The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Christmas by any name

It’s almost time. In a few hours, the Jolly Old Elf will be sliding down chimneys, decorating trees that so far haven’t been, and leaving gifts for girls and boys.

Well, a lot of girls and boys, anyway.

So here’s to the church groups and offices and motorcycle groups and numerous others I couldn’t know or remember if I made this sentence 15 inches long – the groups who collect and deliver Christmas, with toys and necessities, to children who otherwise would not share the joy.

Come the big night, there will be some people who will not be home. Police, fire and emergency medical people will be taking care of their neighbors. And, since at least a few of the neighbors will require continued care, there will be doctors and nurses standing watch.

Some of us would like a white Christmas – which will mean DOT workers keeping the roads passable for those of us whose sleighs have wheels in place of runners.

Speaking of “intended design, I wish we would stop fighting about whether it’s “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” I still call it Christmas, most of the time, though I have become somewhat unenhanted by the latter, when songs of the season begin playing in stores in mid-September.

I would like to think “Happy Holidays” was a catchall for the multitude of celebrations that occur at this time of year. Kwanza, Hannukah, etc. The only thing more upsetting than songs of the season and Black Friday sales in mid-September is the complaining in some quarters about the “War on Christmas.” The trouble with “Happy Holidays” is it doesn’t say anything. It is like saying “male” or “female,” which could apply to any member of the global kingdom.

In a way, “Happy Holidays” is war on non-Christian religions – a mite strange in a nation whose founding document declares its residents’ right to choose their religions – or no religions at all.

When I was young, our family went to Midnight Mass, then home to bed. A few hours later, we woke excitedly to see what Santa had left under the tree. What a mix of religions that is.

I haven’t spoken to the Master Elf in several years. It was in 1967, I think, when I was flying ice patrols over Greenland. That was a job given those of us in the U.S. Navy patrol community. We flew up bays and down sounds, looking for places where springtime had begun to weaken the ice. Ice-breaker ships, following our instructions, would break a path through those weak places so supply ships could take food and clothing to places like Thule and Sondrestrom.

I got to fly over both North Poles that year – the magnetic one that grabs the red needle-end of a compass and the black dot mapmakers draw to indicate the top of the world. And talk to Santa by radio from my airplane. He was a jolly fellow. Conversations were short; he had work to do getting ready for the big night, but I told him what I wished would be under my tree and passed along some words for some other young folks of my acquaintance.

Later, back home, there was a phone call from a cousin. Her brother, from his lofty teenage seniority, had been attempting to convince Wendy Sue that Santa was not real. He had seen Mommy kissing Santa, he said.

Fortunately for Santa, my credibility was better than Stephen’s. Wendy was glad to hear proof of what she knew – that Santa would be stopping at her house Christmas Eve.

Wendy Sue got married a short while ago. She said she still believes in Santa. I’m glad for her kids.

In this season, I wish everyone Merry Christmas. That is my tradition. And if you celebrate something else, please feel invited to respond in your preferred salute.

That, I submit, should be the spirit of the season.


  1. Beautiful!

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