Christmas Eve [Family Service] December 24, 2009

Each Christmas Eve at our family service, Fr. McCausland reads a children’s story he has written for the occasion.

It was the Christmas that Grandpa came to live with them. Grandpa who couldn’t manage on his own anymore. Jonah and Amy called the old man Grumpus – behind his back, of course. That was because he was always grumpy and complaining. “He’s just getting adjusted,” their mother said to the children. “You be nice to him please. Especially for Christmas.”

But it kind of worked a downer on the Christmas spirit for Jonah and Amy. Especially because Grandpa said he didn’t believe in Santa Claus. “Hooey!” he said. “It’s just an advertising gimmick if you ask me. Christmas. They could just skip over it as far as I’m concerned. Especially this Santa Claus nonsense.”

“Well, I believe in Santa Claus,” Amy whispered to her brother. “And I’m going to ask Santa to take Grumpus away for Christmas.” “Or put him in a nursing home,” Jonah whispered back.

It had always been the custom for the children to set up their toy train and build a whole little village on the living room floor under the Christmas tree. At the center of the village would be the crèche, the nativity scene with Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus and everything. Of course, there weren’t trains back in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, but adding the train had been Jonah’s idea because, as he said, “Jesus was a boy, and boys like trains.” “I like trains too,” Amy had said quickly. So that had settled it.

But this Christmas, Mom decreed no train and no village. Grandpa might trip on them with his walker. “So probably there’ll be no presents under the tree Christmas morning because Grumpus might trip on them too,” Jonah pouted. “Oh, Santa will work something out,” Mom had said. “Cheer up!” But the children were not feeling cheery that Christmas Eve when they went to bed. Grumpus had put a downer on Christmas sure enough!

Maybe that’s why they were sitting together in the dark on Amy’s bed, looking out the window. They were sharing a room now, because Grumpus had taken over Jonah’s room. The flood light was on outside and it was snowing. The snow was a good sign, because at least Santa’s sleigh would have an easy time that night. It was kind of magical, staring up at the black sky with the flakes of snow swirling down out of it all white and gleaming in the light. They seemed enormous when they got close up to the window, swooping and dancing in the wind before they dropped to the ground.

“Did you know every snowflake is different?” Jonah said. “We learned that in science.” “I already knew that,” Amy said. “We had that in science too.” “You don’t even have science in your grade,” Jonah said. “Yes we do too,” Amy replied. “We have snow flake science.” “I don’t believe you,” her brother said.

“Well, if you know so much, Jonah, let’s look at a few snowflakes and see if they’re really different.” Amy was on a roll. “They’re too small to see without a magnifying glass,” Jonah answered. “Well, I’m getting my magnifying glass,” Amy said, jumping out of bed and going to the shelf where she kept her special things.

Jonah was actually getting interested in this project now, and he opened the window and very carefully scooped up a little handful of fluffy snow. He carried it over to the light on the dresser and turned it on. Amy held out her magnifying glass and the two children peered closely at the snow.

As they looked, the magnifying glass seemed to grow wider and wider, until there was no glass there any more but instead a window through which the children were looking into another world. The other world was white and wonderful, full of sparkling crystals and banks of snow like the North Pole. They could even hear music playing Christmas songs. And as they stared at this scene, suddenly some luminous white shapes came forward towards them: huge snowflakes, and each was indeed different!

The snowflakes were like lace, but made out of ice crystals. Most amazing, they were alive, with ice faces, walking on their crystal points like feet, waving other points like arms. Amy and Jonah drew back, a little afraid. But the snowflakes seemed friendly. They kept coming until they stepped gracefully through the frame of the magnifying glass into the bedroom. There were half a dozen of them, and they were about as tall as Amy and Jonah.

“Merry Christmas!” said the lead snowflake. “We’ve come to check things out for Santa Claus. See where the tree is, whether you’ve got a chimney to come down or if he has to use the door, placement of the stockings – all that stuff.” The snowflakes were looking around. One of them opened the bedroom door and they went into the hall and started downstairs.

“Our grandfather doesn’t believe in Santa Claus,” Jonah said. “Is Santa real?” “Why, of course he’s real,” said the snowflakes. “We see him all the time at the North Pole. He’s as real as you two. Real as your grandfather, I dare say.” The snowflakes and the children were down in the living room now, with the snowflakes moving about, one of them making notes on a little pad of paper. “I’m going to go and get Grumpus,” said Amy suddenly. “You can tell him Santa Claus is real!” With that she shot out of the room.

A minute later they heard coughing and growling from their grandfather’s bedroom. “What the devil is this about?” the old man was saying. “I wish the stores had never invented this infernal holiday. Can’t get a moment’s peace.” But Amy was persistent, and shortly there came the sound of Grumpus shuffling along the hall on his walker, protesting and complaining about Christmas.

