15: Rudolph’s Shiny Red Nose

15: Rudolph’s Shiny Red Nose

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Rudolph’s Shiny Red Nose

The Government of Canada wishes Santa the very best in his Christmas Eve duties, and wants to let him know that, as a Canadian citizen, he has the automatic right to re-enter Canada once his trip around the world is complete.

~Jason Kenney, as Minster of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

I didn’t figure it out until I was nearly twenty-one years old. Every Christmas Eve Santa would visit the grandparents before we got there and, no matter how much I begged, he never once showed up at our house until Christmas morning. Dad said it was because some people (like Grandpa) negotiated Christmas Eve with Santa when they were small. Some people (like Grandpa) thought turkey was better before opening presents, not after. Since Mom never contradicted him, we accepted it without another thought. As envious as I was that they went first, I didn’t mind getting two Christmases out of the deal.

The tradition was familiar, and special because of it. Our grandparents opened gifts pulled from beneath icicle tinsel dripping from the crannies of the small and weirdly silver tree that was tucked into a corner of their apartment. After Eight wafers and an abundance of Christmas oranges filled our bellies. Orange, mint, dark chocolate — there were probably other flavours to sample, but I can’t recall them.

Grandpa’s recliner was the same shade of Christmas orange, and it squeaked with considerable protest every time he moved. The Irish Rovers belted out the unicorn song through a stereo that took up an entire wall. With as much enthusiasm as we could muster, we sang the lyrics along with Grandpa.

The kids got one gift each, which may in fact have been a box of After Eights. When all the wrappings were disposed of and all the goodnights said, our family of six smushed back into the old station wagon for the eighteen-kilometre drive from Regina to Lumsden. The youngest brother fit nicely between Mom and Dad in the front, while the rest of us fought to avoid the dreaded hump in the middle of the back seat. We were squished, tired, and cranky kids by then. We still had a good thirty minutes to drive before we’d be home.

Without fail, before the halfway mark Dad would say, “You better quit bickering back there or Santa won’t be coming to our house.”

His warning bought perhaps three minutes of peace.

As the complaints about the tight seating mounted anew, Mom would add, “And you’ll have to go to bed as soon as you get home. There won’t be gifts for kids who are still awake.”

My older brother refused. He was, after all, the eldest and the biggest, and clearly, the most mature. Going to sleep, that was for babies. I could, and our sister could but —

“Look!” said Dad, pointing out the window. “What is that? See that red light? I think… could it be? Yes, I’m sure it is. Rudolph’s nose!”

Sure enough, there it was, a blinking red beacon in the sky guiding the way for eight more reindeer and of course, for Santa. We squinted to see the sleigh, but it was always lost in the blackness of night. We tried to climb over each other for a better look out the back window, but it didn’t take long before Rudolph’s nose vanished from view completely.

Missed it again.

When we got home, we hastily took to our beds. Santa was close! My sister and I shared a tiny room in our tiny house and shushed each other while we pretended to fall asleep. We listened intently for reindeer hooves on the roof. I have no idea if my older brother slept or not, but we dozed off in spite of our determined efforts to stay awake long enough to sneak out and see Santa transforming the front room.

In the morning, gifts would cascade from under the tree to the centre of the room, carefully piled so the biggest ones were at the back. The spicy fragrance of warm and gooey cinnamon buns coming out of the oven mingled with the distinctive aroma of Mom and Dad’s coffee. Both sets of grandparents would come to our home, and we would spend the morning in a paper and ribbon frenzy. We never succeeded at waiting patiently to see what someone else may have gotten. We were however, quite adept at ripping apart a package in nanoseconds.

We left that house and moved a province away just as I was entering my teen years. When it was time for university, I went back to Regina in no small part because my grandparents still lived there.

One day, I decided to show off small-town Saskatchewan living to my Australian classmate. At the midpoint of our drive to Lumsden, a familiar red glow blinked slowly in the blue sky of spring. Had I imagined it? Surely Rudolph only flew in the night sky. With excuses to my Aussie friend, I pulled over, then backed up on the shoulder until I found the light again. I began to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” she asked.

“That’s Rudolph.” I giggled again.

She looked at me as though I had somehow stomped on all my brain cells.

“That’s a radio tower,” she said.

“True enough. Sorry. It’s kind of hard to explain.”

I told her the story, and it took some time before it was as funny to her as it had been for me. After showing her my town and the house where I used to live, we made the return trip back to Regina. This time, we both waved and giggled at Rudolph as we passed by, asking him to say hello to Donner and Blitzen for us and to put in a good word with the big guy.

I phoned my parents. “Dad,” I said, “did you know Rudolph hangs out in the same place every day of the year?”

After a long pause, he said, “Well kiddo, you better get to sleep right quick, or Santa won’t find you.”

“It’s May,” I said.

“I know,” he said. “Always good to plan ahead.”

~Crystal Thieringer

Ottawa, Ontario

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