Serpentine Seasons Greetings…

...or, Snakes on a Sleigh!
Photo: Pierre the Palmetto Bluff (SC, USA) alligator
Note: There’s a snake photo below, albeit of a quite small, quite cute species.

Christmas Eve, 2023, fell on a Sunday, which felt very strange for some reason. We would normally have been in church that morning but Debbie and I decided to stay home and watch one of the two worship services that were being streamed from our church. About midway through the service, my cellphone rang — affirmation that staying at home was a wise choice, otherwise I would have drawn judgey looks from those around me. I glanced at the screen and declined the call, as I would have done had I been in church.

A couple of minutes later, the phone rang again, displaying the same name and number. I again declined it, but when I got a notification of a voicemail, I decided to listen to it. It was a woman’s voice, and this is more or less what she left:

Hey, Eric. This is [redacted]. Merry Christmas. I’m at [redacted…but it was an address in our neighborhood]. I have an awkward package to put in the car and I was wondering if by any chance you were available to help me put it in the car. If you can, call me back. Thanks. Bye.

My inital reaction was one of mild pique. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m worshiping, albeit in absentia; I really can’t be bothered. But I immediately regretted that feeling. If you can’t help a neighbor in need on Christmas Eve, you might as well resign yourself to vists from a ghost or two, if you get my drift. Also, my curiosity was piqued (see what I did there?).

I try to avoid phone conversations at all costs because our cell service is so bad but mainly because it requires talking to people. So I texted her and told her that I could help if she still needed it…which she did.

I hopped in the golf cart and was in her driveway in under sixty seconds (we have a small neighborhood). The door from her garage into the house was slightly ajar and I could hear voices inside, so I knocked gently and was invited in.

The damsel in distress explained that she had some physical limitations that prevented her from being confident about putting “the item” in the back of her SUV. She pointed at “the item” which was resting on a kitchen countertop.

Being the astute observer that I believe myself to be, I immediately recognized it as a terrarium, although it looked unoccupied.

“Cool terrarium,” I said, “what’s it for?”

“Well,” she replied, “there’s a snake in there now.”

I moved in for a closer look and, sure enough, there was a very pretty little snake, less than twelve inches in length, moving past the glass, exploring its surroundings. I was just about to display my herpetological acuity by identifying it as a tiny rat snake when she beat me to it.

“It’s a corn snake.”

OK, so I wasn’t technically correct, but as with hand grenades and horseshoes [the game, not the hoofwear], the differences between western rat snakes (genus Pantherophis) and corn snakes (also genus Pantherophis) are so negligible as to make the IDs “close enough.” OTOH, corn snakes are much more vividly colored and I really should have known the difference, even though they’re not native to Texas. Their natural range is the southeastern part of the United State. And of course, all rat snakes and their corn cousins are non-venomous. Corn snakes in particular are known to do well in captivity.

She explained that the terrarium was a gift for a granddaughter (I think…I was actually paying more attention to the snake than to the conversation), and she needed to deliver it because there was some family illness that prevented them from visiting her.

The terrarium — which was very well done, by the way; I suspect that the snake was quite pleased with its surroundings — wasn’t huge and it didn’t appear to be too heavy, so I started to pick it up when the woman said matter-of-factly, “the snake got out last night and I found it in my bedroom.”


I gave the cage a quick once-over and it appeared that all the seams were intact. She had scotch-taped the corners of the glass box just to be sure, and I tried to be extra gentle as I maneuvered the enclosure through the door and slid it into the back of her SUV. We didn’t need an amateur sequel to Snakes On A Plane for Christmas. The little snake continued to test the boundaries of its environment, but I trust that it arrived at its destination without mishap.

If you’ve stayed with me until now, bless your heart. I have two motivations for sharing this account. First, if you need my help with anything snake-related and you want me to respond quickly, you should say that right up front. Otherwise, you’re burying the lede, and I know you want to avoid doing that.

Second, and more important, it’s a reminder to myself that if I err (which I will), I hope to err on the side of grace. People are important, and deciding to respond positively to a request for help is almost never the wrong decision.

I’m still not crazy about the idea of talking on the phone, though.

Update: I followed up with the neighbor to see how things turned out and she reported that her granddaughter (I was right!)Photo: Tiny corn snake in a young girl's hand was thrilled with her new serpent buddy (see photo at right), which she has named Fire. That name seems appropriate given the bright coloration of corn snakes, but also because it logically often accompanies another apt word: escape.


In the interest of full disclosure, I have to give credit to ChatGPT for the post title and subtitle. I confess to be stuck for a suitably catchy title so I asked the AI for some suggestions, although I didn’t have a lot of confidence in its ability to craft something suitable. To my surprise, it generated a list of pretty decent, relevant suggestions, and I mixed parts of two of them for this post.

I thought you might be interested in the complete list:


How about these catchy title suggestions for your blog post:

  1. “Serpentine Surprise: Unwrapping the Gift of a Christmas Snake!”
  2. “Yuletide Slither: Welcoming a Wiggly Friend into the Holiday Mix”
  3. “Merry Serpentmas: The Christmas Gift That Scaled Up the Celebration”
  4. “Jingle Sssss: A Festive Tale of a Snake’s Merry Entrance”
  5. “Yule Python: Unwrapping Joy and Scales on Christmas Morning”
  6. “Coil for Christmas: A Ssspectacular Surprise Under the Tree”
  7. “Serpentine Season’s Greetings: A Slithery Christmas Miracle”
  8. “Snakes on a Sleigh: When Santa Brings a Scaley Friend”
  9. “Yuletidings and Tail-wiggles: The Unexpected Christmas Snake”
  10. “Sssssensational Holidays: Unwrapping the Joy of a Snake Surprise”

Unfortunately, all the rest of this post is the result of my own Imaginary Intelligence.

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  1. My hats off to you, Eric, pertaining to anything slithery. You helping the neighbor with her reptilian gift was commendable. We have a neighbor that is called when snakes invade. He has a name but everyone here knows him as “The Snake Man”. He and his daughter collect them and he gives lectures on them. He came running when LouAnn found a Hog Nosed snake entwined in her garden netting. After capturing the snake I was about to escort him to the front of the house via a side gate when LouAnn invited him to come through the house. I could see him having a heart attack, the snake getting loose in the house and me having to sell the home as is and I would leave immediately.

    1. Norman, believe it or not, I can relate. I feel the same way about spiders; if we ever find a black widow inside our house, I have a realtor on speed dial.

      (It just occurred to me that there’s probably a whole generation now that has never heard the term “speed dial.”)

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