Christmas was a time when my brothers told me lies. “Lick that lamp post. It’s good for you. You gotta do it.” It was 150 below zero and I fell for it. “Poinsettias are poisonous,” one brother said. I asked how he knew. He said, “Danny Boutwell had a friend who knew a guy who tripped and fell face-first into a poinsettia plant and ate the whole thing, flowers and all.” “What happened to him?” I asked. “Well, he broke out in a terrible rash and doctors had to amputate his whole body. He lived, but just barely.” “You’re kidding,” I said. “Do you swear on a Bible?” He said, “I think I hear Mom calling.”
I have trust issues to this day because of these things.
Years ago I heard that a Colorado Sears department store offered a phone number kids could call to talk to Santa. Sadly, the number was wrong. Kids dialling heard a secret hotline belonging to Colonel Harry Shoup at the Continental Air Defense Command, later known as NORAD. Impossible, I thought. But it’s true. Shoup’s daughter Terri later told a reporter, “Only a four-star general at the Pentagon…had the number.” Imagine Shoup’s surprise when picking up the phone. “Is that you, Santa?” So NORAD began offering a number people could call to track Santa on Christmas Eve. You can do it yourself now at noradsanta.org.
I also wondered about the veracity of the wartime holiday truce of 1914 when British, French, and German soldiers on the battlefield at Flanders called a timeout and celebrated the holiday together. They sang carols, played football, and exchanged gifts. Many commanders were unhappy and ordered the hostilities to resume by New Year’s Day. But for a brief time, things were a bit more bearable for these war-weary soldiers who desperately longed for peace. And yes, it’s true. Numerous books tell the story well.
My brothers may have told a few Christmas fibs, but my grandpa was as honest as a mirror. One Christmas he sat me on his ample lap and read the story of Jesus’ birth. How the Son of God, the Creator, loved us enough to give up heaven’s splendours, wrapped himself in human flesh to live and die for us. As Michael Card sings, “That is the mystery/ More than you can see/ Give up on your pondering/ Fall down on your knees.”
You might think that’s as wild a tale as the poinsettia story. But you’re wrong. It’s far wilder. It has brought forgiveness and peace to countless millions, including my grandpa. And me. And yes, even my brothers.
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