Christmas column 1999


Haven’t heard from Griz for awhile. The thought was all it took. There he was on top the pillows on our bed, and I knew he was listening out for me.

“Well! Don’t you look spiffy? Who tied your bow for you?”

He looked straight ahead, scowling, as usual. His dour expression contrasted with the bright red ribbon cascading from his furry neck.

“I’m a bit surprised,” I pressed on, “knowing how skeptical you are about the whole Christmas thing.”

The little bear’s eyes sparked a warning. Then he let go.

“It’s all so phony!” he expostulated. “So materialistic. It’s all Santa Claus and getting. It’s so… so American! What’s standing in line for Ipods and Pokie-whatsis got to do with the Christmas message?”

He paused for a breath, and I grabbed the opportunity.

“Calm down, little guy. Your nose is going to leak stuffing if you get too riled up.”

He ignored me. “They’re right, those people who don’t let their kids believe in Santa Claus,” he went on. “Don’t tell me you believe in Santa Claus. For that matter, are you into that whole baby-in-the-manger legend? That’s just so lame.

“If I was God, and I was going to change the world, would I send a baby that can’t even hold its head up – in a barn? Give me a break. The whole thing’s a farce. People are so gullible!”

“Good grief, little fellow!” I picked him up to sooth him, but he squirmed from my arms and landed on the comforter. “For openers,” I said, ”don’t you think it’s ironic, you ridiculing fantasy? How do you explain our talking like this? If anyone heard me, they’d put me away.

“I believe in you, plus a lot of other things I don’t fully understand. You don’t have to be able to prove something to believe in it.”

“Like what?” Griz demanded.

“Like the Internet and what makes airplanes fly – and Santa Claus. Santa Claus is every bit as real as the love a parent feels for a child –  certainly more real than a babbling teddy bear!”

“Then why won’t some people let their kids write letters to the North Pole, and….”

“First of all, Griz, I know who you’re talking about, and that’s her business, not ours. She thinks it’s more important that the emphasis of Christmas be on the coming of God to earth.”

“Which is just as preposterous,” the little bear snorted. “Some God, whimpering in a pile of hay. How does she expect her kids to believe a fairy tale no one’s ever seen, but not believe in a guy they see every time they go to the mall?”

“I can’t honestly answer that question, Griz,” I mused. “But people wiser than you or I have questioned exactly what did happen ‘way  back then. We may not even know that we got the date right, but SOMETHING happened that made us divide history into two parts. Something that we acknowledge every time we look at a coin or sign a document. Something happened that affected the way people make laws, and…”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa — waitaminit. Go back to that coin business. Whaddaya mean?”

“I mean that every time we read or write the year, we acknowledge that something so amazing happened that the world started recording time all over again from that moment in history.”

“Yeah, but for crying out loud — a baby? A baby didn’t do all that stuff.”

“Of course not,” I replied. “But if God came and lived among us from infancy through adulthood — maybe being teased in school, maybe with a tummy ache from too many sweets, maybe disappointed that a friend let him down and scared when things started going against him — that tells me there isn’t a thing that happens to me that God didn’t experience too.”

“So what’s wrong with Santa Claus? He was real too, a good guy that secretly gave gifts to a poor man who couldn’t afford dowries for his daughters.”

He was on a roll: “Can’t kids learn to be Santa Claus for others? Santa’s about giving as well as getting. ‘Sides, I notice your grandchildren didn’t have any trouble e-mailing Christmas lists to you….”

“You have a point, Griz. Trouble is, we’re not in a position to sound critical. I think the kids are missing out on some of the fun, but I promise, if you ask them if their parents’ love for them is real, they would not hesitate for a moment.

“And how do they know? They can’t prove love any more than you can prove or disprove Santa Claus. It would be harder to prove there are talking bears.”

He let that pass, then continued: “So you buy the whole thing? Red-nosed reindeer, poor little drummer boys, dancing nutcrackers, guys on camels following a star?

“Every year someone invents some brand new ancient tradition, and every year it starts earlier. Every year someone’s apartment gets burned out and we get all sniffly and buy them new toys. The whole thing’s a gigantic scam, I tell you, with only one thing in mind: getting you to spend money.”

“Honey, a lot of what you say disturbs me too, but the older I get, the less troubled I am by the commercialism of the season. Christmas as we celebrate it is an American tradition, richly melding traditions of other lands and other times, some pre-dating the Christian era.

“But at its very core, there is one single solitary fact, that God chose to live among us. History changed. And no singing chipmunks or charity appeals can take that away. God is ‘way bigger than all our tacky glitter.”

Griz was very quiet, his polyester brain struggling to process the concept. Then his frown eased, just for a moment.

“You believe in me, huh? I’d hate to see you have to prove that.”

“So would I, Griz. So would I.”