Christmas Eve (Family Service) December 24, 2010

Each year for the family service on Christmas Eve, it is our custom at Holy Cross for the vicar to read the children a story written for the occasion. This year’s story follows.

THE INSIDE OUT CHRISTMAS

It had all the makings of a really terrible bad Christmas. First of all, it hadn’t snowed. How could Santa Claus come if there were no snow for his sleigh? Second of all, Dad was working construction down in Connecticut and didn’t see how he could drive all the way back up to New Hampshire for Christmas, what with the price of gas and the shape his old truck was in. Third of all, Mom had to work a shift at the hospital on Christmas because they were short on nurses. So old Mrs. Blatchett from down the road was going to come in to watch Ginny and Roger. Mrs. Blatchett smelled bad and was crabby and insisted on watching only her dumb programs on the television. So Mrs. Blatchett was the fourth-of-all reason it was going to be a really terrible bad Christmas.

It was no wonder then that Ginny decided that she and her little brother were going to be really terrible and bad too. After all, with Christmas shaping up like that, what else was there to do? They’d gone to bed just as usual that night, not excited like kids should be about Christmas Eve and all. Mom would be up and out early to make it to work. Mrs. Blatchett would be along, Mom said, to fix breakfast and get the kids up. They’d open presents later in the day: “But don’t expect much,” Mom said. “Times are hard, even for Santa Claus.” When they went to bed, there were no presents under the tree.

It must have been close to midnight when Ginny woke her brother up. “Roger, wake up, you idiot.” He rubbed his eyes, trying to see her in the dark of their bedroom. “We’re going out,” Ginny whispered. “Out?” Roger said. “But it’s night.” “We’re going to find Christmas for ourselves,” his sister explained. “Forget Dad and Mom. And especially forget Mrs. Blatchett. You and me are going to do this all ourselves.”

Now Ginny really had no clear idea what she and Roger would do to “find Christmas for themselves.” She has this wild idea that they might hitchhike to town and break into a toy store or something. Or maybe a very rich person would be driving along in a fancy car and take them home and adopt them and buy them lots of presents. Ginny didn’t always think things through, you see. But she had spunk, Ginny had; you had to hand her that.

The two children started to dress, being very quiet so as not to wake their mother sleeping down the hall. “This is all backwards,” said Roger in his little kid voice. Roger liked to think things through before he did anything. “Hey, that’s a good idea, Rog!” Ginny said. “We’ll do everything inside out and backwards. Take off your pants and shirt and put them back on inside out. It’ll be like magic!” Which is how Ginny and Roger came to be walking backwards in the dark down the gravel road from their house. They stumbled a little, but Ginny took Roger’s hand so he wouldn’t be afraid.

“Ho, ho! What in the world are you kids doing?” came a voice in the dark. The voice was behind them, though that was actually ahead of them of course because they were walking backwards with their clothes inside out. The two children froze with fear. This was the sort of thing Ginny hadn’t planned on. But it occurred to her maybe this was the rich person who was going to take them home and adopt them and buy them presents – though he didn’t have a big fancy car, or indeed any car at all. She had turned to look at who had said “ho, ho,” and Roger turned with her because she was holding his hand even tighter than before.

It was an old man with a white beard, dressed in a heavy brown coat and coveralls like their dad wore when he worked on outside jobs. The old man had a red stocking cap though, trimmed in white fur and with a white ball on top. “Who . . .  who are you?” Ginny asked, her voice shaking a little with fright. “I should ask who you are,” the old man said. “We’re Ginny and Roger,” Ginny answered. “Roger is my little brother.” “Oh, Ginny and Roger from down the road,” the old man said with a grunt. “I know who you are now. I’ve got you on my list. But you kids had better get back home and in bed. I don’t deliver to children who are out walking around Christmas Eve in the middle of the night.”

“Don’t deliver?” Ginny said. An idea was suddenly forming in her head about who this old man was. But he didn’t look like who that would be. Santa Claus dressed all in red and this old man was wearing brown Carhartt coveralls and coat. But he did have a Santa Claus hat. “Are you pretending to be Santa Claus?” she asked.

“No, ho, ho, ho!” the old man said, breaking into a laugh. “I’m not pretending anything. I am Santa Claus.” Now it was Roger’s turn to speak: “You’re hat is Santa Claus, but the rest of you is just an old guy in work clothes.” “Well, that’s because I’m working,” the old man explained. “I’m organizing things. I’ll put on the full red suit when I’m ready to go, you see. Don’t want to get it dirty when I’m organizing things.”

