When I was in first and second grade, a little blue T-shirt anchored my wardrobe, de facto school uniform at a school without uniforms.
Money was always a bit tight for our large family, no different than for any of the other hard-working dairy-farming families that colonized British Columbia’s beautiful Fraser Valley. Fortunately, clothing was built to last back in the day, sturdy even in the face of perpetual assault by the activities of a busy little boy.
Emblazoned in vivid color across the front of my T-shirt was this bold proclamation: “Good things come in small packages”.
Whether the erstwhile inhabitant of that sturdy shirt deserved the “good” label is debatable, but I was assuredly small, the tiniest kid in my class outside of an equally pint-sized lad named Timmy. Tiny Tim and little Eddie summed together added up to one regular-sized kid, just barely.
I have no idea why Timmy was so small. But in my case, I was the seventh of seven sons, the eleventh branch on a tree of twelve children, and my parents simply ran out of genetic material. I was destined to muddle through life only partially built.
My teacher ignored my pocket-sized physique, however, when it came to choosing kids for the annual production of “Goldilocks and The Three Bears”, by long tradition presented by the second-grade class to an assembly of the entire student body plus parents.
For Mrs. Jeffries, silver-haired and gentle, it was all about merit. She inaugurated a book-reading contest, offering as inducement choice of roles in the upcoming play.
That was right up my alley; already an incorrigible bookworm, I blew away the competition, my classmate Patricia a distant second.
And ego inflated even at that tender age, I promptly chose the part of Papa Bear – it seemed like the “in-charge” role. It eluded me that Goldilocks was actually the focal point of the story, or I would have chosen differently, perhaps.
Pat, as runner-up, chose to be Mama Bear. Of course, Pat was roughly three times my size. Even Baby Bear, whose name is buried in the thickening cobwebs of my memory, towered over me.
And East Chilliwack Elementary School, gallantly educating the children of parsimonious farmers in that corner of the Fraser Valley, certainly didn’t splurge on annual customized costume updates.
The great gales of laughter and general hilarity that erupted from our large audience when we rolled out “Goldilocks and The Three Bears” that year had very little to do with any comedic ability on our part, suffice it to say. While I utterly drowned in a Papa Bear costume roughly eight sizes too big, Mama Bear threatened with every movement to burst out of her own get-up, coming within a whisker of being the first naked Mama Bear on display in the long and storied history of that production.
Goldilocks, the supposed star of the show, was utterly forgotten.
The concept of “small packages” returned to mind last Sunday as I sat in my pew at Centre Street Church, listening to Pastor Ashwin Ramani speak to the true meaning of Christmas. He noted wryly that whilst Christmas is essentially supposed to be a “giant birthday bash for Jesus”, we zoom around busily buying loads of presents – for each other.
He reminded us, as we seem to need reminding each Christmas, to celebrate with gratitude our families, our relationships, our love for each other and for our fellow-man.
He challenged us to live the spirit of Christmas by reaching out to the many less fortunate, to the poor, the sick, the orphaned, the destitute, those in nursing homes and youth homes and shelters and prisons. You don’t need to look very far to find someone in need, if you genuinely open your eyes to see.
Pastor Ashwin is not opposed to gift-giving at Christmas, nor am I. But in this, as in all things, balance is advisable, not unlike the Goldilocks of fairy-tale lore weighing “too hot” and “too cold”, too big” and “too small”, andd settling on “just right”.
And a well-worn adage remains the purest of truths: “The very best things in life are free.”
After all, Jesus Himself, the original reason for the season, came to us as a glorious small package of infinite worth, born humbly and laid in a manger, given to us freely by His Father to a humanity who desperately needs Him.
Have a wonderful Christmas, everyone.