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TO THIS DAY I still possess the handmade Santa Claus that I cut out of lined poster board, colored with red crayon for Santa’s suit; black crayon for Santa’s belt, boots, and left glove; brown crayon for Santa’s right glove; and pasted with fluffy white cotton for Santa’s sleeve cuffs, jacket hem, boot tops, hat rim, and shaggy old head of hair and straggly beard.
My twelve-inch Santa Claus had graced the family Yule tree every year since I had pinned his floppy limbs together as a first-grader in 1950, until seven decades later when I framed him inside a shadow box and hung him up for year-round display on the wall next to the chimney.
One long-ago Christmas Eve, before I turned age seven, my parents set out a plate of cookies and a glass full of milk on the dining room table so that Santa would have a happy snack after climbing down the chimney. On Christmas Day morning the plate and the glass stood empty, which made me an instant believer in Santa Claus.
Then another Christmas Eve soon thereafter, I heard my parents stirring about the house during the wee hours of the night, placing gifts beneath the tree, some of which contained notes in my mother’s handwriting, saying “From Santa.” It was at that point that I realized I would no longer need to sit in Santa’s lap in the department store in order to tell Santa what I wanted for Christmas. For I knew he would no longer be coming down the chimney.
Many moons, Yuletide feasts, and discarded Christmas trees later, I thought to myself, well, gee, wouldn’t it be lovely if for just one Christmas we did away with the tinsel, the blinking lights, the fake snow on the Christmas tree, skipped the seasonal glitter altogether and leapt into the New Year without benefit of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the spiked eggnog, the mistletoe, and the Christmas “blues.” That wouldn’t be so bad after all, would it?
Then suddenly one year a different kind of Christmas catalogue arrived in the mail—not from Walmart, not from Lands’ End, not from the store for men who hate to shop for socks and underwear by trapsing all over the mall—and not from Santa’s workshop at the North Pole.
No, this one—“The Most Important Gift Catalogue in the World”—came from Heifer International.
For $120 you could give “a dairy goat” that “can supply a family with up to several quarts of nutritious milk a day—a ton of milk a year.”
For $20 you could provide a “flock of chicks for families from Cameroon to the Caribbean and add nourishing, life-sustaining eggs to their inadequate diets.”
To fight world hunger, a congregation could give a $5,000 “Gift Ark” as a mission project, including “2 Cows to bring milk and income to a Russian village, 2 Oxen to pull plows and carts in Kenya, 2 Sheep to help families in New Mexico produce wool, 2 Water Buffalo for Indonesian families to increase rice production, 2 Camels in India to transport agricultural materials, 2 Donkeys to supply draft power for farmers in Tanzania, 2 Trios of Ducks … 2 Guinea Pigs … Rabbits … Flocks of Geese”… and … and … and!
How big did you say that “Gift Ark” is, Noah?
In contrast, how much tinsel and how many blinking lights and Tinker Toys and expensively purchased big-screen TV sets beneath how many Christmas trees are there the world over, Santa Claus?
The Heifer catalog featured this: “It was a Sunday when my mother told me we were going to get a goat which would give us milk. It was the best day of my life!” said Beatrice Biira from Uganda.
The goat gave birth to two more goats which were sold for $200, enabling Beatrice and her family to have “a very good house roofed with iron sheets” instead of thatched grass.
Did someone say “Merry Christmas!” to Beatrice and her family?
Was that someone you, Santa Claus?
Or, was it you, Jesus?
And what kind of a make-shift hotel did you say you were born in on Christmas Day, Jesus?
And did I hear it correctly when I heard it said that, like my Santa Claus, you were hung on a tree?
With tinsel glistening, lights blinking, and bells ringing?
And for the sake of chickens hatching, cows milking, oxen pulling, sheep grazing, buffalo plowing, camels trudging, donkeys drafting, and ducks, Guinea pigs, rabbits, and geese mating? And fathers farming, mothers suckling, babies drinking, and children singing?
Is that why we go to the trouble to dress up our Christmas trees, Jesus?
And is that how you asked us to celebrate Christmas?
© 2022, Charles Davidson — All Rights Reserved
Charles Davidson, writer and editor, is a retired Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastor, psychotherapist, and professor of pastoral theology, care, and counseling. He is the author of Bone Dead and Rising: Vincent van Gogh and the Self Before God.