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‘St. Louis On The Air’ Special: Host Don Marsh's 'The Day After Christmas'

Santa's Arrival, an illustration for Clement Clarke Moore's poem.
Public Domain
Santa's Arrival, an illustration for Clement Clarke Moore's poem.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, we observed an annual holiday tradition by listening to host Don Marsh's poem, "The Day After Christmas."

He wrote the poem after hearing an off-handed comment from a young relative whose gifts didn't meet his expectations. The young boy had to learn an important Christmas lesson.

Listen for the full recitation:


'The Day After Christmas'

By Don Marsh

Boxes piled high and ribbons askew
Pretty paper that once had been new.
The tree in the corner; the lights now turned out
The room otherwise empty. No children about.

The toys they had scattered amid the debris
Were left to themselves except two or three
Which the youngsters had with them, their favorite treasures
Pursuing as kids will, their private pleasures.

For mother and father a chance to relax
Before putting the paper in cartons and stacks.
The parents were happy with all they had done.
The children had torn through it all in great fun.
And, if the measure of Christmas is the size of the mess,
Then this day indeed could be called a success.

For the daughter of eight there’d been memories born
She’d carry forever of this Christmas morn’.
But, up in his room, midst robots and such
A boy of ten thought he’s not gotten much.
Not enough anyway; not all he’d demanded
In appeals to Mom, Dad and to Santa.

There were things he had wanted not under the tree.
So Christmas for him was not all it could be.
He’d gotten his games and electronic things;
Well batteried monsters with loud buzzers and pings.
A Swiss Army knife, cowboy boots and a sweater.
But, the little boy, Johnny, thought he should have done better.

So, he moped in his room and felt downright sad;
Even felt angry with Mom, Santa and Dad.
And, speaking of Santa, now Johnny believed
That over the years, he’d been greatly deceived.
For, if Santa existed, that would have been that.
He’d have gotten that TV and real cowboy hat.

But, no TV or hat were placed under the tree.
The gifts he most wanted were just not be be.
He’d told all who would listen what ranked tops on his list.
How was it possible they had been missed?

So, he sat in his room with ambitions unmet
And, forgot all about all he did get.
He grew sullen and angry and frustrated too.
He pouted, and blamed, and felt terribly blue.
He thought back on the morning and this day he anointed
The worst Christmas of all! He was most disappointed.

With the family at dinner he was hard pressed to conceal it, 
That feeling he had, but he wouldn’t reveal it.
Mom looked at Dad and one to the other
Even his sister dared wonder ’bout brother.

But, he sat there in silence and said not a word.
His father, impatient, thought this was absurd.
It’s Christmas, he thought, and Johnny’s done well.
What in the world could be causing this spell?

He asked, “What’s wrong son? Aren’t you feeling so hot?”
But, Johnny just shifted. He’d been put on the spot.
He pushed at his food, dinner hardly completed
And, he knew that Dad’s question would soon be repeated.
He didn’t wait long. Dad spelled it right out.
“Come on, Johnny,” he said, “what’s this all about?”

So, he put down his fork and like a dam burst
He blurted to all, “This day’s been the worst.”
Dad looked at Mom and the little girl too
And no one seemed to know quite what to do.
The heat swelled in Johnny. Red covered his face.
He wished none of this day had, in fact, taken place.

He’d said what he said and he knew he’d regret it
And he wished beyond wish that all might forget it.
But, the next words were Dad’s, measured and strong.
“Johnny,” he said, “What in God’s name is wrong?”

His words cut like a pin stabbing a bubble.
Johnny knew that his future held nothing but trouble.
He took a deep breath. It took all the strength that he had.
But, he had to explain why this day was so bad.

The string of his words was for moments unbroken.
No one at the table could believe what was spoken.
A ten year old boy with a room full of toys
The envy of most of the world’s girls and boys
Sat there full blushing in an obvious huff
As he told them quite clearly he’d not gotten enough.

His father sat silent. His mother did too.
Johnny shifted uneasily wondering what they would do.
He could see their unhappiness; their deep disappointment.
In a voice like a whisper, Dad said, “We have an appointment.

I’m sorry, my boy, you feel so let down 
But tomorrow at 9 we’re going downtown.
You must learn about Christmas, that it’s not all receiving.
That Christmas is love; it’s giving ... believing.
You’ve been misdirected, and it saddens me, son.
Perhaps it’s the job your mother and I’ve done.
You have more than most and today you got more.
I’m tempted to take it all back to the store.
You’re missing the point, son, ’bout what this day’s about.
Tomorrow at 9, you and I will go out.”

