Away in a Manger






“The gross heathenism of civilization has generally destroyed nature, and poetry, and all that is spiritual.” -John Muir


By Victoria Jertz

Laguna Beach Municipal Code: 6.24.030 Unlawful use of equipment.

It shall be unlawful to use on animals any equipment, device, firearm, substance or material that is, or could be, injurious or cause unnecessary cruelty to any such animal. This section does not outlaw humane devices or methods for killing vermin. (Ord. 918 § 1, 1978).

Rat hunting is an annual Christmas custom at the Campbell house. The brothers, both left-leaning Los Angeles attorneys who contribute to the World Wildlife Fund, battle for the most rat kills every Christmas Eve. They come home to Laguna with bottles of wine for Dorothy, their mother, and cruel rat traps, each properly-labeled with their name to verify the killer of that rat. They tote pellet-shooting pistols, just in case they have to “finish the job.”

Each brother may place one trap in the Musical Manger. But only one, as it seems somehow sacrilegious. It is a large, wooden manger, taking up the entire front yard. Plastic statues of the all the main players are present, except for the baby Jesus, who will be placed in his manger-crib by the brother with the most rat kills after Mass.

During the day, the children play with their grandmother’s collection of once-valuable Beanie Babies, while the adults in the family sip wine and prepare dinner. The fresh turkey, ordered in advance from Whole Foods, roasts while side dishes from farmers’ market vegetables are prepared.

The family enjoys the sumptuous feast at 6 p.m., so that they may relax, indulge, and tidy up a bit before walking to St. Catherine’s for 8 p.m. mass.

Dessert is served, along with traditional European Christmas crackers, which are cylindrical concoctions that “pop” when opened. Out dumps a plastic toy, childish riddles, and the best Christmas accessory of them all: the paper crown.

Last year, the family attended midnight mass after many glasses of wine, all wearing the paper crowns. It was then that they learned that midnight mass in Laguna is in Spanish, and the paper crowns were not well received by the congregation.

This year, the Campbell family leaves the paper crowns at home and attends mass without incident.

After mass, Elizabeth and Anne, the young daughters of the oldest brother excitedly run ahead to prepare a ‘Christmas Surprise.’

The family returns to plates of cookies around the table and warm apple cider in mugs. The girls give everyone handmade cards. It is a beautiful scene, and then there is a knock at the door.

“Do you think it’s Lady Gaga?” asks Elizabeth, the youngest of the girls, “I’ll put on my wig!”

“I sincerely doubt it is her,” says her grandmother, Dorothy, “but who on earth would be calling at this hour on Christmas Eve?”

She opens the door to Father Ken, the reverend pastor of St. Catherine’s. “Thank you for inviting me for cider and cookies. It’s been a long day of masses.”

“Oh, we, uh, you are always welcome here, Father!” stammers the Campbell matriarch, confused, as she had certainly not invited him. He greets everyone, and sits down at the table.

The girls return, flush and winded, wearing wigs. Upon seeing the priest they say, “Oh. We really wish it had been Lady Gaga.”

Father Ken gives them a wink. “So, how goes the rat hunt this year, young men?”

The brothers gasp and run to the yard. After mass and cookies, they had forgotten to check the traps! What follows next is discord far too profane for print.

The rest of the family gathers to see.

Every trap had gone off, and each one contained a Beanie Baby. Dorothy swoons and falls onto an outdoor chaise.

“We slipped Father a note during communion!” shouts Anne triumphantly.

“He came here to create a diversion, so we could set off all of the traps with Beanie Babies!” giggles Elizabeth.

“It’s wrong to kill these poor, innocent animals on Christmas. We want the Christmas contest to be a singing contest! Maybe one of us can put the baby Jesus in the manger next year,” Anne says pleadingly.

In the spirit of kindness and glow of children’s smiles, the Campbell family cancels the annual rat hunt. Father Ken places the baby in the manger and says a blessing with the family gathered around.

On Dec. 26, Vector Control was called.kertz shutterstock_107672

Victoria Kertz is a local wife, mother and writer that does not own a rat trap. 






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