It is Christmas Eve and a gentle hush falls over Chipping Norton. Night has fallen clear and cold, and millions of stars wink down from the inky blue sky. I am delighted that Tommy Higgins and the exquisite Mary Robins have spent the entire day lending a hand in the shop. I have grown quite accustomed to having them around, yet it occurs to me that I have no idea how they have so much time to spend with me. They have no visible means of support; still, they come and go as they please, refusing my insistent offers to pay them for their labors. I must find a polite way to ask them about their circumstances.
They have invited me to attend the Lessons and Carols service tonight at St. Crispian’s Church in Leek Road, and I have eagerly accepted. However, they tell me, there is a very special event we must witness first: tonight is the annual Chipping Norton Jiggle Bells Parade in the Main Street. The Greene Grocer is in the Main Street, so the three of us bundle up and settle into lawn chairs on the sidewalk outside the front of the shop. The parade starts, they say, in about ten or fifteen minutes.
It is a strange colloquialism, “jiggle bells.” In England we use the term “jingle bells,” and I’m sure they do in America, too, because I have heard the song played on radio the entire holiday season. But Tommy and Mary Robins insist that the correct vernacular is “jiggle bells,” and I am eager to assimilate.
Tommy and Mary Robins turn their gaze expectantly down the road, and so I do, too. Before long the parade participants appear as a sudden, rushing mass of humanity emerging at once from a shop at the end of the long main street. It is dark and they are distant, but I could almost swear that they are all stark naked. An instant later my fears are confirmed and I see, with no small amount of horror, precisely why this event is called the Jiggle Bells Parade. Aside from hats and glow sticks and a few jingling bells, the revelers are as naked as a herd of hippos.
I force myself to look at their faces, but this is a poor choice because I recognize many of my regular customers, whom I suspect I won’t see quite in the same way hereafter. Fortunately, considering the cold and possessing some lingering shreds of modesty, most of the participants are at a full jingling, jiggling sprint. A handful of intrepid souls, however, are sauntering boldly down Main Street; and leading the fleshy vanguard is Bubba, wearing far fewer bells than one would have hoped. Spotting us in front of The Greene Grocer, he stops and gyrates in a manner I shall never be able to erase from my memory, then he proceeds along the parade route without a care.
“OK,” says Tommy Higgins with his All-American smile. “Time for church.”
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