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Next Week's Column: Santa's Spirit


It was slushy (not snowy) when I stepped outside, and discovered the frost had settled early. Since it was Christmas Eve and I was going to work, you can imagine my mood as I slid around, trying to remove ice from my windshield with a scraper some congressional candidate gave me in 1996.

Then a noise came from behind the house and, assuming it was another stray cat coming to attack my trash bags, I stalked around the garage to shoo it away. Instead I came face to face with a huge deer, which regarded me with steady, almost intelligent eyes.

“Huh,” I said.

It’s not unheard of to see deer in Albion, and at least it wasn’t a skunk. But this deer was wearing a bridle and halter, and as I moved around the edge of the garage I saw another deer behind that, then another, and another. I moved along the line, counting, until I encountered a huge red sleigh.

Yep. Eight reindeer. Not tiny, though.

A man, also not tiny, was adjusting the leather straps on the animals, and after a moment he glanced up at me. He looked a lot like that bald guy from the TV show Lost, only fatter and with a beard. “Hello,” he said.

“You’re striking out on the stealth thing, Santa,” I told him, while wondering how soon my alarm clock would go off.

He laughed. A regular laugh, not a ho ho ho. “Sometimes I have to stop and adjust the gear. Wouldn’t want Dasher and Dancer going on without me.”

Dancer snorted.

“Aren’t you supposed to be landing on my roof?”

“Have you seen your roof? You’re going to fall through yourself someday, let alone someone as weight challenged as me.”

By now I’d gotten over the surprise enough to take a closer look at the sleigh, and noticed it looked a bit worse for wear. “Say, Santa – are those bullet holes?”

“A couple of fellows in South Central L.A. took exception to a white man in their hood. As if skin color made a whit of difference!”

“No, I –“ My thoughts were derailed to the sight of scorch marks on the sleeve of Santa’s red suit. “Forget to check the fireplace?”

He followed my gaze, and smiled. “Firebomb in Baghdad.”

“I guess you’ve got a tough job, these days.”

“Oh, the old days weren’t much better. Besides, it’s good practice – you mentioned my lack of stealth earlier. Sneaking into a soldier’s barracks to leave a box of cookies and pictures from home isn’t easy.”

“I thought you only left gifts for kids.”

For the first time, his expression grew grim. “They are kids. kids who spend all day helping to get a town’s sewer system running, only to have people sneak in at night and blow it up again – who deserves a reward more? You can guess who’s on my naughty list.”
Hey – are those burn marks along the bottom of your sleight?”

“Oh, yes – surface to air missile.”

“Say what?”

“Those Iranians, they’ve developed a habit of putting their military facilities right in the middle of residential neighborhoods. I’ve got to make my stops – what can you do?”

“But, Santa, aren’t those all Muslim kids?”

Santa gave me a sharp look, and for a moment something flashed in his eyes. “You don’t know much, do you?”

Dancer snorted again. It sounded a lot like laughter.

“Well, it’s just that Christmas is kind of … Christian. You know, since they took over from the pagans.”

Santa laughed. “The early Christians didn’t celebrate Christmas. Besides, Jesus was born in the spring! I should know – I was there.”

“You were?”

“Who do you think brought the star? Yes, Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of Jesus' birth, but me? As many people will tell you, I’m not a symbol of Christianity.”

“Then what are you? Your job is dangerous, you’re disrespected, nobody believes in you, and you don’t even get credit for what you leave. A lot of people think you’re nothing more than the symbol of greed. And yet you go around leaving something for every child in the world, even those who don’t deserve it? What’s the point?”

Smiling, Santa reached into the huge red bag in the back of his sleigh. He brought out a nativity scene: intricately carved figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Wise Men and Shepherds, Animals. There was a manger, of course. “A nine year old boy in Tanzania put only this on his Christmas list.”

“What? A little boy doesn’t ask for a nativity scene. He asks for toy soldiers, or Tonka trucks, or video games.”

“And yet, he did. His family recently became Christians, and they haven't been sucked into the hypocrisy and infighting that can come with organized religion. He wanted this for his family; this is what Jesus means to him. Birth. A new beginning.”

I gave him a questioning look.

“You still don’t know what I am?”

“Um … a fat burglar?” I often make jokes when faced with uncomfortable questions.

Santa just grinned.

“Spirit,” I said suddenly, not knowing where the word came from.

“You’re getting there.”


“There you go.” He carefully laid the nativity set back in the bag. “Gifts are different things to different people. Some people think anything bigger than what their neighbors got is the best gift. Some are satisfied by little things that give them comfort: a plate of cookies, a picture from home. For some people, people whose worlds have crumbled around them, there’s no where to go but up. Any gift – anything at all that makes it a little better – opens up a world of possibilities.”

“So you represent hope to a little boy?”

Santa shook his head. “Oh, no – I’m nothing more than the spirit of giving. He represents hope to me. It’s hope for the future that brings action. Action can make the world a little better, which makes more hope, and that’s where faith comes from.”

