Most of you–dare I say all of you?–are familiar with the iconic tale of Ralphie and the coveted Red Ryder BB gun “with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.” In years to come, I imagine Ralph and his family reliving those moments that led up to his receiving that amazing gift: Flick’s grizzly bear, the dreaded “fudge” word, Randy bundled up for the cold and unable to lower his arms, Mom’s brilliant disposal of the hated lamp, and the Old Man’s facility with language.
Every family has it stories centered around the holidays. These are two of mine:
THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS
The yearly trip to pick out a Christmas tree continues to be a big deal for me and my husband; an event we look forward to with anticipation and delight despite not having family–in particular, small children–nearby to share it with.
One year, we drove to a Christmas tree farm in Mystic, CT recommended to us by an acquaintance. On the back seat lay a blanket to protect the car roof, a bow saw, and plenty of stout rope to secure the tree to the car … plus a silent reminder to NOT tie the doors shut as we had one year.
The farm proved to be everything we hoped for–quintessentially Currier and Ives; rustic and without all the hoo-haws and folderol-fiddle-dee-dees adopted by too many places that turn the yearly Christmas tree endeavor into an amusement park. If I sound hum-buggish, I don’t mean to. I just don’t understand why people can’t appreciate for the moment as it is, rather than needing hay rides and mazes and … well … stuff. This place was different; quiet. There was a machine to shake and net the tree (a lovely invention), a small fire for customers to gather round and warm their hands, a pack of friendly farm dogs, and oodles of helpful folk. They pointed us toward the fields of trees, and we set off.
It was a wonderfully crisp day. A dusting of snow that had fallen the night before lent itself to the magic of the moment. As we plodded along, scuffing our boots through tall stands of frost-burned grass and bits of glittery snow, we heard on every side the voices of other families looking for their special tree.
This area was dense with growth, so all we could see of our fellow shoppers was a vague outline or a sense of motion behind a screen of boughs. Off to our right, we could hear the crunch of boots and three voices–two children (a boy and a girl, by the sound of it), and a woman, probably their mother. We couldn’t make out what was being said, but there was a certain petulant whine to the kids’ voices that made it easy to guess–they were cold, or hungry, or (fill in the blank). Whatever they were, unhappy was a big part of it.
The boy’s voice lifted slightly. We still couldn’t make out the words, but the lift at the end marked it as a question. His mother’s reply–exasperated and LOUD–rang clear in cold air for everyone to hear:
“BECAUSE IT’S THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS! NOW SHUT UP!”
Dead silence followed … for all of two seconds, and then the entire tree lot, all those hidden families, burst into laughter.
A VISIT WITH ST. NICHOLAS
I love Santa Claus. In my personal pantheon, he’s right up there with Captain Kangaroo; a kindly gent who loves me no matter what. As my friends and I grew into adulthood, they put aside “rubbish” like Santa with a rapid ease I found disconcerting. I, on the other hand, chose to hang tight to my childlike belief in Santa and all he can stand for.
The first year we lived here in Connecticut, we ended up at BJ’s Warehouse on Christmas Eve afternoon. Don’t ask me why; I can’t recall. Our shopping was done, our packages and cards mailed. The kids weren’t with us that year, so we were anticipating a quiet day of just us and the three cats. Ed was on shift work at the time and had to go in Christmas morning for part of the day, and we hadn’t met many people, leastwise not the sort who’d invite strangers to their homes on Christmas, so I was anticipating a somewhat lonely day, low-key and a little depressing.
We were both wearing our Santa hats as we entered the store. As we passed the candy aisle, Ed said, “Hang on. I forgot to get a cart.” Off he went. As I stood waiting for him, a voice spoke behind me; a voice with a decidedly Germanic accent.
“Are you in competition vis me?”
I turned around. As God is my witness, it was Santa Claus.
Less than five feet tall. (Remember, Santa’s supposed to be an “elf” according to the Moore poem.) A round,comfortably chubby belly. Black boots, red pants, suspenders, white shirt, hat. (No coat; we’d yet to have snow that year and it was unseasonably warm that night.) Long white beard. Wire-rimmed glasses of old-fashioned design. Sparkling eyes. An impish smile and rosy apple cheeks. Heck, I don’t have to describe him to you. You know what Santa looks like.
And there he was. Real.
With a shopping basket over one arm.
I blinked, stunned for an instant, and laughed. “Competition?” I asked. “Never with you!” I spontaneously hugged him, and he returned it. “What are you doing here on Christmas Eve?” I asked.
“Buying candy, of course,” he replied. He winked and went off down the aisle.
Ed was back in less than a minute. “What happened to you?” he asked, giving me an odd look.
I was beaming, my cheeks stretched so high and tight that they ached. “Santa buys his stocking candy at BJs,” I said.
“Just look down the candy aisle.”
He did. “What?” I looked. Santa was nowhere to be seen. In seconds, he’d come and gone. I scoured the store, but he’d vanished … leaving behind a touch of Christmas magic for someone badly in need of it.
Believe what you like. I know the truth.
Merry Christmas, everyone.