“It’s your Son’s birthday, I want to congratulate him.”
Someone just walked a pure white husky through the snow storm on the other side of the street. Too far away to note blue eyes on the dog. In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I gave Kafka a dream about a husky. Kafka’s dream, however, was based on the very true event which happened to me as I took a country walk. Fitting for what I just saw, and the time of year.
In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote.
24 December 1916
Dreamed I was in Amerika last night – playing with a Husky.
The dog was all white, and possessed an intelligent face. The shape of the muzzle made it look as if it were smiling – even laughing – and having a good time. It was free, and could do such things.
It did not speak, but that does not mean I thought it incapable of speech. I played with him, and because of his gentle persistence, we went running through the snow together. I chased him as he wanted, along a winding trail and through young woods.
I hid from him once, and he was much confused, his breath hard, and his feet scratching across the snow as he came back to look for me. I jumped out of my snow cover with a shout. He smiled at me, and he nearly spoke.
I looked for him, this morning, on the way to work. And then again, tonight, as I came up to the castle. Before I leave, I shall gaze into the Stag Moat from my darkened window. The snow there must be the purest in the city. If I see him, will I give chase?
“The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.”
~ Clement Clarke Moore
The first serious snow is falling. Outdoor Christmas lights across the street melt through a cover of snow – a sight I particularly enjoy. So, I’ll reprint this – albeit edited – from a few years ago. Maybe it will become a tradition.
Christmas is a fake that has taken root like the holly, and it survives tenaciously. It has become a goodies grab fest, and helps keep our commercial society stable. Perhaps reason enough to exist.
The wily Christians conquered the outnumbered Celts, and supplanted their winter festival with the birth of their God. The wily pagans live on in the numerous traditions the Christians stole, so perhaps it is a fair trade. And no doubt those wily pagans chuckle over their cups o’mead, noting that this celebration of reverence has become a surfeit of greed.
I have been no fan of Christmas for decades, but its mixed legacy encourages me not to abandon it. My Christian background enhances my enjoyment of the music and traditions. Most commercial intrusions can be muted or turned off. I do have some personal traditions I follow religiously.
I do not even rail against Santa Claus. I heard his sleigh bells one Christmas Eve, when I was four. I saw his sleigh runner tracks in the snow a couple of years later.
I have even been mistaken for Santa a couple of times. Once, in the line-up in a bank near Christmas, a two-year old pointed at me. Unfortunately, my presence terrified him, and he started to scream and cry. I was wise enough not to go Ho Ho Ho. Another time – but this happened in early fall – a family approached me as I walked in a park. A boy, who looked to be six or seven, stopped in his tracks, then ran back to his parents. “Santa Claus!” He pointed. Happily he did not cry. They walked past me in silence.
Also, for decades, I lived close to a residence where one of the very first recitations of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas happened. The author of that stirring piece, Clement Moore, who wrote it in 1822, sent a copy to his godfather, the Rev Johnathan O’Dell, of Fredericton New Brunswick. However, the poem was not published until 1837.
To be fair to myself, I’m not a total Scrooge, as I have written some Christmas tales. Here is a wee segment from The Elephant Talks To God:
“I want to see you,” said the elephant, and the words raced from his mouth. “I don’t have to see you, you know that. I’ve believed even before you talked to me. But I want to see you, it would mean so much. I wasn’t around for the Baby, but cows and sheep and things got to see Him. I can’t explain but it would … ”
“Go home,” said the cloud.
“You’re not angry with me?” said the elephant.
“No.” The cloud started moving away. “It’s an honest request.” The rain stopped falling. “Thank you for coming.”
“You’re welcome,” said the elephant.
“Sing some carols,” the voice was distant. “I like them.”
The elephant turned and started through the woods. He ignored the tasty leaves within easy reach and the tall grass near the brook. He wanted to get home as quickly as possible so he could join the singing he knew was happening later in the evening.
