‘Tis the time of the year when Christmas decorations are going up on homes, businesses, and boats. Well, actually most folks started putting theirs up shortly after July 4th, and anyone not lit up and festive by Thanksgiving is badly behind schedule. For the first time in years, I doubt I’ll participate in the decorating frenzy this season. My son has grown up and won’t be at home this year, but when he was younger I tried to do my part to keep things jolly. As a single (fishing) parent, I was faced with a common problem – how to fit a holiday season inside the ol’ fishin’ shack without having to move too many rods and reels out in the cold. I love a nice tree, but didn’t have the room for what I’d like, so I reached a reasonable compromise – the Christmas Gar!
I have a 5 foot long alligator gar mounted and hanging over the dining table in the captain’s quarters. The gar is green, takes up less room than a tree, and doesn’t shed needles all over the place. When wrapped with lights and other decorations, the ‘gator gar expresses all that is really important about Christmas, and the annual “lighting of the Christmas gar” has become a large tradition in my small family. Of course, it can take generations for a tradition to get properly established, so to help this one along, I invented a history for it. A Cajun history, which is OK, since I was once an honorary, adopted cajun.
“Christmas is a little bit different in the bayou country of South Louisiana and coastal Texas, mah friend. Fo’ one ting, ol’ Santa Claus, he got more better sense than to be flyin’ aroun’ wit a bunch of deers pullin’ his pirouge – else he like to get shot down an’ hung up in some cajun’s smokehouse. Down here, Santa use a boat to make his rounds – a big cuddy cabin wit a canvass top an’ a windashield to keep the cold spray off. Back long time ago, they wuz a bad, bad year. It got damn cold, I tell you. De temperature, he drop down b’low freezin’, an’ he stay dere fo’ maybe ‘bout six or five days. All de bayous an’ marshes, dey got ice on dem, huh? Dey was dead fishes frozen an’ floatin’ ever’where when de ice melt, an’ you could net you up enough speckled trouts and redfishes to fill up you an’ yo’ neighbors’ freezers, but dat wasn’t the worst ting dat happened.
The really bad ting was dat Santa, he run a stern-drive!
See, a stern- drive boat, what you might call one a dem inbred-outboards, it gotta car engine dat bolt up to a outboard motor type lower unit, but it doan drain the water out good like an outboard do, an’ it usually raw water cooled, so it doan got no don’t freeze in her like a car do. If you doan get careful and get all dem water out of de block, she goan crack if she freeze, an’ dat just what happen to Santa!
Now, how Santa goan make his trip wit a broke motor in de boat? He tink ‘bout getin some ratcoons an’ possums to pull him a pirouge over de ice, but dey say ‘Hell NO! It Too Damn Cold!’. Den he try to push pole one a dem aluminium bateaux down de bayou, but de pole punch true dat thin ice most a da time, an’ de skiff get froze to de top where de water come true.
Just when Santa ‘bout ready to give up, de gator gar say he pull dat pirouge down de bayou, and he do it, too!
De gator gar swim under de ice, an’ he pull strong ‘nuff to break true wit de pull rope, but, man, he get cold! Santa always like to make his last stop down on Bayou Chocolate off West Galveston Bay in Texas, where Cap’n Mike live, so he can drink a coupla beers an’ eat some fried red snapper fo’ he gotta head back. By de time de gator gar done pull him all de way down dere, he get all froze up like a big long green popcycle. Santa, he axe Cap’n Mike what he goan do wit de po’ gator gar what worked so hard to help him out dis Christmas an’ done got froze to death?
Cap’n Mike say he take dat gator gar an’ hang him up over de diner table, where it stay nice an’ warm an’ dey all kinds a fishes and shrimps and tings all de time get eat. An’ he say at Christmas he goan wrap dat ol’ gar up in dat green plastic stuff s’posed to look like grass or leaves or someting , an’ hang doze little Christmas lights all over him to keep him warm from now on, huh?
An’ de Cap’n say he goan give dat ol gar a nice big seegar at Christmas every year, as a reward fo’ what he done! But he ain’t goan let him smoke it, no, ‘cause dat be bad fo’ his health.
And that’s how the legend of the Christmas gar came to be, – and that’s the way it’s been every season since.
(Author’s note: This Holiday story first appeared in Mariner’s Log, published in the Clear Lake, Texas area some years ago. The illustration was by their staff artist.)