In the Czech Republic, it is said you should fast on Christmas Eve. When I taught there for a few years back in my early twenties, my students told me this. They said anyone who fasted until Christmas dinner would get to see the golden pig.
I was an English teacher to Czech high school students and it was not uncommon for there to be gross misunderstandings between us, and those misunderstandings were not always related to my frequent visits to the pub that was run out of the school's first floor. I thought the golden pig might be one of those misunderstandings, but it wasn't.
I'll take a minute here while you reread the last paragraph to confirm that I did, in fact, say there was a pub in the high school. It served beer, wine, and a Czech-brewed liquor called Fernet Stock, the alcoholic equivalent of a colonoscopy for your throat. The pub opened at 10 AM on schooldays. Never has there been a more perfect match of workplace environment to my workplace skills.
Now back to the pig. Apparently, I learned, if you didn't eat until Christmas dinner, you would be rewarded with a hallucination of a golden pig. Some students said it appears on your dining room wall. Some said it shows up anywhere. One student said you'd see it floating out of your window, but I think she said that just to freak me out.
Not a single student of mine could answer why you would ever want to see the golden pig. To this day, it still escapes me. But here's the thing: As a Christmas legend, it's brilliant. It can neither be proven nor disproven. It doesn't happen every year and if it never happens to you at all, that still doesn't mean it's not true. It kicks the stuffing out of, say, a fat man in a red suit who brings you presents for no apparent reason whatsoever.
A fat man my daughter announced at dinner last night she no longer believes in.
She said it quickly, not so much a declaration as a belch, gas that had built up in her until it could be contained no longer. And then it was out there. I think she would have darted under the table if she could have, but doing so would have meant touching all the vegetables she has been squirreling down there since she was three.
"Oh ho!" I said. "You don't believe in Santa Claus?"
"No. I think you are Santa Claus."
"Hmm," my wife joined in. "So what does this mean? Are you not going to write a letter to Santa this year?"
Kathryn turned her eyes to her mom. "Here's what I was thinking," she said. "I know there's no Santa. But these guys," she gestured at the twins who were busy trading green beans and probably would have been traumatized by this whole exchange if they didn't live on planet goofball, "still do. And they are too little to write their own letters to Santa. So I'll keep writing one letter for all of us until they are old enough to do it on their own."
She speared a piece of pork with her fork. "You know, as a favor to them."
We watched her eat in stunned silence, and by silence I mean listening to the twins ask for syrup. After a few minutes, Kathryn asked, "How many more years do you think it'll be before they can write their own letters?"
"Two," I said. "Maybe three. Why?"
"No reason. I was just wondering."