When I was in seminary, I was privileged to serve a small rural congregation in Bourbon County, Kentucky as a student minister. I had never been away from my parents for any major holiday my whole life and this was the first year I found myself alone on Christmas Day. The little church had had a nice Candlelight Christmas Eve service and I was planning to fly home on December 26. Of course, that meant I would be alone on Christmas Day. Most of my fellow students had either already left for their respective home towns or they were spending the day with members of their own student congregations. I awoke to a desolate residence hall at Lexington Theological Seminary and after a cheerful call to my parents with expectations for a late Christmas; I decided I was going to go to the Campbell House Inn to take advantage of their Christmas Day dinner, complete with their 15% student discount. Upon arriving I was ushered to my table. The restaurant was far from full, although a few families had begun to fill vacant tables. Most of the patrons were older couples enjoying one another’s company and a spattering of widows, widowers and men like myself. I remember vividly sitting down and actually enjoying the moment alone. After a moment of reflection on the true meaning of the day and a brief prayer, I made my way to the buffet. I noticed through dinner that an older couple sitting at the table next to me would look over my way whispering to one another and shaking their head. I began to allow my paranoia to take over and wondered if I was dressed appropriately or perhaps had a drop of gravy on my chin. Moments before I was to decide I would make a quick exit to the safety of the seminary campus, the dear lady leaned over and said, “Honey, are you alone?” The question so startled me that I just stared at her. “Why don’t you come and eat with us?” she asked motioning to the empty chair at the table. Why is it that the seconds that pass in real time conversations seem like an eternity?
I guess I had never considered the idea that I was alone. I knew I would be seeing family the next day and although the world saw Christmas as one day a year, I knew from my having grown up in Church that it was a season of Twelve Days (December 25 – January 5), with Epiphany (the arrival of the Magi) on January 6. I suppose it was odd that a man in his early 20’s was having Christmas Day dinner alone at a Lexington landmark hotel. I didn’t feel alone. In many ways, being by myself made the holiday more sacred as I wasn’t distracted by the noise of opening presents or the blare of parades and football games on television. No, I decided, I was fine and so I responded, “No, no thank you, I’m fine.”
The kind lady almost burst into tears. Regardless of how I felt, she thought it too inappropriate for anyone to be alone on Christmas Day. I can only imagine the courage it took to finally ask a stranger to join them for the holiday dinner and I had refused her kindness and chose to continue in my condition that she found objectionable. I left soon after the request and enjoyed a near traffic less drive back to the seminary and spent the afternoon reading and packing for my trip the next day. The image of shock and grief on the dear lady’s face stayed with me though and haunts me to this day. I wish I could go back and change what happened. I wish I would have accepted her invitation. Not so much because I my Christmas was ruined by being alone, but because I think I ruined her Christmas.
This year, if you are alone, look for the opportunities being alone might provide to spend the day in the presence of God, reading the Christmas story and reflecting on the birth of our Savior. And, if someone asks you to spend time with them, do it. Not for yourself necessarily, but for them. Let someone do a good deed. For the rest of you, if you invite someone over and they refuse, don’t take it personal. Maybe the second day of Christmas when they are with family will be just as good if they had been with them on the first day of Christmas.