Among our cherished family traditions is The Christmas Rat. This all started when I began painting our front windows with Tempra paint, just like you see in supermarket windows this time of year. I painted fairly easy motifs—candy canes, Christmas trees, snowflakes. And then I decided to paint a wreath.
It went surprisingly well. After all, a wreath is just a fluffy circle, right? Then I got the wonderful idea to paint a little mouse, asleep on the bottom curve, with a tiny stocking hanging on the holly, waiting for Santa to fill it.
The kids, busy painting snowmen, came over to see what Mom was doing. “Isn’t that mouse a little too big?” one of them asked. Sure enough, they decided it was a Christmas Rat, and no explanation could budge them from this opinion. Not only that, but they insisted on a Christmas Rat every December thereafter.
To this day, Richie maintains the tradition of rearranging my NOEL letters to read LEON, when I’m not looking.
They also wrap each other’s gifts in so many layers of duct tape that you virtually need the jaws of life to open them. And the year our graham cracker gingerbread house collapsed they fell off their chairs laughing, and insisted on a Collapsing Gingerbread House every year after.
These are the same monkeys who, in the picture of pure irony, fought so passionately over who got to place Baby Jesus in the nativity scene, that we finally had to write up a yearly schedule, and post it on the box of ceramic figurines.
As Bob would read the story of the first Christmas, our boys would dress up as shepherds and wise men, while Nicole would play Mary, and gently cradle one of the pets to represent Baby Jesus. An argument would usually erupt, about the appropriateness of a guinea pig playing the part of the Messiah, and Nicole would insist that a living creature was better than a plastic baby doll.
At that point a cat would generally climb the Christmas tree and knock it over, at which point the quarrel would get sidetracked and we’d all end up in the kitchen with cookies and eggnog. Every year I would wonder if the real meaning of Christmas was even getting through.
When the kids were younger, they would sneak toys into the manger scene—tiny penguins, Lego people, Mario Brothers and Ninja Turtles. When Brandon was five he loved to make things out of clay, and one day I noticed he had placed some little clay triangles by each figurine. The triangles had tiny loops, like handles. Mary had one, Joseph had one, everybody in the crèche had one. When I asked him about it, Brandon said, “After traveling so far I thought their clothes would be wrinkled, so I made them each an iron.” Indeed.
On closer inspection I noticed a little two-inch Superman visiting the Christ child as well. And there it was, the perfect message for Christmas. Here was a super hero visiting the greatest super hero who ever lived. Maybe, just maybe, the kids were listening after all.
A very merry Christmas to all my readers. And may you pause amid the presents, the visitors, the feasting and greeting, to express your thanks to God, for sending His Son, the Savior of the World.