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I was brought up on traditional Christmas stories, the sort that saw me going to midnight Mass and arranging holy plaster figures in a home-made wooden crib.
My family does it a bit different these days - our abiding Christmas ritual is a swim in the nearest water body first thing.
It's an endeavour that's seen us race and bathe in Barrytown, in Auckland, in a dreadful man-made duck-ridden lake in the UK and in the wonderful waters of Lake Hawea.
Before drinking coffee, even.
It's a great respite from the confusing tension between the gogobrightredcolaChristmas and the guilt of being an ex-Catholic nonbeliever.
Still, I'm not half as confused as the Japanese department store that sported a crucified Santa for its seasonal celebration. True story.
The following is not a true story but just a piece of fun. Merry Christmas.
'Twas midnight in the bedroom,
and all the eyes were shut
when suddenly from the chimney stack
there came a loud ''tut tut''
''Jesus Christ,'' said Santa Claus,
''what are you doing here?
Don't you know the franchise
for tonight is mine round here?''
''You've been away too long old man,
the world has changed a bit,
it's `x', not `Christ' in Christmas now,
no-one gives a s***
about the Christmas story,
they just want Christmas toys -
the reason for the season
seen by all the girls and boys.''
Jesus looked bewildered,
bothered, black and bare;
with soot all through his loin cloth
and ashes in his hair
and he spoke out in a right-on voice
and said, ''Let's give these kids the choice.
We'll let them know what we can do
and let them pick out me or you.''
''Whatever,'' grunted Santa,
as he struggled through the grate.
''These kids know which side
their bread is buttered, mate.''
The kids in question stirred and woke
up slowly, eye by eye -
then sat bolt upright in their beds
in horrified surprise.
''Santa Claus - oh no,'' they said,
''We didn't mean to see you come -
Please leave us our presents still -
we've been so good, ask Mum!''
''Of course, my children,'' Santa said,
all beaming smiles and beard,
''If you will help us settle up
our argument, my dears.''
''This fellow here is Jesus Christ.
He wants to talk to you
about his Christmas concept
and then you get to choose
the presents and the pleasantries
or the struggle and the pain
for some supposed pay-off
like being born again.''
Jesus quietly cleared his throat
and softly, sadly said,
''I can give you greater gifts
than those ones on your bed.
''The gift of life I gave to you ,
the stars, the sand, the leaves,
the puddles and rainbows
are all for you from me.
''I'll be there for you every day,
a pillow and a friend and
I'll meet you in Eternity
when your life here ends.''
The kids looked contemplative
and tired and confused -
''So you do all of this for us -
what do we do for you?''
We give old Santa here mince pies
and whiskey, and we say
we'll be good and nice and well behaved
all year, on Christmas Day.''
Jesus cleared his throat again
(he had some soot in it)
and stretched his arms out to embrace
the tousled little kids.
''Love me, love each other,
love your friends, your mum and dad.
Be good and kind when e'er you can -
say sorry when you're bad.
Do as you would be done by;
be the best you can be -
just do that and you can have
a place in heaven with me.''
''Hhrumph,'' said Santa suddenly
(he'd been off eating pies),
''I think these kids have had enough
of you and your pack of lies.
''Why don't you bugger off just now,
come back in 4004,
skip another few millennia see if anyone cares at all?''
The older brother laughed out loud;
his sister cracked a smile.
''Alright, game's over now, you two,
We've played along a while.
Take the Santa suit off, Dad
and Ma, you look a state,
though I liked the bit about loving your olds,
Jesus, that was great.''
The men were speechless, gobsmacked.
The kids looked unperturbed.
They didn't give a stuff, the little loves,
'bout what they'd heard.
Deflated, Santa and JC
both turned and slunk away.
Jesus walked off down the street
and Santa hitched his sleigh.
They met a mile down the road.
found welcome at a pub
packed full of merry revellers.
Old Santa bought a jug.
He raised a glass to Jesus,
''A toast to Christmas cheer.''
''Amen to that,'' JC agreed,
''Let's have another beer.''