I know I've talked about this more than once, both in this publication and others, but let me say, once again, that some of the best things about Christmas are the enduring legends, traditions, fables and stories generated over the years.
My family has come up with its share, starting, probably, with my mother's startling discovery--way back when--that her father, my grandfather, was the genuine, real-life, much-loved Santa Claus.
That, in itself, is a pretty darn cool place to start my own family holiday history, and it has continued over the years with more and more great tales that we all love to share and re-tell whenever the opportunity arises.
There was the rose jar, a tall, lidded antique vessel that served, I guess, as a sort of Victorian-era room deodorizer a long time ago. Though there were still dried rose petals in it in my day, its main purpose, as far as I was concerned, was as a mail drop, where we'd place our carefully crafted letters to Santa Claus. I'd keep a close eye on that jar, hoping to catch sight of one of Santa's elves slipping it out for delivery to the North Pole. After a few days, I'd convince my dad to lift me up to the high spot where the jar was kept, just so I could make sure those delivery elves were doing their jobs.
Of course, they were. The letter was always gone.
The presence of St. Nick's snoopy, pint-sized helpers was a constant thorn in my side back then. I was already pretty put off by the whole "he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows if you're awake" thing, thinking it was a direct invasion of my privacy. Add to that the fact that he "knows if you've been bad or good" and I was absolutely desperate for someone to blame for what I figured was one black mark after another under my name.
Well, I couldn't openly criticize Santa, of course. But I wasn't about to singlehandedly take the fall for a never-ending list of transgressions that almost always included items like undone homework, unwalked dogs, unshoveled sidewalks and uneaten vegetables. Instead, I'd blame those pesky little red-and-green guys. Thus began the Elf War of 1958.
But that's another story.
The tale I'm about to tell took place just a few days before Christmas this yar, when our youngest grandson, John, was taking a walk on the beach with his grandma and me. It's been good weather for shelling on our small piece of the North Carolina coast, partly because of the windy, wavy early winter weather we've been experiencing, and maybe because of the turbulence caused by the massive dredging operation going on at the mouth of an inlet a couple of miles up the beach. Whatever the reason, its been a great time to find different types of what we commonly call "twisty shells" scattered up and down the sand. I was walking the waterline, while John and grandma explored the flotsam left by the rushing waves at the high tide mark, when they stopped to take a closer look at something.
"What is this?" she asked.
I walked towards the dune to take a closer look. There in the hard-packed sand were a series of deep, regularly spaced indentations.
Now, I'm no Mark Trail (look it up, kids) but I know deer tracks when I see them. Where did he come from?" said grandma.
And she was right. The tracks appeared suddenly as if the deer had, uh, sort of flown in.
Were they REINDEER tracks?
As we followed the trail, we considered the possibilities.
"Maybe Santa sent his reindeer to check us out," said grandma.
John froze and glanced at the sky. So did I.
"Or maybe an elf rode that reindeer and landed on our roof, so he could look through the window at us."
We kept on walking, following the trail of that beachfront bounder, until, just as suddenly as they appeared, the trail of deer tracks disappeared--just as if the maker of that trail had surely and suddenly taken flight.
Later that night, I stepped onto the deck that faces the intercoastal waterway behind our house. It was a bright and shiny night, with a sky filled with glistening stars and a beautiful crescent moon.
High in the sky, I saw a tiny light, moving quickly from east to west; flying, in fact, kind of like the down of a thistle
"Probably a plane," I thought. "Or a helicopter from the Marine base."
Suddenly, the light stopped. It turned and twinkled and glowed bright red.
"What the...?" I muttered to myself. "Could that be...?"
Suddenly, as quickly as it appeared, the light vanished.
And as I searched the sky, I heard the faint sound of jingling bells.
"Hmmm," I thought. "This is going to be a good story to tell."
Here's hoping your Christmas Day was merry...and that your New Year will be as happy and hopeful as the new box of crayons you found in your stocking.