Climbing into his sleigh, Santa grabbed the reigns, then turned to me. “Rumor has it you hate winter.”

“Um –“

“Have faith – spring will come. Oh, and clean the mud off that inflatable Santa.”

Dancer turned to me and let out a strange noise, an electronic beeping that sounded just like my alarm clock. That’s when I woke up.

So, that’s my story. Nothing got left behind, except the hope that somewhere, some little boy has brought faith to his family with the spirit of giving.

Oh, and there are those ruts in the back yard.


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 17th, 2006 03:54 am (UTC)
Merry Christmas! And to all a good nightmare.

Here's to spring!

Dec. 17th, 2006 09:34 pm (UTC)
a toast
Spring! *clink* More champagne, it's still December!
Dec. 17th, 2006 04:29 am (UTC)
Dec. 17th, 2006 09:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Just between you and me, I worked my butt off on this one; I hope I didn't *over* write it.
Dec. 17th, 2006 05:03 am (UTC)
LOL...very cute!

And just 'cause I know that you'd LOVE to know... it is a tad chilly here today... it's 77F. *giggles*

Merry Christmas! *hugs*
Dec. 17th, 2006 09:38 pm (UTC)
a tad chilly, huh?
Grrrrr ....

Actually, it's 61F here right now, which I believe is close to a record high; but they're predicting a high tomorrow of 49, and it's all downhill from there. We might get a white Christmas, yet.
Dec. 17th, 2006 05:17 am (UTC)
Psst...if you check on my lastest entry, there's an xmas present for you. ^_^
Dec. 17th, 2006 09:39 pm (UTC)
Ooh, a present! I'll get to it quick as I can -- I haven't had time to get on LJ for about two days, but I might have a moment at work tonight, if not before.
Dec. 17th, 2006 08:33 am (UTC)
Nicely done! LOL!
Dec. 17th, 2006 09:41 pm (UTC)
Thanks! It was a killer; I kept rewriting pieces of it, over and over again. It's one of those columns I never would have started, had I known how much doubt and difficulty it was going to cause me. No flames yet, so I guess I did okay.
Dec. 17th, 2006 10:01 am (UTC)
That was lovely. Merry Christmas!
Dec. 17th, 2006 09:43 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked it ... sometimes I send my columns off in complete confidence, and then there are the ones like this that I fight with for hours; I'm relieved it's getting a good reception!
Dec. 17th, 2006 04:18 pm (UTC)
I blame seasonal depression, but that made me cry. I'm so incredibly mushy.

(I plan on telling Bebe that Santa landed on the flat roof of our apartment building, shinnied down the wrought-iron balcony, and through our sliding glass doors.)
Dec. 17th, 2006 09:52 pm (UTC)
Ahhhh ... I'm glad you liked it. At least, I assume you cried because you liked it ... in any case, mushy is what I was going for.

We have a cardboard fireplace that we still set up every year -- we replied to the girls' obvious questions with that old standby, "It's Santa's magic!" Parents are such good fibbers.
Dec. 17th, 2006 11:28 pm (UTC)
Flying comment - like Santa I'm dashing around! But a big thank you for this column piece, and to all a good roof!
Dec. 18th, 2006 08:41 am (UTC)
Heh -- you don't know how accurate Santa's roof comment was!

Merry Christmas, and I hope you get a chance to slow down and enjoy it!
Dec. 18th, 2006 01:57 am (UTC)
Merry Chirstmas, Mark! :D
Dec. 18th, 2006 08:36 am (UTC)
And the same to you!
Dec. 18th, 2006 11:12 pm (UTC)
Aw, it's such a good little column. :) Sorry I'm just now reading it - you know the reason why I haven't been at my computer the past two days..

In the little town I used to live in, they'd go around town with one of the firetrucks, with Santa and some firefighters on top, and hand out bags of candy and oranges and apples for the kids.. it was nice.
Dec. 19th, 2006 07:23 am (UTC)
Yes, I know why you weren't able to get online, it's okay. Besides, I get delayed from time to time myself; I don't get to look at your stuff as often as I'd like.

The Lions Club hosts a breakfast with the firefighters here every year, and in Kendallville there's usually a Christmas parade, where he appears on a float. But the big memory for me was that bag of candy, oranges and apples being handed out by the school bus driver on the last day before Christmas break, as he dropped each of us off. Huge, fresh apples and oranges -- and you couldn't easily get oranges during winter back then, so they must have cost a mint. I've loved those big wintertime oranges ever since.
Dec. 20th, 2006 12:18 am (UTC)
Thanks for this - I think it's a particularly good Christmas column - moving, thought-provoking, and funny. Great job!
Dec. 20th, 2006 08:44 am (UTC)
Thanks! I worried a lot, because my best columns are usually the ones that come easily to me, and this one I struggled with a lot. I guess it was worth the effort!
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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