Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Horse and Hattock!

When I was around 9 or 10 years old, my dad took my brother and me Christmas shopping in Park City. During our trip, we were stranded in the shopping center because of an overwhelming snow storm that made it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of us. As children, we thought this was really neat, especially because the shopping center was a strip mall instead of a big indoor area. The phrase "Winter Wonderland" means totally different things to children than it does to adults. And at the moment, we were in it.

On one of the street corners, there was a man who held red leather reigns, laden with silver bells in a brown leather mittened hand. The reigns belonged to a very young reindeer.

Clement Moore said

"When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer"

Well, this little reindeer was about the size of a very large dog. Maybe the size of a golden retriever. The fact that it was a young reindeer is the reason it was just that small. Officially, what we call 'reindeer' are actually caribou. In the world of deer and elk, caribou really are fairly tiny, though they do get much bigger than that shrimpy little thing I saw in Park City.

With Christmas just days away, I can barely contain my excitement, let alone my children. The more excited they get, the naughtier they become. My oldest daughter, Lilly, tends to get sick to her stomach when she is over stressed, so she spent today on the couch with a bucket and a towel, watching Christmas movies over and over. By this afternoon, though, she was running amok with the rest of my little trouble makers.

As a parent at Christmas time, I am always amazed at the intelligent questions my children ask, and everyone has their own answer for all of them. For example, my son wanted to know why Santa uses reindeer instead of horses to pull his sleigh. He thinks he should use horses. And my daughter wanted to know how they even fly at all, because she sees deer eating the grass over on the golf course near her preschool all the time, but she's never seen any of them fly. They just run away. And what's up with Rudolph the 'red nosed reindeer?'. While all my children are wild eyed with belief in Santa Claus and his elves, both of my oldest children suspect Rudolph to be quite the tall tale. No body's nose actually glows.

The first question is the easiest and most logical answer. Reindeer are the closest thing to a pack animal that Santa can get in the North Pole. I mean, lets face it. Polar bears might be strong, cute and really fuzzy. But they're impossible to tame, and more likely to eat Santa than to obey his commands. Aside from that, the reindeer exhibit incredible endurance and stamina; a trait that is essential on Christmas Eve night.

The second question, how do reindeer fly, is arguably the most difficult to answer. It's also the part where the magic comes in.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes, weeds can be just as pretty or lacy or detailed as the flowers that we plant on purpose? I daresay that this comes in handy all the time during the summer. Anything in my flower bed is a 'looking flower' and anything that grows on the grass or in the strip of parking dirt next to our house is a 'picking flower.' In the summer time, my window sills are overflowing with glasses full of water and morning glories, milk weed, blowing flowers, and any other thing my children might find pretty.

Ragwort is a weed that has long been thought poisonous, though it's leaves have many healing qualities for shallow wounds and bruises. For the Faeries, though, ragwort is pretty significant. Often, they bury their gold beneath ragwort plants, and most incredibly, stalks of this weed are used as horses when they want to fly. (Remember, not all Faeries have wings.) One Cornish man was said to have ridden one of these stalks to Faerie land and back by using the magic words "Horse and hattock!"

It is my understanding that while the reindeer are impeccably groomed and fed at the workshop in the North Pole, living more like treasured pets than livestock, they are fed small amounts of ragwort with their oats or hay from Hallows Eve on so that by Christmas time, they can gallop through the air without any trouble at all. However, this is not something I would recommend to folks at home. Dosage is very important, and ragwort is in no way a proper food group for your animals. Besides, it generally is believed only to work for Faeries. Unless you are a Faerie, it is best not to tempt tragedy.

The last question is probably mostly just a let down, though I tend to find it fascinating. Easily enough, the reindeer known to us by the name of Rudolph, simply happens to be an albino reindeer like the one pictured above. His nose, because of his albino nature, is actually a pinkish color, though it doesn't glow so much as it stands out. Further more, Rudolph tends to have a simply amazing sense of direction. Seeing in the fog isn't really a necessity when you have an animal that just always to know where he is at all times. It's like a built in GPS.

It doesn't really matter what you tell your children, but they will all eventually ask the same questions. It's always good to have a source to go to for the real answers, though, isn't it? If you believe that apples and carrots help keep Rudolph's nose shiny and effective, then by all means, leave apples and carrots as a midnight snack for him. But don't forget Dasher, Dance, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donder and Blitzen. Because they work just as hard.

This year, we're going to be spending Christmas with my husband's family. I'm sure that on Christmas Eve, when we lay out the milk and cookies for Santa, and place a handful of pretty, happy looking yellow flowers into a glass of water, everyone else will think they are just pretty decoration. But maybe our flowers will help keep those reindeer flying throughout the night.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

ANOTHER entry-per-comment giveaway comin' up for the New Year!

