Take a look at most of my childhood Christmas pictures, and you will see my brother looking excited, my sister smiling at the camera, and me looking a lot like Captain Hook with one patch over a swollen eye. Every single year, Christmas gifted me with an obligatory case of pinkeye.
I’ve often wondered how and why conjunctivitis found me every Christmas Eve, settling in for a warm winter’s nap, ready to spring into its full glory on Christmas morning.
I used to think it was a biblical curse of some kind, striking my eye for its greed as I gazed upon my gifts under the tree. Now I know it was something else.
My swollen eye represented how overcome I was with the visual signs of love that the holidays presented. . .
Our church, which was normally decorated with the Christian Flag and a wooden sign noting how many people were in Sunday School the week before, came alive with the red and white hues of one hundred poinsettias. Our choir, beefed up with holiday congregationalists, sang as they had never sung before.
Offering plates which usually held dollar bills from very wealthy people now included envelopes with special Lottie Moon offerings.
In our neighborhood, people put extra time into decorating their homes with flickers of light that broke the darkness in a beautiful way.
And Crazy Charlie, our local Otis who made a business of falling in front of cars to collect insurance and was loose enough from the booze to do it unharmed, would stop his scheme temporarily. This allowed us to just wave at him as he focused on riding his bike in a straight line, which took admiral effort.
Even the opossum which normally crouched beside our metal trash can and hissed at my brother every time he took out the trash took a break on Christmas Eve.
Maybe my eyes just couldn’t take in the laughter and love in our house . . .
I remember the family standing around the piano singing Christmas carols in harmony. Every person in my family could play the piano, or the melodica, or the drums, or the harmonica, or the ukelele, and we all could sing. So music rang supreme.
Mom would make her special Sundae cookies for the deacon’s dinner, and we would hide as many as possible so that we could treat ourselves later. On Christmas Eve we would go to both church services, see the people we loved, hold candles and sing Silent Night together. . . .which frustrated me because I preferred the power of Joy to the World.
I went to one service at Wake Forest where Joy to the World was sung, and on the last verse that starts with “When we’ve been there ten thousand years bright shining as the sun,” we held our candles up over our heads. I cried like a mofo while dripping hot wax on the neck of the woman in front of me.
I often wondered if my pinkeye was caused by the sheer light of Christmas day . . .
No matter how few the gifts under the tree (financially we were much like the people of Whoville, only the thief was not the Grinch but extremely poor pay for Baptist preachers), we still had a joyous Christmas morning.
We would get up ridiculously early and go see our gifts from Santa who had just gotten in bed. We would approach the living room slowly, knowing that Santa’s gifts were always unwrapped — because who has time to wrap everything when you have to visit every kid on earth?
We would gaze at our gifts for as long as we could, then pull the candy from our stockings which were at least 30% filled with an orange to save Santa a little money.
But the most blindingly beautiful thing about Christmas was the scene of everybody hugging, smiling and appreciating each other. Except for the year when I made one of my siblings a last minute gift. It was a dog constructed from a toilet paper roll with a face, leg and ears which all fell off immediately because the glue hadn’t dried.
Despite that one lesson about being prepared in gift-giving, Christmas filled me with enough light to last the entire year.
The glow of the holidays bombarded my little spirit with joy which apparently gave me pinkeye
Perhaps the holidays were just decorating me with a little color.
Happy Holidays to all of you. If I could see you, I’d hug you. But I won’t touch my eye first.