In an Old City Bar on Christmas Eve


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“Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.” ― G.K. Chesterton,

I’ve posted this personal story for several years.

“A Child wandered in on some bums where they hid.” Old City Bar -Trans Siberian Orchestra

The quote is from the song “In an Old City Bar” which is linked to at the bottom of the post. You may want to play it as you read.

True Confession: My favorite Christmas music is by the Trans Siberian Orchestra which will probably cause some out there to claim “Ah ha! I knew she was a heretic.” I have seen them in person twice, one time with Deb. Oddly, I found myself in tears listening to one of their songs “In an Old City Bar.” Usually, that means I need to think.  And then I remembered…

It was our second year of marriage and we were living on the Navajo Indian Reservation. We were not going to be able to go home to the Boston area for Christmas. I was pretty sad since it would be the first Christmas away from my extended family. Christmas was a big deal at my house: food, games, and presents. My father would wrap his presents for us, on purpose, in the worst possible way. Torn paper bags, string, ripped wrapping paper, glue, and rubber bands. We would laugh so hard; his were the loudest and longest of all. In fact, the presents we looked for the hardest were Dad’s crazily wrapped presents.

I was pleased that we decided to spend Christmas in a little town called Ouray in Colorado. It would provide a distraction. Back then, Ouray was small, nestled in the mountains. It’s fortunes have since changed and it is now a bustling and trendy town. It was a fairly long drive from Gallup, New Mexico. We drove north past Shiprock and through the mountains surrounding Telluride. It was snowing quite heavily and we were forced to put on chains or the police would not let us into the dangerous passes. It was a bit scary.

When we arrived, the little town was deserted. We tried to check into our cabin but the people who ran it had gone away. They left a note with a key on the door of the cabin, along with some firewood, and said to slip the check under the front door of their house when we left. We were totally alone. In fact, we would never meet our hosts and have often remarked about their trust in their unknown guests.

We decided to try to find something to eat but everything was shut down except for a bar with a neon light that said “Open.” In we tromped, cold and tired. This was not some trendy watering hole. It was a plain old bar. The bartender said he could rustle up a burger for us and down we plopped. I was feeling a little sorry for myself. I had survived a treacherous car drive and was now sitting in an old bar, damp and tired, sipping a mediocre glass of wine with a bunch of drunks who probably got tossed out by their families.

And he (the Child) asked did we know
That outside in the snow
That someone was lost
Outside our door

As I looked around, we realized that, of the dozen or so people in the bar, we were the only couple. Everyone else was alone. Faces were bent over their drinks. Most of them looked sad and tired. There were several mountain men, kind of Duck Dynastyesque, with long beards, flannel shirts, and jeans.

The bartender turned
and said, not that I care
But how would you know this?
The child said I noticed
If one could be home,
they’d be already there

Then, a man stood up. He looked like a businessman, more well dressed than all of us. He sat down at the piano. I do not think this was expected because the bartender looked a little rattled. To our surprise, the man began to play Christmas carols and he played them well. As time passed, people began to sing along, including the guys whose faces had been hunched over their mugs of beer. As they sang, they started to look around. As we caught each other’s eyes, we nodded and smiled, just a little bit. Even the bartender was singing quietly along.

Oh, was I mad at myself! I realized that the people in the bar were lonely and sad while I was sitting around, feeling sorry for myself. I was judging them instead of loving them. Jesus not only loved them; He understood them. He was born in a cave, amongst the animals, to a teenage mother who was far from her home when she should have had the comfort of her family as she labored. Instead, it was only Joseph who most likely was not adept in birthing babies since that was often left up to the women. Can you imagine the judgment of those who knew about this woman giving birth in a cave, of all places?

Back at the bar, we began to leave after we sang “Silent Night.” The quiet sounds of “Merry Christmas” were heard. There were even a few pats on the back. The Child, 2,000 years later, still brought people together in very strange places.

The next morning, the sun came out and we drove up to a cross country ski area. The snow was too deep to easily ski. We were all alone, not another person could be seen or heard. It was so quiet that it almost hurt our ears. I thought about the quiet of a cave from which came an explosion that was louder than a nuclear bomb. It would forever change the landscape of this world. The drunk in the bar meant as much to this Child as the greatest of kings. In fact, I think He may feel even closer to them than to the privileged and arrogant.

So, as my kids grow up and leave home, I plan to find some places where people, outcast and alone, are spending Christmas Eve. Do not be surprised to see a woman, with cute shoes, sipping a glass of mediocre wine, on Christmas Eve in a run-down bar. This time, however, she will have a sack with some presents to give to them. As she does, she plans to let them know that there is a Child who cares for them and knows what it is like to be in a strange place on Christmas Eve.


In an Old City Bar on Christmas Eve — 25 Comments

  1. Thanks and Merry Christmas.
    Like theTrans Siberian Orchestra Christmas music too, listened to Old City
    Bar a couple times this season. Tears too.
    Thanks for your story about Christmas past and your plans for Christmas to come.

  2. “It’s pale in here and the floorboards creak,
    The ceiling reaches down
    Started out a big, bright city, now it’s a small town
    Every one you never wanted to run into again
    Is sitting at this bar next to each other

    “We all get lonely
    There’s no way around it…”

    And one more bar memory … Trampled by Turtles.

