46: On Guard

46: On Guard

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

On Guard

With my own kids grown to sophistication — and to sleeping in — I need someone around me who believes in Santa Claus, and who thinks that anyone still in bed at Christmas dawn has wasted half the day.

~Peter Gzowski

Some years ago my brother’s two boys came to stay with us for Christmas. Despite the fact that his birthday was not until May, the older boy, Nick, was very happy to announce that he was almost six, and his younger brother, Chad, was almost four.

On the long wall of our living room was a large open fireplace with a pine mantle. On Christmas Eve, our family of two boys and a girl along with the extra two cousins gathered beside the hearth to participate in our Christmas traditions. The younger three children were piled on my husband’s knee as he read The Night Before Christmas. The older two were taking turns jiggling the popcorn in the only-used-once-a-year vintage popper with the sliding lid, and trying valiantly not to let an errant flame leap from the fire into our treat.

The story over, the buttered popcorn eaten, and Santa’s milk and cookies placed on a small table beside the tree, each of us hung one of my husband’s socks from the pine mantle, and the five children headed for bed. Three steps out, however, Nicholas stopped.

“The fire!” he said in alarm. “When Santa comes down the chimney he’ll burn up!”

“No,” I said. “It’ll go out. By the time he gets here, it’ll be completely cold.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely, Nick, don’t worry,” I said and attempted to move him along to bed.

“But that little table in there,” he said pointing to the grate upon which we had built the blaze. “How’ll he get past that? There’s no room. You need to take it out.”

We had left milk and cookies for Santa, so why not accommodate him with the removal of the ash encrusted grate? It seemed obvious enough…

“Okay,” we said. “But the fire needs to die down. I promise that later, before we go to bed, we’ll get the oven gloves and lift it out then. There’ll be plenty of room for Santa by the time he gets here.”

“And now, off to bed with you guys,” said my husband with a grin.

Now, when I was growing up, my parents insisted on following the truly horrible tradition of requiring the kids to stay in bed on Christmas morning until they themselves were up. This was followed by a mandatory sit-down breakfast before we could go into the living room to see what Santa had brought. Once this misery had been endured, the oldest family member then went first into the living room to see what was under the tree. After making the appropriate “oohs and aahs” he would get comfortably seated and then call in the next oldest person.

I love traditions, but not all of them, so I compromised by maintaining, but humanely modifying this particular ritual. Our kids were expected to wash their faces and brush their teeth while we prepared toast, coffee and juice, and then each of us could take our breakfast into the room with tree to minimize the torturous waiting.

On this particular Christmas, my husband, being the oldest, went in first, but instead of the regulation howls of delight, we heard his shocked voice call out, “Nick! What are you doing in there?”

Ever the traditionalist, I assured the kids it was best to stay in the hall awaiting their entry, while I hurried into the room. Well, it was my turn, anyway.

And there was Nick, arms and legs firmly crossed, sitting in the fireplace where the ash encrusted, Santa-blocking grate had been. He was posted among the debris left from the previous night, and obviously beginning to feel the cold. It is a bit chilly in an open, empty fireplace. And he was very, very dirty.

It seems that because of the time he had been required to wait, Nick, who was very energetic, had slipped unseen into the living room some time earlier. A quick peek wouldn’t hurt anything, he figured. Impressed with the array of gifts, and seeing how many there were with his name on them, he had been stricken with the words from the popular Christmas song about Santa Claus coming to town and knowing “who’s been naughty and nice.” Nick suddenly realized that he had not been entirely nice all year and was, in fact, guilty of many naughty incidents. Fearful that should Santa decide to check his list again, he would discover that a grave error had occurred in the delivery of all these wonderful Christmas gifts to Nicholas Wyllie and return down the chimney to take them back. As a result he had placed himself in the fireplace to guard against such a possibility and fend off Santa.

~Robyn Gerland

Chemainus, British Columbia

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