I arrived in Bali, Indonesia on the day before Christmas. December was a good month for Bali, with hot days, balmy nights, and long afternoons ending in spectacular sunsets. The palace of the Agung was less than an hour’s walk.
The Agung sent me to the cottage where I liked to stay, saying, “Ratab will be there with you to take care of what you may need. Come to dinner at seven.”
Ratab was his servant. He was 17 years old, had a secondary school education, was neither shy nor aggressive, but had a simple, honest quality that was most charming. When we reached the cottage, I said, “It’s beautiful here. It’s a perfect place to spend Christmas.”
“Christmas? What is Christmas?” asked Ratab.
I started a simple telling of the Christmas story. I had never realized what an exciting, charming, and delightfully mystical tale it is.
When I finished, Ratab asked, “But why would not the people allow Mary and Joseph to share their bed?” I explained that neither Mary nor Joseph knew anyone in Bethlehem, but this did not seem to make any difference to Ratab, who insisted that someone should have made room for them in their bed.
I said, “But they did not know that Mary was to give birth to their God, Jesus.”
“That is not important,” said Ratab. “If Mary was travelling, if she was going to have a child, they should have given her a place to rest.” I changed the subject, telling him about the significance of the Christmas tree.
After resting in the afternoon we bathed in the river. All the men, after their bath, gathered around Ratab, who began to talk. I didn’t know their language, but I heard words like Jesus, Mary and Bethlehem. Later that evening we walked to the Agung’s palace. The Agung took my arm and led me. “Ratab told me that you related the Christmas story to him. Yes, it will be Christmas. I have ordered a Christmas dinner for you.”
After a lavish dinner we left for the cottage. The sky was filled with stars. When we reached the cottage, I found in the doorway a banana tree and on each branch several flowers of assorted colours had been tied. Scattered about the tree were small clay oil lamps like tiny stars. “Your Christmas tree,” said Ratab.
My eyes welled with tears. When we entered the cottage, the room was filled with boys who had met us while bathing in the river. Each of them had brought me a Christmas present – bananas, coconuts, papayas, pieces of batik, paintings and even oil lamps. I sat on the floor among them and the conversation never stopped. They all wanted to hear the Christmas story from me. When the story was over, I passed the fruits and went into the bedroom. What did I have to give them? I took everything from my suitcase, like T-shirts, socks and shirts and gave them away. They were all delighted with their gifts. They began to sing and dance and I joined them.
After a while Ratab announced that I must be tired and that it was time for sleep. Then he explained that several of the guests had asked for the honour of staying overnight. He chose six boys who would share with me the only small bed in that room. Like joyfully exhausted children they fell asleep instantly – one still holding my hand, another with his head on my shoulder, another with his leg over mine.
Ratab, who had taken the place of honor at my side, slid his arm under my head. He whispered, “I still don’t understand why they could not make room for Mary.”
(adapted from ‘No Room at the Inn’ in his book, Seven Stories of Christmas Love)
Note about the author:
Leo Buscaglia, also known as “Dr. Love”, was an American author, motivational speaker, and a professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Southern California.