His neighbors call him “Crazy Mel”.
And if you ever saw his home there in Memphis at Christmastime you’d know why he gained the name. He’s got more than 50,000 lights on his house. His house is so bright the space shuttle uses it as a landmark.
And we’re not talking Graceland here. Mel and his wife Nellie live in a very modest two-bedroom rambler. I know how nuts it is. I’ve been there. You could toast bread off the side of Crazy Mel’s house at midnight.
But he can’t just stop at 50,000 little lights. No way. He’s got a nativity set — complete with lifesize animated camels (accessorized with a lifesize wiseman riding him)– on just one side of his house. On the other, he’s got eight not-so-tiny reindeer (also lifesize) attached to a sleigh with an animated Santa who says “HO HO HO!” every 45 seconds.
Mel isn’t just a Christmas fanatic. He’s a lunatic.
But I don’t bring up poor Mel to knock him. God bless him, I say. Sure, his neighbors wear Ray Bays round the clock but what’s a little sunburn between friends, eh? He flips the switch on after Thanksgiving and turns it all off on New Years. Mel’s only temporarily insane.
Mel might be an extreme in your world but in mine here at the North Pole he is considered “normal”. In fact, I’m inclined to admit that he’s nothing compared to the Christmas kooks we’ve got around here.
You see, we all love what we do, the time of year we do it and who we do it for. We’re Christmas purists, one and all. We all swear undying allegiance to Santa Claus, we perpetually dress in red and green and sugar runs through our veins.
It’s all wonderful but sometimes I swear I’d love to live in a world where folks just leave it at the office, you know?
You see, it is just not good enough for a guy at the North Pole to be merry in the service of Santa. No. Everyone here has to be an expert. I live in a world of Christmas know-it-alls. And that, of course, means that no one can really agree on anything. It makes Christmas very controversial.
Let me give you an example. Every year we see — just after Halloween, like clockwork — a proposal presented to the city council here at the North Pole requiring residents to place a star on any decorated trees in yards or on public display. Folks from the “Star Coalition” are organized before the meeting, picketing on the sidewalk outfront chanting silly things like “Reach for the Stars”.
This would be okay, to be honest with you. Except that it seems that half the population here is anti-star and pro-angel. And the pro-angel camp can be a vociferous bunch. “Angels we have heard on High” has a different meaning here at the North Pole. They will buy time on local radio and television stations and have been known to try to get the support of world famous religious leaders and scholars to back their “cause”.
The star folks contend that trees must be topped with stars because that represents the first sign of Christmas according to the Bible. And the angel people say that it was the Angel visiting the shepherds tending their flocks by night who first brought the glad tidings of Merry Christmas.
The debate will rage for weeks and folks will get really worked up about it. In fact, it is hard to avoid it. After getting sucked into a rally for the star folks one year I got my picture in the paper holding up a sign that said “Down with Angels”. Boy, did my mother give me grief for that one.
And it’s just not right, all this controversy over Christmas.
Even Santa is a topic of argument — right here at the North Pole.
Of course, we all believe in Santa here because that is his signature there on the paychecks. But almost nobody here agrees on who Santa was before he became Santa. Everyone is afraid, frankly, to speak freely about this. But lots of people anonymously write letters to the editor of the local paper with wild theories about the origin of Santa.
Was he really the famous St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra of days of old? And is he the same guy now? And if he is, how can that be? Maybe he is the famous Father Christmas known in the lands of Eastern Europe in the 19th century. Some say he is the Old Man Winter of Russian fame. Personally, I like theory that he really is a guy who used to run a tire center in El Paso.
The point to me is that he’s Santa, he’s here and he’s real. Who really cares where he comes from just so long as he doesn’t go away. Right? Can’t we all just agree that Santa is a good thing and leave it at that? Why do we have to argue the details and inflame the controversy?
Of course, there are bigger controversies than stars and Santa. If you can believe that. And none is bigger than the argument of when is it proper to open Christmas presents.
Go figure this: there are folks who get serious wedgies that people would have the audacity to open their presents at some time other than Christmas morning.
No, I’m not kidding.
This group of so-called Christmas experts even tried to get a resolution passed by the UN informing the world of what a gross error in holiday protocol it would be if presents beneath the tree were even touched at any other time besides Christmas morning. And they were serious. They wanted to make it a crime to open anything before sunrise.
Can you imagine that? There you are, your sleepy feet hitting the cold floor of your home running to the living room where you find the splendor of Christmas laid out before you in twinkling glory …… and some sort of alarm system in place that says “do not enter”. How festive.
Sometimes Christmas purists are too dumb for their own good. Do they not understand that Santa will deliver Christmas pretty much whenever you desire? Yes, it is true. Santa does work more than one day a year. Christmas Eve night is by far the biggest night of the year but it is not the only big night of the year. Some families have needs that require Christmas comes at some other time. And Santa aims to please.
Now, before everyone writes to the North Pole and expecting Santa to show up on demand like the pizza guy let me make it clear that your circumstances had better be pretty unusual. But he does aim to please and if that means Christmas comes early or late to your house, then so be it. After all, what it is and when it is doesn’t really matter, according to Santa. Just so long as you’re Christmasing together.
Oh, we have lots of other controversies too. And maybe that’s why we have to work so closely with the Big Guy. He keeps our feet on the ground. Yeah, he gets a kick out of our fanaticism when it comes to lights, decorations and food. But no matter how much we argue about what is right and what is proper about the pure celebration of the holiday we always know that he’ll keep us from going too far.
And I hear he’s helping out our friend Mel there in Memphis too. Santa paid his light bill last Christmas. It seems he really appreciated being able to make toast when he flew in to town last Christmas Eve.