"Have you ever walked the streets on the eve of Christmas day Vincent?" Catherine asked her truleove on Christmas eve. "Tonight the streets with be thronging with people, whereas tomorrow night the streets will be virtually deserted. Most people stay at home that night, or are out visiting friends, and are at their house. The decorations in the shop windows are marvellous. A real sight to behold. It is magical."
Nodding, Vincent replied "Yes, I have seen this, yet is an occasion when I prefer not to take advantage of the silence."
Clearly puzzled, Catherine drew her brows together.
"I fear my son would bring home all the waifs and strays if he goes out on that night, Catherine, so I always make certain he is too busy to go out at that time." Father explained.
"But why, Father? What difference are waifs and strays at Christmas to any other time of the year?" Catherine asked.
"The difference, Catherine" Vincent answered, "Is that being Christmas I find it more heartbreaking to have to see them. Somehow the lost and the lonely seem to be so much more desperate on Christmas day. It brings it home to me, just how much, especially knowing what we have here, all the love and companionship."
"Yes, Catherine I truly believe that if Vincent went out on such a night, he would invite everybody Below for a slap up meal cooked by William, and there would be nothing left for the rest of us, for the whole of January." Father added.
Catherine smiled. "I can understand this. It never fails to amaze me, how unchristian people can be at Christmas. The wealthy I mean. Especially when you think about how Jesus would view it."
"Actually, Catherine, Jesus has nothing to do with Christmas." Vincent's revelation shocked Catherine to say the least.
"How can you say that, Vincent? Jesus was born on December the 25th."
Shaking his head, he told her softly, "That is a misconception we have been led to believe, but really if you think about it logically, it is easy to see that he could not have been born on December 25th."
"Please explain."Catherine asked more than a little bewildered.
"The Bible is very specific on dates. It speaks in years and months, days and hours, and therefore when it tells us that Jesus was thirty-three and a half at the time of his death, we can believe that was spot on. He would be thirty-three years and six months. It also shows that he died on Nisan 16, which is the Jewish corresponding month to March/April. From then on it is so simple, work back six months from there, and you can see clearly that Jesus was actually born between September and October."
Catherine's eyes opened wide. "That is amazing. Do you know I have never thought about that before. So where do we get December the 25th from."
"This date was actually celebrated hundreds of years before Jesus was born." Father took up the story. "By the Romans. It was a celebration known as Saturnalia, otherwise known as The Birth of the Unconquered Sun. And it ran from 17th December to 25th December."
"I bet they had a ball." Catherine laughed and Vincent and Father did too.
"Eventually though," Father continued, "the length of the celebration no doubt took its toll, and finally came down to just one day, namely the 25th December. As the years rolled by the original reason for the celebration was lost, until with the birth of Christ, and then the celebration for the birth of the unconquered son, came to be known instead as the celebration of the birth of God's son. Though really there simply is no connection."
"Even so, this does not explain why Vincent feels as he does regarding the homeless at Christmas."
"In truth, Catherine it does not matter what I think about it. The fact remains that people in general 'do' believe it, and that they do should make them kinder by their belief towards the lowly ones, but it does not, and I always wish I could ease the sorrow of those broken in spirit on this one day of the year that is supposed to be a time for Christians to act more loving toward their fellowman than at any other time of the year."
Catherine nodded, understanding at last. "I have always believed something like that. There is a scripture that says when you spread a feast you should invite people who have nothing with which to repay you, rather than people who will in turn invite you to their home. By inviting those who have nothing to give, it will make you feel so much happier and God will be pleased with you."
"Yes, Catherine that is a real Christian act. And one which we try to maintain here Below among those that live here. As Jesus himself said, there is more happiness in giving then there is in receiving, and that is so very true." Father told her.
"Back to your original question Catherine, were you going to invite me to walk the streets with you tomorrow night while they are deserted?" Vincent asked her hopefully.
Father understood at once and chuckled. "I do believe my son is hoping that with you at his side, I shall not be half as worried about his returning Below with a great crowd of lonely people, and I shall agree to letting him go above this year."
"How well you know me, Father." Vincent told him.
Catherine smiled at the two of them. "Yes, Father that is what I was hoping for. Apart from Halloween, there is no other night whereupon Vincent can go Above to walk the streets with me, and I should very much like to use every opportunity when available."
"Then so be it, but be warned I expect only the two of you to come back here, not half of New York City as well."
"Well really, Father. Now whose being unchristian!" Catherine laughed. Vincent did too.
