The media wants us to be bitter about Christmas. Have you noticed that abrasive tone in commercials and TV shows? It’s like we’re expected to shift gears somewhere—as kids we are encouraged, nay, expected, to lose ourselves in the fantasy and believe. In what, I’m not sure; the media is pretty non-specific on what we’re putting our faith in. But then the brainwashers have us round a corner somewhere (right about the time we graduate college) and it becomes our holiday lot to dread the decorating, crowds, invading in-laws, wrapping gifts. If you’re skeptical about my take on this, check your TV listings. Dora saves Christmas. Two and a Half Men endure it by retelling the same jokes about Santa being a drunk. Or a pervert. Or both.
Me? I’m a Christmas junkie. The only thing I dread about Christmas is the day after—when I have eleven months to wait before I can get away with bringing out my Christmas trees. That’s right I said trees. Plural.
So here’s a little Christmas tale to lighten the hearts of even the Grinchiest Burgermeister.
Let me take you back to the days before Katie knew the truth about the fat bearded guy, when Christmas Eve was the most magical night of the year—the night of sugar plums, George Bailey, Ma in her kerchief, and all that jazz. And threats. Let’s not forget the Christmas threats. In the Prescott house in ’74, it went a little something like this.
“Now, Katherine,” Dad spoke sternly, “you have to go straight to bed and stay there. If you get out of bed and see Santa Claus, he won’t leave you any presents at all. You’ll be the only one with nothing to open.”
Sitting on the hearth dressed in her brand new pink footie jammies, little Katie nodded obediently before tucking her head in the fireplace for a look-see at the chimney innards. There it was—the point of entry. On this very night, Big Red himself would cram in that filthy space, feast on Mom’s famous Pringle cookies and milk, drop a treasure of gifts around our tree, and POOF—off he’ll go to repeat the process all through the neighborhood. All around town. All over the world!
Not that I needed any more convincing, but big brother Travis ratcheted things up a notch by whispering, “Last year, Katie, I actually heard the reindeer of the roof!” We were gazing up the dark chimney together.
I gasped. “Travis, really? You mean it?!”
“Uh-huh, and I heard sleigh bells right above my bedroom!”
Here I should make my apologies to readers who don’t “do” Santa. “Um-hmm. And THAT’S why we don’t do Santa Claus at our house! The lies! They lied to you!” Yes. Yes, they did. I admire you for going against the cultural grain and keeping your Christmas tradition focused solely on Jesus. He’s my very favorite, by the way, and we get and give a healthy dose of Him around our house. But, from a fundamentalist standpoint, this story from days of yore doesn’t improve any from here on, so I understand if you feel there’s more suitable reading material on another blog. Be warned, though. There’s a lot of belly aching out there over having to drag out all the Christmas ornaments, or about the obligatory office Christmas party and forced participation (growl) in the white elephant gift exchange. Or, even better, find one of those posts to give you the play by play on the atheists hell bent to bring down Christmas by asserting their right NOT to see baby Jesus on a courthouse lawn. Oy. Don’t get me wrong, it gets my back up when atheists mess with baby Jesus, and, yes, I feel I should be duly informed. But for a few brief moments at Christmas, I will have my kerchief and my sugar plums.
Meanwhile, back to the fantasy…
Katie and her brand new Christmas jammies found themselves nestled, all snug in her bed, with echoes of Daddy’s Christmas Eve threat resounding in her head. Actually, to be more accurate, I wasn’t in my bed. Mimi and Poppie, beloved grandparents who had come to visit for Christmas, were in my bed. Anytime we had family in town, I gave up my room and slept in the study, which happened to be closest to the living room (ergo closest to the tree, presents, chimney, et al). This, I’m sure, is the reason why the threat on that Christmas Eve made such an impression. Putting the four-year-old to sleep just feet away from all the action was risky. Dad was very specific. You are forbidden to see Santa.
I drifted off to sleep with Dad’s Santa sighting protocol mingling uneasily with Travis’ testimony of reindeer and sleigh bells. Something woke me up early the next morning. I’m not talking the typical 6:00 am Christmas morning kind of early. It was more like 3:30 am. I lay perfectly still, straining my ears for any jingling bells. After a few tense moments, I relaxed, convincing myself that it was a branch outside the window or the dog moving around on the patio. No sooner had I drifted off again, the sound jolted me awake once more. This time I sat straight up in bed, terrified. Gathering the covers around me, I listened intently. What IS that???
