Is the VACANCY Sign Lit at YOUR Inn?

Is the VACANCY Sign Lit at YOUR Inn? December 24, 2023

Is the VACANCY Sign Lit at YOUR Inn?

Many years ago, two nights before my wife and I married, we went to Our Lady of the Snows shrine in Bellville, Illinois, with the bridesmaid and her then-boyfriend in tow. It was Christmas Eve, and we wanted to see the almost magical light display they put on each year. Much to our surprise, the lights were off, there were no lines, and everything was buttoned up and dark. All that is, but the main hotel— The Inn. And it didn’t have the VACANCY sign lit!

The Joke

The bride’s maid’s boyfriend happened to be a videographer and jokester, so he wanted to go into The Inn and ask the person behind the desk on camera if… “There was any room at ‘The Inn?’” We trundled into the hotel lobby and rang the mandatory bell. A solemn-faced man in his thirties popped in and asked with a very thick Indian accent, “May I help you?” The bridesmaid asked with a huge smile and in an almost reporter-like way, “Yes, I need to ask you, is there any room at The Inn?”

Straight-faced, the man replied, “Yes, we have many rooms open.”

The bride’s maid chuckled and said, “Wait, you know it’s Christmas Eve, right? And the name of your hotel is ‘The Inn…’ So, let’s try this again.” She glanced at the camera and then back to the man. “Sir, may I ask… is there any room at The Inn?”

Again, the man looked directly at her, not cracking a smile, and said, “Yes, we have many rooms open. In fact, there is no one here tonight.”

The joke deflated immediately. We all trundled back to the car and went home to prepare for the following wedding.


Looking back, many years later, that night was full of everyday wisdom. First, we often do not see the openings to bring others into our lives. We may have “many rooms open” in our Inn, but the VACANCY sign isn’t lit. By the way we attack our day—in constant motion, not talking to anyone except to pass along information or give directives—we miss out on bringing the possible love, joy, and laughter of others into our lives. Humans, by nature, need to associate with other humans to survive. To prove the point, look at the detrimental effects on the young and the old after living through the pandemic. People have forgotten how to have a face-to-face conversation. Even though we all have endless wings of open rooms, we post an enormous red neon sign: NO VACANCY!

Another thing that pops to mind is how our juvenile and wanton desire to have the innkeeper play along with our self-centered joke now feels disrespectful. We entered his establishment, ambushing him with a question and a camera a few feet from his face. We did not afford him the courtesy of seeing him as a person, as a vital part of offering hospitality to travelers. No, we were looking to make light out of a situation provided by chance.

How often do we act selfishly with other’s feelings, positions, or lives? How often are people with handicaps, imperfections, or those who don’t look and act like us, butts of our jokes without a thought to their feelings? The key word here is selfishly. We were about to celebrate Love himself being born. One definition of love is “unselfish self-sacrifice.” So, we were acting in the exact opposite manner of love.

The final thought is of the crèche. Sitting just outside The Inn was a life-sized nativity scene with all the usual characters—Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, shepherds, sheep, donkey, cow… even a tiny dog. Sitting next to a big, bright, shiny hotel seemed oddly out of place. Just like the first crèche must have. It was arranged by Saint Francis of Assisi in the small chapel at Greccio, Italy, on Christmas in 1223 using real animals and people dressed in costumes of the day. Saint Bonaventure later wrote that Saint Francis stood off to the side and wept at the beauty and simplicity Jesus had been born into. The idea that the King, Creator, and Lord of all was born into a small, cramped, smelly space was somehow beautiful and moving to the saint.


As we left that night, the smiles and the laughter at the ironic scene inside The Inn filled the car. Today, I can’t see the man’s face behind the counter. Nor can I remember what we wore or the conversation after we left. But the vision of the nativity scene is still vivid in my mind’s eye all these years later. And that’s as it should be.

So, on this Christmas Eve, I’m curious. What are the “open rooms” you might have in your life, but the NO VACANCY sign is lit over? Why? And most importantly, what will it take for you to say, “Yes, we have many rooms open?”


About Ben Bongers KM
Ben Bongers was an international operatic tenor and practicing sommelier for 30 years based in San Francisco, CA, and Europe. He has written monthly articles for trade magazines in wine and singing over a long and lustrous career. After becoming a semi-full-time caretaker for his parents, he earned an MA in Gerontology (the study of aging and care) and was asked to publish in an eldercare textbook in 2020. He has written several books, all published by EnRoute Books and Media. His first novel, THE SAINT NICHOLAS SOCIETY, has won many awards, and his other two, TRUE LOVE—12 Christmas Stories My True Love Gave to Me, and THE FARMER, THE MINER, THE ARTISAN (a children’s book) are both up for writing awards. Ben is a Knight in the Order of Malta and helped start an overnight homeless shelter at his San Francisco, CA parish. Today, he is a Permanent Diaconate Candidate in Kansas City, MO. You can read more about the author here.

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