Christmas deer

Deer were a part of our lives when we were kids. Our father was a John Deere dealer. His shop had a lighted, two-sided John Deere sign on the roof. The sign was small, especially compared with the Purina Chow sign that covered the entire front of the feed warehouse. But that sign had a big impact on our insurance premiums. At least once a year, someone would shoot a hole in that deer on the sign. It is possible that it was occasionally a local, but we suspected out of town hunters who spent more time at that Timber Bar than out in the field. I used to joke that I was 25 years old before I owned a jacket that didn’t have a John Deere Logo on it. Other kids had jackets of all colors. We wore green and yellow.

I’m not sure what year it was, but I can remember Christmases before this happened, so perhaps I was six or eight when one year, before Christmas we woke to find plastic deer at the base of our Christmas tree. They had been designed as lawn ornaments, but weren’t the size of real deer. There was fake snow sprinkled on their backs. My dad wouldn’t say who put them there, although we all knew it was him. He just said that the deer liked the tree. The deer became a part of our Christmas traditions. They would show up a couple of days after we put up the Christmas tree. When it was time to take down the tree, they’d disappear into storage for another year. We liked having a family tradition that was different from other families.

I hadn’t thought of those deer for a long time.

Then, yesterday, after I got up, I turned on the lights on our Christmas tree and opened the blinds to reveal a frosty wonderland outside. All of the trees in the neighborhood were covered in white frost. It was foggy and cold and the result was a beautiful scene. And in the backyard there were four or five deer sitting on the lawn, where they had been resting. It made me think the deer that came to visit my childhood home.

We are having a bid more modest Christmas than some years. We have a smaller tree with fewer branches, so didn’t hang all of our ornaments. Some of the beloved Christmas decorations that we have collected over the years will remain in their boxes. But he process of decorating is a good opportunity for us to do some sorting, so we have been going through the boxes of Christmas decorations as part of our preparation for Christmas. In that process we ran across the nativity set that was a part of my family when I was growing up. We had a tradition of reading the Christmas story on Christmas eve and putting the figures into the nativity sets we sang a few carols around the piano. I have a brother whose birthday is Christmas Eve, so Christmas celebrations were held off until after his birthday dinner. After we had had dinner and cake and he had opened his presents on Christmas Eve, we would gather in the living room, hear the Christmas story, put out the nativity set and sing a few carols. Then each child was allowed to open one Christmas present before we went to bed. The next day there would be Christmas stockings and more presents and a big dinner.

I was recalling those traditions as we unwrapped the figures of that old nativity set from the tissue paper in which they remain wrapped for most of the year. The set isn’t even all one type, having been collected over the years. Some of the figures are cheap plastic. Others are ceramic, hand painted by someone, perhaps our mother. The Mary figure is ceramic with a base that had broken in storage. I got out the glue and repaired it. Then, among the figures we found two deer. The deer were made of wax and had wicks on their heads. I recognized them as being similar to some Thanksgiving candles we used to put out when I was a kid. I somehow had forgotten that somewhere along the way my family had established the tradition of having a couple of deer at the nativity scene on the top of the piano. Seeing the candles reminded me. We didn’t have all of the animals that are sometimes a part of nativity sets. There is no donkey, even though my family had real donkeys in the pasture. We didn’t have a camel in our set or a cow. There were several sheep and two deer.

Growing up with the story being read every year, I eventually memorized it. I know now as I knew at a fairly early age that the birth of Jesus probably wasn’t attended by a cow. I know that the line, “she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn” was not a reference to the child being born in a barn full of animals. The guest room of their relatives’ home was full, so the baby was born in the lower room, where animals sometimes were brought inside and where there was a feed trough, which was coopted as a temporary crib. The animals show up in the next paragraph, because they were out in the fields with the shepherds that night. Jesus wasn’t born into a rich family. I know there weren’t any deer in attendance.

Still, I feel grateful for the deer that sleep in our yard and look up when I open the door to step out onto the deck. They remind me that in this world we are all connected. It is clear from the words of the story that those who witnessed the tiny baby had an incredible experience, but his life affected all of us, including those of us who weren’t original eye witnesses. Christmas is a reminder of the many ways we are all connected. We’re all in this together - even the deer.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!