’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through Civil War Tails, not a creature was stirring, not even the “kittens” (or squirrels, or whatever it was on the third floor). The humans had gone to the Christmas Eve service at their church, and Kelly the Museum Dog sat downstairs, staring up at the big tree. Three other trees and a lot of plastic greenery filled the rest of the museum. Kelly knew better than to eat any of it, although she had tried a few Styrofoam berries off a “pick.”
“I have to be honest,” the dog sighed to the thousands of clay cat-soldiers around her. “I don’t understand this ‘Christmas’ thing at all. A lot of bustle and plastic branches walking everywhere, different music, and blinking lights. It’s weird, and I don’t understand it. The humans talk like I should be excited about tomorrow, but I don’t know why!”
Lieutenant Frank Haskell trotted over to the edge of the Pickett’s Charge diorama and offered, “The humans are excited and happy, and they want you to share that. You will get some turkey—”
“Like at Thanksgiving?” Kelly perked up and licked her chops. She had already begun to drool.
“Yes. Almost exactly like Thanksgiving. And they probably have gifts for you, like they do for each other.”
“Like when they go shopping?” Kelly thumped her tail. “Only this time, I’ll be allowed into the plastic bags?”
“I remember one year when they wrapped cat treats for Kitty,” Lieut. Haskell said. “She was the Museum Cat before you came.”
“Yes, I hear them talk about her,” Kelly replied respectfully, but she still was not sure about cats as pets. She shook herself and said, “So that’s what Christmas is? Turkey and presents? That sounds like a good day.”
“For some, that’s all Christmas is,” General Stephen Ramseur said from where he had been admiring the white tree in the next room. “Glitter, lights, feel-good songs, family and traditions.
“But that is not all of it. For some of us, Christmas is a painful time. I was killed in October 1864, before I met my newborn child. I did not see her first Christmas, and she never had her father present at Christmastime. But even someone mourning a loved one can experience the joy of Christmas.”
“How can you be happy when you can’t have your family with you?” Kelly shuddered. She had been alone long enough and did not want to think about losing her new family.
“Real joy is much deeper than a happy feeling,” Gen. Ramseur explained. “Just like real love is much more than a warm, cozy feeling towards another person.”
“What makes real joy?” Kelly asked.
“Knowing that God loves you no matter who you are and no matter what happens, and that you will spend forever with him. This world’s troubles pale in comparison to that love.
“How do people know that God loves them? Christmas. Christmas is about God coming to Earth as a human baby. Then he died for humans’ sins. People are not inherently good like so many think. They are prone to rebel against God, and only he can fix that. Jesus, who is God the Son, came to take the punishment for man’s sin so that his own perfect obedience and righteousness could be applied to people who believe in him. To do that, he had to be God and Man, and Christmas is about his becoming man.
“Because of what Jesus did, God forgives the sins of those who believe in him; Jesus already paid for their sins. When people recognize what he did for them, they have joy that is more than just happiness.”
“This is too much for me to understand,” Kelly sighed.
Chaplain Luther French from the 20th Maine chimed in, “Do you remember when you came here, in February and March, how you were pulling on the leash and jumping on museum visitors, and the humans would tell you not to?”
Kelly hung her head. “Yes,” she whispered.
“Imagine a dog who followed the rules perfectly every time coming to you and saying you could have the credit for his perfect obedience, and he would take the lectures and correction that you deserved. Imagine that on a much bigger scale and how happy you would be whenever you remembered the day he came—and the day he took your place, which,” he added, “would be the Easter story.”
“I don’t know how I could ever thank a dog like that,” Kelly murmured. “That would be a good day!”
“That is what your family will celebrate tomorrow.”
Kelly lay down, staring up at the bright tree. “The decorations are nice, and the turkey will be amazing, but now I understand that for my humans, the real reason for Christmas is the best part!”