He turned along the trail, snapping a branch here and there in his haste, when he noticed the stillness, the hush which had overtaken the forest. He slowed down and the stopped in his tracks. He turned his head, his small eyes squinting into the brush. There was movement coming toward him, and when the trees parted, he went to his knees with a gasp. Tears rolled from his eyes, and a golden trunk gently wiped them away.*
*Last line edited from an error in the book.
He travelled to the special clearing where a cloud waited for him.
“It’s your Son’s birthday. I want to congratulate him.”
wiped them away.
As a child, I had two ‘encounters’ with Santa. I can’t place the years, but I remember them from the houses I lived in.
The first time I would have been no older than five. I was going to the outhouse on a dark Christmas Eve. The outhouse was a couple of minutes walk from the house. On my way, I heard the bells on Santa’s sleigh. Don’t try to dissuade me, I know what I heard. I even remember the direction I had to turn to see if I could see anything. I was right quick about doing my business.
The second time would have been a couple of years later. On Christmas Day I saw the marks from Santa’s sleigh runners on the snow beside the house. Never mind your smiles, I know what I saw.
And, a few years after that, I was with some younger friends who questioned me about the reality of Santa Claus. Now, by then I did not believe that Santa existed. But, I didn’t want to tell the “children” that. Neither did I want to lie. I don’t know how long it took me to think of a way out, but long enough (obviously) for it to remain strong in my memory. My answer was: “Well, there must be a Santa Claus. How could your parents afford all those gifts?”
In the years when I did a fair amount of house-sitting, I did so for one couple where the husband had a perfect resemblance to Santa Claus. Thus, for many a Christmas, he was the hit of local gatherings. And he had a beautiful suit and hat and – of course – a real beard.
I also know a poet whose first book was about Mrs. Claus. She is also known to dress up the part (even with a Christmas bonnet) and read at Christmas gatherings.
As for myself, one day I entered my financial institution around Christmas and got into line. As we snaked forward, I came opposite a mother and father with a young child. He looked at me and screamed (literally) “Santa Claus!” Then he burst into tears. I don’t know what troubled him (maybe I was out of uniform).
Finally, a few years ago, (and this was not around Christmas, though it was Fall) I was walking in a park. A family approached, two parents and three children. One of the boys (and he looked five or six) dashed ahead and stood in front of me. “Santa Claus,” he said. I thought it was some sort of joke, but he turned excitedly to his siblings. “It’s Santa Clause.” He was quite happy. The father said “Maybe not.” but did not really try to dissuade him.
And neither did I.
It was clear weather (easier to choose when one can take the time), and I was waiting for the bus a good hour before departure. I wait outside so I can walk around. There are always a few others who do this, and one fellow approached to ask if I would watch his luggage for a few minutes. I agreed, and said perhaps he could do the same for me. “Sure,” he said. “We gotta look out for each other.” I took that as some Seasonal good will.
While I pondered in the sunshine (the last sunshine, it turns out, that I was to see for four days), I heard a sound that I interpreted as either a roaring bus engine or a plane flying overhead. When neither was revealed, I went looking. On the far side of the bus station is the large parking lot of a large grocery store. In one corner of the parking lot was a forest of cut and bundled Christmas trees. One of the tree vendors was removing the bindings of the trees. He then placed the cut base of the tree on a circular metal platform. He turned on an engine (the sound I had heard), held the tree, and the metal base shook violently. It shook so much that it shook all the loose needles off the tree. The fellow then removed the shaken tree, stood it aside, and did another one. Tools for everything.
As I was watching this performance, an elderly gentleman approached me. Perhaps because I was immersed in a woodland of felled trees, his clothing reminded me of someone from the back woods. His work boots were unlaced, his heavy coat was well worn, and his face was both creased and had the stubble of three days growth. He had a guitar of similar vintage slung over his back.
“Nice day,” said he.
“I’m a Busker,” said he. “I’ll give you a Christmas carol for two bucks. I don’t have enough for smokes.”
