be Dwayne’s first goal ever! We were only a few feet from the net when the defenseman lunged wildly at the ball. I swung at his stick but I missed it completely. Unfortunately, I struck the ball instead which rocketed into the yawning cage. I felt terrible. But the reaction of my teammates made me feel much worse:
“You stole Dwayne’s goal!”
“But I was trying to help,” I replied shakily.
“No you weren’t! You’re selfish.”
“You’re a creep!”
“Yeah, a creep!” the others chimed in.
“But it was an accident.”
For the rest of the game, I tried valiantly to set up Dwayne in front of the net. But his making contact with the ball was a fluke and he wasn’t able to repeat it.
That night I moodily watched Going My Way on TV. Early in the movie a neighbour’s window is broken during a stickball game. Father O’Malley takes responsibility, apologizes and offers to pay for the damages. The owner is unmoved.
It was at that point I realized my experience earlier in the day wasn’t unique. Whether children or adults, some people just plain enjoy holding a grudge.
As the film progresses, things get worse for Father O’Malley. His rector, Father Fitzgibbon, takes an immediate dislike to him and tries to get him fired. Matthew 5:24 says, “Do good to those who spitefully use you.” And Father O’Malley lives that credo to the fullest.
Watching that movie, I began to realize that Christmas wasn’t just about presents and fun; but kindness, generosity of spirit and forgiveness.
Sadly, many of my teammates held on to their grudges. But not Dwayne. He just smiled and told me to forget it. Considering my feelings of guilt, that was probably the nicest Christmas present he could have given me.
Christmas is ultimately about love: loving our neighbours, sharing our good fortune and reconciling with others. And isn’t that why we commemorate the season? To honour the birth of Christ and to celebrate the gift of forgiveness?
But then I guess Dwayne knew that all along.
May the same be said of all of us this Christmas.
Ray Smit is a regular columnist with The News.