[Part three of a four-part story for Christmas. In case you missed it, here is part one.]
That Christmas Eve, things went as usual. They had a nice dinner and then went to the service at church. The entire sanctuary was lit only by candles, except for the stage where a spotlight shown down like a beam from the star, showing the manger where the baby would lay. Though singing was usually Jeremy’s least favorite part of church—at least his parents let him draw while the preacher was speaking—tonight he stood with them and listen as all the different voices lifted up together to fill the air above him. He even managed to go the entire service without hitting his brother. He didn’t want to risk Santa showing up at their house a few presents short.
Afterwards they went home and opened a few presents from his mom’s side of the family. Then it was time for bed. Jeremy put his pajamas on himself, brushed his teeth, and then ran out to kiss his dad goodnight before he went to bed.
“Are you sure you don’t want to help with this?” his dad asked as he pulled the trap out of its special place in the hall closet.
Jeremy looked at him with a glint in his eye. “You got it, dad,” he said, trying to hide a smile.
His father winked at him, then looked around the room for a minute. “There, just in front of the tree, he won’t miss it there.” He thought for a moment and scratched his chin. “Now where did I—Oh, yeah!” He reached over to Jeremy’s ear and pulled out the magic peppermint. “I, uh, put it back there for safekeeping,” his father chuckled. Then he placed it in the trap, opened the fierce jaws, and set the catch. Jeremy couldn’t help but giggle; the trap didn’t look half-so-frightening anymore.
“What are you snickering at?” his dad asked wryly.
“Oh, nothing,” he said. “Nothing,” He went over and kissed him on the cheek. “Good night, dad, mom. See ya’ in the morning.”
* * * * *
When Jeremy’s eyes opened the next day he was awake immediately. The house was as quiet as sleeping mice. He stood up on his bed and looked out the window—no snow, but that didn’t really matter. It was still Christmas.
He hopped off his bed and crept past his parents’ bedroom, then past his brother’s, then broke into a run toward the front room. As he peeked around the corner he saw the tree alight with flashing colors. The light played off the ornaments and danced around the room.
Hanging on a bottom branch of the tree was a ceramic, rainbow-color sled with Jeremy’s name written on one side. “Funny,” he thought to himself, “I don’t remember bringing that home.” Then he gasped. Below it was the Christmas trap. It was sprung. And the peppermint was gone.
Jeremy approached it carefully. In its jaws was a small sheet of paper. When he got close enough, he inched it free from the jaws. There was something written on it. Jeremy read,
Thanks for the warning. You saved me and the Christmases of a lot of children. I’ll never forget you for that. You were a very good boy this year. Merry Christmas. I hope you like what I got you!
Jeremy clapped his hands in excitement, then read the note a second time. When he turned to go back to his room, to his surprise he saw his dad leaning against the wall at the corner of the entrance from the hallway. His eyebrows where knit as if angry, but there was the slightest smirk of a smile at the corner of his mouth. “So, he got away again this year, didn’t he?” he asked.
Jeremy tried to look disappointed. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Hmm,” his dad pressed through his lips. “You don’t really seem all that upset about it. Why not?”
Jeremy thought for a moment that he was caught, but slipped the note into his pocket and looked at the carpet, making letters with the toe of his slipper. Then he looked up, straight into his father’s eyes. “Because there’s more to Christmas than just the toys—don’t you know that, dad?”
It was his dad’s turn to study the carpet a bit, then he looked up at his son, his eye’s glistening just a bit. “Yes, I am learning that.” He smiled and held out his arms. “Com’on, let’s go wake up your mom and your brother. If we let them sleep in all day, it’ll be forever before we get to open what Santa brought us.”
Jeremy ran and jumped into his father’s arms, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him on the cheek. The stubble on his face was prickly and he caught the slightest whiff of peppermint candy—for one gleaming moment, the entire world seemed to smell of peppermint.
Christmas would never be more real.