Now for the best part of the whole annual affair. I go into the house, stamp the snow off my boots; rip the 24 page off the calendar and settle in in front of the fire, warming my stockinged feet and nursing a mug of ginger tea to settle my stomach. I ask you: what kind of mad barbarian would think of putting raw eggs in milk and drinking the mess? Disgusting. That may be fine for a that Scandinavian fellow they use in all the pictures, but I'm Greek and of course I'm lactose intolerant. Just once I'd like it if somebody would leave a nice plate of olives or some flat bread with coarse sea salt and bit of extra virgin oil.
I'm dog tired but still too hyped up to go to bed. The caffeine levels in my blood would give a lesser man a stroke. I may as well stay up and turn in early tomorrow night. As usual there's nothing on the tube worth watching. We only get one network up here: the Surveillance Network. I thought we might be able to get a dish, but when we told the person on the phone our latitude he just laughed and hung up.
Well, I could get a start on next year's list I guess; it beats talking to myself.
Let's get the worst over first. Let's see... OK, here's little Tommy. He got a game console, but not the one he wanted. He's screaming bloody murder. Mom is going to make it right though as soon as the stores open tomorrow. Unspeakable little blackmailer. Runs in the family though. She threatened him with no presents, and of course now she doesn't have a leg to stand on. The difference between them is that there is no one more ruthless than a child, who doesn't grasp the concept of permanent consequences. Change the channel.
OK, the Smiths. Two kids left, they lost the youngest in November. Accident, completely unexpected. His presents are still wrapped in the attic. First time the kids have almost had fun since it happened, and they feel strange about it. They don't know it, but most of the reason they feel odd is because Joe's ghost is standing right there next to them; he's plain as day on the video. I am telepathically willing his parents, go upstairs and bring little Joe's presents down - he wants to see what he got. It never works, but it was worth a try.
I really wish they'd never mixed me up in this business about rewarding good kids and punishing bad kids. Parents desperately want their kids to believe that people get what they deserve. Well, the cruel truth is that practically nobody gets what the deserve. Not Terrible Tommy and certainly not Little Joe. I'm not saying grab some two year old and tell them that horrible things happen to good little children for no particular reason. The youngest kids certainly aren't ready for the truth yet. But that's no reason to indoctrinate them into a wicked, vicious lie, a lie we hang like a millstone around the necks of bereaved parents.
It isn't just that we didn't even celebrate Christmas back when I was walking the Earth as a mortal. One thing you lean in 1600 years is that feasts change. If we have to nick a holiday from Mithra, well, I'm not complaining. I baptized many a pagan in my day, and if I have to baptize his festivals as well, it's a small price to pay. In fact, this was a well established practice back in my day. A spiritual man has to feast and he has to atone. If he can do so without drawing attention to himself, it's safer, on more than one level.
But if you really knew my story, you know there's a terrible irony in my being picked to represent the idea of Earthly reward and retribution, a pagan idea if I ever heard one.
When I was bishop in Myra, there was a poor family that had the bad luck of having produced three daughters and no sons. Three dowries they couldn't pay, no sons to support them in their old age. Back then, being an unmarried woman of a certain age was as good as being an outcast. One thing you need to understand about Christian communities is that they have two pillars, women and the poor. Once Diocletian was out of the picture, we had everything: the finest icons, the richest vestments, vessels of gold, rare incense, all paid for by the generosity of the poor. So, I put these two things together - rich church, poor family with three girls, and I decided to, well, redistribute things a bit.
I will confess that I'm not the most modest of men, far from it. But I wouldn't be bringing up my little bit of ancient history except to point out that while there are many lessons we could draw from it, "life is fair" is not one of them. "It doesn't take much to make a hero" would be better. What I would like people to take away from this story is the idea that life is not fair, and if you want justice you have go out and make some yourself.
It takes so little. What I did in Myra was hardly more than sound management. Investing in our best customers, you might say. But it didn't take long for people to start make a ridiculous fuss over the thing. It was nice having a church named in my honor by Justinian, but it didn't stop there. I thought the matter had reached the peak of absurdity in 1087, when Italian freebooters stole my bones and had them shipped on the sly to Apulia so they could be venerated. Was I ever wrong.
You people need to get a grip on yourselves. It mystifies me utterly how people can be so sentimental yet hard hearted. You're like ants drowning in honey. Every time I hear one of you giving a homily about the true meaning of Christmas I want to sieze you and shout: Wake up! Your time is at hand! You don't have time for this nonsense.
I don't want to be totally negative here. There are bright spots. Look, look. These are the Mooneys, Jasper and Ted. They're adult brothers. Both were definitely naughty as kids, but with their nasty parents playing them off against each other you couldn't blame them. As soon as they could, they got out of the house and never looked back. They lost touch until this year when both parents, who were divorced twenty years ago, happened to die within a few weeks of each other. There's lots of death this year, same as every year. Jasper and Ted renewed their acquaintance during two successive and grueling death vigils and now they're visiting each other on Christmas. Fears of an uncomfortable situation were greatly exaggerated. Their wives like each other, and their children, who are blessedly normal and reasonably good, are playing happily together. Now the Mooneys are discovering that a lot of their childhood memories really aren't that bad.
Doesn't that warm your heart?
Of course not, because you're a cynical bastard. There isn't a torch in the Home Depot catalog that burns hot enough to raise the temperature of your heart by a single degree. You never waste an opportunity to prove to the world how cynical you are, but you don't have to prove anything to me. You forget that I see into your heart and I can measure to the last atom the cynical part you give to the world against the tender part you keep for your own use. I know exactly how cynical you are. Because I made you that way.
For that I'm truly sorry, I really am. I'd take it all back if I could.