On the 16th day of Advent, Norman Vincent Peale tells of a small memento that brought home to him once again the true meaning of Christmas...
Day 16: A Christmas Wish
There is, in my office, a toy coal scuttle that is only four inches high. It has been in my office for years but recently I looked at it as though I had never seen it before. It started me thinking about a lot of things, things like old friends and—Christmas.
The scuttle was a gift from a Mrs. Richardson. I recall that my wife and I were sitting with her before a cheerful blaze in the fireplace of her living room one evening years ago. “A fire stimulates thoughts, doesn’t it?” I commented.
“Yes,” she said. “That’s my ‘anger fire,’ you know.” Then she explained how she prayed and meditated beside the fire and it was there that she had learned to face up to the anger she felt for certain people and situations.
“I take a lump of coal,” she said, motioning to a large black scuttle nearby, “then I place it on the fire and say out loud, ‘This is the anger I feel for X.’ After that I sit back and watch it go up in smoke.”
Several days later Mrs. Richardson sent me the toy scuttle. I was very touched and I was glad, too, to have a way of remembering her story. I put the scuttle on a shelf with other special mementos. And there it sat until recently a visitor asked about it. I had forgotten that it was there.
After the visitor had gone, I looked curiously at the neglected little scuttle. How like us, I thought, with our busy lives, to ignore those objects of special meaning that we have gathered around us for the very purpose of remembering.
It’s like one of those statues which people pass every day with no idea of the name inscribed on it. But worse, I thought, it’s like the too familiar possessions in some homes—a family picture, a football trophy, a Bible that is never opened.
We have to take stock, this scuttle suggested to me, we have to stop and take stock of things—and yes, of people too—that we take for granted.
And so it is with Christmas.
Christmas is so familiar to us that many of us are unaware of the real holiday. Too often we go through the season mechanically; we buy our presents out of obligation; we decorate our homes because everyone does; we see people because we have to.
We forget, some of us, that all of the rituals of Christmas have Christ at their center.
And that is how a coal scuttle has brought me to a Christmas wish: that all of us can look with new eyes at the old Christmas meanings and that we can find the familiar beautiful.
This story first appeared in the December 1965 edition of Guideposts.