One of my very earliest memories is putting out a plate of snacks for Santa before going to bed on Christmas Eve. We were living in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and you can guess what the winters are like in Cheyenne. Like most houses in that climate, we had a fireplace in the living room with a gas log for supplemental heat, especially in the event of a power failure. There were times after a blizzard or storm, when we would spend the night huddled around that gas log, waiting for power to be restored. The unique thing about those fire places was that there were no chimneys. They were self venting, and you sure didn’t want the heat from the gas log going up a chimney.
Well, I don’t know if families still do this, but tradition was that we put together a plate of cookies, candies, and other treats on a table by the fireplace so Santa could have a snack after coming down the chimney to deliver our presents. I vaguely remember scouring the refrigerator and cabinets, finding all sorts of things to put out for Santa. And I remember coming into the living room on Christmas morning and first checking to see if Santa ate my snacks, before turning to the Christmas Tree with its gifts. For some strange reason, showing hospitality to Santa was very important to me.
But there’s another side to this. I apparently was a pretty observant little guy. I knew that our fireplace did not have a chimney. How was Santa supposed to come down a chimney that didn’t exist? And how did Santa avoid being burned up by the gas log? And how did he get to everyone’s house that one night? And how did reindeer and a sleigh land on the roof without my hearing it? The truth was that I figured out very early that there was no Santa. But still, it was very important to me to prepare Santa’s snack, and important that I check and make sure he ate his snack, even thought I knew he didn’t exist.
I think even a young child recognizes symbols and rituals. And sometimes those symbols and rituals are more important than hard cold facts. From time to time someone will ask me if I really believe the Christmas Story. That’s like asking how Santa gets down a chimney that isn’t there. It’s the wrong question. The right question is, “Does the Christmas Story mean something to me?” And the answer is a mighty “Yes.” I don’t care if the inn was a stable, or a cave, or a local pub. I don’t care what the date was. For me, all of those little details are academic exercises. And they are fun, and they are interesting, but they are like the reindeer on the roof.
What’s important to me is that The Great Creating God sent the power of love and forgiveness into this world, to show us how it was intended to be, how it could be, and that there was a better way. Yes. I feel in my heart every word of the Christmas Story. I wish you a Blessed Season this strange but holy Christmas.
December 1, 2020
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