By John Thomas Tuft

The neighborhood committee of PLU (People Like Us) was in full swing in Mary Joseph’s living room. The topic was Christmas decorations, namely, how to best advertise the Reason for the Season in outdoor displays in front of, on and around the homes in the neighborhood. And the local church, of course. “We could have a competition!” Mary exclaimed. “Lighted Santas, colorful lights outlining your house, blow up nativity figures, cover the bushes and shrubs with blankets of lights. Be the light of the block to welcome the Light of the World,” chimed in Susan Manger. “Does anyone know who moved into the old Henderson place?” asked Charlie Star. James Wiseman said, “I don’t know, I’ve heard rumors. Is the church going to do the live nativity scene again?” “It gives people great joy to see all the decorations,” said Sally Lamb. “Does anyone know the new family, the Shepherds who moved into that rat trap of a house?” “No amount of Christmas decorations will help that old house,” added Mary Joseph. “Now, let’s get organized to make this the best contest ever! We’ll see if the new neighbors join in or not.”

Meanwhile, in the old Henderson place, the Shepherds were going over their plan for the Annual Christmas Thanksgiving Party. They made a guest list that included every one of their neighbors and some that the neighbors might not know about. When they had addressed and stamped all the envelopes and dropped them in the mail, they set about decorating their new home. They placed a single candle in the window, dressed it up with some greenery, and made sure that the candle stayed lit twenty-four hours a day. Then they busied themselves with preparations for the party.

The PLU committee gave everyone a week to put up their best decorations before starting to make the rounds to judge the contest. Everyone was excited about how the Chik-Fil-A out on Main had absolutely slain by covering the entire building with lights and mangers and crosses and angels. Technically, it was not part of the neighborhood however, so all that display, while exciting, was disqualified. The church did give them a run for their money, however. A children’s choir shivering in the cold, gathered around a live baby scene, for lack of a better word, real sheep and a cow, a donkey, and a drone show of angels bending near the earth. As the PLU committee made the rounds whispers started about the invitations received to the Shepherd’s party. “What on earth is a Christmas Thanksgiving Party?” asked Mary Joseph. “All they have is that one little candle in the window,” giggled James Wiseman in mock dismay. “It’s burning day and night, have you noticed?” clucked Susan. “Fire hazard, if you ask me.” Charlie Star was in a huff. “You’d think they’d be a bit more neighborly and become part of the PLU.”

Come Christmas Eve, the celebrations were in full swing. The PLU sponsored a live podcast from the live nativity scene, the drone display of angels in perfect formation high over the steeple. Everyone with a phone was recording the dear children reenacting a scene from a first century lachrymose power play over a conquered population. While down the hill at the old Henderson place the Christmas Thanksgiving Party guests were beginning to arrive. Each arriving guest carried a lighted candle that gained them admission and the house soon filled with a warm light until the very walls seemed to glow from within. The party got louder and louder as more guests arrived and added their light and joy to the gathering. Finally, the PLU committee decided to investigate what was becoming a disturbance. After all, hadn’t they received invitations as well?

Mary Joseph knocked loudly and the door was thrown open wide by a tall man, who smiled, and bade them come in. “I’m Harry Shepherd,” he greeted them. He pulled another man close. “And this is my husband, Jerome Shepherd. Welcome to the party!” The PLU committee gathered nervously in the foyer, looking around at their surroundings. Harry summoned three children from the crowd and introduced them. The oldest was about nineteen with the obvious characteristics of Down’s Syndrome. “This is our son Peter. He aged out of county care and needed a home. And this,” Jerome smiled, “is Magdala.” A shy teenage girl blinked nervously. “She came to us after being rescued from sex traffickers. And that young man,” he pointed to a young boy from South America who was busy tasting all the goodies, “is Jesus. He got separated at the border and nobody can find his parents now. Welcome to our home!” Jesus came in, cheeks bulging with cookies. “If you brought your candle, light it and put it where we can see it,” he gasped before dashing off for more punch.

To hear the PLU talk about it later, they mingled with the guests, collecting their stories. The Rockin’ Grandmas, who volunteered to rock the infants in the NICU at County General Hospital. A group of volunteers from the Teen Suicide Hotline. Some local high school kids who take board games to the nursing home to engage in fierce tournaments. A plucky bunch who wove plastic grocery bags into sleeping mats for the homeless. People who fostered shelter animals while they hoped for homes. Even a Meals on Wheels driver who knew that Mrs. Myers wore herself out taking care of her dying husband and was left alone when he passed. So, the driver looked after her as she foundered and she, too, joined her husband only a month later. On and on the stories came to them, flame by flame the warm light growing all around them.

Which makes it all the more distressing to report that during the night the old Henderson place burned to the ground. Maybe it was too many candles, maybe the old house just got tired of trying to keep up. The Shepherd family was gone, perhaps onto the next place fighting the Christmas War. Who knows?  Maybe they’ve moved in down the street. Look for the place with the light burning in the window…and a great party celebrating the peace of Christmas Thanksgiving…

Words are magic and writers are wizards.