After a moment, my heart quit pounding so loudly in my ears that I was able to detect a soft droning sound, interrupted here and there by silence and startlingly loud snorts.
Any other night, I’d be reassured and calm. Snoring, that’s all. Someone in the house has a deviated septum. What a shame.
But I was not reassured nor in any way calm, because–like any other brainwashed toddler– I BELIEVED in Christmas. Therefore I KNEW that the only logical explanation was that the most famous overworked fat man in the whole world had succumbed to fatigue and fallen dead asleep in my living room. I mean, who could blame the guy? The whole wide world is a rather big place, and even if he skipped all the Jewish kids, all the fundamentalist humbugs, and Asia, he still had an awful lot of ground to cover in one night.
Woe is me! What do I do?
I remember with astonishing clarity the dilemma I faced as I listened to sawing logs just down the hall. On one hand, I recognized that it was my duty as a citizen of planet Earth to wake him up. Santa was a busy, busy man, and this was the big night! He most certainly had at least half the world left to visit. If he didn’t wake up, all those poor children around the globe would have nothing to open on Christmas day. Leaving him to snooze with his face in a plateful of Pringle cookies would be like wrapping kryptonite in Christmas paper and leaving it under Superman’s tree. On the other hand, if I intervened, as I knew I should, I would SEE Santa. Even though I could SAVE CHRISTMAS for every other boy and girl, my father had delineated the consequences of seeing Santa Claus in the clearest of terms. He won’t leave you any presents at all. You’ll be the only one with nothing to open.
To my great shame, I must admit, I didn’t save Christmas. I lay in bed, quaking in my footies, afraid to do the right thing, ashamed to do the wrong thing. That awful snoring continued—interminably, it seemed. I tossed and turned for an hour or two more, tortured by my misfortune, until my big brother broke through his bedroom door shouting, “It’s Christmas!”
Oh no, I thought somewhat guiltily, he’ll find Santa asleep in the cookies and he’ll lose all his presents. I had bought myself a spot on the naughty list for ‘75.
Sitting up in bed again, I heard the whole house come to life—shuffling, whispers, yawns, good mornings, and Travis’ running footsteps up and down the hall. I could not face whatever waited for me on the other side of the study door. Someone’s Christmas was ruined, and I knew it should be mine.
About that time, Travis burst through my door, breathless. I fully expected him to announce that Santa was staying for breakfast and maybe we should drum up some carrots for the reindeer, but instead he blurted out, “Why are you still in bed??? It’s Christmas! Let’s go!!”
That’s all the prompting I needed. All must be well! And it was. The stockings were full to overflowing—just like last year and the year before—and toys, glorious toys, sat gleaming under the colored lights.
Years and years later, I pieced it all together. Travis must have clued in about Santa Claus that year. My mother certainly gave him a little pep talk to soothe any disappointment, which probably included the suggestion that he could now play along for Katie’s sake.
The snoring troubled me for years, though. At one Christmas dinner when I was in my early twenties, my mother mentioned “the Christmas when Mimi and Poppie came to visit.” I remember the gift they gave me that year. It was a doll named Alice Ann that had belonged to my mother. They had gone to a lot of trouble to have the doll restored for me. The day after Christmas they took me shopping to buy some dresses for Alice Ann. It was a very special gift.
Though I vividly remember opening that present, for some reason, I never made the connection that they were in the house that Christmas Eve. What I had taken for Santa Claus must have been Poppie, whose loud snores are the stuff of family legend. Everybody has at least one relative who snores like a jackhammer, right? Even down the hall and around the corner, he woke me out of a dead sleep.
It’s the day before Christmas Eve, and I’m about to head out to buy the last of the stocking fare and all the fixings for Christmas dinner. I’m undaunted by the crowds—even a Wal-Mart crowd, can you imagine? But I love it. Financially we can’t pull off the kind of Christmas we’ve had in the past, but I still love every bit of it. I love trees and lights, wrapping gifts, and Christmas music. I love little girls squealing with delight. I love cooking and baking everyone’s favorite recipes. It doesn’t bother me one bit to drag out the Christmas ornaments. And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten for one second that Jesus is the reason for all this hoopla. He died so I could live. I love Him, too, more than I can say.
So I’m off to finish the last of Santa’s list and spread good cheer. Beware the Scrooges, friends. Merry Christmas!