Some years ago, the Venturing Crew Deanne and I were leading was hanging around at a meeting, talking about places and creatures of the wilderness. We got to talking about how "reindeer" and "caribou" are just different names for the same animal, Rangifer tarandus. Heads nodded sagely around the island in the church kitchen.
Suddenly, 16-year-old Hannah -- a bright girl, able to converse intelligently on many subjects -- broke in, crying, "You mean reindeer are real?" Apparently, she had only ever heard of reindeer of the flying variety -- the type that is said to pull Santa's sleigh. She was flabbergasted to learn there was a real animal of that name living on the tundra and in the taiga.
But not more flabbergasted than the rest of us. We stared at each other in speechless wonder for what seemed the longest time. Then, we all broke out laughing. Yes, reindeer really exist.
So, by the way, does St. Nicholas*. And Good King Wenceslas**. Not mention St. Stephen***. All of these were followers of Christ, whom we believe are with Christ in heaven and therefore still part of the Church (see "communion of saints").
I don't have a quarrel with the fancier (mostly, modern) stories associated with Christmas. But the real story of Christ and those who follow him is more full of marvels than anything out of a storybook. And it has the added benefit of being true. In his famous essay, "On Fairy-Stories," J.R.R. Tolkien wrote of the Christian story,
"There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. . . . To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath."
So have the very merriest of Christmasses! Just remember whose birthday we're celebrating. That makes all the difference in this world -- and the next.
*Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (270-346), whose feast day is December 6, was famous for his help given to the poor. He lived through the last great surge of persecutions. After Constantine legalized Christianity, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) and helped write the Nicene Creed.
**Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia, later King (907-929), was famous for his concern for the poor. He was a pioneer in bringing Christianity to his people. He was murdered by his brother Boleslav, head of an anti-Christian faction.
***Stephen, the first martyr (Acts 7:58-60), upon whose feast day (December 26), King Wenceslas is said to have looked out and identified a poor man in need of his help (the poor man is merely a lyrical convention, and not a real individual, I'm afraid).