Most of us born and raised in Christendom (and many who were not) take part in the delightful practice of gathering around the television and watching Christmas movies. Not everyone, of course. The following people might not take part in such activities:
1. People like my sweet Grandma Ruth, who tried to watch a movie with us this year, only to say in her Swedish accent, “I yust don’t undertand it. Vy does the fireplace appeer ven Santa comes down the shim-ney?”
2. People like my daughters’ Sunday School Teacher, who told them, “Girls, you might have been told that Santa is real and good, but I am here to tell you that Santa is actually Satan’s helper demon, sent to ruin the true meaning of Christmas.” I’m guessing a Sunday School teacher like that isn’t watching Miracle on 34th Street very often, though the nightmares little Riley experienced of a ghoulish Santa demon coming down the chimney were more real than any Christmas movie this year.
3. People whose last name happens to be a religion or the name of an Austrian military leader, and have also blocked me on Facebook. I’m sure those type of people aren’t watching Christmas movies either – they’re planning on ways to judge me for being a bad person , or spending their time returning money that they have found (yes, I’m talking about this guy).
For the rest of us, watching Christmas movies is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend the holiday season. The family piles onto the couch, the lights are dimmed, and we vicariously live an amazingly wonderful Christmas through Bing or Kris Kringle or Rudolph or the Grinch or Ralphie.
Ralphie’s Christmas Story is my personal favorite. This is partly because Jean Shepard’s book is based on life in Hammond, IN loosely around the time my dad was growing up there. Every time we watch the film, my mom and dad get lost in nostalgia, and I love a good story about those days…
Mostly, I love the way Ralphie finally gets his Red Ryder bb gun. Christmas appears to be over, the family just relaxing on the couch, when the old man spots one last present tucked away behind the desk. Of course it’s the Red Ryder, and Ralphie’s dreams are fulfilled.
I don’t know if it was seeing that movie that spurred it, but my mom pulled a similar feat on Christmas in 1988. The day was nearly spent, we had just come back home from Auntie Paula’s house, and I was content, but a little sad. I had received a lot of nice things, but not my heart’s greatest desire. As we sat on the couch, my mom asked me what my favorite gift had been, which had been the boombox from my grandma and grandpa. Then she motioned to me and said, “Wait a minute – isn’t there something still under the tree?”
There was indeed!
I crawled under the tree, snagged the large box, and snaked my way back out. It was for me, from Santa Claus himself! I could hardly contain my glee as I shredded the paper wrapped around my Nintendo Entertainment System!!! Super Mario Brothers included!!! Hours of my life were lost to this amazing gift, and the “Christmas Story” delivery made it that much more special.
As you might have noticed if you’ve read this blog, I have kids of my own now. We’ve had our ups and downs as it relates to Santa Claus and Christmas gifts – most noticeably when Reagan morphed into a super sleuth trying to uncover the truth behind the legends. But for the most part, Christmas followed the same formula every year: Open one present on Christmas Eve, wake up and read the Christmas Story (the Real Christmas Story, not Ralphie’s version), eat Pillsbury Orange Rolls, open all the presents except for a few, go to Grandma and Grandpa’s or Mamma and Pappa’s, then come home and open a few last presents. Then, bedtime and recovery from eating so much…
Last year, I decided that we were missing an opportunity with those last few presents. Why not do something a la the Nintendo in 1988? In fact, why not create a family tradition?
In truth, I arrived at this decision in large part to try to keep the present for wifie a secret, as detailed in my last blog. But I thought it could be extremely fun for the girls too… if I could wrap it up into an adventure.
Thus was born the Legend of Pirate Claus.
This is the story I told my daughters…
According to the tales of old, in the 1700’s, a ship tempted the fates by trying to deliver a full load of cargo on Christmas Eve. This ship had gotten a late start, but the Captain had wanted to push onward because much of the cargo was wrapped in fancy paper, presents for children in the British Colonies. The ship made it within sight of the port, but the lighthouse keeper had downed a bit too much eggnog and the light had died out. With a winter storm raging and no light to guide them in, the Captain was forced to take the ship back out to sea.
There, tragedy struck. The infamous pirate Reddish-Brown Beard and his crew of miscreants appeared in the night, cannons blazing. They quickly boarded the ship and put the crew to the sword. The foul pirates brought the Captain to old Reddish-Brown Beard, whose chin whiskers had turned mostly white with age. The Captain looked him defiantly in the eye.
“Time to say good-bye to yer ship, Cap’n!” Reddish-Brown Beard sneered. Ye’ll be joining yer men plenty soon!”
“Pfaw…” the Captain spat in the old pirate’s face. “Though I join my men in death, with my last breath I curse you! May you spend the rest of eternity delivering the gifts I could not deliver this day! May you roam from port to port for all time!”
“Har,” snarled Reddish-Brown Beard. “Time to meet yer maker, fool!” With that, the pirates pitched the captain into the sea.
“Let’s be gettin’ on, men!” Reddish-Brown Beard felt the cold rain seeping into his bones. “Stow the presents on arrrr ship and let’s make haste!”
The crewmen brought the gifts up out of the hold, and attempted to toss the presents across the gap between the ships. ZAAAPPP!!!! The presents hit an invisible wall, and bounced back onto the deck.
“What manner of trickery is this,” cried Reddish-Brown Beard. “Get’em on me ship!!!!”
Again, the pirates attempted to toss the presents. Again, the invisible wall stopped them.
“‘Tis the cap’n’s curse,” the pirates muttered. “This ship be cursed!”
“Garrrrrr….” growled Reddish-Brown Beard. He grabbed a present and attempted to swing back over to his ship. ZAP! Both he and the present landed on the deck.
The crew edged away from their dazed leader. “He be cursed too,” they whispered.
“Naarrrr,” Reddish-Brown Beard shook his grizzled head as he pushed himself off the deck. “Tis some sort o’ freak wind. Thar ain’t no curse on me!!!”
The pirates looked at the man that had led them for many years, and turned and fled. They leapt across the gap between the ships, some of them plummeting into the icy sea to avoid the curse of Reddish-Brown Beard. He attempted to follow his men, but again met the same fate. An invisible wall cast him back onto the deck as the last of his men scrambled to safety.
His first mate called out as the ship that had been his sailed away, “Ye were a true pirate, ol’ Reddish-Brown Beard, but ye went too far this night. Enjoy yer endless time takin’ gifts to kiddies, ye Pirate Claus!”
So Reddish-Brown Beard traveled the earth, delivering all the gifts in the hold of his new ship, which seemed endless. While he was allowed to leave his ship to bring the goodies to boys and girls everywhere, he couldn’t escape his heritage as the foulest pirate on the seas. So he preferred to leave behind clues or maps to force the kiddies to find their gifts… and maybe, just maybe, one day some of the kiddies that enjoyed their treasure hunt will join his crew.
Why look, girls. What is this piece of paper stuck between the couch cushions? It looks like a pirate’s poem…
Why children dost thou look so glum?
Christmas is over, thy fun is done?
Arrgh, thy be wrong, my little sweets
Thou hast to search for a few more treats
A wild search dost call thy name,
to find plunder of pirate fame
Thou must be quick and sharp of wit
Or thy will miss these last tidbits
The first clue takes you to a magic place
Where pictures move with subtle grace
And the family gathers, to watch and grin
Look behind, and the hunt begins
And thus the hunt begins for the special present that Pirate Claus brings to end Christmas for the year…
I don’t know how long the tradition will continue, but I have the feeling Pirate Claus will be sailing the high seas for many years to come.