No more was said. Dinner ended in gloom.
And, Johnny was happy to slink to his room.
He knew Dad was angry; that Mother was sad.
And, he knew very clearly that he had been bad.

He slowly undressed, complete in his sorrow.
He wondered what Dad had in mind for tomorrow.
Sleep didn’t come easily. He tossed and he dreamed.
But, morning came quickly. Too quickly it seemed.

He woke, washed and dressed, and ate with the rest.
And, if pressed would have gladly confessed
That it was wrong what he’d said. He’d not used his head.
He honestly wished at one point he were dead.

The minutes passed slowly and the clock on the wall
Showed no indication of movement ... No, none at all.
His father said little as he buttered his toast.
And Mom was more silent on this day than most.
It was an awful wait for a fateful date, and if time moved at all it was slow.
But the agony ended. Suspense was suspended, when Dad looked at him saying simply,
“Let’s go.”

The snow squeaked ’neath their boots as they walked to the car. 
Johnny was glad that the walk wasn’t far.
When they pulled out on the street, he saw it was snowing
But he hadn’t a clue as to where they were going.

They drove mostly in silence. Not ten words were spoken.
And, the little boy’s wondering only was broken
When Dad parked on a parking lot not yet cleared of the snow.
Only then did Johnny know where it was they would go.

The hospital! But why? His curiosity heightened.
Then the feeling he had was the feeling of frightened.
He’d seen the building before, but he’d not been inside.
He knew sick people went there and that some sometimes died.

They walked from the car and approached the front door.
An ambulance passed with a wail and a roar.
Now, Johnny was worried and wished he could run.
Run from his father and what Dad thought must be done.

A few seconds later they stood square in the lobby.
Johnny’s knees shook. They felt rubbery and knobby.
He stared at the floor and wished he could holler
While his father calmly brushed snow from his collar.

The flakes fluttered downward gently striking the tile
And, became tiny puddles in a very short while.
But Johnny just stared; eyes fixed. Pointed down.
They soon focused on shoes; a pair. Shiny and brown.

His eyes slid slowly upward till they fixed on a face.
He thought he’d be frightened, but that wasn’t the case.
Then his father quite softly said, “Johnny, I think
It’s time that you met the good Dr. Frink.”

Frink’s eyes didn’t smile as he looked at the lad.
Johnny was sure Frink knew he’d been bad.
But he stuck out his hand as he’d been taught was just right
And he hoped that this stranger thought he was polite.

Frink’s eyes caught the father’s as if he wanted to smile.
His expression told Dad that he liked the boy’s style.
But Johnny was bashful and he didn’t see.
And he almost jumped when Frink said, “Come with me.”

He looked at his father and Dad nodded yes
Though were they were going was anyone’s guess.
But, the Doctor and Dad, they certainly knew
What lay ahead; what they all soon would do.
They walked as a threesome down the long winding halls
Up some stairs, through big doors, past spotless white walls.

After ten minutes or so when they’d walked very far
Frink said, “Johnny, do you have any idea how lucky you are?
Even with Christmas that turned out so bad
It was better by far than the one my kids had.

Some are quite sick; and in a very bad way.
Christmas for them was just one more day.
Most got nice presents, shiny and new
And, in just a moment, you’ll meet one or two.
But none of them got what they really had sought 
Because what they wanted just can’t be bought.”

The words fell on Johnny like blows from a hammer.
He wanted to talk but he knew he’d just stammer.
He looked at the Doctor, his Dad, Frink again.
If he’d been more nervous before he didn’t know when.
He could sense what was coming. He could feel the alarm
And it was at this very moment that he realized the harm 
And the hurt his selfishness brought;
The first part of the lesson he was about to be taught.

Dad put his hand on his shoulder and squeezed once or twice
And Johnny always remembered how it felt awfully nice
As a gesture of confidence for one nearing his doom.
And it helped as the three of them entered a room.

As they stepped through the door, he hesitated a fraction
For there was a girl strapped and in traction.
Her leg was held high by long wires and bars
Her secret concern was there would be scars.

For Jenny, her name was, had come to believe
That her dreams of the dance had been dashed Christmas Eve.
A fall in her house in an unusual way
Had caused her a terrible Christmas Day.

She was the same age as Johnny: a girl about ten.
But, even at that age, yes, even then
Dreams of dancing on stage, film or TV
Had gone to the land of Might Never Be.

But, she smiled at her doctor, at Johnny and Dad
And, she said that she didn’t feel all that bad.
They chatted a while and joked with good cheer
And she was the first to wish “Happy New Year.”

