My how the time flies. It’s already time for St. Nick to drop down the chimney again. It seems like just yesterday I put away the Halloween decorations (ok, it WAS yesterday, but whose counting?).
Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. Maybe it’s because I have little people all around to share the holiday with. Their exuberant anticipation is contagious. We have been busy doing all the family traditions that surround this lovely holiday. We baked cookies, we decorated, we visited Santa, we made Christmas crafts, we’ve been watching Christmas movies (the Grinch and Rudolph are favorites), and we’ve been reading Christmas stories. Among the requested repeat reads are, Pete the Cat Saves Christmas, The Fourth Wiseman, and various forms of the story of the birth of Jesus. Tonight we will visit a tradition started by my sweet mother, the opening of one gift on Christmas eve. Amazingly, it is always new pajamas!
Most of the popular and common Christmas traditions in the United States were begun in the Victorian era. Sending Christmas cards, caroling, and roasting a turkey for the feast were all brought into the American mainstream in the early 19th century. Sadly, one tradition that has fallen to the wayside is the gathering around the fire on Christmas Eve to tell ghost stories.
In honor of that old time tradition I’m going to tell you a tale based on a ghost story that my Grandma likes to tell us whenever she can. So lower the lights, gather around the fire, and snuggle up.
Tomas hadn’t always been bad. He had once followed the church but had long ago abandoned his faith. It wasn’t his fault that he had been born poor. It wasn’t his fault that foolish people left their homes unlocked when they went to Christmas Eve mass. It also wasn’t his fault they left their best silver and other treasures out in the open. They obviously didn’t cherish these items, it was his duty to put the booty to better use.
His haul in the tiny mountain town wasn’t as good as he had hoped. He should have known that with the mine closed there wouldn’t be much available to him. The pack slung over his shoulder was much too light.
He heard that the church would remain unlocked until morning mass for anyone who choose to spend the night in prayer. Churches always contained the best golden trinkets and the people would need to sleep sometime. Tomas had decided to hike through the woods and wait in the darkness behind the tiny stone building. When the coast was clear he would gather what he could and be gone.
The almost full moon was obscured by clouds, making it difficult for him to see but Tomas didn’t mind. It made it difficult for him to be seen, exactly what he wanted. The tall pines and aspens provided even more perfect cover. It was as if nature itself was assisting him.
He settled into a tight growth of pines and sat on a low growing juniper to wait it out. He watched the church,the windows glowing warmly with the candle light within. He knew that the people would return home soon and find their things missing. That would distract them from the church even further. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
A slight rustling behind him startled him. Had he forgotten to cover his tracks in the snow? Maybe they already tracked him here.
He spun around. Nothing but the dark woods. A slight breeze rustling the tree tops and billowing clouds across the face of the moon.
Something heavy snapped branches to his left. He leapt to his feet.
Silhouetted against the faded moonlight was a huge black shape. Protruding from the enormous head were long sharply pointed horns. Tomas recalled tales of the Devil from his youth. Only the Devil would appear to someone bent on such an evil act on the holiest night of the year.
The monstrosity began moving his way. Tree branches splintering in its wake. The Prince of Darkness coming to claim his own.
Tomas felt his chest constrict as the breath was squeezed from his body by fear. The pack jangled noisily to his feet and he collapsed to the cold ground.
In the early Christmas light the people found the thief frozen by death and the cold night. They were unsure if he had been trying to steal the prize bull from the Garcia ranch, a foolish effort at best. Señor Garcia didn’t even know the bull was missing until the animal was discovered a few feet from the dead man, entangled in the underbrush. Everyone was able to reclaim their belongings from the thief’s sack and enjoy a Merry Christmas.
From my house to yours – Merry Christmas!
p.s. Grandma Rosie, I love you!