The story of the first Christmas told in the darndest way

Holidays 2004

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By DREW CARTER

Where better to start a Christmas story than with kids.

And where better to start that the first Christmas?

We went to St. Giles Elementary School and asked kids to relate the tale for us. We hit a few bumps in the road of communication. Read on for the types of "not-quite-rights" that only kids can come up with.

Let's start with Patrick Venermen, age 6 1/2, a first-grader at St. Giles.

WJ: Tell me about the first Christmas.

PV: Um, how I got the presents, what did I feel like?

WJ: Yeah, not your first Christmas, the first Christmas
ever.

PV: "Kinda happy."

He wasn't the only one with fonder memories of his own Christmas than the birth of Jesus. R.J. Klinke, 7, a second-grader:

WJ: Tell me about the first Christmas.

RK: My first Christmas was probably my favorite Christmas, because I was just a little kid so I probably loved it.

WJ: What about the first Christmas ever?

RK: I can't really remember that. It was really far back for me, I just can't remember it.

WJ: When was the first Christmas ever, not just in your lifetime, but ever?

RK: My first Christmas was in 1997.

For others, there's something about "first Christmas" that just doesn't seem to compute.

Danny Zawacki, 8, a third-grader:

WJ: Can you tell me the story about the first Christmas?

DZ: First Chr...no, I don't know it. I've never heard of it.

WJ: Have you heard the story about when Jesus was born?

DZ: Yeah, a ton of times.

Tyler Wortham, 8, a second-grader, was eager to tell everything he knew about the history of Christmas, most of which was accurate:

WJ: Do you know the story of the first Christmas?

TW: Once upon a time there was a man named Santa Claus, and he would ride on a steamboat to Holland, and he lives in Spain with his Black Peters called "Zwarte Pieters...es" elfs, and he would give mom and dad gifts and the children, if they were nice they would get presents. If they were bad, they would get whipped with a bird stick.

They left their shoes out with hay and they'll give the white horse a carrot to eat and they'll get presents in their shoes.

WJ: What sort of presents did people get in the first Christmas?

TW: They'll get candy or toys or candy canes.

WJ: What sort of toys do you suppose kids got?

TW: Robots, or like a mouse that you squeak up like this (wind up).

But the biggest failure to communicate came with the youngest young man interviewed, Connor Foley, 5 1/2, a kindergartener.

WJ: Do you know the story of the first Christmas?

CF: No.

WJ: Do you know the story of when Jesus was born?

CF: Yeah.

WJ: Can you tell me that one?

CF: What?

WJ: Can you tell me that story?

CF: Yeah.

WJ: OK, go ahead.

CF: What?

WJ: Go ahead.

CF: I don't know the story.

WJ: No?

CF: I don't have the book of it. Do you want me to tell you the story about the night before Christmas?

WJ: Yeah! Tell me that one. That's a good one, too.

CF: I have that book. But I don't remember the words.

WJ: Well, tell me in your own words.

CF: I don't know.

WJ: What do you remember about the story of Jesus' birth? Who were his parents?

CF: [something about Rudolph...] I know, but I don't know the words.

WJ: What stories do you know about Christmas?

CF: I know about when he was born.

WJ: Can you tell me that story?

CF: What?

WJ: Can you tell me that story?

CF: I don't know it. I don't have the book of it.

WJ: Oh, OK. Well, I'll just ask you questions about it,
OK? Who was Jesus' mother?

CF: What?

Though there were communication roadblocks with some students, many of the kids knew more than they thought. Danny Zawacki didn't know who the Magi were, but...

WJ: What about the wise men, have you heard of them?

DZ: Umm, in 'Daniel In the Lion's Den'

WJ: Did anybody bring gifts for the baby?

DZ: Yeah, three kings called, umm, I know them in Spanish but I do not know them in English.

WJ: What are they in Spanish?

DZ: Melchor, Balthasar and Gaspar.

In addition to some misunderstanding about who may have been at the scene of the birth, and there was also some confusion over what presents were brought.

WJ: What other people were there?

DZ: Umm, people with leprosy? Umm...and I think that's it.

Jack Nelson, 7, first grade:

WJ: What other people were there?

JN: The three wise men and most everyone.

WJ: Everyone in the world?

JN: No.

WJ: What do you mean by most everyone?

JN: Well, just lots of followers of Jesus.

WJ: What gifts did they bring?

Patrick Vanermen: I don't remember.

WJ: Want to take a guess?

PV: Gold.

WJ: What else?

PV: And some food.

WJ: What else?

PV: Probably a cross.

Beyond people and presents, there were some discrepancies about what animals were there:

"Sheep, chickens, lambs, donkeys."

"Goats, cows, dogs."

"A donkey, a cow, a chicken, two chickens, a dove from [?] and a sheep."

"One cow, three sheep I think, a donkey, and couple of ducks."

But it wasn't all funny. The sweet responses of the meaning of Christmas:

From Jack Vanermen, 9, a third-grader:

WJ: In what ways do we, in our Christmas celebrations, celebrate Jesus' birth?

JV: Some people put up nativity sets, some people put up Christmas trees with lights on them, and since Jesus is the light of the world, the lights represent him.

Tyler Wortham:

"It was something really important for people to come and visit and see Jesus."

WJ: Does it mean anything for how we celebrate Christmas now?

TW: Yeah.

WJ: In what way?

TW: In a prayerful way.

But once again, Connor Foley's response takes the cake:

WJ: What ways do you celebrate Jesus' birth?

CF: We don't celebrate anyone. We don't celebrate. Only Jewish people celebrates, and I'm not Jewish. This is Catholic school.

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