During the visit it was never made plain
That she was entertaining the trio in a great deal of pain.
As they left, she watched Johnny with the look of a gnome.
“You’re so lucky,” she said, “to have had Christmas at home.”
“I know,” he admitted, as he pressed his Dad’s hand.
“But you’ll soon be home and it will be grand.”

They waved through the door and re-entered the hall
And Johnny lamented that she’d had that bad fall.
“She’ll be here for weeks,” said Frink as they walked.
“Terribly back luck,” said Dad while they talked.

In a few minutes time they found a door open wide
And heard lusty laughter quite clearly inside.
The doctor knocked twice and broke out a wide grin.
The response was immediate: a chorus...”Come in!”

They did as was bid and all stepped to the bed.
There, surrounded by pillows propped under his head 
Was a boy known as Billy who hailed from a farm
And to see him you’d think there’s no cause for alarm.
But Johnny knew better. The child had to be ill.
And, as if on signal, he was handed a pill.

He was quite sick though you’d be hard pressed to know it
Because neither he nor his family in any way showed it.
They laughed and they shouted and throughout the confusion
There was no way Johnny could tell it was all an illusion.
No hint whatsoever that to cure Billy’s affliction
Would take the doctors’ best work ... and divine interdiction.

They soon left the room trailed by cheers of the season
And, if you’d been there, you’d have thought there’s no reason
To worry or fret ’bout the gang down the hall.
No reason to worry. No reason at all.

But, the Doctor explained as they walked briskly away,
That Billy might never again be able to play.
He’d be lucky to do anything ever with ease
For he suffered a lingering, life threatening disease.
And, Frink revealed, Billy’s gift Christmas Day
Was word they’d extended his hospital stay.

Frink bent down to Johnny, nose to nose, toe to toe.
“Johnny, there’s something I think you should know.
He had just one Christmas request,” Frink quietly said,
“Never to return to this hospital bed.

He didn’t want toys, a football or paint.
Just the chance to end a life long complaint
And, be healthy and strong like any young boy.
A chance to live life that most people enjoy.

That’s all he wanted for Christmas but he’ll never get it.
His family and I will always regret it.
Some things, Johnny, you’ll learn, just aren’t meant to be.
And, as a doctor it always has bothered me.
I can give comfort and medicine and at times reassure them.
But, one thing I can’t do. I simply can’t cure him.”

“But, he was laughing,” said Johnny, “his family was too.”
“At this point in his life it can’t be easy to do,”
Said the Doctor now obviously upset and distressed,
Adding, “In spite of it all, young Billy’s been blessed.

He’s a giver of joy. A fine little boy. His family’s wonderful too.
They have each other. Kids, father and mother. Loving, in fact, is now all they can do.
They have love of family, and prayers on their side.
With a sickness like Billy’s there’s no place to hide.
So, they take life as it’s given, laughter and pain.
And I’ve never heard one of them ever complain.”

Johnny nodded at Dad. A tear slipped from the boy’s eye.
He now understood clearly that Billy might die.
“Can I give him my presents? Can I give him my toys?
Can I do anything for him? He’s the nicest of boys.”

Johnny was desperate. He wanted badly to give.
He wanted to do something to help Billy live.
Or, if that was impossible, to help make life more pleasant
He’d gladly turn over his each Christmas present.

Frink looked at the boy’s father and gave him a nod.
“The boy’s learned something today. We can thank God.”
“A hard lesson, my son,” Dad said with a wan smile,
“One we all need to remember once in a while.”
Frink had planned other visits as part of the tour.
But, the point had been made. The response had been pure.

“There are more children here, some worse and some better.
And,” Frink asked, “what about Jenny? Did you forget her?”
“No. No, I haven’t,” said Johnny, “Can’t I help her some too?”
Dad said, “I have an idea son, but it’ll be up to you.
Take some of your toys. You have all in creation
And consider making some kind of donation.
Of the youngsters who are sick here, some are quite needy.
To have all that you have almost seems greedy.
For some of the kids a little pleasure or laughter
Is all they can hope for. It’s all they are after.
So, it’s up to you Johnny. Do what you think best.
Dr. Frink and I can take care of the rest.”

By now, Johnny’s face was awash with his tears
For he’d learned something today beyond his ten years.
A lesson in life that some never see.
Some things can’t be put ‘neath a Christmas tree.

Unlike computers or hats or baseball bats
Some things can’t be purchased by power or wealth.
As Johnny now knows, and as you might suppose
The most precious of gifts are love ... life ... and good health.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.