The trees were trimmed and the halls decked. Good Christian men and women rejoiced, and all the stockings were hung on walls and over fireplaces in several homes. A few days before Christmas, nine cousins gathered together to cut out snowflakes and draw pictures with Grammie while eating more sugar than their mommies really approved of, but it was the holidays. Cookies, fudge, and pie filled the house.
Tired, slightly grumpy, and played out, they gathered around the lighted tree for a story:
Once upon a time, Aunt Abby started, there was a little town east of Fort Worth called Greenhome. It sat out in the middle of flat Texas plains surrounded by a hedge of white roses that bloomed year around. A tall tower stood near the gate in the Hedge with a loud bell ringing and ringing from its tippy-top. An old olive tree guarded the way into Olive Hall where boys and girls ate three meals a day.
See, the boys and girls in Greenhome were orphans. They had no mommies and no daddies. They were all alone and they didn’t know anything about Christmas.
“That’s so sad.” Imogene frowned.
Remi and Shannon nodded in agreement.
“I’m glad I have a Mommy and a Daddy,” Jules stated.
“I have a Mommy and Daddy too!” Ellie shouted with her eyebrows raised.
“And I bet all of you know about Christmas?” Aunt Abby asked.
“Yes. It’s when we get presents,” Bruce said.
Joshua grinned. “Lots of presents.”
“And toys,” grunted Jude.
“And,” Constance said. “It’s about Mary and baby Jesus.”
“Sunday school answer.” Grandpa interrupted from the couch.
They didn’t know, Aunt Abby continued, that the King had come. They didn’t know he had humbled himself so that peace could come between him and sinners. They didn’t know about Christmas. They didn’t know that what was important about a babe in a manger wasn’t the sheep and the donkeys, but that God, who created everything, became man to save the worst people in the world just like he’d promised.
“What did they know?” Constance hugged Shannon sitting in her lap.
Well, these children in Greenhome were very special children. They weren’t just orphans. They were also specifically chosen to live in Greenhome.
“Were they the kind people?” Jules asked.
“I bet they were very brave,” Bruce guessed.
“I bet they were very obedient,” Ellie joined in.
Joshua and Jude waited with Imogene and Remi to see what made these children so special.
Nope. They weren’t kind, obedient, or even brave. They lied. They stole. They hit and kicked smaller children. They were horrible, awful children. They were children who were so bad that they were about to be thrown in prison.
But! Just as the prison gates opened, the adults from Greenhome came. They paid the cost for all the children and then adopted them into their homes.
“Oh yuck!” shouted Ellie. “I wouldn’t want those bad boys and girls in my home.”
“Me either.” Jules crossed her arms.
“Awww,” Aunt Abby said. “But see, that’s what Christmas is really all about. Jesus came and paid the cost for sinners who believe in him and then adopted them into his home. See, even though the children didn’t know what Christmas was they had experienced all the magic of Christmas already.”
“So, did they find out about Christmas?” Bruce wanted to know.
“Why yes they did!”
“How?” Imogene leaned forward.
“That’s another story. Would you like to hear it?”
“YES!” Nine cousins agreed.
“Let’s try again, and no interrupting,” Aunt Abby instructed.
From the tallest to the shortest, biggest to littlest, all the cousins scooted closer around their Aunt.
Once upon a time, a long hot summer faded into a wet fall around Greenhome leaving puddles in the streets and leaves in the gutters. Children studied history and math with no end in sight. In a house in the back near the Hedge an old man grunted as he sat down. He knew winter was coming and had spent all day gathering fuel to keep warm against the wind and snow. In his big chair he rested, alone and lonely. His wrinkled boots sat near the fire and his battered hat hung on a hook. His knurled hands ached, and his bushy white mustache hung limp around his mouth too tired to curl up around his face.
Someone knocked on his green front door.
“Who is it?” he called grumpy at a disturbance so late in the evening after a long day.
“It’s Soul.” A clear voice answered.
Grumbling, the old man climbed to his feet and made his way through his messy house to the door.
“What do you want? Can’t you see it’s dark out?”
“I need you, Claus.” Soul held up a lantern lighting up his bald head and bright eyes.
“What for?” Claus didn’t like the sound of that. Need? He didn’t want to be needed. He wanted to go sit in his chair.
“He’s not very nice,” Imogene said.
“Shhh.” Constance hushed her.
“Shhh.” Joshua hushed Constance.
“Be quiet.” Grammie ended the argument before it started.
“I have a boy that needs to be saved before he gets sent to prison,” Soul said softly.
“What? Me?” sputtered Claus. “I’m an old man Soul! What would I do with a boy under foot?”
“You’ll feed him and let him play with those snow globes you’re always making. Someone needs to play with them.”
“No. A boy from the prisons will only break my snow globes.”
“He’s selfish,” announced Remi who had just learned the word ‘selfish’. She caught Grammie’s eye and quickly shut her mouth.
“He might, but you could teach him to make more.”
“Go bother someone else.” Claus started to shut the door.
Soul stopped him, hand on the doorknob. “There is no one else, and I’ve chosen this boy to be saved.”
Muttering, murmuring, grumbling, complaining, and whining, Claus put back on his wrinkled boots and his battered hat. He slipped into his old sheepskin coat and stomped out to the shed in his backyard. Old Tell, his longhorn bull, turned his head and stared at him with one eye while he chewed his cud.