Here's to 2010 being better than 2009! Stay tuned for news on the matter and what the prize will be!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Naughty Faerie

This morning, once breakfast was cleared and the television was blasting jovially from the living room, I had to pause and yell at my children, for the fourth time so far to stop doing flips on the couch, that it wasn't a trampoline, and they were going to hurt themselves. I may or may not have thrown in something more poignant like "Santa's watching you!" or "Do you want an ONION in your stocking?" In the mean time, my son, who is sick, but still acting like a maniac, took a flying leap off the arm of the couch, flipping in the air at the exact moment that my oldest daughter propelled herself off the other arm, feet first. They screamed in unison, startling my youngest daughter, who was climbing onto a chair in order to reach the plate of peppermint fudge that the neighbors had brought over the night before, and she fell onto her blessed little diaper padded bottom instead of reaching the counter.

After tears were dried, kisses and hugs were given, and I had sufficiently scolded them for misbehaving, I asked them a question that my mother asked me, her mother asked her, and so on, into the depths of our family tree. "What was that about?" In unison, my little soprano voiced angels sniffed "The Naughty Faerie!"

We have all had our run-ins with the Naughty Faerie, who does indeed have a name besides the Naughty Faerie, but since names are dear and sacred in the Faerie realm, to us he is known only this way. Like Jack Frost, the Naughty Faerie is one of a kind. It is not a race of Faeries such as Pixies or Sprites or Kelpies. He is only himself, and he is there whenever a person, particularly a child, is doing something they are not supposed to do, and he causes the inevitable outcome, which is what my children affectionately call an 'owie'. Most of the time, the Naughty Faerie is pretty harmless. A small cut, a bump on the head, scraped knees, etc. But if you're being really naughty, he might give you a broken arm, or a ride in an ambulance.

At the moment, I know you're thinking that he sounds like a particularly horrible fairy to have around the house, and you want to know what charms to hang around so that he will banish himself forever from your home and leave you and your children to misbehave in peace. But when I've told you what I know, I doubt you will judge him so harshly. I will not send him from my home, and if I shouldn't, neither should you. My reason is only one, and it is simple: I believe in Santa Clause.

As with many faeries, it is impossible to talk about one without involving another. In order to convey the spirit of the Naughty Faerie, I must divulge a little about our dearest and most favorite Faerie, Santa Claus, even though his story is yet to come.

On a broader scale, if one is to fully understand Santa, the Naughty Faerie and his elves, one must understand Faeries in general. The problem with this is that even someone like myself, or on an even more expert level, Brian Froud, doesn't understand them to a 't'. Faeries are always changing, always rearranging, always becoming something they're not. And Faeries always have impossible rules. They have codes and morals that make no sense to us as humans, and they adhere to them with explicit perfection. For example, a Faerie gives no gift for free. None of them have any sense of charitable generosity. They have many magical powers that can heal or hurt, give or remove. They can be very generous and leave someone with greater things than they could ever ask for. But beware, because a Faerie will always retaliate and ask for a favor in return. It could be immediate, or it could be decades away. And they almost always ask for something impossible to give, like your teeth, or your memories, or your first born. And when the recipient of a Faerie gift refuses their request, they are subject to more debt. The wisest way to deal with a Faerie is to refuse any gift they might offer. A bowl of cream and a spoonful of honey might seem a very small price to pay for a Brownie who will clean your home top to bottom. But the repercussions one might suffer for paying him incorrectly are worse than scrubbing a floor on your own hands and knees. And always remember this: NEVER let yourself be tricked into thinking that YOU have the FAERIE at your mercy.

One can imagine that, if a human can get into unfathomable debt with the Faerie Folk, their world is heavy with it. Each Faerie owes a hundred other Faeries dozens of favors. But it's alright because a hundred Fairies totally different from the first hundred owe the first Faerie dozens of favors. It's a vicious cycle that just goes on and on for eternity. Humans are the only ones who are really trapped by this, and it is because of our steep sense of morality. We owe. We must pay. Faeries just keep tallying up more debt because, while they know they will never pay it off, they know that none of the others will either. And their wrath is lost on one another.

And so our story begins here.

Santa Claus, who also has many names, and none of us truly know which one is real, is what one would call 'High Sidhe' (pronounced Shee). The courts are a complicated hierarchy, and I would rather not waste time explaining the difference between classes here, however, I will say that the High Sidhe are rather important Faeries. We know this because 1. They are all human sized, and sometimes larger- The Ghost of Christmas Present for example. The more important a Faerie is, the larger they become in stature. The pretty little winged things that you see flitting from flower to flower like they are honey bees are of little to no consequence in the land of Faerie. 2. They often display morals that are normally only inherent to humans. Most of them, including the Queens who are arguably the most important of all, only manifest these morals for a brief moment during, say, an act of pity or forgiveness and then move along to being amoral, hedonistic little things that spread havoc wherever they go. They are much more powerful than the other, smaller Faeries, but they generally don't concern themselves with frivolous things like tying hair in knots or making milk go sour. For a rough comparison, a faerie of the High Sidhe nature is one that would be, in our world, of Royal birth, but not a King or Queen himself.

