I don’t care if it was two weeks before Christmas, no one wants some lunatic stomping on their roof in the middle of the night. No one except kids, I guess. But there were no kids where I lived at the time. I shared a house with seven other guys in college, and sure, we’d had drunken strangers pass out on our porch before, but we’d never had anyone actually on top of the house.
It started after midnight. The unmistakable thump of footsteps echoed through the ceiling, subtle at first, then heavier. The prancing and pawing of little hooves? Not likely. At least, no one thought so at first.
I could hear it clearly from my room on the second floor, and ran upstairs to Jack and Matt’s room in the attic to see if they’d heard it too. Oh, they’d heard all right. From up there the stomping positively thundered, like a giant toddler throwing a temper tantrum on our roof.
What was going on? Was someone trying to break in? Were they crazy? Was it a joke?
We ran down the stairs to find out. Like the kid in Home Alone we were not going to give up our house without a fight.
But as we stepped into the living room, we discovered the true identity of our mysterious, yuletide intruder. Our ramshackle Christmas tree stood in the corner sheltering eight gifts tucked beneath its branches.
“Hey, look,” I said. “These presents have our names on them. It wasn’t a burglar. It was Santa!”
In an instant, everyone knew they’d been had.
My roommate Steve and I had collaborated as Santa’s little helpers and had pooled our meager resources to spread some Christmas cheer. Once everyone had gone to bed, we had set off on our mission, each with his own job. Mine was to quietly plant the presents under the tree while Steve climbed the three-story TV antennae to reach the top of the house. Once Steve started making racket, it was up to me to get everyone downstairs.
Yes, it was risky, but this was Christmas we were talking about, and if it meant that Steve fell to his death or that I got a paper cut, we were not to be deterred.
After Steve joined us, we passed out the crudely wrapped presents one-by-one, and the real magic began. Something incredible happened in the room that night. It felt like we’d all taken a quick dip in the fountain of youth and had become six year-old little boys again, wide-eyed on Christmas morning.
We didn’t have much money, but we had plenty of free time and creativity so we had gone to the dollar store and chosen a present for each of our housemates tailored specifically to them. Fred had grown up in Cairo and was always bragging about how everything in Egypt was the biggest and the best, so we got him the world’s biggest rubber cockroach. Chris was a financial wizard so we got him some play money. Matt would go on to become a police officer. He got a potato gun. Yes, it did shoot actual pieces of potatoes, and he wore that thing out. You would have thought we’d given them gold bricks.
You could feel the place oozing with Christmas spirit. The child-like wonder was palpable and grew as each person opened his gift. For a short window in time we all became kids again, kids who were governed not by rules and expectations but by spontaneity, play and fun.
Jesus once said that unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. He said God’s kingdom belonged to kids and to people like them who are prepared to receive what God has to offer as a free gift.
So this Christmas, don’t take yourself, your to-do list and all of your worries too seriously. Kids don’t. Jesus said to be like them. So lighten up. Relax and have some spontaneous fun. Start a snowball fight. Surprise a friend with a toy. Talk your best friend into climbing up on a roof and risking his life. On second thought, skip that one. Okay, at least risk some dignity as you create moments of silliness and laughter. Play Santa to someone in an unexpected way, and I’ll guarantee that you’ll find that the greatest surprise will be your own.