“Come on, you old monster,” Claus said. “Soul says we have to go save a boy.”
Old Tell flicked his tail and backed out of his stall so Claus could hitch him to the wagon with a bell-covered harness.
Cold night air gathered in the dark around Claus as he flicked the reigns and drove Old Tell towards the prison. Bells jingled and jangled. Claus hunched down and wished anyone other than himself had been sent to pick up some wild urchin who probably didn’t even know how to eat or speak properly. Why him? He wondered. Why would anyone, especially Soul, send an old man to save a boy?
Late in the night, he arrived at the prison with a ringing twinkle of happy bells that only grated on his nerves.
“Who’s there?” The prison warden called.
“It’s Claus. Soul sent me to save a boy about to be sent in.” His voice came out muffled from his numb lips and frozen scarf.
“Come on down.” The warden waved. “I’ll take you to him.”
Claus stumbled from the wagon, patted Old Tell, and stepped into the warden’s well-lit and warm office.
“Here he is. They say his name is Haze.”
A tall little boy with a cut by his eye and a bruise on his cheek stumbled into the room. He straightened up and made fists of his hands. His clothes were too small, showing ankles and wrists. He looked skinny and hungry and cold.
Bruce leaned in closer. “I had a cut like that.”
“Yes, you were my inspiration, now be quiet.”
Something in Claus cracked. All his grumbling and complaining mocked him. He had a warm home, work to do, a nice fire, warm boots, and Old Tell with his bell-harness. He had friends like Soul and little Ms. Carolyn who lived next door and baked him pies. He had all that and more and he complained because Soul asked him to help a little boy with nothing.
The crack grew until all his selfishness shattered down around him. Claus knelt down in front of the lost little boy and held out his hand.
“My name’s Claus. Would you like to come live with me?”
A puzzled look came over Haze’s face. His eyebrows wrinkled. His fists relaxed.
“Claus? Like Santa Claus?”
“Santa Claus? Who’s that?”
Haze reached under his threadbare shirt and pulled out a small red book. On the front was an old man in a red sleigh being pulled by eight reindeer.
“Santa Claus brings presents to children,” Haze recited, “in honor of the greatest gift given to mankind: salvation.”
“I’ve never heard of Santa Claus.” Claus paused shocked to realize that that one little red book may have made Haze richer than he ever could be. This little boy had a story about salvation, and what did Claus have? Nothing but wanting to be left alone. He was a selfish old man. Wiping a tear from his eye, Claus said, “Will you come home with me? I have snow globes you can play with, and a little room you can have. We’ll get you some boots and Ms. Carolyn can make you a pie.”
Haze’s eyes widened. “You’re my Christmas present. I never got a present before. Why would you give me one?”
“Because the salvation you talked about is given to people who don’t deserve it.”
Haze threw his arms around the grumpy old man. Claus stumbled back not sure what to do with a hug. Then slowly, he wrapped his arms around the little boy. “And I think you’re mine.”
Nine cousins cheered.
Grammie smiled, a twinkle in her eye.
Claus bundled little Haze up in a blanket and hurried out to Old Tell. With many a jingling bell they drove back to Greenhome. Haze told Claus all about Christmas, Santa, Presents, and the real Christmas Story. They reached Claus’ home as the sun rose on a crisp white morning. Haze smiled. Snow edged the gingerbread house and smoke curled up out of the chimney.
“Today is Christmas day!” Haze flipped to the back of the book and showed Claus the calendar.
“Then come on!” Claus jumped from the wagon like a man far younger. “Let’s give someone a gift in honor of our gift of each other.”
The two hurried into the house where Claus chose his favorite snow globe from a high shelf.
“What is it?” Haze gazed at it in wonder.
Claus turned it upside down. Snow swirled around an oak tree and a pine, settling on their limbs. Beneath them a man walked carrying a lantern and an umbrella.
“It’s a snow globe, my lad. And we’re going to go give it to Ms. Carolyn right now.”
And that is how Christmas came to Greenhome. In going to save a little boy who needed him, Claus was saved as well. He gave out many gifts that day, and by the next Christmas, he was called Santa Claus and had married Ms. Carolyn, who became Mrs. Claus.
Haze had many rough days as he learned to live in Greenhome, because, if you remember, he wasn’t a nice little boy. He’d been about to be thrown in prison when Clause rescued him, when he was shown grace. But he always had a friend in grumpy old Claus. Haze grew into a strong and good man, and he always celebrated Christmas with a full heart remembering the year Santa Claus came and gave him the greatest gift of all: salvation.
One day, when he was much older, Soul came to him with news of save several little boys about to be thrown in prison. Just like Claus had done for him, Haze saved those kids and was the better for it.
“Well,” Aunt Abby asked, “what did you think?”
“Who did Haze save?” Bruce bounced up and down on his knees.
“Well, that is a whole other story.” Aunt Abby ruffled Bruce’s hair.
“Will you tell it?” Joshua gave her his best smile.
“Happy Christmas,” Imogene said softly.
“No, it’s Merry Christmas!” Jules corrected.
“Merry Christmas!” shouted all the cousins.
“And God bless us, every one.” Grammie gathered everyone into a hug.