I’ll always remember 1963 as the year my parents put Christ in Christmas. That year my mother set up her nativity in its usual place of honor–on top of the console TV. The carved wood nativity was lit by one incandescent bulb that served as both general illumination, and, through a cleverly cut hole in the peak of the stable, the star of Bethlehem. Oh, and it served as one other thing—the ignition point. But I’m jumping ahead.That festive season actually began six weeks earlier when my cat, inappropriately named Beelzebub, had kittens. When Dad put up the Christmas tree, the little devils had reached their exploratory stage and could scale the trunk of the Douglas fir before the tree top angel knew what hit her.
The kittens, though, grew bored with desecrating angels, and, attracted by the shiny bulbs, went out on a limb–literally. But the tree, unable to hold the lop-sided weight, did a Holly-Go-Lightly “Timber” and crashed to the floor.
Ornaments shattered, tinsel flew, water from the tree stand wiped out our entire cardboard village. My father ran in, shouting, “Jesus Christ! What happened?”
After we righted the tree, the kittens immediately toppled it again. This sent us kids into uncontrollable giggles, and by the third downing of the tree our laughter rose to wet-your-pants levels.
My father, who’d had a few rum toddies, muttered, “Jesus Christ! Enough already,” and took what looked like railroad spikes and nailed the tree to our hardwood floor.
My mother, just back from Christmas shopping, was greeted by the pounding of a 5-pound sledgehammer. “Jesus Christ!” she hollered. “What are you doing?”
Her angry tirade would have continued had the flames across the room not distracted her. In unison my parents cried, “Jesus Christ!” The Star of Bethlehem had over-heated and set the roof of the nativity ablaze. Several miniature ceiling beams crashed onto the baby Jesus, incinerating him in front of his horrified parents, before they too were engulfed. The only survivors of the inferno were one lone shepherd and a singed sheep—but I’m not going there.
Luckily, the nativity sat on a blanket of spun glass angel hair, so the flames sputtered out without spreading to our Zenith black and white. We kids were thankful because we had plans to watch Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. There’s nothing like poking fun at an elderly blind man to put you in the holiday spirit.
And to this day, though I don’t recall what gifts I received that year, I still remember the laughter I shared with my sister and brother—and despite the baby Jesus going up in flames—it was my best Christmas ever.