What’s Christmas without a story? Here’s a true one. Happened to me a while back. I was looking for a jingle bell, because my wife said she wanted to wear one on her winter down coat for Christmas. Since I had buried the few jingle bells we had, I suggested I stop by a local, national-chain pharmacy to see if I could find one. Into the store I went. Up and down the aisles. Tinsel, trees, lights…no jingle bells. A second check…no bells to be found. I asked a fellow who was rummaging through the holiday and Christmas decorations if he’s seen jingle bells anywhere; turns out he was a customer, not staff. I apologized, thanked him anyway, and finally found a store clerk. She was a woman in her mid-fifties or so. “Do you have any jingle bells about?” I asked. She said she wasn’t sure, then turned to another woman, who was around twenty or so, and said, “Do we have any jingle bells?”
“What’s a jingle bell?” she asked.
I looked around. As fortune would have it, there was a small decorating bow, complete with ribbon, greenery, and a single red…jingle bell. Too tiny for my needs, but enough for the lesson I was about to give. Retrieving it from the shelf, I held it up before her young eyes and with my index finger I flicked it. A tiny ring sounded. “That,” I said, “is a jingle bell.”
“Sorry, we got none of those,” she said, or something like it. I was stunned. Thanking both women, I left the store and got back in the car. My wife was at the wheel. “I don’t know what’s more amazing — that they had no jingle bells, or that the young woman store manager inside didn’t know what a jingle bell was!” We both stared at each other in shock. “It’s a cultural deficiency,” she said. She shook her head. I shook mine, and we drove home.
I am amazed and saddened that a young woman did not know what a jingle bell was; what joy it could bring. She had no experience with jingle bells, had likely never heard the wonderfully raucous sound of a garland of jingle bells as they slapped against the necks of vibrant horses pulling a sleigh through fields of fresh-fallen snow. What seasonal poverty! How come this simple treasure had never been shared with her? Was I missing something? I don’t think so. I think — to our detriment — we’ve lost bit- by-bit the powerful and magical symbols of the holidays, both sacred and secular. Did she know about yule logs? Did she know the true story of Saint Nicholas, who Pere Noel or Sinterklaas was, or Father Christmas? What of Magi? Or what a nativity is? Did she know what Advent means? Sugar plums? Had she ever heard “The Night Before Christmas?” What chills me is that I think some if not most of it may be unknown to her, its richness lost in a storm of seasonal materialism and frayed nerves and pocketbooks. And she is not alone. I just know it. And it saddens me.
I finally found the good-sized silver jingle bell in the basement today, in a Christmas decoration box. I rubbed it with soft cloth to restore its sheen, and my wife jingled happily out of the house, pleased and thrilled with so simple an ornament, reveling in the memorable sound it made. I wish I could give a jingle bell to everyone!