Posted by: johnhourihan | December 9, 2013

The Christmas Frog – the true meaning of Christmas

I have heard it every years since I was first able to hear. holy family(2)
“Let’s remember the true meaning of Christmas.”
Then people usually follow this up with “It is the birthday of Jesus.”
Well, we all, including Christian scholars, know that is not true. December 25 is probably not when Jesus was born. He was probably born more like in August or September.
So what does it mean to “remember the true meaning of Christmas?” And would Jesus even approve?
Well, I know the true meaning of Christmas. I have known it for a long time.

We know the human spirit is different at Christmas time, but I know how it is different because of Lenny Loupier. (Everyone, of course, called him Froggy.)
The difference is not just happiness. It is, instead, an intensification of the entire spectrum of feelings.
It was mid-December, so the double-digit first snow from the night before was a wet, heavy fluff that built to a foot or so on the school lawn. But it melted on the still-warm asphalt creating a perfectly etched outline of the playing area.
The school driveway slipped off the road and immediately downhill between two granite-walled buildings, the high school and the grammar school, and then down further into a tarred expanse where we played, cradled by the other buildings, the St. Joseph’s Guild home where the mothers met at night.
It was a freezing, jacket-and-hat lunch time even in the sun, and we first-through-eighth-graders had huddled between the two big buildings for shelter from the wind and body heat.
Usually those of us in the seventh grade ran around, but today it was too wet and the janitors had sanded the night before, so the hard tarred yard was too slippery for worn smooth soled shoes to get traction on wet sand. So there we mulled – me and Eddy Cormier punching each other from time to time just to keep warm.
Froggy came running up Main Street, about 50 yards away. He crossed, sprinting through the parking lot of Zersky’s gas station and headed for the intersection with Winter Street.
The school faced Winter.
Instinctively everyone turned to see where Sister Miriam Patrice was. She was the toughest nun of the lot and said often of yard duty, “It is something to offer up for the souls in purgatory,” so we knew she didn’t think much of standing out here watching us.
It wouldn’t do for Loupier to get caught off school property where he shouldn’t be, especially not by her.
He darted across the road holding a foot-square brown paper bag. Half-way across the road, his Cub Scout hat blew off. He stopped, bent and retrieved it in one swoop.
If he hadn’t been such a dork we probably would have cheered as he made it to the sidewalk.
Patrice was on the other side of the building and couldn’t see him. He had reached safety when it happened. His feet started slipping, his arms flailed and then he rose and nose-dived, flat on his face in the driveway.
Lenny Loupier was a weird kid. He had a too-big head; too-big brown eyes encircled by too-big Coke-bottle glasses with a black patch over one lazy eye; a too big mouth and his teeth stuck straight out at you when he talked.
The only thing that wasn’t too big was his nose – and the rest of his body.
He looked like a frog with hair.
It was just like him to hang onto the hat and lose touch with the bag. It sailed up then crashed to the asphalt. The contents shattered and were regurgitated from the bag in a shotgun of pieces. And they skipped across the schoolyard like stones across water.
Some of the remnants slid right to my feet. It had been some kind of dinner plate, with a picture of the shattered Holy Family on it and something had been etched on the edge in gold paint. I read it. “To the bes. .” it said on the biggest piece.
The whole yard laughed at once to see Froggy, face down, his bagged prize at the feet of various clumps of recessers.
He looked up, glasses all crooked on his big head, tears rolling down his face and his nose running.
No human being could ever have been more vulnerable, not even naked in the middle of the gym in a dream.
He lay there flat, his head raised, eyes searching for a friendly face in a crowd of unfriendly faces.
At my feet, The Blessed Virgin Mary looked up at me, and I stopped laughing.
I looked at Froggy, and his eyes caught mine. He was only about 15 feet away, and he said, “I had it made special. It’s my mother’s Christmas present.” Then he returned to bawling.
I don’t know what made me pick him up. It wasn’t like me, and I sure don’t know who said “I’m sorry Lenny.”
As I walked away I saw him stumble the driveway gauntlet of laughing and heckling kids. I leaned back against the hard granite.
No one really saw what happened next, and wouldn’t have believed it of me if they had.
Cormier looked at me strangely and asked “What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“It’s cold out here,” I said, “How long we got left?”
I couldn’t have choked out another syllable, or they would have known what was going on.

The difference at this time of year is not that we are inordinately happy, in and of itself. It isn’t that e are supposed to think religious thoughts. It is more that we empathize with one another. We feel what the other guy is feeling. And we care about each other.
This is as close as we get to what human beings are supposed to be – as close as we get to what Jesus tried to teach. That is the true meaning of Christmas.
It seems to be the only time of year that we realize that everyone, even Froggy, has a mother.



  1. NICE!!!

    • Thank you Neil. I look forward to your comments.


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