  3. ‘with cute shoes’


    your writing is exquisite in its pathos and its joy, thanks for sharing this with us today!

    Good Christmas to all here! Peace and good will and a merry tune or two, a hot meal, a good nap, and many blessings for a happy new year to come. Oh, the mercy of the Christ Child! 🙂

  4. Having a Christmas alone this year, well with the cat! COVID hit one side of the family hard after Thanksgiving, so I won’t be seeing them and the rest are out of state. I do have a Christmas Sunday sermon to translate tomorrow (pastor is out with COVID), so that will be a nice distraction for today. Thanks for the sing/lyrics. There is always someone who can use a message of Christmas love and kindness!

  5. Dee–we spent many Christmases in the Four Corners. We lived between Farmington and Bloomfield. Seeing Shiprock against the setting sun as we drove to the luminaria display at the college was a highlight of Christmas. Last night we had homemade enchiladas, and put out our own luminarias. We did find one house in town here in the Ozarks with the plastic electric ones on display. I have pinon I saved in my freezer, mailed by my kids, in a jar of water on the table to make the house smell like a Four Corners Christmas. And today a good friend gave me a bracelet in the Navajo style. Your article brought back many memories for me, as we honeymooned there in Durango, and Ouray has been a fave of mine since I was a teen. Have you ever done the jeep trails? Fantastic if you a proficient 4 wheel drive driver.

    Merry Christmas!

  6. Max,

    Thanks, Max! The sermon is almost translated. I also asked myself what I really wanted for Christmas dinner, and I went to a fast food place for a cheeseburger! I rarely eat them these days (they make my doctor frown) but it’s Christmas, after all!

  7. I was alone for Christmas and looked for a church service to attend on Christmas Eve. I found several services advertised as “Family Christmas.”

    So nice to know I’m not welcome since I have no family.

    So glad The Lord doesn’t see things the same way.

    Much of the church just flat disgusts me.

  8. Phoenix–I am so sorry you were offended by the phrase “family Christmas.” I can assure you that you would have been very welcome and included in our neck of the woods, since all that phrase means is that the service will be short and focused on Christmas. Many churches seem to want to use that time to try and rope in the folks that only attend Christmas and Easter, so they do a heavy dose of Good Friday stuff and are conversion focused. Family Christmas here just means a service shortened so that antsy kids have a chance to behave long enough not to drive everyone over 10 insane, and that it will be strictly a celebration of the birth of Christ. It doesn’t mean for “families” only (you are a family of one if you are single) nor would you be excluded at all. Just that if you want a really looooonnnnnggggg formal service you might not want the “family service.”

    Sometimes our “Christianese” means we inadvertently put both feet in our mouth up to our elbows. Please accept my apology on their behalf.

  9. Phoenix: “Family Christmas.”

    So nice to know I’m not welcome since I have no family.

    It’s a bad use of the phrase.

    I don’t know how all churches use it, and churches certainly are bigoted in favor of nuclear families. In my area, “family service” means “fair warning, expect noisy children.” People who want to hear a pin drop during prayers and sermon will not be happy at the family service. A lot of adults really can’t stand being around children, even if the kids behave well.

    If a church is going to call something a family service, it should have another service or two.

    Also in my area, a lot of services—especially services where young children were expected—got canceled at the last minute, due to rapid spread of the omicron variant. We stayed home.

  10. Perhaps the one question that will unify Wartburgers the world over is: Can England, 4 second-innings wickets down and in complete disarray in every conceivable sense, scrape together the 51 runs needed to make Australia bat again? Or will the hosts finally put to bed an innings victory?

    We’ll know in (at the time of writing) about 9 hours’ time!

  11. Nick Bulbeck:
    Perhaps the one question that will unify Wartburgers the world over is: Can England, 4 second-innings wickets down and in complete disarray in every conceivable sense, scrape together the 51 runs needed to make Australia bat again? Or will the hosts finally put to bed an innings victory?

    We’ll know in (at the time of writing) about 9 hours’ time!

    And the all important question of who will get the Ashes.

    I do note that someone seems intent of putting a large number of first class cricketers into Wikipedia. Two of my distant relatives are in it solely because of their first class cricket careers (neither of them good). It does balance all the American footballers

  12. Thank you for the story!
    We are feeling happy that we viewed Christmas eve service and Sunday on-line, since they announced Sun. morning that our pastor tested positive for C0VID in our (mostly) non-mask-wearing church (but he was there Christmas eve).

    You also brought back memories of a lovely hike near Ouaray, to Columbine Lake – not so easy to get there (1-car width road to get to trailhead, then hike straight uphill for over 3 miles to the lake). It’s a lovely turquoise color – probably full of mining minerals! Daughter won a school photography prize for her photo of the lake. Anyway, beautiful area and yes, now-trendy town. (link to Alltrails picture below)

  13. Erp: I do note that someone seems intent of putting a large number of first class cricketers into Wikipedia.

    I hadn’t seen this, but I’ve always liked Wikipedia.

    As I’m sure you’ll know, England lost their last 6 wickets for just 37 runs to lose by an innings. The next step in the whitewash begins on 4th January, when again the two possibilities are England batting first and collapsing to a match-losing low score, and Australia batting first and compiling a match-winning first-innings score.

  14. Friend: Nick Bulbeck,

    Even if they lose, they need only open their newest edition of Scribsher to translate defeat into victory.