When is Christmas?

Until the late ’60s or early ’70s, my family and our community attended church in one of two places. Sunday morning church convened at the Concorde Theatre on Bird Road. Any other service was held in the rectory, which was out in the farm country east of the old Tamiami Airport. Our parish priest was a man from Malta named LeCarre.

Father LeCarre always seemed old to me because he was older than my parents. (Of course, thinking about it now, I must be older now than Father LeCarre was when I knew him.) Things to know about Father LeCarre include that he always drank Ginger Ale. He kept cats in the rectory and that he had a wonderful sense of humor!

Little Don Bergquist rolling on the lawn in my carefree childhood days in Miami, Florida.

At some point, the young Don made the mistake of telling the priest that we were at church to celebrate Jesus’ birth. A good theory, it would have been a better theory had it actually been near Christmas and not the middle of August at the time!

Father LeCarre, as I recall just chuckled and told me that Christmas was in December and that we went to mass every Sunday to learn about all the wonders God hath wrought and to give thanks to God for all his good gifts to man. All would have been well (and, incidentally, there would be no story) if only I had taken the old priest at his word. However, the young Don Bergquist (like the one he grew into) was not one to be dismissed with a brief introduction to the facts.

“But we are at church, so it must be Christmas.” I insisted.

I was a long way from being able to understand the concept of a universal syllogism. (We go to church every Christmas. It is Christmas. Therefore, we will go to church. This is a universal syllogism. However, from this logic we cannot construct the following conclusion: We go to church every Christmas. We are at church. Therefore, it is Christmas.) Father LeCarre just laughed and told me Christmas is December 25.

Again, this story would be at an end would but that I had just taken the information and processed it. But no! We go to church on Christmas…

“We’re at church because it is Christmas today, right?” The young Don asked Father LeCarre while his daddy was helping some of the churchmen carry the altar into place and the women of the church placed the candles and various paraphernalia for the service.

“No, today is not Christmas. Christmas is in December. The 25th!” Father LeCarre responded.

This exchange went on for weeks and eventually Father LeCarre decided to launch a preemptive strike. As the young Don Bergquist walked past him out of church offering a hand to shake, Father LeCarre refused to release the grip. “When is Christmas?” he asked once he had my attention.

Pulling my thoughts together, I wondered if it were, in fact, that day. But to be on the safe side, I said “December 25th?”

“Right!” Father LeCarre said giving my hand one last gentle squeeze before releasing me.

The strange thing (to the young Don Bergquist) is that the same thing happened the next week. And the week after! It became something of a habit. For years we no longer said, “Hello” or “How are you doing?” the ritual greeting between Father LeCarre and I was:

Father LeCarre: “When is Christmas?”

Don: “December 25th.”

It was a warm and a much loved ritual that continued the throughout remainder of our friendship. Father LeCarre retired to a parish in Marathon, down in the Florida Keys. Many years had passed when once afternoon I answered the door. Now a teen, I opened it to an elderly person who was vaguely familiar. When the ancient, Maltese voice croaked out “When is Christmas?” I knew an old friend had come to visit.

It has been years since I have thought about Father LeCarre. But what is this time of year good for if not for nostalgia. I have warm memories of my childhood family priest. Thank you Father LeCarre!

I hope that you have a Merry Christmas which, by the way, is tomorrow!

Don Bergquist – December 24, 2018 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA