Flying reindeer can be scary

When our oldest was 4 and starting to wonder whether Santa was really real, we spent Christmas with my in-laws in Billings, Montana.

What’s neat about Christmas in Billings is that, on Christmas Eve, Santa’s sleigh buzzes Billings and other nearby towns around suppertime.

It’s a tradition that started in 1981 when a local aviator named Gerhart Blain hitched a light display in the shape of a sleigh and reindeer beneath a blacked-out helicopter.  Blain passed away a couple years ago, leaving his sons in charge.

So, the year we went to Montana for Christmas, Grandma and Grandpa told Thing 1 that if she went outside after supper and looked toward the rimrocks, she might see Santa.

She didn’t believe them, of course, but then we saw it, a speck of light flying above the rimrocks toward the house. Within a few seconds, we could make out Santa, his sleigh and a couple of reindeer, all outlined in lights.

I’ll never forget the look on Thing 1’s face:

Panic. Complete and utter panic.

“I’m not in bed!” she wailed, bursing into tears and trying to hide behind Sweetie. “He won’t stop!”

It’s OK, we told her. Santa’s just getting started. He won’t stop at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for a few hours. You’ve got plenty of time!

“No!” she screamed. “He won’t stop! I’m not in bed!”

We finally calmed her down and put her to bed, and the next morning, she saw that we were right. Santa came, and he was very generous.

I wish we’d taped Santa’s sleigh and Thing 1’s reaction, but we didn’t. I looked around online, though, and finally found a clip of the helicopter-powered sleigh over Laurel, Montana, last Christmas.

The 5 stages of trick-or-treaters

Jack-o-latern
Image: Toby Ord, Wikipedia

Halloween falls on Sunday, which, of course, is church night, so some communities are having trick-or-treat tonight, Saturday, although I wouldn’t be surprised to get trick-or-treaters both nights, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some trick-or-treaters double dip.

When I was a kid in eastern Kentucky, we had 5 distinct stages of trick-or-treaters:

  1. The demons we knew. These were the kids of friends of the family. Mom would make special goodie bags for them — caramel popcorn balls and full-sized candy bars.
  2. The demons we kind of knew. These were random kids in the neighborhood. They got miniature Hershey bars. The kids in our neighborhood generally wore decent costumes (or at least a mask). They always said “Trick or treat!” and usually said, “Thank you!”
  3. The demons we didn’t know. We lived in a subdivision out in the country, so these little monsters were random kids from out in the country. They didn’t live in a neighborhood, so they’d hit several subdivisions and maybe go into town. They generally didn’t wear costumes, as such. They’d wear old clothes and smear lipstick or something on their faces. They looked like psychotic clowns. They usually came in groups, and at least some of them would say, “Trick or treat,” like that. Flat, with no enthusiasm. They might or might not say, “Thank you.”
  4. The demons we suspected were collecting candy for their obese moms waiting in the car. The fourth wave of kids would come near the end of trick-or-treat. If trick-or-treat was supposed to end at 8, they’d come at a quarter of. They usually didn’t wear costumes and rarely spoke. They didn’t have a special Halloween candy bag. They’d carry pillow cases, and when you opened the door, they’d just hold it out, joylessly. This wasn’t fun for them. This was a job.
  5. Teenagers. Some might wear masks, but most didn’t. They giggled like Beavis and Butt-head, like we were stupid, like we didn’t know they were too old to trick-or-treat. After the first group of teenagers, Dad would snuff out the candle in the jack-o-lantern and turn off the porch light — the international signal for saying, “We’re not playing anymore” — but we’d still get four or five more groups of teenagers. It was around this time of night that someone would put an M-80 or a cherry bomb in our jack-o-lantern and blow it up.

Things are different where we live now. The kids all wear costumes. They’re all polite. We get some double-dippers, but not many, although near quitting time, we still get a few teenagers. That’s when we turn out the light and call it a night.

I still bring in the pumpkin, though, just in case.