Carmen Rasmusen Herbert
Carmen Herbert's kids smile at the live Nativity scene at Tuachan in St. George on a family vacation.

Our family recently traveled to St. George for the Thanksgiving weekend to be with my family. Instead of taking the minivan (aka my “sanity saver” equipped with a DVD player, three rows of seats and plenty of personal space), we all crammed in my husband’s truck so we could take home some big items from my parents’ house.

Unlike the van, there is no DVD player and no middle row and everyone is touching someone all the time. I’ve never heard so many exclamations of “Stop it, you weirdo!” Food was frequently thrown at my head. Fights were breaking out left and right. No media equals no distraction, and with no distraction comes forced family “fun” time.

Joy to the world.

When we had radio service, we’d tune in and listen to Christmas music while our 2-year-old son, Benson, screamed to listen to “Final Countdown” or the “Star Wars” title track or “Baby Beluga” by Raffi for the thousandth time (he has a surprisingly small, yet eclectic, repertoire of songs).

I typed “kids Christmas” into my iTunes music app and a song from SpongeBob SquarePants popped up, titled “Don’t Be a Jerk (It’s Christmas).” My husband and I began to substitute our own lyrics for our boys, such as, “Don’t call your brothers a ‘fatso-head’ and please for once just stay in bed!” We all laughed at the humorous yet relevant message.

“Bring joy to the world; it’s the thing to do

But the world does not revolve around you

Don’t be a jerk

It’s Christmas.

"Santa brought you nearly every gift on your list

Why whine about the one that he missed?

Don’t be a jerk

It’s Christmas.”

The other day, my husband was standing in line at a taco cart downtown. A homeless man was holding up a sign for food, and my husband offered to buy him a taco. The man was grateful, but when my husband got up to pay, he realized he was about 50 cents short and the stand was cash-only. The man standing behind him overheard and offered to chip in. The homeless man was so appreciative, and so was my husband, for the kindness of another stranger. They all ate their tacos together, three totally different people from three totally different walks of life, enjoying each other’s company.

The man who offered to help pay told my husband, Brad, he was a barber, and my husband asked if he had time to squeeze him in that day. He did, and as he cut Brad's hair, my husband learned he was a refugee from Congo. His parents came here with nothing and had sacrificed everything for him and his siblings to have opportunity and the chance of success earned by hard work.

“My mother told us that we weren’t just going to come here and live off government assistance,” he said. “We were going to be contributors to society.”

Isn’t it wonderful the things we learn about other people when we take the time to get to know them? It’s so easy to pass judgment and stay in our comfortable bubbles, but at Christmastime more than ever, it’s a chance to step outside ourselves and serve, learn and love.

Next time I’m waiting in a ridiculously long line at the store, maybe I’ll strike up a conversation with a stranger or perhaps offer to cover the order of someone behind me at a café. Maybe I’ll even smile and wave at the person honking behind me, who’s driving so close our bumpers are practically kissing while not so subtly encouraging me to please drive faster (even though I’m going the speed limit), instead of glaring back with my best Scrooge-meets-the-Grinch face.

That’s not a confession, but, ahem, speaking for a friend (wink), next time I would tell her, “Hey, don’t be a jerk (even if that guy is) — it’s Christmas!”

Wise advice for all from an underwater half-dressed cleaning gadget.