The Christmas Tram


Last night after planning a lesson, I walked out of the school around 5:30 p.m. into the pitch black. As the building and tram depot are a bit off the main drag, it can be rather dark there on a mid-December evening. So when something caught my eye as bright and incandescent, I instantly took notice.

Now, it would be fair to say that my mood fit the season. It’s dark and it’s cold, the stresses at the university are so that they peak around this time of year. It’s probably the same as your work. It’s as though our companies want to squeeze every last drop of hope out of us before we have a chance to relax at Christmas, as if they were vacation days that didn’t roll over.

Long hours combined with a recent weekend conference and trying to finalize an e-book have made the last couple of weeks so stressful that I strive for irritability. I think my last good mood was when I watched two old ladies fight over a loaf of bread at the market. (Hell hath no fury like an old woman who thinks she’s getting jilted out of bread…)

So I have been holding on until Christmas. I suppose I have done so since I was young, even though it used to be in tense anticipation of Santa’s arrival and subsequent spoiling of me with GI Joes and chemical experiments that would dye the library desk blue. Though the excitement of Christmas is obviously not the same as it was when I was a kid, it’s still pretty sweet. There’s a day in the middle of the harsh winter where your responsibilities are put by the wayside and you are required to not do anything but eat, drink, and forget about work. This is a holiday I can get behind.

Enter the Christmas tram. The Christmas tram is one of the newer trams, long and sleek; the interior is lifeless, cold, the transportational manifestation of bureaucracy. But today the tram’s entire length is topped with a wave of Christmas lights. They’re the white kind, I guess so as not to cause other drivers to go into epileptic fits. I wait at the stop with the others, who are all as gray-faced and glum as I am. After the driver dusts off his seat and wiggles into his ass-groove, he sits. The Christmas tram pulls up and we get on.

What makes the Christmas tram so noticeable is that it’s in Prague. If it were soaring down a Brooklyn street or up Forbes Avenue in Pittsburgh, the Christmas tram wouldn’t be so surprising. My Czech students are often calling out Americans for their over-enthusiasm as regards the Christmas holidays. And sure, they’re absolutely right. We bring Christmas celebration to a level of intensity just below the level of intensity Japan brings to manga. However, perhaps the Christmas tram is a step out of the closet for the Czech holiday spirit.

Inside the Christmas tram there are more lights. The back window is filled with an angel blowing a horn to proclaim joyous events. This guy pulled out all the yuletide stops. I sit in a seat near the doors and listen to music, too tired to read. During the twenty-minute trip, I do a bit of surreptitious people watching. When a man nearby smiles for no reason, I know the Christmas tram is doing its job. Three men get on and though one of them has been beaten in a fight very recently (as in, moments ago) the Christmas tram lightens their mood and cools their residual aggression. Yep, there are smiles, polite gestures, friendly banter. Two old women who don’t know each other argue over the other one taking the seat and they’re both laughing. It’s a Christmas tram miracle! But I swear, if those ladies start sharing a loaf of bread, I’m going to freak out.

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