A Storytelling Serial
Are you reading this blog on a mobile device? If so and you'd like to subscribe to my occasional postings but don't see a blog sidebar for that option, please head to the bottom of this page on your device for subscription and other sidebar information, including quick links to archives. Thanks for taking the extra time to scroll!
My neighbor just installed a goat on her roof. It’s lashed to a wooden platform specially constructed and temporarily attached to the slope above the house main entry.
The goat is inflatable, with the floppy ears, hunch, and sheepish expression of Eeyore. We're coming up on Thanksgiving; still, the red Santa hat and suit clearly make it a Christmas goat.
The creature drew its first blast of air a few days ago, swaying on my neighbor’s front lawn as a replacement for the Styrofoam pirate ship and molded-plastic ghouls and gravestones that since September had covered every inch of the yard—a piece of real estate the size of a large pool table.
I wondered how the turkeys and cornucopias felt about being skipped, but it did seem time to move on from the Day of the Dead.
However, this elevation of the goat concerns me.
Although Christmas has become a secular holiday and is often enjoyed by those of all faiths and many of no faith, it originated as a Christian celebration—a faith tradition that recognizes real goats as useful but tends to treat figurative goats as the devil incarnate. (For reasons, see Leviticus 16, Daniel 8, and Matthew 25 in the Christian Bible.)
And don’t forget the hellish goat demons of Middle Ages art, always a cheerful image at Christmastide. For me, this roof-climbing goat doesn’t work as a Santa stand-in. Instead, it better fills the role of a malevolent gargoyle.
The neighborhood goat wrangler isn’t new to this area. And anyone who has lived along the Colorado Front Range for more than seventeen minutes knows that when we’re on the edge of a weather system in our nearby mountains—which is nearly always—the wind blows through here like an industrial fan.
In December, gusts up to eighty miles an hour aren’t uncommon.
Pigs may not fly through our neighborhood, but I won’t be surprised when the goat loosens its exalted moorings and sails down onto the windshield of a passing car.
As the parent of two grown daughters, I know from experience that warping one’s children is the right and duty of all parents. My neighbor has an eight-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl, and no one would doubt that the holiday displays are for their pleasure.
In fact, I personally witnessed some of their childish delight while the goat was lifted to its place of honor. Mom propped a ladder against the roof to attach the platform and tie down the unwieldy beast, in an act reminiscent of affixing a live sacrifice to a raised altar, or a martyr to a tall stake.
But the first to climb the ladder was neither the mother nor the goat. Rather, the eight-year-old scrambled up and squatted on the edge of the steeply pitched roof to provide tactical assistance for the ensuing maneuvers.
I wasn’t worried, knowing that local EMTs would respond quickly when he fell.
Meanwhile, my Mother-of-the-Year neighbor kept telling her six-year-old to run out into the street for a good view of their handiwork.
“How does it look?”
“He’s too far back.”
“How about now?”
At that point, I cringed. Not because of the street traffic that narrowly missed running down the girl; it was a miss, after all. But I still insist awesome should be reserved to describe things that are awe inspiring and truly extraordinary.
And trust me: although this goat inspires many emotions, awe isn’t among them.
It’s one thing for a parent to encourage holiday-decoration wackiness, no matter the impact on a child’s psyche. It crosses the line, however, to allow imprecise language from one’s progeny. That is exactly how a lifetime of poor communication begins.
With apologies to Baby Jesus and his grown-up teachings, I don’t expect my neighbor to love me as she does herself, her daredevil children, or even her floppy goat; but I would appreciate a modicum of consideration.
For the next two months (if not longer; she really does max out her holiday decorations), I’m going to see that Christmas icon a whole lot more than she or her children will. It’s on their roof, above their front door, for crying out loud. They have to go into the street to get an eyeful. I need only look in the direction of their house. I can’t miss it.
Did she poll the neighbors about our wish to gaze upon Santa Goat as our hovering mascot for the holidays and beyond? Well, nobody asked me, anyway.
In a year that has been strange in every way, I suppose I should expect odd phenomena while heading into a season full of tradition. Online headlines even urge us to establish “new traditions” for Thanksgiving and our winter holidays.
The thing about traditions, though, is that they’re old by definition. Traditions are established, handed down, and customary. They carry on the culture and practice of a group, large or small. And they can be shared or unique—but never new. Instead, they root us by providing a sense of history and continuity in a fast-changing world where it feels the rug is constantly jerked out from under us.
Maybe in five or ten years, the Christmas goat will have become a tradition for my neighbor’s family. I certainly don’t plan to make it part of my identity, although writing about it poses the possibility I’ve unintentionally brought this oddity into my personal story.
I’ll do my best to erase this chapter, though, while I stick to the true traditions still safely and realistically available to me. These days we need all the solid footing we can get. Connection to the past can keep us more anchored than will the novelty of the bouncing horned mammal on my neighbor’s roof.
So if you’ll excuse me, I need to go switch on my traditional pink Thanksgiving-flamingo lights. They may not be tasteful, but they are comforting. And by design, none of my neighbors can see them. That’s always been part of their charm.
From my flamingos and me, best wishes for a holiday season that has enough “old” to make the “new” feel a bit less abnormal.
Are you running into oxymoronic advice or phrases that give you pause? We’d love for you to share any language contradiction that gets your goat.