“Organizing?” said Ginny. The two children had forgotten to be afraid and had moved closer to the old man who either was Santa Claus or maybe just pretending to be Santa Claus. “Yes, you see my sleigh can’t carry all the presents at the same time for all the children around the world, so I have to organize what I call present stashes in secret places here and there that I can come by and pick up later. This here is just about my last stash. Then I’ve got to get going. It’s almost midnight. The reindeer will be all hitched up to the sleigh and ready to go.”

As the old man Santa spoke, the children saw in the shadows behind him a pile of bulky sacks full of toys. They were there in the woods by the side of the road, where a huge gray boulder used to be that they passed every day in the bus on their way to school. “Wow!” said Roger. “Are our presents in there?” “Not if you don’t get yourselves back home and in bed,” answered the old man. “Now I’ve got to get going.”

He turned and was starting to leave when he caught himself. “Why are you kids dressed inside out like that, your coats inside out and your hats?” He had a big smile on his face. “Because this is the most really terrible bad Christmas there’s ever been,” Roger started to explain, “and Ginny said we were going to do it all ourselves, starting with inside out.” The thought of his mom and dad not home and smelly, cross Mrs. Blatchett coming to cook breakfast and watch her shows on television made his voice tremble as he spoke. He was suddenly aware that it was freezing cold and dark and Ginny’s whole idea of doing Christmas for themselves backwards and inside out seemed crazy. A tear ran down Roger’s cheek.

With that, the old man took off his red Santa Claus cap and gently wiped the little boy’s face. “Here, son,” he said, “you take this cap of mine. Take it home and when you get there, turn it inside out. Just do what I say. You’ll have a wonderful Christmas. Now, the both of you, run on home to bed – and frontwards, not backwards, so you don’t get hurt.” He gave a warm laugh, “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!” and with that disappeared from the children’s sight.

Ginny and Roger turned and started home. But just then along the empty road came a noisy old pickup truck. One headlight was out and the truck rattled and clanked as it came along. The children froze in their steps. There was something familiar about the sound of the old truck. And, yes, as it drew close it slowed and came to a stop. The door opened and their father got out. “What in the world, guys? What are you doing out like this? And why do you have your clothes on inside out?” He bundled them into the truck with him before they could explain, and they were so glad to be safe and warm and to have their father back, that by the time they reached home both Ginny and Roger were fast asleep. Somehow Dad had come home and so maybe Christmas wasn’t going to be so really terrible bad after all.

The next morning the two children woke up early. Their mom had left for work at the hospital and their dad was still fast asleep, exhausted from his long drive home. Mrs. Blatchett hadn’t arrived yet; it was barely light, a long time before breakfast. Roger was the first to sit up in bed. “Ginny!” he called softly. “What about the hat?” “Hat? Hat?” his sister said sleepily. “The Santa Claus hat,” Roger said.” You remember what the old man said. About turning it inside out? Do you have it?” “No, stupid,” his sister said. “You had it in your hand when Dad drove up.” Roger was already out of bed, running in his pajamas out of the bedroom to the door and across the frosty yard to the old pickup truck. There on the seat was the Santa Claus hat. The little boy grabbed it and hurried back inside the house. His sister met him at the door. As soon as he got inside, he put the hat on the floor and turned it inside out.

Immediately there was a sort of shining, frosty tinkling noise, like a million tiny bells, and a rushing wind sound. Before their eyes, a pile of brightly wrapped presents suddenly appeared under the Christmas tree. Snow had begun falling thickly outside the windows. There was the smell of breakfast coming from the kitchen: bacon and pancakes with syrup, their very favorite. The phone was ringing. Ginny ran to answer it.

It was their mother. She was calling on her cell phone from the car. What with the sudden snow storm, the hospital had let her leave early and she was on her way home. She’d called Mrs. Blatchett to report Dad was home and there was no need to come over. She’d be home in a bit and fix breakfast.

“But breakfast’s all fixed,” Ginny said. “I think Santa did it, because we turned his hat inside out.” Her mother started to say something, but the cell phone lost connection. Their father was standing there in his robe, rubbing his eyes. “Did Mrs. Blatchett cook all this?” he said. “Where is she?”

Roger and Ginny were about to explain about the hat, but suddenly something told them not to try. They looked around, but the hat was gone from where they’d left it on the living room floor. In its place was a crèche, the most beautiful crèche they’d ever seen, with a stable made of wood, the Virgin and Joseph and Baby Jesus, an ox and a cow, shepherds, sheep, and an angel. A warm light seemed to come from the Baby as the children looked at him. And they saw that on the Baby’s head was a tiny red Santa cap, turned inside out. It was impossible to explain: but somehow the most really terrible bad Christmas had turned all rightside out. Mom would be home any minute. They’d all sit down to breakfast and open presents. Then they’d go out and play in the snow. Somehow everything had turned wonderful and beautiful and at peace.

 Copyright 2010 John L. McCausland

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