I’m a sucker for Christmas. Oh, I could tell you it’s because I didn’t come to Christianity until later in life or that it’s because of faith and hope and such—and both of those things happen to be true—but the truest explanation is simply that it’s shiny and pretty and the closest I come to GOODWILL TOWARDS (HU)MAN all year. It’s festive. And twinkly. And shut up.
So this weekend I was giddy, pulling out the Christmas decorations, setting lights just so, and even placing our faux mistletoe ball in the doorway by the bottom of the stairs. (Why no, I never do tire of a solid month of “KISS ME! KIIIIIIISS MEEEEEEE!!!” every time a child comes skidding to a stop there.)
Last night we fell to decorating the tree, and all was right in my world.
Of course, this year is different, because this is the first year we have a dog. Licorice spent her first couple of months with us being a sweet and charming pup, but one who showed little to no interest in toys or any other objects which weren’t clearly food. Even with food, she was always sort of hesitant and polite about it, like, “Oh, is that for me? Don’t mind if I do have just a little bite, thank you ever so kindly.”
But in the last few weeks, the Real Licorice has begun to emerge. And the Real Licorice? Is FEROCIOUS and MIGHTY and completely hilarious. She attacks her toys with abandon, then rolls around on her back, growling and tossing them in the air. She’s ripped the limbs from her soft animals, and extracted the squeaker from her pig. She proudly presents me with clouds of stuffing yanked from her pets, and has taken to attacking slippers. And food? If it has any sort of scent at all, she gets right up in your face and makes sad velvet-painting clown eyes to convey the vast, searing deepness of her pain and hunger. After a couple of incidents with a flock of wild turkeys (otherwise known as “THOSE GIANT CHICKENS!!”) that likes to stroll through our yard, the family joke is to now narrate Licorice’s every thought beginning with, “Do you have any chickens?”
So, back to the tree: As we began extracting decorations and hanging ornaments, all I was thinking was that I hoped we didn’t have a repeat of last year’s disaster. So we were all handling everything very carefully, and setting things down gently, and I had completely forgotten about the dog figuring into this scenario. We were too busy dancing around to Christmas music and talking about this and that ornament and how little the kids looked in various pictures.
Well. Licorice thought all of this hustle and bustle and all of these new MAYBE CHICKEN items were VERY EXCITING! And she began nosing around and delicately mouthing a variety of ornaments, much to the children’s horror. I’m a quick thinker, so I thrust the giant Ziploc full of various nativity pieces at the children and suggested they work on that for a while, and then I took a break and sat down next to the Christmas tree to have a little chat with my dog.
“This is our Christmas tree,” I told her, “and nothing on it is for eating. NOTHING. It’s just to be pretty.” And here—because I am a massive sentimental dork—I actually felt tears welling up in my eyes. Because Licorice is three years old, and this is her first Christmas with a family! She’s probably never even seen a Christmas tree! She’s never had people so ready and willing to spoil her rotten! MY PRESHUS!!
Naturally, I realized the absurdity of my emotional reaction, so I forged onward. “Licorice, Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birth. He came to us so that all good little puppies could get presents!” Across the room, Monkey tittered. Chickadee’s head snapped upward in disbelief. “MOM!”
“And Santa comes!” I continued, ignoring my children, who were now paying rapt attention. “If you are very naughty, you get coal. But you’ve been SUCH A GOOD DOG this year, I bet you will get lots of wonderful gifts. Like yummy treats that make your breath less stinky! And new toys! And maybe a GIANT CHICKEN! Except I’m not sure that will fit in your stocking.”
Licorice seemed decidedly unimpressed, so I let her off my lap and she went to investigate what the kids were doing.
It turns out that the kids were setting up the Playmobil Nativity with their own special brand of reverence, which included placing a lamb in the manger in place of Jesus, because Jesus was busy being turned into soup in the pot over the fire. AWESOME. There was much giggling and then Monkey started getting upset because I guess Licorice felt the need to check and see if Jesus was edible.
I called the dog back to me and snuggled her up on my lap again and added, “And also, I almost forgot the most important lesson of Christmas. WE DO NOT EAT THE BABY JESUS. Do you understand? EATING JESUS IS BAD. Very, very bad. You may give everyone kisses, but that’s it.”
Licorice seemed to understand. Or maybe she was just afraid to approach the nativity again, as by now the children had a camel in the manger and a kitten in the cauldron, and Mary had decided to run off with the Wise Men. (Honestly, I don’t know where I went wrong with those kids.)
Eventually it got late and it was time for the kids to go to bed. We got them settled and then Otto and I returned to the couch. We turned out the overhead lights and watched the tree twinkle, enjoying the peacefulness of it all, and petting the dog.
Eventually Otto broke the silence. “Is it okay if I get her one of those giant rawhides?” he asked.
I chuckled. “Yeah, I think it’s okay,” I said. “Jesus came to earth so that our dog could have a rawhide bigger than she is, right?”
“Probably,” he answered.