Roger Marolt: There’s no room at the inn!
Welcome to Bethlehem! If you are reading this, hopefully it means you found a place at the inn.
The place is nuts, huh? What we see every year at this time is our town stretched to capacity like a pair of socks two sizes too small. The traffic is tied up in Gordian knots around the traffic circles like the balls of lights they started untangling and stringing up in the trees around them on about Labor Day. You approach the markets carefully on a strict need-to-eat basis. Reservations mean next to nothing at our restaurants now. Parking? Ho-ho, ha-ha-ha! I hope you selected the full coverage on your rental car agreement. Yes, this is the one time you would be a wise man to do this.
The village was designed to handle this many people, just not for very long. Two whole weeks of this and it will take us until the Fourth of July to recover. I ought to know. This is the 57th straight storm cycle of humanity I have experienced converging on this tiny spot in the mountains. Fallout shelters and bottled water instead of local tap suddenly make a little sense.
The forecasts are accurate. We all know it is coming. We see it appear on the horizon just after Thanksgiving. And it still catches us off guard every time; not necessarily that it finally got here, but the intensity of it.
I love it. This is not to say that I am so enamored with the festive atmosphere that I don’t get frustrated navigating the impossibly narrow and crowded aisles of City Market picking up a few things that somehow overflow the tiny cart I am pushing that won’t steer straight. You would know I am not an honest man if I told you I had never straightened my gloved middle finger and aimed it at the a- … bad driver cutting me off on Main Street. I have even been momentarily transformed into a ruder person than the rude people I am disgusted with in large lift lines. And still, the spirit of the season somehow seems to prevail in the end.
I can’t say that I know precisely how this works. It could be the Pavlovian response of a few tears rolling down my cheek at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life” every single time I watch it. There is not one surprise left in that film for me and still they flow. I love to watch both versions of “The Grinch.” Maybe that loosens my shoes. Watching “A Christmas Carol” late at night makes me try to see ghosts in my holiday slumber. It hasn’t happened yet, but it is something special to look forward to. Perhaps it is the intense focus necessary for searching out the fabled perfect gift that brings the adrenaline rush. The only thing I know for sure is that this time of year is very different in its intensity. If nothing else, this interests me; maybe like a 3-foot dump of fresh powder in April.
What I think might make this time of year uniquely special is exactly the thing nobody would guess might bring it on. It’s the chaos. Eventually it is exhaustion that drives me to a quiet place I wouldn’t normally seek. I’m not talking about a quick trip to Moab, which they tell me is very quiet in the winter. No, when it gets so overwhelming that I feel like I have to get away, it only takes a few minutes in a secluded place, not even far off the beaten path, to make me appreciate what a gift it is to be a part of a celebration that at least has the potential to unite our town, families and the world, even if only temporarily in a moment largely unnoticed and impossible to define. Go ahead, call it “magic” if you like. See if anyone argues.
What I hope you are able to do today is find that quiet place behind the inn, take a few deep breaths and soak it all up. It is a wonderful life we have up here. The craziness is actually pretty concentrated and there are many peaceful places around that aren’t hard to find once you look.
Let the seclusion of this place, the natural beauty around it, and the day lift you. It’s not a fable. It’s not a nice painting. It’s real. Merry Christmas.
Roger Marolt is about 40% elf even though the DNA test didn’t prove this. He’s sending it back for a partial refund. Email him at email@example.com.