“That’s OK,” said I. “I’ll gladly give you two dollars.”
“No – I’m going to sing for it.”
I could not judge if his voice was more rough than the guitar. The guitar was out of tune. Some strings were loose. ‘Hollow’ and ‘twang’ come to mind. I got a hoarse rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. He included three verses.
Then he took my two dollars and wended his way to the large grocery store.
In my novel, A Lost Gospel, a Unicorn is present at the birth of Jesus – something, as far as I know, not disputed by religious scholars. Glarus, the Celtic priestess who accompanied the Unicorn, describes this event to Bettine and Sirona, themselves young women attending unicorns. Glarus was asked to be present at the birth by The Magi.
Excerpt from A Lost Gospel
“The kings had some information, but the rest they had to figure out. They had
surrounded themselves with astrologers, navigators and philosophers. They knew
from the Jew’s Holy Book that the baby was to be born in Bet Lehem, and the Star
helped lead them to that town. We didn’t need the Star the last couple of days, but
it had given us comfort during a hard and uncomfortable trip. That last night we
waited on the outskirts of the town, and went in after sunset.”
“Were you afraid?” Sirona leaned closer.
“No. Why would I be?”
“You were going to see god.” Bettine glanced at Sirona as she spoke.
“To see god is a joy – not a fear.”
“And was he a baby?” Sirona giggled. “A baby god.”
“It was a time for the paying of taxes to Caesar, and Bet Lehem was crowded with people.” Glarus examined the fire for a moment. “The inns and resting places were fully occupied. We finally found Yeshua and his parents in a barn, beside one of the inns. He was settled with the animals, and sleeping in the hay.”
“But this was a god.”
“But – ” Bettine sounded perplexed. “He should have been in a temple – or a palace. Not surrounded by animals.”
“There are more barns than palaces.” Glarus nudged the wood in the fire with a poker. “And more animals than priests. God is god of the world – not some carved gold in a temple.”
“But god can have whatever he wants.”
“Yes.” Glarus leaned forward and touched the young woman. “So remember what he chose.”
“What was god like?” Sirona was impatient, and pulled on Glarus’ skirt.
“God was the baby of a woman. A baby such as any of us could have.” Glarus looked at them closely. “You must not forget that. This god is as much man as god.” She stood suddenly and leaned toward the fireplace. “He was asleep when we entered. Even his mother was dozing as she held him.”
“What was she like?” Sirona didn’t realize one question interrupted another.
“Her name was Mary.” Glarus removed the pot from the open flame, and placed it upon a squat stone jutting into the hearth. “She smiled as her head nodded – she seemed quite peaceful. She was attractive, but not what one would call beautiful. She didn’t look much older than me.” Glarus looked mildly surprised. “She could still be alive, for that matter. She certainly seemed healthy enough.”
“Did she talk to you?” Sirona leaned forward, the heat of the fire against her face.
“She spoke to the ones who knew her tongue.” Glarus looked down at the women. “But no – not to me.” She suddenly smiled. “I saw her glancing at me a few times, as her husband talked to the others. And she took a liking to the unicorn – as did the baby.”
“Did she – ”
“What I felt most was her bewilderment.” Glarus didn’t realize she had interrupted Bettine. “She must have wondered why rich and powerful people were crowding into a barn to see her son. Giving birth for the first time was enough to get used to.”
The women were silent for awhile. Glarus stirred the pot, and tasted the liquid in the ladle. Bettine looked curiously around the house, while Sirona stared thoughtfully at her mother. She was hearing things she had never heard before.
“When did the baby wake up?” Bettine’s question broke into the silence.
“We hadn’t been there long.” Glarus began moving about the room, gathering some mugs together, along with food and utensils. “I think I was the first to notice. I just followed the lead of the unicorn, which already was walking toward him.”
“Did he touch the unicorn?”
