This is not an ordinary Christmas story, and it will likely never be considered a “Christmas Classic.” Still it is our Christmas story for this year, presented in two parts. If you missed the first part, you may want to begin by reading it before continuing.
As I get older, each Christmas holds a slightly different meaning for me. It is an old story which seems to be able to recreate itself anew each year, and us with it…if we will only allow it.
When Pearl asked me why we hadn’t put out our reindeer, polar bear, and big blue hippopotamus for Christmas, I had no idea where she got such ideas. She was convinced I had piles of decorations and strings of lights stored away in the garage and was eager to volunteer to help get them all set out in the front yard.
Pearl isn’t like any of my other chickens. She absolutely loves being the center of attention, and somehow she manages to be both annoying and adorable at the same time. She was absolutely that way about Christmas decorations.
Eventually I realized she had heard this from the wild birds who visit. They had told her about how some of our neighbors had decorated their front yards for Christmas. With their news reports, they will often add their own elaborations which are not always accurate. Their description of the big blue hippopotamus next door was definitely correct.
Pearl had indeed picked up some unusual ideas about Christmas, but it was my own fault for not explaining it all to her and the others any sooner. So I planned to do just that.
Then I discovered Pearl had snuck out one day and tried to get answers about Christmas from The Bottle Cap Lady down the street. I was not pleased.
The Bottle Cap Lady is not someone you want advising your chickens (or children or anyone else) about Christmas. On Thanksgiving Day, she had been out on her front porch with a bottle of beer in one hand and a turkey drumstick in the other while telling her husband how to put up their Christmas decorations.
Now I don’t have anything against The Bottle Cap Lady. It’s just with something as important as Christmas, you want to make sure your chickens don’t get their information from strangers, particularly “strange” strangers.
But how do you explain Christmas to chickens?
Gracie, with a good deal of chicken wisdom, shared what she thought would be best. The Bottle Cap Lady herself is what Christmas is all about or certainly who Christmas is truly for.
So I asked Pearl what The Bottle Cap Lady had told her about Christmas.
At first The Bottle Cap Lady had not understood what Pearl was asking until she started pecking around the decorations. Finally when Pearl pecked at the plastic nativity scene, the only one on the block, The Bottle Cap Lady seemed to understood.
“You want to know about Christmas, don’t you, Little Sweetie?”
So she sat down on her front porch steps and told Pearl about Christmas.
The Bottle Cap Lady started by telling Pearl all about her life, and how it was filled with missed opportunities, broken promises, and failed dreams. (Maybe you can imagine?) She felt like a nobody going nowhere with nothing. Most of the time she felt hopeless and helpless, except at Christmas.
Pearl listened to it all, tilting her head knowingly to one side at the saddest parts.
“A lot of people might wonder why I drag out all of this junk every year. They see the ragged decorations with burned out bulbs and the old faded plastic stuff nobody else would ever want. They see all the different strings of lights that don’t match. But this…this is like my church out here on my front porch.
“You probably don’t know anything about church now, do you? Well there’s something you and I have in common! You know? They wouldn’t want either one of us in there. Me, I smell like cigarettes. You, well, you smell like a chicken!”
The Bottle Cap Lady laughed, and Pearl laughed with her.
“I don’t know what it is, but when all of these lights are glowing, it just makes me feel good. Sometimes I will stay out here all night just looking at everything.
“People don’t bother you at night. They don’t stare at you or talk about you when they think you can’t hear them at night.
“Even that crooked stable my Clarence built for our nativity set makes me feel good.”
She paused to look at all of her treasured decorations and smiled a faraway kind of smile.
“You know, Sweetie, you would make a real pretty angel perched up there on top of the stable. You and all those white feathers would be perfect. We could even make you a little halo out of some gold garland from the tree.”
There was a long silence. Pearl tilted her head to listen for what was next.
“My Baby, Judi Lynn, she was an angel in the Christmas pageant a long time ago. It was the last Christmas pageant I ever went to. Everyone said she was the prettiest angel they ever had in their Christmas pageant.
“You know, people say when children die it’s because God needs another little angel, but that’s not in the Bible. Did you know that? I looked. I looked really hard. It’s not in there.”
People will tell a chicken a great deal when they think a chicken can’t understand them.
“At Christmas, I can forget my troubles. Mostly. At least they don’t seem so bad. At Christmas when I’m out here with all the lights on, I don’t need anything, not even a beer and a cigarette.
“I don’t feel alone then either. You see, I’m not the only one who lost their pretty little baby. God lost his pretty little baby too.”
Pearl was as still as Pearl had ever been.
“Thinking about that little baby born all those years ago in a stable makes me believe one day it’s all going to be made right somehow. It’s way beyond me to make it turn out that way on my own. But I have to believe that little baby can do it.
“If I don’t believe, what do I have, Sweetie? What do I have?”
Her voiced trailed off, not expecting an answer.
“The rest of Christmas, like the Santa and the reindeer and the lights, those are all just fillers until it is all made right one day by that little baby.”
Pearl wanted to say something, but she didn’t know what.
The Bottle Cap Lady ended her story by saying, “So, Little Sweetie, Christmas is all about ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill’ because that little baby was born to be the king of kings and to make everything right.”
Then she smiled and shooed Pearl back home.
In the end, it was unclear who had explained Christmas to whom…The Bottle Cap Lady to Pearl or Pearl to me? Somehow I knew I wasn’t going to be able to add one bit to what Pearl had learned from The Bottle Cap Lady.
My Life With Gracie helped me see how the one with the greatest need often receives the greatest answer.
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