Santa Claus has always been an exceptional type of High Side. Of course, I wasn't there. I am mortal. But I know many stories.

You may be familiar with something called "The Kneeling Santa". If you are not, a picture is provided above. I was very happy to receive an early gift of it from my mother a few days ago. Ours is nestled very pleasantly beneath our tree, surrounded by dozens of Christmas gifts for our children. As a child, this representation was proof to me that Santa Claus is a Mormon. Now, I laugh a little at my innocent heart and revel in my new found understanding. I do not know what religion Santa is, or if he claims one at all. But I know he was there in that stable, and that he knelt at sweet baby Jesus' feet. In all of that baby Christ's glory, a Fairy, who must have looked quite a bit younger 2000 years ago, had a mighty change of heart.

From what I understand, Santa had no immediate plans when he came away from the stable that night. After all, he was a Faerie and existed on a totally different plane. He was bright of eye, loud of laugh, extravagant and unrestrained. He had (and still has) many friends in the Faerie land, and he wracked up his debt against others, and they wracked up theirs against him. But Christ's life was short to a Faerie, and his ministry, which lasted only 3 years, was unbelievably minuscule. And while other Faeries hardly took notice, the one we now call Santa Claus took every word to heart. I daresay he understood in perfect clarity the sacrifice that was made by our Savior.

Some may be surprised to hear of Santa being a Faerie. Some of you might not believe in him at all. (Which is why you have to put your OWN presents under the tree on Christmas eve, I might add.) But he is, and at the moment, it is not important. We will talk about our revered friend in a later post. Tonight, is about the Naughty Faerie.

No one knows, actually, what exactly the Naughty Faerie is. For the most part, he is strictly invisible to us. I see a lot of faeries every day, but in my whole life, I've never even caught a glimpse of him. What we do know is that the Naughty Faerie started out as an exceptionally mean little thing. He has always loved to play malignant and impish tricks, particularly on children. He was also so sure of himself that he wracked up a pretty hefty load of favors that he owed to Santa Claus. Several lifetimes worth, in fact. And when the young Saint Nicholas approached the mean spirited Naughty Faerie with forgiveness in his heart and an intention to remove his debt, the little monster was flabbergasted!
Why? Why would someone DO such a thing? He himself intended to collect every single debt every other Faerie owed to him. In his curiosity, and a little bit out of animosity, the Naughty Faerie counted up all his debts owed to Nicholas and followed him, determined to repay it all. His intention was negative and spiteful. But Nicholas was patient, and he was different. So, with that famous twinkle in his eye, and a joyous, youthful laugh, he agreed to let his impish friend stay with him in his quest to bring the world a small bit of good, sentiment and relief, but the Naughty Faerie himself had to keep the tally. Santa wasn't going to do it. For hundreds of years, while he chipped away at his debt, the Naughty Faerie listened to Santa Claus' stories. He listened and watched his affinity for small children. He was fascinated, and thrilled and horrified all at the same time. Mostly, he was horrified because he had come to adore and revere this Man he once called a Faerie like himself. Even more, he believed his stories and began to glorify in the truth of Jesus Christ.
After many lifetimes of simply working to pay back his debt, it was suddenly gone. The Naughty Faerie was free. And quietly, without a pause, he moved on to his next duty, cementing his desire to stay and change his fate.
Being a Faerie, and a mean one at that, the Naughty Faerie still has to abide by Faerie rule. He is not so in control of his own soul that he can become completely and inherently good, as Santa Claus has. But instead, he uses his innate urge to play tricks, to tease, and to cause calamity, to gently (usually) warn all people, but mostly children, that they are on the wrong track. I daresay he enjoys his job just a little too much. But he is, in fact, a Faerie, and we must cut him some slack.
Something we also must not forget is that Santa Clause, though immensely good and obviously symbolic of someone much greater, is also a Faerie. He cannot escape all his Faerie natures. He still asks for milk and cookies in exchange for gifts on Christmas eve, though, if you forget, he'll still forgive you and leave presents anyway. And most importantly, he asks us to be good. Not just to behave, but to be good. The way Christ would want us to be. That is the spirit of Christmas. Furthermore, he knows that children cannot possibly be good all the time. The Naughty Faerie keeps his lists for him, and tallys up his tricks. It's just a Faerie rule that Santa can not escape. If one is severely naughty, he can not, in good concience, leave presents and stockings full of candy. But if that Naughty Faerie does his job the way he should, Santa sees no crime in counting the slight bump, scrape, or bruise as punishment enough for your bad behavior. And he can still bring you presents.