When the old man reached the living room, however, he was suddenly silent. He stared at the snowflakes, glittering brightly before his old eyes. “Oh, my stars and garters!” he exclaimed. “What is this?” “We’re from the North Pole,” said the lead snowflake. “From Santa Claus,” added one of the others. “We’ve come to check things out for him so his trip delivering presents goes smoothly.”

“You don’t say,” said the old man. “So there really is a Santa Claus?” “Why, of course there is,” answered all the snowflakes together. Grandpa shook his head.“But I don’t understand how one Santa Claus gets all the way around the world visiting every house. It doesn’t seem possible. I can hardly get down the hall of one house on this walker of mine.”

“Well, you see,” said the lead snowflake, “Santa Claus has helpers. Like us, for instance. And then he enlists special deputies. The deputies are the key to the operation. Why don’t we make you one?” The old man seemed taken aback by that suggestion. “What would that involve? I’m no good at getting around, as you see. I can’t go out and climb in and out of sleighs or anything.” “Oh, you’d just be responsible for this house here,” said one of the snowflakes. “Santa would drop off the presents. You’d just be in charge of Christmas cheer.”

At that suggestion, Jonah and Amy had trouble not laughing. Grumpus in charge of Christmas cheer! But even as they exchanged glances, their hands over their mouths to keep from laughing out loud, the snowflake who had spoken was holding out a Santa Claus suit. “Put this on. It’ll make you Santa’s deputy,” the snowflake said. “But I’m old and stiff; I can’t do this,” Grumpus protested. “Yes you can,” the snowflake said reassuringly. “We’ll help you.”

With the snowflakes’ help, Grandpa struggled into the Santa Claus suit. And as he put it on, something quite magical happened. His stiffness disappeared. He could bend down, move his arms and legs freely, even stand and walk without his walker. And as he discovered these things, the old man’s mood began to change. A smile came over his face. He even did a little dance, and let out a tentative, “Ho, ho, ho!”

“You know, children,” he said, turning to Amy and Jonah, “I think we’d better put up that train set you’ve been talking about, and the toy village under the tree. And the crèche, of course. Especially the Christmas crèche. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without them, would it?” Grandpa wasn’t Grumpus any more. His tone was warm and friendly. The children showed him where the train and village things were stored in the basement, and together, with the snowflakes’ help, they set everything up. It was looking to be a very merry Christmas after all.

“Now you go off to bed, children,” Grandpa said to them. “Santa won’t drop off your presents if you’re awake. I’ll stay here to receive him, in my deputy Santa suit. I want to give him a special thank-you for the work of these snowflakes of his! Made quite the difference, they have. Why, they’ve even made a believer out of me.” So with that, Amy and Jonah went off to bed, falling asleep full of wonder about what had happened.

The next morning they were awakened by their mother screaming in the living room. “My heavens, what’s all this!” she was saying. They flew out of their room and ran into the living room. There was the Christmas tree, all lighted, with the village and the train under it, the train running in circles on its little track, whistling and tooting, the windows of the village all lit up. There was the crèche, with Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus, the angels and the shepherds, the sheep, the ox and the donkey. And there too were toys and packages in bright wrappings, left by Santa Claus.

“Why, who did all this?” their mother was saying. “Did you children get up and do it? I told you we couldn’t this year. We have to clean up all this stuff before your grandfather gets up, so he won’t trip and fall on them. And here, what are these puddles of water on the floor? Did you make these, children? Oh, Lord!”

Just at this point, as the children’s mother was really getting into high gear scolding them, down the hall from his bedroom came Grandpa. He wasn’t shuffling, or using his walker. He wasn’t grumping or scolding. His face was smiling and he even let out a hearty “Ho, ho, ho” as he walked into the room. Most amazing, he was wearing his deputy Santa Claus costume. “Merry Christmas everyone!” he said. “A very merry Christmas to all of us from Santa Claus and Jesus and Mary and Joseph, the angels the shepherds – and the snowflakes.”

“The snowflakes!” their mother said. “What do you mean, the snowflakes?” “Why, my dear, where do you think those puddles of water came from?” Grandpa said with a smile. “Snow melts when it comes inside, doesn’t it? Now let me get a towel and mop them up. Then we’ll open our presents.” He turned and gave Amy and Jonah a big wink, and put his finger to his lips to signal to them to be silent.

Their mother just stood there, shaking her head. “This is some sort of miracle,” she said. “I really don’t understand. And you, Dad, where’s your walker? You’re so . . . so different!” “Well,” Grandpa said, gently putting his arms around his daughter as Amy and Jonah hugged his waist, “I guess it’s just the spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Christmas – and last night’s snow. Anyway, let’s be thankful. God bless us all.”

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