55: The Christmas Hostage

55: The Christmas Hostage

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

The Christmas Hostage

The secret to humor is surprise.

~Aristotle

Typically a man of quiet spirit, my husband morphs into Mr. Christmas after we take down our Thanksgiving decorations. It’s like he’s saved up all his playful fervor behind a mask of reserve all year. And then, bam! Passing neighborhood children stop to gawk at his obsession — oversized hollow figures that light up, including a complete nativity scene. The baby Jesus is his most challenging piece, requiring not only a stake of wood like the larger pieces, but also wire to strap him in.

I’ve seen dormant competitive streaks awaken during this time of year, and it peaks with my husband Joe. “Kathleen’s got her manger scene out already,” he said coming home from a drive by his sister’s lawn.

I played along, taking my husband’s side of course. “Yours is always bigger and brighter.”

“She didn’t strap down the baby Jesus. It might blow away.”

“You’ve told her before and she didn’t listen. When she has to pay $50 for a new one like you did, she’ll learn.” I am jealous of his sister. They have a shared childhood history in a tight Philadelphia row home neighborhood, cementing their relationship. It sometimes makes me feel like an outsider.

December is always a blur of happy busyness. But come early January, the excitement of retro childhood fantasy dissipates as the decorations come down.

We were leaving Kathleen’s home on January 6th one year, after a 50th birthday celebration, and reminiscing. Joe checked his sister’s nativity scene as we passed it on our way down her porch steps. “She’s lucky no one stole her baby Jesus. She didn’t zip-tie him tight enough to the manger.”

I hated to see my husband’s playful side go back into storage for another eleven months. His antics with his sister back inside the house were infectious, inspiring me to become an accomplice.

“Take it,” I goaded as we strolled along Kathleen’s driveway to the sidewalk.

Joe laughed. “No.” He stole a glance to see if his sister had gone inside.

“Why not?” I pushed. “I dare you.”

He stopped and said, “She’ll need it for next year.”

“Joe, you’ll give it back.” I knew he was thinking she’d be as upset as he was when our original one was stolen. “And you can leave a note or call her in a disguised voice saying you’re holding him for ransom.” I could tell he was interested. “Come on. She’ll know it’s you right away. And she’ll love the fun you’ll have with her.”

St. Joseph said no more and adopted his sister’s plastic doll for a year. We hid it in our home and took it out for photo opportunities. The first photo I snapped was of Joe behind the wheel of his pick-up with the doll atop the truck above his head. He’s smiling as if about to drive away unaware of it. He left the picture inside Kathleen’s mailbox.

Joe works in a rail yard, so he brought the poor baby to work and put him on the tracks. Click. That photo arrived at his sister’s with a playfully written suggestion.

We also used the doll to lighten up a serious family situation. Our daughter was admitted to the hospital and needed emergency surgery. We brought the doll to her hospital room. I saw a twinkle in her eye as she mustered a smile while posing with the abducted plastic. Her smile gave way to chuckles when her dad took another picture of the thing on the windowsill as a helicopter landed on its pad just outside. The note attached to this picture was most fun because our recovering daughter and her visitors helped write it.

There’s a picture of the baby Jesus presented to the camera by Kathleen’s own teenagers, taken at Easter time when they stopped by to visit our teens.

Kathleen responded to the fun by taping a poster of her missing decoration to a milk carton and passing it around to family who knew all about the prank.

The year of the missing nativity piece extended family playfulness in such a uniting way that surrendering the hostage was almost sad. But as preparations for the next Christmas began, Joe returned the decoration with gratitude for the love — and mischievous streak — of his family.

~Dawn Byrne

More stories from our partners