“Yes.” Glarus took a loaf of bread from a cupboard, and removed some wedges of
cheese from a pottery jar. “It was obvious Mary had never seen such a creature. I
don’t think she was afraid, but she was hesitant to let the unicorn get too close
to the baby.” Glarus ladled the hot drink into the mugs. “However, Yeshua reached
out with his tiny hands, and tried to touch the ivory horn.”
“Did he touch you?” Bettine sipped the drink, and found the fruit tasted as if it were off the tree.
“Mary let me hold him, as she and Joseph prepared some of their food for the kings.” Glarus passed the platter of bread and cheese to the young women. “Food less grand than this. But still, the best of what they had.”
“You held god in your hands?” Sirona marvelled at the secrets she had never heard.
“Yes. While the others ate.”
“What was it like?”
“Damp.” Glarus looked at them both and laughed. “He was a warm and wet little baby, open-mouthed and smiling one moment, squeezing up his eyes in frustration the next. I still had the smell of myrrh on me, and he pushed his face into my breast, making contented baby noises. To the others, it looked as if he were trying to get fed. Joseph said something which made the others laugh.” Glarus chuckled as she took a bite of cheese. “When I finally heard what it was, I smiled too, even though I was embarrassed.”
“What did he say?” Sirona and Bettine asked the question together.
“Well. It’s no secret I’m big up here.” Glarus placed an arm across her chest. “I’ve had too much attention from too many men to let me forget.” Glarus cut more slices from the loaf of bread. “Joseph had said, that if the baby became too used to me, they’d have to use one of the cows after I left.”
“What did you say?” Sirona shared a glance with Bettine.
“It wasn’t my place to say anything. Anyway, I could tell he wasn’t trying to be offensive – or attentive. He was a poor man surrounded by rich and powerful strangers, and he was trying to be accepted.”
“Did Mary say anything?”
“Mary did not push out her garment, even if she was full of milk. After the laughter had stopped, I dared glance at her. She gave a shy smile and shrugged her shoulders.”
“If you hadn’t gone the way you did.” Bettine dipped her mug back into the flavoured drink. “Without following the star and the kings – would you have known Yeshua was a god?”
“No.” Glarus sipped from her mug, then placed it on the table. “But the circumstances were not natural.” Glarus hesitated before cutting more cheese. “The unicorn would not have been present, and I would not have seen them share time.”
“What did he do?”
“Both.” Sirona was excited. “When they were together.”
“They looked at each other with recognition.”
“But – ” Sirona coughed over her drink. “They had never seen each other before.”
“They saw more than just the bodies they possess.” Glarus placed her hands side-by-side on the table, almost touching. “When Mary realized the unicorn would do no harm, she held the baby this close to him. Yeshua reached a grasping little fist toward the ivory horn.” Glarus smiled at the two women. “You know how the unicorns avoid a stranger’s touch.”
“Yes.” They both again spoke in unison, and laughed.
“He bent his head carefully toward Mary, and let the tiny fingers rub against his horn. Yeshua’s eyes went wide as he sniffed him all over. The unicorn pawed in the dirt and the straw, and as much as his face is capable of smiling, I’d swear that he did.
“He didn’t even mind when Mary began to scratch him behind the ears. He moved his head so she could stroke the base of his horn, which he loves most of all.”
“I didn’t know of that place for years.” Bettine absently rubbed her fingers across the table. “I hesitated a long time before I even touched the horn. It can be so cold.”
“They don’t encourage contact,” agreed Sirona.
“Perhaps I was jealous. He encouraged Mary and the baby to do things for which I had waited years.” Glarus looked into the fire a long time. “He showed complete trust amid the strangers and the tumult. Usually, just the smell of humans and other animals make him disappear. This time, he ceased being wary, and concentrated fully on that little baby.”
“And Yeshua?” Sirona stared at her mother. “What did he do?”
“The baby turned his head, and stared at me.” Glarus again hesitated. “It was then I knew that I was looking into eyes which had seen the OtherWorld.”