As darkness settled over the city on the eve of Christmas day, Vincent and Catherine left the tunnel in Central Park hand in hand to share the rare opportunity of walking the streets together, trying very hard not to notice the poor people huddled over small fires in derelict areas, with a plastic cup of watery tea in their hands. The comparison hit Catherine terribly and with tears in her eyes she looked at the brightly lit shops filled with decorations, and the restaurants advertising seven course Christmas day meals, and it broke her heart to see the street people with nothing.
However, there was a quiet serenity about the people that she had never noticed before. Usually such ones would frighten her, and she would give them a wide berth, tonight she noticed for the first time, that the lowly ones actually helped one another, cared for one another, for having nothing of their own they appreciated how it was for others in the same situation. There was none of the usual back biting, none of the keeping up with the neighbours, none of trying to be better than the next man. In many respects Catherine came to appreciate that these lowly ones were the backbone of Christianity no matter what time of year Jesus was born, and really was not Jesus himself born in a stable?A lowly one?"
As if to prove her point, some people huddled around a campfire called to them as they passed. "Care to share some hot soup with us?" they asked. Vincent pulled his hood tighter around his head, lest they saw his face, though really he got the distinct impression they would have made nothing of it if they had. Catherine called back to them "No, thank you, we have already eaten." Then impulsively, she took out all the money she had in her purse and took it across to them. "Please buy yourself something more than soup for tomorrow."
Holding out the money, she was surprised when the people stared at her and hesitated, one man stepped forward speaking for all of them. "Thank you, lady but we do not want your money. We have helpers, and really we have all the treasure we need. Thanks all the same."
Replacing the money, Catherine blushed and returned to Vincent who told her, "That was a very generous thing that you just did, Catherine..."
"But?" She asked him.
"But... these people are humble and proud, unless they have worked for it, they will not take money, handouts, charity, or any name you put to it, and unless they feel they have earned it, they will not take it from you. Now if you had asked them to do something for you and then offered the money it would have been different. Then they would have taken it."
"I shall remember that." She told him.
They continued to walk along, until they came back to the other side of the park, through which they made their way back Below again. "You know, Vincent, I am glad you shared tonight with me. It has been very enlightening. It has also taught me something very important."
"What is that, Catherine?"
"That these street people that have so little yet they have so much. They are reminiscent of those that live Below. I have seen it before, of course, since coming to know your world, but tonight it has been brought home to me that having everything in life is not the all important thing. Friendships and harmony, love and affection these are things that money cannot buy, Vincent, and these are the things those living Below have in abundance. In many ways I envy them, and in many ways I would prefer to live in your world rather than live in mine."
"Your world has many things of beauty, Catherine, such wealth to spend on stunning items. Why the electricity alone for this day on the decorations could provide the street people with work for a whole year, but it is also hollow, Catherine. Of what use is it to see pretty lights when children go hungry? No matter when Jesus was born, the fact that he came should have been a sufficient enough lesson for us, to know the distinction between right and wrong, good and bad, love and hatred, and to know when any one is deserving of help, no matter who they are or what they have or do not have."
Catherine agreed. "Yes you know, in this city people cannot get a job unless they have an address, and they cannot have an address until they have a job to pay the rent. The same as social security, one cannot claim it unless you have an address. The whole system is wrong, Vincent, but what can we do to change it?"
"You cannot change systems, Catherine unless you change people. People make up systems, and people in general are corrupt. I am afraid that we have come a long way away from the Christianity that Jesus brought to the earth, and celebrating it on this one day each year is no more than a farce. The rich get richer, and the poor... well the poor get more down trodden."
"Yet in your world you do not have this, your world is vastly different, it moulds people sends out better people into the world. If only everyone could be educated just so."
"Yes, Catherine, but the world Above rubs off on all the good that we have put in, we are no more than a tiny corner of the world and a little leaven ferments the whole lump."
"And bad associations spoil useful habits." Catherine remarked derisively.
"Exactly, and you cannot have the best of both worlds."
Catherine nodded. "Be it that I could, Vincent, I would have the best of one world."
Vincent looked down at her anticipating an explanation.
"Your world, Vincent. For I have seen in your world where true Christianity exists, and I so want to be a part of that." Catherine told him sincerely.
"Yet your world has so much more to offer you, Catherine."
"Once perhaps, but no longer. Vincent, this night has taught me things about my world that has made it lose its appeal. This night has taught me something very special."
Tilting his head in his unique way, Vincent waited for her to continue. He could tell she truly believed what it was she was about to say
"And that is?" He asked her softly.
"All that glitters, Vincent." Catherine told him sorrowfully looking up at the lights and all the glittery things in the shop windows. "Is sadly, not necessarily gold."