Tuesday, Third Week of Advent
December 18, 2007

"Truly I say unto you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all." -- Mark 10:15

Christmas Memory

I grew up in a foster home with fractured Christmas memories, some good, some not so good.  As a child I could never get my head around why I received two different sets of presents, some from my foster parents and some from my father who lived some distance away.  I spent little time giving this small fact much thought, as every year I'd tear into whatever present I was given, paying little or no attention to who it was from!  As I grew into young adulthood and joined the military I had no family contact at all and Christmas became lonely and sometime painful as friends would travel to be with their families and I would be left alone on whatever military base I happened to be stationed on.  This continued in college as well, even though I was able to cut the pain by choosing to work on Christmas day saying, 'I'm making double time & a half!'  As I grew older I began to dread the holiday season and it's impending sense of emptiness. 

It wasn't until I met my wife Kim that this began to change.  She is from a very loving and large Catholic family that believes in family holidays.  Each Christmas we would go back to Minnesota and the family would gather and share the love they felt for each other with food, gifts, football and bundles of wrapping paper.  As her siblings began to have children of their own, this already large family got even larger and the children became the focal point of the holiday celebration.  Each year one of her brothers would play Santa Claus and the kids would be excited to sit on Santa's lap, smiling from ear to ear as they received their gift from the man himself.  The year after Aunt Carol was forced to play Santa I was told that next year it was my turn.  I laughed quietly to myself thinking no way am I going to play Santa without union pay!

But the following year when my mother in-law gave me the Santa suit, I like the dutiful son in-law put it on, grabbed the bag of presents for the kids and stole around to the front of the house and rang the doorbell.  'Ho Ho Ho' I bellowed as Brandon, the oldest of the nephews opened the door.  The kids screamed with joy as I took my seat, each waiting with a politeness that belied their ages of seven to three to sit on Santa's lap.  I asked each of them if they had been good and each answered in turn, "Yes," and for this answer, they each received a present.  My job done, I went to the garage to take off the itchy costume and came back into the house for a well-earned glass of eggnog.

I was met at the door by Ian who was five at the time who looked me in the eye and said, "Uncle Mark you just missed Santa!"  Tears began to well up in my eyes and I had to take my eggnog quietly to the garage to compose myself.  I am black and my wife and her family are white.  Ian, not more than ten minutes ago had sat on my lap as I had given him his talking Elmo doll and all he saw was Santa, not a color, not a foster child, not even uncle Mark with a beard on! 

I'm sure this is how God views each of us and every year when we celebrate his greatest gift to us, his son, I am reminded of that Christmas Eve when the holiday took on a new meaning for me, through the eyes of a child.
Mark M. Cryer
Associate Professor, Theatre