Christmas is a time of sharing -- and not just food or gifts, but also profound, timeless memories.
My family had a styrofoam Santa sleigh with a plump cotton Santa and nine wax reindeer. The decoration was a family heirloom, which isn't remotely true but the heirloom angle punches up the story.
The heirloom normally was set out by the Christmas tree in the living room. When I was 11 or so, I got to keep it in my bedroom. I remember lifting it up and pretending Santa was flying through the air. The sleigh had little pretend presents glued to it. And there were those nine wax reindeer.
Two nights before Christmas, I asked my best friend to come over. It was urgent, I told him. But when I showed him the Santa sleigh, he was not overjoyed or even joyed. He was hoping I had discovered a stash of Playboys, which would have explained the land speed record he broke running to my house. When he saw it was just a styrofoam Santa, his Christmas spirit was broken, and I felt foolish.
Maybe it was the lack of quality adult magazines, I don't know, but I had one of those ideas so profoundly stupid it made future mistakes seem like child's play.
I lit the family heirloom on fire.
You have questions, I know. What is a kid doing with matches? Where were his parents? Why did he want to burn down Santa of all people? Did he eventually receive the psychiatric help he obviously needed?
Hey, I wasn't trying to burn down Santa. I liked the old guy -- believed in him, you could say. I just wondered what would happen if I lit the tip of a wax reindeer antler. Just the tip.
Shockingly soon, there appeared those in the firefighting profession call "flames." I had never witnessed a fire -- especially one in my bedroom. Steve and I watched in odd awe, as Santa's entire operation went up in smoke. Untested in the ways of fire, we became alarmed when the curtains caught fire.
I opened the window to let the smoke out, as Steve quietly went to the bathroom in the hall. He shuttled Dixie cups of water into the burning bedroom. We discovered Dixie cups are not optimal firefighting equipment. So, we formed a brigade and managed to douse the festive inferno. One wall had smoke damage, so I pulled an NFL poster off the other wall to cover it (thank you again, Joe Namath).
After a cooling-off period, I stowed the charred sleigh and reindeer nubs under my bed. Santa himself survived intact, probably due to a flame-retardant material long since outlawed. Sensing the night's fun had concluded, my best friend went home. The fire, if nothing else, had taken our minds off any phantom Playboys.
Alone, I had a choice:
1. Tell my parents about torching a favorite Christmas decoration and risk not getting a Spalding football from Santa.
2. Don't tell my parents.
I chose the latter for reasons best explained in No. 1.
But this Christmas season I decided to break my silence in hopes of preventing others from making the same mistakes.
Don't mess with fire, kids.
And don't ever, ever, mess with Santa.
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